Another Bright Star on the Map: A Look at Compass Rose Cellars

By on July 1, 2014 Behind the Label

by Robin English-Bircher, Travel Writer, Texas Wine and Trail July 01, 2014

The Texas wine scene is constantly expanding. Every year, new wineries come on board to provide another perspective to our growing wine culture. Last year, Compass Rose Cellars made its debut. They started with two great wines, a Merlot and Pinot Grigio. In the past year, Mark Watson, Charles Green, and winemaker Robert Nida have taken the two wine winery towards a magnificent future.

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I first met Mark Watson on my first visit to Hye Market. The winery was just getting the two wines out to consumers, and we were luckily enough to score one of their first Merlots (which quickly sold out). At about the same time, they opened their facility in Mason, Texas. This spot is not much to look at – there is only a sign on the door to let visitors know they found the place. However, it is what is inside that counts, and that happens to be the production of their wines. Now, they have a lovely tasting room in Hye to share their magnificent creation with the rest of the Texas wine drinking community.

Compass Rose Cellars Texas 1Tasting Compass Rose

Prior to June 2014, tasting Compass Rose wines could be difficult. The winery made a number of appearances at places like Hye Market and area festivals, but catching them wasn’t always that simple. For those in Mason, it was easier, as the winery became involved in many local events including the Mason Art Walk. For those willing to take the plunge, the Pinot Grigio has been available at various spots throughout Austin. However, having a complete, full tasting was often a complicated affair.

At first, the daring few made appointments to taste at the Mason facility. From personal experience, I can say it isn’t easy to find; I actually drove past it the first time. Now, it is easier. Appointments can be made for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at the new tasting room in Hye, Texas.

The new tasting room isn’t as easy to miss. First, it is near Wine Road 290, about a mile down Hye Albert Road by Hye Market. This more central location makes visits from nearby Austin and San Antonio convenient. The best part about the location is that the tasting room is a bit off the beaten track. This keeps traffic and noise down, providing a better environment for enjoying the wine and the scenery. After a quick drive up a hill, guests come to what seems like a relatively small metal building. Once guests reach the beautifully crafted wood door, it is obvious that this rustic feeling building has a lot more in store.

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Inside the tasting room is a large open space. Even with a crowd inside, there is ample room to move around. Along one end is a simple but finely crafted tasting bar; it is a great match for the wines. And along the back is the best feature: large windows looking out into the hill country landscape. In the later part of the day, the sun seeps through the windows, leaving the tasting room painted in a golden glow.

One feature Mark is most proud of is the porch. Nestled off of the back of tasting room, the covered porch looks out west and north.  This spot is well-appointed with comfortable sofas to relax on, as well as shaded tables to have a picnic. Mark said he wanted a place he would enjoy relaxing and watching the sunset; this porch is the perfect place to do that.

What We Can Drink Now

Once at the tasting room, guests will sample three wines for $6. The 2012 Pinot Grigio, one of the first two wines, is still available for $23.50. This is a refreshing white with light hints of fruit and floral that ends with a soft minerality. At the Hye tasting room open house, this wine was paired with grilled shrimp.

Following a trend in Texas wine, Compass Rose also has a 2013 Chenin Blanc for $23. Unlike the Pinot Grigio, this wine has a stronger body, filled out by citrus notes. This wine also has a lightness like the other, as the fruit moves into soft herbal flavors. This complex white was recently paired with a juicy pork tenderloin.

What seems to be quite popular is the rich, full body 2012 Syrah. The grapes came from Drew Tallent and have been crafted into a complex wine that begins with dark, robust fruit and mild hints of oak and tobacco. The wine is deep and smooth, making it approachable. For those that truly savor this wine, the intricate flavors and smooth tannins create a great wine that pairs well with beef. This wine is the most expensive at $30.

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What We Can Drink Soon

Three more wines are close to release: 2013 Blanc du Bois, a 2012 Merlot, and a Black Spanish based port tentatively named Jacquez.

The Blanc du Bois comes from some of the most southern vineyards in Texas. This wine has distinct floral notes, especially rose. Though Blanc du Bois is often made into a sweet or semi-sweet wine, this one is dry, which emphasizes the earth and floral over the mild fruit.

The long awaited 2012 Merlot will be a nice cool red. The wine is deceptive; the aroma is lighter than a lot of Texas Merlots with hints of subtle fruit and earth. However, the dark, bold fruit comes out during tasting. This is no fruit bomb though, as it ends smooth and dry. That is no surprise as the grapes come from Granite Hill, a vineyard that has provided some of the best grapes for William Chris’ reds.

Later this year a port will also be released – it is still waiting on the label. Made from Black Spanish, it has aged over a year in barrel. The port will be a great dessert wine with rich caramel accented by chocolate and light berry.

What We Will Drink in the Future

Compass Rose’s Mason facility is the home to some of the most intriguing barrels of Texas wine. These wines will be very limited production, and if their current state is any indication, they will likely sell out quickly.

Right now, Rob is overseeing a few different Tempranillos. One, from Seifert Cellars, is a rustic, Spanish-like Tempranillo with great fruit and spice. The other, from Parr Vineyards, has understated fruit and earth tones, which easily attribute to the balance of the two. With closer tasting, it could be described as a dirty cherry.

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Mark Watson came across some small vineyards growing Cabernet Franc and Petite Verdot. He’ll admit that he may have paid a bit too much for the grapes, but what they have become is well worth it. The Cab Franc has a bright color that belies the dark fruit that dominates the wine. The wine ends dry and creates a sense of beautiful balance; this is a decadent red. The same goes for the Petite Verdot. It happens to be rich inky color, a deep intense sense that is found in the aroma and taste as well. Here, fruit, earth, and a hint of chocolate dance and blend. This is a masterpiece in the making.

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Incredible views of the Texas Hill Country from the porch of Compass Rose Cellars.

When Rob worked on his Master’s, he went to France; however, he also spent a full year in Spain. That Spanish, and even Portuguese, influence lingers and comes out in his interest in dessert wines. A second Black Spanish port – hopefully to be named Iron Spike – tastes of strong caramel with light chocolate and fruit. The first of the two ports is more like chocolate covered fruit with caramel; the later one is a dark chocolate covered caramel. In addition, Madeira is also in the works. Rob is persuing more traditional methods and is slowly working with this wine. At only six months, it still had a lot of fruit characteristics that will add to the final product.

Enjoying Compass Rose Today

Compass Rose is a project of love. Mark, Charles, and Rob work as a team to make everything come out as best as it can. Mark explained that all three men have different visions and ideas, but at the end of the day, they all have the same goal. Using the diversity in this unique partnership, the winery takes creative steps to develop into a top Texas wine experience. From their desire to use 100% Texas fruit to the use of the best methods, both old world and new, this winery proves that Texas is at the forefront of contemporary winemaking.

To visit Compass Rose, contact Rob Nida at 972-415-4189 to make an appointment.

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