I love this time of year!  I get to scour through my tasting notes and pick out my favorite wines of the year.  These selections will not always be the highest rated wines I tasted, but more that I thought these wines sparkled regardless of the price point.  Last Year, my TOP PICK was Michele Castellani ‘Colle Christi’ Amarone 2010.  I still have several 6 packs available of this Spectacular wine if you are interested.  This Year’s Picks are an eclectic array that show the diversity of wines that I have had the pleasure to enjoy.  I had an amazing year with Spec’s.  I was able to travel to Argentina, Chile, France and Spain this year.  The quality over quantity revolution in Chile truly impressed me.  It was especially interesting to see how the farmers will salvage a ‘rough’ 2016 vintage with El Nina rains wreaking havoc throughout Argentina.  The Bordeaux wines in the 2015 vintage are some of the best I have ever tasted and am extremely excited for them to hit the shelves of Spec’s.  Finally, it was insanely interesting to mark travelling to Priorat, Spain off my bucket list and to do it during harvest time was an experience that I will never forget.  Yes, it has been a truly blessed year for me.  Thank you for letting me be your personal guide to fine wines, for without you there is no me.  Enjoy!

Janzen Beckstoffer Missouri Hopper Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

Napa Valley, California

Cash Price $99.69

Janzen is under the house of Bacio Divino which is owned by Claus Janzen.  He hired one of the best wine makers of California in Kirk Venge (son of famed wine maker Nils Venge).  The wines produced from Janzen are some of the true hidden gems in Napa Valley.  Sourcing fruit from the most famed vineyard owner in the United States, Andy Beckstoffer, the ensuing flavors rock the pleasure scale on the palate like few wines can.  The vineyard is located north of the city of Yountville in the Oakville AVA which was originally part of the very 1st vineyards planted in California by settler George Yount.   Rich, fully ripe flavors of cassis and blackberry with tinges of blueberry bedazzle from the first sup.  The mid palate offers medium plus tannins and acids that integrate through the multi-layered complexities of graphite, tobacco and tar.  The finish offers 26 months of French Oak aging that shows smidgeons of toasted vanilla, hazelnuts and silky smooth dark fruits.  Janzen is extremely complex with many chapters in this novel of a wine.  Ripe, yet restrained, this wine will age gracefully for the next decade.  Only 235 cases produced.  James Score: 97 Points

Vincent Latour ‘Clos Des Magny’ Chardonnay 2014

Meursault, France

Cash Price $49.99

Vincent Latour is new to our portfolio, focusing on high quality Chardonnay from one of the more iconic regions on Earth to produce the grape.  The wine is 100% Chardonnay from the area of Clos Des Magny, nestled at the foot of the town of Meursault.  Latour is aged on its lees for 12 months.  This gorgeous Chardonnay exudes flavors of lime, honeysuckle and green apples.  The mid palate is rich and complex with subtle hints of vanilla, cedar, and hazelnuts with medium plus acidity.  The finish is chalked full of minerality, fresh white flowers, and peach.  This is a Chardonnay lover delight!  James Score: 95 Points


Reynvaan ‘In The Rocks’ Estate Syrah 2013

Walla Walla, Washington

Cash Price $75.99

I first tasted Reynvaan wines a couple of years ago and was quite impressed with Matt Reynvaan’s ability to produce age worthy, Cote Rotie-esque wines from the Walla Walla Valley.  This massive, yet elegant wine is co-fermented with 5% Viognier which sleeks out the full structure of the Syrah.  This winery is devoted to Rhone varietals and produce some of the finest expressions of the grapes in the entire United States.    This supple wine explodes with flavor from beginning to end.  Deliciously integrated flavors of cassis and currant are enveloped by medium plus tannins and medium acids.  ‘In the Rocks’ has a weightlessness on the mid palate that transforms into notes of freshly seared bacon, green olives and a hint of cracked pepper.  The finish shows ripe plums and silky smooth tinges of sweet tarts and confection.  Juicy and ripe, yet weightless and enrapturing.  James Score: 98 Points

Del Dotto Cave Blend 2013

Napa Valley, California

Cash Price $52.99

Del  Dotto’s reputation as being one of the highest quality wineries in Napa Valley means that their wines sell out every vintage….quickly.  Spec’s is very lucky to have partnered with them to receive a nice allocation of their wines. This family owned winery has spent the last 20 years purchasing some of the best acreage in Napa and Sonoma to plant high quality vines and make exceedingly spectacular wines.  The 2013 vintage is quite hedonistic and jam packed full of deliciously ripe fruits.  The Cave blend is half Merlot with Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc filling in the rest.  The wine is extremely rich on the palate with bursting fruits of black cherry, blackberry and hints of blueberry.  The mid palate offers medium plus tannins and medium acids with touches of heat.  Notes of cracked hazelnuts and blackberry jam being to soften into a creamy yet full mouthful.  The finish is impressively rich with vanilla bean, cedar, and hints of spice.  James Score: 96 Points

San Felice ‘Poggio Rosso’ Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG 2010

Tuscany, Italy

Cash Price $54.89

San Felice is one of the highest quality producers in Tuscany.  They are home to the geeky variety Pugnitello and make exquisite wines at all levels.   Poggio Rosso is a Riserva that is aged for 20 months in 500 Liter French oak barrels and another 15 months in bottle before release.  The wine is 80% Sangiovese with Pugnitello and Colorino making up the rest of the blend.  This wine has excellent aging potential, but is drinking absolutely beautifully right now.  Flavors of raspberry and plum pop deliciously into the palate with whiffs of black cherry throughout.  The mid palate offers medium plus tannins and acids that revolve around hints of sage, leather and hints of clove.  The finish is lingering and playful with touches of cinnamon, cedar and spices.  James Score: 95 Points

Tourelles de Longueville Red Blend 2012

Pauillac, France

Cash Price $47.49

I tasted this wine several months ago while in Bordeaux.  This label is owned by Pichon Longueville Baron, a 2nd Growth in the Grand Cru Classe system on the Left Bank of Bordeaux.  I have always been amazed at the gorgeous depth of these wines and this vintage is no different.  The grapes are from the Sainte Anne plot which is planted mostly to Merlot.  This Merlot/ Cabernet blend is thick and full bodied from the start.  Flavors of dense red and black fruit envelope the palate with medium plus tannins and acids.  Notes of graphite and smoke waft sensuously throughout the back palate with smidgeons of cream and silky vanilla flowing easily on the mid palate.  The finish has hints of toasted oak with graham cracker and potpourri that linger on a long, accentuated finish.  James Score: 92 Points

Blue Rock ‘Baby Blue’ Blanc 2015

Sonoma Coast, California

Cash Price $18.99

Blue Rock produces luxury wines on their 100 acres nestled in the hillsides of Alexander Valley.  Baby Blue Blanc is the first non estate wine that Blue Rock has produced.  The grapes come from the Fort Ross-Seaview and Russian River Valley AVA’s respectively.  This is their 1st adventure into producing white wine as they are well known for Cabernet Sauvignon.  They have absolutely knocked this wine out of the ball park with their first swing!  I was stunned at the complexity in the glass with this Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Viognier blend.  This wine layers itself beautifully.  Flavors of crisp lemon citrus leap into the palate with medium acidity that is layered into a soft, round viscosity that coats the palate. Notes of apricot and peach seep into the mid palate with touches of Meyer lemon and hay.  The finish is stunning with a pop of Viognier that adds hints of wild flowers and bees wax.  Do me a favor and decant this white as it gets better and better with some time.  James Score: 93 Points

Chateau Beau-Site Red Blend 2011

Bordeaux, France

Cash Price $34.99

I am in love with the 2011 vintage.  Why? I can afford it over the 09 & 10’s and still get spectacular quality.  This Chateau is located in St. Estephe and is next door to 3rd Growth Chateau Calon Segur and is half the price.  The 2011’s are starting to drink beautifully as five years has started to mellow the tannins and acids.  This Cabernet/Merlot blend exudes flavors of Red berries and red currant with medium tannins and acids.  Notes of cigar box, leather and spice sinew through a velvet mid palate of vanilla, strawberries and cedar.  The finish  offers tinges of hazelnut and mocha with just a whiff of coffee bean.  James Score: 93 Points

Hans Lang Dry Riesling 2013

Rheingau, Germany

Cash Price $25.64

I am extremely excited to be able to offer this high quality dry Riesling!  This wine comes from the Hattenheimer Schutzenhaus vineyards.  These vineyards are Erste Lage (considered 1st Growth) by the VDP, which is a group of producers that have banded together to produce higher quality wine that even the government mandates.  The Rheingau is considered one of the finest regions in the world to grow Riesling and many of their wines are dry.  Lang is a powerhouse of a wine.  Bursting flavors of lemon citrus and pineapple flow freely through medium plus acids.  The mid palate is mouth watering with notes of honey, wet rocks and touches of white pepper.  The finish is clean and offers tinges of bees wax and orange blossoms.  Spectacular!  James Score: 94 Points

Castilla Perelada ‘Finca La Garriga’ Samso 2007

Emporda, Spain

Cash Price $24.99

Samso is a synonym for Carignan in Emporda.  It is typically a blending grape in most of the world, but truly impressive single varietal expressions pass through my palate from time to time.  The Garriga vineyard is the source of Perelada’s oldest vines which have an average age of 50 years.  This dynamic red is drinking quite well right now with 8 years of age in the barrel and bottle.  Flavors of densely roasted red cherries and plum sink into rounded, yet still firm tannins.  The mid palate delivers darker fruits of blackberry with tinges of red flowers and violets.  The finish is long and full with bits of caramel, coffee beans and vanilla.  I visited the vineyard while in Spain this year and was quite impressed with how this wine is holding up.  It is peaking now and drinking perfectly!  James Score: 94 Points

Chateau Pegau ‘Cuvee Setier’ Red Blend 2013

Cotes du Rhone Villages, France

Cash Price $18.99

Chateau Pegau has always been one of my favorite Chateauneuf Du Pape producers.  They started making this wine several years ago as an entry level Rhone Village made just a smidge south of CDP but still implements low yield, hand harvesting and strict pruning criteria.  The wine is a blend of 60% Grenache, 20% Syrah, and 20% Mourvedre.  Setier offers flavors brambly blackberry and currant that flow seamlessly into medium tannins and acids.  Notes of garrigue and black pepper knock into hints of smoked tar and jammy blueberries.  This wine really over delivers!  James Score: 92 Points

Michel Cazavieille Red Blend 2014

Saint-Chinian, France

Cash Price $8.59

I visited this winery 5 or 6 years ago when I was harvesting throughout the South of France.  I traveled through the Rhone Valley and the Languedoc-Roussillon.  One of the absolute steals of the entire trip was found in the vineyards of Michel Cazavieille.  He only had 3 people helping him tend his vineyards and offered them at rock bottom prices.  I tasted them and was immediately in love.  The Grenache, Syrah blend is a perfect daily drinker that is sure to impress even the geekier wine drinkers in the room.  Flavors of red berries and plum flow easily into medium plus acidity and medium tannins.  Notes of black pepper and garrigue move softly into a gentle creaminess that encompasses the palate.  The finish is pure and balanced with darker fruits of currant and black cherry.  James Score: 90 Points


Jean Pierre Marniquet Prestige Brut 1995

Champagne, France

Cash Price $99.74

Technical Notes: Blend: 60% Pinot Meunier, 40% Chardonnay.  Located on the right bank of the Marne River Valley. 12% abv.  Laid down in 1996 and disgorged in 2015.

There is a term in biz referred to as ‘Farmers Fizz’.  These Champagnes are made from grower-producers.  Easily put, these sparkling gems come from the blood, sweat, and tears of a farmer growing his own grapes and bottling his most prized possession.  The letters ‘RC’ on the label of the bottle refer to this farmer, also known as a Recoltant Manipulant.  This wine is not traditional Champagne in the sense that it uses Pinot Meunier as its primary varietal whereas Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are usually the heavy hitters in Champagne blends.  Pinot Meunier gives the bubbles a refreshing youthfulness of vibrant fruit and texture. Red fruits are prevalent and consistent through the tight bubbles.  Butter, brioche, mushrooms, hazelnuts, citrus, bready, baked confection with medium plus acids.  Button mushroom, cellar door, toast, cream, vanilla.  Truly developed. Deliciously bone dry.  Absolutely Stunning.  James Score: 98+

Thank You,

James C. Barlow

Certified Wine Educator

Certified Sommelier


This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to JAMES BARLOW’S ‘TOP PICKS’ FOR 2016

  1. Robert Kramek says:

    Please remove Bob’s name from your mailing list.

    Sent from my iPhone

    • I apologize, but you will have to click unsubscribe on the email to stop the emails. I cannot take you off. it’s easy though. just hit unsubscribe on the email and you will no longer receive emails.

      Merry Christmas!

      James C. Barlow Certified Wine Educator Certified Sommelier

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s