Hello Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am pleased to announce my TOP PICKS OF 2020! Who could’ve imagined this year would turn into what it has. That said, this was my 1st full year as the Fine Wine America and Saké buyer for Spec’s Wines, Spirits and Finer Foods. I’ve had the pleasure to dive deeply into wines and regions that I had rarely focused on in the past. I tasted a considerable amount of Pacific Northwest wines and was able to taste through many Iconic California wineries that I had never taken notes on. I tasted through several thousand wines this year and have put together a list of stunners. This list is not always necessarily the priciest (although some are definitely pricey!) but is mostly based on quality vs price in the glass. Granted there were some stunners that I rated quite highly and are decently expensive. I’ve never put too much weight into ratings, but it does help quantify my perspective on a wine for you all to gauge. Without further ado, Happy Holidays and here’s to a MUCH BETTER 2021! As in years past, MY TOP PICK will be at the bottom of this blog.

#2. Brooks Winery ‘Rastaban’ Pinot Noir 2017

Eola-Amity Hills, Oregon

Cash Price $54.99

As you all know, I have been raving about Brooks a lot this year. The winery is fully sustainable with most being organic or biodynamic. The wines offer purity and finesse that make them 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 and become Certified B Corp. This estate wine is 100% biodynamic and comprised of Pommard, 115, and 777 clones farmed in Eola-Amity Hills. Rastaban is the name of a star that is the ‘eye’ of the constellation called Draco (Latin for Dragon). The wine offers gorgeously layered flavors of black raspberry and pomegranate with wisps of rose petals sinking slowly into the palate. The mid palate shows medium intensity with notes of blackberry, bramble and cola that transition into a light creamy core. Hints of sage and earthy spice lick throughout the palate with just a touch of savory mushroom. The finish offers a juicy cherry redness that belies the mid palate with layered tannins and tinges of graphite. The backbone offers salinity that gives it a Bourgogne feel and makes my heart tingle. Barlow Score: 96 Points

#3. Bougetz ‘Amaryllis’ Cabernet Sauvignon 2016

Spring Mountain (Napa), California

Cash Price $59.84

I was in Napa Valley last year with Napa Valley Vintners and had the pleasure of really sinking my teeth into all that Napa Valley has to offer. I tasted this wine amongst probably a hundred other wines and found myself gravitating back to their booth to taste through the rest of the line. This wine showed a purity and concentration that put it head and shoulders above the rest at the tasting. The wine is 92% Cabernet with 4% Merlot and Cabernet Franc from 1,000 ft. above the valley in Spring Mountain. It 100% whole berry crushed and fermented then aged for 22 months in 75% new oak. Bright flavors of thick black fruits of currant and cassis load into the palate with nice viscosity. The mid palate is full with excellent structure that is ensconced by layers of cherry vanilla, cedar and exotic spice.  Get this in your home, It’s a show-stopper! Barlow Score: 95 Points

#4. Quilceda Creek Cabernet Sauvignon 2017

Columbia Valley, Washington

Cash Price $199.99

I tasted this Iconic winery from Washington for the 1st time earlier this year and instantly understood what all the fuss was about. Quilceda Creek was established in 1978 by Alex Golitzin (André Tchelistcheff’s nephew) and has been highly acclaimed for decades. This massive 100% Cabernet Sauvignon is mostly from Champoux vineyard (possibly the finest vineyard in Washington State) in Horse Heaven Hills and aged in 100% new French oak for 20 months. This wine was quite tight from the beginning, but the layers began to unfold rather quickly into the tasting. Robust flavors of dark currant, blackberry and just a kiss of blueberry lift into medium plus intensity. The mid palate softens a touch with tickles of cream that linger into dusted earth and that classic tobacco leaf that I love in Cabernet Sauvignon. The finish is integrated with notes of dark mocha, graphite, vanilla bean, all-spice and graham crackers that linger on the palate for a good long time. Wow. Barlow Score: 97 Points

#5. Lavinea ‘Elton Vineyard’ Chardonnay 2015

Eola-Amity Hills, Oregon

Cash Price $39.89

I recently had the pleasure of bringing in this wine to our portfolio.  Willamette Valley Chardonnay is quickly becoming my ‘go to’ area for Spectacular Chardonnay! This wine is EASILY one of the best Chardonnays that I’ve had in recent memory and quite possibly one of the best I’ve tasted from the New World.  The winemaker is Isabelle Meunier (Evening Land, Domaine Vougeraie and Felton Road) who apprenticed under famed Bourgogne winemaker Dominique Lafon.  In other words, she has excellent pedigree!  The Elton vineyard (named Oregon’s Top Ten Best Vineyards) is located in the Eola-Amity Hills AVA which is a sub appellation in the Willamette Valley with elevation of about 500 feet and the well-known Jory soil that makes the region quite unique in profile. This silky smooth and beautifully textured wine offers harmonious flavors of white peach, granny smith apple, and whiffs of quince that dance melodically through deliciously refreshing acidity. Hints of butterscotch and cotton candy lay into a clean mineral component.  The finish offers a clean zest of key lime pie and just a kiss of vanilla. Absolutely stunning. Barlow Score: 96 Points

#6. Philip Togni Cabernet Sauvignon 2014

Spring Mountain, California

Cash Price $169.99

I’ve heard about the wines of Philip Togni on Spring Mountain for years, but never had the opportunity to taste until this year. The wine has definitely lived up to its reputation and exceeded it in my opinion. I have found that I ‘ve become an avid fan of Spring Mountain Cabernet and this winery is the peak of excellence for what Spring Mountain can offer. Philip Togni is a former student of Emile Peynaud, so it’s not surprising that his wines have a ‘Bordeaux-esque’ quality to them and long ageing potential. The wine has a medium ruby core, with medium legs and an easy sense of alcohol (13.5%). Flavors of dark cassis and currant meld into red cherry notes. The mid palate is classic and tempered with plenty of tannins that don’t necessarily overpower, but instead enhance the fruits and whiffs of vanilla. The finish is refined and polished with dusted earth, dark chocolate, tobacco, and cigar box. Elegant and Beautiful. Barlow Score: 97 Points

#7. Matthiasson ‘Matthiasson Vineyard’ Cabernet Franc 2017

Oak Knoll, California

Cash Price $54.89

I had the pleasure of hosting Steve Matthiasson earlier this year at a virtual tasting and really enjoyed speaking with one of the brightest stars in Napa Valley. He produces wines of purity, depth and character while implementing organic practices and dry farming. I love Chinon wines in France and have rarely found that herbaceous character in the Cabernet Franc wines in California. This wine is produced at Matthiasson Vineyard in Oak Knoll which has a cooler temperature that allows the grapes to retain a slight herbal note that good Cabernet Franc can offer. If you have not found his wines yet, I implore you to seek them out (at Spec’s)! This 100% Cabernet Franc has a lighter ruby core with light legs. Juicy red fruits burst in the nose with those telltale herbs and rose petals. The wine is only 12% which allows for the wine to really speak volumes without being over-burdened by alcohol. Darker fruit races into the palate with notes of button mushroom, underbrush and a hint of smokey goodness. The mid palate offers cranberry and red berries with tinges of black pepper, dust, and freshly picked mushrooms. Whiffs of green pepper fill the finish with touches of currant and graphite. The wine has an electric energy that vibrates through the backbone of the wine. Classic. Barlow Score: 94 Points

#8. Once & Future Oakley Road Zinfandel 2017

Contra Costa, California

Cash Price $49.99

Joel Peterson of Ravenswood fame is the lightning rod for this project. He found some extremely old vines in Contra Costa and decided to produce some of the finest damn Zinfandel in California with them. Oakley Road Vineyard has extremely sandy soils which is key to the survival of the 100+ year old vines that live there. This 100% Zinfandel was aged in 30% French oak for 12 months. Peterson practices organic farming in this vineyard. The wine has neon color with medium legs. Bright red raspberry and bramble pops into the palate with hints pipe tobacco. The mid palate offers a supple creamy texture with nice acidity to balance the big fruits. The wine is silky and aromatic from start to finish. Notes of black pepper and licorice play into the finish with tinges of black cherry and dried leaves that lingers on the palate for a delightfully long time. Barlow Score: 93 Points

#9. Lingua Franca Estate Chardonnay 2017

Eola-Amity Hills, Oregon

Cash Price $49.99

I have had the pleasure to try numerous wines from Oregon this year. As a Bourgogne Wines Ambassador, I am pretty finicky about my Chardonnay. I have found a fondness in the Chardonnay produced in Oregon. I typically look for good salinity in my Chardonnay along with balance and complexity. Oregon is really showing some impressive Chardonnay now! Lingua Franca, under the watchful guidance of Master Sommelier Larry Stone, is producing some of the finest expressions in the state. Their 66-acre estate offers a massale selection but with the main Chardonnay clones hailing from Montrachet in Bourgogne. The wine is finished in 600 liter French oak barrels, then put in stainless steel on the lees for the last five months prior to bottling. Lively flavors of fleshy Granny Smith apples elegantly flow into dollops of lemon drop with medium intensity on the palate. The mid palate offers citrus lemon custard on a weighty, yet weightless mouthfeel. Notes of salinity and wet rocks are weaved into hints of butterscotch, hazelnuts, pecans and praline that are deliciously balanced into the finish. The wine has laser focus and an amazing amount of pop in the glass. Barlow Score: 96 Points

#10. Chateau Branaire-Ducru ‘Duluc’ Red Blend 2014

Saint Julien, France

Cash Price $37.99

I recently re-tasted this wine for the 1st time in several years at the French/American Chamber of Commerce Virtual Wine Tasting. Branaire-Ducru has quickly evolved into one of my absolute favorite Chateau on Earth. This is their 2nd wine called ‘Duluc’ named after Pierre Du Luc, the 2nd owner of the property. Duluc has consistently over-achieved for the price in my opinion. The wine is 55% Cabernet Sauvignon/40% Merlot/3% Petit Verdot/2% Cabernet Franc and aged for 12 months in 20% new French oak. The 2014’s of Bordeaux are drinking beautifully right now. The wine has intense red cherries and currant that lead into an elegantly complex medium intensity. The backbone of this wine has a minerality with notes of tea herbs, dusty tannins and cedar. Hints of truffle play into the finish with licks of exotic spice and smoke. This wine will age wonderfully but tastes amazing in the glass right now! Barlow Score: 93 Points

#11. Lucie Bacigalupi Vineyard Pinot Noir 2016

Russian River Valley, California

Cash Price $54.99

I have found that I’m a sucker for Bacigalupi fruit in the Russian River Valley. This wine is from that estate vineyard. I love Pinot Noir and this easily one of the best I’ve tasted this year from the New World. The vines are planted on alluvial soils close to the river to keep excellent temperature throughout the growing season. The wine is 100% Pinot Noir from the Wente Clone and aged for 17 months in new French oak. Kirk Venge is the consulting winemaker for this wine that is owned by the Janzen family. Lucie explodes into the palate with a decadent texture that gives a toe-curling effect. Flavors of rich black cherry and currant flow effortlessly into the palate with medium intensity. The mid palate offers lavender, cola and sweet fruits that encompass the palate with a silky plushness. The finish offers hints of exotic spice, graham crackers and just a touch of minerality. Velvet, seamless and decadently intriguing. Barlow Score: 95 Points

#12. Michel Mailliard ‘Cuvee Gregory’ Premier Cru Brut Sparkling 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 although the family wine tradition dates back to 1894. Michel and Gregory (Michel’s son) take care of their 55-acre estate on some of the more hallowed ground in Champagne. Gregory manages the vineyards and harvest while his father crafts the wines. He is an RC (Recoltant-Manipulant) farmer/grower meaning that all of his fruit comes from their vineyards. This Champagne is 95% Chardonnay and 5% Pinot Noir and aged for 5 years on the lees prior to disgorgement with .05% residual sugars. I had this wine sitting in my cellar for several years and decided to pop it about a month ago with friends and was completely astounded at how well it was aging. Crisp notes of citrus and white flowers danced melodically into the palate with medium intensity. The mid palate fills with yeasty complexity of buttered popcorn, candied nuts, and fresh dough. The finish is surprisingly soft and mellow with hints of butterscotch, lilacs and lavender that are focused with pin-point precision by the underlying minerality and acidity. Barlow Score: 94

#13. La Jota Vineyard Co. Cabernet Sauvignon 2016

Howell Mountain, California

Cash Price $154.84

La Jota has been a dark horse favorite of mine for many years. That said, its been several years since I had tasted their wines. Based high up on Howell Mountain (1,700-1,820 Ft), La Jota has winemaker Chris Carpenter at the helm making premium quality Cabernet Sauvignon. This dangerously sleek Cabernet Sauvignon is unfined, unfiltered and fermented with native yeast then aged for 19 months in 90% new French oak. The wine has a dark ruby core with thick legs. Flavors of black currant and cherry are instantly humming with sweet tobacco encompassing the thick palate. This wine has more elegance than expected with the mid palate being beautifully plush and alluring. Medium plus intensity flows into notes of cigar smoke, tobacco leaf, and dark mocha. The finish is quite inviting with tickles of vanilla bean, cinnamon and oak textures that give way to the underlying licorice note. Almost Saint Julien in style, which is high praise for me. Barlow Score: 96 Points


K Vintners ‘Powerline Vineyard’ Syrah 2017

Walla Walla, Washington State

Cash Price $40.84

I have been an avid fan of Washington State Syrah for quite a while, but this one knocked my socks off with its uniqueness and tip of the hat to the Old World while still staying true to its home. Many call Charles Smith a mad scientist with his wines, but I think quite the opposite. He allows the wine to express itself the way it was intended. This wine is 100% Syrah, 100% whole cluster fermented with native yeasts and spent 40 days macerating then aged in 66% new French Puncheons for 28 months on the lees. 2017 was a fantastic year with moderate temperatures during the summer and a consistent ripening season that allowed the fruit to hang for perfect structure without gaining too much alcohol. Powerline Vineyard is a 30-acre estate located over 1,200 feet elevation in the Walla Walla Valley AVA. It was planted on the foothills of the Blue Mountains just south of Walla Walla in 2012. The soils are well drained with cobblestone river rocks, underlying layers of sand and gravel deposits which allows the vines to dig deep for their nutrients. The elevation allows for the acidity to hold strong while the grapes optimally ripen. The wine has a neon blue/purple core with medium plus legs. Aromas of lavender, blueberry, and black raspberry smack into the palate with medium plus intensity. The mid palate offers secondary notes of olive tapenade, salty ham and beef jerky that is lifted into a plush, balanced mouthfeel. The finish offers a medley of spice with hints of potpourri, coffee grounds, and black pepper. The backbone of this wine offers plenty of smoked meat, cracked pepper and dried flowers. Very Northern Rhone-esque. A Powerhouse wine with layers and texture. WOW. Barlow Score: 98 Points

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to JAMES BARLOW’S TOP PICKS FOR 2020

  1. Renee Hamilton says:

    You are so awesome! Thank you so much!

  2. Michael Schneider says:

    Hi James

    Can someone still get the K Vintners? If so, can I get it in the Arlington FW area?

    Have a great day

    Michael Schneider 817-296-4530

    Sent from my cell phone


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