Summer is here and it’s getting (gotten?) hot. If you’re at all like me, your pace has slowed a bit, you’re eating some different (lighter) foods, and maybe thinking about drinking some different (cooler and more refreshing) drinks. Now, about the only spirits I drink any more are cool refreshing Margaritas (and that’s a year-round thing) so my different drinks for summer are all wine – or at least wine-based. Yes, I drink different wines during the summer: No oak whites, some with a little residual sugar, Rosés (but we have a dedicated Rosé class coming soon),  lighter, more chill-able reds, and the occasional wine concoction. So on Monday, June 26th at 7pm, please join me (Spec’s fine wine buyer Bear Dalton) at the Wine School at l’Alliance Française for SIPPING DIFFERENT. We’ll discuss and taste through fifteen summer sippers (all wines I love) that cover the gamut from wine concoctions to chill-able reds. Come cool. Be cool. Get cool. Sip Different

The line up:
Green Sangria (Bear’s Award Winning Recipe)
Carpano Bianco Vermouth
Lillet Blanc
l’Herre Gros Manseng, Cotes Gascogne, 2016
Losen Bockstanz Wittlicher Lay Riesling Kabinett 2015
Paternina Verdejo, Rueda, 2014
Frey Sohler Pinot Gris Rittersberg, Alsace, 2015
François le Saint Sancerre Calcaire, 2015
François le Saint Sancerre Rosé, 2016
Duboeuf Ch. de St. Amour, St. Amour (Cru Beaujolais), 2015
Chamisal Pinot Noir Stainless, Edna Valley, 2014
François le Saint Sancerre Rouge, 2013
Casa Gran Siurana Gr-174, Priorat, 2015
Besserat Bellefon Brut Rosé, Champagne, NV
Quady Elysium Black Muscat, California, 2013

Sipping Different will cost $50.00 per person (Cash or Check) or $52.63 regular. The class will meet at 7pm on Monday, June 26, 2017 at l’Alliance Française. To purchase your ticket, please contact Susan at 713-854-7855 or

L’Alliance Française is the French cultural center in Houston. Located at 427 Lovett Blvd., 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 almost 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.


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.



Meeting Minerality

One day last week, Sunny Brown of Michael Skurnik Wines and David Graves of Pioneer came by my office for a business meeting. As they are veteran wine guys, they brought three somewhat fancy wines to taste: PIERRE GIMONNET Oenophile Extra Brut Blanc de Blancs, Champagne, 2008, BRUNDLMAYER Riesling Helligenstein, Kamptal, 2013, and PAUL JABOULET Condireu Les Armandiers, Condireu, 2014. When I saw this line-up, I felt an inward cringe which I hope did not show on my face. I do not (generally) like Extra Brut Champagne (too dry). I do not (generally) like Austrian Riesling (often out of balance on the dry side). I do not (generally) like Condrieu as Viognier (from which Condrieu is made) is near the bottom of my hierarchy of wine grapes (right there with Torrontes). But, out of courtesy and maybe a bit of morbid curiosity, I agreed to taste through these three (initially at least) less than inspiring selections with them. Please pass the salt as I need to put a little on the humble pie I will now eat. Color me stunned! WOW! All three wines were stellar. Each seemed to be trying to out mineral the others. One might allow as to how “Rocks rock!” What a great way to meet minerality.

pierregimmonetoenophile_largePIERRE GIMONNET Oenophile Extra Brut Blanc de Blancs, Champagne, 2008   ($73.99)
100% Chardonnay (33.5% from Cramant, 32.5% Chouilly, 10% Oger, 22% Cuis and 2% Vertus) given a full malo-lactic fermentation (unusual for Champagne) and aged 8 months in stainless steel tanks (with two rackings) before the methode champenoise.  Aged 60+ months on the yeasts in the bottle before disgorgement. No dosage (added sugar).  Yellow-gold and fully sparkling; dry, medium-bodied with freshly balanced acidity and scant phenolics.  Focused, delicious, supple style of Champagne offering more than enough richness to handle the dryness. Toasty, very ripe lemon and orange mostly citrus fruit and lots of mineral with ample yeasty richness. Integrated and complete. Really holds your interest. Lovely. BearScore: 94+.IMG_0930_1024x1024

BRUNDLMAYER Riesling Helligenstein, Kamptal, 2013 ($36.29)
100% Riesling fermented in stainless steel at 15-20°C and then racked into big neutral wooden casks to age on the fine lees.   Straw with green highlights and well formed legs; dry, medium-bodied with freshly balanced acidity and scant (typical of higher-end, drier Rieslings) phenolics. Lovely pure dry Riesling with essence of peach and citrus and even some apple perfume but dry and restrained. Lots of mineral. Delicious. Holds your interest as it develops and opens up in the glass. BearScore: 94+.

PAUL JABOULET Condireu Les Armandiers, Condireu, 2014 ($108.99)
Condrieu-Les-Cassines-Label-500x500100% Viognier from biodynamically-farmed, 25+ year-old-vines planted on south-facing slopes cropped at very low yields of 20 hl/ha. Aged 55% in French oak barrels (5% new), 25% in small concrete eggs, and 20% in stainless steel tank. Gold-straw with green highlights and well formed legs. Dry, medium-bodied with freshly balanced acidity and medium phenolics. Vivid, fresh, elegant, but supple mineral-centered Condrieu. Essence of peach and peach stone, citrus and peel and liquid stones. Lovely, pure, focused. About as good as Condrieu gets. BearScore: 95.


Please join Spec’s fine wine buyer Bear Dalton on Tuesday, September 1st at 7pm for REVEALING RIESLING. We’ll dig in with fourteen refreshing Riesling wines mostly from Germany – the spiritual home of Riesling – that represent a range of the non-dessert wine styles. We’ll talk about the Riesling grape, the places it grows, the techniques used to make it, and the food we eat with it. All the wines we’ll taste are intended for the table. While there will be plenty of fruit and some sweetness, these are food friendly wines to be drunk either as aperitifs or with food. The class will include bread and a selection of fine cheeses to accompany the tasting.

The List:
Villa Wolf Riesling QbA, Pfalz, 2013
Schloss Vollrads Riesling QbA, Rheingau, 2013
Donnhoff Estate Riesling, Nahe, 2014
Dr. Heyden Oppenheimer Reisling Kabinett, Rheinhessia, 2013
Dr. Fischer Ockfener Bockstein Riesling Kabinett, Mosel, 2013
Fritz Haag Brauneberger Riesling Kabinett, Mosel, 2014
Dr. Pauly Bernkastler alte Badstube am Doctorberg Riesling Kabinett, Mosel, 2013
Dr. Thanisch Bernkastler Doctor Riesling Kabinett, Mosel, 2012
Dr. Pauly Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spatlese, Mosel, 2013
Leitz Rudesheimer Magdalenekreuz Riesling Spatlese, Rheingau 2014
Peter Nicolay Erdener Treppchen Feinherb, Mosel, 2014
Chateau Ste. Michelle – Dr. Loosen “Eroica” Riesling, Columbia Valley, 2013
Von Kesselstatt Josephshofer Grosse Gewachs, Mosel, 2011
Ehrhart Riesling Grand Cru Hengst, Alsace, 2010

Revealing Riesling will cost $60.00 per person cash ($63.16 regular).
The class will meet at 7pm on Tuesday, September 1, 2015 at l’Alliance Française.
To reserve your spot, please contact Susan 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).

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.

UH OH, IT’S PARTY TIME (Budget Edition)

UH OH? Uh oh, indeed. The party season is here and you want to serve good wines but you’re on a tight budget. What to do? Glad you asked. First off, you need to know the range of wines you should buy. Just having white and a couple of bottles of red used to be OK but now, not so much. Now it’s “red, white, and bubbles” – and not just one of each. The name of the game is variety. Also, it’s nice if the wine somewhat matches the food you’ll be serving. It seems like a lot to consider but I’ve got you covered. Here are my preferred party picks (and some alternates) all priced under $12.00 per bottle.

Preferred Pick –
CASTILLO PERELADA Brut Reserva, Cava (Spain), NV ($8)PereladaCavaBrut
A blend of Macabeo, Xarel·lo and Parellada together with Chardonnay fermented using Methode Champenoise and aged at least 18 months on the yeasts in the bottle.    Pale-gold-straw in color; dry, medium-bodied with fresh acidity. Cheap Cava that both smells and tastes better than its price. Toasty, yeasty earth with citrus and tree fruit along with some earthy red fruit. Good grip in the mouth, quite long. So much better than it has to be at this price point. Great with appetizers and anti pastas. Perfect with potato chips or popcorn. BS: 90+.
Alternate Picks: Segura Viudas Brut Reserva Cava ($9) -or- Zonin Prosecco ($10)

Preferred Pick –
NICOLAS HERMEN Riesling Qba, Pfalz, 2011 ($8)
100% Riesling fermented cold in stainless steel tanks with no oak and no ML.    Pale straw with green highlights; bright and clear. Semi-dry with a crisp balance. Offers fresh apple and lime fruit with a hint of peach and a wildflower floral note over a core of wet stone minerality. Fresh and refreshing. Great as a glug-able aperitif. And fine with shellfish and especially with shrimp or mussel dishes. BS: 88+.
Alternate Picks: Polka Dot Riesling from Washington State ($8) -or- Dr. Loosen “L” Riesling from the Mosel ($10)

Preferred Pick –
YALUMBA “Y  Series” Pinot Grigio, South Australia, 2012 ($10)
100% Pinot Gris fermented and aged sur-lie in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks with its malo-lactic fermentation blocked.   Straw with green highlights with nice legs, medium-body, fresh acidity, and scant phenolics. The fruit ranges from pear and apple to lime with a hint of honey. Fresh and lively but with some richness in the mouth. Versatile, appealing white that goes with everything. BS: 89.
Alternate Picks: The Ned Pinot Gris New Zealand ($12) -or- Chateau Ste. Michelle Pinot Gris ($10)

Preferred Pick –
La NOBLE Chardonnay,  Vin de Pays d’Oc, 2011 ($10)LaNobleChardonnay
100% Chardonnay (from a mix of lower, more coastal vineyards and higher cooler mountain vineyards) fermented in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks, and aged “sur lie” (on the lees) until bottling.  Medium straw in color with well formed legs; dry, medium-bodied with freshly balanced acidity.  Fresh, lively, fruit-and-floral Chardonnay offering citrus and tree fruit with some leesy richness and enough mineral earth to keep it in focus. Because it does not go into oak barrels, this is a Chardonnay that works with lots of foods from shellfish through to pork and veal and even mushrooms. Very easy to appreciate and like. This could be your party wine. 88.
Alternate Picks: Louis Latour Ardeche Chardonnay ($9) -or-  Domaine de Gournier Chardonnay from Nimes in France ($10)

Preferred Pick –
Le VERSANT Pinot Noir, Vin de Pays d’Oc, 2012 ($11)
100% Pinot Noir, grown on north and east facing slopes in the highlands near Puisserguier & Cazouls in Southwestern France. Fermented using rack-and-return (most unusual for Pinot) and aged 5 months in 90% Stainless Steel tanks and 10% in older oak barrels.    Deep-red color with well formed legs; dry, medium-bodied with freshly balanced acidity and medium phenolics.  Supple dark red cherry and some berry fruit with accents of cola, a subtle earthiness and a bit of black pepper along with spice and a dark floral note. Lovely in the mouth. This is the value-priced, food friendly, everyday Pinot Noir you’ve been looking for. Grows on you as you drink it. Shockingly good for the price. Versatile enough to accompany almost anything you can serve red wine with. BS: 90.
Alternate Picks: Hahn Pinot Noir ($11) -or-  Louis Latour “Valmoissine” Pinot Noir ($12)

Preferred Pick –
CA’ MOMI Rosso di Napa, Napa Valley, 2010 ($10)CaMomiRosso
A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, and Merlot aged 8 months in French and American oak barrels. Sensory: Deep red-purple in color with good legs; dry, medium full-bodied with balanced acidity and medium plus phenolics. Offers fresh, dusty red & black fruit showing spicy cherry berry character combined with gravelly earth terroir, dusty mixed oak, and accents of cedar, tobacco, black pepper, leather, and dark spice. Long, clean finish. Fresh elegant integrated focused, and precise; almost Sangiovese like. This is an American red wine to use as you would use Chianti; try it with pizza, pasta and red sauce, lasagna, eggplant Parmigiana, etc. BS: 88+.
Alternate Picks: Tudal “Tractor Shed” Red ($11) -or- Tiziano Chianti DOCG ($11)

Preferred Pick –
HEALDSBURG RANCHES Cabernet Sauvignon North Coast 2010 ($12)
100% Cabernet Sauvignon aged in 100% French oak barrels (none new).   Sensory: Medium-red-purple in color with well formed legs; dry, medium full-bodied with fresh acidity; medium phenolics.  Supple more red than black fruit Cabernet with lots of spice, subtle oak, and a bit of mineral. tough to beat at this price point. Perfect with grilled meats, especially steak. BS: 89.
Alternate Picks: Yalumba “Y Series” Cabernet Sauvignon South Australia ($11) -or- Los Vascos Cabernet Sauvignon Chile ($10)