Thursday, April 23, 2015

Comparing 2 $10 Cabernets from Texas

I'm on record as a fan of both Becker and Messina Hof. I've visited Messina Hof's main location in Bryan a couple of times, and I credit my first visit many years ago with sparking my deeper interest in wine. I'm also a regular drinker of Becker's wines and have converted several friends who have become fans. I often have wines from both producers on hand, partly because they're yummy, and partly for when I need to convince a skeptic that Texas makes good wine!

I decided it was time to do a side-by-side tasting of Texas Cabernets from these two producers.  Both wines cost around $10 per bottle.  Let's see how they compare...

2013 Messina Hof Barrel Cuvee Cabernet Sauvignon 
2013 Becker Vineyards Iconoclast Cabernet Sauvignon

As you can see in the picture, both wines are "ruby" in color, but the Messina Hof Cabernet is a bit deeper in color with more of a purplish tinge, while the Becker is more reddish and less opaque.  This might indicate that the Messina Hof has fuller body and richer fruit flavor, but you never know until you taste.

The aromas from both wines are similar and fit with what you'd expect from a Cabernet wine. The Messina Hof smells of rich, fresh, ripe blackberries and cherries, with hints of tobacco and vanilla. The Becker Cabernet has more cherry aromas and less blackberry, with an earthy aroma more reminiscent of leather than tobacco.

On the palate, the Messina Hof Cabernet is fruity and easy to drink, with plenty of tannin (as you'd expect from a Cab), and quite a bit of acidity (which is a little unexpected). Acidity gives a wine a lighter impression and keeps this wine from seeming too heavy, rich, or cloying. There's also a smoky, savory flavor on the finish, with a hint of vanilla. The Messina Hof Cabernet is 13.5% abv, and the winery's web site says there is a small amount of Merlot mixed in.

The flavors of the Becker Cabernet differ from the Messina Hof in the ways that you'd expect based on the aromas. It's fruity, but slightly less so, and focuses more on cherry than blackberry. It has a slightly leaner body, slightly less tannin, and more earthiness, with more of a smoky impression on the finish. The Becker Cabernet is 13.7% abv.

It's interesting to note the difference in corks. While Becker uses real cork, Messina Hof uses imitation cork. Though there's an ongoing debate about which is better, for these wines the type of cork makes little difference. The type of cork matters most when the wine will be aged for many years, but these Cabernets are meant to be drunk young. We can tell this in 2 ways:  1) These wines are fruity and easy to drink. Wines meant to age for many years need time in the bottle to mellow, but these wines are already mellow. 2) Wines meant to age are usually found at higher price points, because they have to be at the peak of quality to age gracefully. These Cabernets are good quality, but destined for a different purpose and market.

I can't rank one of these Cabernets better than the other. They are similar, but the differences are a matter of personal preference. Whereas the Messina Hof Cab is slightly heavier, fruitier, and richer, the Becker Cab is a bit leaner and earthier. Both are approachable, easy to drink, and come at a bargain price. You can't go wrong!

[Correction: This article originally stated that both wines are made with Texas grapes. In fact, the Messina Hof wine is made with Texas grapes, but the Becker Iconoclast is probably not, as it does not state "Texas" on its front label. Becker does make a different, more expensive Cabernet from Texas grapes.]

You might also be interested in:
Texas Wine Cheat Sheet
Cabernet Sauvignon Cheat Sheet
A Dessert Wine from the Texas Piney Woods


  1. You know that only one of these wines qualified to be Texas appellation under federal TTB regulations? Look for the words "For Sale in Texas Only" for the non-Texas wine.

  2. I had not realized that when I wrote the post. I had read on Becker's web site that they grow Cabernet grapes and had assumed they went into this wine, but it seems they go into another Becker Cabernet labeled "Texas." The Becker web site doesn't specify, but do you think it's safe to assume these grapes come from California? Thank you for the comment! I'll edit the post to correct this!