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.

HENRIOT Cuve 38: Maybe the Most Unique Champagne Ever Made

In 1990, Joseph Henriot set aside one vat to add 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 grands cru vineyards (Mesnil-sur-Oger, Chouilly, Avize and Oger)

henriot-cuvee-38-grand-cru-blanc-de-blancs-brut-champagne-france-10676286In 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.

From Henriot:
“Its dosage of less than 5g/l gives full rein to the aromas of its terroir. It is a beautiful pale yellow with golden highlights and a gently efferevescent mousse, leading into a bouquet of fresh butter and white flowers. Cuve 38 also reveals both mineral and slightly creamy notes underpinned by hints of liquorice. On the palate, its richness is elegant and there are avours of citrus and ripe apricot. Finally, the wine delivers elements of both honey and viennoiserie, redolent of the Henriot style.

From Bear Dalton:
HENRIOT Cuve 38, Champagne, NV ($669.74 per Magnum)
100% Chardonnay all from Grand Cru Vineyards fermented using Methode Champenoise from all Reserve solera wines bottled in Magnum only with a less-than-.5 dosage.   Pale-gold-straw in color, 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 2 magnums available only at Spec’s at 2410 Smith Street in Houston.


Bubbly Basics

As we are coming into the season (which for me is really year round) for sparkling wines, click here for a refresher on Bubbly Basics from

Bear’s Bubbly Basics

The Simple Hows, Whats, and Whys of Sparkling Wine

andreclouetroseHere are the basics on bubbly with the tech stuff toned-down and/or explained and a minimum of jargon …What is Sparkling Wine?
Whether it is called Champagne, Cava, or Cremant, whether “bubbles,” “sparkles,” or “fizz,” sparkling wine is just wine with carbonation (CO2 or carbon-dioxide gas). There are several ways to get carbon dioxide into a wine. It could be as simple as injecting CO2 into a tank full of wine (as is done with soda pop) or as complicated as the Champagne process (Méthode Champenoise). While at its most basic, sparkling wines  may be … (READ MORE)

Meeting Minerality

One day last week, Sunny Brown of Michael Skurnik Wines and David Graves of Pioneer came by my office for a business meeting. As they are veteran wine guys, they brought three somewhat fancy wines to taste: PIERRE GIMONNET Oenophile Extra Brut Blanc de Blancs, Champagne, 2008, BRUNDLMAYER Riesling Helligenstein, Kamptal, 2013, and PAUL JABOULET Condireu Les Armandiers, Condireu, 2014. When I saw this line-up, I felt an inward cringe which I hope did not show on my face. I do not (generally) like Extra Brut Champagne (too dry). I do not (generally) like Austrian Riesling (often out of balance on the dry side). I do not (generally) like Condrieu as Viognier (from which Condrieu is made) is near the bottom of my hierarchy of wine grapes (right there with Torrontes). But, out of courtesy and maybe a bit of morbid curiosity, I agreed to taste through these three (initially at least) less than inspiring selections with them. Please pass the salt as I need to put a little on the humble pie I will now eat. Color me stunned! WOW! All three wines were stellar. Each seemed to be trying to out mineral the others. One might allow as to how “Rocks rock!” What a great way to meet minerality.

pierregimmonetoenophile_largePIERRE GIMONNET Oenophile Extra Brut Blanc de Blancs, Champagne, 2008   ($73.99)
100% Chardonnay (33.5% from Cramant, 32.5% Chouilly, 10% Oger, 22% Cuis and 2% Vertus) given a full malo-lactic fermentation (unusual for Champagne) and aged 8 months in stainless steel tanks (with two rackings) before the methode champenoise.  Aged 60+ months on the yeasts in the bottle before disgorgement. No dosage (added sugar).  Yellow-gold and fully sparkling; dry, medium-bodied with freshly balanced acidity and scant phenolics.  Focused, delicious, supple style of Champagne offering more than enough richness to handle the dryness. Toasty, very ripe lemon and orange mostly citrus fruit and lots of mineral with ample yeasty richness. Integrated and complete. Really holds your interest. Lovely. BearScore: 94+.IMG_0930_1024x1024

BRUNDLMAYER Riesling Helligenstein, Kamptal, 2013 ($36.29)
100% Riesling fermented in stainless steel at 15-20°C and then racked into big neutral wooden casks to age on the fine lees.   Straw with green highlights and well formed legs; dry, medium-bodied with freshly balanced acidity and scant (typical of higher-end, drier Rieslings) phenolics. Lovely pure dry Riesling with essence of peach and citrus and even some apple perfume but dry and restrained. Lots of mineral. Delicious. Holds your interest as it develops and opens up in the glass. BearScore: 94+.

PAUL JABOULET Condireu Les Armandiers, Condireu, 2014 ($108.99)
Condrieu-Les-Cassines-Label-500x500100% Viognier from biodynamically-farmed, 25+ year-old-vines planted on south-facing slopes cropped at very low yields of 20 hl/ha. Aged 55% in French oak barrels (5% new), 25% in small concrete eggs, and 20% in stainless steel tank. Gold-straw with green highlights and well formed legs. Dry, medium-bodied with freshly balanced acidity and medium phenolics. Vivid, fresh, elegant, but supple mineral-centered Condrieu. Essence of peach and peach stone, citrus and peel and liquid stones. Lovely, pure, focused. About as good as Condrieu gets. BearScore: 95.


At the same time I scheduled a wine dinner at Charivari for 7pm on Thursday March 12th, I discovered that March 12th is Chef Johann Schuster’s birthday  – so I asked him to pick the menu. As he is German and white Asparagus season is upon us, I knew that spargle would be involved. What Chef Johann initially came up with looked great to me but may have been a little challenging for many diners. Per my request, he dialed it back (from challenging to adventurous) to achieve a broader appeal. In choosing the wines to pair with these dishes, I went with some of my favorites (as my birthday is three days earlier). So we will have wines from Perrier Jouet (PJ), Pedro Romero (PR), Pinot Gris (PG), and Pinot Noir (PN).

Grilled Halloumi – White Asparagus Skewers
Perrier Jouet Belle Epoque, Champagne, 2006

White Asparagus Veloute with Marrow Dumplings
Pedro Romero Cream Sherry NV

Spiced Smoked-Miso-Maple-glazed Sable Fish fillet and grilled Asparagus with
Zind Humbrecht Pinot Gris Rotenberg 2009
Zind Humbrecht Pinot Gris Clos Windsbuhl 2009
Trimbach Pinot Gris Gold Label Hommage A Jeane 2000

White Asparagus – Wasabi Root Sorbet

Rack of Lamb herbed & Roasted and a Pinot Noir reduction,
Yukon Gold White Asparagus aux gratin with
Bouchard Pere & Fils Beaune Greves Clos de l’Enfant Jesus 1er cru 2009
Roblet Monnot Volnay Taillepieds 1er cru 2009
Michel Gros Morey St Denis Rue de Vergy 2009
Lecheneaut Nuits St. Georges Les Pruliers 1er cru 2009

Quark Donuts & melted Quark Ice Cream
Pedro Romero Pedro Ximenez Sherry NV

As always, we start with Champagne and in this case it is very fine Champagne indeed: Perrier Jouet Belle Epoque 2006, a top luxury cuvee from a top grand marque house. With the white asparagus soup (a signature of chef Schuster), we will enjoy a Cream sherry. With the Sable Fish (a specialty of the northern Pacific also known as Black Cod) fillet we will have three Alsace Pinot Gris wines (all grand cru quality) which will offer a revelation about the quality potential of Pinot Gris. While lamb is (for me at least) more closely associated with Bordeaux, the coming of Spring and the Pinot Noir reduction led me to Burgundy and a selection of four fine terroir from four great domaines.

This Chef Dinner will cost $150.00 per person including a 5% discount for cash or check or $157.89 regular. All taxes and tips are included. For reservations, please contact Susan at 713-854-7855 or at  Charivari is located at 2521 Bagby (77006) in Mid-Town Houston.

Save The Date: Wine Trip to Champagne and Bordeaux

May 22 through May 31, 2015
For a Wine Trip to Champagne and Bordeaux

The Place de la Bourse in Bordeaux

The Place de la Bourse in Bordeaux

Your job is to be at Charles de Gaulle (CDG) airport in Paris by 10am Friday morning, May 22, 2015.

My job is to get you from there (via Luxury Coach – aka “the bus”) to Champagne where we will visit 6-7 Champagne houses (J.P. Marniquet, Louis Sacy, Perrier-Jouet, Bonnaire, Bollinger, etc.), eat and drink well, and stay at the five-star Hostellerie La Briqueterie. On Sunday, we’ll take a train (TGV) to Bordeaux where we will be staying at the four-star Pullman Hotel Bordeaux Lac located on the north-side of the city where we will have easy access to all the roads leading to the chateaux. Monday and Tuesday will find us in the Medoc (Margaux, St. Julien, Pauillac, and St. Estephe) visiting the likes of Leoville Barton, Leoville Poyferre, Batailley, Cantenac Brown, Pontet Canet, Pichon Baron, Pichon Lalande, Calon Segur, Montrose, Pontac Lynch, Senejac, Branaire Ducru, etc. On Wednesday we’ll be in Pessac Leognan and Sauternes visiting properties such as Smith Haut Lafitte, Carbonnieux, Coutet, Haut Bailly, etc.

St. Emilion

St. Emilion

On Thursday and Friday, we will be on the Right Bank visiting the likes of Croix St. Georges, Vieux Ch. Certan, Figeac, Canon La Gaffeliere, Laplagnotte Bellevue, Canon, Daugay, Pavie MacQuin, and Puygueraud. Saturday will be a mix of wine and tourism with a concluding dinner. Each day in Bordeaux will include breakfast at the hotel and lunches and dinners, mostly at the chateaux. Sunday morning will bring an early morning flight back to Paris to fly home that day. Once you are on the plane from Bordeaux to Paris (or not if you chose to extend your trip), my job is done.

We will leave the hotel about 8:30-to-9am each morning and will return after dinner by about 10:30-11pm (unless we are dining at the hotel). This is a wine intensive trip with unusual access to great properties and their wines.

Sarah Donaho of Frosch Travel and I are teaming up to get the hotels, transport, meals, logistics, and most importantly winery visits coordinated. From lunch on Friday May 22 through dinner on Saturday May 30, all meals and wines are included. We should have the budget completed in the next 7-10 days. All of the payments will be through Frosch. At this time, my educated guess is that the cost (double occupancy) will be under $5000 per person (Airfare to/from France not included). The single supplement likely will be in the neighborhood of $900. This trip will be limited to 30 total travelers (including me).

More information soon.
Inquiries should be directed to and

Champagne Friday: KRUG Grande Cuvee

Sometimes we forget about the classics. We get caught up in the buzz about the new or the different and forget about the things that established our interest in a category in the first place. It is at that point that Dr. Samuel Johnson’s idea that people don’t need to be educated nearly so much as they need to be reminded best serves us. In the category of Champagne, please allow me to be your Dr. Johnson for the day. Here is one of those classic, defining, doing everything right sort of wines: Krug Grand Cuvee.KrugGC

KRUG Grande Cuvee Brut, Champagne, NV ($146.89)
A 12.5% alcohol blend of 37% Chardonnay, 44% Pinot Noir, and 19% Meunier with some barrel aging and lots of reserve wines. Oldest wines in the blend are from the 1990 vintage and the youngest from 2005. The cuvee spent over 7 years en tirage (on the yeasts).  Every bottle has a blend, disgorgement, and bottling information code on the back that can be scanned or entered into the App or Web Site. This sample was disgorged in the winter of 2012/2013.   Sensory: medium golden straw in color, fully sparkling; dry, medium-full-bodied with fresh acidity and scant phenolics.  Citrus and peel and red fruit with toast and lots of mineral. Real depth and richneess while still fresh and ALIVE. Yum. Great Champagne and great food Champagne. BearScore: 96.

Champagne Quote:
“I’ll drink your champagne. I’ll drink every drop of it, I don’t care if it kills me.” ― F. Scott Fitzgerald from Gatsby Girls