A Note on Ratings

Forget the 100-point system, and the stars/cups system along with it.  I find these things useless.  For starters, what is the criterion?  Is it always simply about subjective notions of what is good?  What about value – I’ve had countless wines that were pretty delicious, but would never buy them again at that price point.  And what exactly is the difference between an 89-point wine and a 91-point wine, again?  Why have five stars when you keep adding halves and quarters?

What we have opted for instead is a system of adjectives that actually tell you something useful about the wine.  Each category is explained below.

Everyday Red/White

This is the most price sensitive category.  The thinking here on splitting it out between reds and whites is that you generally know which you are in the mood for with respect to day-to-day drinking.  This is the wine you choose on a random Tuesday night to go with a nondescript dinner at home.  The category concentrates in the $12-15 price range and is dominated by trusty, buy-it-by-the-case selections.


This is the wine that you take to dinner at the boss’s house or a dinner party with friends.  It’s less price sensitive than the Everyday category, but unlikely to top $25.  These wines are for when you’re feeling special or wanting to make a good impression.


This is the wine that you save for when you’re trying to impress that special date, or simply want to treat yourself.  This is the least price sensitive category, though could easily run only $20.  It’s home to wines you’ll want to horde for yourself and maybe that friend that really knows wine.  Pair these with cheese and let them shine!


Initially we did not intend to include a negative category, but realized quickly that not doing so could easily lead to re-purchasing disappointing bottles.  Something got you to buy that first bottle, so why take the risk of making the same mistake twice?  Most of these will be a question of value:  here is where you will find that $50 bottle that just didn’t live up to the hype.  You won’t find $10 bottles here.

Quinta da Vacaria 2015 Reserva – Douro, Portugal

Notes of strawberry, cocoa, and dried leaves on the nose.  Soft acid notes blend with a bracing granite on the front palate.  Almost creamy red fruit, with vanillin and cocoa notes and more of the dank woody flavors.  Chewy leather and tobacco on the rear palate, closing with perfectly balanced tannins and an echo of those chewy leather and berry notes.  Wow.  This is fantastic!  How did I find it?  I did what you should do when you visit Lisbon:  go into Garrafeira Nacional, strike up a conversation with one of the fine women and men that work there, and ask them to help you find something fun and special.  I have never been disappointed.

  • Rating: Stunning
  • Name: Quinta da Vacaria 2015 Reserva
  • Winery: Quinta da Vacaria 1616 Vinhos S.A.
  • Region: Douro
  • Country: Portugal
  • Varietals: Who knows – Teresa Pinto & Jean Higues Cros ain’t tellin’!
  • Price: About 40 Euros?
  • Where to Buy: Garrafeira Nacional, Lisbon, Portugal

Muga 2018 White – Rioja, Spain

Grassy nose, with light citrus and oak.  A controlled citrus hit on the front palate with soft minerality and rounded oak.  Soft.  Round.  Smooth.  These are your keywords.  This is a versatile white that could fit just about anything you might want to eat.  I tend toward more citrus for salty oysters, and more mineral for yellowtail, but you can’t go wrong for different tastes here.

  • Rating: Everyday White
  • Name: Muga 2018 White
  • Winery: Muga
  • Region: Rioja
  • Country: Spain
  • Varietals: Viura, Garnacha Blanca, Malvasia
  • Price: $17
  • Where to Buy: wine.com

Neré – Sicilia, Italy

Cocoa, strawberries, dark chocolate, and a hint of marzipan on the nose.  There’s a caramel, burnt sugar note on the nose as well.  Excellent bouquet.  That dark chocolate note pays off, with added vanilla and more red berries on the front end.  Strawberries and violets take over as it washes across the tongue.  The tight tannins bring things to a leathery end, with strawberry echoes on a long finish.  Excellent and a shocking value.  For the first time ever I’m cross categorizing a wine because I don’t want those looking for lower priced wine to miss this one!  This is a versatile wine and it went great with bonito d’el Norte and a blazingly spicy Roquefort.

  • Rating: Impressive
  • Name: Neré 2017
  • Winery: Feudo Maccari
  • Region: Sicilia D.O.C.
  • Country: Italy
  • Varietals: Nero D’Avola
  • Price: $16
  • Where to Buy: wine.com

Sherazade Donnafugata 2018 – Sicilia, Italy

Oily cassis notes, violets, and dry wood on the nose.  Silky berries and flint on the front end.  Opens up to leather, berries, and a faint balsamic note.  The finish is redolent with more florals and berries, gentle and long like its namesake’s tales.  This is a silky smooth red, lush and supple throughout belying its youth.  Very enjoyable and with a broad appeal.

  • Rating: Impressive
  • Name: Sherazade Donnafugata 2018
  • Winery: Donnafugata s.t.l.
  • Region: Sicilia D.O.C.
  • Country: Italy
  • Varietals: Nero D’Avola
  • Price: $22
  • Where to Buy: Sherry’s

Alta Mora 2016 – Etna, Italy

Cherries, violets and other florals on the nose – strawberries and cocoa.  Sharp acid and red berries on the front palate.  The acid stays, but the berries melt into leather and vanilla notes on the back end.  Tight tannins on the back end bring up the rear, with more floral echoes at the finish.  More punch on a lighter bodied red.  This stood up nicely to steak and the acid and light body would ride along nicely with just about anything fished out of the sea you care to toss on the grill.  Versatility at its finest.

  • Rating: Impressive
  • Name: Alta Mora 2016
  • Winery: Cusumano S.R.L. Societa Agricola
  • Region: Etna
  • Country: Italy
  • Varietals: Nerello Mascalese and Cappuccio
  • Price: $30
  • Where to Buy: wine.com

Karas 2016 – Armavir, Armenia

What a pleasant surprise.  I picked this up as a stopgap at the local liquor store.  The shop generally does well with whiskey, booze, and beer, but has an underwhelming wine track record of bad pricing and worse selection.  But not this.  Fresh cherry, red berries, and leather on the nose.  A bit of white pepper and slate.  More of the fresh berries on the fore palate, but opening up with a surprisingly lush flow of violets, currant, and chewy leather.  The finish echoes more cherries and a hint of vanilla and lasts longer than expected.  What a value!

  • Rating: Impressive
  • Name: Karas Red 2016
  • Winery: Karas Wines
  • Region: Armavir
  • Country: Armenia
  • Varietals: 35% Syrah, 35% Cot (Malbec), 20% Cabernet Franc, 10% Tannat
  • Price: $15
  • Where to Buy: Sherry’s

Silk & Spice 2017 – non-DO, Portugal

Fresh red berries and vanilla on the nose.  This is a young wine in an atypical style for Portugal.  Tight tannins on the backend.  An overall velvety, vanilla, red berry heavily (American) oaked and fined, like a U.S. wine.  At this price point, it’s perfect as is.  A great BBQ wine.

  • Rating: Everyday Red
  • Name: Silk & Spice 2017
  • Winery: Possibly a custom blend by the importer, Evaton Inc.
  • Region: A blend of Dão, Bairrada, and Lisboa wines
  • Country: Portugal
  • Varietals: 40% Touriga Nacional, 20% Baga, 20% Syrah and 20% Alicante Bouschet
  • Price: $11

Where to Buy:  www.wine.com

Sassarini Sciacchetra 2017 – Cinque Terre, Italy

A refreshing nose, with light autumn fruits and a hint of vanilla.  Caramel, pears, and apples hit immediately, with a clean light feel.  Clear, tawny coloring.  Zero tannin, but nice acid.  Fresh clean acid on the nose throughout.  Finishes clean and light with a nice lingering flavor of cider and that caramel warmth.  This is the 50th anniversary bottling from Sassarini and was the last bottle they had at Il Borgo di Campi’s restaurant, near Riomaggiore, Cinque Terre.  This Italian traditional dessert wine is rarely found outside of Cinque Terre because it’s made to be drunk soon after production – a laborious process that includes drying white grapes like bosco and vermentino before fermentation.

  • Rating: Impressive
  • Name: Sassarini Sciaccehtra 2017
  • Winery: Cantina Sassarini
  • Region: Cinque Terre
  • Country: Italy
  • Varietals: Unlabeled
  • Price: $50
  • Where to Buy: Il Borgo di Campi Restaurant

Herdade de Rocim 2017 – Alentejo, Portugal

A mixed berry with moss and leaves on the nose.  Dank and autumnal.  Soft, simple red berries on the front palate with immediate tannin.  The finish is taut, almost too tight, with a vegetal note.  At least at first tasting, at $20 it’s a bit too one-note and light to buy again.

  • Rating: Meh
  • Name: Alicante Bouschet 2017
  • Winery: Herdade de Rocim
  • Region: Alentejo
  • Country: Portugal
  • Varietals: Alicante Bouschet
  • Price: $20
  • Where to Buy: com

Kensington, MD Barbera Rosé – 2017

This is my long-awaited Barbera rosé. It’s bitter-sweet to be drinking this, because it’s the last wine that my vines produced at my previous home in Kensington before we moved three blocks down the road. Unfortunately, the vines were already too well-established to uproot and transfer to our new home, but the buyers were generous in allowing me to care for the vines and harvest the grapes in the final two months of their production for 2017 (and they’ve continued to care for and tend to the vines since our departure – thank goodness).

Simply stated, I’m really proud of this wine. It’s now my third vintage from these vines, and I believe the best yet. With the first two, I produced a traditional fruity red; typical personality for the barbera varietal. With this one though, being my last vintage for these vines, I decided to go a different route. Thanks to TJ Flemming at Rocklands Farm and Winery in Potomac MD, I was encouraged to try out a rosé. This vintage is a beautiful light and bright pink, with strawberry and grassy flavors. It has absolutely bone dry and leaves you wanting more and more. Unfortunately, there are only 12 bottles in existence. Get them while they last! I believe this wine will be exceptional in 2020.

·         Rating: Impressive (but biased)

·         Name: NLE Rosé

·         Winery: 4124 Warner

·         Region: Kensington, MD

·         Country: USA

·         Varietals: Barbera

·         Price: Priceless