Hello Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am continually amazed at how quickly this year has passed. Due to Covid, I hadn’t traveled in a couple of years, but I quickly made up for a good bit of that this year as the world slowly reopened. I was able to travel to Bourgogne for Grand Jours de Bourgogne and En Premeur in Bordeaux. I visited Napa Valley twice seeing some iconic wineries such as Cakebread, Far Niente, and Sullivan. Sonoma also came calling, mostly in Alexander Valley, as I spent several days with Blue Rock, Goldschmidt, Stuhlmuller, and Trione. I also marked off a bucket list trip as I traveled to Japan last month to tour the south island of Kyushu visiting distilleries and tasting through some spectacular Shochus. It has been a blessed year and I have tasted many wines, so it’s hard to narrow it down to thirteen, but here goes!!!! My Top Picks are Domestic heavy as that is my main portfolio to taste throughout the year, but I have a couple of other selections sprinkled in that were near and dear to my palate. Thank you as always for being part of my blog and trusting me to guide you through your wine selections! Enjoy!

#2. Ashes & Diamonds ‘No.2 Red Hen Vineyard’ Cabernet Sauvignon 2017

Oak Knoll, California

Cash Price $84.99

I was offered these wines early in the year and didn’t really give the line much thought until I randomly picked up a bottle and read on the label that the winemaker was Diana Snowden Seysses (of Domaine Dujac and Snowden Winery fame). This immediately piqued my interest as she is easily one of my favorite winemakers in the world. This wine comes from Red Hen Vineyard which is owned by Bart and Daphne Araujo in the Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley. The wine is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon grown on well drained gravelly loam requiring little to no irrigation. The wine comes from 4 different blocks with distinct characteristics and fermented together with native yeast. Ashes & Diamonds Cabernet shows medium plus ruby color with dark blue fruit on the nose. The palate shows nice intensity with dark blueberry and black currant laying on a bed of lavender. The mid palate is deliciously plush showing more dark fruit and blue bonnets. The finish is beautifully integrated with notes of dark chocolate, graphite, and whiffs of white pepper that weave through lush hints of blueberry muffins. Barlow Score: 98 Points

#3. Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte Rouge 2017

Pessac Leognan, France

Cash Price $121.99

I visited the organically farmed vineyards of Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte this past April for the 4th time. It is always one of my favorite places to visit in Pessac Leognan. This classic Chateau has 55 hectares on superb gravelly vineyards. They have become world famous with their white wines, but I am continually blown away at the quality of their red wines for the price. The 2017 vintage has been largely overlooked due to the abundance of fantastic vintages over the past decade, but don’t sleep on this gem of a vintage. One can find excellent value in 2017’s and the Grand Cru Classe Chateaux made exceptional wines in this vintage. The cepage is 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc, and 1% Petit Verdot and was aged for 16 months in 60% new French oak. The wine has a bright freshness that pops in the glass. Dynamic flavors of black cherry, pomegranate, and wild berries burst into medium plus intensity. The mid palate offers a medley of rose petals and juicy dark fruits with freshly picked herbs wafting through the core. The finish is long and quite pleasing with hints of tea leaf, sandalwood, and vanilla bean. Barlow Score: 98 Points

#4. Reynvaan Family Vineyards ‘Stoneessence’ Syrah 2019

Walla Walla Valley, Rocks District, Washington State

Cash Price $109.99

I tried the Reynvaan portfolio about a decade ago and was immediately smitten. They produce some of the most interesting, quality driven Syrah in the United States and have been farming organically since their inception. I have become increasingly interested in building our Washington State portfolio as the wines continually show some of the highest quality in America. The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater has baseball sized rocks throughout the AVA and is specifically designated because of the rocky soils. This wine is 100% Syrah and has the feel of Hermitage with a splash of New World panache. Stoneessence exudes brawny dark raspberry and pomegranate with medium plus intensity on the palate. The mid palate continues with thick blue fruit and dark chocolate that becomes quickly ensconced in cracked black pepper, smoked ham, and tampenade. The finish offers true minerality of crushed, freshly rained on rocks, salinity, and whiffs of tobacco leaf. Textured, Layered, Complex. Barlow Score: 98 Points

#5. Mount Eden Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2018

Santa Cruz Mnt, California

Cash Price $99.74

I must admit that I had not tried these wines in some years. I was recently re-acquainted with this winery an was quickly reminded why they are considered such a classic in California. This historic estate is perched at 2000 feet overlooking Silicon Valley in the Santa Cruz Mountain Appellation. The winery was founded in 1945 and is located on Franciscan shale on a cool, exposed mountaintop with low yielding vineyards. Jeffrey Patterson has guided the wine making and grape growing here since 1981. The wine shows dark ruby color with dark fruit on the nose. The palate offers dark currant melded with red raspberries and dried herbs. The mid palate shows dark cherry with tinges of salty ham, and dusty tobacco. The wine has a lightness on the palate that belies it’s true brawny core. The finish shows dark chocolate, earthy minerals, and whiffs of sandalwood that sit on the palate for a good long time. This wine has excellent aging capacity. Lovely! Barlow Score: 97 Points

#6. Sullivan Estate ‘James O’Neil’ Cabernet Sauvignon 2019

Rutherford, California

Cash Price $299.99

I visited Sullivan Winery in September to try through their 2019 wines. As always, the wines were great to outstanding. The James O’Neil Cabernet immediately showed impressively. Jeff Cole continues to show his adeptness for producing extremely high quality Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The wine is 91% Cabernet Sauvignon with 9% Petit Verdot that was aged in 79% new French oak for 22 months. This classic winery is located in the heart of Rutherford AVA. The wine shows medium plus intensity with dark fruit on the nose. The palate offers dark flavors of blackberry and blueberry that sinew deftly on the palate with impressive structure. The mid palate continues with dark currant, tobacco leaf, and graphite leading into gripping tannins. The finish is integrated and captivating with whiffs of vanilla, cedar, and blackberry compote. This brilliant wine is young, but quite inviting right now. It will age gracefully for many years. Barlow Score: 97 Points

#7. Domaine Marguerite Carillon Pinot Noir Premier Cru Volnay Santenots 2020

Volnay, France

Cash Price $84.99

I had the pleasure of attending Grand Jours de Bourgogne this year and was able to try some stellar new properties. I’ve always had a fondness of Volnay Santenots, as my travel companion quickly found out when I ordered one most every time there was a producer that I had not tried on the menu. This Domaine is a small producer showing excellent quality. Volnay is nestled high on the Cote de Beaune between the villages of Meursault and Pommard. Les Santenots is in southwest Volnay at the feet of the hill of Chaignot. The soils are clay and limestone. The wine is 100% Pinot Noir and has been aged for 18 months in 50% new French oak. Carillon exudes elegance and grace from start to finish. Flavors of black cherry and pomegranate flow through the velvet palate with notes of violets and wild flowers. The mid palate is pure and exuberant showing medium intensity with hints of forest floor, fresh meadow flowers and just a whiff of anise. The finish is refined and vibrant with tinges of wild berries, sandalwood, and fresh herbs. Wonderful! Barlow Score: 96 Points

#8. Dolce Late Harvest Sweet White 2014

Napa Valley, California

Cash Price $66.49

I had the pleasure of visiting Far Niente for the first time earlier this year. My team and I were able to relax on the vineyard gazebo and taste through a medley of their wines on a beautiful day in Napa Valley. I was particularly happy to taste through several vintages of Dolce, a sister winery of Far Niente that produces a late harvest botrytized wine. This is probably one of the best kept secrets in Napa Valley. You don’t see much ‘sticky’ wine produced in Napa and to see such insane quality from vintage to vintage is astounding. Dolce is the only winery in North America devoted to producing a single, late harvest wine with their own winemaker and vineyards. The wine is inspired from the great wines of Sauternes, which many consider ‘Nectar of the Gods’. The wine is 90% Semillon and 10% Sauvignon Blanc and is aged for 32 months in 100% new French oak. The vineyards are located in the cooler AVA of Coombsville at the base of the Vaca Mountains where the grapes receive damp cool morning fog that promotes the growth of Botrytis Cinerea, a mold that allows for the concentration of sugars and flavors that is key to producing this deliciously, complex sweet wine. Dolce shows impressive depth in flavor while staying away from the cloying notes that many syrupy sweet wines gravitate towards. Lithe and buoyant flavors of poached apricot and candied nectarines pop into the palate with pin point precision. The mid palate shows just a touch of viscosity while allowing the vibrant acids to play through the core of the wine dutifully. Notes of butterscotch, honeycomb, and citrus blossom pirouette melodically on the palate with choreographed dance. The finish is wonderfully exotic with sweet granary toast, vanilla bean, and dulce de leche flowing directly into dried fig and papaya. Barlow Score: 97 Points

#9. Snowden ‘Melchior Kemper Vineyard’ Cabernet Franc 2018

Napa Valley, California

Cash Price $69.99

Diana Snowden Seysses continues to impress me with her offerings from Snowden Winery. I had pleasure of visiting her at her home, Domaine Dujac, in Morey St. Denis earlier this year to taste through a dazzling array of Bourgogne wines from this sought out winery. We did talk a bit about Snowden winery while we were there and her passion for the vineyards in Napa Valley gushed from her. Melchior Kemper Vineyard is located at 800 feet in elevation and is sustainably farmed on volcanic sand. The wine is fermented with natural yeast, aged for 18 months in 50% new French oak, and is bottled unfined, unfiltered. This boutique wine has set a new bar for quality Cabernet Franc in California with this first release. The wine is 100% Cabernet Franc and absolutely brilliant. It shows medium intensity with a beautifully aromatic nose of lavender and violets. The palate offers a robustly energetic wine with flavors of wild red berries and raspberry that seamlessly encompass notes of camphor, exotic spice and just a whiff of white pepper. The mid palate shows bursting red plum and rose petals with just a kiss of mint. The finish is integrated and balanced with notes of cedar and tobacco leaf. TLC! Barlow Score: 97 Points

#10. Keever Vineyards ‘Inspirado’ Red Blend 2018

Napa Valley, California

Cash Price $79.79

I was quite pleased to be able to bring in this property from Yountville last year to our portfolio. This family operated winery is just that. Family run. One can easily find several Keever’s at anytime working at the winery. Their winemaker is none other than Celia Welch (Scarecrow fame). I’ve always been a big fan of her wines (fell in love with Rocca Syrah) and was not surprised when I found out that she was behind this brilliant wine. The wine is composed of 87% Cabernet Sauvginon, 10% Merlot, and 3% Petit Verdot and was aged in 20% new French oak for 18 months . Richly textured flavors of currant, fresh raspberry, and just a hint of blueberry pour on the palate with medium plus intensity. The mid palate offers racy cherries and violets with beautiful balance throughout the core. The finish is supple and inviting with notes of dark mocha, vanilla, and pipe tobacco with tinges of clove spice. Barlow Score: 95 Points

#11. Lagier Meredith Vineyards Tribidrag (Zinfandel) 2017

Mt. Veeder, California

Cash Price $42.99

I was quite excited to add this winery to our portfolio although it was recently sold for a shocking $0 dollars to Aaron Pott. Carole and Steve have decided to retire and will continue to live on the property, but Aaron will now tend the vines and produce wines from the vineyard. The Lagier Meredith label will cease to exist after the 2021 vintage and will be folded into Pott Wines. The winery is located high up on Mt. Veeder. Carole Meredith is the famed grape geneticist that discovered the origins of Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Chardonnay and others. Her Zinfandel uses the ancient name of the variety,Tribidrag, from the Dalmation Coast in Croatia. Steve Lagier worked for Mondavi for 14 years before he left to start Lagier-Meredith with Carole. The don’t produce a lot of wine, but what they do produce is absolutely stunning. This Zinfandel is deliciously perfumed from start to finish. Flavors of lavender and blackberries sink easily into the palate with medium intensity. Hints of potpourri and baking spices waft throughout the mid palate. The finish is balanced and spicy with hints of licorice and blueberry compote. I really enjoyed this Tribidrag aka Zinfandel! Only 118 cases produced. Get it while you still can! Barlow Score: 93 Points

#12. Les Fillottes Rouge 2016

Pomerol, France

Cash Price $88.79

I tasted this little known gem while in Bordeaux this year. I had not heard of the property, but I was driving around with Francois Thienpont (of Thienpont Le Pin & Certan fame) and he mentioned he wanted to show me a property that was going to become the next L’if. We originally carried L’if for $30 when it was first released, it now retails for over $200 per bottle. Guillaume Thienpont, who now is the wine maker for Vieux Chateau Certan in Pomerol with his father Alexandre, has branched out and is making the wine for this 2 hectare gem in Pomerol called Les Fillottes. The grapes are grown on the famous Pomerol soils of clay and gravel with red dirt on the northwest side of the Pomerol plateau. The wine is 85% Merlot and 15% Cabernet Franc and has been aged for 18 months in new French oak. Les Fillottes is an unbelievable value in a vintage that may go into the history books as one of the best of all time. The wine shows medium intensity with bright, juicy red cherries and raspberries that sink into a beautifully plush palate. The mid palate becomes gorgeously creamy while continuing to show red fruit but also adding notes of violets and rose petals with hints of mocha. The finish is long and tantalizing with whiffs of white herbs, sage, and dusty minerality. Fillottes is a wine that will continue to grow in price and quality as the vintages pass. You should find some while it’s still affordable! Barlow Score: 97 Points

#13. Girasole Vineyards ‘Charlie’s Blend’ Red 2019

Mendocino County, California

Cash Price $13.99

I always look for one GREAT VALUE wine to put on this list and this one definitely fits the bill this year. The estate is family owned dating back to the 1950’s and have been farming organically since its inception. Girasole (pronounced jeer-uh-so-lay) has become one of our more popular Organic wineries and this rocking little red just received 92 Points from Wine & Spirits with a nod as one of the best 100 wines for under $20! The wine is a blend of Merlot, Cabernet, Zinfandel, and Petite Sirah grown on the three Certified Organic vineyard sites. Ripe, juicy flavors of boysenberry and dark plum burst into the palate with medium intensity. Hints of caramel and vanilla show on the mid palate with darker fruit. The finish is plush and easy with notes of toasted marshmallow and black pepper. Barlow Score: 90 Points


Heitz Cellars ‘Trailside Vineyard’ Cabernet Sauvignon 2015

Rutherford, California

Cash Price $122.89

Heitz Cellars has become an Icon in Napa Valley for continually providing the standard of excellence for wines in the region. Founded in 1961 by Joe Heitz, they have become world renowned for producing several single vineyard wines that can compete with the best the world can offer, namely Martha’s Vineyard which was Napa Valley’s first designated single vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. Trailside Vineyard has been part of the Heitz Estate since 1984. It’s nestled between Silverado Trail and Conn Creek on eastern side of Rutherford appellation. The vineyard is organically farmed and only the best lots are used in this wine. Brittany Sherwood is the winemaker for this 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. The Trailside blocks are fermented and aged separately for one year in large neutral oak. After that, each block is moved into 100% new French oak for two years. The most superior lots after three years become Heitz Trailside. The wine is aged for one more year in barrel for a total of four years in oak, then bottled and rested for another year, for a total of five years aging before release. The wine is deliciously textured and dense with flavors of blackberry and cassis that show medium plus intensity. The mid palate offers a medley of lavender and black tea conjoining with dark chocolate mocha in a plush, silky core. The finish is layered and complex with a mix of button mushroom, cedar, and coffee bean that lingers on the palate for a long, exquisite amount of time. A Show Stopper! Barlow Score: 99 Points

Thank you,

James C. Barlow, CWE, CSS

Spec’s Fine Wine Buyer

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4 Responses to JAMES BARLOW’S ‘TOP PICKS’ OF 2022

  1. Michael Schneider says:

    Can your #1 be found

  2. Roland Jackson says:

    James, I plan to get, and enjoy the Heitz Cellar cabernet. Wendy purchased the Martha’s Vinyard Heitz Cellars before we met you. Cost $23 back then. I also am interested in the Dolce Sweet as Far Niente is my favorite white.

    If you have guidance, I am all ears as ever.

    Hope your move is going ok. Offer of assistance is eternal!


    Sent from my iPad


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