James Barlow’s ‘Top Picks’ of 2015

Hello Ladies and Gentlemen,

Well it is that time of the year again!  I have been poring over my notes of the thousands of wines that I have tasted this year and have whittled the list down to ‘My Thirteen Favorite Wines’ of 2015.  Last year my TOP PICK was Roblet-Monnot ‘Saint Francois’ Volnay Pinot Noir 2011.  Since it was my top pick last year, the producer was gracious enough to save me several cases to offer this holiday season as well.  I have 3 cases of this stunning Pinot Noir available and with a year of age to boot!  This year’s list is an eclectic array of wines from all over the world.  I am pleased that every wine this year is under the $100 price point.  So….. without further ado…. Enjoy and Merry Christmas!

Chateau Batailley Red Blend 2010

Pauillac, France

Cash Price $70.99

Chateau Batailley is a 5th growth Grand Cru Classe from some of the best soils on the left bank of Bordeaux.  It is one of the oldest estates in Bordeaux and the name is derived from the battle that took place in the vineyards during the 100 year war in 1452.  The average age of the vines are 40 years old with Cabernet Sauvignon being the lead varietal.  This Cabernet blend has a dollop of Merlot with Petite Verdot and Cabernet Franc rounding out the wine.  Batailley is known for powerfully expressive Cabernets with great age worthy quality.  The 2010 offering is much the same, but also has a distinctly approachable quality in its youth.  Flavors of black currant and cassis are encompassed by brawny, yet finessed tannins and lively acidity.  The mid palate has beautiful texture and mouth feel with a core of minerality with notes of leather and cigar box.  The finish is balanced and pure with hints of blackberry, cinnamon, and toasted oak with smidgeons of vanilla bean that sit on the palate for a graciously long time.  This is one of the best offerings from one of the best vintages that Bordeaux has ever seen!  The ratings across the board are 93-95 points.  James Score: 96 Points

Altamura Sauvignon Blanc 2010

Napa Valley, California

Cash Price $49.99 BUT ONLY

$29.99 FOR A LIMITED TIME WITH A SPEC’S KEY ($20.00 savings)

Altamura has become one of the finest wineries in all of Napa Valley consistently getting ratings in the high 90’s every vintage.  The winery was founded in 1985 by Frank and Karen Altamura and is the only winery in the Wooden Valley within the Napa Valley Appellation.  Frank Altamura worked for Caymus and Charlie Wagner for 5 years and the influence in his wines are evident.  They employ a hands on method of wine production which leads to low yields and meticulous care for their grapes.  The result is extremely high quality fruit and spectacular wines.  The valley is cooler than most of Napa Valley, often 10 degrees, due to the dramatic fog banks that pour through the valley which allows for longer hang time of the grapes.  The Sauvignon Blanc comes from a 4 acre, 18 year old plot that is completely dry farmed with an elevation of 850 feet.  The wine is fermented and aged in new French oak barrels for 18 months taking a decidedly Bordeaux wine making approach, which is quite rare for Napa Valley whites.  The results are exquisite!  Flavors of melon and prickly pear are encompassed by medium plus acidity with wisps of honeysuckle and wild white flowers.  The mid palate offers a creamy complexity with touches of cedar and vanilla that softly lay into hints of cactus and citrus.  The finish is melodious with licks of peaches, apricot and a touch of stony minerality.  Only 500 cases produced and this wine is peaking perfectly right now!  James Score: 94 points

Hailstone ‘Impact’ Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

Napa Valley, California

Cash Price $47.49

Hailstone Cabernet had quite an ‘impact’ on my palate at a tasting earlier this year.  Hailstone is a brain child of roof and solar power tycoon, Chris Zazo, and has Garrett Ahnfeldt of G Wine Cellars and Tim Milos produce the wines for his Hailstone Vineyards.  The grapes are sourced from carefully selected plots throughout Napa Valley.  The wine is mainly Cabernet Sauvignon but does have a hefty amount of Petite Verdot to give structure and vivacity.  It was aged for 24 months in 100% New French Oak.  ‘Impact’ is bursting full of silky smooth flavors of blackberry and blueberry that flow seamlessly into velvety tannins and integrated acids.  The mid palate begins with a creamy core of complexity with notes of black currant and pomegranate which seep into hints of burnt caramel and butterscotch.  The finish is long and lingering with tantalizing smidgeons of toasted oak, vanilla bean and kitchen spices.  Hailstone is sure to knock the socks off of your guests this holiday season! James Score: 93+

Carne Humana Red Blend 2011

Napa Valley, California

Cash Price $28.49

In 1841, General Mariano Vallejo granted Edwin Bale territory in what is now upper Napa Valley. Bale, a lover of the bottle and a bit of an eccentric, named the land Rancho Carne Humana. His reason for the macabre title (literally meaning human flesh) remains a mystery.  This hedonistic red blend is a blend of Petite Sirah, Petite Verdot, and Zinfandel that is sourced from the sub appellations of Calistoga, St. Helena, and Rutherford Valley.  Derek Beitler, good friend of Joe and Charlie Caymus, is the sculptor of this massive wine.  The dark purple color in the glass shows that it will be a massively intense wine. Thick and juicy flavors of  black cherries and pomegranate sinew into medium plus tannins and medium acids.  Hints of licorice, leather and tobacco leaf show nicely on the chewy mid palate.  The finish is long and integrated with notes of chocolate, vanilla and cedar from the 18 months of laying in New and Used French Oak.  Carne Humana is a wine that is built for Texans! James Score: 91 Points

Domaine de la Guilloterie Cabernet Franc 2012

Saumur Champigny, France

Cash Price $19.94

Saumur Champigny is one of the geekier regions in the world for Cabernet Franc lovers.  Located just south of the Loire River in the Loire Valley, The Duveau family has been producing wines in this picturesque region for six generations.  The region is chalked full of ‘tuffeau’ which is a chalky limestone soil that is perfectly suited for Cabernet Franc.  This delicate wine is truly special for the price.  Ripe red berries and raspberry flow seamlessly into medium plus acids and medium tannins.  The mid palate shows the rustic terroir and true flavor profile of the grape with notes of cracked black pepper, roasted green peppers and graphite.  The finish is ripe with touches of dusted coco shavings, blackberry and just a whiff of cream.  This is one of my favorite red wines for the price! James Score: 92 Points

Domaine Bachey Legros ‘Sous La Roche’ Chardonnay 2012

Santenay (Burgundy), France

Cash Price $29.99

Located in the picturesque region of Cote du Beaune in southern Burgundy, the town of Santenay produces refined Chardonnay on limestone based soils that give the wine a true essence of the terroir.  Sous la Roche translates to ‘under the rock’ which is where the vines have to dig to get their nutrients and in turn gives the wine its unique flavor profile.  This 100% Chardonnay was aged in oak for 12 months with only 15% of the oak being new, so just a kiss of oak is prevalent in the ensuing wine.  The vineyards are on the high slopes which allows for excellent ripening.  Flavors of bright green apples and Bosc pear linger on the palate with smidgeons of layered cream and nuts.  A backbone of the wine has a citrus component that flows through the mid palate with notes of crushed wet rocks.  The wine has medium plus acidity that is mellowed by the oak.  The finish offer hints of charred oak and vanillin which lingers on the palate for a beautifully long time.  A Chardonnay to remember! James Score: 93 Points

Nativ Aglianico 2011

Campania, Italy

Cash Price $19.89

Nativ translates into ‘that which is original’ was founded by Mario Ercolino.  He is a renowned winemaker from top estates in Campania and Italy.  He loves to grow the native grapes of the region on his 15 hectare estate in Irpinia.  The area is famous for having fertile volcanic soils rich in minerals, calcium and ash.  Aglianico is starting to gain traction in the American market and I couldn’t be happier.  This grape, known as the Barolo of the South, has often been overlooked in the Italian world of wine.  It is a wine with gripping tannins and an excellent medley of fruits and spices.  Nativ 100% Aglianico exudes flavors of black plum, blackberry, and roasted fig that race into brawny tannins and medium plus acids.  The mid palate gives notes of brown sugar and cocoa with hints of leather and smoke with touches of currant and anise.  The hearty finish is long with bits of oak and spice.  This wine will age beautifully, but can be paired now with a big juicy steak with all the fixings.  Great Food Wine! James Score: 90 Points

Chateau Pontac Lynch Red Blend 2012

Margaux, France

Cash Price $29.99

Margaux is considered a more elegant style of Cabernet Sauvignon on the left bank of the Gironde River.  I have been extremely impressed with this winery every vintage.  As most of you know, the 2009 & 2010 vintages were some of the finest that Bordeaux has produced back to back in quite awhile.  The past couple of vintages since those epic years have produced steady and solid value wines without the higher prices of the previous vintages.  Pontac Lynch is consistently high quality at a great price point as their property is adjacent to the Grand Cru Classe estates of Chateau Margaux, Rauzan Segla, and Chateau Palmer.  It is a 10 hectare property that has been Cru Bourgeois status since 1932 that is based on limestone and gravel soils.  This sustainably farmed wine is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot with touches of Cabernet Franc and Petite Verdot.  The wine was aged in new and used French oak for 12 months.  This wine is young but quite approachable right now.  Flavors of black raspberry and black cherry dance into nuanced acids and lively tannins.  Notes of currant, cigar box and leather play through the mid palate with tinges of cedar and sandalwood.  The finish offers hints of mocha, vanilla bean and vibrant fruits that lead into a long, lingering finish.  James Score: 93 Points

Waterford Cabernet 2012

Stellenbosch, South Africa

Cash Price $24.99

Waterford Cabernet is one of the best value Cabernet Sauvignon’s in Spec’s entire portfolio.  I have had this wine as my house wine on many occasions.  I find South Africa to be a hidden gem in the wine world. Waterford Wines was founded in 1998 when Jeremy and Leigh Ord purchased a prime Stellenbosch vineyard land. Kevin and Heather Arnold were responsible for identifying this unique site, planning the new winery and resurrecting the existing vineyards and orchards, and have been instrumental in developing Waterford into the showcase estate it is today.  The Cabernet wines are their flagships and some of the best in the entire region.  The way they balance fruit and terrior is second to none.  The wines are aged for 21 months in new and used French Oak.  This wine exudes flavors a thick black currant and wild red berries with brooding tannins and balanced acids.  The mid palate is a core of minerality with notes of graphite, licorice and coffee beans with whiffs of pomegranate on the outer edges.  The finish has touches of dark chocolate with tinges of mushroom, black pepper, toasted oak and vanillin.  I can’t think of a better wine for a steak.  James Score: 94 Points

Chateau Montus 2010

Madiran, France

Cash Price $29.99

I recently tasted this vintage offered by Alain Brumont and was ‘wowed’ by the wine in the glass.  Chateau Montus is nicknamed the ‘Petrus’ of the south and with good reason. Madiran is a small, mostly unknown, region in south-west France that specializes in the thick-skinned and full bodied grape, Tannat.  Alain Brumont was given ‘Producer of the Year’ award in 2010 for putting Madiran on the map by producing exquisite Tannat based wines.  The Appellation is located in the alluvial foothills of the Pyrenees about 160 kilometers directly south of Bordeaux. Tannat is often blended with a little Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc or Fer-Servadou. Tannat retains excellent natural acidity and produces deep and rich wines with remarkable structure, complexity and concentration of flavour which with age become supple with round textures and fine tannins. These wines can age superbly.  The wine is aged in 50% new and used French oak  with an 80%/20%Tannat to Cabernet mix.  Montus offers flavors of thick black currant and black plum lead into medium plus tannins and acids.  The mid palate shows notes of tar and briar with tobacco and pencil shavings.  The finish is intense with a heavy dollop cedar, coffee grinds and dark chocolate.  This wine will age gracefully for a decade or more, but drinks beautifully now with a good decant.  James Score: 94 Points

Dr. Pauly Bergweiler Bernkasteler Badstube Kabinet 2014

Mosel Valley, Germany

Cash Price $19.94

I am extremely excited to be able to sell this wine to you.  It is hauntingly delicious.  This winery is one of the finest in all of the Mosel Valley working with intentionally low yields and selective handpicking to guarantee extraordinary quality wines with unique character and terroir.  Loosely translated Bernkasteler Badstube means the Roman spa of Bernkastel.  Located on clay slated soil with loam and stone, this 100% Riesling offers plenty of minerality on the palate with low alcohol.  Flavors of citrus lemon lime zing through fleshy notes of apricot, pear and Fuji apples.  The wine is off dry with tinges of sweetness in all the right places.  The finish is truly wonderful with zesty acids that lift notes of petrol, nutmeg, wet rocks and touches of class room chalk.  This is a wine that will stand the tests of time, but is drinking gorgeously right now.  Fall in love with Riesling today! James Score: 93 Points

Edu Pulenta Gran Cabernet Franc 2011

Luyan De Cuyo, Argentina

Cash Price $39.89

Finca La Zulema is located 1,000 feet above sea level in the region of Luyan de Cuyo in the picturesque region of Mendoza.  Pulenta is a brand that world renowned wine maker Paul Hobbs has put his personal stamp on, as he is a consultant for the winery.  This wine is aged for 18 months in New French Oak.  Pulenta is a fuller bodied Cabernet Franc that still possesses the finesse that the varietal typically offers.  Plush flavors of red cherries and raspberry fill the palate with medium plus tannins and medium acids.  Touches of sweet red berries fill the mid palate with hints of black pepper and eucalyptus.  The finish is deliciously flavorful with notes of cedar, vanilla bean and potpourri.  The wine is amazingly balanced and one of the better new world styles of Cabernet Franc that I have encountered.  James Score: 94 Points


Michele Castellani ‘Colle Christi’ Amarone 2010 DOCG

Valpolicella, Italy

Cash Price $59.69

I visited Michele Castellani’s winery several years ago while traveling through Italy and was completely entranced by their wines.  The best of their offerings was the Amarone.  I recently tasted through their portfolio again and was even more taken by the wines in front of me than in previous vintages.  Castellani was established in 1945 when its founder, Michele Castellani, decided to build a small cellar where he spent his time creating and improving high-quality products.  The Amarone is a blend of 70% Corvina Veronese and Corvinone, 25% Rondinella, and 5% Molinara.  After harvest, the grapes are air- dried for 4 months which concentrates the sugars and takes out the extra water and then crushed.  The resulting wine is aged in large oak barrels and French barriques for 3 years before release.  This makes a wine of pure richness that is balanced with loads of fruit and structure.  Colle Cristi roughly translates into the ‘hills of Christ’ and I could not agree more.  Divine wines are made here.  Robust flavors of raisined Moreno cherries and dried fig sinew into nuanced notes of stewed plum, brown sugar and cured meat.  The mid palate is rich to the core with marzipan and mocha with medium plus tannins and medium plus acidity.  The finish has a touch of candied fruits, truffles and traditional Christmas spices which linger longingly on the palate for an intensely long time. James Score: 97 Points

I would personally like to thank you all for being a part of this website and trusting me with your wine selections.  Feel free to give me feedback anytime.  Merry Christmas!

Thank You,

James C. Barlow

Certified Wine Educator

Certified Sommelier







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1 Response to James Barlow’s ‘Top Picks’ of 2015

  1. Paul Swepston says:


    Please set aside the following I will pick up next Friday when I return from China. 

    Michele Castellani ‘Colle Christi’ Amarone 2010 DOCG   6 bottles

    Edu Pulenta Cabernet Franc 6 bottles

    Badstube Cabinet 6 bottles

    Chaetau Manteus 6 bottles

    Chaetau Pontac 6 bottles

    Nativ Aglianico 6 bottles

    Domaine de la Guillaterie Cabernet Franc 6 bottles

    Thanks  – Paul

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