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Jun 18, 2013 01:44 PM

Texas Viognier Is Tasted Against California and France – And Comes Out The Winner


This weekend, sixteen Texas Viognier wines went head to head competing with each other, two California Viognier wines and a Viognier from the modern home of the grape, Condrieu, France in a blind taste test judged by seven professional sommeliers. The result, Texas wines took the top six spots.
The full results are here:
RANK (1 is highest)
2012 Pedernales Cellars Reserve ($40)
2011 Brennan Vineyards ($17.50)
2012 Becker Vineyards ($15)
2012 McPherson Cellars ($14)
2012 Lost Oak Winery ($21)
2012 Pedernales Cellars ($18)
2011 Melville 'Verna's", Santa Barbara County, CA ($25)
2012 Flat Creek Estate
2012 Perissos Vineyard and Winery
2010 Calera, Mt. Harlan CA ($34)
2011 Cross Timbers Winery
2010 LightCatcher Winery
2012 Llano Estacado Winery, TX Raider
2011 Landon Winery
2011 Saint Cosme Condrieu, France ($65)
2012 Landon Winery
2010/11 Blue Ostrich Winery & Vineyard
2012 Kiepersol Estates Winery
2010 Llano Estacado Winery, 'Mont. Sec Vineyards'
1) All the wines from Texas wineries are designated “Texas Viognier” on the label.

2) Texas wine prices are from the winery web site for a single bottle purchase. Case discounts usually apply. Prices for the other wines are single bottle prices that I paid at retail stores in Dallas.

Why The Tasting?
The organizer of the event, Andrew Chalk, an editor at CraveDFW, said “I put together this tasting because, after four years touring over 80 Texas wineries, I concluded that Viognier was the white grape that was most successful in the state. In fact, I felt it was reaching a level comparable with California Viognier (although maybe not that of France). I was baffled that the national media did not include Texas wines when they evaluated Viognier. Clearly, this was a matter that only the facts would settle: a blind tasting of French, California and Texas Viognier by expert palates to determine where the wines stood.”

Choosing The Wines
Chalk contacted every Texas winery and asked them to supply two bottles of each Viognier they made that was currently available for resale. The wineries came through with 13 wineries supplying 16 wines. As a result this was not just a sample, but every Viognier made in Texas (the only known absentee was Cap Rock Winery).
Next, he needed a strong California benchmark for comparison. He asked Sigel’s wine buyer, Jasper Russo, to pick three, and Chalk would buy the first two that he found at retail in Dallas. Russo suggested: Miner Family Vineyard, Calera, and Melville. Chalk found the 2010 Calera, Mt. Harlan, $34 (91 points, Wine Advocate) and the 2011 Melville Estate Viognier “Verna’s”, $25 (91 points, International Wine Cellar) and purchased them.
“Finally”, said Chalk,” I needed a wine from the modern home of the Viognier grape, and the place that is still regarded as the benchmark. I chose the 2011 Saint Cosme, Condrieu because this $65 wine scored over 94 points out of 100 in web reviews and is made by maybe the most decorated producer in the Rhône over the past two years. I expected this wine to win hands down, the compensation being that it was over twice the price of most of the Texas entrants.”

Choosing The Judges
Chalk said “I figured that if I did the judging the results would be about as credible as Paris Hilton challenging Newton’s Laws of Motion. So I emailed every professional sommelier in town and invited them to be a judge. On the day, seven sommeliers came to The and spent two hours in silence comparing nineteen wines and passing written judgment. “
Chalk excluded himself from the scores reported above as he was involved in the packaging and preparation for the tasting. He also knew the identity of the non-Texas wines and any of this could be conceived as biasing the result.

The Results
The results are a stunning endorsement of Texas Viognier. Chalk had hoped Texas would be close behind the Californians and the Condrieu. In fact, no fewer than six Texas wines beat the first non-Texas wine (the Melville from California), and the expensive Condrieu was beaten by 12 Texas wines. The top three were all experienced Texas producers: Pedernales Cellars in Stonewall in the southern Hill Country, Brennan Vineyards in Comanche, a scant 90 minutes drive from Dallas, and Becker Vineyards, probably the best known of these three producers, also in Stonewall . Two relatively new producers: McPherson Cellars out of Lubbock in The High Plains, and Lost Oak Winery, in Burleson, just south of Fort Worth, placed fourth and fifth.

Feedback From The Judges
Writing about the winning wine, 2012 Pedernales Cellars Reserve, Russell Burkett (wine director at Sēr at The Hilton Anatole) commented that it had “ripe stone fruits, long finish, notes of honeysuckle and white flowers and light minerality”. Aaron Benson, sommelier at the Dallas Country Club, described it as “classic Viognier…an underlying minerality balances the redolent ripe fruit” and gave it a commanding 92/100 point rating.
Regarding the second-placed 2011 Brennan Vineyards, Hunter Hammett, sommelier of The Fairmont Hotel, Dallas gave some advice to the winemaker that it was “a bit thin to be excellent but a great example of this classic Rhône varietal”. Simon Holguin, general manager at the forthcoming Kitchen LTO, said that it “finishes delicately”.
Benson and Hammett, two judges who work the floor each night trying to deliver the most suitable wine to their customers, when asked about selling Texas Viognier said that selling a Texas Viognier is no harder than selling any other Viognier. The problem is selling Viognier. It is a “hand sale”, meaning that it is up to the sommelier to make the case to the customer, who typically has over 100 choices on the wine list. Hammett suggested wineries provide more guidance as to what food was intended to go with the grape. He pointed out that the choice of compatible food is not as broad as with Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay.

The Implications
Texas Viognier has come of age. Chalk said “For the customer, next time you shop for a white wine, consider purchasing one. Next time you are looking for a white wine on a restaurant wine list, ask for a Texas Viognier. Even if there isn’t one on the list at the time, sommeliers choose based on customer feedback. If you are a sommelier, check the results of this tasting for the quality and value most suitable for your list. If you are a publication that reviews wines, Texas Viognier has now shown that it deserves a place at the table for your next Viognier review”
To order these wines: Some wines are available at retail stores in Texas. Others are available direct from the winery (all can ship to consumers in Texas and more widely dependent on state and Federal wine shipping rules).

Appendix – The Judges
Karla Barber - International Sommelier Guild
Aaron Benson - Dallas Country Club
Russell Burkett - SER, Hilton Anatole Hotel, Dallas
Hunter Hammett - The Pyramid Restaurant and Bar
Simon Holguin – GM, Kitchen LTO
Jeremy King - Gaylord Texan Resort
Steve Murphey - Mid-West Wine

  1. not too surprised. I was impressed by several Texas Viogniers a few years back.

    1. What kind of Viognier tasting doesn't include Château-Grillet?

      2 Replies
        1. re: Robert Lauriston

          Or at least one from one of the top FR producers. Or several, actually.

        2. Wow. TWELVE Texas viogniers beat out a Condrieu? I'm impressed.

          I'm headed to the wine shop this weekend.

          1. Two California Viogniers only, and none from top producers. Only one French Viognier and none from any of the top ten Condrieu producers.

            We don't know if the CA, FR or TX Viogniers were varietally correct -- tropical fruit plus autumnal/Asian spices -- or if those components were even discussed before judging. Viognier has to have both components to be varietally correct.

            In national competitions, entries labeled Viognier are often passable white wines with a modicum of citrus or peach (no mango or papaya), and no spice whatsoever, so not true Viognier. This is especially true of Viognier from hot climates when sugar levels are way ahead of flavor ripeness.

            While TX Viogniers may indeed be developing nicely, there is no way of knowing how good, or not good, these TX Viogniers are from this particular exercise, given their climate, the wines they were judged against, and the heavy-handed promotion that went with the judging.

            This is obviously a PR post, and is lifted directly from the PR release sent out by the OP to promote his company/clients and sell wine.

            26 Replies
            1. re: maria lorraine

              excellent comment, and very much the voice of reason.

              (as opposed to those of us who got swiped by the hype...blush)

              1. re: sunshine842

                not "swiped by hype..." I've had several Texas Viogniers, and they're quite good. I wouldn't say they're better than Condrieu, though -- certainly not in general. However, I've not had California Viognier that blew me away.

              2. re: maria lorraine

                Read the article and you will see that the testing was carried out in the strictest of conditions and that it was the most comprehensive comparison of TX Viogniers with themselves and with Viogniers from elsewhere on record.

                There was no "heavy-handed promotion", and this is certainly not a PR post. I organised the tasting and wrote the press release that I reproduced here (and the article in the blog that I write for). I do not have any clients - nor am I remotely in PR. Someone has been having you on if they told you that. In fact, I am out of pocket by several hundred dollars as a result of organizing this! And I don't sell wine - I drink it!

                My motivation was purely educational. The national media omit Texas Viognier from comparative tastings because their knowledge is several years out of date.Now that this tasting has established a benchmark, the next step would be for those publications to organize a reprise where they can certainly alter the number and composition of non-TX wines. I look forward to seeing the evidence.

                My choices of non-TX wines were not random -- they were deliberately chosen as independently scored strong examples of wines that already do get national attention. So this result is a strong result indeed.

                What you need is some facts. Unsupported assertions about the motives of others just make your case look empty and your own motives look suspect. Who do you work for?

                1. re: achalk

                  Your selection of non-Texas Vigoniers may have been independent, but still you were not using the top Condrieus as a reference point and it sounds like there was no consideration of typicity. The judge's "ripe stone fruits" comment on the winning wine is a big red flag for me.

                  Online tasting notes for the Cosme 2011 don't make it sound like a very typical Condrieu at all.


                  1. re: achalk

                    The regular posters on this board tend to be rather Franco-centric and skeptical of other regions virtues. However it does seem that your tasting list stacked the deck quite a bit. 16 against one French bottle and two from California is no way to get a fair judgement. 5 or six from each region would have made a better test and gotten a more respected result. As it is, this does come across as promo writing.

                    I'm just sayin'

                    1. re: budnball

                      budnball, many thanks for your comments.

                      The California entries were not chosen randomly, so the Law of Large Numbers that implies statistics get closer to their population parameters as sample size increases, does not apply. The California entries were chosen as known value entries (in this case, proven examples of 'very good' California Viognier).

                      I would love to do more (send me a check for $500, I'll supply the same Texas wines, and you can be there to meet the professional sommeliers who do the judging!) but the results are not invalid because there were more Texas wines. Again, the CA wines are not a random sample. A few years ago, the two Californians would have come 1st and 2nd. Things have changed. What this tasting showed very strongly was that TX Viognier deserves a place at the table. Any review of domestic Viognier that excludes them is letting down its readers.

                      The relevance of the result is indicated by some of the posts in this thread. There are people who consider themselves knowledgeable about Viognier but who are totally oblivious of the improvement in TX wines. The results came as a complete surprise.

                      Finally, a major strength of this tasting, and a feature that I would not want to change, was the inclusion of the <<universe>> of TX examples, and not just a sample. I did not dwell on the wines in the lower reaches but there is a story there too.

                      Thanks again for your comments.

                    2. re: achalk

                      Certainly there has been a great deal of promotion and publication of this judging. Your name or company name is all over promotional pieces for Texas Viogniers.

                      That in and of itself nullifies the judging results, even before the imprecise selection of Viogniers against which to judge the TX offerings.

                      1. re: maria lorraine

                        I don't promote a single Texas Viognier. The (re)publication of the result reflects the significance of the result and the rigor of the test..

                        1. re: achalk

                          Hey, achalk:

                          There's no arguing with some people. They diss Washington and Oregon and NZ and S. Africa, too. They'd diss Kalifornia, too if they weren't cogs. Take it as a complement

                          Thanks for posting and hosting your tasting. I'll give some TX wines a try, rather than poking a sour thumb in your eye.


                    3. re: maria lorraine

                      Classic Viognier is profoundly aromatic, with a complex nose of roasted nuts, minerals, and spice.

                      I have yet to encounter anything like that in a California Viognier. The ones I've tried have been closer to a fruity Italian wine such as Pigato.

                      1. re: maria lorraine

                        Seven professional sommeliers did the judging. They were apparently "too incompetent" to have caught any varietal inaccuracy. I think these statements are an insult and unprofessional.

                        1. re: DallasDude

                          The two quotes on the second-place wine were "a bit thin to be excellent but a great example of this classic Rhône varietal” and “finishes delicately." Those comments make it clear that the competition was not very stiff. Since the other 17 wines presumably weren't even that good, who cares how they rank?

                          It would be far more informative to see the full text of all the judges' comments.

                          You set up a very interesting tasting but it was unfortunately heavily stacked in favor of the home team.

                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                            The names and corporate affiliations of all the judges are at the bottom of the press release. So you can contact them and ask them for their notes. It is hard to imagine more transparency.

                            You have to prove that it was "stacked". I have shown that enormous lengths were gone to in order to ensure that it was not. And I've addressed objections that have been raised. So far you haven't shown that it was stacked but I'd love to hear you do more than just assert it.

                            1. re: achalk

                              The wine selections alone show the judging was "stacked," as has been explained several times now.

                              1. re: achalk


                                A very interesting result, and congratulations on putting it together.

                                Putting aside all qualitative issues for a minute, a lot of the objection here is based on perception. As budnball said, only three ringers against 17 Texas viogniers makes it look stacked.

                                I don't agree with your assertion that Robert Lauriston or other readers "have to prove that it was stacked". There are so many tastings of these ilk being staged nowadays that the reader determines whether he wishes to pay attention to that particular result. The organiser therefore needs to set parameters which immediately reassure the reader of the tasting's credibility. The first blush perception, 17 v 3, is enough in the minds of many lay readers to impact the credibility of the tasting.

                                And if you take qualitative issues into account, then readers' perception about which "foreign" wines you chose does matter a lot. Most of the headline grabber tastings compare "new regions" against Old World marques such as Margaux, Rousseau Chambertin, Romanee-Conti, perceived as being amongst the very best of their region. From the comments here, the Cosme (and perhaps also the Calis) are not quite batting in the same league.

                                I would love to sample some of these Texas viogniers, but where I am, it is unlikely I will get the opportunity anytime soon.

                                1. re: Julian Teoh

                                  Many thanks for your interest Julian. In choosing the 'ringers' I tried to set the TX wines the hardest test possible, subject to not comparing them with wines way out of the TX price range. With the California wines, I think that allowing a knowledgeable third-party to choose them, plus the 91 scores in two of the leading publications, achieved that. I don't think that the number of TX wines vs. the Californians misrepresented California. Both CA wines were sound. As I said in a previous answer, they were not random data points contributing to a sample but known, very non-random, parameters for the TX wines to beat.

                                  There are different issues with Condrieu wines generally. The main one is that they are so much more expensive than the TX wines (three times the price of the average TX wine and 50% more than the most expensive) that I think they are not direct competitors. I included the one Condrieu (at enormous personal expense for the two bottles!) more for completeness and curiosity.

                                  The real competitive battle is between California and TX. In that respect I think I proved my claim that TX wines deserve a place at the table in reviews and any publication that reviews (shall we say domestic Viognier?) does a disservice to its reader if it omits them.

                                  At this point I might say that I did not include other states (e.g. Virginia) where I hear good things because of my own lack of knowledge of those producers. In the case of TX, I had the luxury of including EVERYTHING because the producers have seen my articles and/or met me so would readily send samples. And in saying that, I am not referring to an incestuous relationship. I know of nobody in print who has been more vehement about Texas wines when necessary -- and a Google search will find that stuff (mainly in D Magazine). This tasting was a revelation in showing real excellence - and that I applaud.

                                  1. re: achalk

                                    Hi Andrew,

                                    Thanks for your response. A couple of points, if I may.

                                    On the Condrieu price comparison, yes they are way more expensive but it is par for the course if you want to play the "new region" v "old grande marque" game. A few recent tastings here in Asia included Huber Spatburgunder v Rousseau Chambertin, and Markowitsch PN Reserve v DRC. The price multiples there reach into 10x or more, and the result is seen as all the more amazing because the wines seem to offer superior quality in the glass at a tenth or less of the price. If the Texans had gone up against more, and bigger name Condrieus and won, a lot of the criticism levelled here would not have been made.

                                    If the real battle was between CA and TX, I would have had more of the CAs represented to give an illustration of the breadth of style etc., and demonstrating that the Texans could match them across the board. Yes, tasting is not a random process, but having 17 v 2 colours public perception whether we like it or not. As it is, the sample size is not large enough to be definitive, or even to discount for matters such as bottle variation.

                                    1. re: achalk

                                      but if you're going to hold it up as "as good as French viogniers", then you're holding it up, by definition, to "as good as Condrieu."

                                      Someone who loves viognier will be more than aware of the differences....and how ethereal a Condrieu can be, while how insipid a badly-handled viognier can be.

                                      It *is* your competition....because those who know, know. Those who are shopping by price tag don't know or don't care.

                                  2. re: achalk

                                    Might I also hazard a guess that none of the complainants have ever tasted a Texas Viognier?

                                    1. re: ChefJune

                                      Not true, for me. I've tasted quite a few. In my opinion, they did not taste like Viognier, but like a varietal-less white wine with faint citrus and a bit of peach.

                                2. re: DallasDude

                                  Were the testing rigorous and took care to find Viogniers that were varietally correct (or at least the criteria were discussed for judging Viogniers), the judging would mean something.

                                3. re: maria lorraine


                                  I had not picked up the various ties to that article. Your pointing those out tend to skew things, at least a little.

                                  From CA, I would have included both Jos. Phelps Viognier, and Gregory Graham's Napa offering.



                                  1. re: maria lorraine

                                    "Varietally correct" - "Not true viogniers" ? LMAO! There is no such thing as varietally correct, only varietal and regional typicity. Would you like to describe to me a "varietally correct" chardonnay? That said, any taste-off type event is worthless, every wine needs to be evaluated on it's own merits and not in some head to head competition.

                                    1. re: btbx

                                      In competitions, judges often vote to disquality wines and remove them from competition for lack of varietal correctness. Regional typicity is subsumed under varietal correctness.

                                      This isn't to say that a particular disqualified wine isn't enjoyable, only that it is not what it claims to be.

                                      Syrah still has to taste like Syrah, and not Cab or Merlot or some other varietal, no matter where it's grown: the Rhone, Australia, Chile or the US.

                                      The same goes for Viognier, no matter where it's grown. A wine labeled Viognier can't simply be white wine, even a well-made white wine: It has to smell and taste like Viognier. Varietal correctness sets that minimum standard.

                                      1. re: maria lorraine

                                        One some competition grading schemes, "Varietal Correctness" can be from 4-5 points, on a 10 pt. scale. That can be pretty large.


                                      2. re: btbx

                                        Don't do much wine judging, do you? ML is correct.

                                    2. A fun and interesting tasting, and I complement you for your accomplishment.

                                      However, no one should expect such tastings to be scientifically rigorous, and we should all remember in the back of our heads that they are not. There is a whole science to comparative tasting that takes into account variables such as the order of tasting, and yes, the number of comparisons. Such scientific rigor is very difficult to achieve in the real world. For this reason, if you held exactly the same tasting again, you might get completely different results.

                                      Which is why professional wine reviewers don't do repeat tastings. They don't want us to know how fallible they are.

                                      But it was cool to read about the results, and if I can find any TX Viognier up here in PA (unlikely?), I will give them a shot.

                                      8 Replies
                                      1. re: PhillyBestBYOB

                                        Not "scientifically rigorous," but rigorous.

                                        Plus, no agenda or bias by the planner.
                                        No point they're trying to make.

                                        1. re: maria lorraine

                                          ML: Are you inferring that in the Judgement of Paris there was no agenda? I know for sure there was!

                                          1. re: ChefJune

                                            How do you know what for sure? Stephen Spurrier didn't expect the California wines to win. Putting the reds up against Mouton, Montrose, Haut-Brion, and Leoville Las Cases certainly wasn't rigging the competition in favor of California. The judges were all French and pretty much the country's A team of the day.

                                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                              Stephen Spurrier didn't pick the Cali wines.

                                            2. re: ChefJune

                                              There is an agenda regarding this particular tasting. I came to this conclusion for these reasons:

                                              In 2012, the OP wrote an article promoting Texas Viogniers, in which he said that, "An opinion that I have had for a couple of years that major national wine publications like the Wine Advocate and The Wine Spectator are guilty of a criminal idleness in not reporting on certain wines from Texas that have passed the threshold of replicable quality."

                                              That language is telling. It reveals a passionate interest in rectifying a wrong ["criminal idleness"].

                                              The entire article is here:

                                              Any judging of wine should not be designed by any person with a keen interest in the outcome, or, in this case, by a person who wants to prove that TX Viogniers "deserve recognition" or are "better than" Viogniers produced elsewhere.

                                              This interest in the outcome makes the selection of the non-Texas Viogniers suspect. It's been discussed that the California Viogniers were not from any top producers, and that the single Condrieu was not from any of the top ten Condrieu producers. There seems to be little effort taken to include Viogniers from these top producers.

                                              Moreover, the non-Texas Viogniers were weak examples of their category, making it appear that they were chosen so that so that the Texas Viogniers would show better against them.

                                              Also not included were any of the Virginia Viogniers, another omission.
                                              A comparison of VA and TX Viogniers is most apt, as Virginia is a recognized region for Viognier, outside of the France/California axis of recognition, like Texas.

                                              The hyperbole used to promote the results of the judging also reveals an agenda, especially so in light of the 2012 article.

                                              The OP wrote, "Texas Viognier soundly trounced California and French wines made from the Viognier grape."


                                              A Google search has revealed that the same words that began this thread were also repeated in numerous Texas media outlets. In the opening post of this thread, the language is that of a PR release; the OP refers to himself in third person.


                                              These factors show distinct bias:

                                              ● the obvious interest in the outcome by the person coordinating the tasting
                                              ● the prior article on the lack of recognition of Texas Viognier
                                              ● the few number of non-Texas Viogniers
                                              ● the selection of the non-Texas Viogniers
                                              ● the hyperbole used to describe the outcome: "Texas Viognier soundly trounced California and French wines"
                                              ● the promotion of the outcome in Texas media outlets, with the exact "press release" wording used to open this thread
                                              ● the person who designed the judging and the person who promoted the results (and what they mean) are the same.

                                              My interest here is in following three basics of wine judging: impartiality; adequate representation of the varietal; and a respect for varietal correctness so that the judging results mean something.

                                          2. re: PhillyBestBYOB

                                            PhillyBestBYOB: Thanks for your comments. I expect that their is zero distribution in PA! Best to order from the winery's web site. Or does PA make that illegal?

                                            1. re: achalk

                                              No, we can't bring wine into PA. We're pretty much screwed over here!