Hello Ladies and Gentlemen,

I truly apologize for not posting any reviews lately.  I have been extremely busy in my new role. HAVE NO FEAR! I will continue this blog with regularity.  My intention is to continue to grow and cultivate this blog until it is the most popular one in the state of Texas!   I had a conversation recently with a friend who was becoming increasingly frustrated with wine.  He has a great palate and is struggling to find wines with complexity that were in his budget.  The ‘sweet spot’ for him was the $15 – $25 range.  I knew off hand a slew of wines that were spectacular in this price point, so I told him that I would compile a list for him.  This is the list, except for the 1 ‘for special occasions’ wine if the consumer feels like splurging.  Enjoy!

Neal Cabernet Sauvignon 2011

Napa Valley, California

Cash Price $44.64

Mark Neal has been producing superior, ORGANIC wines from Napa Valley for forty years.  Based on Howell Mountain, the wines show that true mountain fruit flavor profile with stunning quality.  Neal had a wonderful crop in the ‘tough’ 2011 vintage.  This wine is an homage to the thought that great wineries produce great wines, no matter what the vintage.  The grapes were sourced from Howell Mountain, Atlas Peak, and Mt. Veeder that were aged in French oak (72% New) for 22 months.  The wine is drinking spectacularly right now!  The wine is rich, balanced and exudes that true classic ‘Napa Valley’ flavor profile.  Thick flavors of black currant and black raspberry play into medium plus tannins and acids.  The mid palate offers gregarious notes of wild blackberries, leather, and cigar box.  The finish is full bodied, showing hints of black tea, black cherry, and nutmeg.  James Score: 93 Points

The Highwayman Red Blend 2012

Sonoma County, California

Cash Price $25.99

I recently had the Highway 12 representative, Paul Giusto, in town to taste with our staff and the entire crew was highly impressed with the entire line but especially the Highwayman red blend.  I found out that it is a Cabernet Franc heavy wine, which is probably why I really enjoy it.  Flavors of black cherry and plum sink through the palate with balanced focus.  This wine is not a rambler, it has medium plus tannins and medium acids that are well integrated.  The mid palate shows blackberry and bramble with whiffs of cedar, toasted vanilla bean and just a hint of pencil shavings.  James Score: 91 Points

Castello Di Ama Chianti Classico  2013

Chianti Classico, Italy

Cash Price $24.89

Castello Di Ama is one of the finest estates in Chianti.  Their Sangiovese based wines are considered some of the finest quality in all of Tuscany.  Ama offers flavors of roasted plums and fig that lead into zesty acids and medium tannins.  Notes of dried cherries and cranberry waft through the mid palate with hints of all spice. The finish is smooth and harmonious with hints of dates and fleshy raspberry. This wine is perfectly balanced and would cellar well for 5-7 years.  Pair this gem with a thin crust, oven roasted pizza with peppers and sausage!  James Score: 92 Points

Triennes Rose 2014

Mediterranee, France

Cash Price $14.99

Triennes is consistently one of my favorite Rose’s year in and year out.  As the heat starts to rise, I quickly begin to gravitate towards higher acid, lower tannin wines.  Rose wines are a perfect medium to combat the Hot Houston Heat.  Deliciously dry, this Cinsault based Rose has expressive and compelling aromatics.  Flavors of bright red cherries and red roses zing into medium plus acidity that quenches the palate.  Notes of wild meadow flowers play into the mid palate with touches of cranberry and red berries.  The finish is clean and pure with touches of salinity and wet rocks.  Fall in Love with Dry Rose this summer!  James Score: 92 Points

Dr. Frank Cabernet Franc 2014

Finger Lakes, New York

Cash Price $18.99

Dr. Konstantin Frank was extremely influential in the growing of the Vitis Vinifera vine species in the Northeast.  He is credited with being the first to successfully produce vinifera wines in New York.  The American vine species dominated the vineyards until he was able to master the art of Vinifera.  Cabernet Franc is one of my favorite varietals (father of Cabernet Sauvignon) on earth.  The grape can produce amazingly versatile wines with bursting flavor and complexity.  Cabernet Franc from cooler regions are well suited to be drunk in warmer climates because of the higher acid content and brighter fruits.  Flavors of vibrant black cherry, cranberry and wild red berries zing through medium plus acidity and medium tannins.  The mid palate is refreshing with complex acids and touches of leather and sun dried tomatoes.  The finish shows 18 months of European and American oak aging with hints of cedar, smoked tar, and black pepper.  James Score: 90 Points

Volker Eisele ‘Gemini’ White Blend 2013

Napa Valley, California

Cash Price $23.74 But with a $3.00 Spec’s Key Savings Only

$19.99 for a limited time

Volker Eisele is best known for their Cabernet Sauvignon, but the Gemini they produce is a true gem for a white blend.  The wine is comprised of 80% Semillion & 20% Sauvignon Blanc that sees 20% New French oak for 5 months.  This wine is all about freshness and acidity offered from the Chiles Valley.  Gemini will continue to age and add complexity for several years.  Delightful floral characteristics dance through the nose and tingle the taste buds for a sup.  Flavors of citrus blossom, jasmine and cactus flow deftly through the palate.  The mid palate offers medium acidity that is enveloped by a wet stone minerality and touches of lemon custard.  The finish is rounder with higher viscosity and hints of pear and exotic spices.  James Score: 91 Points

La Tercera Reserva Red 2010

Rioja, Spain

Cash Price $18.99

Rioja can be hit and miss.  Tercera hit a home run with this Reserva wine.  Tempranillo is the main varietal with graciano and garnacha making up the difference.  The 2010 vintage was good to Rioja and to find an under $20 Reserva in this vintage is a no brainer.  Silky smooth red cherries and raspberry flow into medium tannins and acids.  The mid palate offers touches of pepper and cedar.  The finish is chalked full of minerality, dill and vanilla.  James Score: 92 Points

Eberle Chardonnay 2014

Paso Robles, California

Cash Price $19.94

Eberle is one of the highest quality wineries in Paso Robles that does not typically break the budget.  They are determined to produce high quality, friendly priced wines that exceed expectation.  Gary Eberle has taken back control of his vineyard and recently put in his son, Chris Eberle, as  wine-maker (taking over for Ben Mayo).  Gary was one of the founders of Paso Robles and continues the pursuit of excellence with price conservative red and white wines.  This estate produced Chardonnay is all about balance.  Ripe flavors of pear, pineapple and Meyer lemon sing into medium acidity and fleshy fruits.  Tinges of buttered complexity lay on the palate tantalizingly.  The finish is pure and a touch hedonistic with notes of popcorn, toasted caramel, and vanilla bean.  James Score: 90 Points.

Chateau Laborde Cuvee 1628 Red Blend 2008

Bordeaux, France

Cash Price $18.99

Chateau Laborde has been owned by the Trocard family since 1628.  The winery is primarily dominated by Merlot.  Merlot from Pomerol is considered some of the finest in the world with perfect soil suited for the varietal.  The surrounding town of Lalande is considered one of the finest sites outside of the heart of Pomerol.  Laborde is 90% Merlot & 10% Cabernet Franc that is aged in 33% new oak for 12 months.  Flavors of red currant and plum fill into vivacious acids and medium tannins.  Notes of red cherries sink into notes of rustic terroir.  The finish offers supple fruits combined with hints of smoked oak, nuts and cinnamon that sit on the palate for a wonderfully long time.  James Score: 90 Points

Salentein Pinot Noir 2013

Mendoza, Argentina

Cash Price $18.99

I was fortunate to be able to visit this winery a couple of months ago.  I have always been quite impressed with the quality produced from this winery for the price point.  The winery is completely state of the art with no expense spared and the wines show that quality.  This Pinot Noir has been one of my go-to Pinot’s for many years.  Delicious flavors of ripe strawberries and candied cherries.  Medium plus acids and medium tannins are well integrated with kisses of spice and cola.  The finish is silky and complex with hints of vanilla, cedar and hazelnuts.  James Score: 91 Points

Anticipation Red Blend 2013

Napa Valley, California

Cash Price $15.99

The 2013 vintage is shaping up to be an excellent vintage.  This is evidence in the new vintage of Anticipation Red Blend.  It is a silky smooth Merlot based wine that is sexy and sleek.  Delicious flavors of red cherries and plum sink into a soft, velvet mid palate of red currant and chocolate covered cherries.  The tannins are well integrated and the acids are easily lost in the luscious fruit.  The finish is filled with licks of cedar, vanilla cream and hazelnuts which linger on the palate for a delightfully long time.

Tamboerskloof Viognier 2014

Stellenbosch, South Africa

Cash Price $15.99

I have been an avid fan of this winery for several years due to their extremely delicious Syrah.  Viognier is a Rhone varietal that is sometimes found to be blended with the aforementioned varietal.  This wine is a stand alone Viognier (with a smidge of Rousanne) that is perfect for the hot Texas weather.  Tamboerskloof Viognier explodes on the palate with tons of floral and tropical fruits.  Flavors of apricot, canned peaches, citrus blossom and white flowers flow seamlessly through medium acids.  The viscosity is larger in the mouth feel with touches of guava and papaya.  The finish is rich and smooth with hints of toasted nuts and yeasty complexity.  James Score: 92 Points

Butera Nero D’Avola 2013

Sicily, Italy

Cash Price $12.99

I have consistently found this wine to be of outstanding value in every vintage.  Nero D’Avola is an indigenous varietal of Sicily that has fleshy fruits and medium body, which makes it perfect for summer.  Ripe flavors of black cherry and blackberry play through sleek medium acids and tannins.  The fruit turns slightly stewed on the mid palate with hints of brown sugar and scorched plum.  The finish shows cinnamon, mocha and tinges of coffee grinds. Butera is a very versatile wine that will pair well with numerous dishes. James Score: 90 Points

Thank You,

James C. Barlow

Certified Wine Educator

Certified Sommelier

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  1. Beaubouef, Rick says:

    James- no 13 stand in the new Spring store?

    Sent from my iPhone

  2. Marek Pakulski says:


    I see one of your pics is from Finger Lakes winery. I am going there this fall. Are you familiar with the region to recommend some wineries to visit.



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