JAMES BARLOW’S ‘TOP PICKS’ OF 2018

Hello Ladies and Gentlemen,

It’s that time of year again when I scavenge through my notes and find the best wines that I tried over the past year.  I’ve been blessed to travel to France three times (Bordeaux once and Burgundy twice…with a side bar to Champagne) this year.  I tasted several thousand wines this year, but my Top Pick of the Year was one that I tasted a couple of years ago and re-tasted this year with similar notes.  It is a wonderful time to be drinking European wine as the warmer climate has allowed for riper vintages in the past several years. California is having many issues with wildfires, but they continue to churn out amazing wines year after year and you will find several on this list.  Above all, Drink what you enjoy, but here are some great wines to put on your table and share with family and friends this Holiday season.  Thank you as always for being part of this blog!  My Top Pick of the Year will be at the bottom.

Del Dotto Caves Cabernet Sauvignon Estate 2016

Napa Valley, California

Cash Price $ 74.99

David Del Dotto’s family name has roots in wine that can be traced back to the 1400’s.  It’s in his DNA.  In 1988, he found a beautiful 17 acre property in Rutherford and the rest is history.  Del Dotto’s wines have quickly become cult classics that sell early…and often.  We are lucky to have them as partners.  The 2016 vintage offered the 5th exceptional vintage in a row for Napa Valley with high quality but, unfortunately, low yield.  This hedonistic gem is 92% Cabernet Sauvignon/4% Merlot/4% Cabernet Franc and aged in mostly New French oak.  The wine is richly textured with a thickly extracted core.  Rich flavors of black cherry and raspberry ooze onto the palate with blackberry jam and tobacco showing throughout.  The wine has medium plus to full intensity with velvet tannins and a creamy mouth feel.  Notes of roasted espresso, vanilla bean, and soft milk chocolate flows through the palate with wreck less abandon.  The finish is long and flavorful with hints of toasted cedar, cigar box, graham crackers and red velvet cake.  James Score: 94+

Fontaine-Gagnard ‘Clos St. Jean’ Premier Cru Chardonnay 2013

Chassagne-Montrachet, France

Cash Price $71.99

I had the joy of recently tasting the 2017’s of this winery from barrel in their cellar.  The wines were some of the best Chardonnay that I had tasted in recent history.  This led me to re-taste some of their older vintages and voila, I found this extraordinary wine.  Premier Cru wines are just a step under the Grand Cru status, but often give amazing quality without garnering the Grand Cru prices.  Clos St. Jean is a Premier Cru vineyard located on the hillside above the streets and houses of Chassagne-Montrachet village. It is planted to both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, making high-quality examples of both.  This 100% Chardonnay is aged in 30% new French oak for twelve months.  Flavors of crisp green apples and white flowers pop from the palate with hints of lemon citrus and a kiss of stone fruit.  The mid palate offers medium intensity with nice acidity on the backbone but also shows some flair with creamy bananas, pear and melon.  The finish is beautifully arranged with touches of hazelnut, custard and a dollop of vanilla bean.  James Score: 95

Volker Eisele ‘Terzetto’ Red Blend 2013

Napa Valley, California

Cash Price $69.99 BUT FOR A LIMITED TIME

SPEC’S KEY SAVINGS OF $20.00

ONLY $49.99

Volker Eisele is located in the quaint district of Chiles Valley on the south eastern side of Napa Valley.  The AVA is one of the coolest in Napa and thus has one of the longest growing seasons.  The 60 acre estate has been organically farmed since 1974 and lies in elevations of 900-1,100 ft. Terzetto is a Bordeaux blend composed of equal parts of 1/3rd Cabernet Sauvignon, 1/3rd Cabernet Franc, and 1/3rd Merlot that is co-fermented then aged for 22 months in 60% new French oak.  The grapes are organically grown and hand harvested.   The wine is elegantly textured with medium intensity.  Eloquent flavors of blackberry and cassis with soft, encompassing tannins show through the core.  Notes of leather, cigar box and tinges of exotic spice play easily into hints of toffee, roasted coffee and mocha.  The finish lingers nicely on the palate with smidgeons of cedar, tea leaf and vanilla.  James Score: 93

Michel Mailliard ‘Cuvee Alexia’ Premier Cru Rose N/V

Champagne, France

Cash Price $49.99

Located in the famous sparkling town of Vertus in the Cote de Blancs, Michel Mailliard is a fourth generation Premier Cru producer.  ‘Cuvee Alexia’ is lovingly named after his daughter.  This Bubbly is a veritable fruit cocktail with clean, delicious sparkles from 90% Chardonnay and 10% Pinot Noir that is quite dry on the palate.  Flavors of strawberry, raspberry and bing cherries explode in the palate.  The mid palate shows fleshy citrus fruits that are encompassed by a rich, creamy complexity that mellows into touches of dark chocolate and rose petals.  The finish sings with gracefully tight bubbles that dance melodically  with hints of chocolate mousse, cherry pie and all things delicious!  This Premier Cru Champagne is a must for the WOW! factor at table this Holiday Season.  James Score 94+ Points

Edu Pulenta Gran Cabernet Franc XI 2013

Mendoza, Argentina

Cash Price $39.89

The vineyard of Finca La Zulema Block 11 is located 1,000 feet above sea level in the region of Luyan de Cuyo in the picturesque region of Mendoza.  It is here that they grow this sensational Cabernet Franc.  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.  The wine is 100% Cabernet Franc that 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 sweet red cherries, currant, and rose petals fill the palate with medium intensity.  Touches of sweet red berries enter the mid palate with hints of roasted 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: 95 Points

Bernard Moreau Chardonnay 2014

Chassagne-Montrachet, France

Cash Price $64.99

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 wine is aged in 30% new French oak for 15 months, fermented with natural yeast and bottled un-fined and unfiltered.  It is brilliantly layered with flavors of lemon citrus that is cradled by tropical fruits and a beautiful floral bouquet.  Notes of white flowers and peach sink into the mid palate with tension based acidity.  The finish offers a plethora of flavor with butterscotch, hazelnuts, crushed rocks and whipped cream pie.  This wine is amazingly structured for the long haul and will only get better with some age.  James Score: 96 Points

Paolo Scavino Nebbiolo 2013

Barolo, Italy

Cash Price $59.84

Barolo DOCG is the king of Piemonte which offers some of the best expressions of Nebbiolo in the world. Paolo Scavino owns 30 hectares entirely in the Barolo area and works on 20 Barolo historical crus located in Castiglione Falletto, Barolo, La Morra, Novello, Serralunga d’Alba, Verduno and Roddi.  The Scavino family distinguishes itself from the beginning by their scrupulous care of the vineyards and passion for terroir. Their core beliefs is the supremacy of the viticulture above the oenology therefore the focus is the care of the vines in order to grow ripe and healthy grapes. In winemaking minimal and equal intervention are sought, to preserve natural diversities, terroir.  This Paolo Scavino Barolo comes from the best plots of seven cru. The diversity of soils, exposure and altitude characterizes each of these small but very important terroir. Unifying these diversities, the Barolo offers harmony and complexity with an overall character of the zone. The wine is 100% Nebbiolo and aged for 22 months in aged French oak and large casks.  Flavors of violets and rose petals quaff into the palate with notes of fresh red plums and cherries.  The wine has a full intensity that is extremely aromatic.  Chewy tannins and firm acidity will give this wine a nice long life.  The finish is pleasurable with hints of potpourri and baking spices.  James Score: 96 Points

Chateau Real D’Or ‘Monaco la Riviera’ Blanc 2015

Cotes de Provence, France

Cash Price $49.99

This fabulous white is made by Chateau Réal D’Or, which is in the village of Gonfaron, Côte de Provence.  The Chateau is nestled at the foot of the Massif des Maures, surrounded by oak forests and majestic centuries-old pine trees.  The vineyard is protected from the infamous Mistral winds..  The wine is 100% Rolle (Vermentino) and fermented in new French oak and then left on the lees for 4 months.  I had reservations about this wine as I wondered how a white from Provence could command such a price, but then I tried it.  The quality in the bottle is undeniable.  It is worth every penny of its price point.  Flavors of citrus lemon, pear and white peach show easily with medium intensity.  The mid palate has a surprised weightiness that gives the wine extra depth.  Hints of wild flowers, jasmine and almond are integrated nicely with touches of cream and vanilla.  The finish is balanced and refreshing with smidgeons of orange blossom, custard and toasted oak.  Only 5,000 bottles produced. James Score: 94 Points

Chateau D’Aiguilhe Red Blend 2015

Bordeaux, France

Cash Price $30.89

Chateau D’Aiguilhe located in the Cotes de Castillon on the right bank of Bordeaux.  The estate is owned by the legendary icon Stephan Von Neipperg, who also happens to own Chateau Canon La Gaffeliere (Wine Spectator’s #2 wine this year) and Premier Grand Cru Classe Chateau La Mondotte.  This is his value estate that completely over delivers for the price point.   The wine is 85% Merlot/15% Cabernet Franc that is aged in 30% new oak.  Massive color with a WOW body.  The wine is full and vibrant with dark red fruits, currant and chalky cream.  The wine has medium intensity with violets and raspberries that sink into a soft roundness that becomes poignant towards the finish.  Notes of baking spices and vanilla tingle throughout the quite inviting finish.  Very well balanced with a quiet opulence.  Yum!  James Score: 93-94 Points

Ulrich Langguth ‘GG’ Dry Riesling 2016

Mosel, Germany

Cash Price $28.29

Dry Riesling done well can be absolutely haunting. The Langguth family is steeped in wine tradition with over 200 years of history in wine making.  ‘GG’ is a shortening of ‘Grosse Gewachs’ which is the Grand Cru system for the VDP, a community of 200 growers that are considered the finest in Germany. These grapes were grown on the very slate strewn, deep soils of Goldtropfchen, which is considered some of the finest vineyard sites in all of Germany.  Most wines from this area are slightly sweet, but this wine is deliciously dry.  Amazing flavors of crisp green apple, pear and apricot sinew into honeydew and hints of petrol.  The mid palate offers medium intensity and notes of beeswax and a stony minerality that sinks into the core.  The finish is flush with white flowers that waft sensuously throughout the palate.  The ‘GG’ wines of the region are considered of the utmost quality and some of the finest in all the land.  It is rare to get this quality at such a great price point.  James Score: 94 Points

Bindi Sergardi ‘Calidonia’ Sangiovese Reserva 2014

Chianti Classico, Italy

Cash Price $25.64

Bindi Sergardi is producing some of the freshest Sangiovese in all of Tuscany.  I tasted through the entire line and was quite impressed throughout.  This wine was one of my favorites.  It is a DOCG wine, which is the highest quality tier for wine in Italy, and exudes luxury and finesse from start to finish.  The wine is 97% Sangiovese/3% Merlot and aged in oak for fifteen months.  Flavors of crunchy red cherries and wild red berries flow into taught tannins and fresh acids.  The mid palate offers touches of savory meat and herbs of sage and white pepper.  The finish is restrained with a concentration of red fruits, rose petals, and freshly cut cedar.  Hints of spice and graphite layer throughout the entire mouth feel.  The wine is a touch closed, so a good decant is recommended.  That said, this wine is an over achiever at $25.  James Score: 92 Points

Frederico Paternina Banda Tempranillo Reserva 2010

Rioja, Spain

Cash Price $14.99

Founded in 1896 in Ollauri, Rioja Alta by Don Federico Paternina, this historic bodega is one of the classics of Rioja. Bodegas Federico Paternina joined the premium Marques de la Concordia Family of Wines in 2014, owner of Spain’s finest estates since 1812. 2014 also saw the return to Paternina of the renowned Rioja winemaker Carmelo Angulo. Carmelo began his career at Paternina where he worked for 14 years, before gaining experience in the other great wine growing regions of Spain and today crafts the much-loved Federico Paternina ranges.  I opened this delight at a ‘Taste of Europe’ tasting and it absolutely floored everyone for the price point.  This Tempranillo based wine is aged in American oak for 24 months.  Flavors of dark currant and plum are held in check by a medium intensity.  Flavors of vanilla and dill are encompassed by earthy tinges of spice and dusted mocha with touches of freshly ground coffee.  The finish is long and complex with hints of toasted oak and subtle hints of tobacco leaf.  James Score: 91 Points

JAMES BARLOW’S TOP PICK OF 2018

BRANAIRE-DUCRU RED BLEND 2015

Bordeaux, France

Cash Price $71.99

Chateau Branaire-Ducru is a family-owned 4th Growth Grand Cru Classe in the commune of Saint Julien.  I have been an avid fan of these wines for the past several years as I think the quality in the bottle is much higher than the price point.  This estate has a history that dates back to 1680.  Patrick Maroteaux purchased the property in 1988 and poured this soul and being into making this property a leader in the Medoc.  He was one of the 1st in the Medoc to implement gravity flow at his winery.  He preferred wines of elegance, with a quiet voice that sings harmoniously from start to finish.  Sadly, Patrick Maroteaux passed away last November, but his son Francois-Xavier has stepped admirably into his father’s large shoes and taken the reigns of the Chateau.  The terroir of the estate is deep gravel with clay soils, which is perfectly suited for Cabernet Sauvignon.  Jean Dominique Videau is the master wine maker behind this stunning wine with Eric Boissenot consulting.  The 2015 vintage offers some of the purest, ready to drink Bordeaux that I have ever tasted.  It is a wonderfully fruit forward vintage that is drinking gorgeously now.  Branaire-Ducru is a 65% Cabernet Sauvignon/26% Merlot/4% Cabernet Franc/5% Petit Verdot blend that is aged in 65% new French oak for 18 months.  This wine is the reason I have fallen in love with this Chateau.  Flavors of red cherry, framboise and violets flow into crunchy fresh notes of red berries and currant.  The wine has medium intensity with a soft, elegant creamy core and velvet tannins.  This stunner is unbelievably seamless with notes of clove, cinnamon and toasted oak that weave through hints of tobacco and exotic spices.  The finish lingers for a beautifully long time.  An Absolute Show Stopper Wine!  James Score: 99 Points

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One Response to JAMES BARLOW’S ‘TOP PICKS’ OF 2018

  1. Roland Jackson says:

    James,
    Can you get me 3 bottles of your “pick of the year 2018”. I have 3 folks who will appreciate it for Xmas.

    If possible let me know when and where to collect it.

    Hope to see you personally before holidays are over.

    Thanks,
    Roland
    936-5207204 / trj@jwaterfarm.com

    Sent from my iPad

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