Pinot Prism: Sonoma

On Monday, August 7th at 7pm, please join Spec’s fine wine buyer Bear Dalton at the Wine School at l’Alliance Française for Pinot Prism: Sonoma, the first in a series of Pinot Noir classes planned before the end of the year. We will look at Pinot Noir from Sonoma County in its various appellations from County and Valley, Russian River, Sonoma Coast and the real Sonoma Coast (Fort Ross). Discussion will include some history of Pinot Noir, how it is made, where it is best grown in Sonoma, and pairing Pinot Noir with food. Fourteen Sonoma County Pinot Noir wines will be tasted. Bread and a selection of fine cheeses will be served. Prepare your palate.

The line up:
Banshee Pinot Noir Sonoma County 2015
Expression 38 Gaps Crown Pinot Noir 2013
Patz & Hall Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast 2015
Patz & Hall Pinot Noir Jenkins 2014
Patz & Hall Pinot Noir Gap’s Crown 2014
Flowers Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast 2015
Flowers Pinot Noir Sea View Ridge 2014
Hanzell Sebella Pinot Noir 2013
Rochioli Pinot Noir 2014
Dumol Russian River Valley Pinot Noir 2013
Dumol Aidan Pinot Noir 2014
Dumol Finn Pinot Noir 2014
Dumol Ryan Pinot Noir 2014
Dumol Russian River Estate Pinot Noir 2014

Pinot Prism: Sonoma will cost $100.00 per person (Cash or Check) or $105.26 regular. The class will meet at 7pm on Monday, August 7th 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.



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.



Champagne Friday: JACQUES PICARD

José Lievens

José Lievens

In the late 1950s, Roger Picard (who was then mayor of Berru) planted vines on parcels of land that had just been granted the Champagne Appellation d’Origine Controlée. In the early 1960s, his son Jacques Picard started his business and produced the first bottles of champagne under his own name. Over the years Picard invested to build and sustain the champagne house and build its reputation for quality. The vineyard was developed, the cellars were enlarged and the buildings wer extended. By then, Jacques Picard performed all the different tasks of champagne production – everything from from planting grapes to selling the finished wine – at their Champagne estate. In the 1990s, Jacques Picard’s two daughters Sylvie and Corinne (with their husbands) took over the business. Together, the family has continued to develop and modernize the business, respecting its traditions, philosophy and high-quality production which characterizes the brand Jacques Picard. As winegrowers and producers, the whole production process from growing the grapes to putting the finished bottles into cases still takes place on the Picard estate. The winemaking now falls to José Lievens, husband of Corinne and son-in-law of Jacques Picard. Here his three cuvees brought into Texas.picardbrut-w-2

JACQUES PICARD Brut, Champagne, NV ($39.89)
A blend of 60% Chardonnay, 35% Pinot Meunier, and 5% Pinot Noir (Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are from Berru. and the Pinot Meunier is from nearby Montbré). This cuvee is based on 2011 with 50% reserve wines (2010, 2009, 2008, and 2007 and 5% of the estate’s solera). After the second fermentation in the bottle, it is aged three years on the yeasts and dosed to 8 grams per liter (true Brut). Straw in color with green highlights and fully sparkling; dry, medium-bodied with fresh acidity and scant phenolics. The nose offers coconut, toast, spice, citrus and some red fruit and the palate follows. A core of mineral earth holds it together. This is a bigger richer style of Brut NV. BearScore: 91+.

JACQUES PICARD Brut Rosé, Champagne, NV ($52.99)
A unique estate-bottled blend of 90% Chardonnay with 10% Pinot Noir Champagne Rosé. The color comes from the red grapes/juice getting a 6-7 day maceration (with no alcoholic fermentation) before being blended and co-fermented with Chardonnay and 8 months of vat aging before bottling. This bottling is based on 2010 with 30% reserve wines added for depth and richness. Aged over 4 years on the yeasts before it was disgorged in October 2015. Dosage at 8 grams/liter.   Pale-salmon-orange in color; dry, medium-bodied with fresh acidity and scant phenolics. Integrated complete style of Rosé with enough red fruit and lots of Chardonnay (citrus and focus) character. the fruit, mineral earth, and yeastiness all knit together. More elegant aperitif style of Rosé. BearScore: 92+.

picardartdevigneJACQUES PICARD Art de Vigne, Champagne, 2005 ($69.99)
An estate-bottled blend of 60% Chardonnay, 20% Pinot Noir, and 20% Pinot Meunier all from vineyards over 40 years old in Berru to the northeast of Reims. Barrel-fermented and aged with batonage (lees stirring) in a mix of used Burgundy barrels and some new barrels. 5 years en tirage (on the yeasts) as it develops in the bottle. Finished with a dosage of 4 grams of sugar per liter.   Medium gold straw in color and fully sparkling; dry, medium-full-bodied with fresh acidity and scant phenolics. Focused and fresh with lots of depth and development. Contrasty and complex but with good integration. Complete. The citrus is more dominant but the red fruit is there along with lots of richness from the barrels and the extended lees aging. Textural complex compelling Champagne. BearScore: 94+.

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?


The Seven o’Clock Wine Society welcomes Jane Ferrari of Yalumba

On Tuesday, March 3rd at 7pm, please join me in welcoming our always entertaining and ever informative friend Jane Ferrari, traveling winemaker of Yalumba, to l’Alliance Française for a tasting of Yalumba’s wines.

The ever popular Ms. Ferrari, who is a native of Barossa, will talk about where the wines come from and how they are made as well as the history and traditions of both Yalumba and the Barossa Valley. Jane Ferrari is a trained winemaker (educated at Australia’s esteemed Roseworthy College) who gets her hands dirty both in the vineyards and the wineries in Barossa but also travels the world telling the Yalumba story. She is down to earth and very entertaining in a way that must be experienced. Jane first visited Houston in October of 2003 and utterly charmed a group of over 60 wine fans. She has been back almost every year since and has “wowed” us all each time. In addition to information about wine, you may hear about Australian and American culture (or lack thereof), Baseball, Elvis, and other tangentially related topics.

We will taste:
Jansz Brut, Tasmania, NV
Yalumba Samuels’s Garden Viognier, Eden Valley
Yalumba Samuels’s Garden Old Bush Vine Grenache), Barossa
Yalumba Samuels’s Garden The Strapper (Grenache-Shiraz-Mourvedre), Barossa
Yalumba Samuels’s Garden The Guardian (Shiraz Viognier), B Barossa
Yalumba Samuels’s Garden Patchwork Shiraz, Barossa
Yalumba The Scribbler (Cabernet-Shiraz), Barossa
Yalumba The Signature, Barossa
Yalumba Museum Antique Tawny NV

Admission to this talk and tasting is a $30.00 (Cash or Check made out to the Houston Area Women’s Center only please), $20.00 of which is a donation to the Houston Area Women’s Center. The class will meet at 7pm on Monday, March 3, 2015. To reserve your spot for this class, please contact Susan Coburn at 713-854-7855 or coburnsusan2@gmail.comPlease note that when you reserve, you are “buying a ticket to an event.” If you are not going to attend the event, you must cancel at least 24 hours in advance or you may be charged.

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). The Seven o’Clock Wine Society offers events and classes featuring speakers from around the world of wine. Most events are held at l’Alliance Française and all start at 7pm. The net proceeds of these events become a donation to the Houston Area Women’s Center.

The Houston Area Women’s Center
“For over 35 years, the Houston Area Women’s Center has worked relentlessly to help survivors affected by domestic and sexual violence build lives free from the effects of violence. Given our humble beginnings – we started with nine active volunteers answering donated phones – we are proud of how we have grown. Today, we have 115 paid staff, a counseling and administrative building, a residential shelter for 120 women and children, a state-of-the-art hotline call center and over 1,000 active volunteers.” – from

Catching Up

While this space has been quiet, I’m actually writing a lot right now. However, most of it is showing up at rather than here. Why? is the new fine wine only web-site I built for Spec’s and our fine wine customers. A lot of the content I have been generating for BearOnWine will be moving over there. Posts on Spec’s Fine Wine include regular features (The Big Deal, Daily Drinkers, The List, and The Friday Fizz) along with events and classes, winery profiles, articles, and opinion. And there are whole pages For Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne, California, and more with a lot more content coming.

Here are some links you may want to check out:

ChGloriaLabelPATZ & HALL Hyde Vineyard Chardonnay and Pinot Noir

THE BIG DEAL: One incredible deal each week on a great wine of Person and Place.
Ch. GLORIA, St. Julien, 2011

THE LIST: Each week a different list. Sometimes value, sometimes red, sometimes old favorites, sometimes nothing but new.
Five Fine Party Wines For Under $10

Ch. Martinon

Ch. Martinon

DAILY DRINKERS: A great pick on a fine wine (a wine made by a specific someone and from a specific somewhere) priced always under $20, most often under $15, and sometimes even under $10 per bottle. These are fine wines for daily drinking.
Ch. MARTINON Entre Deux Mers 2012

THE FRIDAY FIZZ: Check in every Friday for the week’s pick in bubbles, sparkles, and fizz. From Tasmania to Taittinger, from California to Cava, if it pops, it hops.
JanszLabelJANSZ Brut & Rosé

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT WINE: A four week class starting on 10/21/14.

So what about BearOnWine? Change is on the way. We have a new look and some new features are coming soon, so stay tuned.