Riesling Rendezvous Surprise: Chateau Ste. Michelle Dry Riesling Stuns

CSM_14_CV_DryRieslingI am taking a few days of educational vacation to attend the Riesling Rendezvous – an annual international Riesling symposium – in Seattle. What is unique about this event is the scope of it: all Riesling from all over the world. There are wines from Germany and Washington State, from France and Austria and Australia, from New York, Idaho, and Oregon, from Canada and Michigan. Suffice to say that I am tasting a lot of Riesling while listening to the producers and other experts talk about the state of Riesling in the wine world today. Maybe not the most thrilling stuff but interesting and for me educational. While Tuesday’s big blind tasting of “other than dry” Rieslings is the most interesting to me, I found a huge surprise in Monday morning’s blind tasting of 20 dry Rieslings from literally all over the world. Hidden (and tasted absolutely blind) among wines priced mostly between $20 and $100 per bottle was Chateau Ste. Michelle Dry Riesling Columbia Valley 2014. The assembled conference participants were extensively buzzing about the wine before its identity was revealed. There was a huge murmur of approval and congratulations at the reveal. I was and am stunned at the quality of this wine at this price ($8.19 per bottle at Spec’s). Here is that rarest of all unicorns, the great wine made in commercial quantities sold at an every-day price.

CHATEAU Ste. MICHELLE Dry Riesling, Columbia Valley, 2014 ($8.19*)
100% Riesling night-harvested from a mix of vineyards in Eastern Washington’s Columbia Valley AVA. Fermented cold in stainless steel tanks to a residual sugar of 0.84 g/100 ml (less than 1%) and a total acidity of 0.72 g/100 ml with a pH of 2.88 (very low).  What does all of that mean? This is a dry Riesling that nevertheless offers plenty of fresh, focused fruit flavors and aromas in the citrus range with complementary notes of apple and peach over an indeterminate mineral core. It is frankly delicious and quite refreshing. It shockingly fit into the upper tier of the quality range of the international Dry Riesling tasting, even though it was far-and-away the lowest priced of the 20 wines tasted. Think of this as wine for oysters or mussels (say at La Vista) or not-too-spicy shrimp dishes. Take it with you to Asian BYOB restaurants (think Vietnam in the Heights). BearScore: 93+.

*At Spec’s 2410 Smith Street in Houston. Price will vary by location but should not exceed $10.00 in any case.

REVEALING ROSÉ: A Seminar and Tasting from the Wine School at l’Alliance Française

7pm on Monday, June 27th, $40 Cash

We’re Back!

Whispering Angel
Please join me, Spec’s fine wine buyer Bear Dalton, at the Wine School at l’Alliance Française for Revealing Rosé at 7pm on Monday, June 27th at l’Alliance Française. Why Rosé? And why now? Because there is no better and more refreshing wine to drink this time of year. And our Texas Rosé drinking season is up and running. Topics of discussion will include vintages, types of Rosé, Rosé and food, and the grape varieties and techniques used to make the wines. Sixteen pink wines (all French) will be tasted and bread and a selection of fine cheeses will be served. 

The following Rosé wines will be served:
Villa des Anges Old Vine Rosé 2015
Ch du Donjon Minervois Rosé 2015
Pigment Rosé Malbec 2015
Pins des Dunes Rosé Bordeaux 2015
Sacha Lichine Rosé Single Blend 2015
Balandran Rosé 2015
Comanderie Bargemone Rosé de Provence  2015
Domaine de Cabasse le Rosé de Marie 2015
Ch de Lancyre Rosé Pic Saint Loup 2015
Domaine de Triennes Provence Rosé  2015
Rosé De Chevalier  Bordeaux 2015
Hecht & Bannier Rosé Cotes de Provence 2015
Pegau Pink Rosé 2015
Domaine de Mourchon Cotes du Rhone Loubie Rosé 2015
Ch d’Esclans Whispering Angel Provence Rosé 2015
Ch d’Esclans Rock Angel Rosé 2015

Dress cool and join us for delicious and refreshing Rosé. Revealing Rosé will cost $40.00 per person cash ($42.11 regular). To reserve your spot, please contact Susan at 713-854-7855 or coburnsusan2@gmail.com.

L’Alliance Française is French Cultural Center in Houston. Located at 427 Lovett Blvd., it is on the Southeast corner of Lovett and Whitney (one block south of Westheimer and two blocks east of Montrose).

We Were Ready For a (SANGRIA) THROWDOWN!

We Were Ready For a (SANGRIA) THROWDOWN!

On the evening of Monday, June 13th, I participated in the Women of Wine’s 6th Annual Sangria Throwdown held at Tommy Vaughn Ford in Houston. The Women of Wine (WOW) is an organization of women, many of whom work with wine professionally, who raise money for and awareness of the Houston Area Women’s Center. The “Sangria Throwdown” is WOW’s annual Sangria competition and fundraiser held in June each year. This year, there were eleven teams competing for three awards: Judges’ Choice, people’s Choice, and Most Creative. While I helped get WOW started and try to support them as much and as often as I can, I had not participated in any of the previous Sangria Throwdowns. This year, however, I was inspired by some good natured needling from three time winner (and now throwdown judge) Sean Beck. So I decided that if I was going to participate, I had to try to win and to do that, I needed a great and unique and even different Sangria recipe. So I started to work on that recipe. I didn’t want to make a sweet red Sangria, partly because Wanted a drink my wife Carol would enjoy and she is adamant in her dislike for sweet red Sangria. So began to riff off of two ideas: a white Port cocktail called a Port Tonic and the on-going Spanish craze for heavily garnished Gin & Tonics. A Port Tonic is white Port and Tonic with lime so the two essentials of Sangria – wine and fruit juice – are already there. However, while a port tonic is perfectly fine and refreshing cocktail, more was needed. So, as Gin is neutral spirit infused with botanicals, I decided to try infusing my white Port of choice (Dow’s White Port) with two of my favorite herbs: Basil and Cilantro. I encounter Basil and Cilantro individually all over the place but I think I first encountered them together in a Vietnamese restaurant. I like the two flavors together so I began using them in together in a tomato salad I make as well as in a cantaloupe and mango salad. As I began to experiment with basil and cilantro in white Port, I felt I was on to something. over the summer and fall of 2015, the drink – Green Sangria – came together.

Our table with our tapenade and a display of the flavors in our Green Sangria

Our table with our tapenade and a display of the flavors in our Green Sangria

Over the winter, I began thinking about presentation. I wanted a colorful presentation that highlights the flavors found in the drink so our garnish included a sprig of cilantro, a basil leaf, some frozen red and green grapes, some lightly salted frozen cantaloupe, and a half wheel of lime. all served cold with just a few ice cubes. After several trial runs on various friends and family (all sworn to secrecy by head grape de-stemmer and glass garnisher Carol) including a full dress rehearsal with full garnish the Wednesday before the event. We felt like we were ready for the show. As we got ready for the event, we realized that were most likely serving the driest (least sweet) drink in the room so we decided to put out a bowl of Marcona almonds and a bowl of green and black olive tapenade so people could reset their palates after tasting other sweeter Sangrias.

I guess everything worked because when the votes were tallied, WOW President Denise Ehrlich announced that team Green Sangria had won the Judges’ Choice award, come in third in Most Creative, and won the People’s Choice award. Special Thanks to Miss Carol for all her work and perseverance and support over the development of the recipe and to Deborah Touchy and Joan Sokol for their help and support the night of the event.


Dow’s White Port
Minute Maid Lemonaide
Schweppes Tonic
Lime Juice
Green Seedless Grapes – Frozen
Red Seedless Grapes – Frozen
Cantaloupe – Cubed, lightly salted, and frozen
Chop approximately 2/3 cup of fresh Basil
Chop approximately 2/3 cup of fresh Cilantro
Put chopped Basil and Cilantro in a half gallon pitcher
Add the juice of four large limes
Add two 750ml bottles of Dow’s White Port.
Add 12 ounces of Minute Maid Lemonade (Regular or Lite)
Allow to macerate in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours stirring occasionally (over 12 hours is better).
Strain this mixture through a sieve or a chinois.
Before serving, stir in 12 ounces (or so to taste) of Schwepp’s Tonic Water (Regular or Diet)
Over frozen grapes and cantaloupe and a few ice cubes and garnish with a sprig of cilantro, a basil leaf, and a half wheel of lime.
Team Green Sangria with our Judges' Choice and People's Choice trophy Sangria bowls: Bear Dalton, Carol Dalton, Deborah Touchy, and Joan Sokol

Team Green Sangria with our Judges’ Choice and People’s Choice trophy Sangria bowls: Bear Dalton, Carol Dalton, Deborah Touchy, and Joan Sokol

Please Join me at the Women of Wine’s SANGRIA THROWDOWN

Please Join me at the Women of Wine’s SANGRIA THROWDOWN

Howdy All,

For the first time, I will be participating in Women of Wine’s Sangria Throwdown. I am in-it-to-win-it so please come out to Tommy Vaughn Ford next Monday (6/13/16) at 6:30pm and try my unique Green Sangria along with ten other creative Sangrias. It will be fun and you will be supporting a great cause: The Houston Area Women’s Center. Please click http://www.wowcharities.org/events-happy-hours/2016-sangria-throwdown/ to buy your tickets.

I hope to see you there,



My BORDEAUX 2015 Vintage Report is Updated

My BORDEAUX 2015 VINTAGE REPORT is newly updated.

2015 is a great vintage for Bordeaux and you can read all about it.

Click here to go to the Bordeaux 2015 page.

Or click below to directly open the newly revised and compressed 32 page .pdf Bordeaux 2015 report.



Bear Dalton hard at work tasting Bordeaux at Compagnie Medocaine

BLOGGING BORDEAUX: Day Eleven (April 8)

The Home Stretch
Friday Morning, 8am. Everyone seems to be on their game today and that’s good thing because we are heading out to the offices of Bordeaux negoçiant Joanne for a warehouse tasting today where we will pick up some wines we missed.

The idea of UGC week is that the trade comes to Bordeaux and cycles through a number of large tastings organized at designated chateau where trade members can taste the wines of 20 or more chateaux from a given area (say Margaux for instance) in one location. It started off as a good idea but there were problems. A lot of the people pouring the wines either had no technical information on the wines or were indifferent to the people they were pouring for. Sometimes the samples were off and often they were off temperature but again, the pourers were generally indifferent. And, as often happens at big, annual events, the social aspect began to get in the way of efficiently tasting and recording tasting notes. In ordered to taste better samples and gather more information, I began to schedule more and more tastings at chateaux but we still had to attend the big cattle call tastings to taste everything we needed to evaluate. Then came an invitation from Joanne to visit their warehouse and have the opportunity to taste ALL the UGC wines in one location while seated at a table with the option to plug in the computer for note taking and with someone there to provide technical information (such as the blend) on all the wines. Doing this would free up more time for more appointments at chateaux so we scheduled to visit Joanne on Friday morning of UGC week. That was five years ago and I have never looked back.

When we walk into Joanne, we’re escorted to a private tasting area for just our group (and maybe a couple of others – this year it was two friends from the Liquor Control Board in Ontario). We are handed a catalogue of all the wines available to taste and check off the ones we want to taste. Then the fun begins. University interns pour the wines and we can rock through a lot of wine in a fairly short period of time. This year, we tasted through over forty wines in under three hours. A few were re-tastes but most were wines we had missed either knowing we would taste them at Joanne or because of the stomach bug – the “Grand Mal (big bad) de Bordeaux” – that had been going around all week.

Here are the highlights of the Joanne tasting:
Ch. CANTEMERLE, Haut Medoc, 2015 (92)
Ch. La LAGUNE, Haut Medoc, 2015 (91+)
Ch. du TERTRE, Margaux, 2015 (91+)
Ch. CANTENAC BROWN, Margaux, 2015 (93+)
Ch. GISCOURS, Margaux, 2015 (94+)
Ch. d’ISSAN, Margaux, 2015 (93+)
Ch. BRANE CANTENAC, Margaux, 2015 (94+)
Ch. RAUZAN SEGLA, Margaux, 2015 (94-95)
Ch. LASCOMBES, Margaux, 2015 (93)
As these and our other scores for Margaux wines show, this was fine year for that appellation.
Ch. LALANDE BORIE, St. Julien, 2015 (91+)
A re-taste from the day before with much better results due to a better sample.
Ch. BEYCHEVELLE, St. Julien, 2015 (94+)
Ch. MEYNEY, St. Estephe, 2015 (93+)
Ch. LAFON ROCHET, St. Estephe, 2015 (93++)
A wine to reckon with this year due to improved facilities and a new consultant in the person of former Petrus winemaker Jean Claude Berrouet.
Ch. PAPE CLEMENT, Pessac Leognan Rouge, 2015 (94+)
Tasted at the recommendation of Joanne’s Dan Snook. Quite enjoyable 2015 after some years of way too much extraction.
Ch. CARBONNIEUX, Pessac Leognan Rouge Rouge, 2015 (94-95)
Ch. CARBONNIEUX BLANC, Pessac Leognan Blanc, 2015 (94-95)
Best young Carbonnieux wines of my career.
DOMAINE de CHEVALIER, Pessac Leognan Rouge, 2015 (94++)
Much better here than at the chateau on Monday.
Ch. CANON, St. Emilion, 2015 (95-96)
The guys tasted this on Wednesday but I was by that time a casualty.
Ch. CLOS FOURTET, St. Emilion, 2015 (95
Ch. la DOMINIQUE, St. Emilion, 2015 (95)
Tasted at the recommendation of Joanne’s Dan Snook. Improved facilities and new team have made abig difference.
Ch. TROPLONG MONDOT, St. Emilion, 2015 (94-96)
Ch. NENIN, Pomerol, 2015 (94)
Ch. DOISY VEDRINES, Barsac, 2015 (93-95)
Ch. COUTET, Barsac, 2015 (94)
Ch. DOISY DAENE, Barsac, 2015 (94+)
Clearly a fine vintage for Sauternes.

After Joanne, we had two more appointments: 3:30pm back at Ch. Haut Brion so James – who had missed Haut Brion on Monday due to the big bad – could experience bliss and 5:15pm at Borie Manoux as we had all missed getting good notes on those wines for the same reason.

At Ch. Haut Brion, the wines were consistent with Monday with the reds as a group showing a bit better on Monday (at La Mission) and the whites as a group showing a bit better on this second visit.

Finally, we went to Borie Manoux to taste through the range of chateaux owned by the Casteja family (who were our hosts for that fabulous dinner on the Sunday prior). Owner philippe Casteja actually poured and provided the technical details for our tasting

Here are the highlights of the Borie Manoux tasting:
Ch. BEAU-SITE, St. Estephe, 2015 (91+)
Brilliant white gravel and sand terroir overlooking Calon Segur.
Les HAUTS de LYNCH, Haut Medoc, 2015 (90+)
2nd wine of Lynch Moussas with some of the grapes coming from outside the Pauillac appellation.
Ch. LYNCH MOUSSAS, Pauillac, 2015 (92)
LIONS de BATAILLEY, Pauillac, 2015 (91)
New 2nd wine of Ch. Batailley.
Ch. BATAILLEY, Pauillac, 2015 (94+)
My “reference standard” in Pauillac.
Ch. la CROIX du CASSE, Pomerol, 2015 (91+)
DOMAINE de l’EGLISE, Pomerol, 2015 (93+)
La DAME de TROTTEVIELLE, St. Emilion, 2015 (91+)
Ch. TROTTEVIELLE, St. Emilion, 2015 (96-98)
Premiere Grand Cru Classé St. Emilion at a very high level with a small part of pre-phylloxera vines.

Whew! What a day. What a trip.
With that, the tasting is done but the fun is just beginning.
Lots of evaluation to be done, commentary (as opposed to travel log) to be written, and the pricing dance is about to start.
Stay tuned.


Gentlemen, start your Livers …
Thursday Morning, 8am. On the road to Pauillac. Which is a full hour north of where we’re staying at Bordeaux Lac on the north side of Bordeaux (not far from the old German U-Boat pens).

First stop, Ch. Pichon Baron to taste AXA-owned properties, arriving in the rain. Much to my surprise, AXA managing director Christian Seely (who does office at Ch. Pichon Baron) is standing behind the tasting bar to pour the wines. This is new. First comes Ch. PIBRAN (90+) and then the two 2nd wines of Pichon: the merlot dominant Les TOURELLES de LONGUEVILLE (92) and the Cabernet Sauvignon-dominant Les GRIFFONS de LONGUEVILLE (92+) followed by Ch. PICHON BARON (94+) and Ch. PETITE VILLAGE (91) and finally Ch. SUDUIRAUT (93). Are these scores too low? Maybe. Quite possibly. It could be that I was still a bit out of sorts that morning. Or it could be that that is just how they showed. I did not have a second chance to taste these wines – and we did not have time to linger – so I’m stuck with what I’ve got.

From Ch. Pichon Baron to Ch. Grand Puy Lacoste is maybe five minutes and in that time the sun came out and the skies cleared. Warmly greeted by the ebullient and professional François Xavier Borie (yet another of Bordeaux’s great gentlemen) and his daughter Amelie, we tasted 2nd vin Ch. LACOSTE BORIE (92+), Ch. HAUT BATAILLEY (93+), and Ch. GRAND PUY LACOSTE (96-98+ and wow, wow, wow!).

On to Ch. Lynch Bages where we were greeted by the limping (scooter accident) but ever genial and entertaining Jean Charles Cazes who has several years back taken over the properties from his father – University of Texas alumnus (petroleum engineering) and former Pauillac mayor – Jean Michel Cazes. We tasted St. Estephe Ch. Les ORMES de PEZ (92+), Pauillacs ECHO de LYNCH BAGES (92+) and Ch. LYNCH BAGES (95), and Bordeaux Blanc BLANC de LYNCH BAGES (94).

Next came Ch. Mouton Rothschild were we’d taste Ch. d’ARMAILHAC (93), Ch. CLERC MILON (93+), PETIT MOUTON (94), and Ch. MOUTON ROTHSCHILD (97-99) and then across the road to Ch. PONTET CANET (96-98) before we stopped (in the rain) for a lovely lunch with the delightful Veronique Dausse of Ch. PHELAN SEGUR (94+).

There is a lot of talk, especially from producers in Pessac-Leognan and Margaux (that didn’t get the late season rains) that “poor St. Estephe and Pauillac and St. Julien” got too much rain too late and so are less good. It appears that, at least at those chateaux with well-draining deep gravel-sand terroirs, that late rain wasn’t much of an issue. This 2015 is the best Phelan I have ever tasted.

Leaving lunch (and still raining), we head for Ch. COS d’ESTOURNEL (94-96), then Ch. Montrose to taste Ch. TRONQUOY LALANDE (91+), La DAME de MONTROSE (92), and Ch. MONTROSE (94-96) before a sprint over to Ch. Calon Segur. At Calon, we tasted Ch. CAPBERN (92+, from a separate terroir close to Tronquoy Lalande), 2nd vin MARQUIS de CALON (93+, another of those 2nd wines that can be mistaken for a grand vin), and Ch. CALON SEGUR (95-97+). I’d say St. Estephe made a more than respectable showing.

Now on to one more Pauillac, Ch. Pichon Lalande before we finish the tasting day in St. Julien. With estate manager Nicolas Glumineau, we tasted RESERVE de la COMTESSE (93) and Ch. PICHON LALANDE (96-98).

After Pichon comes Ducru Beaucaillou where we tasted Bruno Borie’s two Listrac wines – Ch. DUCLUZEAU (90+) and Ch. FOURCAS BORIE (91) – which may be the cleanest, least funky wines of Listrac, followed by the his St. Julien wines Ch. LALANDE BORIE (90 here but a better sample the next day at Joanne got 91+), La CROIX DUCRU BEAUCAILLOU (93 and now a separate property, no longer a 2nd vin), and Ch. DUCRU BEAUCAILLOU (97-99 and the best young Ducru I have ever tasted. Ethereal).

We end the tasting day at Ch. Leoville las Cases running only 25 minutes behind (which unfortunately is about normal). Normally this is not one of my favorite tastings as 1) it always seems to come at the end of a long day and 2) I have sometimes (often) struggled to understand these wines. Not this year. The two Medoc-appellated wines from just north of the Haut Medoc appellation of St. Seurin de Cadourne CHAPELLE de POTENSAC (91+) and Ch. POTENSAC (92+) were fresh and lively. The St. Julien former 2nd vin, now separate property CLOS du MARQUIS (94+) now has its own second wine called La PETITE MARQUISE du CLOS du MARQUIS (92). Which brings us to the main event: 2nd vin Le PETIT LION (94) and Ch. LEOVILLE Las CASES (96-98, most enjoyable young Leoville las Cases of my career).

At this point we were all feeling heathy enough to go to the river front in Pauillac and sit outside for a sip of Champagne and nibble of jambon before the drive back to Bordeaux. Nothing cleans your mouth up – and gets the purple off your teeth – after a long day of tasting young red Bordeaux like Champagne.

A great day, despite the rain but it’s not over. We have an hour plus drive ahead of us to get to a great party at negoçiant Archie Johnston’s house where the Champagne and oysters are flowing freely, the conversation about the new vintage and Bordeaux in general is intelligent and lively and, later in the evening, some jewels like 1982 Ch. Haut Brion and 1955 Ch. Lafite get drunk.

But wait, there’s more. We still have Friday to go. Stay tuned.