2017 Cru Classé Bordeaux Tasting

5:00 – 8:30pm  Thursday, January 16, 2020  at The Crystal Ballroom at the Rice

On Thursday, January 16th, SPEC’s will host over 30 Bordeaux chateau owners, directors, and/or winemakers presenting 57 (Mostly) Cru Classé Bordeaux wines from the lovely, pure, fresh, enticing 2017 vintage in a standup-and-walk-around tasting format. This is our ninth year in a row to host such a delegation from Bordeaux in Houston and this is the best lineup of wines we’ve had to date. Our list of highly regarded Bordeaux wines includes …

Dry White Wines: Ch. Carbonnieux, Domaine de Chevalier, Ch. Smith Haut Lafitte, Blanc de Lynch Bages (2018)
Pessac Leognan Rouge: Ch. Carbonnieux, Ch. les Carmes Haut-Brion, Domaine de Chevalier, Ch. Smith Haut Lafitte, Clos Marsalette, Ch. Haut Bailly.
Margaux: Ch. Brane Cantenac and Baron de Brane, Ch. Cantenac Brown, Ch. Giscours, Ch. du Tertre, and Ch. Ferriere.  
St. Julien: Ch. Branaire Ducru, Ch. Saint Pierre, Ch. Gloria, Ch. Talbot, Ch. Beychevelle, Ch. Ducru Beaucaillou with La Croix Ducru-Beaucaillou and Ch. Lalande Borie, Ch. Leoville Barton, Ch. Langoa Barton, and Ch. Leoville Poyferre.
Pauillac: Ch. Grand Puy Lacoste and Lacoste Borie, Ch. Haut Bages Liberal, Ch. Pichon Longueville – Baron de Longueville and les Griffons de Pichon Baron, Ch. Pichon Longueville – Comtesse de Lalande and Reserve de la Comtesse, Ch. Lynch Bages and Echo de Lynch Bages, Ch. Haut Batailley, and Ch. Pibran.
St. Estephe: Ch. les Ormes de Pez, Ch. Phelan Segur.
Haut-Medoc: Ch. Cantemerle.
Pomerol: Ch. Clinet, Ch. Le Croix St. Georges, and Ch. Gazin.
St. Emilion: Ch. Troplong Mondot Ch. Canon La Gaffeliere, Clos de l’Oratoire, La Confession, Ch. Daugay, Ch. Pavie Macquin, and Ch. Larcis Ducasse.
Bordeaux, Cotes de Bordeaux, Satellites: Ch. d’Aiguilhe Castillon – Cotes de Bordeaux, Ch. Croix Mouton Bordeaux Superieur, Ch. Cap Saint Georges St. Georges St Emilion, and Ch. Puygueraud Francs – Cotes de Bordeaux.
Sweet Whites: Ch. Suduiraut and Lions de Suduiraut.
We’ll be tasting great wines from every major appellation in Bordeaux. The tasting will open at 5pm and run thru to 8:30pm, giving you ample time to taste the wines and visit with our guests from Bordeaux. The tasting will include a snack buffet chosen to help absorb the wines and refresh the palate. We will taste from Riedel Degustazione (tasting) glasses.

The 2017 Cru Classé Bordeaux Tasting will cost $100.00 per person (including a 5% discount for cash or check, regular price is $105.26). To purchase your ticket, please contact Susan Coburn at coburnsusan2@gmail.com or at 713-854-7855.

The Crystal Ballroom at the Rice is located in downtown Houston at 909 Texas Avenue between Travis and Main. Valet Parking will be available. Uber or Lyft are highly recommended.

If you buy a ticket and will not be able to attend, please cancel at least 24 hours before the event. No shows and later cancellations will be charged.

Classic Cabernet Class and Tasting

Do you love great Cabernet Sauvignon? Do you thrill at the thought of elegant, balanced wines that taste of variety and place? If so, please join me, Spec’s fine wine buyer Bear Dalton, at 7pm on Monday, December 2nd at The Wine School at l’Alliance Française for a taste of Classic Cabernet. We’ll taste and discuss fourteen Cabernet-dominant wines mostly from Napa Valley made using responsibly-farmed grapes using winemaking that respects the grapes and the places they are grown. We will discuss the farming and winemaking practices that make these wines taste as they do. At each price point, these wines represent the very best of the most balanced Cabernet being made in the US today. 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:
Louis Martini Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley VT
Robert Mondavi Napa 2016
Snowden Cabernet The Ranch 2016
Joseph Phelps Cabernet Sauvignon 6/cs 2015
Ridge Santa Cruz 2016
Robert Mondavi Oakville 2016
DuMOL Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa, 2017
Nickel & Nickel De Carle Cabernet Sauvignon 2017
Robert Mondavi To Kalon Private Reserve 2015
Quintessa 2016
Ridge Monte Bello 2016
Joseph Phelps Insignia Napa 2015
Opus One 2016
Eisele Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2015

This Classic Cabernet Class and Tasting will cost $120 per person (cash or check) or $126.32 (regular). To purchase your ticket, please contact Bear Dalton at 713-854-5129 or BearDalton@mac.com. (Susan is out recovering from shoulder surgery. Please keep her in your prayers.)

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.

Bordeaux Revealed: Vintages and Futures and a bit about the Business of Bordeaux

7pm on Monday, August 19th
If you have heard me speak on Bordeaux, you know that one of my common themes is that there is value in Bordeaux. Another is that the market sets the prices of Bordeaux. And yet another is that Bordeaux still sets the standard of quality for much of the wine world and certainly for the Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot-based wines of the world.
In Bordeaux Revealed, we will taste three vintages each (2014, 2015, and 2016) of five representative wines and discuss those vintages as well as the on-offer-as-futures 2017 and 2018 vintages. We’ll also touch on why fine wine and especially Bordeaux is in something of a golden age right now, the business of Bordeaux, the mechanics of Bordeaux futures, and anything else Bordeaux related you care to ask about. Attendance at this event will be limited to 30 people in order to facilitate question and answer.

The following Bordeaux wines will be served:
Ch La Confession St Emilion 2014
Ch La Confession St Emilion 2015
Ch La Confession St Emilion 2016
Ch La Croix St Georges Pomerol 2014
Ch La Croix St Georges Pomerol 2015
Ch La Croix St Georges Pomerol 2016
Ch Branaire Ducru St Julien 2014
Ch Branaire Ducru St Julien 2015
Ch Branaire Ducru St Julien 2016
Ch Cantenac Brown Margaux 2014
Ch Cantenac Brown Margaux 2015
Ch Cantenac Brown Margaux 2016
Ch Haut Bages Liberal Pauillac 2014
Ch Haut Bages Liberal Pauillac 2015
Ch Haut Bages Liberal Pauillac 2016

Bordeaux Revealed will cost $60.00 per person cash ($63.16 regular).
The class will meet at 7pm on Monday, August 19th at l’Alliance Française.
To purchase your ticket(s), please contact Susan at 713-854-7855 or coburnsusan2@gmail.com.
When you reserve, please give Susan your email address sp we may send you a .pdf file of some notes for the class.

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 over 40-years-experience in the wine business and over 30-years-experience teaching about wine, Spec’s fine wine buyer Bear Dalton is one of the top wine authorities and top authorities on Bordeaux as well as the most experienced wine educator in Texas.

A Port Primer with Rui Ribeiro of Symington

Please join Spec’s fine wine buyer Bear Dalton at 7pm on Monday, December 10that the Wine School at l’Alliance Française to welcome Rui Ribeiro of Symington and taste through a range of 15 of Symington’s fine Port wines.

Port wines are numbered among the classic wines of the world and are quite collectable. The most desired are Vintage Ports of which we will taste four. As there are many styles of Port wine, a little information goes a long way toward understanding what you’re drinking. Topics of discussion will include types of 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 Customs), and Decanting Port (including a decanting demonstration). Fifteen Port wines will be tasted and bread and cheese will be served.

We will taste:
Graham’s Six Grapes Porto
Graham’s River Quinta Porto
Dow’s 2012 Late Bottled Vintage Porto
Cockburn’s Special Reserve Porto
Smith Woodhouse 2004 Late Bottled Vintage Porto
Graham’s 10yr Tawny Porto
Dow’s 10yr Tawny Porto
Cockburn’s 10yr Tawny Porto
Graham’s 20yr Tawny Porto
Dow’s 20yr Tawny Porto
Smith Woodhouse 2000 Colheita Porto
Smith Woodhouse 2016 Vintage Porto
Cockburn’s 2016 Vintage Porto
Graham’s 2016 Vintage Porto
Dow’s 2016 Vintage Porto

The Port Primer will cost $70.00 per person cash ($73.68 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.

Symington family member Rui Ribeiro has always had a love for wine but his interests become more serious when he received his degree in Agronomics at Vila Real University in the Douro. Once filled with knowledge Rui was ready to put his skills to work and started as a winemaker and harvest trainee in 2000.  With a passion for nature and viticulture Rui quickly fell in love with the Douro Valley.  He was captivated by the impressive beauty of the terraces and the surrounding atmosphere of the Douro.  This solidified his career goals to educate the world about the wines of the Douro Valley. Working under Rupert Symington’s leadership, Rui is the US Market Manager at Symington Family Estates.

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).

Thinking About Cooking (with Wine)

“I enjoy cooking with wine, sometimes I even put it in the food…”
– attributed to both Julia Child and WC Fields

I cook lots of different kinds of foods: Mexican and Italian, Chinese and Vietnamese, Argentine, French, Spanish and Texan. Some of my favorite food is a sort of Texas fushion which can incorporate bits and pieces of all of them. I like things like foie gras potstickers, cowboy snails, and sweetbreads tacos. Except for baking (which is as much chemistry as cooking) and Julia Child’s Beef Bourguignon (out of respect), I generally don’t use recipes. I’m more of a technique guy. As much as I love to cook, I particularly like cooking with wine.

I use a lot of wine when I cook and it doesn’t matter what sort of food I’m cooking. And it’s something I’m regularly asked about. Why use wine? Which wine? How much do you use? When should I add it? Does the alcohol all evaporate? And so on.

I use wine in cooking for a variety of reasons. Wine can replace some of the water when I make rice (or polenta or masa for tamales). Wine can add acidity and/or sweetness. Wine can add richness and complexity and even a savory element. Wine adds alcohol, which along with fat and water, is one of the key vectors for flavor (some flavors are soluble in fat, some in water, and some only in alcohol). And, of course, red wine can add color.

Along with dry red and white wines, fortified wines – Port, Sherry, Madera, and Marsala – are often called for in recipes but there is more to it than just that. Red or white wine can be tart or smooth. Port can be tawny or ruby. Sherry, Madera, and Marsala can be bone dry, lushly sweet, or anywhere in between. Consider the dish to choose the wine. Even if no type is specified or you are – as I almost always do – winging it, think about the dish. The dish will tell you which wine to use and when to use it.


Some Thinking About Bordeaux

Writer Ethan Fixell sent me (in my role as the fine wine buyer for Spec’s) some questions to answer for his upcoming article on “Selling Bordeaux Today” for Beverage Media. I answered them but I have no idea how much of or even if he’ll use the information and opinion I gave him. Nevertheless, his questions with my answers offer a good look at how I (and, by extension, Spec’s) look at the wines of Bordeaux.

Q. Spec’s carries a lot of Bordeaux. Why do you believe in the region’s wine as a good buy for 2018? What do you feel it offers to customers?
A. Chateau-bottled Bordeaux wines offer the customer site specificity and the personality of an owner or winemaker or estate manager (who is the motive force behind the wine) – so person and place – at all price points (including even lower – as in under $10 – price points where many new-world wines can be pretty “corporate” in nature). So a chateau-bottled Bordeaux wine can offer a value and a story to the customer as well as a potentially delicious, food-friendly experience.

Q. Where is the most value in Bordeaux? Are there particular appellations or producers you think offer consumers the most bang for their buck.
A. Assuming that by “value” you mean moderate price points or wines for everyday consumption, the most value in Bordeaux can be found outside the classified growths and biggest names. There are lots of chateau in the Haut Medoc, Pessac Leognan and Graves, the Bordeaux Cotes (especially Francs and Castillon), and the satelites around St. Emilion and Pomerol, and even basic St. Emilion and St. Emilion Grand Cru that over-deliver on bang-for-your-buck under $30.00 per bottle. The best of these wines offer fruit and flavor and a story and a sense of place to go with their value price points. Of course this ignores the value to be found in Bordeaux when you compare fine Bordeaux at whatever price point (pick one) to comparably priced wines from around the world.

Q. How do you go about selecting the Bordeaux that you buy? Are there particular qualities of wines that you think resonate the most with today’s consumers?
A. I taste. In Bordeaux. In every vintage. When I taste, I look for fruit first, then quality and balance, and then consistency and value. I look for a clean package and a story to tell my customer. I look for wines I am happy to drink because I know I can sell those wines. I also look to buy those wines from trust-worthy, ethical people. Further, I think that each market in the US is unique. Texas is a more Cabernet Sauvignon-centric than most so, while we carry a good selection of Merlot-based wines from Bordeaux, we’re always on the look out for new Cabernet-based (read Left Bank) wines from Bordeaux. Most of those wines come from the Haut Medoc, Pessac Leognan, and Graves. I also think that our customers (when given the option) generally prefer fruit and balance to over-extraction and over-ripeness – so I look for more elegant but still flavorful wines.

Q. How do you position Bordeaux to consumers?
A. Simply put, Bordeaux offers the best experience at the table at the best price. Bold statement? Yes. But many value-priced new world brands either don’t taste good or don’t taste like anywhere. Many (not all) are over-ripe, over-blended, over-sweet, unbalanced messes more suited to standing-around-drinking (wine in lieu of cocktails) rather than drinking with food at the dinner table. If you’re looking to drink wine with dinner at $10 per bottle, there is a Bordeaux wine for you that will stack up well in comparison to wines from anywhere else in the world. The same is true at $15 and at $20, and at $30 and so on up to over $500. Chateau-bottled Bordeaux is real wine from real places made by real identifiable people from specified grapes grown using increasingly environmentally friendly practices in styles that work well with a variety of styles of food. Even if US consumers haven’t tasted Bordeaux, they know the name and know Bordeaux is one of the classics. And that often makes them willing to try a new (to them) Bordeaux wine.

Q. Any overall thoughts / suggestions on how to sell Bordeaux on the retail level?
A. The easiest way to sell Bordeaux is to give the customer a proper pour in a proper glass in a relaxed environment and let them taste it. Proper pour means a sample that is fresh, has been shipped and stored properly and is being served at the correct drinking temperature in an amount conducive to tasting (about 1.5 ounces). A proper glass is just that, a proper stemmed wine glass that is the right size and shape to taste from (A plastic cup that holds 2 ounces is not a proper glass) or the sort of glass the customer might use as an everyday wine glass at home. A relaxed environment means seated at a table with good (but not harsh) lighting in a comfortable room with a controlled level of noise and extraneous activity. Even better if food is involved. Tell them what they’re tasting and why it tastes like it does. Let them engage their brain as well as their senses of smell and taste. There is an intellectual appeal to the finer things and Bordeaux wine is one of those finer things. This is not snobbery; rather, it is reality. It ain’t braggin’ if you can back it up.

To sum up, I think chateau-bottled Bordeaux across all price ranges offers some of the very best values in the wine world today. Add in it’s ability to pair well with a wide variety of foods and ready availability, Bordeaux becomes an even more obvious choice. Do I drink wines from other regions around the world? Of course I do. I love Champagne and German Riesling, red and white Burgundy (and other well made Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays), Rhone wines, Zinfandel, Rioja, Napa Cabs, and more. But Bordeaux is my reference standard for most of the dry red wines and much of both the dry and the sweet white wines I taste from else-where in the world. And as much as I love a good glass of Burgundy (and I really do), Bordeaux generally offers a better-bang-for-my-wine-buying-buck.


I taste a lot of wine and certainly more than my share of great wine. Every-once-in-a-while, I taste something really unique. Every-once-in-a-great-while, I taste a something both great and unique. Great in terms of flavor and unique both in flavor and process. These are three of those:

Ramirez de Ganuza Trasnocho is such a wine. Trasnocho means “overnight” and the wine is aptly named. After the fermentation and maceration for Ramirez de Ganuza’s excellent Rioja Reserva is complete, the tanks are drained and the free run wine is put into barrels to age. That’s when the trasnocho process starts. Plastic bladders are inserted into each of the drained tanks which still contain skins and pulp wet with trapped wine. The bladders are then filled with warm water and allowed to gently press the skins overnight. This smaller proportion of “overnight” wine that seeps from the tanks is kept separate and aged 2 years in all new French oak barrels. The result is Trasnocho Reserva. For me, it’s easy to think of the excellent Ramirez de Ganuza Reserva as the Ch. Margaux of Rioja while the utterly unique Trasnocho fills the role of Ch. Latour.

REMIREZ de GANUZA Trasnocho Reserva, Rioja, 2009 ($109.99)
A blend of 90% Tempranillo, 5% Graciano, 5% Viura-Malvasía from average 60 years vines, transported in boxes of 12kg and thermo-regulated specially designed cooling chambers during 24 hours (4-6°C degrees) prior to fermentation. Selection of grape on tables and separation of shoulders and bunch tips. This wine is elaborated from de-stemmed cluster shoulders (the ripest part of the bunch) only (the rest of the bunch is used to make an inexpensive carbonic maceration wine). Fermentation in 7,000 liter stainless steel tanks. After the tanks are drained, a bladder is inserted into the top of each tank, filled with warm water, and left overnight (hence “Trasnocho”) to gently press the remaining wine from the skins. This unique press wine is then aged 24 months in all new French oak barrels.       Purple-red color with well-formed legs; dry, full-bodied with balanced acidity and medium-chewy phenolics. Supple, ripe, juicy with some density but still elegant with spice and subtle-newer-leather to go along with the pure red Tempranillo fruit. Delicious and innovative but still identifiably Rioja. Avoids becoming a caricature. Layered – Textured – Dimensional. Utterly unique. BearScore: 96+.


In 1990 Joseph Henriot set aside one vat (a “cuve”) to which toadd 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 grand 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.

HENRIOT Cuve 38, Champagne, NV   ($599.97 through 12/31/17)
100% Chardonnay all from Grand Cru Vineyards aged through a special reserve wine solera bottled in Magnum only re-fermented using Methode Champenoise, aged another 5 years on the yeasts and finished with a less-than-5-grams-per-liter dosage.      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 three magnums came to Texas. Available only at Spec’s at 2410 Smith Street in Houston.


Ch. Montus is the producer who put Madiran on the world quality wine map. The wines from Montus offer an elegant expression of Tannat, the red grape of Madiran and now the adopted grape of Uraguay. This La Tyre takes it to the Nth level. What’s unique here? First off Tannat as a base for a world class wine. And then, a very new world process applied with classic results.

Ch. MONTUS La Tyre, Madiran, 2009   ($138.99)
100% organically grown Tanat from a 25 year old vineyard southwest exposure on 5 hectares at the highest point (260 meters) in Madiran. Windswept, steep slopes, highly permeable, covered with smooth large stones with subsoils of brown and red clay. The grapes are totally de-stemmed and given a cold 4 week maceration with only occasional punch-downs (no pump-overs). The juice is then fermented (both alcoholic and malo-lactic) at 28°C in all new French oak barrels. The new wine is aged 16 months with infrequent racking before bottling. It then gets another 2 years of bottle age prior to release.      Black-purple color that stains the glass with well formed legs; dry, full-bodied with balanced acidity and medium chewy phenolics. Stunning rich ripe fresh red and black fruit Tannat with spice and earth and oak. Finesse with power. Layered, textured, dimensional. BearScore: 96.