Niccolo V. 2015 – Colli di Luna Rosso, Italy

A hint of black rubber and licorice, with black and red fruit on the nose.  A light-bodied, fruit burst on the front end with blackberries and strawberries in the lead.  Fades quickly and smoothly into a light tannin finish, with echoes of leather and tobacco.  This went great with Ligurian traditional food, the octopus in particular.  I drank about half the bottle and shared the rest with the staff at Il Borgo di Campi’s restaurant outside of Riomaggiore in Cinque Terra, Italy.

JJF 2017 – Saint-Joseph, France

So I asked the guy working the counter for Georges at Antic Wines for a St. Joseph that is ready to drink now.  Wines from this small appellation tend to be built for laying down for a bit and, thus, in spite of ample fruit, can burn your palate out with tannin.  I followed instructions and opened the bottle about an hour in advance.  I poured out and sipped a glass out of curiosity and to give the wine an opportunity to breath since I was stuck in a hotel room overlooking one of Lyon’s big dining streets.  There’s plenty of characteristic cherry and strawberry on the nose and, at least after breathing a bit, the fruit and mild acid kick on the front end is just perfect.  With some vanilla and leather and echoes of the tannins that make most St. Josephs perfect for aging, this wine is light on complexity, but finishes just as strongly as it starts.  It went perfectly with the porco preto sausage I had hauled from Lisbon with me – a fantastic afternoon snack before hitting the bouchons. Though the price stretches the bounds of our “everyday” category, it’s a steal for the pricey St. Joseph appellation.

P. du Roy Grand Cru 1999 – Bordeaux, France

Deep dark and concentrated strawberry, moss, and old leaves on the nose.  Cotton candy and bananas as it opens up.  You read that right.  Wow.  Violets, red berries, cocoa, faint vanilla on the front palate, fading to florals and cocoa bitterness.  Sleek and elegant.  Looong finish.  We decanted this and drank it over the course of an hour.  A really lovely bottle worth the wait.  I picked this one up during my first visit to Bordeaux, in Saint- Emilion after a fun tour around the very generous tasting table of the shop Bordeaux Classique.

  • Rating: Stunning
  • Name: P. du Roy Grand Cru
  • Winery: P. du Roy, Saint-Émilion
  • Region: Bordeaux
  • Country: France
  • Varietals: Guessing Merlot plus – ask Danielle & Richard Dubois
  • Price: $50 (roughly)
  • Where to Buy: Bordeaux Classique

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:

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:

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: