(Now Sold Out) A Wine Trip to Champagne and Bordeaux

THIS YEAR’S TRIP HAS SOLD OUT. If you’d like to get an early notification of our next trip, please send me a note at BearDalton@mac.com.

May 5 through May 14, 2017

Your job is to be at Charles de Gaulle (CDG) airport in Paris by 9:30am Friday morning, May 5, 2017. I recommend (but do not require) that you get to Paris a day or two early so that you are acclimated before the action starts.

My job is to get you from there (via Luxury Coach – aka “the Bus”) to Champagne where we will visit 6-7 Champagne houses (such as J.P. Marniquet, Andre Clouet, Perrier-Jouet, Ch. de Bligny, Jacques Picard, etc.), eat and drink well, and stay at the five-star Hostellerie La Briqueterie. On Sunday, we’ll take a train (TGV) to Bordeaux where we plan to stay at the four-star Pullman Hotel Bordeaux Lac located on the north-side of the city where we will have easy access to all the roads leading to the chateaux. Sunday evening plans include a Bordeaux River Cruise (with tasting on board) and dinner in the city. Monday and Tuesday will find us in the Medoc (Margaux, St. Julien, Pauillac, and St. Estephe) visiting such properties as Leoville Barton, Leoville Poyferre, Batailley, Cantenac Brown, Pontet Canet, Pichon Lalande, Calon Segur, Pontac Lynch, Gruaud Larose, Branaire Ducru, etc. On Wednesday we’ll be in Pessac Leognan and Sauternes visiting properties such as Smith Haut Lafitte, Carbonnieux, Coutet, Carmes Haut Brion, etc. On Thursday and Friday, we will be on the Right Bank visiting properties such as Croix St. Georges, Vieux Ch. Certan, Figeac, Canon La Gaffeliere, Laplagnotte Bellevue, Canon, Daugay, Pavie MacQuin, and Puygueraud. Saturday will be a mix of wine and tourism with a concluding dinner. I am working on getting 3 of the first growths on the schedule. The trip will end with check out in Bordeaux on Sunday (5/14/17) morning (or you may extend your stay in Bordeaux or head out to a different destination in Europe). At that point, my job is done.

Each morning, we will leave the hotel about 8:30-to-9am and will return after dinner by about 10:30-11pm (unless we are dining at the hotel). Each day includes breakfast at the hotel and all lunches and dinners, mostly at the chateaux or properties, with older wines from the properties. This is a wine intensive trip (with quality over quantity) with unusual access to great properties and their wines.

We are in process in arranging transport (bus and train), logistics, and hotels and I am now scheduling winery visits and meals at the chateaux. From lunch on Friday May 5th through dinner on Saturday May 13th, all meals and wines are included.

The trip is priced at $5000 per person (double occupancy, airfare to Paris / from Bordeaux is not included). The single supplement is $900. A $1000 deposit will be due by January 20th. Final payment of the balance is due by March 22nd. Payment may be made by check or credit card.

This trip is already 2/3 filled by people who began asking to go after they heard about my last trip to Champagne and Bordeaux 2 years ago. If want to come, please respond quickly to BearDalton@mac.com.

This is going to be a good one.

2014 (Mostly) Cru Classé Bordeaux Tasting At the Crystal Ballroom

4:30 – 8:30pm   Wednesday January 18th at
The Crystal Ballroom at the Rice

On Wednesday, January 18, 2017 from 4:30 to 8:30pm, Spec’s will host over 30 Bordeaux chateau owners, directors, and/or winemakers presenting 59 mostly Cru Classé Bordeaux wines all from the fine 2014 vintage in a standup- and-walk-around tasting format. This is our fifth time to host such a delegation from Bordeaux and each of the previous events have been smashing successes. The list of well-known and highly regarded wineries has come together. By appellation, they include …

Pomerol: Chx. Clinet, Gazin, Croix St. Georges, and La Pointe (along with 2nd vin Ballade de La Pointe)
St. Emilion: Chx. Canon la Gaffeliere, Clos l’Oratoire, Canon, Daugay, Grand Corbin Despagne, La Confession, Larcis Ducasse, Pavie Macquin, and Berliquet
Castillon and Francs: Chx. d’Aiguilhe and Puygueraud
Bordeaux: Chx. Croix Mouton and le Conseiller
St. Estephe: Chx. Phelan Segur and les Ormes de Pez
Pauillac: Chx. Pichon Lalande (with 2nd vin Reserve de la Comtesse), Pichon Baron (with 2nd vin Les Griffons), Pibran, Lynch Bages (with 2nd vin Echo de Lynch Bages), Grand Puy Lacoste (with 2nd vin Lacoste Borie), Haut Batailley, and Haut Bages Liberal
St. Julien: Chx. Branaire Ducru, Leoville Barton and Langoa Barton, Leoville Poyferrre, Talbot, St. Pierre, and Gloria
Margaux: Chx. Rauzan Segla, Cantenac Brown, and Ferriere
Haut Medoc: Chx. Cantemerle, Chasse Spleen, Camensac, Mauvesin Barton, and Senejac
Pessac Leognan Reds: Chx. Carmes Haut Brion, Carbonnieux, Domaine de Chevalier, Smith Haut Lafitte, and Clos Marsalette
Dry Whites: Chx. Carbonnieux, Domaine de Chevalier, Smith Haut Lafitte, and Blanc de Lynch Bages (2014)
Sweet Whites: Chx. Suduiraut (along with 2nd vin Lions de Suduiraut) and Coutet

The four-hour window of the tasting should you ample time to taste the wines and visit with our guests from Bordeaux. The tasting will include a spread of artisanal cheeses and breads chosen to help absorb the wines and refresh the palate. We will taste from Riedel Degustazione (tasting) glasses. The 2014 Cru Classé Bordeaux Tasting will cost $80.00 total per person cash ($84.21 regular). To reserve your spot for this unique Bordeaux event, please contact Susan Coburn at 713-854-7855 or coburnsusan2@gmail.com.

The Crystal Ballroom is located in downtown Houston at 909 Texas Avenue between Travis and Main. Valet Parking will be available.

The State of Champagne 2016

Sometimes I get a little bit crazy about some aspect of wine. Right now that aspect is Champagne. ‘Tis the season so I’ve but together a 40 page overview of the State of Champagne today with a particular focus on Grower Champagnes.

Please click below for a .pdf  which you can read on screen or print to read later.



Good News Out of Burgundy

Good News Out of Burgundy from the Drinks Business.

“Despite a challenging year the president of the Bureau Interprofessionnel des Vins de Bourgogne has said the situation is more stable now the harvest is in.  In terms of both the size of the vintage and its quality, Louis-Fabrice Latour (pictured), president of the BIVB, told the drinks business there was a great deal of relief in many parts of Burgundy now that the wine was in tanks and being evaluated. He explained that the final figures on the size of the harvest were not yet in – and wouldn’t be until early spring next year in all likelihood – but overall the figures were probably going to be down 20% on 2015.” (Continue Reading)


Just Arrived: Ch. LATOUR (pricing corrected)

JUST ARRIVED: Chateau Latour 2000 and Les Forts de Latour 2009 direct from the cellars of the chateau: Available from the temperature-controlled third floor of Spec’s at 2410 Smith Street in Houston.chlatour

Ch. LATOUR, Pauillac, 2000 ($1113.89)
77% Cabernet Sauvigon, 16% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc, and 3% Petite Verdot. Red-purple in color, and with well formed legs; dry, medium-full-bodied with freshly-balanced acidity; medium-plus phenolics. Lovely-pure-focused-integrated-complete. Fruit, dry floral, and pencil shavings bouquet. Secondary flavors have emerged. WOW. Beautiful wine. BearScore: 98+.

Les FORTS de LATOUR, Pauillac, 2009 ($243.19)
65% Cabernet Sauvigon, 32.5% Merlot, 0.5% Cabernet Franc, and 2% Petite Verdot.   Red-purple in color with well formed legs; dry, medium full-bodied with freshly-balanced acidity and medium-chewy phenolics. Elegant, supple, developing. Deep red and darker red fruit with tobacco and spice, gravel, and dust. Still youthfull but opening up and more than drinking as a big steakhouse red. BearScore: 95+.lesforts2009

I’ve been visiting Ch. Latour every year for 20 years now and the changes there have been staggering. My first visit showed wines that were consistently in the top 4 or 5 for any given vintage in Bordeaux. No surprise there; this is on of the five first growths of the classification of 1855. While all the great properties have upped their games since the mid 1990s, none has spent more and focused more than Chateau Latour. The vineyards and the process are immaculate and the wines have continued to improve and stay in that top quality level. But the biggest changes may be in the storage and commerce of the wines. Ch. Latour has enlarged and deepened their cellars and has stopped selling new vintages in the premiers system on the Bordeaux place. Instead, they are holding the three wines in their own pristine cellars and selling them when they determine that the wines are ready. The most recent release is Ch. Latour (Grand Vin) 2000 and Les Forts de Latour 2009.

Some years ago, three of the so-called second wines of the first growths (Les Forts de Latour, Pavillon de Margaux, and Clarence de Haut Brion) have risen in quality to the point that each is now in the top five and sometimes in the top two or three wines from their respective appellations (Pauillac, Margaux, and Pessac Leognan). Les Forts is now performing at a level that exceeds most of the second classified growths. It is a top ten wine within the whole of the Haut Medoc (which includes Margaux, St. Julien, and St. Estephe as well as Pauillac). Current vintages (due to improved farming, tighter selection, and focused process) can give pre-1995 vintages of the grand vin a run for their money. I no longer think of Les Fort as a second wine; rather, it is (after the three first growth grand vins) one of the three or four best wines of Pauillac on a year-in-year-out basis.


HENRIOT Cuve 38: Maybe the Most Unique Champagne Ever Made

In 1990, Joseph Henriot set aside one vat to add a portion of outstanding Blanc de Blancs each year, capturing the essence of every harvest in a sort of solera. The idea was to create a perpetual blend of 100% Chardonnay from 100% Cote de Blancs grands cru vineyards (Mesnil-sur-Oger, Chouilly, Avize and Oger)

henriot-cuvee-38-grand-cru-blanc-de-blancs-brut-champagne-france-10676286In 2009, the first 1,000 magnums were drawn and put through the Champagne process. After another 5 years aging on the lees in Henriot’s cellars in Reims, the wine was disgorged and given a final dosage of less than 5 grams per liter. Each year, another 1,000 magnums will be released.

From Henriot:
“Its dosage of less than 5g/l gives full rein to the aromas of its terroir. It is a beautiful pale yellow with golden highlights and a gently efferevescent mousse, leading into a bouquet of fresh butter and white flowers. Cuve 38 also reveals both mineral and slightly creamy notes underpinned by hints of liquorice. On the palate, its richness is elegant and there are avours of citrus and ripe apricot. Finally, the wine delivers elements of both honey and viennoiserie, redolent of the Henriot style.

From Bear Dalton:
HENRIOT Cuve 38, Champagne, NV ($669.74 per Magnum)
100% Chardonnay all from Grand Cru Vineyards fermented using Methode Champenoise from all Reserve solera wines bottled in Magnum only with a less-than-.5 dosage.   Pale-gold-straw in color, fully sparkling; dry, medium-full-bodied with freshly balanced acidity and scant phenolics. Deep dense, unique wine. Pure expression of Chardonnay and chalk, mineral and yeast but most of all development. The wine evolves in the glass as if slowly flattens and warms. It really succeeds as wine, not just as sparkling wine. My first impression score was 94+. Three hours later it was 97. Two days later (the still 2/3s full magnum stored cold and tightly stoppered) it was 100. This is stunningly good, utterly unique Champagne that almost demands decanting to help it develop in a reasonable time. Or you could keep it for a few years and then … WOW!

Only 2 magnums available only at Spec’s at 2410 Smith Street in Houston.


New Class: VINTAGE DATED PORT (Or Port-by-the-Numbers)

cockburn19777pm on Monday, December 12th at the Wine School at l’Alliance Française

Please join Spec’s fine wine buyer Bear Dalton at  for Vintage Dated Port. Port wines are numbered among the classic wines of the world and are quite collectable. The most desired are Vintage Port but not all Vintage-dated Ports are the same – so a little information goes a long way toward understanding Port by the numbers. Topics of discussion will include types of vintage-dated Port (and why and how they are different), the origins of Port wine and how it evolved, Serving and Drinking Port, “Pass the Port” (Port Wine Customs), and Decanting Port (including a decanting demonstration). The wines will range from 10 to almost 40 years old. Fifteen Port wines will be tasted and bread and cheese will be served.

We will taste:
Kopke Porto Colheita 2006
Smith Woodhouse Lbv Porto 2002
Borges Vintage Port 2005
Quinta Do Noval Vintage 2007
Croft Vintage Port 2009
Dows Senhora Da Ribiera 2009
Graham’s Malvedos Port 2009
Taylor Fladgate Vintage Por 2009
Fonseca Vintage Port 2009
Kopke Porto Colheita 1996
Smith Woodhouse Madalena Vintage 1996
Kopke Porto Colheita 1984
Dows Vintage Port 1985
Messias Colheita 1977
Cockburn Vintage Port 1977 (A wine widely reported as never made)

Vintage Dated Port will cost $100.00 per person cash ($105.26 regular). To purchase your ticket, please contact Susan Coburn at 713-854-7855 or coburnsusan2@gmail.com. If you buy a ticket and will not be able to attend, please cancel at least 24 hours before the class or you may be charged. Later cancellations will not be charged if we can fill the seat. This is often case as we regularly have waiting lists for these classes.

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).

With over 35 years in the wine business and 30 plus years experience teaching about wine, Spec’s fine wine buyer Bear Dalton is one of the top wine authorities as well as the most experienced wine educator in Texas.

Please Save The Dates for More Wine School Classes Coming Soon:
01/09/17 Pulling the Cork: What you need to know to more fully enjoy wine.
01/12/17 Domaines Clarence Dillon Tasting (including la Mission and Haut Brion)
01/18/17 Bordeaux 2014 Tasting at the Crystal Ballroom at the Rice

When the Steak Outshines the Sizzle

There’s an old salesman’s saying that goes “Don’t sell the steak, sell the sizzle.” The idea was to sell the experience rather than the actual product. I’ve always been somewhat conflicted about that. The experience is an important and even integral part of the product but to support the experience, the product has to be good. And the bigger the experience is made out to be, the better the product has to be. My experience is that once someone starts selling sizzle, they often begin cutting corners on the steak. To me the steak is the most important thing. So here are some higher end Napa Valley reds that offer the best possible steak and (oh, by the way) the sizzle to go with it. You might think of it as great steak with elegant but exuberant (rather than flashy) sizzle – but in these cases, you are buying the steak and the sizzle comes along as part of the deal.araujoeiselevineyard

ARAUJO Eisele Vineyard Cabernet, Napa Valley, 2012 ($499.99)
100% Cabernet Sauvignon from the Eisele Vineyard aged 20 months in oak barrels (all French, all new).       Purple-red with well-formed legs; dry, medium-full-bodied with freshly balanced acidity and medium-plus phenolics. Rich, elegant, juicy. Lots of tobacco leaf and a bit of black pepper to go with dark and darker red fruit with little black fruit. hints at dark floral to go with subtle earth and oak. Pure. Lovely. Elegant. Textural and dimensional wine. BearScore: 97+.

ALTAGRACIA (Araujo) Eisele Vineyard, Napa Valley, 2012 ($129.99)
altagraciaEffectively the second wine of the Araujo Eisele Estate, this is an all Eisele Vineyard blend of 71% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Petit Verdot, 8% Cabernet Franc 6% Merlot, and 4% Malbec aged 21 months in oak barrels (all French, 99% new).     Purple-red with well formed legs; dry, medium-full-bodied with freshly-balanced acidity and medium-plus phenolics. Supple, fresh, lively, ripe with red and darker red fruit accented with tobacco leaf, spice, dust, and oak. Delicious, lovely accessible. While this is the 2nd wine from the Eisele estate, it may be one of the ten best Cabernet-based red made in Napa Valley. WOW. BearScore: 95+.

OPUS ONE, Oakville – Napa Valley, 2013 ($264.99)opuslabel
An estate blend of 79% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Cabernet Franc, 6% Merlot, 6% Petit Verdot, and 2% Malbec. Component lots received an average of 18 days of skin contact. 17.5 months all new French oak barrels.     Purple-black with red highlights and well-formed legs; dry, full-bodied with balanced acidity and medium chewy phenolics. Complex still developing Cabernet blend offering dark and darkest red and some black fruit accented with tobacco leaf and cedar, black pepper and warm spice, and gravelly dusty earth and oak. Complex and evolving in the glass and even in the mouth. complex, satisfying. offers dimension and texture. BearScore: 96+.

QUINTESSA, Rutherford – Napa Valley, 2013 ($158.59)
quintessaAn all estate blend of 81% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc, 2% Carmenere, and 2% Petit Verdot fermented in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks and aged 21 months in all French oak barrels (85% new).   Red Purple with well formed legs; dry, medium-full-bodied with freshly balanced acidity and medium-plus phenolics. Supple, delicious, fresh. Darker red fruit with tobacco leaf and dust. Integrated oak and some spice. Delicious. Complete. Alive in the mouth. Best Quintessa yet? BearScore: 96.

Is there a theme here? You bet there is. All of these are stunningly good Cabernet Sauvignon or heavily Cabernet-based wines that offer elegance and balance, texture, and dimension. They push all my buttons. Having said that, I look for elegance and balance rather than extraction and extreme ripeness. I think Cabernet-based wines should offer some tobacco leaf and should not smell or taste of chocolate. Given those conditions, I think these are – at their price points – the best options in the market. Each is from a special and particular place. All practice pristine farming and land management. Each is made in a ‘spare no expense, make the best wine we can’ environment using meticulous process and respectful practice. All steak, no sizzle. But, in the best possible way, they will sizzle when you put them in your mouth.


The other day, I bumped into a friend-of-some-years (thereby avoiding referring to her as an “old friend”) who asked if I’d made my list yet. Even though I look more-than-a-bit like Santa Claus, I generally wait until after all the Thanksgiving leftovers are gone to start thinking about Christmas stuff. And I said as much.

She replied “No. Not that list. Your value wine list.”

I told her that it had been a few years since I’d done that. She said I should do it again as she needed a new one … and then she pulled a much-taped-and-folded, very-beat-up piece-of-paper from her purse and showed me one of my old value wine picks lists she’d been carrying around for several years. The vintages were all way out-of-date but a good chunk of the wines that are still available are wines I’d still recommend. After I looked at it (with some wonderment on my part), she carefully refolded it and put it safely back in her purse saying “See. I need a new one … but I’ll hold on to this one until you get around to it.”

Well, OK. Good idea. And since she’s what I refer to as a “church lady” (although not all church ladies go to my church), her “request” is really more of a command anyway.

You may well ask “What makes a ‘Value Wine?’” (You also may ask “What makes a Church Lady?” but that‘s a topic for another time and place.) In the general parlance, “value wine” is a good or recommended wine below a certain price point. That well-worn list my friend had saved was all under $15.00 per bottle. And that’s fair as far as it goes but to make my list, the wines have to consistently over-deliver. That being the case, not many heavily-marketed, national brands make my list as, while many of them offer a fair value, seldom do they over-deliver (and almost never do they over deliver over a series of vintages).

bearonwinelogoWhat you’ll find on this list are my picks (wines I actually buy and drink at home) with First-of-December-2016 prices under $20 (Spec’s cash bottle price – if you’re buying six-mixed at a time or by-the-case, the prices will be lower). The prices listed will likely change (some up, some down) over time. The vintages on the list are those that are current as I compile it but don’t worry too much if you bump into a vintage that’s younger. These wines tend to be pretty consistent from vintage-to-vintage. These are wines with enough production that they are available most of the time; I’m not including anything where we don’t get at least a couple of pallets a year. Finally, these are wines that I recommend. Which means they are wines I like to drink. Which means they offer plenty of fruit but are not over-ripe or over-manipulated. Which is to say that they taste of the grapes from which they were made and (generally) of the specific place they were grown.