Hello Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am pleased to announce my TOP PICKS OF 2019! I have had the pleasure of traveling to Spain and Napa Valley this year.  I am settling into my new role with Spec’s as the Fine Wine America buyer as you will see with the medley of American wines on this list. I tasted several thousand wines this year and poured through my notes to find well rated, yet nicely priced wines.  I have a Dry Rosé on this list for the first time, but I love it enough to serve at my Thanksgiving day feast this year. The list is in no particular order, except for the last wine, MY TOP PICK OF 2019!  Thank you, as always, for being part of this blog. Please share with your friends and have them join too!  Happy Holidays!

Blue Rock ‘Best Barrels’ Cabernet Franc 2016

Alexander Valley, California

Cash Price $59.84

This is the 1st incarnation of Best Barrels Cabernet Franc….and I can see why as it is easily the best Cabernet Franc from the New World I have tried this year.  The ‘Best Barrel’ program for Blue Rock is an intensive progress where the best barrels from each vintage are kept off to the side to produce the ‘Best’ of what this winery has to offer.  They usually only produce a Cabernet Sauvignon, but this year the quality was undeniable in the Cabernet Franc barrels, thus it was decided to make this wine.  The wine is 95% Cabernet Franc with a plash of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon all from the sustainably farmed Estate in Alexander Valley. It was aged in 35% New French oak (the rest in 1-2 year old barrique) for 20 months.  Deep and deliciously aromatic, this Franc offers exuberant flavors of red raspberry and strawberry that explode on the palate with whiffs of dried herbs showing medium tannins and acids.  The mid palate gives more red fruit with smidgeons of pepper and dark mocha that softens into a creamy core.  The finish is long and tantalizing with whiffs of cedar, vanillin and exotic spice.   Barlow Score: 95 Points

J. Moss Cabernet Sauvignon 2014

Rutherford, California

Cash Price $74.99

I met James Moss (a fellow Texan) when I visited Napa Valley several months ago.  We were paired to have dinner together, by fate or design, and I was able to taste through his small production wines. I was quite impressed with the wines as we ate at a killer steakhouse called Cordeiro’s. This wine is from Rutherford AVA in a spectacular vintage (2014).  The wine is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon that was aged in 100% New French Oak for 28 months.  Succulent, silky black and red fruits flow through velvet tannins.  Notes of mocha, tobacco and toasted spice layer beautifully through nuances of creamy vanilla and dark chocolate. Layered with amazing finesse.  Barlow Score: 93+ Points

Rizzi Barbaresco (Nebbiolo) 2016

Barbaresco, Italy

Cash Price $37.59

I tasted through this line up earlier this year with the wine maker Enrico Dellapiana.  He produces clean and ‘pretty’ wines that are approachable in their youth, but age accordingly.  The winery is sustainable and the vineyard was planted in 1967 on marl clay and sand.  Flavors of strawberry and violets flow easily into the palate with medium plus acidity. The wine is fresh and clean with a plush mid palate that is somewhat surprising considering the wine is 100% Nebbiolo.  Notes of tea leaf are prevalent throughout the finish with touches of spice. Barlow Score: 91+ Points

Brooks ‘Janus’ Pinot Noir 2015

Willamette Valley, Oregon

Cash Price $45.99

This winery is fully sustainable with most being organic or biodynamic. The wines offer purity and finesse that make it one of the top producers in the United States. They have an Old World feel with New World panache. They are also one of the first wineries in the United States to partner with 1% for the Earth. One Percent of all their sales goes straight back into making our Earth a better place. But enough about the winery! This is their flagship wine.  Striking flavors of bright cherry compote and pomegranate sinew into whiffs of chocolate macaroon and rhubarb.  The mid palate offers medium plus acidity with notes of lavender, cola, and root beer.  The finish is pure and clean with hints of porcini, cinnamon and raspberry tea.  Barlow Score: 93+ Points

Webster ‘Left Bank’ Red Blend 2012

Napa Valley, California

Cash Price $74.99 But ON SALE FOR A LIMITED TIME

ONLY $59.97

Keith Webster, a former Houstonian for 27 years, loved wine from a very early age. He made his money as a businessman, but decided at the age of 56 that his true passion was in wine. He enrolled in the UC Davis Wine Program and began making wine from high quality Diamond Mountain fruit.  He produces Old World style wine, hence the name Left Bank (an homage to Bordeaux) from beautiful Napa fruit.  The wine is a blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 15% Petite Verdot and 5% Cabernet Franc aged in French oak.  This wine is really starting to hit its stride.  Robust flavors of cassis and blackberry deftly flow through dense, yet integrated tannins.  The mid palate offers layers of boysenberry and black cherry with subtle notes of dried tobacco and cigar box.  The finish is balanced and complex with touches of cedar, vanilla, and herbs.  This wine is worthy of the price, but an absolute steal under $60!  Less than 2 cases available. Barlow Score: 94 Points

Waris Hubert ‘Albescent’ Blanc de Blanc Grand Cru N/V

Champagne, France

Cash Price $49.99

I recently popped a bottle of this bubbly to celebrate with a good friend whom had just passed WSET 3 and was reminded at how absolutely stunning this Grand Cru Champagne is.  The wine is 100% first press Chardonnay (Blanc de Blancs) from the Grand Cru villages of Cramant and Avize.  It was aged for 3 years on the lees and bottled with a dosage of 7 g/l (.7).   The term Albescent come from the ‘Albe’ in Latin meaning white. The vineyards are an average age of 25 years and farmed sustainably.  Tight, clean bubbles weave through flavors of Granny Smith apples and freshly squeezed lemon with a vivacious backbone of minerality.  Hints of brioche and granary toast sneak into whiffs of white flowers, wet stone and tickles of honey.  Stunningly Clean and complex. What a treat!  Barlow Score: 94+

Ch. Pontac Lynch Red Blend 2015

Margaux, France

Cash Price $37.99

Margaux is considered a more elegant styles 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 2015 & 2016 vintages were excellent.  Pontac Lynch is consistently high quality at a great price point as their property is adjacent to the Grand Cru Classe estates of  1st Growth Chateau Margaux, 2nd Growth Rauzan-Segla, and 3rd Growth Chateau D’Issan.  It is a 10 hectare property that has been Cru Bourgeois status since 1932 and 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.  Pontac Lynch 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. Barlow Score: 93 Points

Calcareous ‘Tres Violet’ Red Blend 2017

Paso Robles, California

Cash Price $39.89

Owner Dana Brown visited Texas this year with her team and laid out her passion for Paso Robles showing quality in the bottle and embodying the mantra ‘let the soil speak’.  Her portfolio was impressive across the board (Check out her Syrahs!) but I was quite taken with her Rhone style blend called Tres Violet.  It is a blend of Grenache, Mourvedre, and Syrah that sung from start to finish.  Gracious flavors of raspberry, violets and smoked game lifted into the palate with medium tannins and acids. The mid palate screams blueberry through a plush, creamy core. The finish is long and integrated with dancing hints of clove and cinnamon. Barlow Score: 93 Points

Domaine de Cabasse ‘Cuvee Juncunditas’ Red Blend 2016

Gigondas, France

Cash Price $23.69

I had the pleasure of taking Benoit Baudry, owner of Domaine de Cabasse, around our beautiful city showing his fantastic Rhone Valley wines this year.  His eyes lit up like birthday candles when he talked about this wine, boasting that it was one of the best wines he has ever produced. The wine is a blend of 70% Grenache/15% Syrah/15% Mourvedre grown at 1,300 feet above sea level.  The wine is supple and inviting from the 1st taste.  Flavors of ripe plum and roasted dates fling effortlessly into the palate with medium intensity followed by candied cherries.  Notes of licorice and black raspberry flow into hints of cracked black pepper with touches of garrigue.  Get this wine while you can!  Barlow Score: 94 Points

Castello di Ama Chianti Classico Gran Selezione 2015

Tuscany, Italy

Cash Price $62.99

The 2015 vintage was one to behold in all of Tuscany, but this wine absolutely stunned me with the quality and depth in the glass. Located just northeast of Siena, in the heart of Chianti Classico, is the picturesque estate of Castello Di Ama.  San Lorenzo is picked from their finest vineyards and aged for 12 months in 20% new barrique.  Divine flavors of wild red cherries and fresh strawberries play into the palate with medium plus acidity and medium tannins.  Notes of red clay, tobacco leaf and leather sinew through the mid palate with touches of thyme, blackberry and just a whiff of orange blossom.  The finish shows a silky complexity offering graham crackers and hints of milk chocolate.  This is easily one of the best offerings in all of Chianti Classico.  Barlow Score: 95 Points

Bodegas La Horra ‘Corimbo’ Tempranillo 2013

Ribera Del Duero, Spain

Cash Price $41.79

I tasted through the portfolio of the Iconic Rioja producer, Roda, at their Ribera Del Duero Winery earlier this year. The property in Ribera Del Duero is called La Horra named after the town in which it presides.  The wines are a definition of the newer style of ripe wine-making that is taking Spain by storm.  The wines were all of very good quality.  The Corimbo is produced in their La Horra estate and is 100% Tinta Del Pais (Tempranillo). The vines are an average of 25 years old on limestone/chalk soils in the towns of La Horra and Roa.  The wine is fermented in large oak and stainless steel then aged for 12 months in 80% French/20% American oak with 20% of that being new oak. The color of the wine is pristine with little to no signs of aging which shows that this wine will have a long life if you so choose.  The wine offers delicious flavors of black cherry and cassis that are enveloped with medium plus tannins and acids.  The mid palate offers a soft, approachable plushness that sinks into a long, lingering finish with kisses of vanilla, cedar and spice.  Barlow Score: 93 Points

Matthiasson Dry Rose 2018


Cash Price $19.94

The geek in me gets quite excited when I have the pleasure of pouring the wines of Steve and Jill Matthiasson.  They are considered some of the best in the business.  They love to experiment with lesser known varieties and keep wine making pure and simple. This wonderfully Dry Rose is a blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, and Counoise sourced from two vineyards (Dunnigan in Yolo and Hurley in Napa).  The wine has a delightful citrus and red fruit component that begs to be paired with food.  The wine is low alcohol (11.5%) and has a Provencal feel, but with American panache.  Notes of lemon citrus combine with fresh rose petals, wild flowers and raspberry that flow into refreshing acids. The mid palate softens a hint with touches of sur lie aging showing and notes of bing cherry that race throughout the creamy core. The finish is pure and refreshing with whiffs of white pepper, wet rock and gardenias.  Yum! Barlow Score: 91 Points


Barnett Cabernet Sauvignon 2016

Spring Mountain, California

Cash Price $99.99

Barnett Spring Mountain Cabernet 2016 was the best wine I tasted in Napa this year.  I tasted hundreds of wines during my trip and this one stood head and shoulder above the rest (and there was tough competition!).  I tasted this at an AVA specific tasting with all the wine makers talking of terroir and why their wines had different structure and flavors from different soils. David Tate was an unassuming fellow who showed true passion for growing mountain fruit. A couple of days later I had the pleasure of sitting with his wife (with bun in the oven) at a luncheon and talking a little more in depth about David’s wines.  This all estate wine is 76% Cabernet Sauvignon/11% Petite Verdot/9% Merlot/4% Cabernet Franc that was aged for 22 months in 65% new and 35% 2 yr French oak.  The 2016 vintage in Napa was a return to normalcy with decent rainfall in the winter months, followed by a warm spring and a moderately hot summer with warm days and cool nights. This wine was harvested from two vineyards, York Creek and Barnett Vineyards, which were meticulously cared for and the grapes were picked at perfect ripeness. Barnett shows great intensity and a dark core from the start with blueberry pie and blackberry jam cobbler flowing into a silky mouthfeel that belies its excellent structure.  It is definitive mountain fruit with depth and concentration while offering velvet notes of dark plum ensconced by clove, tobacco and dark, rich milk chocolate. The finish is extremely long with beautiful notes of vanilla, minerals, and dusty wood floor.  This wine will age gracefully for next 10-15 years. Layered, complex, complete.  Barlow Score: 97+

Thank you,

James C. Barlow, CWE, CSS

Spec’s Fine Wine America and Saké Buyer

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