The State of Zin

Please join me, Spec’s fine wine buyer Bear Dalton, on Monday, October 16th, at 7pm for The State of Zin. We’ll dig into Zinfandel as we look-at-and-taste fifteen Zin-based wines (mostly from Sonoma County – the spiritual home of Zinfandel) that represent some of the best of what is in the market (mostly 2014s and 2015s). We’ll talk about Zin and blends (including the increasingly important “Rhone-fandels”), the terroirs 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.

The List:
PARIS Valley Road Zinfandel, Central Coast, 2014
HEITZ Ink Grade Zinfandel, Napa Valley, 2013
DRY CREEK VINEYARDS Heritage Vines Zinfandel, Sonoma County, 2015
SEGHESIO Zinfandel, Sonoma County, 2015
SEXTANT Wheelhouse Zinfandel, Paso Robles, 2014
BIRICHINO St. Georges Vineyard Zinfandel, Central Coast, 2014
ACRE Zinfandel, Oakville, 2014
DRY CREEK VINEYARDS Old Vines Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley, 2015
RIDGE Vineyards East Bench Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley, 2015
RIDGE Vineyards Pagani Zinfandel, Sonoma Valley, 2015
RIDGE Vineyards Ponzo Zinfandel, Russian River Valley2015
RIDGE Vineyards Geyserville Zinfandel, Alexander Valley, 2015
RIDGE Vineyards Lytton Springs Zinfandel, Alexander Valley, 2015

The State of Zin will cost $70.00 per person cash ($73.68 regular). The class will meet at 7pm on Monday, October 16, 2017 at l’Alliance Française. To reserve your spot, please contact Susan 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).

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 35 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.

Nothing is Normal Now – Including the Wines I’m Drinking

In Houston and the surrounding area, in fact on the whole post-Harvey Gulf Coast of Texas, nothing is normal now. And what passes for normal won’t return for a while yet, maybe not for a very long while. Yet life goes on. If we were affected by the storm and the subsequent floods, we  may be stunned or shocked or angry or all of them. If we came through with little or no loss or damage, we may feel guilty or blessed or both. In either case though, we sleep and wake, we eat and drink – and we continue living.

I know that during the Saturday night and the Sunday of the actual storm (August 26 and 27), a lot of us (me certainly included) were drinking very good wines in the spirit of the hurricane party. I know some legendary bottles were consumed then. But after that something seemed to change. Some have been doing heroic work helping their neighbors even before the water has subsided. Some have donated materials and monies. Some were almost immediately back at their jobs – even as others in the city couldn’t get to or from their homes. As one who was back in the office on August 29, I can say that I am back in my routine but that it is anything but normal. My routine at work is not normal and my routine at home is not normal. We are sleeping and waking, eating and drinking but the eating and drinking is different. More meals at home whether dinner for 2 or dinner for 10. More comfort foods and fewer steak nights. And while we are still drinking wine, the wines are in some ways different. We have drunk a few bottles of a lovely Sancerre and a fine Alsace Pinot Gris (we rarely drink white wine at home). We have drunk several bottles of Zinfandel (both some Ridges and some Ravenswoods with my Bolognaise – which for me is much more of a winter thing), and we have drunk (with my turkey-and-andouille-sausage-gumbo) a couple of the best bottles of Beaujolais I’ve tasted in years. All of which is not to imply that we have abandoned bubbles. We are still a fizz friendly family but we are drinking more basic bubbles (Perelada Brut Cava, Mercat Brut Rosé Cava, and Jansz Rosé) and less actual Champagne just now.

Here are my notes on some of the unusual drinking we’re doing of late:

Domaine FREY-SOHLER Pinot Gris Rittersberg, Vin d’Alsace , 2015 ($19.94)
100% Pinot Gris from the Rittersberg terroir (a microclimate 8° warmer than average for Alsace with shallow, granitic soils on slopes. Famed with alternating rows of clover cover). Pneumatic press, fermented and aged 9+ months in classic old wooden foudre, Residual sugar of 16.4 grams-per-liter (1.6% RS).     Straw color with good legs; off dry, medium light-bodied with freshly balanced acidity and scant phenolics.    Supple, ripe, rounded with ripe soft pear and ripe lime and lime peel fruit to go with a mineral freshness. Exactly what I am looking for in an Alsace Pinot Gris. Fine with fish, pork, or veal. Has enough residual sugar to be able to handle some spice (including a bit of curry or Asian spice) in a dish. BearScore: 91+.

FRANÇOIS LE SAINT Calcaire Sancerre, 2015 ($26.49)
Under the organic label from Domaine Fouassier (the largest landholder in Sancerre), this 100% Sauvignon Blanc grown in Calcaire soils. From the pneumatic press, the free-run juice is transferred by gravity to stainless steel tanks for an indiginous yeast fermentation. The Sancerre is briefly aged on fine lees to add complexity.     Green straw color with good legs; dry, medium-bodied with fresh acidity and scant phenolics. Delicious supple ripe citrus and tree fruit Sancerre with a fine mineral character. Textured and dimensional with layers of flavor unusual in under $70.00 white wines. Hints at tropical. A great wine from a great vintage. BearScore: 95. (revised score – this may be the best under $40 white wine I have tasted in the last five years)

Domaine DUBOST, Beaujolais Villages, 2015   ($14.99)
100% Gamay from 40 year old vines on rolling slopes of sand, limestone, and granite over a sandstone shelf in the heart of the Villages appellation between Beaujeu and Villie Morgon. Biodynamic and cropped at 36 hl/hc, handpicked grapes. Whole grape fermentation in concrete and steel tanks, 6-8 day at 20-25°, pressing and first racking, completion of alcoholic fermentation at 25° with daily pumping over for 20 minutes each day. Malolactic fermentation at 20°, racked and then raised undisturbed in concrete and steel tanks through the winter at 15°. No fining, light filtration.     Red-purple color with well formed legs; dry, medium-bodied with fresh acidity and medium phenolics. Fresh, juicy, ripe, dark red fruit and a lot of it. Some earth and a bit more spice. Delicious ripe drink of reference standard Beaujolais. YUM. BearScore: 92. (revised score)

Chateau de SAINT AMOUR, Saint Armour – Beaujolais Cru, 2015   ($18.89)
100% Gamay from 20-year-old-vines grown in south-facing vineyards fermented using a semi-carbonic technique and aged in tank (no oak).     Red-purple color with well-formed legs; dry, medium-bodied with freshly balanced acidity and medium phenolics. Utterly delicious, supple. Fresh, almost crunchy red and darker red fruit and spice with a subtle mineral earth. Has a lovely sweetness of fruit. Pure and complete. WOW. BearScore: 94. (revised score)

At some point, things will get back to normal and I’ll resume my routines but for now I am feeling blessed  – and enjoying drinking some different wines.

Revealing Rosé

Revealing Rosé

Please join Spec’s fine wine buyer Bear Dalton on Tuesday, July 11 at 7pm for Revealing Rosé. We’ll beat the heat as we dig into dry French Rosé (the best kind of Rosé) with a look at fifteen refreshing 2016 vintage Rosé wines from all over France from Bordeaux to the Languedoc to Provence to the Rhone to Sancerre representing the range of styles from “Beach” to “Food Friendly.” We’ll talk about the grapes, the places they’re grown, how they’re made, and the food we eat with them. Bread and a selection of fine cheeses will accompany the tasting.

The List:
Pins des Dunes Rosé, Bordeaux, 2016
Rosé de Chevalier, Bordeaux, 2016
Villa des Anges Old Vine Rosé, 2016
Pierre Rougon Rosé d’Aix en Provence, 2016
Ch du Donjon Rosé Minervois, 2016
Mourgues du Gres Les Galets Rosé, Costieres de Nimes, 2016
Balandran Rosé, Costieres de Nimes, 2016
Ch. de Lancyre Rosé, Pic Saint Loup, 2016
Pierre Rougon Rosé, Cote du Rhone, 2016
Domaine de Cabasse Le Rosé de Marie, Seguret, 2016
Pink Pegau Rosé, France, 2016
Domaine de Mourchon CdRV Loubie Rosé 2016
Montmirail Rossignol Rosé, Gigondas, 2016
Bonnard Rosé, Sancerre, 2016
Domaine du Pre Semele Rosé, Sancerre, 2016

Revealing Rosé will cost $50.00 per person cash ($52.63 regular).
The class will meet at 7pm on Tuesday, July 11th at l’Alliance Française.
To purchase your ticket(s), please contact Susan at 713-854-7855 or coburnsusan2@gmail.com.

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.

SIPPING DIFFERENT

SIPPING DIFFERENT

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 coburnsusan2@gmail.com.

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.

New Posts on SpecsFineWine.com

I’ve been busy this week on SpecsFineWine.com. Check out the links below.

Revealing Rosé: BONNARD ROSÉ, SANCERRE, 2016

Looking for a delicious, refreshing Pinot Noir Rosé to complement your summer grilled salmon and veggies? Look no further. Serious wine with a Rosé thrill.

BONNARD ROSE, SANCERRE, 2016   ($19.69)
100% Pinot Noir direct pressed and fermented at very low temperatures, aged on its fine lees for a short term period before being racked in order to preserve its freshness and aromatics.     Rose-pink color with well formed legs; dry, medium-bodied with fresh acidity and light phenolics.  Very red fruit and very Pinot with enough citrus and a quite salty mineral character. Delicious, balanced, fresh, and refreshing Rosé. BearScore: 92.

 

Le CLARENCE de HAUT BRION, Pessac Leognan Rouge, 2011 with a 95 point rating?

Well, yes.
Why is this rating so high? Because I think the wine deserves it.
Sure, Le Clarence is the second wine of Ch. Haut Brion but I will argue that, after Ch. Haut Bron and Ch. La Mission Haut Brion, Le Clarence is the best red wine made in Pessac Leognan. Yes that means I prefer it to Ch. Pape Clement and Ch. Smith Haut Lafitte (which I really like) and a few other big names (many of which I really like). And it – justifiably – sells for more than those other wines. So why don’t the critics rate it higher? Because it is a “second wine” and they are prejudiced against second wines. How can it be this good? The answer is simple. Le Clarence (named for Clarence Dillon who bought Ch. Haut Brion in 1935 by his descendant and Domaine Clarence Dillon Président Directeur Général Prince Robert of Luxembourg)  come from the terroir of Ch. Haut Brion which is inarguably the best terroir in Pessac Leognan. And it is made by the Haut Brion team who make the three best red wines made in Pessac Leognan.
Don’t believe me? Try it.

Le CLARENCE de HAUT BRION (2nd vin de Ch. Haut Brion), Pessac Leognan Rouge, 2011  ($116.84)
A blend 71.5% Merlot, 22.8% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4.5% Cabernet franc and 1.2% Petit Verdot fermented in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks using pump-overs and aged in all French oak barrels (coopered at the estate, 25% new).     Deep purple-red color with well formed legs; dry, medium-full-bodied with balanced acidity and medium phenolics.  Juicy ripe as much black as red fruit with resolving tannins along with gravel-mineral earth, sweet dark spice, and integrated oak. Complete, complex, delicious. BearScore: 95.
(This score is based on three recent tastings in the spring of 2017.)

 

A “Higher Grace” Indeed

The Eisele Vineyard was started by the Eisele family who mostly sold the grapes to other producers such as Ridge and Joseph Phelps. in 1990, the vineyard was purchased by Bart and Daphne Araujo who made and sold their top wine (grand vin) as Araujo Eisele Vineyard. They took the farming first to organic and then to biodynamic and introduced a second wine (called Altagracia) from the estate in the same manner as a second wine from a top chateau in Bordeaux. Everything was all about quality; not ripeness or extraction but quality. The Araujos eventually sold to François Pinault (owner of Ch. Latour in Bordeaux) whose team has renamed the winery Eisele Vineyard Estate. As Les Forts is the second wine of Ch. Latour and Le Clarence is the second wine of Ch. Haut Brion, so Altagracia is the second wine of Eisele Vineyard Estate. As with these top second wines of Bordeaux, this second wine is often underrated. I can make (and often have made) the case that Araujo (now Eisele Vineyard Estate) makes the best Cabernet Sauvignon-based red wine in Napa Valley. I would also contend that the estate’s second wine –  Altagracia – bests many fancier, more expensive wines that carry big names and bigger price tags but under-deliver on focus, elegance, balance, and finesse.  Check out a “Higher Grace.”

ALTAGRACIA Eisele Estate, Napa Valley, 2012   ($129.99)
An all Eisele Vineyard blend of 71% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Petit Verdot, 8% Cabernet Franc, 6% Merlot, and 4% Malbec aged 21 months in oak barrels (all French, 99% new).      Purple-red color with well formed legs; dry, medium-full-bodied with freshly  balanced acidity and medium-plus phenolics.  Supple fresh lively and ripe with red and darker red fruit accented with tobbaco, spice, dust, and oak. Delicious, lovely, amazingly accessible. Elegant and balanced with no hint of harshness or over extraction and no sweet over-ripeness so common in higher priced Napa Cabs. While this is the second wine from the Eisele estate (a frankly special place in the Palisades area near Calistoga), it is in its own right one of the very top Cabernet-based reds made in Napa Valley. WOW. BearScore: 95+.

 

Delicious Bordeaux Pick: Ch. LAPLAGNOTTE BELLEVUE, St. Emilion Grand Cru, 2014

Check out this family-owned-and-produced, artesinally-made, small-production winner from southeast of the village of St. Emilion.

Ch. LAPLAGNOTTE BELLEVUE, St. Emilion Grand Cru, 2014 ($25.99)
A blend of 77% Merlot with 23% Cabernet Franc including a few Cabernet Sauvignon vines. Fermented in concrete tanks. and aged 12 months in all French oak barrels (25% new)     Red-violet color with well formed legs; dry, medium-bodied with freshly balanced acidity and medium phenolics.  Lovely pure red fruit St. Emilion offering fine mineral earth and subtle oak. For winemaker Arnaud de Labarre, it is all about translating fruit and place into the bottle and here he absolutely succeeds. Delicious.
BearScore: 93.

DOMAINE de l’HERRE Gros Manseng 2015

It seems like at least once a week I taste a new wine that tastes pretty good but I don’t know and can’t immediately figure out who the customer is for that wine. That’s usually not a good thing and it’s usually best to not buy those wines. But sometimes that odd duck is so good and such a value that it seems to introduces a new category. This Domaine de l’HERRE Gros Manseng is such a wine. Delicious, exuberant, thrillingly balanced, a little sweet, and quite refreshing – in fact, just the thing to go with some of the spicier foods resulting from that special fusion of cuisines found in modern Texas cooking. If you like a moderate level of spice in your food, you gotta check it out.

DOMAINE de l’HERRE Gros Manseng, Côtes de Gascogne, 2015 ($12.49)
100% Gros Manseng harvested cool, made inert with nitrogen displacing air for a non-oxidative skin-contact maceration before pressing and a  cool controlled temperature,  21 day fermentation. Aged in tank (no oak barrels) on its lees with occasional stirring.      Richer straw color with well-formed legs; semi-dry, medium-light-bodied with refreshing acidity and scant phenolics (from the skin contact).  Supple and fruity with sweet fresh peach and pineapple and sweet grapefruit. If Jolly Rancher made a grapefruit candy, it would taste a lot like this. Fresh, vivid, and, alive, and frankly delicious … as well as fairly unique. Try it with spicier seafood or Asian dishes, even with ceviche. BearScore: 90++.

 

ALL OF IT GOOD STUFF that over-delivers on flavor and, while none of it’s cheap, all offers value. Isn’t that what you’re looking for?

 

What I’m Drinking and Why

On Monday, March 6th at 7pm, please join Spec’s fine wine buyer Bear Dalton at the Wine School at l’Alliance Française for What I’m Drinking and Why. After almost 40 years as a wine professional who tastes over 9,000 wines a year, I think I know a bit about quality and value. These are the wines I personally am drinking right now – as in these are the wines I spend MY MONEY ON. They are delicious and, at their price points, I think they offer the best values available. All of them over-deliver on price. Each of them has a story and each makes a point. I am confident that you will enjoy them as much as I do. (I did this a couple of years back and a number of you have been asking for this kind of class/tasting again.)

The line up includes:
Perelada Reserve Especial, Cava, NV
Varichon & Clerc Sparkling Blanc De Blancs, Savoie, NV
Mercat Rose, Cava, NV
Marcel Moineaux Chouilly Millesime Blanc De Blancs Grand Cru Champagne 2008
Losen Bockstanz Wittlicher Lay Riesling Kabinett, Mosel, 2015
Frey Sohler Pinot Gris Rittersberg, Alsace, 2014
Chablisienne La Pierrelee Chablis, 2014
Averaen Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, 2015
Domaine Jessiaume Santenay Clos de Clos Genet 2014
Ch. Senejac Haut Medoc 2012
Ch. Batailley Pauillac 2012
Yalumba Scribbler Cabernet Shiraz VT
Montmirail St. Maurice Gigondas 2014
Ridge Vineyards Pagani Ranch Zinfandel 2014
Kopke Porto Colheita 2006

What I’m Drinking and Why will cost $70.00 per person (Cash or Check) or $73.68 regular. The class will meet at 7pm on Monday March 6, 2017 at l’Alliance Française. To purchase your ticket, please contact Susan at 713-854-7855 or coburnsusan2@gmail.com.

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.