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.

When the Steak Outshines the Sizzle

There’s an old salesman’s saying that goes “Don’t sell the steak, sell the sizzle.” The idea was to sell the experience rather than the actual product. I’ve always been somewhat conflicted about that. The experience is an important and even integral part of the product but to support the experience, the product has to be good. And the bigger the experience is made out to be, the better the product has to be. My experience is that once someone starts selling sizzle, they often begin cutting corners on the steak. To me the steak is the most important thing. So here are some higher end Napa Valley reds that offer the best possible steak and (oh, by the way) the sizzle to go with it. You might think of it as great steak with elegant but exuberant (rather than flashy) sizzle – but in these cases, you are buying the steak and the sizzle comes along as part of the deal.araujoeiselevineyard

ARAUJO Eisele Vineyard Cabernet, Napa Valley, 2012 ($499.99)
100% Cabernet Sauvignon from the Eisele Vineyard aged 20 months in oak barrels (all French, all new).       Purple-red with well-formed legs; dry, medium-full-bodied with freshly balanced acidity and medium-plus phenolics. Rich, elegant, juicy. Lots of tobacco leaf and a bit of black pepper to go with dark and darker red fruit with little black fruit. hints at dark floral to go with subtle earth and oak. Pure. Lovely. Elegant. Textural and dimensional wine. BearScore: 97+.

ALTAGRACIA (Araujo) Eisele Vineyard, Napa Valley, 2012 ($129.99)
altagraciaEffectively the second wine of the Araujo Eisele Estate, this is 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 with well formed legs; dry, medium-full-bodied with freshly-balanced acidity and medium-plus phenolics. Supple, fresh, lively, ripe with red and darker red fruit accented with tobacco leaf, spice, dust, and oak. Delicious, lovely accessible. While this is the 2nd wine from the Eisele estate, it may be one of the ten best Cabernet-based red made in Napa Valley. WOW. BearScore: 95+.

OPUS ONE, Oakville – Napa Valley, 2013 ($264.99)opuslabel
An estate blend of 79% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Cabernet Franc, 6% Merlot, 6% Petit Verdot, and 2% Malbec. Component lots received an average of 18 days of skin contact. 17.5 months all new French oak barrels.     Purple-black with red highlights and well-formed legs; dry, full-bodied with balanced acidity and medium chewy phenolics. Complex still developing Cabernet blend offering dark and darkest red and some black fruit accented with tobacco leaf and cedar, black pepper and warm spice, and gravelly dusty earth and oak. Complex and evolving in the glass and even in the mouth. complex, satisfying. offers dimension and texture. BearScore: 96+.

QUINTESSA, Rutherford – Napa Valley, 2013 ($158.59)
quintessaAn all estate blend of 81% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc, 2% Carmenere, and 2% Petit Verdot fermented in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks and aged 21 months in all French oak barrels (85% new).   Red Purple with well formed legs; dry, medium-full-bodied with freshly balanced acidity and medium-plus phenolics. Supple, delicious, fresh. Darker red fruit with tobacco leaf and dust. Integrated oak and some spice. Delicious. Complete. Alive in the mouth. Best Quintessa yet? BearScore: 96.

Is there a theme here? You bet there is. All of these are stunningly good Cabernet Sauvignon or heavily Cabernet-based wines that offer elegance and balance, texture, and dimension. They push all my buttons. Having said that, I look for elegance and balance rather than extraction and extreme ripeness. I think Cabernet-based wines should offer some tobacco leaf and should not smell or taste of chocolate. Given those conditions, I think these are – at their price points – the best options in the market. Each is from a special and particular place. All practice pristine farming and land management. Each is made in a ‘spare no expense, make the best wine we can’ environment using meticulous process and respectful practice. All steak, no sizzle. But, in the best possible way, they will sizzle when you put them in your mouth.

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+.

picardrose
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+.

The STATE of ZIN at The Wine School at l’Alliance Française

Please join Spec’s fine wine buyer Bear Dalton on Monday, August 10th, at 7pm for The State of Zin. We’ll dig into Zinfandel and look at a lucky 13 Zin-based wines from Sonoma County – the spiritual home of Zinfandel – that represent the best of what is in the market (mostly 2012s with a few 2013s). We’ll talk about Zin and blends, 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:
Seghesio Zinfandel Sonoma 2013
Dry Creek Zinfandel Heritage Clone 2012
Shannon Ridge High Valley Zinfandel 2012
Rancho Zabaco Dry Creek Zinfandel 2012
Ridge Vineyards Three Valleys Zinfandel 2012
Dry Creek Old Vines Zinfandel 2012
Ridge Vineyards East Bench Zinfandel 2013
Seghesio Old Vine Zinfandel 2012
Ravenswood Teldeschi Zinfandel 2012
Ridge Vineyards Geyserville 2013
Ridge Vineyards Lytton Springs Zinfandel 2012
Ridge Vineyards Pagani Ranch Zinfandel 2012
Seghesio Home Ranch Zinfandel 2012

The State of Zin will cost $60.00 per person cash ($63.16 regular). .
The class will meet at 7pm on Monday, August 10, 2015 at l’Alliance Française. To reserve your spot, 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).