The TOUR de FIZZ or “Around the World in Sparkling Wine”

When I first think of sparkling wine, the image is of a bottle or glass of Champagne, the real stuff from Champagne in France. And that is as it should be.
But …  There are outposts of quality in other parts of the world where fine and even excellent sparkling wines are made so please join me (Spec’s fine wine buyer Bear Dalton) for a tour of some of those bubbly producers where quality is the goal – a sort of Tour de Fizz – ending (as it should) with an extended stay in Champagne. We’ll convene at 7pm on Monday, November 18th at The Wine School at l’Alliance Française for The TOUR de FIZZ.

We’ll taste and discuss the range of Champagne-process sparkling wines from around the world with stops in Italy, Spain, elsewhere in France (not Champagne), the US, The UK, and Germany, all on the way to Champagne as we look at how they are made, their styles, where and from what grapes they are made, serving, glassware, and bubbly wine with food. The wines tasted will be served in Riedel Degustazione stemware. A selection of cheeses and bread will be offered during each class.

The lineup includes:
Zonin Prosecco NV
Perelada Cava Brut Spanish Sparkling NV
Mercat Rose Rose Cava NV
Can Xa Brut Rose Cava NV
Blason de Bourgogne Cremant de Bourgogne Brut NV
Roederer Estate Brut Anderson Valley – Sparkling NV
Nyetimber Classic Cuvee 6/cs (england) NV
Schloss Vaux Reserve Riesling Brut Sekt Rheingauer 2014
JP Marniquet Brut Tradition Champagne NV
Andre Clouet Brut Grand Reserve Champagne
Denis Chaput “Promesse de l’Aube” Blanc de Blancs (100% Chardonnay) Champagne NV
Andre Clouet “Cuvee 1911” (100% Pinot Noir) Brut NV
Egly Ouriet “les Vignes De Vrigny” (100% Pinot Meunier) Champagne NV
Camille Saves Rose Brut Grand Cru Champagne NV

The TOUR de FIZZ will cost $60 per person (cash or check) or $63.16 (regular). To purchase your ticket, please contact Susan Coburn at 713-854-7855 or

L’Alliance Française is the French cultural center in Houston. Located at 427 Lovett Blvd. (77006), l’Alliance is on the southeast corner of Lovett and Whitney (one block south of Westheimer and two blocks east of Montrose).

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.

With over 40 years experience 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.

Idiosyncratic Champagne

You may know that I sometimes (ok, regularly) put on classes that indulge my passion for a particular sort of wine. This is one of those times. I am getting-my-geek-on so please join me at 7pm on Tuesday, January 23rd at The Wine School at l’Alliance Française for an indulgence in unapologetically Idiosyncratic Champagne. We will taste and discuss a range of unique Champagne wines arranged in five flights (see below) as we look at how (and from what) they are made and how that formed their flavors and styles. Each of these wines offers a particular and sometimes peculiar look at place and style. This is about as Burgundian as a Champagne tasting can get. All wines tasted will be served in Riedel Degustazione stemware. A selection of cheeses and bread will be offered.

The lineup includes:
Blanc de Noirs – Pinot Meunier
Serveaux Fils Brut Cuvee Pinot Meunier Champagne NV
Egly Ouriet 1er Cru Brut les Vignes de Vringy Pinot Meunier Champagne NV
Godme Brut Blanc de Noir 1er Cru Les Romaines Pinot Meunier Champagne 2006

Blanc de Noirs – Pinot Noir
Godme Brut Grand Cru Champs Saint Martin Pinot Noir Champagne 2006
Egly Ouriet Blanc de Noirs Grand Cru Vv Champagne NV

Jean Vesselle Oeil de Perdrix Champagne NV
Egly Ouriet Brut Rose Champagne NV

Egly Ouriet Brut Tradition Grand Cru Champagne NV
Jean Vesselle Le Petite Clos Champagne 2003
Egly Ouriet Grand Cru Les Champagne NV

Blanc de Blancs
Lancelot Royer Cuvee de Chevaliers Champagne NV
GH Mumm Cramant Blanc de Blancs Champagne NV
Godme Brut Blanc de Blancs 1er Cru Alouettes St. Bets Champagne 2006
Henriot Cuve 38 Brut Champagne NV

Idiosyncratic Champagne will cost $160 per person (cash or check) or $168.42 (regular). To purchase your ticket, please contact Susan Coburn at 713-854-7855 or

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).

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.

Luxury Cuvee Champagne Benefit Tasting for Sonoma Fires

So I was thinking of how to raise some money to send out to California to help with the aftermath of the Napa and Sonoma Fires. And then Carl Zorn of LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy) walks into my office and says he wants to make available Dom Perignon and La Grande Dame and Krug Grand Cuvee for promotion. A plan begins to come together. Why not do a big (and pretty much unprecedented) Luxury Cuvee Champagne tasting as a benefit to help our friends in California who have been so effected by the September fires?

So, with special thanks to all the Champagne houses who are providing their top wines, on December 4th at 7pm, please join me at the Wine School at l’Alliance Française for our Luxury Cuvee Champagne Benefit. We’ll taste through 15 of the most famous (and expensive) Champagnes in the market from the top Grand Marque producers.  Champagne-appropriate nibbles will be served. The wines will be tasted from Reidel Degustazion stemware. This will be a sit down tasting where you will have a separate glass for each wine so you can compare them all. All net proceeds will go to fire relief in and around Santa Rosa (the most heavily fire-damaged are) in Sonoma County.

The line up includes:
Dom Perignon Brut
Dom Perignon Rose
Dom Perignon P2 Late release
Krug Grand Cuvee
Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame
Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame Rose
Dom Ruinart Blanc de Blancs
Salon Blanc de Blancs
Pol Roger Cuvee Winston Churchill
Roederer Cristal
Duvall Leroy Le Femme
Taittinger Comtes des Champagne Blanc de Blancs
Taittinger Comtes des Champagne Rose
Perrier Jouet Belle Epoque (Flower Bottle)
Perrier Jouet Belle Epoque Rose

The Luxury Cuvee Champagne Benefit will cost $250 per person (cash or check) or $263.16 (regular). To purchase your ticket, please contact Susan Coburn at 713-854-7855 or

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).

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.

With 40 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.

More Classes Coming Soon:
12.04.17          Monday          Tete de Cuvee Tasting benefitting Sonoma fires relief
12.11.17          Monday          2015 Domiane Dujac Tasting
12.18.17          Monday          Wine School Christmas Party and Toy Gather
01.08.18          Monday          TBD
01.16.18          Tuesday          Big 2015 Bordeaux Tasting at Crystal Ballroom (Houston)
01.17.18          Wednesday     Big 2015 Bordeaux Tasting at Trinity Groves (Dallas)


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.



2011 Bordeaux and Champagne Tasting at the Crystal Ballroom at the Rice

2011bordstripOn Tuesday, October 18, 2016, Spec’s will host a number of chateau owners, directors, and winemakers presenting 30 mostly Cru Classé and second label Bordeaux wines all from the 2011 vintage. We will also have representatives of  six Champagne houses pouring 20 of their Champagnes, all in a standup- and-walk-around tasting format. This is similar to our wildly popular January Bordeaux event but with a mostly different lineup of wines – and, of course, with Champagne. We’ll be serving . . .

Dry White: Clos de Lune Blanche (Bordeaux Blanc), Domaine de Chevalier and Esprit de Chevalier (both Pessac Leognan Blanc)
St. Emilion: Ch. Figeac and Petite Figeac, Ch. Larcis Ducasse and Murmure de Larcis, and Ch. Pavie Macquin and Chenes de Macquin
Pomerol: Vieux Ch. Certan and Gravette de Certan
Francs: Ch. Puygueraud
St. Estephe: Ch. Calon Segur and Marquis de Calon, Ch. Montrose and La Dame de Montrose
Pauillac: Ch. Pichon Lalande and Reserve de la Comtesee, Ch. Pontet Canet and Haut de Pontet Canet
St. Julien: Ch. Ducru Beaucaillou and La Croix de Beaucaillou
Margaux: Ch. Giscours and Sirene de Giscours
Pessac Leognan Ch. Haut Bailly and La Parde de Haut Bailly, Domaine de Chevalier and Espirit de Chevalier
Sauternes: Ch. Guiraud and La Petit Guiraud

Barons de Rothschild Brut NV, Blanc de Blancs NV and Rosé NV
Castelnau Brut Reserve NV, Rosé NV, and Vintage 1998
Bonnaire Brut Tradition NV, Blanc De Blanc NV, Brut Variance NV and Rosé NV
Andre Clouet Brut Grand Reserve NV, Rosé NV, and Brut Millesime
Ch. de Bligny Brut NV, Rosé NV, Blanc de Blancs NV, and Clos de Bligny
Michel Mailliard Cuvee Gregory Brut NV and Cuvee Alexia Rosé, NV
Waris Hubert Blanc de Blancs Brut Grand Cru NV

The tasting will open at 4:30pm and run until 8:30pm, giving tasters ample time to taste the wines and visit with our guests from Bordeaux and Champagne. 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. This 2011 Bordeaux and Champagne Tasting will cost $80.00 total per person cash ($84.21 regular)To purchase your ticket for this unique Bordeaux and Champagne Event, please contact Susan at 713-854-7855 or

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



Utterly Unique: Henriot Cuve 38

2___cuve_38____dition_2___henriot__1820.jpeg_north_600x_whiteIn 1990, the late Joseph Henriot (1936-2015, former head of Veuve Clicquot and owner of Henriot in Champagne and Bouchard Pere et Fils in Burgundy) 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). In 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:
HENRIOT Cuve 38, Champagne, NV     ($669.74)
100% Chardonnay all from Grand Cru vineyards fermented and aged in a reserve wine solera representing 19 vintages made using Methode Champenoise in in Magnum, aged another 5 years on the yeasts and then finished only with a less-than-0.5 dosage. (The tank or cuve holding the wine is Cuve 38 – hence the name.)     Pale-gold-straw in color and 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.

Wines That Over Deliver

ChTourSalvetThinking about Value in Wine
Value is a funny thing. When we hear value, we tend to think of lower-priced wines (many of which do not deliver value) but low-priced wine is nowhere near the whole story. While it may be hard to think of $75 bottle of wine as a value, the fact is that many (which is not to say most) are. Saying that a wine offers value means that it over-delivers at its price point. Once viewed in that light, it becomes clear that there are values – wines that over-deliver – at every price point, just as there are wines that under-deliver at every price point.

What is hard for me is to say that “this $25 wine is ‘as-good-as-that’ $75 wine” – because in the vast majority of cases, it isn’t. If it were, the market would have pushed up the price of the $25 bottle and pushed down the price of the $75 bottle. Or both. If, over the long term, both wines are stable at their price points (meaning that they have achieved market equilibrium), then, at least for those who are buying them, they deliver at least fair value at their respective price points.

While much is made of the occasional blind tasting where a cheaper wine trounces a flashier bottling, it happens less often than you might think. You hear about it because it’s so unusual and because it becomes news. An expensive wine trouncing a cheap wine isn’t news (and so is not reported) because that’s what’s supposed to (and most often does) happen. So you read about the cheap wine that won. And you wonder if it really is better.

When I read about something like that, I ask some questions:
– How where the wines tasted and presented?
– Were they tasted or drunk?
– How much time did the tasters have with each wine?
– Could they directly compare back and forth?
– Did the tasters know the prices of the two wines?
– Was there an interest in the outcome or bias on the part of whoever was conducting the tasting?



At the same time I scheduled a wine dinner at Charivari for 7pm on Thursday March 12th, I discovered that March 12th is Chef Johann Schuster’s birthday  – so I asked him to pick the menu. As he is German and white Asparagus season is upon us, I knew that spargle would be involved. What Chef Johann initially came up with looked great to me but may have been a little challenging for many diners. Per my request, he dialed it back (from challenging to adventurous) to achieve a broader appeal. In choosing the wines to pair with these dishes, I went with some of my favorites (as my birthday is three days earlier). So we will have wines from Perrier Jouet (PJ), Pedro Romero (PR), Pinot Gris (PG), and Pinot Noir (PN).

Grilled Halloumi – White Asparagus Skewers
Perrier Jouet Belle Epoque, Champagne, 2006

White Asparagus Veloute with Marrow Dumplings
Pedro Romero Cream Sherry NV

Spiced Smoked-Miso-Maple-glazed Sable Fish fillet and grilled Asparagus with
Zind Humbrecht Pinot Gris Rotenberg 2009
Zind Humbrecht Pinot Gris Clos Windsbuhl 2009
Trimbach Pinot Gris Gold Label Hommage A Jeane 2000

White Asparagus – Wasabi Root Sorbet

Rack of Lamb herbed & Roasted and a Pinot Noir reduction,
Yukon Gold White Asparagus aux gratin with
Bouchard Pere & Fils Beaune Greves Clos de l’Enfant Jesus 1er cru 2009
Roblet Monnot Volnay Taillepieds 1er cru 2009
Michel Gros Morey St Denis Rue de Vergy 2009
Lecheneaut Nuits St. Georges Les Pruliers 1er cru 2009

Quark Donuts & melted Quark Ice Cream
Pedro Romero Pedro Ximenez Sherry NV

As always, we start with Champagne and in this case it is very fine Champagne indeed: Perrier Jouet Belle Epoque 2006, a top luxury cuvee from a top grand marque house. With the white asparagus soup (a signature of chef Schuster), we will enjoy a Cream sherry. With the Sable Fish (a specialty of the northern Pacific also known as Black Cod) fillet we will have three Alsace Pinot Gris wines (all grand cru quality) which will offer a revelation about the quality potential of Pinot Gris. While lamb is (for me at least) more closely associated with Bordeaux, the coming of Spring and the Pinot Noir reduction led me to Burgundy and a selection of four fine terroir from four great domaines.

This Chef Dinner will cost $150.00 per person including a 5% discount for cash or check or $157.89 regular. All taxes and tips are included. For reservations, please contact Susan at 713-854-7855 or at  Charivari is located at 2521 Bagby (77006) in Mid-Town Houston.

Thinking About Thanksgiving

Several people have called to ask about my Thanksgiving Wine Picks and “Can you send me those recipes?” and “How do you …?”

Thanksgiving is America’s feast day. We’ve all participated in it but we only do it (this particular sort of feast) once a year so there can be pressure and confusion. So here’s the whole Thanksgiving Food and Wine deal. Please click on the links below. Enjoy your friends and family. Enjoy your food and your wine. Enjoy the time before and after. And don’t forget to give thanks.

Click here for my Thanksgiving Page. Or click on the links below to go directly to those topics.

Thanksgiving Wine Picks for 2014
My picks for before, for the meal, for dessert, and for later

Tweaking the Turkey: Pairing the Thanksgiving Feast with Fine Wine
Here’s what I do for the Thanksgiving meal with recipes for the bird and sides and more and a section on how to tweak the turkey to go with specific wines.

My Thanksgiving Time Line

My Thanksgiving Blessing

Wishing you and yours a healthy, happy, safe, and delicious Thanksgiving holiday.