James Barlow’s ‘The Thirteen’ Picks of February 2020

Hello Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am back in the saddle with this blog after taking January off. I was recently in California on a Saké trip, being that I am also the new Saké buyer for Spec’s. When I was there I had a couple of delicious red blends (I Know, I know….I was on a Saké excursion) and it has lead me to the theme for this month’s list. I have several other wines on this list, but the main focus of this blog is Red Blends from around the world and the many grapes that comprise a delicious red blend. Blends are typically the winemaker’s best opportunity to show off their skills with the grapes involved to make a balanced expression of what what they would put on their dinner table to drink. Get some of these in your basket and let me know what you think!  Enjoy!

Monticello ‘Jefferson Cuvee’ Cabernet Sauvignon 2017

Napa Valley, California

Cash Price $32.99

“Good wine is necessity of life” were the words from one of our Forefathers, Thomas Jefferson. The Corley family pays homage to the great man with their Jefferson’s Cuvee selections.  The winery has been producing Napa Valley wines since 1969.  The vineyards are sustainably farmed and the fruit used in this wine is all estate and fermented in French Oak.  I had the opportunity to dine with Stephen Corley last year and tasted through his whole line up.  These are beautifully crafted wines done right! Monticello exudes flavors of lush blackberry and black cherry that weave easily throughout balanced tannins and acids.  The mid palate shows touches of plum and anise that flow into a textured mouth feel.  The finish is long and entertaining with notes of lightly toasted oak, dark mocha and whiffs of vanilla.  Touches of spice linger delightfully on the palate.  Barlow Score: 92 Points

Saddleback Cellars ‘Rancher Red’ Red Blend 2015

Napa Valley (Oakville), California

Cash Price $29.99

I am super excited to be able to offer this wine made by the LEGENDARY Winemaker Nils Venge.  He was the very first 100 Point winemaker in California with his 1985 Groth Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon.  He has since purchased a 14 acre Oakville estate and offers extremely reasonable prices from the (arguably) best AVA in Napa Valley.  The Rancher Red is a blend of mostly Cabernet Sauvignon with a smidgeon of Petite Sirah and Syrah to finish the blend.  It is a small production, high quality wine that is sure to knock your socks off!  Silky flavors of black cherry and currant flow into velvet tannins and acids. Hints of blackberry and blueberries sink into light touches of cedar, vanilla, and toast.  The finish is long and balanced.  Barlow Score: 92 Points

Cougar Crest ‘Dedication Eleven’ Red Blend 2013

Walla Walla, Washington

Cash Price $19.94

As most of you know, I have become an advocate of Washington State wines over the past couple of years and love showing a wine with a touch of age on it.  This gives the consumer an opportunity to see how well Washington wines can age.  Dedication is a blend of 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 31% Syrah, 25% Merlot, and 4% Petit Verdot.  I am increasing happy with most of the wines coming out of Washington, but am REALLY excited about the blends from Walla Walla.  Dedication offers flavors of silky black cherries and blackberries that encompass velvety tannins and soft acids.  The mid palate shows a harmonious display of plum, mocha and baking spices that envelope the palate into a delightfully full, lush finish.  The wine does have a ‘sense of place’ on the palate that makes it distinctly different from some New World wines. The wine is peaking and drinking perfectly NOW, so go get yours!   Barlow Score: 91 Points

Trig Point ‘The Railyard’ Zinfandel 2017

Alexander Valley, California

Cash Price $19.94

Nick Goldschmidt is the master mind behind some of the best wines produced in Alexander Valley.  He is from New Zealand, but has a penchant for finding the best vineyards in Sonoma and making wines of outstanding value, typically without breaking bank.  Railyard Vineyard sits just north of Geyserville (Ridge Winery fame) and is planted on pre Phylloxera vines that are organically farmed.  The wine is 88% Zinfandel with 12% Petite Sirah and aged in 15% New French oak for 16 months.  Decadent fruit flavors of bright blueberry and bramble leap into palate with exotic spices playing throughout the core.  Black cherry and raspberry sink into the mid palate with notes of toasted nuts and vanilla.  The finish is silky with soft tannins and lightly sweet blackberry cobbler pie.  Barlow Score: 91 Points

Pontac Phenix Red Blend 2015

Bordeaux, France

Cash Price $19.94

Phenix is the 2nd wine of Pontac Lynch and the vineyards used are in the Haut Medoc and Margaux, not far from 1st Growth Chateau Margaux.  It is hard to find a wine in the 2015 vintage that isn’t amazing quality, but this one is a true diamond for under $20.  Flavors of red cherry and kirsch lay on a medley of sweet spices and medium tannins.  This wine is deliciously ripe and ready to drink.  The acids are tantalizing with dense notes of toasted oak  and roasted coffee bean.  The finish is persistent and well rounded.  Yum! A true gem!  Barlow Score: 90 Points

L’Espigouette Red Blend 2016

Rasteau, France

Cash Price 20.89

The Rhone Valley has long produced some of the best value table wines on Earth, yet people often overlook the $15-$30 price point in Rhone.  The are either buying CDR (Cotes du Rhone) at $10 or CDP (Chateauneuf du Pape) at $40, and the middle price point is often lost.  I implore you to start diving into the insanely complex wine in the mid tier of the Rhone Valley.  This wine hails from the village of Rasteau which is best known for producing VDN (Vin du Naturel is a lightly fortified sweet wine) but can produce distinctly intense red wines. This wine is mostly Grenache (80%) with a little Syrah and Mourvedre sprinkled in.   Flavors of Stewed cherry cobbler races through the palate with raspberry compote.  The wine is thick and brooding with a viscous mouth feel.  Notes of sweet spice and oregano flow deftly into the mid palate with medium tannins and acids.  The 2016’s in France have yet fail me.  Everything I have had from almost every region has been spectacular.  Barlow Score:  91 Points

La Motte ‘Millenium’  Red Blend 2017

South Africa

Cash Price $17.99

This winery is a direct result of the immense care given by the famed Anton Rupert.  He planted noble grapes and provided excellent viticulture to build a winery with dynamic wines of repute.  This Merlot/Cabernet Franc blend was aged for 12 months in used oak.  Bright flavors of raspberry and currant sing into hints of herbacious underbrush and black tea.  Notes of blueberry bounce into a finish of toffee, cinnamon and wild flowers. This is a food wine for sure, but is sure to please on many range of palates.  Barlow Score: 90 Points

Chablisienne Sauvignon Blanc 2017

St. Bris, France

Cash Price $12.99

This wine comes from one of the best Co/ops in all of France. Chablisienne sourced these grapes southwest of Chablis in the quaint region of St. Bris.  This region is the only one in Burgundy that highlights Sauvignon Blanc!  I am absolutely enamored by the wines of St. Bris. They offer textural and flavor differences from most of versions of SB in the entire world.  This daily stunner shows flavors of citrus apple with a layered, textured mouthfeel. Hints of melon and peach tingle into delightfully fresh acidity that is unencumbered by oak.  The finish is classically fresh and built for the hot Houston heat.  Super Yummy!  Barlow Score: 90 Points

Domaine Haut Gleon Red Blend 2015

Valee Du Paradis, France

Cash Price $14.99

I’ve found your Crawfish Boil Red Wine for the upcoming season!  Look no further than Haut Gleon Rouge.  It is a blend of 60% Grenache/25% Syrah/15% Carignan from old vines and aged in neutral French oak.  The wine is fruit forward and spicy from the start.  Flavors of pomegranate and framboise explode from the palate with medium acidity and tannins.  The mid palate shows a juicy starburst core with exotic spices throughout.  The finish is soft and mellow with touches of coffee beans and salty roasted meats and nuts.  Barlow Score: 88 Points

Rivera Red Blend 2016

Salice Salentino, Italy

Cash Price $13.99

I visited this estate many years ago and was impressed with their attention to detail and the delicious wines and olive oil that were poured at the table.  The flatlands of Salice Salentino have quietly made a cult following of their inexpensive Negroamaro blends. The wines are deliciously ripe and inviting with plenty of dark fruit.  This wine is 90% Negroamaro with 10% Malvasia Nero and aged for 3-4 months in small, aged oak casks.  Flavors of stewed blackberry and dates jump into surprisingly vibrant acidity.  The mid palate shows ripe fruits of plum and morello cherry with a dense finish.  This wine will definitely surprise you for the price!  Get it in your basket.  Barlow Score: 89 Points

Shannon Ridge ‘Wrangler Red’ Red Blend 2017

Lake County, California

Cash Price $12.99

Lake County is continuing to build momentum and garner praise for rock solid reds in the region north of Napa Valley.  Shannon Ridge was awarded the ‘Top Winery’ at Houston’s Uncorked Wine Competition in 2015 and their sales have exploded ever since.  This winery is releasing a stellar red blend based on Zinfandel and Rhone Varietals.  Wrangler Red is a silky smooth Zindandel, Syrah blend that screams fruit from the onset.  The wine has been aged in French and American oak for 18 months.  Intense flavors of black cherry and black raspberry seep through the full blackberry with medium tannins and acids.  Notes of graham cracker and cinnamon are prevalent on the mid palate with touches of sweet tobacco and milk chocolate.  The finish is creamy and velvety with smooth lingering tones of rich fruit and spice.  Best Daily drinker that money can buy!  Barlow Score: 89 Points

Ca’Momi Chardonnay 2018

Napa Valley, California

Cash Price $12.99

Ca’Momi is rooted in Italian heritage, but with Napa panache.  Ca (Pronounced ‘ka’) Momi roughly translates to The House of Momi after Momi dea Bionda, who was notoriously obsessive and protective of his property and vineyards in Veneto, Italy.  This winery puts its heart and soul into the vineyards with meticulous care.  This Chardonnay exudes ripe flavors of pineapple and pear with medium acidity.  The mid palate offers mandarin orange that turns slowly into a cream vanilla core.  The finish gives licks of almond and hazelnuts on lightly toasted oak.  Barlow Score: 90 Points

Muscador ‘Ice’ Sparkling N/V


Cash Price $9.99

Muscador is a delightfully medium sweet white sparkling wine that will be a perfect pair with your Valentine.  Made in the traditional method with Muscat (Moscato) grapes, this sweet bubbly offers flavors of citrus zest that flows into white flowers and drizzling honey. These light bubbles will give your Valentine a sparkle in their eyes.  Pair with a heart shaped box of chocolates!  Barlow Score: 88 Points

Thank You,

James C. Barlow, CWE, CSS

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