Hello Ladies and Gentlemen,
We are quickly coming to a close with 2017! It is that time of the year where I pore over my tasting notes throughout the year and pick MY TOP PICKS OF 2017. This year’s list is a SPECtacular array of wines. I did notice that my tasting notes have leaned more towards California than in years past. That said, It is the best time in our history to be drinking wines from Europe. The weather is warmer which has allowed for much riper wines with more fruit and alcohol than ever before. Take the time this holiday season to dive into new wines from Europe! I have been blessed this year and quite Thankful that I survived the tumultuous year that was 2017 relatively unscathed (knock on wood!). Enjoy these selections and always feel free to reach out to me if you need help choosing your selections this holiday season. Thank You for being part of this blog and allowing me to guide you through the beautiful world of wine! My Top Pick of 2017 is at the bottom of the blog.
Stout Family Cabernet 2013
Napa Valley, California
Cash Price $74.99
I have found your ‘Boss’ wine for the holidays. Inevitably, I have numerous customers come to me and say verbatim ‘I need to spend around $100 bucks on a bottle of red wine for my boss, HELP!’ Stout Family Cabernet 2013 is that wine! This wine is the loving conception of Houston’s own Master Sommelier, Guy Stout. When I first became a wine ‘geek’, it was Guy’s classes who nurtured my passion and allowed the avenues for the growth into what I am today. I was extremely pleased to try his wine and even more ecstatic when the juice in the bottle was off the charts! The wine maker for this gem is none other than the legendary Tom Rinaldi. Tom has spearheaded wine making at several iconic wineries such as Duckhorn, Provenance, and Hewitt Estate. He produces wines of elegance, depth and complexity. The Cabernet Sauvignon is sourced from Rutherford AVA and the ‘Rutherford Dust’ is present throughout the core of the wine. Silky flavors of black currant and black cherry are deftly integrated through medium plus tannins and medium acids. The mid palate offers blackberry and blueberry with dried tobacco and dark mocha. The finish is beautifully integrated and lingering with Asian spices, toasted oak, and vanilla. Impressively built wine! Only 38 Barrels Produced. James Score: 96 Points
Andre Clouet Cuvee 1911 Brut Sparkling N/V
Cash Price $75.99
Only 1,911 bottles are made of this Grand Cru wine every year. The bottles are numbered by hand and loving brought to this market in VERY limited quantities. 50% of the grapes were harvested from the famed 1996 vintage with 25% coming from the 1995 and 1997 vintages, prospectively. The wine is 100% Pinot Noir from the Grand Cru village of Bouzy and disgorged on March 7th of 2017. Cuvee 1911 commemorates the year riots broke out in the Champagne region as the local farmers rebelled against the larger houses. The wine is aged sur lie for about seven years and receives a minimal dosage of 6 grams (typically can be upwards of 15 grams per liter). The wine is absolutely stunning from start to finish. Tropical and tree fruits explode on the palate with melon, peach and apricot racing through seamlessly integrated acids. The mid palate offers a soft creamy core of salted caramel and white flowers and candied apples. The finish is tantalizingly delicious with loads of toasted brioche, cake batter and creamy mousse. This wine is a SHOWSTOPPER! James Score: 97 Points
Kenefick Ranch ‘Caitlin’s Select’ Cabernet Franc 2013
Napa Valley, California
Cash Price $44.99
I am an avid fan of Cabernet Franc and this is one of its best producers in the New World. At Kenefick Ranch, the wine-making begins in the vineyard and is completed in the cellar. They use native yeast and new French oak to produce world class wines in Calistoga. Wine Maker Kent Jarmin produces wines with structure and balance with the thought of aging his wines for ten to twenty years. This wine spent eighteen months in New French Oak and was bottled unfined and unfiltered. The wine was blended with 14% Petit Verdot for structure and vivacity. The palate offers generously ripe flavors of blackberry and black cherry that are surrounded by medium tannins and acids. The mid palate shows briary fruit pie and cassis with hints of cured meat and tobacco. Kenefick knocked the landing out of the park with notes of creamy milk chocolate, crème brulee, sweet spices that are folded into a velvet texture with just a kiss of oak and vanilla bean. YUM! James Score: 94 Points
Bernard Moreau Pinot Noir Premier Cru ‘Santenots’ 2014
Cash Price $74.99
It is impossible to mention the famed region of Chassagne-Montrachet in the Cote de Beaune without speaking of Bernard Moreau. This small chateau produces organic, biodynamic, and sustainable wines with a pure hands off approach to allow the grapes to offer their true expressions of flavor and terroir. The Pinot Noir they produce is unfined and unfiltered to make sure zero flavor is leached out of the final product. The Santenots vineyard is actually located in Meursault, but is more likened to Volnay so the vineyard may append its name. The soil structure is more clay than typical Volnay, so the ensuing wines are fuller wines without the tannin of its neighbors. Santenots is 100% planted to Pinot Noir. Plush and velvety flavors of freshly picked wild berries and raspberry sing into racy medium plus acids and minimal tannins. The mid palate offers a touch of creamy vanilla with rhubarb and pomegranate. There is a core of minerality that makes this wine exquisite. The finish offers whiffs of toasted nuts and vanilla wrapped in kisses of spice. This is a VERY serious example of quality Burgundy. The wine is aged for fifteen months in 30% new French Oak. Only 5 barrels produced! James Score: 96 Points
Domaine Pernot-Belicard Chardonnay 2014
Cash Price $57.59
Philippe Pernot’s father still manages their 17 hectare estate, but most of their grapes were sold off until Phillipe decided to start producing estate Chardonnay. The wines were instantaneously a hit throughout Burgundy as the grapes are of extremely high quality. The vines are forty-five years old and the ensuing grapes show that concentration of older vines. Naturally low yields and a very high quality vintage have made this Chardonnay something to behold. Supple, elegant flavors of Granny Smith apples and pear sing melodiously into silky yet vibrant medium acidity. The mid palate offers a soft creamy core with notes of almonds and citrus that meld into wet rocks. The finish gives white flowers and touches of toasted oak (20-35% New French Oak for 12 months). This is a seriously amazing Chardonnay in a vintage that will show well for years to come! James Score: 94 Points
Domaine du Pegau Cuvee Reserve Red Blend 2014
Chateauneuf du Pape, France
Cash Price $55.99
Pegau is one of my favorite all time wineries and their wines never fail to over deliver. I have always loved the wine at $90, but at $55 this wine is an unbelievable steal! The wine is 80% Grenache, 8% Syrah, 4% Mourvedre, 3% Cinsault, and 5% Counoise and Vaccarese produced on vines that range from 40-100 years old. The wine is aged in neutral oak for two years without fining or filtering before release. Delightfully Old School in style, this wine offers a rusticity that will allow it to age for many years to come. The Feraud’s of Domaine du Pegau have been tending vines in Chateauneuf du Pape since the year 1670. They are considered on of the premier ‘Elite’ producers in all of the Rhone Valley. Robust flavors of steeped red cherries and plum march brawnily into the palate with medium plus tannins and acids. The mid palate shows cured and roasted meats, bacon fat, and tapenade that round into touches of leather and currant. The finish is full and crucially long with hints of chestnuts, morello cherries and garrigue. Laurence has outdone herself with this wine! James Score: 97 Points
Terre Del Palio Brunello di Montalcino 2011
Cash Price $46.89
I was fortunate to show the wine maker, Andrea Lonardi, of this amazing winery around the Houston market earlier this year. We broke bread and drank this extravagantly delicious wine while talking history and Tuscany. Terre del Palio is located in Siena and exclusively produces wines from their 160 hectares of estate vineyards. The estate is named after ‘El Palio’, a Medieval pageant and a horse race held twice each year in the city. The 100% Sangiovese wine undergoes slow maceration and fermentation for three years in Slavonian Oak and used French Oak barriques then aged for twelve months in bottle prior to release. Vibrant and bright flavors of red cherries and raspberry envelope the palate with medium plus tannins and acids. The mid palate is rich and firm with notes of roasted walnuts and tinges of cranberry and lavender. The finish is beautifully long and lingering on the palate with smidgeons of vanilla bean, toasted oak and exotic spices. James Score: 95 Points
Neal Family Vineyards ‘Rutherford Dust’ Petite Syrah 2011
Napa Valley, California
Cash Price $34.99
Mark Neal produced a stunning wine in the rather ‘tough’ 2011 vintage in the picturesque Rutherford AVA. I prefer darker, brooding Petite Syrah and this wine fits that sentiment perfectly. Petite Syrah is a thicker, tannic grape that when farmed properly can produce excellent, age worthy wine. Mark farms his grapes very proudly with a focus on an Organic philosophy. Healthy, natural vineyards typically offer much higher quality fruit. Neal Family vineyards are California Certified Organic and he is meticulous with the care of his vines. This thick mouthful of a wine begs for a big hearty hunk of meat. Rich and viscous flavors of blackberry and blueberry rumble through medium plus tannins and medium acids. The tannins are textured, yet still show elegance of a cooler vintage. The wine was aged for 21 months in 50% New Hungarian Oak and the final alcohol is restrained at 13.9%. Notes of fig and boysenberry are prevalent on the mid palate. The finish offers licks of toffee, vanilla, and smoked bacon with tinges of black pepper. Quite a Mouthful! James Score: 93 Points
O. Fournier ‘Alpha Crux’ Malbec 2011
Cash Price $44.99
O. Fournier makes wines around the world, but have really found a niche in South America. The Alpha Crux name and label is based on the stars of the Southern Cross, which is a constellation only visible in the Southern hemisphere. The Mocovi Indians from Argentina captured the symbol of the ostrich, which symbolizes the joining of the earth and the sky, through paintings in the caves they inhabited and tales spun through the sands of time. This unfiltered 100% Malbec is pure and plush from the first sup. Flavors of intense dark plum lift off into the palate with red cherry and mulberry following through the mid mouth feel. Medium tannins and acids give this wine backbone and balance with 80% French and 20% American oak aging for eighteen months. Notes of roasted meat, roasted hazelnuts and a touch of black pepper are encompassed by a plush richness that gives the wine an intensity of flavor while seducing the palate with its velvet complexity. The finish offers creamy vanilla, graham crackers, and just a touch of violets. Only 20,000 bottles produced. James Score: 94 Points
Indomita ‘Zardoz’ Ultra Premium Cabernet Sauvignon 2013
Maipo Valley, Chile
Cash Price $29.99
I recently held a Chile vs. Argentina tasting for consumers. The two countries were neck and neck the entire tasting till the final flight where ‘Zardoz’ was premiered. This wine tipped the scale into an almost unanimous vote for Chile to win the competition. The wine is named after the wild and untamable spirit that embodied the winery’s famous horse. Extremely focused flavors blackberry and black cherry sink into rich, concentrated tannins that fill the mouth with hedonistic abandon. Smidgeons of red fruit flow into the mid palate with a generous dollop of cedar and vanilla. The finish is chalked full of hazelnuts and almonds with hints of graphite and cocoa dust. The wine sits on the palate for a gorgeously long time. James Score: 95 Points
Chateau Daugay Red Blend 2014
St. Emilion, France
Cash Price $28.39
I visited the quaint little Chateau named Daugay last year while touring through Bordeaux. We had just passed the famed Chateau Angelus, some of the most prized vineyards in all of Bordeaux, and stopped on a hill overlooking the vines of Angelus. Lo and behold, we were in the vineyards of Daugay. It turns out that Angelus is a part owner of this old 14 acre estate that is dedicated to producing exemplary Merlot based wines. This wine is 70% Merlot and 30% Cabernet Sauvignon. Flavors of ripe wild red berries and cherry envelope the palate with integrated licks of vanilla bean, cream, and currant. The mid palate shows off polished tannins and elegant acids that give this wine a great age ability. The finish offers hints of cedar, cinnamon, and blooming roses. Beautiful wine. James Score: 93 Points
Pagos Del Moncayo Prados ‘Fusion’ Red Blend 2015
Campo de Borja, Spain
Cash Price $14.99
I have long expected Spanish Garnacha to begin to make a big splash in the American market. The wines are dangerously delicious and typically dirt cheap. The quality from Campo de Borja is at an all-time high and wineries are making very clean and food friendly wines. Pagos del Moncayo is an artisanal & sustainable winery located at the foothills of the Sierra del Moncayo, in the heart of the Iberian mountain range as it passes through Aragon. They only hand-pick their grapes and tread the grapes in house to produce at Prados. The vineyards are dedicated to Garnacha and Syrah, grown on 7 hectares that belong to the Aibar family. The wine is 65% Garnacha and 35% Syrah with some oak aging. Thick and voluptuous, Fusion races into the palate with reckless abandon. Flavors of stewed red berries and plum are enveloped with medium tannins and light acids. Notes of licorice and black spices linger through the mid palate with hints of game and blackberry. The finish is long and ripe with tinges of smoked mesquite and black slate. Yum! James Score: 90 Points
JAMES BARLOW’S TOP PICK OF 2017
Collazzi Super Tuscan Red Blend 2013
Cash Price $38.29
Villa Collazzi is one of the most impressive estates in all of Tuscany. Set atop a hill located a few miles south of Florence on the old road to Volterra, it offers commanding views of the surrounding countryside. This architectural landmark was originally designed by Michelangelo in 1560 for his friend, Agostino Dini. The building remained incomplete for centuries until it was purchased by the Marchi family in 1933. Of the estate’s 960 acres just under 50 are currently planted to vines and treated organic, biodynamic and sustainable. The soils are composed of clay, sand and rock. Well draining and low in organic matter, they offer the perfect habitat for grapes. The property is planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Sangiovese, Fiano and Petit Verdot. The wines are aged primarily in new French oak barrels. Villa Collazzi is currently run by three siblings from the Marchi family – Carlo Marchi, Grazia Marchi Gazzoni, Frascara and Bona Marchi Frescobaldi (Yes, THAT Frescobaldi!) and the first vintage under the Collazzi label was 1999. The wine is comprised of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 21% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Franc, and 4% Petit Verdot from an average 20 year old vines. Collazzi Super Tuscan was aged for eighteen months in 60% New French Oak and 40% one year used oak. This wine has always been one of my ‘hidden’ jewels in our portfolio. As you all know, I am on a constant search for good value. Collazzi is under $40 and drinks like it’s $100, if that’s not value….I don’t know what is! Super Tuscan red blends typically are based on non-indigenous varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon. This Bordeaux based red blend is silky smooth and velvety from the first sup with flavors of blackberry and cassis that flow easily through ultra fine medium plus tannins and acids. The mid palate is purely structured with notes of blueberry and fleshy plums that weave through tertiary notes of sweet spice, vanilla bean and cinnamon sticks. The finish lingers on the palate for a full minute while offerings tones of cedar, licorice and a whiff of savory spice. Get it while you can! James Score: 96 Points
Colazzi Tuscany France?
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Good catch Ralph! I’ve corrected it. Thank you!
Wow. Just wow.
Those 2 words are so completely inadequate to express my gratitude for everything you do.
I hope you have a great rest of 2017–hopefully I will see you before it’s over.
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Hope So! Merry Christmas!