Here’s an eclectic selection for your holiday enjoyment: an inexpensive, deceptively complex pinot nero from Italy, a bargain California cabernet for your weeknight meals and an intriguing red from Bulgaria for your wine exploration. Celebrating? Here is a top-notch Italian bubbly and a sublime grower champagne that shows why that region is the ne plus ultra of sparkling wine.


Ai Galli Pinot Nero 2020


Veneto, Italy, $12

When I first tasted this wine, my thought was “Pinot nero — an Italian grape variety that tastes vaguely like pinot noir.” Luckily, I wasn’t in a hurry and didn’t rely on first impressions. Within 20 minutes, the wine began unfurling flavor after flavor. Cherry, thyme, mushroom and cherry again — Bing this time, or Rainier? — appeared and reappeared, teased and reprised. I felt as though I had spent an evening watching a rose bloom. Alcohol by volume: 12.5 percent. Bottle weight: 450 grams (Light).

Imported and distributed by Simon N Cellars: Available in the District at A. Litteri, Calvert Woodley, MacArthur Beverage. Available in Virginia at Basic Necessities in Nellysford; the Italian Store (Lyon Village, Westover) in Arlington; Tastings of Charlottesville, Wine Warehouse in Charlottesville; the Wine Outlet (Great Falls, McLean, Vienna).


Robert Hall Cabernet Sauvignon 2018


Paso Robles, Calif., $15

If Napa Valley cabernet is pricey for your budget, Paso Robles is all too eager to step in and meet your red wine needs. The Robert Hall cabernet is deep in color, plush in texture and rich with flavors of black currant and blackberries, spiced with cocoa and coffee. It achieves all this without tasting as though it had been made in a laboratory. ABV: 14.5 percent. BW: 715 grams (Heavy).

Distributed by Breakthru: Available in the District at A-1 Wines & Liquor, Benning Liquors, Capitol Fine Wine & Spirits, Chevy Chase Wine & Spirits, Classy Corks Wine & Spirits, Cleveland Park Wine and Spirits, Harry’s Reserve Fine Wine & Spirits, Hayden’s Liquor, McReynold’s Liquors, Morris Miller Wine & Liquor, Rodman’s. Widely available in Maryland. Available in Virginia at Ashburn Wine Shop in Ashburn; Harris Teeter (various locations); Kroger in Charlottesville; Total Wine & More (Fredericksburg, McLean, Reston); Westover Market in Arlington.

Ferrari Brut


Trentodoc, Italy, $30

Trentodoc is an amalgam of northern Italy’s Trento region and DOC, Italy’s appellation designation, and is making a name for quality sparkling wine made in the traditional champagne method. At their best, the wines rival franciacorta in quality. Ferrari revs it up (sorry, couldn’t resist) with this classically styled brut. Flavors of roasted hazelnut and brioche are carried by a firm, persistent bead of bubbles. ABV: 12.5 percent. BW: 845 grams (Sparkling).

Imported by Taub Family Selections, distributed by RNDC: Available in the District at Calvert Woodley, Dolce Vita, Filomena, Gravitas, Imperfecto, Lupo Verde, Nobu, Officina, Pearson’s, Rodman’s, San Lorenzo. Available in Maryland at Cinghiale, Sammy’s Trattoria in Baltimore; CuVino Trattoria in Lutherville-Timonium, Edgewater Liquors in Edgewater. Available in Virginia at Dominion Wine and Beer in Falls Church; Gvino Enoteca in Leesburg; the Italian Store (Lyon Village, Westover) in Arlington.

Georgiev/Milkov Rubin Brestovitsa Vineyard 2019


Bulgaria, $30

Rubin is a cross of nebbiolo and syrah developed in Bulgaria in 1944. Peter Georgiev and Radostin Milkov, in the northwestern part of the Thracian Lowlands region, use it to produce an elegant red with deep ruby color and aromas of red raspberry and dark cherry. It somehow manages to be full-bodied and yet light, as if suspended in air. It reminded me at once of a fine cru beaujolais and an aromatic nebbiolo d’alba, two wines that don’t normally coexist in the same thought. The result is absolutely delicious. This is from local importer Nataliya Georgieva, who features wines from her native Bulgaria. ABV: 13 percent. BW: 570 grams (Average).

Imported and distributed by Bohemish: Available in the District at Acacia Food & Wine, Ace Beverage, Calvert Woodley, Cleveland Park Wine and Spirits, Connecticut Avenue Wine & Liquor, Cork & Fork, Metro Wine & Spirits, Michigan Liquors, Pearson’s, Rodman’s, Sherry’s Fine Wine & Spirits, Wine & Butter.


Gonet-Medeville Tradition Brut Premier Cru


Champagne, France, $60

Gonet-Medeville puts “récoltant manipulant” on its label in clear, easy to read letters, so we know it’s a grower champagne without squinting to find the infinitesimal RM code. A grower champagne means they grow all the grapes used in their wines, giving the winery complete control over the process. This wine is gorgeous: Bright with flavors of red currant and citrus rind, spread out over brioche and toasted hazelnut. The label is also unusually informative. My bottle was 70 percent chardonnay, with the rest pinot noir and a splash of pinot meunier, primarily from the 2015 vintage, bottled in April 2016 and disgorged in November 2018. One can happily geek out on this outstanding fizz. ABV: 12.5 percent. BW: 835 grams (Sparkling).

Imported and distributed by Elite Wines (Imported by Martine’s Wines in most of the United States): Available in the District at Barmy Wines & Liquors, D’Vines, Irving Wine & Spirits, New H Wine & Spirits, Paul’s of Chevy Chase, Rodman’s, Wine & Butter. Available in Maryland at Bin 201 Wine Sellers in Annapolis; Bradley Food & Beverage, Lance’s Beer & Wine in Bethesda; in Gaithersburg; Howard Wine & Spirits in Elkridge; Old Town Market in Kensington; Wine Bin in Ellicott City; Wine Source in Baltimore. Available in Virginia at Balducci’s, Planet Wine & Gourmet, Slaters Market in Alexandria; Organic Butcher in McLean; Oxford Market in Richmond; Pentagon City Wine Merchant in Arlington.

Availability information is based on distributor records. Wines might not be in stock at every listed store and might be sold at additional stores. Prices are approximate. Check to verify availability, or ask a favorite wine store to order through a distributor.

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