Winemaker Willem Johnson of 4R Ranch Vineyards and Winery

Winemaker Willem Johnson of 4R Ranch Vineyards and Winery

John B. Sutton/Special contributor

A young winery from the North Texas Hill Country took top honors in the
San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition last week, the first time a wine
from Texas reached the highest tier of the contest.

The 4R Ranch Vineyards and Winery, owned by the Roper family of Dallas,
won a Sweepstake medal in the specialty wine category for its 2017 Nectar
Nero Texas Rosé. Only nine Sweepstake medals were awarded among the
6,800 wines entered from across the United States, Mexico and Canada, and
Nectar Nero was part of the second vintage ever produced at 4R, a former
cattle ranch in Muenster that is being slowly planted over to grapes.

The wine, a striking deep copper in the glass, brims with the beguiling
aromas of roses, lavender, herbs and citrus. Unlike many dessert wines, it is
not syrupy or cloying. It has a delicate, savory character just on the
edge of a honeyed sweetness, with lingering acid and finish redolent of
raspberries and red fruit.

Winemaker Willem Johnson calls Nectar Nero something of a happy
accident. He had planned to make a dessert wine with white Moscato Giallo
grapes, as he had the year before, but couldn't source enough of the fruit.
Instead, he used a clonal selection of the red Moscato Nero variety, all from vineyards in the Texas High Plains, with just a touch of local Moscato
Giallo.

The grapes were fermented using a combination of crushed and whole
clusters, entirely in stainless steel tanks. Unlike many sweet wines, Nectar Nero was not made using high-sugar late-harvest grapes or grapes sweetened by the naturally occurring botrytis mold.

Instead, Johnson vinified a dry rosé and then added sugar, a process he
prefers for the consistency of the results and the variety of flavors and
relatively low alcohol level it produces (Nectar Nero is 13.1 percent). He
made 427 cases of it; a 375-milliliter bottle is $28, and sold only at the
winery or its website. It is also on the wine list at Gorji restaurant in
Dallas.

Sweepstake medal winners of the 2019 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition include Nectar Nero from Texas, third from right, in the specialty wine category.

Sweepstake medal winners of the 2019 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition include Nectar Nero from Texas, third from right, in the specialty wine category.

Michael Short/Special to The Chronicle

Johnson's favorite pairing is a chunk of Grana Padano, a salty aged cheese
similar to Parmesan that lights up the fruits and florals of the wine. It is also
easy to imagine sipping it alongside Thai food, or anything with a lot of
spice. Nectar Nero has a more bracing character than most sweet wines, no
surprise given that Johnson personally prefers bold reds and
whites.

Nectar Nero is one of 23 wines made at 4R, with a total production of nearly
4,200 cases. Several of the wines also earned medals at the San Francisco
competition, where more than 60 wine professionals judged a series of blind tastings. The 2016 Ranch Red took home a silver medal, and 2016 No. 4,
2016 SCS Reserve, 2016 Stampfensteir Tempranillo/Malbec and 2016
Zinfandel were awarded bronze. 

The hilly 4R Ranch includes a tasting room open to the public.

The hilly 4R Ranch includes a tasting room open to the public.

John B. Sutton Jr./Special contributor

The hilly, 1,100-acre estate about 90 minutes north of Dallas is planted with about 3 acres of cabernet
sauvignon and viognier, but later this year an ambitious expansion will
begin to triple the size of the vineyards to just under 10 acres and add varieties including tempranillo, malbec, grenache, syrah, sangiovese, roussanne and albariño.

"This award, I love the fact that this happened to 4R, but would have been just as happy if it had happened to someone else," Johnson says. "The ascension of quality as in Texas wines is really something. This region is on fire."

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