RIDGEVIEW English Sparkling Wines














I’ve been tasting (and liking) English sparkling wines for a few years now … but only when I’m in Europe. Noe that can change. Check out my notes (on the Spec’s Fine Wine site) on the Ridgeview English Sparkling wines which have just arrived 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 The vintages were all way out-of-date but a good chunk of the wines that are still available are wines I’d still recommend.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.



Drinking and Enjoying Champagne

Please join Spec’s fine wine buyer Bear Dalton at 7pm on Monday, December 14th at The Wine School at l’Alliance Française for Drinking and Enjoying Champagne. We will discuss Champagne in all its facets: How Champagne is Made, Champagne Vocabulary, Champagne Styles, Terroir and Grape Varieties, Serving Champagne, Champagne Glassware, and Champagne and Food. We will taste examples of Brut NV, Blanc de Blancs, Blanc de Noirs, Vintage, Rose, un-dosed Champagne, and Luxury Cuvee from both small growers (Farmer Fizz), two co-ops, and from some of the big negoçiant houses.

The following 15 Champagnes will be served:
Abel Charlot Brut NV
JP Marniquet Brut Tradition NV
Perrier Jouet Grand Brut NV
Castelnau Brut Reserve NV
Bonnaire Brut Blanc de Blancs NV
Bonnaire Variance Brut Champagne NV
Rothschild Blanc De Blancs NV
Devaux D Millesime 2006
Taittinger Brut Millesime 2006
Andre Clouet “Cuvee 1911” Brut NV
Andre Clouet Brut Rose Grand Reserve NV
Perrier Jouet Blason de France Rose NV
Bollinger Brut Rose NV
Perrier Jouet Belle Epoque (Flower Bottle) 2007
JP Marniquet 1995

Drinking and Enjoying Champagne will cost $80 per person (Cash) or $84.21 (Regular). To reserve your spot, please contact Susan Coburn 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).

Champagne Friday: DOM RUINART Blanc de Blancs 2004

dom-ruinart-2004-bouteilleThe Forgotten Dom.
Dom Perignon everyone knows. Dom Ruinart – not so much. Which is a shame as Ruinart is the oldest Champagne house (established in 1729 by Nicolas Ruinart in Reims). While Ruinart makes an excellent Non-Vintage Blanc de Blancs Champagne ($44.64) it is the vintage-dated tete de cuvee Dom Ruinart Blanc de Blancs that stuns. A recent tasting of the 2004 showed a wine too good to ignore.

DOM RUINART Blanc de Blancs, Champagne, 2004 ($129.99)
A 12% alcohol, 100% Grand Cru, 100% Chardonnay (Blanc de Blancs) blend from the Côte des Blancs (69%) and the Montagne de Reims (31%).      Gold-straw in color and fully sparkling; dry, medium-full-bodied with freshly balanced acidity and scant phenolics.  Fine, and quite elegant, but somehow juicy with citrus and tree fruit. Lovely feel and great flavors with fully integrated chalk-mineral and toasty yeast notes. Complete. Refreshing and delicious even as it satisfies. BearScore: 97.


I’m only a beer teetotaller, not a Champagne teetotaller. I don’t like beer. – George Bernard Shaw


Here are some of the things that caught my eye and/or tickled my palate this week (ending 10/25/14) in wine.

The Friday Fizz: BARONS de ROTHSCHILD Blanc de Blancs, Champagne, NV
The three wine-growing branches of the Rothschild family have joined together to start a new Champagne house. They wanted to work at a high level and so went to numerous grower/producers and bought up (at great expense) small lots of reserve wines with which to start so their three cuvees would have real depth and richness. The three wines are a Brut, a Blanc de Blancs, and a Rosé. (Read More)

The Daily Drinker: EXPRESSION 38° “Russian Camp” Chardonnay, Russian River Valley, 2012
Expression Wines are just that – expressions of the terroir found at different latitudes along the west coast of the US. Expression 44° is Eola-Amity Hills in Oregon. Expression 39° is Anderson Valley in Mendocino County. Expression 34° is Santa Rita Hills in California’s Central Coast. And Expression 38° is the Sonoma Coast (which includes the Russian River Valley). Bill Hill developed and for the most part has subsequently sold vineyards in all these area but he continues to buy fruit from his “grown children” with which to make these wines which he feels are the very Espression of the terroir found in these sites. (Read More)

Upcoming Events:
Please join Spec’s fine wine buyer Bear Dalton on Tuesday, October 28th, at 7pm for PARSING ZINFANDEL. It’s been a few years since we have dug into Zin and with the arrival of the 2012s in Texas, I think we’re due. We’ll look at and taste 12 wines from all over Sonoma County (the spiritual home of Zinfandel) and a couple from Napa as well, all from the 2012 vintage. We’ll talk about Zin and blends, the terrors and techniques used to make it, and the food we eat with it. The class will include bread and a selection of fine cheeses to accompany the tasting. (Read More)

Sixteen Wines – Four Chateaux – Four Verticals
d’Armailhac – Branaire Ducru – Calon Segur – Cantenac Brown
On Tuesday, November 4 at 7pm, please join me (Spec’s fine wine buyer Bear Dalton) at the Wine School at l’Alliance Française for a unique Bordeaux tasting featuring four verticals from four great Haut Medoc chateaux: Ch. d’Armailhac in Pauillac, Ch. Branaire Ducru in St. Julien, Ch. Calon Segur in St. Estephe, and Ch. Cantenac Brown in Margaux We will taste the 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011 vintages from each of these properties. This is the second in a series of vertical tastings where we look at four vintages of four top wines. I think it will be fun and informative. (Read More)

A very good and very thorough if long article on aging Champagne before and after disgorging.
By Patrick Schmitt
… Champagne’s top tier, prestige cuvée, is increasingly promoting pricier expressions of the same products based on the complex concept of extended ageing on lees. The idea that something might cost more because the production is tiny, the packaging is pretty, and the object has been genuinely hand crafted is easily communicated. Furthermore, most consumers in wine and spirits are happy to incur an added expense for something older, especially if it is directly sourced from the producer. But telling consumers they are paying more for the interaction of a wine and its sediment, including the by-products of a secondary fermentation in bottle, is harder, and especially when the science of this relationship is little understood. (Read More)

By Khaleda Rahman
Champagne tastes better from a normal wine glass, say scientists. Normal white wine glass emphasises aroma and fizz in more complex wines, says Frederico Lleonart, global ambassador for Pernod Ricard But simple sparkling wines should still be served in flutes as it shows off bubbles better. Experts say champagne tastes better when served in an ordinary wine glass. When toasting a special occasion with a bottle of bubbly, classy champagne flutes are the obvious choice for many. And while it may go against tradition, experts are urging drinkers to ditch their crystal flutes in favour of an ordinary wine glass. (Read More)

by Elin McCoy
(Elin McCoy declares that she’s a terroirist when it comes to Champagne and that its winemakers are among the most avant-garde.)
My Champagne ideal is not just a glass of dependable, consistent bubbly to toast a promotion or celebrate an anniversary. Yes, I know the region is a place where concepts of brand, blend and house style reign supreme, but I think the most exciting development taking place now in Champagne is the antithesis of all that. The growing number of producers departing from tradition to make single-vineyard and single-village wines that reveal the region’s micro-identities are providing the thrills. (Read More)

Bordeaux fifth growth Pontet-Canet will have to sell the 2012 vintage of its second wine as Vin de France.

By Wink Lorch
Les Hauts de Pontet-Canet, the second wine of Château Pontet-Canet, will not bear the prestigious AOC Pauillac label for the 2012 vintage after the wine was rejected by the official tasting panel. Instead its legal definition will be Vin de France. When Alfred Tesseron, owner of Château Pontet-Canet learned about the decision, he told the regional newspaper Sud Ouest: “I do not understand. This has never happened in my 30 years of work here. Fortunately, my négociant customers have put their trust in me: almost none have cancelled their orders.” (Read More)

The Busy Wine Lover’s Guide to CLOS DES PAPES
Family-owned Domaine Paul Avril has roots almost as deep as the vines of Châteauneuf du Pape, and its wines have turned into an investment favorite.
By Jane Anson
One of the stalwarts of Châteauneuf du Pape, Clos des Papes is an intrinsic part of the history of the appellation – the plot of vines that gave the estate its name is located within the walls of the former Papal vineyard where the popes of Avignon had their summer palace; you can’t get much more authentic than that. The Avril family has been popping up as consuls, treasurers, councilors and mayors of the village of Châteauneuf since the 1700s, and the first ever Clos des Papes was produced way back in 1896. If all that’s not enough, the current owner’s great-grandfather, Paul Avril, was instrumental in setting up the first appellation rules here that were, incidentally, the first of their kind in France. Down the generations came Régis, then Paul and now Paul Vincent Avril (who – perhaps not surprisingly – goes by the name Vincent). The current Avril-in-residence has built on his father’s legacy to turn the estate from a local legend to a global star. (Read More)

And an interesting article on cocktails
By Pete Wells
All mixed drinks can be divided into two categories: good and not good. A cocktail that you finish involuntarily, that moves to your lips again and again without requiring you to decide to raise your arm, is a good one. A cocktail that you finish because you hate to waste alcohol, or one that you don’t finish at all, is not good. This is the binary theory of cocktail criticism. Lately, an awful lot of the cocktails I’ve had in restaurants have landed with a splat in the “not good” category. Some are rudely sour, or pointlessly bitter, or ickily sweet, or phonily complicated, or just too reminiscent of a spoonful of Robitussin with a hangnail of lemon peel floating on top. Others aren’t actively bad in any of those ways, but they don’t glide down the back of your throat, either; they’re simply not good. (Read More)

Champagne Friday: ROEDERER ESTATE Brut NV

Champagne Friday is moving and changing. It is moving to the new SpecsFineWine.com site and it is changing from “Champagne Friday” to “The Friday Fizz“. The move puts it where it now belongs. And the name change is reflective of the many sparkling wines – not all Champagne – I want to cover. This week’s entry is Roederer Estate Brut from Mendocino County’s Anderson Valley.

RodererBrutLabelROEDERER ESTATE Brut, Anderson Valley, NV ($18.99)
A 12% alcohol, estate-grown 60% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir methode champenoise sparkler aged 2 years on yeasts and dosed to a 1.2% residual sugar Brut finish. Medium-gold-straw in color and fully sparkling; dry, medium-light-bodied with fresh acidity and scant phenolics. Fresh but with a welcome richness from the presence of up to 15% cask-aged multi-vintage reserve wines. Fine mix of citrus and tree fruit with some spice and good yeasty-nutty notes as well as a clean mineral note. Has enough weight and richness to take on some food. Lovely fizz for the money. BearScore: 91.

CLICK HERE to head on over to SpecsFineWine.com and check out the whole Friday Fizz post.