Wine Review: Pheasant Ridge Pinot Noir Texas High Plains 1993

The Best in Texas

Paradise Lost and Regained

bobby cox
Jennifer and Bobby Cox: Early Days

During our recent visit to Lubbock, where most of the Texas wine grapes are grown, we dropped by Pheasant Ridge Winery not only because it was highly recommended by people in the know but more importantly because the winery is the subject of an intriguing story of paradise lost and regained. While tasting through their line up, an affable, mustachioed gentleman kept moving in and out of the tasting room performing various chores. This was the legendary Bobby Cox who is largely responsible for getting Texas wines on the wine map. He joined us for a lengthy chat about Texas wine.

Pheasant Ridge was founded by Cox and his wife Jennifer in 1978 and was one of the first wineries to be fully committed to growing v. vinifera grapes, the species out of which most of the world’s best wines are made. Cox soon began winning national awards for his Cabernet Sauvignon that stood head and shoulders above anything else made by the handful of Texas wineries then in operation. Unfortunately, in the 1990’s, financial troubles forced him out of the winery business although he continued to consult with other wineries and vineyards to advance Texas winemaking. Fortunately in 2013 Pheasant Ridge was put up for auction and the winning bidder Bingham Family Vineyards brought Cox back to handle the winemaking and viticulture, eventually agreeing to split the assets and turn ownership of the vineyards, production facilities and brand over to Cox. The legend is back in business.

When talking to him about what grows well in Texas I mentioned that most people think Pinot Noir is too finicky to grow well in the short, hot, humid growing season. In fact, we had not come across any Texas-grown Pinot Noir in the tasting rooms we had visited. Cox smiled and said, “hold on, I’ve got something to show you.” He brought out this bottle of Pinot Noir he had made in 1993 just before losing the winery. Quality Pinot Noir from Burgundy  and a few from California are age worthy, but only the very best will hold up for 25 years or more. Not only is this wine still drinkable; it is gorgeous. “It’s so unexpected” Cox exclaimed. “It’s just a unique site”, pointing to the European vineyard spacing, mix of clones, and and iron rich, low PH soils as contributing factors.

Whatever the explanation is for this unique wine, it was the most impressive of the hundreds of Texas wines we sampled.

Still deeply colored and just beginning to develop a copper hue on the rim, the nose is a heady elixir of dried cherry, old leather, mint and clove against a fresh earth background that reminded me of forest floor after spring rains. The palate is still vibrant and juicy upfront, cherry with chocolate hints, utterly seamless transitions unfold from the round, rich opening through a calm, sleek midsection to the lengthy, slow-fading finish showing sour cherry and orange peel on a frame of fine, powdery tannins.

A tranquil wine, nothing hurried or edgy but dignified and soothing

Aged in new French oak.

Score: 93

Price: $120

Alc: 13.1%

The tartness on the finish that seems to stand out too much was magically integrated by this perfectly matched ballad from K.D. Lang


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