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The state's superiority is so well-established that when Seattle hobbyist Jack Timmons decided to upgrade his smoked meat operation, he signed up for an intensive barbecue class at Texas A&M and bought a pit from a north Texas manufacturer. Timmons, a Texas native, doesn't truck with other regional traditions: Despite my lobbying for salmon and Dungeness crab, beef is the preferred medium of Timmons' Seattle Brisket Experience, a sometime pop-up and catering outfit.
So when Timmons this weekend organized an informal wine pairing event to determine which wines went best with Texas brisket, I probably should have allowed another wine-producing powerhouse to share the spotlight. But upon hearing that only Washington, Oregon and France would be represented at the party, I asked permission to bring a bottle of Texas wine. The results of the tasting, in the words of Alexandria Nicole Cellars' chef Frank Magana, "shocked the world."
Although I had the opportunity to sample many Texas wines while briefly living in Dallas, my barbecue expeditions were usually powered by Big Red (which, in this context, has nothing to do with Zinfandel: The Waco original is a sugary soda.) Realizing I might not be familiar with the ideal brisket wine, I appealed to my friends Jeff Siegel, a wine blogger and Texas wine advocate who co-created the annual DrinkLocalWine conference, and Daniel Vaughn, author of the forthcoming The Prophets of Smoked Meat, who steered me toward Texas Monthly's wine columnist.
Matching wine to Texas barbecue isn't a brand new idea: The legendary Salt Lick Barbecue years ago started planting Tempranillo, Syrah and Sangiovese grapes on its property outside Austin. The results include BBQ Red, a blend engineered to accompany briskets, sausages and beef ribs. But for the purposes of blowing away wine pros, McPherson Cellars' La Herencia sounded like my best bet.
La Herencia isn't sold in Seattle, but Washington is one of the few states to which the 40-year old Lubbock winery is authorized to ship. I bought a bottle of 2010 La Herencia for $14, which was slightly cheaper than the delivery costs.
The Spanish blend features Tempranillo, Mourvedre, Grenache, Carignan and Syrah, which adds up to what the winery describes as a "flavorful experience of black licorice followed by a slight hint of cinnamon and Hershey's cocoa." Whether or not that's an accurate portrayal of the wine, what's notable is two of the three descriptors are essentially candy: the La Herencia has 0.6 percent residual sugar, which means it's hovering at the high end of the concentration range for dry wines.
Yet the sweetness isn't overwhelming, since it's beautifully woven into the wine's dried fruit flavors. More importantly, though, it's perfectly suited to barbecue. Texas barbecue is served without sauce, and La Herencia elegantly compensates for the omission. Although the wine has the body and subtle woodiness needed to share a playing field with brisket, its greatest strength is its ability to sweetly counteract the acridity of slow-cooked barbecue. (Should you find yourself in a Texas barbecue joint which doesn't stock La Herencia, a post-meal peach cobbler has the same effect.) La Herencia is barbecue sauce in a wine bottle. That's awfully convenient for Texans who want to uphold the state's smoked meat traditions and support its wine industry.
McPherson's contribution was declared the evening's winner, beating out gorgeous wines from Europe and the Pacific Northwest in the brisket compatibility category. (It wasn't a great night for fancy: Timmons' Prime brisket was judged superior to his Wagyu brisket, although both were clear contenders for "best in Seattle" honors. According to Vaughn, fattier meats have a tendency to fall apart, which is why most pitmasters prefer Choice.)
And many of the wine experts agreed that La Herencia would impress even without brisket on the side. "Phenomenal," Magana decreed.