Texas isn’t just about rodeos, cowboy culture, and Tex-Mex cuisine —although those are pretty cool, too. The Lone Star State has a booming wine scene and it all starts with the grapes.

Since the 1650’s, Texas has produced wine, making it one of the oldest producing states in the country. The state boasts more than 200 vineyards across eight recognized American Viticultural areas or AVAs. Texas Hill Country has scenic wineries with a great variety of wine.

But, what types of grapes are thriving under this beautiful small-town charm? 

Stay tuned as we explore the fascinating Texas wine grapes—from the tried-and-true classics to the up-and-coming rising stars. We’ll also tackle how the climate shapes the flavor, why some grapes love the Texas heat, and what delicious wines you can expect in your glass.

Get ready to learn, quench the thirst, and plan your own Texas wine adventure! ️

Bold and Beautiful Grapes of Texas

Texas has a diverse climate and terroir, producing a wide variety of exceptional wines. The region has the perfect environment for growing grapes — with the perfect sunny days of the Hill Country and cool nights of the High Plains. The state has varied soil types, which further contribute to this remarkable diversity. 

Texas wines also come in all sorts of flavors, just waiting for you to try them!

So here are some of the most popular grape varieties that add diversity to Texas wines. 

1. Cabernet Sauvignon

Cabernet Sauvignon is considered the king of red grapes. It is known for its thick skin, resistance to elements, and ease of growth.

It prefers warm climates for optimal grape ripening. Cooler regions can produce herbaceous flavors, while excessively hot areas can develop flavors of cooked or stewed blackcurrants. 

Cabernet Sauvignon is susceptible to powdery mildew but generally resistant to other grape diseases. Growers carefully manage harvests and prune vines to achieve concentrated flavors. 

Under-ripe grapes produce a distinct “green bell pepper” flavor due to pyrazines. Cooler climates can struggle to fully ripen the grapes, resulting in this divisive characteristic.

Cabernet Sauvignon Winemaking

Blending: The classic example is the “Bordeaux blend”. It combines the Cabernet Sauvignon with Merlot and Cabernet Franc. But Cabernet Sauvignon can be blended with a variety of grapes including Sangiovese, Shiraz, and Tempranillo.

To make wine, different grape varieties are blended together at different times: before, during, or after fermentation. Due to the different fermentation styles of grape varieties, some wine producers prefer to ferment and age each grape variety separately. Then, they blend them shortly before bottling.

Maceration: During Cabernet Sauvignon winemaking, crushed grapes skins that are high in tannins and color compounds have prolonged contact with the juice (must) before or during fermentation. This winemaking process is called maceration. This skin contact extracts color, flavor, and tannins from the skins into the juice, significantly impacting the final wine’s characteristics.

Traditionally, maceration lasted for weeks, resulting in highly tannic and full-bodied wines requiring extended aging. Modern techniques allow for shorter maceration periods (days) to produce lighter-styled wines approachable in their youth.

Oak Aging: Cabernet Sauvignon grapes are known for their high tannins, which can make young wines taste astringent. Oak aging is a technique used by winemakers to soften these tannins and add complexity to the flavor profile.

Winemaking Process
  • Barrels: Traditionally, Cabernet Sauvignon is aged in oak barrels, most commonly 225-liter French oak barrels called barriques. These barrels impart subtle flavors of vanilla, baking spice, and toast to the wine.
  • Tannin Softening: Over time, the tannins in the wine cooperate with the oak, becoming smoother and less harsh on the palate.
  • Flavor Contribution: The type of oak used significantly affects the final flavor. American oak imparts bolder flavors like coconut and dill, while French oak offers more delicate notes of vanilla and spice.
  • Winemaker’s Choice: Winemakers can control the intensity of oak influence by:
    • Barrel Age: New barrels impart stronger oak flavors compared to used barrels.
    • Barrel Source: Oak from different regions (e.g., American vs. French) contributes distinct characteristics.
    • Blending Barrels: Winemakers can combine barrels of various ages and origins to achieve a desired flavor profile.

Cabernet Sauvignon

Alternatives to Barrels:

While oak barrels are the preferred method, some winemakers use more affordable alternatives such as;

  • Larger Barrels: These have a lower wood-to-wine ratio, resulting in less pronounced oak flavors.
  • Other Wood Types: Chestnut and redwood barrels are used occasionally but may impart unique flavors.
  • Oak Adjuncts: Oak chips or planks can be added to tanks during fermentation or aging. However, these methods often create harsher oak flavors that don’t integrate as well with the wine.

Many wineries in Texas, including ours, produce great wines from this grape that consumers enjoy.

2. Tempranillo

Unlike bolder reds like Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo has a neutral profile, making it a blending champion. It complements grapes like Grenache and Carignan, adding structure and aging potential. Varietal Tempranillo shines with plum and strawberry flavors. 

Winemakers must balance the effects of climate on their wines: cooler climates produce elegant wines with high acidity, while warmer areas yield grapes with higher sugar levels and deeper color.

Tempranillo is also susceptible to pests and diseases. Its thick skin and compact bunches produce deep blue-black grapes. The root system readily absorbs potassium, potentially impacting wine quality. The grape is sensitive to weather, shrinking in droughts and swelling with excessive humidity, negatively affecting color. Limestone soils help mitigate these effects.

Tempranillo Wines

Tempranillo wines are typically ruby red in color.  Their aromas and flavors can be quite complex. Flavors can range from juicy berries and plum to savory tobacco, vanilla, leather, and herbs.  Since Tempranillo has relatively low acidity and sugar content, it is more often blended with other grapes like Grenache, Carignan, and Cabernet Sauvignon.  This blending creates a wider variety of flavor profiles adding brightness and acidity. 

3. Merlot

Merlot is a grape type that is softer and more harmonious than Cabernet Sauvignon. Merlot produces wines with notes of plum, red berries, and earth. 

As a varietal wine, Merlot can make soft, velvety wines with plum flavors. While Merlot wines tend to mature faster than Cabernet Sauvignon, some examples can continue to develop in the bottle for decades. 

There are three main styles of Merlot:

  • A soft, fruity, smooth wine with very little tannins; 
  • A fruity wine with more tannic structure; 
  • A brawny, highly tannic style made in the profile of Cabernet Sauvignon. 

Some fruit notes commonly associated with Merlot include cassis, black and red cherries, blackberry, blueberry, boysenberry, mulberry, olallieberry and plum. 

When Merlot has spent significant time in oak, the wine may show notes of caramel, chocolate, coconut, coffee bean, dill weed, mocha, molasses, smoke, vanilla and walnut.

Merlot Viticulture

Merlot grapes are easily identified by their loose clusters of large berries. Compared to Cabernet Sauvignon, they have a lighter blue-black color, thinner skin, and lower tannins. They also ripen earlier, typically two weeks ahead of Cabernet Sauvignon. Merlot has a higher sugar content and lower malic acid, contributing to its softer and fruitier profile.

Despite its early budding, Merlot thrives in cooler climates, particularly those with well-drained, iron-rich clay soils. However, this early bud development makes it susceptible to spring frost damage. The thinner skin also increases the risk of rot and requires careful vineyard management. While Merlot is more resistant to powdery mildew than other Bordeaux grapes, it’s still susceptible to downy mildew and leafhoppers. 

Merlot Texas Wine Grapes

To achieve optimal quality, Merlot requires careful pruning and may benefit from yield reduction, especially as vines mature.

4. Black Spanish

The Black Spanish grape also known as Lenoir or Jacquez is a red wine variety. 

While susceptible to downy mildew, these grapes grow successfully in warmer climates. But, with good vineyard management, can harvest 3 to 6 tons per acre. They typically ripen later than other varieties and achieve high sugar content (23-25° Brix) at maturity.

Black Spanish Bud at our Winery

Black Spanish Bud at our Winery

Despite their low tannins, Black Spanish grapes produce deeply colored red wines. These Black Spanish wines are particularly popular in Texas, widely cultivated and often used for Port-style production.

Black Spanish Flavor Profile, Wine Style, and Aging

Black Spanish produces dry and off-dry red wines, refreshing rosés, and rich dessert wines in a Port-style.  Blending with vinifera grapes like Tempranillo, Syrah, and Cabernet Sauvignon further expands its flavor profile. Texas Port-style wines made with Black Spanish are well-regarded, while dry reds exhibit varying quality levels.

Described as “weighty and musky,” they showcase notes of black cherry, boysenberry, elderberry, blackberry, and plum. Hints of spice, floral, and herbal characteristics may also be present. Aged examples, especially Ports, can develop aromas of toasted oak, vanilla, earth, leather, and even chocolate.

Black Spanish Wine - Texas Wine Grape

Black Spanish Wine

Black Spanish wines benefit from oak aging and bottle aging.  Slower to oxidize than most wines, they improve with aeration or decanting before serving.

5. Mustang

The Mustang grape, also known as Vitis mustangensis, is a native Texan with a long and interesting history. This woody vine thrives in the Southern United States. Its variety includes parts of Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, Texas, and Oklahoma.

Mustang grape is a unique type of grape that grows in small clusters of hard, green fruit. From July through September, the berries ripen into soft, dark purple berries about 3/4 inch (2 cm) in size. 

The Mustang grape produces small clusters of hard green fruit. These fruits undergo a fascinating transformation, ripening into soft, dark purple berries that measure about 3⁄4-inch (2 cm) in size. This ripening process occurs between the months of July and September, adding a burst of color to the vine.

Interestingly, V. mustangensis is a female-only grapevine, meaning the fruit is borne only on female vines. These vines can be found growing over trees, shrubs, and other objects nearby. They also create a dense groundcover in areas with no tall growth, and make a great fence-covering.

In Texas, the most abundant wild grape is the Mustang grape or Vitis mustangensis. Historically, it was a widely used wine grape among early settlers and continues to be a popular choice for home winemakers in the area. 

Mustang Grape Vine

While not the typical grape used for winemaking, mustang grapes offer a bold and challenging experience for adventurous winemakers.

These wild grapes pack a punch in terms of flavor. They’re naturally high in acidity and tannins, boasting a thick skin that contributes further tannins and vibrant color. However, their sugar content is low, making them unsuitable for wine production without adjustments.

Despite these challenges, mustang grapes can be transformed into interesting wines and Ports.  The key is managing their inherent qualities. Winemakers use several techniques to create a balanced and enjoyable final product.

Balancing Acidity:  Mustang grapes’ high acidity requires amelioration, a process of adding sugar or concentrated grape must to raise the sugar content and ultimately the alcohol level. This helps to mellow the tartness.

Taming the Tannins:  Tannins, which contribute bitterness and astringency, are managed by controlling maceration time. Maceration involves steeping the grape skins in the juice, and longer contact intensifies tannins. A careful balance is needed to extract color without overwhelming bitterness.

Boosting Sugar: Due to the mustang grape’s low sugar content, chaptalization is often necessary. This involves adding sugar to the must before fermentation to increase the alcohol content and improve the overall balance of the wine.

Juggling these adjustments requires skill and experience. Winemakers must determine the ideal amount of grapes per gallon to achieve the desired body, acidity, and tannin levels.  While there are general guidelines, the specific characteristics of each harvest year can influence the final approach.

6. Pinot Noir

Of all grape varieties, Pinot Noir is the hardest to cultivate and transform into wine.   Pinot noir grapes grow in tight clusters, making them more prone to rot. This means vineyard managers have to be extra careful. They should meticulously manage the leaves around the grapes called the canopy to ensure good airflow and prevent problems. 

But the extra effort is worth it – these delicate grapes produce some of the most elegant and sought-after wines in the world!

The name “Pinot Noir” derived from the French words for “pine” and “black,” that reflects the grape clusters’ tight resemblance to pine cones. 

Pinot Noir thrives in cooler climates and is now cultivated worldwide, not just for red wines but also for sparkling wines like Champagne and Italian Franciacorta.

Pinot Noir Winemaking

Pinot Noir is both valued and challenging. 

Winemakers consider it a difficult grape to cultivate due to its susceptibility to rot and the low levels of phenolic compounds in its thin skins. These characteristics translate to lighter-colored wines with a medium body and low tannins, known for their unpredictable aging process. 

Young Pinot Noirs are typically celebrated for their vibrant red fruit aromas of cherries, raspberries, and strawberries. As they mature, these wines can develop intriguing earthy and even farmyard-like notes that add complexity to the bouquet. This unique combination of youthful fruitiness and evolved earthiness makes Pinot Noir a captivating wine for both novice and experienced palates.

Pinot Noir Wine, Taste Profile, and Serving

Often referred to as the “Mozart of wine grapes,” particularly its French Pinot Noir (Pinot Noir de France), this grape variety is highly distinctive and known for its subtlety.

When it comes to the taste profile, Pinot Noir’s pale to medium color hints at its thin-skinned grapes. But don’t let that fool you. This wine boasts a complex array of flavors because of the aroma compounds called “esters”. It smells like a symphony of red fruits like ripe cherry and raspberry, interwoven with intriguing earthy notes, hints of spice, and sometimes even clove. Oak-aged Pinot Noir adds another layer of complexity, offering gentle wafts of vanilla and smoke. As the wine matures, fascinating hints of mushroom and leather can emerge.

Pinot Noir Texas Wine Grape

Fascinating Facts About Pinot Noir
  • A Historic Grape: Pinot Noir boasts a long and distinguished history, predating Cabernet Sauvignon by over 1,000 years. Its roots can be traced back to the Roman era, making it a true winemaking pioneer.
  • A Colorful Family: Pinot Noir isn’t just about red wines! Both Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris are color mutations of Pinot Noir, demonstrating the grape’s versatility and capacity for variation.
  • Delicate and Demanding: Pinot Noir is a grape with a mind of its own. Thin-skinned and prone to disease, it presents a challenge to growers, who affectionately (or perhaps exasperatedly) call it the “Heartbreak Grape.”
  • A Grape of Many Faces: With over 1,000 registered clones, Pinot Noir exhibits remarkable genetic diversity. This constant evolution contributes to the wide range of styles and flavors found in Pinot Noir wines.
  • A Name Steeped in Tradition: The name Pinot Noir itself reflects the grape’s appearance. Derived from the French words for “pine” and “black,” it likely refers to the grape cluster’s tight formation, resembling a pine cone.

7. Gewürztraminer

Gewürztraminer is an aromatic white wine grape variety best suited to cooler climates. This grape is naturally rich in sugar. Dry Gewürztraminers may also have aromas of roses, passion fruit, and floral notes.

Gewürztraminer is a fascinating grape variety that can develop its signature lychee and rose petal aromas. Despite the pink-red skin (a characteristic of some white wine grapes), Gewürztraminer harvests pale colored wines due to the gentle pressing process that avoids extracting color from the skins.

For those familiar with Moscato, Gewürztraminer can be thought of as a more sophisticated cousin. While sharing some similarities in sweetness, Gewürztraminer boasts a more complex aromatic profile, with pronounced lychee and spice notes, balanced by a fuller body and lower acidity. This unique combination makes Gewürztraminer an intriguing wine to explore, offering a delightful explosion of aromas and flavors.

Gewürztraminer Wine Characteristics

Gewürztraminer, unlike some white wines, offers a complex range of flavors. You can imagine a juicy lychee combined with hints of grapefruit and pineapple and layered with the delicate sweetness of rose and honey. The vibrant fruit medley also includes apricot, peach, and orange, with a touch of earthy cantaloupe that rounds out the experience.

But Gewürztraminer doesn’t stop there. It also boasts a surprising complexity because of its spicy side. Ginger and allspice tickle the nose, while whispers of cinnamon and incense add an intriguing touch. But, despite these bold flavors, the wine’s acidity is medium-low, creating a smooth and inviting mouthfeel. This characteristic makes it ideal for those who find sharper whites a bit intimidating.

Served at a refreshingly cold “fridge-cold” temperature of 43°F (6°C), Gewürztraminer is a perfect choice for a summer afternoon or a unique pairing with food. Its aromatic profile makes it a great match for spicy dishes, aromatic curries, or even something as unexpected as Vietnamese pho. 

So, next time you’re looking for a white wine that’s anything but ordinary, give Gewürztraminer a try. It’s an adventure for your palate waiting to be uncorked.

Texas Wines are Waiting to Be Explored

Texas boasts a wide-ranging landscape suitable for grape cultivation. Thanks to the innovative spirit, expertise, and passion of Texan winemakers, the town produces exceptional wine bottles that tell a story of resilience, sunshine, and Southern charm. 

Cheers to more Texas wine grapes ready to yield, so we can explore more of their distinct flavors!