Hennessy 26

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Hello Ladies and Gentlemen,

Welcome to the dog days of summer!  I have picked three wines today that will help quench your thirst in this sweltering heat.  Have a wonderful summer and enjoy!

Cuvee des 3 Messes Basses Rose 2017

Ventoux, France

Cash Price $9.99

This is a quintessential Dry Summer Rose! Light and flavorful Grenache based notes of fresh red cherry and raspberry zing into the palate with medium acidity. Hints of salinity and wet rocks kiss the finish.  James Score: 88 Points

Chateau Jacquet Blanc 2016

Bordeaux, France

Cash Price $9.99

This Sauvignon Blanc based white is delightful.  Fresh, zesty acids combine with citrus lemon lime and touches of melon.  The finish is pure and un-oaked.  James Score: 87 Points

Happy Camper Merlot 2016


Cash Price $7.59

Appealing and quite approachable, this Merlot is exactly what it should be: light and juicy.  The wine is medium bodied with flavors of blackberry and plum with a light, effortless finish.  James Score: 86 Points

Thank You,

James C. Barlow, CWE, CSS

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Hello Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is scorching hot in Texas right now!  All I want is something light and refreshing to quench my thirst and cool my core.  So, I’ll give you some great options to do just that!  I have recently been (re) falling in love with Merlot and I had a show stopper that will lead off this review.  RIP Anthony Bordain. Lost a good one today….

Seavey Merlot 2012

Napa Valley, California

Cash Price $59.84

This wine is really at the height of quality for American Merlot.  I’ve been raving about wines from St. Emilion and Pomerol made from Merlot, but don’t overlook the brilliance that can be produced in California.  Philippe Melka is behind this delicious Napa Valley wine.  Melka is a native of Bordeaux, but has found a home producing extremely high quality wines in Napa Valley.  The wine is 96% Merlot/4% Cabernet Sauvignon and aged in 40% new French oak for nineteen months.  Whole berry fermentation, de-stemming and natural crushing allows for silky smooth tannins in this wine.  Flavors of plum and red cherries lay on a plush mid palate with velvet tannins and rose petals.  The palate offers a pure roundness with a core of creaminess that gives this wine an amazing mouth feel.  The finish offers hints of butterscotch, tea leaf, rhubarb and cedar with just a smidgeon of wild herbs.  Layers and Layers in this wine.  James Score: 94 Points

Nuiton-Beaunoy Volnay Pinot Noir 2014

Bourgogne, France

Cash Price $39.89

Inside of the Cote de Beaune is one of my favorite places on earth for Pinot Noir.  Volnay has no Grand Cru vineyards, but can boast quite a few Premier Cru vineyards.  The 2014 vintage is one of structure and purity.  Bourgogne vignerons have made a united decision to farm in more natural ways whether it be sustainable, organic, biodynamic or all three.  The ensuing wines have a depth and purity of flavors that are unbeatable in comparison to any other place in the world that is producing Pinot Noir.  Fresh flavors of ripe red cherry and raspberry sing into the palate with a light, clean core and balanced acidity.  Aromatically appealing, this wines shows whiffs of rose petals and violets on the mid palate.  There is beautiful underlying minerality to this wine that shows notes of graphite and herbal tea.  The finish offers kisses of exotic spice, cinnamon and licorice.  Get this limited Pinot Noir!  James Score: 92 Points

Shed Horn Chardonnay Reserve 2015

Lake County, California

Cash Price $29.99

Michael Wood’s vision of building his own winery after making others wines for years is really taking shape.  He started in 2004 with only 3 barrels.  Wood has now ramped up his production to 4,000 cases and we are excited to be able to add him to our portfolio.  Lake County is becoming a hot bed for wineries since Napa fruit is becoming exceedingly expensive. Classic California flavors of pineapple, yellow apples and melon explode in the palate with a soft, creamy core of hazelnuts and butter.  The finish is easy and pleasing with notes of toasted oak, marshmallows and vanilla.  James Score: 90 Points

Frey Sohler Pinot Gris 2015

Alsace, France

Cash Price $19.94

Alsatian wines are the best food pairing wines on earth.  The 2015 was picture perfect throughout most of France and the vintage will go down in history as one of the finest in the century.  Frey Sohler wines have always been solid, but this particular vintage is really something special.  Alsace is quite warm, so you can get some of the juiciest, rich white wines in all of France from this small region nestled right by the German border.  Pinot Gris from Alsace is typically off-dry (just a touch of sweetness) and is perfect for extremely hot heat.  It has the acidity but also shows off a veritable fruit bomb of flavor with touches of candied sweetness.   This 100% Pinot Gris is aged in neutral oak for 9 months and from the generally warmer town of Rittersberg.  It offers flavors of melon and pear with a refreshing acidity that beautifully balances the tinges of sweetness.  Notes of citrus lime and wet slate focus on the mid palate with a finish of fresh meadow flowers.  Perfect for the Scorching Summer Heat!  James Score: 90+

22 Pirates Red Blend 2016


Cash Price $19.94

Ready for a fun, accessible red blend for summer?  Look no further!  This Syrah/Petite Sirah blend is thick and unctuous with flavors of blackberry and blueberry racing through the palate with a creamy core of cobbler and pie.  Black cherry and currant flow easily through the mid palate with soft, plush tannins and acids.  The finish offers darker notes of jammy blackberry pie with licks of cinnamon, vanilla and cedar.  James Score: 88 Points

Bjorn Sauvignon Blanc 2016

Napa Valley, California

Cash Price $19.94

Bjorn Larson is based in the famed Howell Mountain region of Napa Valley.  He produces the daily pleasers Gauge red and white, but his namesake wines are truly something special. ‘Great wines come from great grapes which comes from great farmers in great locations’.  Crisp, clean flavors of citrus and grapefruit are prevalent on the palate although the mid palate softens into notes of Meyer lemon and apricot with medium acidity.  Hints of tree fruits and honey play on the finish with a nice zesty finish.  James Score: 90 Points

Malmont Red Blend 2015

Cotes du Rhone, France

Cash Price $18.99

Malmont (bad mountain) is a single vineyard located in the highly acclaimed region of Seguret.  Nicolas Haeni is the brain child behind the powerful wines from this label.  I often say that some of the world’s best priced wines come from the encompassing Cotes du Rhone AOC and this wine is exactly why I consistently say that.  Malmont is a 55% Grenache/45% Syrah blend that offers concentrated flavors of blackberries and garrigue flow smoothly into medium tannins and acids.  The mid palate offers a medley of spices with pepper being prevalent.  The finish is silky and long lasting with hints of violets and lavender flowing through tinges of stewed fruits.  James Score: 89 Points

Graf Von Bentzel Blaufrankisch 2013

Wurttemberg, Germany

Cash Price $16.99

German reds are hidden gems!  Blaufrankisch (called Lemberger in Germany) is a dark skinned grape that has a unique feel to it.  The grape has never really gained popularity in the general public, probably due to its difficult pronunciation (Bl-OW Frankish) meaning ‘blue Frankish’ in German.  It has become a darling grape in the Sommelier World and a dark horse on wine lists throughout the United States.  The wine has a softer feel to it with good structure of tannins and acids.  I put a slight chill on this wine last week in the sweltering heat and it tasted exceedingly well.  Flavors of black cherry and pomegranate flow into medium tannins and acids with a linear backbone of minerality.  The wine doesn’t have any perceptible oak, but it doesn’t need it.  The fruits are quite fresh on the palate and flow into a blackberry fruit cocktail sensation.  Yum!  James Score: 89 Points

Tamboerskloof Rose of Syrah 2017

Stellenbosch, South Africa

Cash Price $14.99

Kleinood winery consistently produces some of my favorite wines coming out of South Africa.  In fact, this Syrah of Rose is one of my favorite Roses in our portfolio.  I find Syrah to be amazingly versatile to pair with many foods and a dynamite pairing with herbs.  When made into a Rose, it shows all the flavor but without the tannins.  This wine offers flavors of wild strawberries and bright red cherries.  The mid palate displays medium acidity with freshly picked red apples and cranberry tingling throughout. The tertiary flavors really drive this wine with notes of garrigue and white pepper.  The finish is deliciously clean with hints of wet slate and fruit punch.  James Score: 92 Points

Clos Des Moiselles Red Blend 2014

Bordeaux, France

Cash Price $13.99

The Cotes de Bourg was just ravaged by a hail storm last week.  I have not heard to what extent this Chateau was damaged, but we need to support wines from this region.  The area is considered one of the better ‘value’ regions in all of Bordeaux.  This little gem is 50% Merlot/45%/5% Malbec and aged in used oak.  Delightfully fresh flavors of bright red cherry and cranberry flow into medium plus tannins and acids.  The 2014 vintage is well structured and suited to pair with heavy meals.  The finish offers licks of mocha, cocoa dust and just a hint of fresh earth.  James Score: 88 Points

Gemtree ‘Dragon Blood’ Cabernet Sauvignon 2016

McLaren Vale, Australia

Cash Price $12.29

McLaren Vale is considered one of the finest regions in all of Australia and the area is best known for their red blends.  Gemtree garners very high praise from critics on a regular basis.  They have become famous with their organic and biodynamic vineyard practices.  Truthfully, the wines are quite impressive at excellent price points.  This is truly a Daily Cab drinkers Cabernet.  Fruit forward and approachable, Dragon’s Blood offers flavors of black cherry and cassis with accessible tannins and acids.  The mid palate is rich and enticing with notes of black pepper, plum and currant.  The finish is loaded full of cobbler and exotic spices.  James Score: 89 Points

Domaine de Fournache Aligote 2016

Bourgogne, France

Cash Price $11.99

Aligote is taking Texas by storm!  It is the ‘other’ white grape of Burgundy that is best known in the region of Bouzeron.  It is definitely NOT Chardonnay, so don’t even connote the two (although the do have the same parents, Gouais Blanc and Pinot).  The grape offers more acid and is typically leaner in flavor profile than Chardonnay.  Aligote used to be reserved for a drink called Kir, which one would add a dollop of crème de cassis to the wine to soften the bracing acidity in the glass.  Now with the warming trends in France, Aligote can be produced in a much riper style with less acidity and more fruit.  Fournache offers deliciously zingy acids with plenty of citrus lemon on the palate.  The wine is un-oaked and quite refreshing.  Notes of white flowers and hints of hazelnuts dance vibrantly on the finish.  James Score: 88 Points

Cappricio Sparkling Torrontes N/V

Mendoza, Argentina

Cash Price $11.99

This fully sparkling, 100% Torrontes is naturally sweet and highly aromatic with fruit packed flavors of peach, pear and guava.  The bubbles tickle the palate while flavors tantalize the taste buds with hints of honeycomb and lush stone fruits.  While the wine may taste like moscato ‘light’, it does have 9.5% alcohol content to add with the flavors of fresh meadow flowers.  James Score: 86 Points

Thank you,

James C. Barlow, CWE,CSS

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Hello Ladies and Gentlemen,

I tasted over 400 wines while in Bordeaux. I reviewed my TOP picks of the 2017 vintage in the last blog.  Now, I shall review ‘The Best of the Rest’ for you to file away when the wines are offered in futures.  I tasted a good many other vintages as well such as the 2015’s & 2016’s that may already be on the market.  Enjoy!

Chateau Lafite-Rothschild 2017– 96% Cabernet Sauvignon/3.5% Merlot/.5% Petit Verdot aged in 100% new oak and located in Pauillac.  First Growth. Silky, soft with a light mid palate, that is just a touch lacking. Dark cherry and raspberry are prevalent throughout the mouth feel with full grainy tannins.  The finish offers dark chocolate, cinnamon toast, and mocha.  James Score: 96-98

‘R’ de Rieussec Blanc Sec 2017: 54% Semillon/46% Sauvignon Blanc and located in Sauternes.  This wine has a nose to get lost in.  It’s paradise.  Flavors of pineapple, mango and lemon drop are surrounded by divinely placed acidity.  Notes of grapefruit and tree fruit are exquisite on the mid palate.  The finish offers a plethora of flavors like white peach, apricot and creamy banana.  Absolutely Stunning for the price!  James Score: 95-96 Points

Chateau Latour 2017– 92.1% Cabernet Sauvignon/7.8% Merlot/.1% Petit Verdot aged in 100% new oak and located in Pauillac.  First Growth.  This is a big, thick shouldered wine with good structure.  Plush black currant and black cherry are integrated through firm tannins and acids. The finish is velvet with red fruits laying on notes of cedar, vanilla, tobacco and tinges of graphite.  Bright and Beautiful. Wow!  James Score: 98+

Chateau Mouton Rothschild 2017– 90% Cabernet Sauvignon/9% Merlot/1% Petit Verdot aged in 100% new oak and located in Pauillac.  First Growth.  Silky and balanced red and black fruits.  There is a 2nd layer of depth and complexity that weaves through medium plus tannins and acids.  The finish offers plenty of nuts, butter, and vanilla graham cracker.  Tinges of gravel, smoke and tar give the wine an edgy undercurrent. James Score: 97-98 Points

Les Forts de Latour 2017– 65.2% Cabernet Sauvignon/33% Merlot/.8% Cabernet Franc/1% Petit Verdot.  Second wine of Chateau Latour.  Flavors of black cherry and black currant flow into notes of chalky limestone.  The tannins are full and gripping in the mid palate.  The finish offers black raspberry, tea, cocoa dust and gravel.  James Score: 97-98 Points

La Mission Haut Brion 2017– 56% Cabernet Sauvignon/39.6% Merlot/4.4% Cabernet Franc aged in 60% new oak and located in Pessac-Leognan.  This seamless magic carpet ride is one that I would love to repeat.  Velvet red fruits of cherry and pomegranate dive into a creamy core.  The mid palate offers blueberries and cassis with medium plus tannins and acids.  The finish shows vanilla, cedar, and butterscotch.  Long and lingering, this wine get more hedonistic as it sits on the palate.  James Score: 97-98 Points

Chateau Pichon-Lalande  2017: 70% Cabernet Sauvignon/23%Merlot/6% Cabernet Franc/1% Petit Verdot aged in 50% new oak and located in Pauillac.  Black fruits of currant and cassis are sleek and silky with medium plus tannins and acids.  The mid palate offers red raspberry with hints of dark mocha.  The finish offers a medley of gravel, tobacco, tar, smoke, graphite and coffee bean.  Beautiful and balanced.  James Score: 97-98 Points

Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillou 2017: 90% Cabernet Sauvignon/10% Merlot aged in 100% new oak and located in Saint Julien.  Thick, rich, mildly extracted, voluptuous with red and black fruits encompassed by medium plus tannins and acids.  The mid palate is seamless with currant and blackberry freely flowing.  The finish offers toasted oak, potpourri, cinnamon graham crackers with hints of milk chocolate and cream.  James Score: 96-98 Points

Chateau Leoville-Poyferre 2017– 68% Cabernet Sauvignon/27% Merlot/3% Cabernet Franc/2% Petit Verdot aged in 80% new oak and located in Saint-Julien.  Second Growth.  Wow.  Full and amazing.  Seamless and creamy with bright, vibrant red fruits.  The mid palate has integrated tannins and acids.  The finish offers a medley of cinnamon, graham cracker, leather, and tobacco.  James Score: 96-98 Points

Chateau Quintus 2017– 54.4% Merlot/46.6% Cabernet Franc aged in 36% new oak and located in St. Emilion.  From the Dillon family of Haut Brion.  Richly textured with a true gracefulness.  Red fruits are prevalent on the palate with medium tannins and acids.  The finish offers cedar, tobacco, cream and cinnamon.  There is an undercurrent of wild spice throughout the wine.  James Score: 97-98 Points

La Sirene de Giscours 2017– 55% Cabernet Sauvignon/25% Merlot/20% Cabernet Franc aged in 25% new oak and located in Margaux.  Second wine of 3rd Growth Chateau Giscours.  Creamy and silky dark fruit that is very pleasing on the palate. Black cherry and raspberry mingle with red fruits that are balanced in medium plus tannins and acids.  The wine is quite aromatic with violets wafting throughout.  The finish is chalked full of stones and gravel with exotic spices and tobacco.  James Score: 94-95 Points

Chateau Branaire-Ducru 2017– 65% Cabernet Sauvignon/24% Merlot/4.5% Cabernet Franc/6.5% Petit Verdot aged in 60% new oak and located in Saint-Julien.  Fourth Growth.  This Chateau is quickly becoming one of my favorites due to their elegance and purity from vintage to vintage.  Red and black fruits of cherry and raspberry flow freely through seamless acids and tannins.  Beautifully fresh and elegant, the palate offers vanilla, toasted cedar with hints of herbs, tobacco leaf and tea.  The finish shows dark chocolate with smidgeons of graphite and gravel.  Pure!  James Score: 96-97 Points

Chateau Figeac 2017– 47% Cabernet Sauvignon/43% Merlot/10% Cabernet Franc aged in 100% new oak and located in Saint Emilion.  Silky red cherry, raspberry with a touch of cranberry.  Edgy tannins are rounded into a soft mouth feel.  Creamy and succulent, the finish offers smidgeons of black tea, raspberry tart, vanilla and toasted cedar.  James Score: 96-97 Points

Vieux Chateau Certan 2017– 81% Merlot/14% Cabernet Franc/5% Cabernet Sauvignon aged in 50% new oak and located in Pomerol.  This is the first time in ten years that VCC has used Cabernet Sauvignon.  Due to lower yield on Merlot and Cabernet Franc.  Silky dark cherry and blackberry.  Medium plus tannins and acids are integrated through raspberry and cranberry flavors with a hint of chalky minerality.  The finish is wrapped up in vanilla, herbs and graphite.  James Score: 96-97 Points

Chateau Rauzan-Segla 2017: 62% Cabernet Sauvignon/36% Merlot/2% Petit Verdot aged in 60% new oak and located in Margaux.  Farmed sustainably and mostly organic.  Round beautiful red fruits of cherry and pomegranate.  Plush tannins and vibrant acids give the wine a ‘WoW’ factor.  Cedar, vanilla bean notes are polished into a creamy core.  James Score: 96-97 Points

Chateau Haut-Bages Liberal 2017: 72% Cabernet Sauvignon/28% Merlot aged in 40% new oak and located in Pauillac.  Right by Latour.  Red and black fruit with Pauillac style tannins and acids.  The mid palate is thick and juicy with plenty of fruit.  The finish is packed full oaky vanilla, spice, gravel, tobacco and tea.  James Score: 95-96

Chateau Margaux Pavillon Rouge 2017:  76% Cabernet Sauvignon/17% Merlot/4% Cabernet Franc/3% Petit Verdot aged in 60% new oak and located in Margaux.  2nd wine of Chateau Margaux.  Round, pure and elegant red cherry and violets lick through the palate.  The mid palate offers currants and cream with medium plus tannins and acids.  The finish is wonderfully long with a creamy vanilla core.  James Score: 95-96 Points

Chateau Canon La Gaffeliere 2017: 60% Merlot/30% Cabernet Franc/10% Cabernet Sauvignon and located in Saint Emilion.  Silky, beautiful and graceful red  fruits balance wonderfully with the sticky tannins.  The finish offers a plethora of creamy vanilla, oak and exotic spices.  James Score: 95-97 Points

Chateau La Mondotte 2017: 70% Merlot/30% Cabernet Franc aged in 60% new oak and located in Saint Emilion.  Round and fully textured with striking tannins that are surrounded by black and red fruit.  Seamless but with body.  The finish offers black leather, tea, exotic spice.  James Score: 95-97 Points

Chateau Boyd-Cantenac 2017Tasted at Cazabone tasting so no assemblage. Very expressive nose.  Flavors of oak, caramel, tea and smoked meat.  Powerful and hedonistic but with structured tannins. Finish offers oak and brazed maple glaze.  Flavor bomb!  James Score: 94-96 Points

Chateau Lagrange 2017: Tasted at Cazabone tasting so no assemblage.  Round, rich and creamy with well balanced structure.  Red fruits.  James Score: 95-97 Points

Chateau La Confession 2017 : 75% Merlot/25% Cabernet Franc and located in Saint Emilion.  Delicious red cherries and raspberry with round, solid tannins.  The finish is long with cedar and subtle spices.  James Score: 93 Points

Chateau La Croix St. Georges 2017: 95% Merlot/5% Cabernet Franc and located in St. Emilion.  This vineyard’s next door neighbor is the famed Le Pin.  Gravelly, red fruits flow into gripping tannins.  The mid palate offers black cherry and cassis.  The finish is balanced with chocolate, mocha and cedar.  Long finish.  James Score: 94 Points

Chateau Daugay 2017: 75% Merlot/25% Cabernet Franc and located in St. Emilion Grand Cru.  Very pretty wine at a reasonable price.  Light red cherry and cranberry that leads into a rich, voluptuous mid palate.  The finish is lengthy and balanced with exotic spice and vanilla cream.  James Score: 91-92 Points

Chateau Suduiraut 2017: 92% Semillon/8% Sauvignon Blanc and located in Sauternes.  Expressive mouth feel!  Honeyed beeswax, pineapple and lanolin flow into medium plus acidity that balanced out the refreshing sweetness.  The wine is delightfully fresh and clean with apricot, white peach and graham crackers.  The finish offers salted caramel and cannoli.  James Score: 95-96 Points

Chateau Carbonnieux Blanc 2017: 55% Sauvignon Blanc/45% Semillon aged in 25% new oak and located in Pessac Leognan.  Best Carbonnieux Blanc I’ve tasted! Silky citrus, cactus and cream scream on the palate.  The backbone is quite linear with pointed acidity.  The Semillon shows nicely and give the finish a beautiful roundness.  Yummy!  James Score: 95-96

Chateau Smith Haut Lafite Blanc 2017: 90% Sauvignon Blanc/10% Semillon aged in 50% new oak and located in Pessac Leognan.  Round, supple and creamy with floral white flowers and white peach on the palate.  Medium plus acids are tamed by notes of orange, nectarines and citrus.  The finish is quite giving with loads of hazelnuts, fresh meadow flowers and vanilla custard. James Score: 96-97 Points

Chateau Puygueraud Blanc 2017: 60% Sauvignon Blanc/40% Sauvignon Gris and located in Franc.  Very floral.  White peach, flowers and mango sinew through the palate with medium acids.  Notes of citrus, cactus and orange blossom play on the finish with just a touch of lees aging.  James Score: 90-91 Points


Chateau Branaire-Ducru 2016: 64% Cabernet Sauvignon/27% Merlot/3% Cabernet Franc/6% Petit Verdot aged in 60% new oak and located in Saint Julien.  Full bodied, yet silky with charming tannins.  Flavors of red cherry and raspberry with darker fruits flowing in the mid palate.  The finish is velvety with notes of graham cracker, clove, and caramel.  WoW!  James Score: 96 Points

Chateau Beychevelle 2016: 47% Cabernet Sauvignon/47% Merlot/1% Cabernet Franc/5% Petit Verdot aged in 50% new oak and located in Saint Julien.  Beautifully aromatic nose.  Sweet red fruits and pastries are integrated into medium plus tannins and acids.  The finish offers notes of pecans, tea, and toasted oak.  Expressive.  James Score: 98+ Points

Vieux Chateau Certan 2016: 85% Merlot/14% Cabernet Franc/1% Cabernet Sauvignon from Pomerol.  Very floral, fresh and vibrant.  Red fruits and fresh herbs sinew into powerful, yet finessed tannins and acids.  Red and black fruit hit the mid palate with wild flowers, tea and tobacco.  The finish is delightfully long with cream, vanilla, cedar, walnuts and cocoa dust.  James Score: 98 Points

Vieux Chateau Certan ‘Gravette’ 2016: 70% Merlot/20% Cabernet Franc/10% Cabernet Sauvignon aged in no new oak and located in Pomerol.  2nd wine of Vieux Chateau Certan. Round, plush candied red cherries and cran-apple show off integrated tannins and acids.  Powerful, yet ready and willing wine.  All fruit and structure with vanilla, herbal tea, gravel, smoke and game on the finish. Special!  James Score: 96 Points

Chateau Quintus 2016: 70% Merlot/30% Cabernet Franc aged in 35% new oak and located in Saint Emilion.  Full and textured.  Beautiful.  Red fruit and cream.  More structure than the 2017.  The finish offers cedar and cinnamon.  James Score: 98+ Points

Chateau Quintus ‘Le Dragon’ 2016: 90% Merlot/10% Cabernet Franc aged in 29% new oak and located in Saint Emilion.  Well balanced with loads of red fruit and sticky, fine tannins.  Brawny and age worthy.  James Score: 94 Points

Chateau Puygueraud blanc 2016: 80% Sauvignon Blanc/20% Sauvignon Gris from Franc.  Fleshy and tropical with white peach, apricot, mango, orange, nectarine with a touch of lees aging.  No oak.  James Score: 90 Points

Chateau Tour Leognan Blanc 2016: 70% Sauvignon Blanc/30% Semillon.  Crisp grapefruit, citrus, and cactus lead into medium plus acids. More tree fruit on the mid palate. The finish is complex with cream and nuts.  James Score: 92 Points


Chateau Branaire-Ducru 2015: 65% Cabernet Sauvignon/26% Merlot/4% Cabernet Franc/5% Petit Verdot aged in 65% new oak and located in Saint Julien.  This wine is the reason I have fallen in love with this Chateau.  Creamy, velvety red cherry, framboise and currant ease into medium plus tannins and acids. Unbelievably seamless notes of clove, cinnamon and toasted oak weave through tobacco and exotic spices.  Show Stopper!  James Score: 99 Points

Chateau Latour 2006:  91.5% Cabernet Sauvignon/75% Merlot/.5% Cabernet Franc/.5% Petit Verdot aged in 100% new oak. 1st Growth from Pauillac. Showing slight age and elegance.  Red and black fruit with gripping tannins.  The finish offers graphite and gravel with hints of toasted oak.  Silky smooth, yet with a massive palate.  James Score: 95+

Chateau Latour ‘Les Forts’ 2012: 76% Cabernet Sauvignon/22% Merlot/2% Petit Verdot aged in 30% new oak.  1st Growth, 2nd wine from Pauillac.  Black currant, blackberry and cranberry on the palate with medium plus tannins and acids.  The mid palate is chalked full of dark and milk chocolate.  The finish offers dollops of oak, gravel, cocoa dust, and vanilla bean.  James Score: 94+ Points

Chateau Latour ‘Pauillac’ 2013:  45% Cabernet Sauvignon/54% Merlot/1% Cabernet Franc aged in 20% new oak.  1st growth, 3rd wine from Pauillac.  Elegant nose with red roses, violets and red cherry.  Taught and showing age ability.  The finish offers black tea and gravel.  James Score: 91+ Points

Chateau Branaire-Ducru ‘Duluc’ 2014: 4th Growth, 2nd wine from Saint Julien. 55% Cabernet Sauvignon/40% Merlot/3% Petit Verdot/2% Cabernet Franc aged in 20% new oak.  Full and elegant with intense red fruits.  The backbone has a minerality and terroir with tea herbs and medium plus acids and tannins.  The finish offers licks of exotic spice and oak.  Shows ability to age.  James Score: 93 Points

Chateau Grand Corbin Despagne 2014: 75% Merlot/24% Cabernet Franc/1% Cabernet Sauvignon and is St. Emilion Grand Cru Classe.  Round and well balanced red fruit bursting with frenetic energy.  The wine is organic.  Silky smooth finish.  James Score: 93 Points

Chateau Leoville Poyferre ‘Le Crock’ 2015:  50% Cabernet Sauvignon/12% Cabernet Franc/7% Petit Verdot aged in 30% new oak and located in Saint Estephe.  Full and gripping tannins with red and black fruit on the palate.  Notes of mocha, cocoa dust, cream and leather encompass the finish.  James Score: 92 Points

Chateau Leoville Poyferre ‘Pavillon de Poyferre’ 2015: 63% Cabernet Sauvignon/42% Merlot/10% Petit Verdot/3% Cabernet Franc aged in 30% new oak and located in Saint Julien.  2nd Growth, 2nd wine.  Excellent red fruits of raspberry and cherry with medium tannins and acids.  The wine is seamless with a core of cream.  The finish offers tobacco, cedar and vanilla.  James Score: 94 Points

Chateau Leoville Poyferre ‘Moulin Riche’ 2015: 54% Cabernet Sauvignon/33% Merlot/11% Petit Verdot/2% Cabernet Franc aged in no new oak and located in Saint Julien.  Very pretty, velvet texture. Red fruits abound on the palate with medium plus tannins and acids.  Silky butter and nuts combine on the finish. Yum!  James Score: 95 Points

Chateau Chenes Macquin 2015: 90% Merlot/9% Cabernet Franc/1% Cabernet Sauvignon aged in used oak.  Pretty and pure with rounded red fruits. Medium tannins and acids.  James Score: 92 Points

‘Les Griffons’ de Pichon Baron 2015: 60% Cabernet Sauvignon/40% Merlot aged in 60% new oak and located in Pauillac.  From the younger vineyards at Baron.  Good structure and texture. Slightly angular red fruit with medium plus tannins.  The finish shows good potential for aging with black tea, tobacco, coffee grinds and graphite.  James Score: 92 Points

Carmes de Rieussec 2013:  Tasted at Cazabone tasting so don’t have assemblage.  Wow!  Tropical pineapple and melon with hints of lime and lychee.  The mid palate shows grapefruit with medium plus acids.  The finish shows soft caramel and buttered popcorn.  Great vintage for white wines!  James Score: 98+ Points

Thank you,

James C. Barlow, CWE, CSS




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Hello Ladies and Gentlemen,

I recently spent two weeks in Bordeaux with Bear tasting through and evaluating the 2017 vintage.  Here are my notes on the vintage with my TOP SIX WINES. I will write another blog about ‘The Best of the Rest’ very soon. As Always, a SPECIAL THANK YOU to Bear Dalton for allowing me to see this vintage from a perspective that few in this business are able to.


If I had to summarize the vintage in one word, it would be: Unique.

Bordeaux was hit by a devastating frost in late April.  Many Chateaux not near the Gironde estuary had crops that were down anywhere from 30-100%.  Spectacular Chateau such as Laplagnotte-Bellevue or Grand Corbin-Despagne had no crop in 2017 (Breaks my heart for these smaller Chateau).  Chateaux that were closer to the river or on higher elevations were moderately or not affected at all.  Many value areas such as Entre-Deux-Mers, Fronsac, Franc on the right bank or Listrac and Moulis on the left bank were heavily affected and had minimal crops.

The grapes spared from the frost were of very good quality.  The frost burn may have affected the grapes in quite an interesting way because the ensuing wines are some of the ‘freshest’ Bordeaux that I have had the joy of tasting.  The good Chateau that didn’t see frost produced very high quality wines that are stunning now but will have an ability to age due to the deliciously fresh acidity found in the bottle.

In conclusion, the wines that you will have the opportunity to purchase will be of good quality although you may want to buy quickly as the small yield of the vintage means that the wines will not last long on the market.

Quick Tip:  Buy the whites early and often!  They are some of the best I’ve ever tasted in Bordeaux.


I fear many critics will claim this vintage to be a ‘lesser’ vintage due to the frost complications.  Using this excuse as a ‘catch all’ is dangerous as there were many Chateaux that produced spectacularly fresh wines of amazing vibrancy, beautiful structure, and fresh red fruits.  For example, Chateau Carbonnieux produced the best red and white that I have ever tasted from them.  While this vintage may not live up to 2015 & 2016 or 2009 & 2010, it is definitely up there in quality with the likes of 2014, 2008, and 2001.  Hopefully pricing will be as such….


A cold winter that was much drier than usual lasted until February.  There was an increase in temperature and rainfall from February on, which led to an early bud break.  Everything was shaping up quite nicely until April 27th through the 29th.  A devastating frost paralyzed the region with temperatures dropping down to 25 degrees Fahrenheit.  Chateaux in the lower valleys and plains were severely affected while Chateaux near the moderating rivers or on the hillsides or plateaus were hardly touched.  Warm weather in May and June encouraged vigorous growth.  July and August were drier, enabling the tannins to properly ripen.  A substantial drop in temperature and slight rain in September helped preserve the freshness and acidity for the vintage.


I saw a continued trend in Bordeaux towards sustainable, organic, or biodynamic farming, whether it be one or all three.  There is a definitive trend towards ‘natural’ farming practices now more than ever.  Chateaux are also starting to shy away from the extracted wines of the past couple of decades in favor of ‘fresher’ wines with more elegance and purity of fruit.  One that definitely stood out for me were the wines produced by Claire Villars-Lurton of Chateau Ferriere and Haut-Bages Liberal.

A name that kept popping up as a consultant/Oenologist for top estates was Eric Boissenot.  He produces wines that show a sense of place (terroir).  He ‘gets out of the way’ of the wines and allows each individual estate to show off its unique terroir.  Boissenot’s style is taking Bordeaux by storm and is now overshadowing the likes of heavy handed winemakers such as Michel Rolland and Stephane Derenoncourt. That’s a good thing!


  1. Chateau Petrus 2017– 100% Merlot aged in 50% new oak based in Pomerol.  I knew this would be the top wine that I tried as soon as it touched my lips.  Jean-Claude Berrouet is a rock star in Pomerol producing over 40 vintages with Petrus as a feather in his cap.  This wine is extremely aromatic with floral notes of violets and wild red roses.  Flavors of wild berries, red cherries and raspberries flow seamlessly through this sensuous wine.  The wine has lightning rod precision of tannins and acids.  The mid palate shows more raspberry with a creamy texture followed by touches of cedar and cocoa dust.  The finish offers an array of red fruits that are flying on a magic carpet of deliciousness.  Notes of vanilla bean and fresh bitter herbs lick throughout the long, tantalizing end.  James Score: 100 Points
  2. Chateau Margaux 2017– 89% Cabernet Sauvignon/8% Merlot/2% Cabernet Franc/1% Petit Verdot aged in 100% new oak based in Margaux.  Round and pure red fruits of red cherry and currant explode on the palate with a seamless purity.  The mid palate offers darker tones of cassis and blueberry with concentrated oak structure.  The tannins are integrated with vibrant acidity.  Hints of tea, tobacco leaf, and cream wrap around beautifully sweet red raspberry on the finish.  I cannot find a flaw in this wine.  James Score: 98-100 Points
  3. Chateau Haut Brion Blanc 2017– 56.2% Sauvignon Blanc/43.8% Semillon aged in 39% new oak based in Pessac-Leognan. The 2017 whites are some of the best I have EVER tasted from Bordeaux.  Brilliant color to this wine! Citrus and grapefruit sinew deftly through the nose with fireworks of white flowers.  Flavors of lemon lime citrus, lemon custard and pear gush into the palate with hints of cactus.  The wine has zesty acidity that is softened by a creamy backbone.  The finish is unbelievable with notes of hazelnuts, almond, stony minerals and vanilla bean.  James Score: 98-99 Points
  4. Chateau Le Pin 2017– 100% Merlot aged in 100% new oak based in Pomerol.  Silky and seamless.  Plush red fruit that has a purity that is second to none.  Velvety flavors of red cherry and raspberry play into a touch of candied wild berry.  The mid palate offers medium plus tannins and acids that are balanced with a creamy core with licks of cocoa dust and gravel on the outer edges.  The finish is round and supple with notes of cedar, cracked nuts, wild herbs and tinges of tea.  WOW!  James Score: 98-100 Points
  5. Chateau Cheval Blanc– 56% Merlot/30% Cabernet Franc/14% Cabernet Sauvignon aged in 100% new oak based in St. Emilion.  The Cabernet Franc really shows in this wine.  Flavors of black tea, bright red cherry, raspberry and currant follow through the palate.  The mid mouth feel shows medium plus tannins and acids that are encompassed by creamy, silky oak notes.  Great mid palate!  The finish offers cocoa dust and coffee.  James Score: 98-99 Points
  6. Chateau Rieussec Blanc Sauternes 2017– Our 1st appointment was at Lafite Rothschild and would give us a clue to how exceptional the white wines of this vintage would be.  Wild, fresh fruits of Bosc pear and melon immediately flow into flavors of crème brulee and creamy vanilla extract.  The mid palate shows medium plus acidity to give the wine a purity of balance and precision.  Beautiful tones of candied beeswax and buttered caramel popcorn give a hedonistic plushness with hints of lanolin and peach cobbler on the finish.  (The Dry ‘R’ Rieussec Blanc was also highly rated)  James Score: 98+

Thank you,

James C. Barlow, CWE,CSS

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Hello Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am pleased to announce that I passed the rigorous Bourgogne (Burgundy) Ambassador Program proctored by the BIVB (Burgundy Wine Board).  I am now 1 of 60 Bourgogne Wine Ambassadors in the world!  It was a grueling, but extremely educational week.  I am finally having some time to spend on putting together my Bordeaux 2017 report, so expect that in the coming weeks as well as a blog on my observations in Bourgogne.  Now for the Steals….

Roblar Sauvignon Blanc 2016


Cash Price $9.99

Ripe and succulent, this hot heat-loving white is a perfect match to your holiday parties.  Flavors of citrus, white peach and guava blend into light, yet sturdy acidity.  Completely unoaked.  James Score: 88 Points

Le Versant Rose 2017

Pays d’Oc, France

Cash Price $8.99

This 100% Grenache is dry and bursting with supple red fruits.  Red Cherries, raspberries, and red roses flow into medium acids and licks of tannin.  Fresh and inviting!  James Score: 89 Points

Novecento Malbec 2017

Mendoza, Argentina

Cash Price $8.49

From the house of Dante Robino comes this easy, accessible food-friendly red wine.  It’s 100% Malbec with notes of violets, plum and currant that sink into medium acids and tannins.  James Score: 87 Points

Thank You,

James C. Barlow, CWE,CSS




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Hello Ladies and Gentlemen,

As you all know, I was recently in Bordeaux so I did not have time to post a ‘Thirteen’ picks last month.  I will be leaving to Burgundy in a week, so I am making sure to get this month’s list posted! I have the opportunity to become a Burgundy Ambassador and will be visiting the region for 8 days.  At the end, I will take an exam and (fingers crossed) return to Texas as a Certified Burgundy Ambassador!  I know that pocket books are a little light this time of year due to the merciless tax man, so I have tried to keep most of these picks in the ‘affordable’ range.  Enjoy!

Louis de Sacy Grand Cru Champagne N/V

Champagne, France

Cash Price $33.89

I recently had the pleasure of taking Mr. Alain Sacy around to several locations throughout Houston to taste his dynamic products with our staff. He is a 12th generation grape grower and 4th generation wine maker.  In other words….Its in his blood.  He grew up in the vineyards forgoing school to focus his attention on his true love, grapes.  His son and daughter have decided to become the 13th generation and the legacy of this boutique Champagne house continues.  Alain is a minimalist in producing his sparkling wine, allowing the grapes to speak from his Grand Cru vineyards in the quaint town of Verzy.  Grand Cru vineyards are considered the finest in all Champagne.  It is rare to find Grand Cru at such an affordable price!  Pure, zesty flavors of citrus lemon lay on the edgy backbone of deliciously refreshing acidity.  He adds minimal dosage (6 grams) and allows fruits of bright red cherry and rose petals to flow seamlessly through the palate.  The finish offers hints of brioche and wild flowers with an undertone of wet rock minerality.  Yum!  James Score: 92 Points

Chateau Cap St. Georges Red Blend 2014

St. Emilion, France

Cash Price $25.99

From an iconic producer, Jean-Philippe Janouiex, comes this excellent value wine from St. Emilion.  It is mostly Merlot with a smidgeon of Cabernet Franc lending structure and spice.  This wine is all about elegance and balance.  Ripe flavors of fresh plum and wild strawberry flow easily into the palate with licks of vanilla bean and cinnamon.  The mid palate is medium plus bodied with firm tannins and acids.  The finish offers tinges of forest floor, chocolate and hints of cedar.  This is a wonderful wine to pair with meat.  Stellar!  James Score: 93 points

Nuiton Beaunoy Pinot Noir 2014

Beaune, France

Cash Price $25.99

Nuiton-Beaunoy is, above all, the history of the pioneer winegrowers of the Hautes-Cotes de Nuits and Hautes-Cotes de Beaune. They worked unceasingly and side by side to develop the art of vine cultivation and wine production in the valleys that sustained human activity and that connect with the slopes of the Cote d’Or.  They lovingly craft wines to reveal the expression of the extraordinary patchwork of vineyard parcels found in the Cote d’Or.  This classic expression of Burgundy Pinot Noir offers supple flavors of red cherries and red berries that weave throughout medium plus acids and medium tannins.  The mid palate shows touches of cream and red currant that are well rounded.  The finish is pure and clean with hints of minerality and just a whiff of toasted oak and vanilla.  James Score: 91 Points

Shed Horn ‘Non Typical’ Red Blend 2015

Lake County, California

Cash Price $24.99

This small winery (only 4,000 cases produced annually) won a Gold Medal in the Houston Uncorked! Wine Competition and has made it to Spec’s portfolio with pride.  Located in Lake County, they produce wines from high elevation, volcanic soil vineyards. Michael Wood is the wine maker.  This non typical wine is blended with Syrah, Zinfandel, Barbera, Petite Sirah and Petit Verdot.  Silky and fruit forward, this ‘love me now, love me often’ wine shows flavors of blue berry and black cherry on the front palate with medium tannins and acids.  The mid palate is voluptuous and tantalizing with dark berries and spice with excellent structure and texture.  The finish is creamy and integrated with hints of herbs and black pepper.  James Score: 90 Points

Summers Charbono 2015

Calistoga, California

Cash Price $24.99

I love finding little gems from unknown varieties.  Charbono was mistaken as Barbera for years in California until Dr. Carole Meredith gave the revelation that it is actually the French variety Corbeau.  Summers winery is the king of this obscure variety in California.  In fact, Jim Summers nickname is ‘Mr. Charbono’. Summers Charbono is ‘Boy o Boy’ yummy!  It is a veritable fruit cocktail with inviting flavors of blackberry and blueberry with medium plus tannins and medium acids. This thick skinned variety gives the palate a full bodied experience while still offering dollops of bright and fresh fruit.  The wine is aged in 50% New American and French oak for 18 months which is quite prevalent on the finish showing lively notes of toasted oak, cedar and vanilla bean.  James Score: 90 Points

Chateau Tour Leognan Blanc 2016

Pessac Leognan, France

Cash Price $19.29

Most people think of New Zealand when conjuring up images of Sauvignon Blanc.  I challenge you to fall in love with one of the best regions for Sauvignon Blanc in the world: Bordeaux, France.  Chateau Tour Leognan is the 2nd label of famed Chateau Carbonnieux in Pessac Leognan which happens to be one of my favorite white wine producers on earth.  This winery is owned by the Perrin family and consistently makes my favorite white Bordeaux.  Tour Leognan may be a second label, but has a first label quality.  The wine is 70% Sauvignon Blanc and 30% Semillon with a small amount of French oak aging which I only noticed on the nose.  Vibrant flavors of grapefruit, citrus and cactus are encompassed by medium plus acidity and just a whiff of tannin.  The mid palate offers a distinct minerality of cracked stones that leads into meadow flowers.  The finish offers tinges of vanilla with a clean, refreshing mouth feel.  This wine will be a spectacular match for white meats on your table.  James Score: 90 Points

Ken Forrester ‘Renegade’ Red Blend 2013

Stellenbosch, South Africa

Cash Price $18.99

I have been an ardent supporter of this winery since I visited it several years ago.  I came down with a dry cough on the flight over that afflicted me until I went to his winery in Stellenbosch.  He gave me an Eaux-De-Vie that had some ‘special’ herbs grown by monks on a mountain.  He allowed me to try the bottle and magically the cough went away the next day.  It also just so happens that his wines are amazing!  This GSM (Grenache/Shiraz/Mourvedre) is delightful with plush red fruits of raspberry and cherry.  The mid palate offers medium tannins and acids with plenty of zingy dark fruit of blackberry and cassis.  The finish shows touches of black olive, nutmeg and spices.  James Score: 89 Points

Le Monde Refosco 2014

Friuli, Italy

Cash Price $17.49

If you happen to make the tasting at Spec’s Oak Ridge location tonight (May 3rd) you will have the delight to taste this wine.  I have been quite the fan of this winery and their Ribolla Gialla is one of my favorite white wines.  The winery is located in one of the best places in Italy to produce wine, Friuli Grave DOC, and follow organic, sustainable and biodynamic practices.  Alex Maccan is the owner and wine-maker.  This 100% Refosco del Peduncolo wine pops in the palate.  Tantalizing flavors of blackberry, black cherry and wild berries sink into medium plus tannins and acids.  The mid palate is weightless, yet still shows power.  The finish offers touches of roasted peppers, spice and crushed rocks.  James Score: 88 Points

Domaine Thibert Macon Verze Chardonnay 2015

Macon, France

Cash Price $19.94

I am really falling in love with Chardonnay from the Maconnais.  It has the depth of the Cote D’Or but without the price point.  The 2015 vintage is a ‘seek out’ year for French wine.  This wine comes from the relatively unknown village of Verze and is fully organic.  This 100% Chardonnay screams in your palate and is perfect for the impending summer heat.  Lush flavors of green apples, apricot and white peach sing easily through medium acids.  The mid palate offers notes of pear and white flowers.  The finish is brilliant with a minerality that really shows one the ‘essence’ of Verze.  A Gem of a wine!  James Score: 91 Points

Highway 12 Rose of Pinot Noir 2017

North Coast, California

Cash Price $14.99

The Highway wines are the brainchild of Michael Sebastiani and Paul Giusto.  They have created a brand that has gained amazing traction here in the Texas market.  The Highway 12 and Carneros Highway lines have exploded in all the big Texas cities.  Dry Rose wines have exploded in the market and some of my favorites are produced from Pinot Noir. This Rose has a beautiful salmon hue and offers vibrant flavors of wild strawberries and watermelon.  The wine is gushing fruit from every crevice.  The mid palate shows notes of white peach and wild flowers. The finish is seamless with medium acidity and a whiff of rose petals.  James Score: 89 Points

Pra Vinera Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2016


Cash Price $14.99

Pra Vinera translates to ‘Field of Vines’ and conjures images of picturesque vineyards on a beautiful California afternoon.  The wine is silky smooth and inviting.  Flavors of black berry and black cherry are entrenched in medium acids and tannins.  The mid palate shows fleshy plum and black raspberry with tinges of leather and tobacco.  The finish is easy and approachable with whiffs of chocolate, vanilla cream and oak.  Quite user-friendly.  James Score: 88 Points

Dante Robino Cabernet Sauvignon 2016

Mendoza, Argentina

Cash Price $12.29

Dante Robino has quickly become one of the best selling wineries in our portfolio.  The wines over achieve for the price and are dangerously easy to drink.  This Cabernet is built for days that end with ‘Y’.  Full bodied and flavorful, Robino offers notes of black cherry and currant with medium tannins and acids.  Hints of blue berry and spice sinew through the full mouth feel.  The finish has hints of mocha, oak, vanilla and cinnamon.  Perfect hearty meat wine.  James Score: 87 Points

Baritone ‘Maxim’ Cabernet/Shiraz Red Blend 2015

South Australia, Australia

Cash Price $12.99

Baritone has been one of Spec’s most consistent red blends in our Australian category throughout the years.  It comes in a 1 liter container (The extra glass of wine is on us) and is a blend of Shiraz and Cabernet.  Bold flavors of currant and plum play through layered tannins and medium acids with notes of toffee and spice.  The finish offers vanilla and cedar with tinges of dark cocoa, licorice and clove.  Baritone is a user friendly Tuesday slurper that is sure to please whether at a party or on the back patio.  James Score: 87 Points

Thank you,

James C. Barlow,CWE,CSS


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