One of the signs of a top-flight wine industry, whether in an established region or a new one, is that it has a large, commercial producer that makes quality, affordable wine. These wineries make the entry level wines that are widely available and that introduce consumers to that region’s wines.

Bordeaux, for years, had Mouton Cadet, which sold cheap, decent wine and gave Americans a glimpse of what the region’s wines tasted like. More recently, Chateau Ste. Michelle in Washington state has done an even better job of that. Consumers who try its $8 and $10 wines, like the dry riesling, get a quality product and then often want to learn more about Washington state’s wines. In the long run, that $8 riesling sells a lot of $30 and $40 cabernet.

In Texas, we have Llano Estacado. (What, did you think I wasn’t going to write about regional wine with the conference in town?)

Llano produces around 150,000 cases a year, is in almost every retail outlet in the state, and makes consistent, dependable wines. Case in point is the Signature Melange (about $11, and yes, I know – just overlook the name). It’s a red blend made with the Rhone grapes, including syrah, mouvedre, and grenache, that are becoming more popular in the state. These grapes are better suited to Texas’ climate and soils than cabernet and merlot.

The Melange is a dry, fruity wine with soft tannins that will pair with typical red wine foods, as well as roast chicken and Tex-Mex. We gave it a gold medal at the San Antonio competition this year, and I don’t give out gold medals lightly. Highly recommended.

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