By Nan McCreary
The coming holidays are filled with traditions, one being the seasonal dilemma of “Which wine am I going to serve with this dinner, that party or just to friends who will be stopping by for an evening?” Well, look no further than the winners from the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo™ 2023 Rodeo Uncorked!® International Wine Competition. This year’s competition, held Nov. 11 – 13 at NRG Center, featured 3,071 entries from 18 countries, including Argentina, Bulgaria, France, Israel, Italy, South Africa and Spain. Of those entries, 531 entries were from Texas wineries, and 160 entries came from this year’s featured region, Australia.
The 2023 Rodeo Uncorked! International Wine Competition champions included:
Grand Champion Best of Show – Le Chemin du Roi Brut, Champagne AOC, NV
This wine, exhibited by famed rapper and business mogul Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, was previously named the 2021 Reserve Grand Champion Best of Show. It is a brilliant and lively champagne that illuminates “The King’s Path” and will accentuate any food item, from Foie Gras to oysters to —YES— anything deep fried.
Reserve Grand Champion Best of Show – Bernhardt Winery Antiquity Chardonnay Reserve, Danube Plain, 2020.
If you’ve ever wanted to taste an indigenous variety of grapes as close as possible to the genetic original and grown in the same terroir as in ancient times, you can! In Plantersville, TX, a short hop northwest of Houston, sits Bernhardt Winery where owner Jerry Bernhardt will introduce you to seven ancient grapes in his Antiquity Wine Curation. Bernhardt imports his Antiquity wines from trusted winemakers in Bulgaria to showcase their traditions and culture. This unoaked Chardonnay has aromatic notes of melon, pear and yellow apple; bright, gentle acidity followed by a soft honey finish. Pair with foods that offer quiet flavors —mild, subtle foods that are not too spicy and not too acidic.
Top Texas Wine – Becker Vineyards Barbera, Tallent Vineyards, Texas Hill Country, 2019
With Texas wineries producing more wine varietals, including wines that are earning national and international recognition, the judgement on the Top Texas Wine always sparks an interest among local oenophiles. Barbera, this year’s award winner, is an ancient, Italian varietal. Medium-bodied, the wine features aromatics of bright red fruit, mint, tarragon, cocoa and, on the palate, red cherries, raspberries, subtle fennel, chocolate mint, bright acidity, and soft, well-structured tannins. Serve this with rich, savory dishes of meats and roasted vegetables, hummus plates with blue cheese, or rustic, tomato-based pasta dishes and Sicilian pizza.
Top Red Wine – Bernardus Marinus Estate Red, Carmel Valley, 2015
This flagship wine from Bernardus is a classic Left Bank-style Bordeaux blend. The aromas exhibit scents of candied cranberry and plum, accented with baking spices. Classic pairings include roast lamb, venison, duck breast or beef-based dishes. Some food and wine aficionados believe that Bordeaux blends are made for roast lamb. The young, Cabernet Sauvignon-dominant wines of the Left Bank are bursting cassis fruit, backed by a sprinkling of spiciness and, in the best versions, a judicious use of oak.
Top White Wine – Château Saint-Roch Old Vines White, Côtes du Roussillon AOP, 2020
If you’ve never tried a white wine or blend from the South of France, now is a good time to do it. These wines offer a wonderful alternative for Chardonnay lovers. This award winner, from the Côtes Du Roussillon wine region, is a dry and full-bodied white blend produced from low-yielding Old Vines Grenache Blanc and Roussanne. Fragrant with citrus blossoms, the wine is rich, concentrated and bright with honeyed melon, tropical fruit, citrus zest and mineral notes on the palate. Food pairings include roast turkey with all the trimmings and tender roast pork.
Top Sparkling Wine – Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte Reserve Exclusive Brut Rosé Champagne AOC, NV
Few wines can generate attention at your holiday party more than a sparkler. Uncorking a bottle in a crowded dining room is known to elicit heads turning to find the origin of that quiet “pop.” PLUS, it also stimulates the palate in anticipation of tiny bubbles dancing on the tongue. This year’s Top Sparkling Wine is a delicately nuanced Champagne bursting with red summer fruit flavor including red currant, blueberry and raspberry notes combined with a hint of strawberry. The blend is a harmonious balance of 10 percent Chardonnay imparting elegance and finesse, 45 percent Pinot Noir for roundness and structure and 45 percent Pinot Meunier for fruitiness and soft, supple character. Pair this Champagne with tuna carpaccio, spicy chicken samosas, salmon sashimi and strawberry shortbread.
Top Dessert Wine – Dandelion Vineyards Legacy of Australia Pedro Ximénez, Australia, NV
This fortified wine from South Australia’s Barossa’s Valley honors the legacy of Australia’s Vigneron Carl Lindner, lifelong champion of old vine and fortified wines. Traditionally grown and vinified, the now rare Pedro Ximénez was first fortified by his family in 1944. This wine is hand blended and bottled without fining or filtration and is best drunk within a week of opening. With a zesty nose and refreshing palate, it is delicious served moderately chilled or even as an aperitif.
Top Region Wine – Henschke Henry’s Seven Red, Barossa, 2020
This Rhone-style blend, awarded the top wine in our featured region of Australia, is a tribute to Henry Evans who planted a seven-acre vineyard Keyneton in 1853 and quickly developed a reputation for producing the best wines in the southern colony. The blend highlights the historical introduction of southern French and Spanish varieties to South Australia in those early pioneering days and reflects the history and culture of the Barossa. It’s crafted with local grapes and has generous flavors of dark fruit and spice. It will never disappoint whether you’re looking for a crowd-pleasing wine for a family get-together, the perfect gift or just something to enjoy as indulgent treat.
Top Value Wine – Risata Wines Moscato d’Asti DOCG, 2021
This “summer sipper” is fresh, fragrant and frizzante with vibrant flavors and aromas of ripe stone fruit and tangerines. While it is often touted as a dessert wine (think sponge cake, fruit tarts or sweet biscuits), this lively wine is also delicious with savory snacks such as fresh salami accompanied by figs or melon. With only a 5.5% ABV, enjoy this quaff if you’re driving or counting calories.