Hill Country Escape
The Texas Hill Country is quite possibly the state's most trafficked playground. Blanketed by a scenic landscape of rolling hills and broad valleys; adorned with shady oak trees, rugged limestone outcroppings, expansive fields of spring wildflowers, and nights alive with starlit skies, wine enthusiasts like myself can get lost in the myriad wineries lining the winding roadways of the region. It's an idyllic wonderland perfect for spending a few days with your sweetheart for a romantic getaway. My husband, Joe, and I managed to do just that during a recent mid-week respite in the heart of the region.
Goals for our getaway
While we could have easily stolen away for a long weekend, our first priority for this trip was to unwind and reconnect with each other. Something that's a little harder to do during the weekend when the tasting-room traffic gives the wineries—and roadways—a decidedly busier feel. Opting for a more intimate retreat, we carved out a few days in the middle of the week, a strategy that paid off for us in more ways than one.
Our second goal was to learn about the wine. Joe took me to a wine bar on our first date, and it’s something that we both enjoy but wanted to learn more about. We learned that Texas Hill Country rates second behind Napa Valley as one of the most popular wine destinations in the country and Wine Enthusiast magazine named the region one of its Top 10 Best Wine Destinations of 2014. We had to learn for ourselves just how good Texas wines have become over the years and decided to focus mainly on the well-known Wine Road 290, a cluster of 15 wineries on Highway 290 around Fredericksburg.
The charming German-inspired town of Fredericksburg serves as the hub for the region's wine touring. It's a town that always brings back memories of one of our favorite trips to Heidelberg, Germany with its myriad German bakeries, beer gardens and authentic restaurants. It's been more than eight years since we took that trip, but the experience still captivates us. And we were pleasantly surprised to find much of the same charm in Fredericksburg.
Replete with guest houses, bed and breakfasts and quaint country inns, we opted for a quiet little villa at Messina Hof Winery. Located just behind the Tuscan-style winery—an extension of their flagship location in Bryan-College Station—you'll find a handful of private, well-appointed cottages with spacious rooms that offer restful comfort at night, and serve as a great central starting point for touring the area’s wineries, even though it’s not part of Wine Road 290. (There are more than 3 dozen wineries within a 25-mile radius.) The nearby Messina Hof tasting room offers tastings from a diverse portfolio of Messina Hof wines. The Private Reserve Cabernet Franc is a must as is the brightly balanced Late Harvest Angel Riesling.
We decided to focus on visiting some of the highlights we'd read about recently, and Becker Vineyards was one of our first choices. As one of the oldest wineries in the region, it's also considered one of the most consistent. We were eager to try their award-winning Viognier, the Rhone Valley-inspired Cote Rotie, and their elegant Provençal Rosé boasting beautiful florality and notes of red fruit. The tasting room is built with traditional German architecture and there were plenty of patio rocking chairs for relaxing.
Following an informative vineyard and cellar tour complete with a special barrel tasting, we lingered on the VIP patio at the Tuscan-inspired Grape Creek Vineyards where members of their exclusive wine club can enjoy glasses of their beautifully crafted wines overlooking the winery's estate vineyards. Among our favorite discoveries were the lavish Petite Sirah and the Bellisimo, a Super-Tuscan style blend made of Sangiovese, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Just across the road we were able to sample from three different Texas wineries all at once at 4.0 Cellars. A collaboration between Brennan Vineyards, Lost Oak Winery, and McPherson Cellars, this unique winery experience boasts beautiful rustic-modern architecture and special wine and cheese pairings to enjoy with a wide variety of wines. My husband and I enjoyed sitting at their shaded outdoor pavilion and savoring a few choice wines. The McPherson Cellars Rhone-style red wine blend called Les Copains Red was a favorite as was the opulent Brennan Vineyards Super Nero made from the popular Sicilian grape Nero D'Avola.
A plan for the future
A private tasting in the new Pedernales Reserve Room was a special treat (and usually only available on weekends) as a local sommelier led us through the winery's award-winning wines. Their elegant Viognier is a show-stopper as is their Reserve Tempranillo, a red wine revealing dark fruits, tobacco and dusty leather notes. We opted for an afternoon respite on the winery's patio with a glass of their newly released Vermentino. It was here, while enjoying the beautiful Hill Country views that we truly began to unwind. Perhaps it was the Vermentino, but I'm pretty sure it was our getaway mindset that allowed us to open up. That's when we made an agreement to make an annual tradition of this very trip to reconnect and, of course, find new Texas wines to enjoy.
"There's really no reason we couldn't make this happen once or even twice a year," said my husband. "It's so close to home and it's so easy to unplug right when you get here."
“Exactly!” I replied. “But I have one condition—we have to aim for twice a year, not just once!”
We clinked glasses in agreement and turned back to the sweeping vista with contentment.
Finally, we found enchantment just beyond the heavy timbered door of Hilmy Cellars with elegant wines such as the white blend Persephone made from Chenin Blanc, Semillon and Muscat Canelli, and the slightly sweet Muscat Canelli, a perfect pairing for spicy foods. The scenic vineyards are roamed by guinea fowl to manage pest control as well as goats, chickens and the owners' majestic white Pyrenees dogs.
Without wanting to miss highlights of Fredericksburg's revered shopping district, we took our wine tasting ambitions into town and stopped in at the Fredericksburg Winery, a longtime member of the Texas wine community. We also visited Fischer & Wieser for some of their prized Roasted Raspberry-Chipotle sauce—a perfect condiment for smoked meats and cheese plates. Finally, Fredericksburg Fudge was the perfect antidote for our aching sweet tooth and we picked up a box of German Chocolate fudge to take home—a perfect souvenir from our trip.
A special dinner
For dinner, we stopped in at the renowned Cabernet Grill, which is housed in a rustic building reminiscent of a Cotton Gin and boasts an all-Texas wine menu for a true taste of the region's terroir. Chef/owner Ross Burtwell uses local ingredients to inspire a menu that reflects the bold flavors of the Lone Star State. Joe loved the oak smoked pork tenderloin topped with bourbon demi glace and I loved the combination of flavors in my sesame-seared Gulf red snapper with ginger-basil vinaigrette.
The Texas Hill Country opened our eyes to many things. Chief among them was the caliber of wines we tasted. We expected to find a few to our liking, but didn't realize just how captivating so many of the wines turned out to be. We also used our getaway to reconnect. Engaged by discussions of wine, food, and the alluring charms of Fredericksburg and its surrounding region, our mid-week adventure brought with it excitement, relaxation, and a deeper appreciation for each other and Texas Hill Country.
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