Bergamot Back Alley Wine Club
Three wines, hand picked every month by Kevin Wardell. On the third Thursday of every month you can pick them up (and enjoy an educational presentation from 6-7pm) or have us ship them to you. Read about this month’s wines (and a few previous months) in Kevin’s tasting and terroir notes below. Thoughtful and delicious. Every time.
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PDF: BAWC – MARCH 2016
If you’ve had a chance to come to any of our educational tastings at Bergamot Alley, you’ve likely had the opportunity to hear from some our our awesome friends in the industry wax poetically about their favorite wines or regions. Currently we are in the middle of our Eastern European tour and we’re getting schooled from the “hardest working man” in the wine industry (you should check out his James Brown moves), Eric Danch. His stories are second to none and the wine he imports into our world are unique and eye opening in every way. In last week’s tasting we went through a dozen incredible different wines from Slovenia and Croatia and I was hard pressed to decide which wines to showcase for Back Alley Wine Club this month. As it happens, one producer in particular stood out to me as one that worth exploring and celebrating.
For over 200 years the the Štoka family has nurtured the native red Teran and white Vitovska in the iron rich “terra rossa” that the Kras is famous for. Their farm is located northeast of Trieste about 5 miles from the Adriatic in the village of Krajna Vas. The Kras, or “Carso” as it is called in nearby Italy, is Europe’s first recognized cross border wine region where only 600 hectares of vines are planted between the two countries. The tiny amount of fertile soil is the result of various human and natural events.
Historically oak forests dominated the land until the Venetians deforested nearly everything to build ships and city of Venice. The resulting erosion and the famously strong winds called the “burja” caused huge amounts of topsoil to simply blow away. People learned how to build stonewalls called “griže” to protect against the wind and small manmade lakes to gather rain called “kali” to keep crops alive. Farmers, including the Štoka family, even learned to transport soil to naturally protected locations. Coupled with the regions already soluble Bedrock (mostly limestone and dolomite) and lack of surface water, the Kras is riddled with sinkholes, cenotes, and massive mostly unexplored underground caves. It is one of the most severe and unique terroirs in the world.
“On a personal note, Primož Štoka has an inspired Magnum PI look, hands that have the texture that remind you that you don’t work hard enough, and a quiet patience for winemaking that I adore. His pace of life also reminds how rushed we normally are. There are no quick appointments at Štoka and his whole property is alive and diverse with growth. He specializes in making his own Pršut (Prosciutto) and has beautiful cherry and juniper berry plantings around the property. Two flavors that come through all his wines or at least pair with all of them. I hope people really dig this trifecta from the Kras!” -Eric Dansch*
*Our friend Eric will also be co-hosting for our next two tasting classes; Georgia on March 30th and Hungary on April 6th. Be sure to join us for those if you can!
More stuff you should know:
Peneče is “pétillant-naturel” or “Pet-Nat,” a type of naturally sparkling wine. It’s a very old style that’s becoming trendy again where winemakers stop the normal fermentation before all the sugar has been converted to alcohol. The wine is bottled under a crown-cap, trapped with its yeast cells and some residual sugar. As the yeast eats the sugar, gentle bubbles are created.
Vitovska: Grape often confused with Vitovska Grganja, this was almost extinct as of the 1980s. Tough little bugger that can handle both frost and drought. Huge clusters. A cross between Malvasia Bianca and Prosecco (Glera).
Teran: Grape that can also be confused with Refosco, it’s actually the same as Cagnina in Italy. Only 200 Hectares in Italy, but over 3000 Hectares in Slovenia and Croatia. High acidity, disease resistant, and ideal for both barrel aging and sparkling wines.
Kevin Wardell, March 2016
Štoka “Peneče” Vitovska
Štoka “Peneče” Teran
RETAIL: $25 / 15% OFF REORDERS THIS MONTH: $21.25
PDF: BAWC – FEB 2016
So often we have our sights set over seas, we almost forget about patting the backs of our local friends and celebrating their hard work to get the delicious wines from way over there to our front door. One such team of local champions is known as Valkyrie Selections, although most of us here in Healdsburg know them as the Banshee Boys. That’s right, the team that bring us the delicious Banshee Wines (Noah Dorrance, Baron Ziegler and Steve Graf) are also secretly moonlighting as international men of mystery (see below), importing Spanish and French wines from cool little projects often similar to, well, their own. They have been very successful, particularly in Spain, in finding fantastic smaller projects that represent the new generation, for lack of a better term, of winemaking. The new generation of course doesn’t necessarily refer to age, although it often goes hand in hand, but is more about the ethos and practices we love here at Bergamot: Working with native grape varieties (keep your Chardonnay, we’ll take more Merseguera thank you very much), steering clear of the use of too much new oak (Rioja sans Vanilla scented car air-freshener? Yes please), and lastly, a greater respect for the Earth through either reduced or eliminated use of harmful chemicals in both the vineyards and in the winery (doing the Organically grown garagiste Garnacha happy dance!) Let’s us applaud these hardworking fellows and celebrate with the goodies that they bring to us, sure we could learn a bit along the way, but let’s not take ourselves too seriously here. They sure as hell don’t.
Kevin Wardell, February 2016
Botijo Rojo / Garnacha / Valdejalón, Aragon, Spain 2012
IN THE BOTTLE: When you hear the term “vin de garage” or “garagiste” one can’t help but conjure up an image of an intricate winemaking set up in one’s own garage. In my mind the image is quite the Rube Goldberg, cleverly incorporating all the half built vintage Italian bicycles and dusty camping gear and weaving through all of Sarah’s art supplies and her rainbows of sparkly fabric! But I digress. This is actually the story of Fernando Mora and Mario Lopez who make this in their micro-winery(read: garage) from fruit that has been Organically grown by Mario’s family for over 40 years and sold to one of only two large Co-ops in the region. That makes this funky little garage project only the third winery in Valdejalón? A great new find for our friends at Valkyrie as there is clearly huge potential in this region, provided you like Garnacha, as it is nearly 100% cropped to that one grape. Thankfully, we’re are fully on board with juicy, delicious and affordable Spanish Garnacha like this, bring it on fellas!
IN THE GLASS: Dark, isn’t it? Like, are you sure this is Grenache, kinda dark. The nose however is a tell that would bring my blind-mind to an accurate place because Spanish Grenache goes beyond the classic French candied red berry aromas. Garnacha puts those cute little berries straight in the oven and bakes ‘em up, turns ‘em into a sweet scented compote. The taste is certainly juicy and extracted, but remains on the fresh and bright side thanks to the ample acidity and youthful tannins. It’s not all fruit as well, there is a vein of clay and soft earthiness that rounds this wine out to be just serious enough. Enough, that is, that you might give it a second pondering thought on your way to chugging it in one quick sitting. But only just that much. Chug away.
La Buena Vid Rioja / Tempranillo + Graciano / Rioja Alavesa / Alta, Alava, Spain 2010
IN THE BOTTLE: This wine is a collaborative effort of three winemakers; Margarita Madrigal, Gonzalo Rodriguez and Alexandra Schmedes. They’ve been partnered as a winemaking consultant team for years and have finally embarked on their own label in Rioja in 2009. Finding this perfect vineyard site was all they needed; nestled right on the border of Rioja Alta and Alavesa at 450 meters above sea level, limestone and gravelly soils, with sturdy 60 year old bush vines of Tempranillo and Graciano. It only took them a couple of years restoring this dry farmed vineyard to achieve beautiful fruit again from the already low yielding gnarly goblets. The wine is aged for 14 months in second use French and American Oak. This diamond was sitting out there on the middle of a crowded market, as opposed to in the rough, and well done for Valkyrie to recognize its potential.
IN THE GLASS: I’ll admit that the second I hear American Oak I have a flavor profile in my brain and it’s not at all positive (vanilla cola, anyone?) That said, if you are to understand Rioja wine, you must come to terms with the aspects of American Oak as they are so undeniably bound together. In this case the trio sought to make a wine that was not in that category of modern oak heavy Rioja but use just enough wood on the palate to avoid losing that distinct regional character altogether -and they’ve succeeded! The initial nose on this wine is a bit closed and is not showing the true beauty of the palate. Because the minute it hits your tongue you wonder where did all those dark chocolate covered blueberries served atop a pepper spiced leather saddle just come from? Delicious drinkable Rioja like this is a fun treat, and there should be more like it.
Bodegas Mustiguillo “Finca Calvestra” / Merseguera / El Terrerazo, Valencia, Spain 2013
IN THE BOTTLE: Hard to nail down what the Merseguera grape is really all about from this wine alone. It is truly a beautifully made wine and you can certainly tell why Toni Sarrion puts so much energy and passion behind it, but there are essentially no others like it to compare it to in order to determine the grapes identity. It is often described as a slightly neutral variety, not easy to work with, producing high yields and bulky disease prone bunches. But after meticulously thinning crops and stewarding healthy soils through dry and Organic farming, Bodegas Mustiguillo has achieved results that will surely lead the way for other to take notice and perhaps follow suit. Although they may be starting at a slight disadvantage as the Finca Calvestra Vineyard is quite the force to be reckoned with; Limestone soils at 900 meters above sea level, it consists of 100+ year old vines comingled with ancient olive trees.
IN THE GLASS: This may be only the second white wine I’ve introduced to our Wineclub that has seen any wood whatsoever. There is a mix of French Oak and Acacia (lending a subtle structure without as much direct flavor) at play here and the result is surprisingly subdued. That touch of wood almost lends the needed creaminess to the tart pineapple fruit torte. It lends a touch of the fattiness that rounds out the saline minerality, like a fresh plump oyster. Another bonus is that unending acidity that does not get weighted down on the palate as Sarrion does not allow the wine to go through malolactic fermentation. When I first tasted Bobal, the main red variety that Bohigas Mustiguillo champions, I was excited to learn what else could be going on in this area of SE Spain. The Valkyrie boys have just answered the call and showed us a thing or two about how much there is yet to be discovered. You learn something new every day. Or, as we at Bergamot like to say, Hippo Sweat Is Red.
This is the 36th edition of The Back Alley Wine Club. 36th!! For this special three-year mark we present to you three very delicious and organic reds from three very different regions in France. They are all soulful and delightful wines to enjoy while sitting by the fire, which we seem to be doing a lot of in this wonderfully wet winter. As I got on the subject of fire, I couldn’t help but share some fun wisdom and insight to the year of the Fire Monkey – which we’ve just now paddled into.
“The first thing to note is that we’re moving into a Fire year after two Wood years. Wood is growth, enthusiasm, the innocence of youth and the pursuit of a vision. Fire is the full expression of Wood’s vision.
Fire brings forth the rose, lays the paint on the canvas, and gives voice to the song that’s been forming in the depths of your heart. Fire is intense, passionate, and calls forth our need to connect with one another. In a Fire year, we are no longer satisfied with the pursuit of our dreams, we now can bring things into actuality. Fire is erratic and difficult to control. It can flicker precariously, burst into a dangerous conflagration, or settle into a nice steady hearth fire depending on how it’s managed. So that’s your first task this year, whatever you’ve created during the last two years, treat it now like precious tinder; protect it and blow on it very gently to nudge it into a nice steady flame; feed it with long burning fuel that will last. Don’t throw fast burning paper onto it just for the dazzling but short lived burst of heat and flame. Slow and steady now, will get you a more enduring result.
Monkey is ingenious, clever, unpredictable, resourceful, adventurous, selfish, magical, quixotic, and amoral. In other words, keep your wits about you because anything, absolutely anything, can happen. All manner of apple carts could be turned over in the most surprising ways. This will be a test of your ability to stay calm and unruffled in the face of relentless and unexpected challenges. Be brave and keep your sense of humor; never forget that there’s spiritual gold at the end of the tale. And as we see things manifest, we want to gather with our tribe, raise a glass and celebrate!”
This is the year Bergamot gives voice to the song that has been forming in the depths of it’s heart. This is the year we feed our fire, slowly and thoughtfully. This is the year where absolutely anything can and will happen.
Kevin Wardell, January 2016
Bernard Baudry “Les Granges” Chinon / Cabernet Franc / Chinon, Loire, France 2014
IN THE BOTTLE: Bernard Baudry has hands down been one of my favorite Chinon producers of all time. Cabernet Franc is my first true love in France and Baudry hits all the subtle savory notes, as well as the persistent powerful fruit notes, vintage after vintage. Chinon is very special because it has a hodge podge of soil compositions with gravel, sand, limestone, silica, and clay. Baudry produces five separate cuvees to showcase how his beautifully grown fruit behaves and tastes in each of those types of soils. Tasting through each one is true treat du terroir. Their winemaking always stays true to the fruit and they avoid doing anything in the winery that would overly manipulate the final results.
IN THE GLASS: Oh so sweet tobacco. Never been a tobacco user myself, but the aroma is undeniably alluring in the case of well made Cab Franc. The other tell-tale varietal characteristic is of course that vegetal bell pepper note (from methoxypyrazines), but what I love about this delicate Chinon is that the flavors are more like slightly charred and sweet roasted red pepper rather than green or bitter. There is plenty of spice laced red fruit intertwined with leather in this wine to boot, but all in all it drinks remarkably soft for its length and flavor. Chinon, as opposed to it’s neighboring Cab Franc appellations, has trended a bit towards the bigger and more modern style. So it’s the unassuming purity of this we adore, this is Cab Franc paint on the canvas. Bernard Baudry bringing forth the rose!
Mattieu Barret “Petit Ours Brun” / Syrah / Visan, Côte du Rhône, France 2013
IN THE BOTTLE: “Little Brown Bear” is one of the few repeatable nicknames for Matthieu bestowed upon him by fellow biodynamic rockstar Stéphane Tissot from the Jura. Matthieu has been the winemaker for his family’s vineyards, Domaine du Coulet, in Cornas since he was twenty three years old. Domaine du Coulet is easily in every single Cornas-heads top five list; including mine. It always stands out as having next level minerality and brooding bloodiness that can be virtually unending. But for a guy who makes some of the Northern Rhône’s most serious reds, it’s refreshing to see that Matthieu doesn’t take himself that seriously. Enter this super cool side project in the Visan village of the Côte du Rhône. From biodynamically farmed shale and sandstone, he creates this fantastic reminder of how delicious Syrah can be, especially when it’s brought to us by a sparkly cute bear.
IN THE GLASS: What’s not to love about a Syrah that is this approachable and warming? It rides a fine line between being Northern Rhône structural at the same time having that velvety roundness (I know, I know, it’s hard not to describe the bear and the wine at the same time) of the South. The fingerprint of his Cornas pedigree is present as you immediately smell black pepper and violets, but the palate is less similar and hints much more towards more black cherries and plums. There is no poetic way of putting this, this is just the type of wine I could take down solo before I realized it was gone (see: fast burning paper onto the fire just for the dazzling but short lived burst of heat and flame.) Slow and steady is indeed going to mighty hard with this one. Perhaps they meant the second bottle?
Domaine Maestracci “E Prove” / 35% Niellucciu, 35% Grenache, 15% Sciacarellu, 15% Syrah / Corse Calvi, Corsica, France 2012
IN THE BOTTLE: Camille-Anaïs Raoust makes wine to reflect the vineyards that her grandfather purchased long ago from a big time olive baron. The “Prove” plateau is an idyllic Corsican site, wildly exposed at high elevation with hot days and cold mediterranean breeze at night. This blend makes perfect sense here: Niellucciu, aka Sangiovese (genetically identical, though, of course, locally recognized as very different) and Grenache are the majority make-up. Then Sciacarellu, meaning “crispy-crunchy between the teeth,” which is actually the same as Mamollo, one of the main blending grapes in Chianti. They do indeed share the reputation of being very difficult to grow, and I’ve experienced some very lovely wine made from this grape in Corsica. In Tuscany, however, I have never heard of anyone dare trying, or even bothering, you choose the wording. And of course there is some Syrah in there to top it all off – a true Tuscan and Rhone powerhouse! That’s a thing, right? It is now.
IN THE GLASS: Especially when compared to the previous two wines, this one is a bit more shy out the gate when it comes to giving up its nuanced aromatics. Give it an hour or two and it really starts to shine and the flavors start to show their true colors. On the front palate are all the strong red fruit markers that just scream Sangio and Grenache. But from there is where the darker rustic spirit and crunchy side of the wine wins out. Camille allows her wines to take their time in both the fermentation process and ages them for a minimum total of two and half years before they are released and it is evident that they are better for that. I would look forward to revisiting this wine down the road as all manner of apple carts could be turned over. Indeed they have with this wine already, and therein lies the crazy beauty of Corsican wine.
There are just too many reasons for us to be poppin corks as we wrap up 2015 at Bergamot Alley; We just celebrated being open for business for four years, three years of our Back Alley Wine Club (one thousand and one thank yous) as well and of course, our new little man (and new Bergamot master mascot) Felix Peregrine! Bubbly wine truly comes in so many forms and there are endless expressions of delicious examples. This month we will cover the red, the pink and the white(ish) via the diverse world of Italy. Lambrusco is certainly what most of us think of when we refer to a red sparkler, but Lambrusco has come a long way from the sweet, headache guarantees of old. Similarly, we will attempt to eschew the stereotype of sparkling Rosés as sort of one-note wonders, promising nothing but strawberries and cream. And lastly we will introduce you to the oft funky french trend of “petillant-naturel” wine, italian style. Happy bubbly holidays to all of you all, and a very happy 2016.
Kevin Wardell, December 2015
La Collina “Quaresimo” Lambrusco / Lambrusco Maestri + Grasparossa + Salamino / Emilia Romagna, Italy NV
IN THE BOTTLE: This is just a really great example of what a difference the quality of the fruit can do to a wine such as Lambrusco. La Collina is a relatively small co-operative that farms biodynamically and blends three (of up to 17!) of the native Lambrusco varieties to make up a top class wine that proudly represents the region. Lambrusco essentially has been made the same way since 1567, it’s just the quality and style that has differed. The most recent shift away from the sweeter wines produced twenty years ago is the best thing to have happened to Lambrusco. It is the modern shifts in farming, however, bringing better maturation and healthier fruit, which result in such a delicious wine, leaving behind the inherent bitterness that was being masked by the residual sugar in the first place.
IN THE GLASS: I’ll be the first to admit that there are only a handful of Lambrusco that I really enjoy and it’s been a couple of years since I’ve tried one that is spot on. Most importantly I require that it is a delicious wine on it’s own. The old adage with Lambrusco is “it’s fantastic with a plate of salumi.” Now as much as I’d like to think that every day of my life I should have access to a pile of prosciutto or stack of speck, I instead want to simply be able to enjoy my dark and crunchy sparkling red even if somehow those are not an option. Disclaimer: despite my long winded praise about the merit of this particular Lambrusco, they are, in fact, quite heavenly with the cured meat of your choice. So please plan ahead and set yourself up for maximum pairing pleasure.
Meggiolaro “Sotocá” Pét-Nat / Durello / Lessini, Veneto, Italy 2013
IN THE BOTTLE: What is a pétillant-naturel wine? Essentially it’s a sparkling wine that has been created by facilitating secondary fermentation in bottle without additives nor removal of the active yeasts or lees. This rant about it (which I love) pretty much says it all:
Recent articles have dubbed it “Champagne’s hip younger sister,” “the newest insider sparkling wine,” “pre-technological,” “a singular experience of terroir” and “sort of accidental, a little dangerous… and very much in vogue among the young Californian eonorati.” Low in alcohol, unfiltered and hazy, it’s often described—for better or worse—as an earthier, funkier, more “honest” or “authentic” breed of bubbly, which supposedly references some earlier (it’s never clear which!) period of France’s winemaking past.
IN THE GLASS: Well if there is such a thing as a grape variety that is primed for such a uniquely distinct style of wine, ladies and gentlemen we present you with Durello. Loaded with searing acidity and volcanic minerality, this wine hits on all of your nerd notes at once. First flavors that jump out at me are ginger and lemongrass, which is clearly both bizarre and wonderful. Due to the presence of dead yeast (lees) in the wine there is a flavor that’s almost straw like at first but sweetens off towards something not unlike toasted almonds. There is nothing about this wine that’s straight forward, but it sure is a fun one to try and dissect and analyze all the while being both refreshing and delicious with good fatty cheese.
Murgo Brut Rosé / Nerello Mascalese / Etna, Sicily, Italy 2011
IN THE BOTTLE: Here we go with that grape again. By now you are seeing why everyone (including us) have gone head over heels for wines made with Nerello Mascalese, but here as a sparkling wine we see an altogether different side of it. One might think that it seems a bit crazy to be making a sparkling wine from Nerello considering how small the appellation is, how much demand the red wines are currently receiving and how truly difficult it is to grow on the side of a live volcano. It comes down to tradition, however, and the Emanuele Scammacca Murgo estate has been here since 1850 so it’s best not to question why and simply enjoy the result.
IN THE GLASS: Although it seems redundant to refer to a wine as tasting “vinous,” it is a term that suits this wine well simply because of the expectation that almost everyone has when it comes to pink bubbles. This particular one is more “vinous” than most others in that category, meaning that it displays flinty earth notes, dark red fruits, and even tannins; all contrary to our the stereotype, all more “wine like” aspects. Credit to the both winemaking and the grape itself for that as the amount of time on the skins goes far beyond simply the extraction of color and provides us with those exact layers of complexity. Many people try to liken Nerello Mascalese to Pinot Noir, but only in Champagne have I had a sparkling Rosé from Pinot that carry this much character.
Thanksgiving feels like it’s just a little extra special this year, doesn’t it? The importance of gathering with friends and family seems, this year, like something that is truly food for our souls. And that’s it, isn’t it? There is no other holiday that actually revolves around food, around a great meal. I wish for you all a fabulous time with whomever you get the pleasure of sharing your Thanksgiving meal with this year. Most of all, enjoy all the conversations with your loved ones as well. If you’re lucky enough to have a group open to talking honestly about the heavy current topics of the world, a group with appropriately intelligent conversational filters… Bravo! If not (like so many family gatherings) I present to you three wines that you can focus on instead, as opposed to say; Religion, Presidential candidates or the rampant consumerism that has spread from Black Friday to Thursday. Sigh. I personally look forward to avoiding all of those topics come next week, and instead enjoying my family, my feast and, of course, whatever is in my glass. Oh and naps, definitely gluttony induced naps.
Happy Thanksgiving. Kevin Wardell, November 2015
Selvagrossa “Muschén” / Sangiovese + Merlot + Cabernet Franc / Pesaro, Marche, Italy 2013
IN THE BOTTLE: Alberto Taddei is one of my favorite people in the the world of wine. His winery is as a small and humble as it comes and his family is simply the salt of the earth. His Mom, Anselma, would hands down be number one my list if I were to win (you know, those weird imaginary contests) a Thanksgiving meal by a guest chef. Despite the fact that her speciality is homemade pasta and fresh seafood from the Adriatic, I am willing to bet she’d be up for the challenge of creating something amazing out of good old Americana ingredients and a big old Turkey. Though she’s more likely to stuff the bird with Cuttlefish and Canoce. Yum.
IN THE GLASS: Straight forward Sangiovese flavors, despite the blending grapes. Alberto makes this wine without any oak and just lets the perfectly grown grapes do their thing. This vintage you can feel some extra grip from partial whole cluster fermentation, and the one thing that always stands out in his wines is that ripping natural acidity. Cranberries anyone? Actually, we’re big fans of a fresh cranberry and jalapeno relish on our Thanksgiving table (and on all of our leftover sandwiches, naturally) and remarkably I find that the Muschén is showing many of those flavors. This is clearly the warm up wine, the conversation starter. Open up the others before this one disappears too quickly.
Louis Sipp, Trottacker Vineyard / Pinot Gris / Ribeauvillé, Alsace, France 2012
IN THE BOTTLE: The Sipp Winery is, like many in Alsace, is in it’s fourth generation of the family. It’s all about the vineyard sites here and Trottacker is one of those magic Alsatian sites that has long produced outstanding quality and complexity in the fruit. This is a great example of how seriously good Pinot Gris can be. It is a grape that is most often forgettable (or, at least, should be forgotten) in it’s Italian form of Pinot Grigio, and also looked over when compared to the Rieslings and Gewürztraminers in Alsace. The Sipp family will contend that their Pinot Gris becomes just as compelling and complex with age as a Riesling.
IN THE GLASS: I suppose we can point to this as your aperitif wine simply because it has a fair bit of residual sugar in it. But in the case of Alsatian Pinot Gris (although purists will kick and scream about how completely dry is the only way) I hesitate to limit the wine’s food pairing potential to just the starters. That said, if you, like me, find this holiday a great excuse to go spend your month’s salary at your local cheese shop (oh thank you, thank you Doralice) then by all means be sure to enjoy this wine with the sharpest and most pungent creamy delights. Just don’t shy away from knocking it back with your bird as well!
Ciro Biondi “Cisterna Fiori” / Nerello Mascalese + Nerello Cappuccio / Etna, Sicily, Italy 2011
IN THE BOTTLE: Ciro Biondi represents the smaller and more humble side of what exists in the Etna appellation. Etna has become the most important area in Sicily and most of Southern Italy as well. With attention like that (and it is well deserved, incidentally) there are always some changes in approach and style and, of course, price point. However, the Biondi wines just seem to keep perfectly consistent in fantastic quality and purity. “Cisterna Fuori” (outside tank), is the name that the family uses for the vineyard, which has been owned by the Biondi family for many centuries. The vines lie on the side of a spent crater in the Etna Volcano, which dates 125 B.C. and is very steep with supporting dry stone terraced walls. Honestly, why would you change anything here?
IN THE GLASS: Here is your closer. Open it first, decant and forget it until that time in the meal arrives to drink something much more serious. Wines from Etna are compared often to Burgundy, at least when referring to structure and balance in earth and fruit. This wine stands up to such a comparison with ease. Bramble and brick dust, dark cherries and smoked meats. Tannins are dry and spicy and completely harmonious with the power of the wine. That’s the key here (and in Burgundy): the balance of the delicate bright red fruit complexion with all that forceful mouthfeel and structure, as well as a myriad of gritty soil and savory earthiness. If indeed an argument does break out at the dinner table this year, this is a wine that is capable of breaking down everyone’s differences or, at least, reminding us that there is still plenty of beauty in the world to give thanks for.
Are you for skin contact? Of course you are. The debate over the use of skin contact on white wines is just about as polarizing as anything on our broken Congress floor currently, it would seem. To explain: there is a growing global trend with winemakers to experiment with the various degrees of allowing white wine grapes to macerate on their skins, much like a red wine does. The most commonplace approach, of course, is to press the white grapes immediately with several basic goals in mind; purity of fruit (debatable), protection from oxidization (irrefutable), and to avoid the natural tannins that exists in the skins – something that we ironically find as a vital positive in red wines. Welcome to the Orange wine debate. I’ll speak for myself and say that I’ve been mostly dubious about this style of wine over the years, admittedly, however, more and more I am finding ones that seem to really hit a sweet spot and I find them quite delightful. The most obvious line I draw (as many others do) is that too often there is a myriad of flaws that can come with this category of wine. This problem exists in the most celebrated examples and producers of Orange wines, leaving doubters with numb tongues and closed minds and the lovers with a sense of pomposity that they are somehow hip to something that can only be understood at their echelon. If you want to pick a fight or just hear me on my soapbox any further about this debate, you’ll have to come into Bergamot and we’ll go Orange together. In the meantime I present you with three very different white (read: orange) wines from the regions with the longest histories of this style and that are certainly on the more approachable end of the Orange spectrum.
-Kevin Wardell, October 2015
Kabaj “Rebula” / Ribolla Gialla / Goriška, Brda, Slovenia 2012
IN THE BOTTLE: Rebula (as we tend to know it by it’s Italian moniker; Ribolla Gialla) is referred to as “the Queen of Brda” and is without doubt the most favored grape variety in the world of skin contact wines. Winemaker Jean-Michel Morel feels that the grape only truly expresses itself through this process, that Rebula is essentially robbed of its potential if it isn’t allowed an extraction period. He ferments on its skins, in 2400 liter oak vats for a period of 30 days. The wine is then transferred to mostly used, French Barrique for malolactic fermentation and one year on the lees. I agree with Jean-Michel that the best expressions of Ribolla are in line with his delicious wine, showcased here. My excitement on the grape variety in general is a bit more reserved than most however, I feel the regal regard with which Ribolla is held is a little overly magnified simply because of its history with this process, as opposed to the actual varietal potential. Just sayin.
IN THE GLASS: Tangerines, Ranier Cherries, Angostura bitters and white pepper layered pungent white flowers and chalky minerality. Beautiful colors, slightly orange in color but with grey and pink highlights. As mentioned earlier, oxidization is the number one issue with these wines and there is a hint of enamel like quality to this wine that brings that to light; of course many will also say that that is a positive aspect to its complexity. I don’t argue against that in this case, honestly, but I have a tolerance level where that sort of thing can go south quickly. I should mention before we go any further that these wines all benefit greatly from two important practices in order to fully appreciate them: Allow them some some time to air and to warm up to “cool” or low cellar temp as opposed to “white wine” cold.
Vinoterra / Rkatsiteli / Kakheti, Georgia 2012
IN THE BOTTLE: Now we’re stepping into the real history of not only Orange wines, but wine production in general. Grape seeds and ceramic jugs called “Qvevris” have been found dating back 8,000 years throughout the country of Georgia, leading some scientists to believe that Georgia was one of the likely birthplaces of viticulture. They also believe that vitis vinifera -the common grape vine- originated from the Caucasus mountains, part of modern day Georgia geography. This wine is a textbook example (so much as there can be such a thing) of a qvevri fermented wine and Gorgi Dakishvili has become a celebrated winemaker in the area for that reason. The Rkatsiteli ferments in the qvevri for up to 18 days on the skins and then is racked into another clean qvevri vessel to age for 6 months.
IN THE GLASS: Appearance is sunny golden with orange sunset reflections. Holy honeycomb and marmalade aromatics, Batman! Lots of dark tea components, dried fruits and almond butter, of all things. This wine really shows the expansive palette range that is at play with this winemaking method as you could just as easily mistake this for a red wine if you were blindfolded, despite the nose telling you otherwise. I mean, if you went solely by smell, you would also easily, and incorrectly, surmise the wine might be sweet. Out of the three, I find this wine changes more quickly and drastically in the glass and is also my top candidate with whatever type of delicious grilled protein you feel like throwing at it.
Zidarich / Vitovska / Carso, Friuli Venezia Guilia, Italy 2012
IN THE BOTTLE: Benjamin Zidarich has certainly risen to the top of my favorites list when it comes to Italian orange wines (My hands down fav being Sandi Skerk, check that stuff out sometime.) This particular bottling I really enjoy because he still achieves fantastic structure and complexity, while allowing less oxidization and skin contact than his other creations. The reason, he feels, that this wine works so well is because it better reflects his beautiful coastal vineyards and the cool salt air that influences the vines. He, like Jean-Michel Morel from Kabaj, are doing a fantastic job finding balance and purity in their wines and carrying the torch for their predecessors and mentors, namely Stanko Radikon and Josko Gravner.
IN THE GLASS: Sweetgrass (yes, the stuff you used to chew on your walk to school) and green tea with chamomile and ginger mint. The white tannins are well balanced with that “Lemonheads” sweet/tart combination. Higher acidity and more refreshing than the previous two examples here. The Vitovska retains a fresh, almost Sancerre like characteristics throughout all the weightiness from the maceration process, which stands out as something that could make this wine a good candidate as a “gateway orange” for some of you non-believers. One last note about this little orange wine comparative, I think it’s important to note that all three of these wines are 2012 vintage. Clearly you are going to struggle to pick out any one thing that ties them together with regards to that fact, but as each of these types of wine will age very differently in bottle, I think it’s much better to get an idea of the range of complexity and secondary notes that occur within the same time frame.
It’s always a delight to walk down a road you’ve perhaps been before, yet somehow, this time around, you feel like you’re discovering something brand new and exciting. I’m not the only one that has felt that way about red wines from Austria and Germany. From the land where Rieslingreigns King (making Gruner Veltliner what? A Prince?) we’ve still got a long way to go before the likes of Spätburgunder, Zweigelt and Blaufränkisch become celebrated fully for their stature. Ironically, it is often similar characteristics that we associate with all those great white wines (mineral driven, peppery, mouth watering acidity) that make the reds just as awesome. Spätburgunder has it’s own dilemma, after all, it’s just Pinot Noir, which one might think carries enough popularity by itself to allow it’s German moniker reprieve from being lost in translation. Not so, yet, but the recognition is coming as the quality juice being imported, especially from the Baden region, is improving rapidly. Zweigelt and Blaufränkisch had a mini popularity bump here in the 2000’s (the aughts?) but with all the hurdles that Austrian white wine has overcome to again be considered distinguished, their reds seem to have also been doomed to a bit slower path. So here is your introduction, or re-intro, to these wines that are indeed as fun to say as they are to drink.
-Kevin Wardell, September 2015
Geyerhof “Familie Maier” / Zweigelt / Kremstal, Austria 2013
IN THE BOTTLE: This new Bergamot favorite is produced at the renowned Bio-organic estate Geyehof by Ilse Maier’s son, Josef. The grapes are sourced from the family’s certified organic vineyards on the hillsides of the Kremstal appellation. It’s basically declassified cru fruit that’s put aside to be made as perfectly pure and simple table wine, and we couldn’t be more thankful. Fermented with native yeast, it is aged in giant old acacia barrels with no sulfur until bottling. Zweigelt itself has only been around since the twenties (a cross St. Laurent x Blaufränkisch) and was originally named Rotburger.Thankfully, for we the English speaking market at least, it was later renamed after its creator.
IN THE GLASS: Do you remember that time you were in (insert favorite European country here) and you stayed at that cute little agriturismo and with that unforgettable meal, likely prepared by tiny little grandma in a tiny little kitchen? They served you their “house” wine and it was just awesome?! Well that’s where this wine takes me, and if this doesn’t resonate, you might need to book a flight. I adore wine with an exotic spice and floral character, predominantly cinnamon and violets, anunusual but familiar profile that reminds me of Mencia or Gamay. My friend Eric Danche recommends it with a good Goulash, so I had it with with the Sonoma equivalent, spring lamb stew, and it was homerun – don’t let it’s light complection fool you.
Holger Koch Spätburgunder / Pinot Noir / Bickensohl, Baden, Germany
IN THE BOTTLE: Holger and his wife Gabrielle started making wine in 1999. Holger grew up believing he didn’t much like wine, yet he grew up among the vines. Understanding that one day he might take over the family vineyards in Bickensohl, he took it upon himself to discover he did actually like wine, quite a lot in fact, but only if it met his very exacting standards. The Baden has seemingly gone through this generational shift quickly and efficiently and the world is taking notice of this rapid ascent in quality of wine emerging. And it’s not at all just the wine, it’s the fact that this stunning gem of a mountain region nestled in the corner of Germany, Switzerland and France has emerged as one of those “how in the world did we not know about this place until now?” kinda of discoveries. Lock it in your radar now, you’ll be reading a lot more about it real soon.
IN THE GLASS: Unmistakably Pinot, and equally unmistakable that it hails from a cooler climate than what your Pinot palette might be accustomed to. Immediate pointers towards German Spätburgunder are those crunchy, bright, pithy qualities that are not so much under ripe but more the thumbprint of challenged vines. Some of my favorite Oregon and New Zealand Pinots have a bit of that very same quality, though many producers in both those regions have moved towards more extracted profiles. The other factor, it has to be said, is the warmer temperature being experienced in all of these grape growing regions. This is certainly allowing for increased ripeness in Baden and the results, I hope you agree, are lip smacking delicious.
Moric / Blaufränkisch / Burgenland, Austria 2013
IN THE BOTTLE: Ancient vines in a challenging growing region, meticulous biodynamic viticulture, obsessive sorting, and fairly primitive winemaking techniques that very closely resemble the ways of Burgundy. The medium? A grape known as Blaufränkisch. Roland Velich has certainly made himself a bit of a rockstar in this category and he has carried Blaufränkisch with him. There are other great examples to be sure, but Moric has been the one that drew the eyes and admiration of wine writers in a big way. This bottling is his base, and funny enough often my favorite as the bigger crus sometimes tend to show stronger oak influence. Don’t get me wrong, however, if you can get your hands on his wines with a few years under their belt, you will easily see how Blaufränkisch has great potential mostly untapped to date.
IN THE GLASS: Dark in color but slightly translucent, this wine shows it’s serious side is in harmony with its approachable and quaffable side. It boasts plenty of pepper and acidity with dense dark fruit that isn’t overbearing. Most of all I love the foresty-ness of the wine with its lingering flavors of pine, earth and mushrooms. It’s almost as if this wine steps up to the plate to be big and bold and powerful and fools everyone with a graceful pirouette. Can you help but be sceptical when you read the words “trying to emulate burgundy with Blaufränkisch?” I don’t blame you. But the dedication to impeccably grown raw materials and a minimal manipulation winemaking approach is rewarded with this consistently delicious benchmark example of Austrian red wine.
In the dry heat of summer, there are few things I want more than glass of deeply complicated white wine in my glass. Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty of room for a crisp and clean porch pounder kinda vino too, as we sit and watch our bright red smokey sunsets. But with harvest in full swing around here I feel like we all crave (and deserve) a little something extra in the complexity department and there is nothing that delivers so consistently as great volcanic soil does.
We will start with wine from one of Europe’s most famous historical eruption sights, the Greek island of Santorini which has, surprisingly, only been dormant since 1950. Then on to another stunning island site along the slopes of the great “Mongibello,” or Mt. Etna to you and me. And thankfully Etna hasn’t erupted since, well, since May 16th. Yes, three months ago. As the second most active modern Volcano (Kilauea, Hawaii ranks first) and one that stands a brawny two and a half times the size of it’s infamous pesky little brother, Vesuvius, it is not at all difficult to be awestruck by the storied viticulture that exists in it’s shadow. Lastly we will visit a wine region created by no less than 400 smaller volcanoes (now silent, thankfully,) but that is centered around its crater namesake, Mount Tokaj. Hungarian wine from the Tokaj region has truly evolved by producing beautifully complex dry wines from their native grape varieties, with more younger winemakers spacing themselves from the area’s past sweet wine stereotype. These are indeed great wines to Grok!
-Kevin Wardell, August 2015
SIGALAS “Aa” / Assyrtiko 75% + Athiri 25% / Santorini, Greece 2014
IN THE BOTTLE: Paris Sigalas is one of the main reasons the Assyrtiko grape is enjoying the resurgent wine geek fame that it is currently experiencing. Certified Organic since 1994, the viticulture here is beautiful lesson in farming that is in harmony with its climate and soil. The Island is made of black lava stone, ash and pumice which can hold what little water it receives. That water is collected by training the vines in circular basket configurations called “ampelies” that capture the dense morning fog from the sea. They also act as protection from both the intense direct sun and the constant winds.
IN THE GLASS: I suppose if you had to imagine what a handful of the soil from this vineyard might smell like, you’d guess smoky and salty crushed oyster shells. Add some pears and quince suddenly you’ve got all those elements in a glass in front of you. The salinity is obvious on the tongue and is a simple product of the aforementioned life source of fog that leaves behind a layer of “liquid salt air” on the skins of the Assyrtiko. It’s white wine that ticks every box for what is desired of great food wine. Bright and high acid. Check. Crunchy mineral texture. Check. Balanced ripeness and purity. Check.
BENANTI “Bianco di Caselle” / Carricante 100% / Etna, Sicily, Italy 2013
IN THE BOTTLE: If you’ve ever even dabbled in wines from Etna, the Benanti family would have likely been mentioned at least once in your initial curiosity. Their family history here (since 1693) runs deeper than even their oldest vines (some over 125 years old and counting!) Which also means they’ve witnessed no less than 37 Etna eruptions, some that lasted several years at a time. Some of Benanti’s Carricante vines are at 3000 meters above sea level, which hopefully gives a bit of scale as to how insane and challenging these vineyard sites truly are. Snow packed in winter, wind swept, exposed and moisture challenged all summer, all the while crossing their canes that the lava flow doesn’t turn their direction this time around! Have you ever heard that stressed vines make better wines?
IN THE GLASS: Benanti wines often still surprise me with their freshness. The minerality is of course an important backbone to this wine but lets talk about the chamomile and honeysuckle, lets talk about the fresh cut apple and under ripe peaches and licorice. I refer to this wine as having fresh rainwater minerality to it the nose, but in this case there’s just enough smokiness it’s more like rain that has put out a campfire. Or a wildfire, perhaps. I’m looking at you El Niño.
BOTT “Csontos” / Furmint 100% / Erdöbénye, Tokaj, Hungary 2012
IN THE BOTTLE: Now if you’ve been with us in the Back Alley Wine Club for a long while (thankyou thankyou thankyou) you been introduced to Jozsef and Judit Bodo before as we’ve featured their 100% Hársleveü wine before. But in the end, I personally cannot get enough of their wines. Grown in dark volcanic soils mixed with red clay and still plowed by horse, these vineyards are tended to with great care and respect The grapes are ripened all the way up to the point just before Botrytis engulfs them, providing the signature weight that a great dry Furmint is known for. They ferment the wine spontaneously and without temperature control and work hard to allow the wine to showcase as much of its terroir and sense of place, naturally, as possible.
IN THE GLASS: “This wine is impossibly long on the palate.” I said that about the last wine we had from Bott. Jeez, does that make me predictable? No (well, maybe,) it just makes their wines consistent and insanely delicious. Furmint is simply a grape that I love to love and learn more about. It reminds me of the racy acidity of Chenin Blanc and of naturally ripe elegance of Grüner Veltliner. The Bott Furmint has honeyed and voluptuous curves that enhance the mouth watering acidity in a completely different way than the leaner, crisper island wines we’ve already experienced. You can feel how this wine has great potential for aging and it’s also obvious how this grape has long been favored for world class sweet wines.
This is our 30th edition of the Bergamot Back Alley Wine Club and there are at least 30 things I can think of (per second) that are worth raising a glass of something sparkling and delicious to celebrate. For the past couple years I make a plea to all of you to drink more bubbles all year round and not just around holiday celebrations. And then, hypocritically, I only present you with them in December. Geez. Sorry about that. So, here’s an incredible trio of diverse, champagne method wines (wines? well, 2 out of 3) from different regions of France. Cheers to you and to summer and to love and to life and to bubbles.
-Kevin Wardell, July 2015
Eric Bordelet “Poire Granit” / Pear Cidre / Normandy, France NV
IN THE BOTTLE: Ok, so cider has finally become a big thing in the US. Whether or not you’ve got on board with this trend, this French “Cidre” will make you a believer in the mind blowing potential that is possible in the category. This is Eric Bordelet’s “Grand Cru” pear cider from the important granite soils (for Cavados, mainly) of Normandy. The pears come from a stand of 60 foot tall, 300 year old pear trees that are, despite the incredible acreage of his orchards, hand-picked, or rather picked-up, and put in wooden cases. The fruit is left in a drafty cellar to dehydrate for four to five weeks, and then pressed. The ciders are racked several times to achieve clarity and then bottled during fermentation, without chaptalization, to reach a final alcohol level in between three and four percent! The care in this process is unparalleled in the cider world, as are the results.
IN THE GLASS: How much fun is this? The aromatics are incredible, they’re precise and unmistakable, but at the same time beyond complex. These giant old trees produce intensely flavored yet almost comically minuscule pears. The result comes down to the care put into it. Quick rant: I do hope more of the new stateside cider makers take note of the true difference in quality that occurs when cider is treated more like wine (or Champagne, in this case) as opposed to soda, frankly. Not to say there aren’t some really well made artisan ciders being made here, they’re just very difficult to find. But most, whether they’re owned by bigger breweries or local (or even just call themselves local, despite where their juice is being trucked in from) and are manipulating flavors in all sorts of weird ways and simply selling it through disingenuous marketing. This cidre is truly a gold standard, at the very least I hope it piques your interest to learn more and yes, demand more out of whichever you try next.
Château de Lavernette “Granit” / Gamay 100% / Leynes, Beaujolais, France NV
IN THE BOTTLE: The communes of Haut Beaujolais are enchanting. This is Hobbit Land, full of hills and dales and little stone villages, and a skyline dominated by the twin cliffs of Vergisson and Solutré. The new generation at Château de Lavernette, Xavier and his American wife Kerrie created this gem after consulting with some of our favorite grower producers in Champagne; Egly-Ouriet, Agrapart & Larmandier Bernier. The estate lies at the crossroads of Beaujolais and Mâconnais and essentially grows Gamay in granite on one side of the estate and Chardonnay in the limestone on the other. Sounds like heaven.
IN THE GLASS: I am just in love with this wine. Gamay is a happy spot for me anyway, as many of you know, but the fact that this “Blanc de Noirs” version of it just absolutely nails, its kind of a dream come true. Peppery with plump red berry fruit bouncing around in the glass with mineral driven texture and just the slightest touch toasty leesyness. It’s one of those wines ‘I wish they made more of but I’m sure glad they don’t’ kind of treats, and that lovely slightly pink hue that is retained from the direct press just makes it that much cooler. Enjoy this years batch while it lasts.
Domaine Pfister Crémant d’Alsace / Chardonnay 50% + Pinot Blanc 25% + Auxerrois 25% / Bas Rhin, Alsace, France 2011
IN THE BOTTLE: Here’s a family that been doing a Crémant in the area since the appellation rules were established. Today, they stay true to their original intent to make the absolute best Crémant they can each year by creating a vintage designant wine as opposed to the more common non-vintage blend. They also rest the wine on its lees for a minimum of two years (sometime three depending on the disgorgement date) as opposed to the average of nine months elsewhere. Even if without knowing the extra effort, and even if you don’t immediately recognize why those points are so important, you will find that this wine drinks way above it’s price point.
IN THE GLASS: Leesy like a Sunday morning! Oh bring on that rich mouthfeel where that extra time with the yeast in the bottle really comes to play. Bring on that sophisticated opulence and those fragrant fruits where the tell tale pedigree of Alsatian white grapes shines its ripeness throughout this wine. Footnote; although the bottle refers to the wine being Chard 50% + Pinot Blanc 50%, Auxerrois is commonly inter-planted and mistaken for Pinot Blanc. The fruit is a little darker, though not so much as Gris, and adds more spice body to these types of blends where the Pinot Blanc provides the acid and perfume. All in all it creates a pretty harmonious result and I do truly hope this ruins boring cheap sparkling wines for you forever. You’re welcome.
Yep, you could say I’ve got French wine firmly on my mind these days, what with our Tour de France tastings under way! When I look at all the exciting wines we are set to taste, the one region that completely stands out as one that we could all stand to learn much more about is The Great Southwest. Even if you can’t make next week’s tasting here at Bergamot, focused on this incredibly diverse growing area of France, we present some delicious insight into the quality that can be had there. The Southwest region covers a lot of ground and although all three (of the following wine appellations) represented have very different histories, they do share an ethos and an identity that are similar:
Gaillac, which is quite distinct from its far more famous neighbor, Bordeaux. There vines were planted on the rolling farmland around the historic city of Albi long before they were known in the Bordeaux region, and they were long used for strengthening the lighter reds made downriver.
Jurançon wine enjoyed its first fame in in French history in 1553 when Henri IV was born there- when the royal infant was Christened, his lips were rubbed with a clove of garlic and moistened with a drop of Jurançon wine giving the future king an everlasting vigor and ardent spirit.
Irouléguy is the heart of the French Basque Country, nestled in the Pyrénées and boasting picturesque, yet almost dangerously steep sloping mountain vineyards. Where although the language is entirely different, there is still plenty of common ground for the local Basque farmers to share with their French “neighbors.”
-Kevin Wardell, June 2015
Domaine Bellegarde “La Pierre Blanche” / 80% Petite Manseng + 20% Gros Manseng / Jurançon Sec, Southwest, France 2011
IN THE BOTTLE: Jurançon sits in the foothills of the spectacular Pyrénées and the soil is comprised of endless round pebbles sculpted and deposited by glaciers and rivers. Pascal Labasse has experimented with every combination of time in oak and time on the lees to achieve what he feels is the expression of his fruit. Like most other great growers in this region, his sweet wine is his shining star. The quality of which is through the roof for the price. It’s no Sauternes, but who can afford that anymore?
IN THE GLASS: All Peaches and fresh basil. I love the way this wine is carrying its age with a slight weightiness all the while showcasing some ripping youthful acidity. There is specific honeyed and beeswaxy quality to this wine as well that really makes for a fun mouthfeel. Both the Gros and the Petite mutations of the Manseng grape have thicker skins that can add some tannin to the white wines in this region, but in this case the effect is fully balanced and does not feel overtly phenolic. Thankfully. Drink this out of the biggest Burgundy glass you have in the house and swirl often. And don’t forget some Tommes de Pyrénées.
Domaine Plageoles “Tres Cantous” / 100% Duras / Gaillac, Southwest, France 2012
IN THE BOTTLE: Bernard Plageoles is continuing the work of his father Robert, an outspoken advocate for natural wines with a centuries old approach to winemaking. Robert researched and replanted over a dozen varieties (7 in the Mauzac family alone) indigenous to Gaillac that had all but vanished. You can easily name the Plageoles as local heroes and champions for the region as their grassroots farming and polished results stand out well beyond was is still mostly dominated by high volume co-operative wineries of varying quality. Some other heirloom grape varieties of note that they work with are Braucol, Prunelart and Muscadelle.
IN THE GLASS: Nearly black in the glass with deep beet red highlights. Blackberry and black licorice with some hints of leather that reminded me a bit of Petit Verdot when I first tried it. I have not ever tried this grape before so it was fun to learn (from our best buddy, Jancis) that Petit Verdot in fact has the most dominant parentage in Duras (insert pat on the back here.). This wine drinks very pure and shows some great muscle up front and finishes surprisingly delicate grace. You almost expect something chewier from the start and it slides into a nice balance of smoky tannins and fresh turned earth.
Ameztia Extaldea / 90% Tannat, 10% Cabernet Franc / Irouleguy, Sud Ouest, France 2011
IN THE BOTTLE: Jean-Louis Costera has applied his experiences as a shepherd to his winemaking. He believes that the key to a great wine is to tend to the grapes with the same care that a shepherd tends his flock: as the shepherd knows that the best lambs come from a well-nourished ewe, a vintner should know that the best grapes come from a well-tended vine. Can you get any more Basque / Jedi Knight than that? This wine come from Costera’s 7 acre vineyard in the center of his farm (currently converting to fully organic,) and is a tiny gem that shines well above its humble origin.
IN THE GLASS: Pyrazine dreams. Tannat can show a funkier side than this often, but here it is giving us velvet layers of savory and vegetal notes to compliment its dark plummy fruit. Black olive, tomato leaves and green peppers. Wrapped in tobacco. There is a clear homage to the big wig neighbors to the North, Bordeaux, in this wine. And although the quality and structure of this wine is immediate, it does even better with some time open. Get your Tri-Tip on the grill now and see if you’re patient enough to still have wine left by the time it’s cooked.
It’s simply that time of year. Summer weather marks the release of the freshest crops of Rosés from all corners of the wine globe. It is indeed noteworthy that on the home front, more and more California winemakers have embraced their love for more serious Rose wine and there are some really compelling domestic examples to be had this year. But in the end, when we talk about Rosé, there is still only one country that truly provides us the gold standard; France. Making a great Rosé has its own set of challenges for winemakers, but when made right they can provide endless combinations of textures, flavors and complexity. Throughout France, there are certainly diverse examples of beautiful Rosé to be had. In this installment of the Back Alley Wine Club we will journey from the North, in the Loire Valley, to the South of France (Provence, mais bien sur) and even on down to the Island of Corsica. Dig in and do get creative with what you drink these with, Rose is notorious for surprising you with what it likes to be paired with (as well as what it fights against!) -Kevin Wardell, May 2015
Domaine Jean Teiller / Pinot Noir / Menetou-Salon, Loire, France 2014
IN THE BOTTLE: This estate is most widely known for their fabulous Sauvignon Blanc and rightly so as they rate right up there with the handful of great producers in this smaller appellation of Menetou-Salon. Smaller, that is, in comparison to their more famous neighbor, Sancerre. The two have plenty in common from their rich viticultural history down to their soils, but the producers in Menetou do seem to put a bit more emphasis on their Pinot Noirs than they do in Sancerre and the results can be really fantastic. The Pinot vines at Jean Teiller are grown in deep clay and limestone and the grapes are destemmed and are gently pressed immediately after picking.
IN THE GLASS: It’s a hard wine to put your thumb on right away, in fact it would be a fun one to try a black glass blind tasting with. The usual suspects in this wine, like strawberries, certainly play a big role, but there are layers of ripe peaches and almost (dare I say) Sauvignon Blanc like grassiness swimming throughout it as well. It sure boasts some strong acidity typical of its locale, but is also an example of a Rosé with a slight bit of perceivable residual sugar that I don’t find at all offensive. Sweetness in so many wines is clearly a big no no for me, but occasionally there is a harmonious balance to be had when a good wine finishes on your tongue with just a kiss of sugar.
Domaine de la Fouquette “Rosé d’Aurore” / 65% Grenache, 30% Cinsault, 5% Rolle / Côtes de Provence. France 2014
IN THE BOTTLE: Isabelle and Jean-Pierre Daziano pretty much sum up any dreams one might have about living in Provence. They manage a small 35 acre, chemical free vineyard nestled into a forested plane amid the Massif des Maures mountains. Isabelle’s Mom also runs an incredible 45 seat farm-to-table restaurant that serves up french country food straight from their own (and their neighbors) gardens and farms. They make about 5,000 cases per year total, ¾ of which is Rosé. I’d say they are ripe for a visit! Who’s with me?!
IN THE GLASS: “Garrigue or phrygana is a type of low, soft-leaved scrubland ecoregion and plant community in the Mediterranean forests… The term has also found its way into haute cuisine, suggestive of the resinous flavours of a garrigue shrubland.” Come on, you can’t tell me this doesn’t smell like garrigue (e.g., lavender, thyme, sage, rosemary.) That’s what I want out of my Provence Rosé and this one delivers beautifully. Dry as a bone and acid balanced with just the right amount of fruit on the finishing palate. I’m sold on my new summer fav.
Yves Leccia Patrimonio Rosé / 60% Niellucciu, 40% Grenache / Patrimonio, Corsica, France 2014
IN THE BOTTLE: If you are a fan of Kermit Lynch wines, you might know that he was one of the first to champion great wines from the Island of Corsica. And if in turn you have any knowledge of Corsican wines, you might know Yves Leccia is considered the “Rolls-Royce” among them. Prior to this wine, I’ve truthfully only had exposure to his whites and I can certainly attest to their status as a luxurious and beautifully crafted rarity. This Rosé does not disappoint on any level, I am happy to say, and the dynamic and gregarious character that is Yves has shown through once again in a truly regal wine experience.
IN THE GLASS: Where do you begin with this wine. The perfume is persistent but all in all subtle when compared to the ripe and layered palate. The Niellucciu grape has for the most part, after many years of debate, been recognized to be genetically identical to Sangiovese (I mean, Jancis has declared it to now be true, and we take her word as law around here.) This fact, of course, doesn’t mean that it acts the same way as all Italian Sangioveses do. Lets just say I’ve never once tried a Tuscan Rosé that is remotely in the same category of this beauty. Corsican wines have their very own soul and their own influences and Yves Leccia makes wines that will make you a believer instantly.
-Kevin Wardell, April 2015
Fronton de Oro / Listan Negro + Tintilla (Trousseau!) / Gran Canaria, Canary Islands, Spain 2012
IN THE BOTTLE: “The principal red wine grape, known as Listán Negro, is quite a different kettle of Fish (the fish here is top notch – straight out of the crashing Atlantic), a vine variety that seems to be indigenous that can make particularly fruity, peppery wine with fashionable freshness.” -Jancis Robinson
In 1977, D. Antonio Ramírez bought a small piece of land in the hills of La Lechuza (a small town on the island of Gran Canaria) known locally as El Frontón. Gran Canaria is referred to as its own mini continent because of the diversity of terrain packed onto the small island and El Frontón is nestled in at just above 1000 meters soaking in the uniquely warm trade winds that set it apart from its neighbors. His sons eventually coaxed him into turning some of this land into vineyards, instead of growing vegetables, and their wines have since become some of the best recognized liquid ambassadors for the region. Gran Canaria is referred to as a mini continent because of the diversity of terrain packed onto the small island.
IN THE GLASS: You’ll probably recognize immediately that this wine is right in my wheelhouse; light in color, but not at all in flavor, with as much pepper and earth as there is fruit and acidity. I may be splitting hairs here but as a fruit description, but I’m loving that there is specifically a black raspberry flavor dominating this wine. Not red raspberry, nor purple, nor blue (No really. Blue raspberry is an actual thing, from Canada apparently. It’s the inspiration for that odd confectionery flavor, which I always thought was just made up.) There is no mistaking that there are volcanic soil flavors intertwined throughout the fresh berry tartness however and it really provides a fun tasting experience that is anything but commonplace or familiar.
Los Bermejos / Malvasia / Lanzarote, Canary Islands, Spain 2013
IN THE BOTTLE: “Vines on Lanzarote grow in the black soil of volcanic ash, which is carved into circular hollows that resemble craters on the Moon. On the sea side of the hollows, low stone walls are constructed to guard the huddled vines from the hot, humid breath of the Atlantic, which blows in mercilessly. Often the vines are the only things growing.” -Eric Asimov
Ignacio Valdera tends the vines at Los Bermejos only 125 km from the African coastline and under some pretty intense conditions. The combination of the persistent winds from the Sahara and the insanely porous, black volcanic soils make his job almost impossible in our imagination. But the employment of these other worldly “Hoyos” or holes where the vines can survive is nothing shy of an incredible example of agricultural adaptation. They’re functions are three fold; protection from fierce wind, collection of the few inches annual rainfall, and provide closer approximation to organic matter beneath the top layer of lava. Needless to say all the vines are tended to and harvested by hand and Ignacio feels that the decision to work organically here should be obvious.
IN THE GLASS: According to work done by Jancis Robinson, our hero, this is a genetically distinct type of Malvasia grape from the more common versions found throughout Europe. Genetics aside, I can say it is certainly the most distinctly interesting Malvasias I’ve enjoyed as well. The nose is far less pungently floral than I expected and expresses much more fresh citrus zest hinting to the refreshing texture that awaits. The palate is all kinds of fun and is really explosive when compared to the nose. There is a vein of tropicality on the palate that reminds me of fresh Guava juice. Mostly though, it’s all about the zippy acidity that literally drains your salivary glands on contact and has a flinty and salty finish that lingers forever. Or until you reach for that next sip.
Matias i Torres / Negramoll / La Palma, Canary Islands, Spain 2013
IN THE BOTTLE: “I’ faith, sweetheart, methinks now you are in an excellent good temperality: your pulsidge beats as extraordinarily as heart would desire; and your colour, I warrant you, is as red as any rose, in good truth, la! But, i’ faith, you have drunk too much canaries; and that’s a marvellous searching wine, and it perfumes the blood ere one can say ‘What’s this?’ How do you now?” -William Shakespeare
Juan Matías Torres Pérez and his daughter Victoria are a force to be reckoned with when it comes to showcasing the potential for great wines from this part of the globe. The winemaking remains old-school: no temperature control, wild yeast fermentation and plenty of whole cluster. The reds are foot-trodden. The wines are raised in very old 600-L oak barrels and bottled unfiltered. They come across as a step above in refinement, and really we just feel pretty honored to be able to enjoy them. They produce only about 1,200 cases a year! Lucky us. Seriously lucky.
IN THE GLASS: This Negramoll really shows some refinement above others I’ve tasted from the Canaries. It shows similarities to some of my favorite Sicilian wines as well being immediately intriguing to any discerning Pinot fan. Again there is no mistaking the volcanic influence on the wine with layers of smoky notes and roasted herbs to compliment all that lip smacking red fruit and dried flowers. I just missed out on the 2012 vintage of this wine and although this vintage is equally as delicious, there is some youth here that benefits from a little air in the glass. Exercise patience as best you can.
As @BillShakespeare once tweeted “Farewell, my hearts… and drink Canary”
It’s obviously time to raise a glass and drink up some Springtime! Sure it came super early and sure, it comes with some very serious consequential challenges, but let’s ignore all that drought talk for now (much like the State of California seems to be doing – sigh). Let’s focus on the beauty of spring. In fact, let’s just throw a whole handful of fresh cut flowers in a glass, top it off with some exotic citrus and enjoy what mother nature has in store for us. As some of you have not yet been formally introduced; Wine Club, this is Lacrima di Morro d’Alba. Lacrima, meet our Wine Club. This is the grape that put my head on a swivel and spun it round until I followed it straight to Italy and then deep into Le Marche. It’s basically the mascot and the namesake grape for Bergamot Alley, and the vine that is wrapped around my heart (and my bike… as it were.) This impossibly fragrant red grape is going to challenge you on every sensory level, but will always leave you with a big smile and likely even a peculiar sense of euphoria. In my first experience digging around the region and visiting as many of the small number of Lacrima producers as I could, I witnessed the local people (Marchigiani) walking away from wineries with their freshly replenished fiascos in hand, and ear to ear smiles that rocked my world. These people must be the happiest people on Earth! Of course they are silly… Lacrima is their vino tavolo. Bergamot and Rose Petals for all my friends this month!
-Kevin Wardell, March 2015
Conti di Buscareto / Lacrima di Morro d’Alba / Marche, Italy 2012
IN THE BOTTLE: I’ll try not to bore you by beguiling you with too many stories about Mick Unti and myself getting lost in the Appenines shortly after an afternoon at Conti di Buscareto (our lack of directional sense likely had everything to do with the open magnum of Verdicchio rested in the center console) but I will tell you the winery is certainly worth the visit. Immediately we were struck by the difference between their new and modern facility as opposed to so many we’d seen that were clearly more “seasoned.” Despite being a relatively new brand, Conti di Buscareto does an outstanding job carrying on the local traditions. It’s worth mentioning that they are thoughtful in their approach, enough to hold back and release aged Verdicchios and Lacrimas only when they feel they’re truly mature, with great results.
IN THE GLASS: Wow. If you’ve never experienced Lacrima before, well now you know what we’re talking about. This is not a situation where perhaps you can faintly smell something subtly in a wine that might remind you of some type or other fruit or flower. This wine is straight up rose petals! Have you even sipped it yet? I wouldn’t blame you if you literally sit there with your nose in the glass for about twenty minutes before you work up the courage to see what it tastes like. Intoxicating as the aromatics are, there are bound to be a number of you that find this a bit overwhelming. After all, how could you like a wine that taste like pot pourri? You’ll quickly find that there is much more to this wine, and Lacrima in general, than that; in this case look for the blueberry jam and bright, slightly bitter citrus notes to take your tongue on a truly wild ride.
Badiali / Lacrima di Morro d’Alba / Marche, Italy 2012
IN THE BOTTLE: The Badiali brothers, Vittorio and Mirko, specialize in Lacrima and nothing else, in the tradition of their late father Quinto. Their total annual case production is tiny; barely over 1,500 cases between this wine and their “Amarone” style cru where they allow for some of the fruit to raisin prior to fermentation. In the number of times I’ve gone to VinItaly, the grandaddy of all Italian wine tastings, my favorite moments are chatting with this small group of producers, and share my enthusiasm (read: obsession) with their family grape. The best is when I drop the showstopping exclamation that I will in fact grow that grape in California! “Vittorio, did you hear what this crazy American is saying?”
IN THE GLASS: With Badiali, always, I get much more baked blackberry pie with a lavender crust compared to the much rosier example from Buscareto. Still unmistakably Lacrima, however, just with riper fruit tones making for a rounder mouthfeel with more subtle acidity. This wine shows some fun depth with layered bits of black pepper and cacao sprinkled in as well. Badiali makes their wine in a style that is likely a little bit easier to get your head around, at least for those who might be attempting to categorize Lacrima by drawing on past tasting experiences. But even with all of those intense varietal characteristics kept in check, albeit only comparatively, this wine is equally compelling and perhaps even a little easier to find food pairing options for.
Luciano Landi “Gavigliano” / Lacrima di Morro d’Alba / Marche, Italy 2011
IN THE BOTTLE: When I first visited Luciano Landi I realized how much I was head over heels for Le Marche. His house, vineyard, winery and his B&B were all essentially one shared space. Nothing like rolling out of bed to greet the sunrise over the Adriatic Sea, rolling downstairs to find Luciano with coffee in hand ready to walk the vines all the while being seduced by the aromas from the nearby open top fermenters in full Lacrima bloom. Luciano explains that his vines are simply an extension of his family and I certainly believe him after that stroll. It seemed like he had a different story for every step we took.
IN THE GLASS: You do realize that by now we’ve completely ruined whatever you next red wine experience will be. Can you honestly put your nose into a glass with something other than Lacrima in it and be anything but underwhelmed? Out of the three of these wines, the Gavigliano shows the most classic Bergamot notes and was the first one to strike me as Earl Grey Tea-like. Luciano and his Lacrima babies showcase all the fun, floral and fruit components you could ask for but also boast a little more serious finish. The well integrated tannins leave you with a bit more to chew on, giving it a bit of strength or even some masculinity amidst the flower garden, if you will. I am constantly experimenting for food pairings with Lacrima, but to give you an example of its impressive and surprising versatility; my very first authentic Marchigiani meal started with grilled shellfish fresh from the Adriatic and ended with gnocchi and chicken livers. Both matched up incredibly well, somehow!
What is “natural” wine? It’s the topic of much debate these days and the definition varies depending on who you ask. Nothing in this conversation is cut and dry, but in general terms it is mostly agreed that 1) the wine originates from organically farmed grapes 2) undergoes fermentation from native yeasts as opposed to commercial yeast and 3) does not receive any “conventional” manipulations, additions or corrections before it is bottled (e.g. acid adds, tannin adds, fining or filtering) But today we’re are talking about Sulphur dioxide (SO2), which is the most widely used and therefore controversial additive in winemaking. Its main functions are to inhibit or kill unwanted yeasts and bacteria, and to protect wine from oxidation as it is commonly added at crush and then again at bottling, respectively.
For the record I do believe those functions are both very real and very important. However, I also feel that most commercial wineries tend to rely on overpacking their wines with far too much free SO2 and I’m happy to speak further about that, just not here. Instead I present you with three really delicious examples of natural wines that are also, you guessed it, free of any added sulphur. If you’ve had the chance to try wines that fit into this category in the past, you may be cringing a bit, understandably so, as they have a reputation of being bacteria bombs and riddled with every wine flaw imaginable. Now, would I do that to you? These wines are beautiful results of sulphur free endeavors that are both cleanly made and express incredibly pure and lively flavors throughout. Drink quickly. These are drink at one sitting wines, not better the next day wines (see: function of SO2 vs oxidization) Drink deeply. Just think – no headaches caused by the added sulphur! Just kidding, actually. It’s been all but proven that SO2 is not the likely cause of whatever your reaction might, more likely it’s histamines. Or you drank too much. Wanna test that? Can you eat dried fruit without similar headaches? They’ve just as much Sulfites and are not ever demonized for the causing any similar side effects. -Kevin Wardell, February 2015
Benjamin Taillandier “Laguzelle” / Minervois, Languedoc, France 2013 / 80% Cinsault + 20% Blend of Grenache, Carignan & Syrah
IN THE BOTTLE: Benjamin Taillandier hails from many generations living within Caunes-Minervois but is the son of an acupuncturist and had no connection to the wine world. He owns a pétanque court and a wine/tapas bar in town called La Cantine du Curé. “Laguzelle” was born of the idea to make a fresh, juicy, chill-able red that could be drunk outside (while playing pétanque) in the hot summer months, happily introducing people to the concept of Minervois “vin de soif.” The Cinsault is from old vines up to 80 years, is co-fermented with a blend of Grenache, Syrah, Carignan in stainless steel and then returned to tank for 6 months after pressing. Spontaneous fermentation, no additives throughout the process of fermentation, and zero sulfur added before bottling are all the natural methods (introduced to him by fellow natural producer Jean-Baptiste Senat) that intrigued Benjamin from the start and eventually coaxed him into buying his first vineyards.
IN THE GLASS: Ok, so maybe this isn’t the most flattering aromatic note I can put out there, but I can’t help but get a little Dr. Pepper out of this at first scent. As it opens up I can clearly see where this stems from, there is indeed a healthy touch of pepperiness along with a ripe black cherry component. And while we’re talking guilty confectionery pleasure, I get some serious Red Vines licorice love in here as well. Despite those hints of those popular sweeties, I am immediately excited by the balance of this wine, knowing Minervois most often produces more plump and weighty wines. The natural acidity of old vine Cinsault helps the wine achieve a pleasing crunchiness and leaves a lingering mouth watering soft tannin that finishes on the palate beautifully.
Chateau Cambon / Beaujolais, Bourgogne, France 2013 / 100% Gamay Noir
IN THE BOTTLE: This is a an inexplicably under-the-radar side project by Jean-Claude and Genevieve Chanudet, of the famed Joseph Chamonard Morgon, and Beaujolais icons Marcel and Marie Lapierre, before Marcel passed away. The two couples partnered as friends and purchased this 13ha parcel in 1995 upon realizing it held prestige beyond title, despite it being located outside of Cru status in Beaujolais. I doubt anyone there, nor here for that matter, would question their endeavor due to something as simple as an address. The vineyard was planted originally in 1914 just between Morgon and Brouilly and the vineyard is beautifully peppered with composites of argilo-granite and calcareous sand. They took a few years to revitalize the old vineyard and to achieve a healthy balance of life on the property through Biodynamic practices. Fermentations are carried out in 200 year old tronconique and enamel lined vats and, of course, are from native yeasts and receive no additions of any kind.
IN THE GLASS: You’ve likely (I hope?) noticed that we’ve had a delicious Gamay from Beaujolais two months in a row now. This example certainly showcases how different they can be depending on both where the fruit is grown and of course how its then treated by the winemaker. This wine also has, what I would consider, a very tolerable amount of Brett on both the nose and the palate (that slight, yet tell tale “band aid” note.) It does not at all prevent the layers of anise, violets and slightly smoky raspberries from doing their thing in this beauty. As always with Beaujolais, drink at cooler than room temperature for maximum deliciousness!
Vino di Anna “Palmento” / Etna, Sicily, Italy 2012 / 100% Nerello Mascalese
IN THE BOTTLE: Vino di Anna is a small property owned and run by Anna Martens and Eric Narioo on the North face of Mt Etna, Sicily. What is unique about that is that Eric is a Frenchman who runs an organic inspired Italian wine import company “Caves des Pyrene” in the UK, and his wife Anna is an Australian winemaker. Grapes are hand harvested from 60 – 100 year old, alberello (bush) vines. The vineyards range from 760 m – 900 metres in altitude and are farmed organically with zero irrigation. The soils are jet black, as you would imagine, from the decomposed lava. The Palmento is a 250 year old traditional stone vessel designed for foot stomping the grapes in larger quantity, and of course this was a whole family ritual – Everyone into the tank! Anna and Eric restored they’re Palmento just before this harvest and this is the result of their first wine made in this traditional manner – Bravo!
IN THE GLASS: I love the first description I came across when researching what very little information I could find about this wine; “With a pale red, strawberry nose, this wine has lifted, almost magical fruit flavors.” Now I’ve said many a fun things in wine tasting notes but I somehow feel like I’ve missed out in describing something as magical. How is that possible? Have I just never tasted anything so special that warrants such a moniker? Perhaps I’m being dramatic, but in this case, however, I am all in! This wine has such a bright fresh pop to palate that there are clearly no other words than magical. Nerello Mascalese constantly proves its potential and pedigree in the examples I’ve drank, but this one is altogether unique and downright delicious.
We’ve come to the two year mark on our Wine Club and boy oh boy what a whirlwind tour we’ve taken! In the past year alone we’ve tasted wines from Morocco to Hungary and from Mt. Etna to the Mosel. I thought perhaps we’d kick off 2015 with something far more familiar; Bourgogne. No matter how many times you’ve had the opportunity to drink wines from Burgundy, classic or otherwise, it is always a fun learning experience. Whether you are focusing on the many subtle differences of Pinot Noir throughout the Côtes de Or, examining the thumbprint of a great chalky Chablis or even imbibing Cru Beaujolais straight from the bottle (or is that just me?) The results are almost always memorable. Away we go! -Kevin Wardell, January 2015
Dominique Piron, Brouilly / Beaujolais, Bourgogne, France 2013 / Gamay
IN THE BOTTLE: Beaujolais is a crossroads between Northern and Southern France, both in character and in culture. With rolling hills and rustic charm, not to mention the fun-loving, down-to-earth attitude of its vignerons, the region is an oasis of pastoral beauty, sincerity, and bon-vivants. Dominique Piron’s family has been growing grapes here since the 16th century, and Dominique and his wife Kristine Mary took over the estate in 1971. They farm a total of 45 hectares of vineyards scattered among the several different crus in Beaujolais; Morgon, Chénas, Brouilly, Régnié and Moulin-à-Vent. The Pirons favor longer, yet softer macerations, destemming, and aging in larger foudres, avoiding any wood flavor or tannins.
IN THE GLASS: Brouilly is the largest of the Cru Beaujolais villages and tends to be the most fruit forward of the lot. This wine certainly has a backbone with that peppery crunchiness that you typically expect from the granite soils in the region, but its the mouthwatering acidity and fresh berry brightness that defines it. Here’s a fun one for you as well… Pencil shavings! Most commonly found in Cab Franc but I get it a bit here too. Later this year I promise to showcase three different Gamay’s from three different Crus to enjoy just how different each one can be. Stay tuned to bask in even more Gamay glory!
Hervé Azó Chablis / Chablis, Bourgogne, France 2013 / Chardonnay
IN THE BOTTLE: The Hervé Azó property lies in the premier cru slopes around the village of Milly. The soils here are as pedigree as they come with the vines rooted to the famous Kimmeridgian limestone, rich in prehistoric fossils In 2004, Hervé transitioned the domaine into the capable hands of Jean-Marc Brocard, whose family has a strong viticultural legacy in Chablis. Since then they’ve transitioned to organic farming, native yeasts in fermenting and aging in all stainless steel. The wines from this house seem to get better and better every year, this vintage notwithstanding, as well as being wonderfully age-worthy.
IN THE GLASS: Gosh I do so love Chardonnay… Doesn’t that just feel good to say? Let’s be honest, there many are times when you don’t want to admit that. Why? Because Chardonnay has gone to a very different place in the last few decades. I can mask my personal reactions fairly well, a talent that’s very important in my job, but when someone asks me for a big buttery Chardonnay at Bergamot, I cannot hold back. Please explain why you would want your wine to taste like butter? (Dear butter: I love you too, please don’t take this the wrong way.) Chablis is so often the road I take to remind me just how lovely Chardonnay can be; lime leaf, green apples and classic chalky seashell minerality. Go ahead and pair it with some delicious winter dungeness, a much more suitable bedfellow for butter.
Domaine Camus-Bruchon et Fils “Les Pimentiers” / Savigny-les-Beaune, Bourgogne, France 2011 / Pinot Noir
IN THE BOTTLE: Lucien Camus is certainly one of the rising stars in the Côte de Beaune. While many of the more famous names in the area have caused a stir by trying one experimental technique after another in the wine-making process, Camus has been concentrating on his vineyards. He firmly believes that one can only make wine as good as the grapes that you grow, and that if you have to play around too much in the fermentation room trying to make a wine taste a certain way, then you have not done your job in the fields. This philosophy is always music to our ears and you’ll hear it more and more these day; the trick is finding the producers that put their money where their mouths are in this regard. Savigny les Beaune is an under-celebrated appellation giving producers such as Lucien the opportunity to over deliver in quality in a region where value is very hard to come by.
IN THE GLASS: 2011 was not considered as great a vintage as 09 and 10 were; the fruit was picked very early, similar to the vintage we just recently experienced here in California. But shoulder vintages like this can show wonderfully, especially from houses that focus on the health of the fruit first and foremost. The nose is archetypal of the appellation; Raspberries and wet clay (remember that ashtray you made for your parents in 5th grade art class? Geez how times have changed.) The palate is velvet soft and delicate, speaking to both the lower alcohol and lower yields of the vintage. It saw 15 months in 30% new oak and the wood flavors are very happily subdued in the background. Thankfully.
Why in the world do I wait until this time of year to give you wonderful people bubbles? I am the first to say that sparkling wines should be drank every day of the year, for any occasion or even a lack thereof. But here we are again with that festive feeling in the air that brings people together and gives us all even more reasons to pop a cork. So in the spirit of whatever holiday you might celebrate this month, and of course to bring in the fresh new year we present a three pack of unique bubbles that are just as much fun as they are geeky. Firstly a complex Cava from Spain that truly stands out amongst its peers. Second a small batch mountain rosé that we at Bergamot really wish there were many more out there just like it. And lastly, a beautifully crafted sparkling Riesling that gives us yet another reason to bow down to the King of Grape varieties when it comes to transmitting terroir.
-Kevin Wardell, December 2014
Pere Mata “Cupada 13” Brut Nature / Cava, Penedes, Spain 2010 / 60% Macabeu – 30% Xarello – 10% Parellada
IN THE BOTTLE: From a tiny Organically farmed 5 hectare vineyard in the town of Sant Sadurní d’Anoia in the heart of the Penedès. The several different wines from this estate have helped re-open our eyes to the potential of Cava. Primary in Stainless Steel. Aged sur lees in bottle for 2 years with no added dosage. The actual name of the estate is Mata I Coloma, but this is a case where the winemakers name has become inseparably identified with the juice. When people compare his wines to Champagne, he simply says “I don’t want to make Champagne, I want make great Cava.”
IN THE GLASS: Due to price point, and subsequently the quality, Cava can so often placed in the same role as Prosecco in our minds as a very simple example of bubbles. Put simply, a great option for a Mimosa. But the texture of this wine is clearly leagues beyond that, and yet impossibly affordable nonetheless making it the perfect “everyday wine.” It’s a clean and crisp mix of citrus and honeysuckle that finishes with very dry and with a lingering taste of fresh yeast bread. Drink responsibly… but drink this with reckless abandon.
Jean Vullien Rosé / Combe de Savoie, France NV / Pinot Noir + Gamay + Mondeuse
IN THE BOTTLE: The Combe de Savoie is a boomerang shaped valley in the French Alps made up of six Cru hillsides. Jean Vullien and his two sons, David and Olivier, sustainably tend to 69 acres on the Combe and run the important “Vullien Pépinière Viticole” (vine nursery.) They’ve long been supplying young vines to growers throughout France, and back in the day were actually the source for about 25% of the Chardonnay planted in Chablis after the ravages of phylloxera.
IN THE GLASS: What’s not to love? Anyone can appreciate a beautiful glass of pink bubbles. This one stands out to me from the archetypal one dimensional rosé. More importantly it remains simple enough to do what it is designed to do; make you smile big at first sight, bigger still at first taste. Although dry and crisp, this is clearly not an under ripe wine in any way. Plenty of mouth watering fresh red berries with just a touch of richness from the yeast reminiscent of panna cotta. The US gets only 40 cases of this little treasure at time… So although that makes it just a bit more precious, it certainly shouldn’t prevent you from having it opened by the time you finish reading this sentence.
Hofgut Falkenstein Sekt / Niedermenninger Sonnenberg, Mosel, Germany 2011 / Riesling
IN THE BOTTLE: Erich Weber, grinning from ear to ear, calls this “100% Riesling Winzersekt” (German equivalent to Champagnes important “grower/producer” moniker) presumably to differentiate it from the boatloads of Sekt produced from lesser grape varieties by massive operations. The vineyard chosen for Sekt seems to differ from year to year depending on which site offers the perfect balance of fruit to acid. Erich farms over 8 hectares (now fully organic) with 40 to 80 year old vines, half are own-rooted on the infamous local gray slate and naturally ferments with wild yeast.
IN THE GLASS: Erich Weber’s wines have become a bit of a staple at Bergamot of late. His Pinot Noir (as long as it lasted) was a revelation for us and needless to say his still Rieslings are phenomenal. It’s easy to recognize why this wine is the one that first won our hearts, however. The aromatics are perfectly balanced, riding between flowers and signature petrol. Similarly, the wine hits the happy spot on the tongue between tart yet ripe apricots, a touch of salted ginger (is that even a thing?) and, of course, clean river stones. Throw in the fact that it’s sparkling? Oh yes, this is the way I want to start every new day, let alone the New Year!
What the heck is Sherry anyway? More and more we have people asking about tasting and learning about this mysterious category of fortified wine. In turn you will see more and more restaurants offering a selection of sherries for more savvy connoisseurs. The range of quality in the past has always been variant, but recently there are many smaller producers to be found that showcase excellent examples of the different types of Sherry. These three showcase the most important styles of artisan dry Sherries that are certainly the most interesting for pairing with food than the sweeter couter parts. As Thanksgiving is upon us (really, it is, I can’t believe it either) I couldn’t be more excited to challenge your palates for the big feast especially if you’re not already a Sherry fan.
-Kevin Wardell, November 2014
Bodegas Rey Fernando de Castilla “Antique” Fino
IN THE BOTTLE: Fino: The driest, most saline style of Sherry, it’s made from high-acid Palomino grapes grown in chalky white soils called albariza. Finos are tank-fermented white wines that spend their entire fortified existence under a blanket of yeast called flor, which protects the product from oxidation.
IN THE GLASS: Fernando de Castilla specializes in natural, unblended and unfined products as examples of the ancient winemaking traditions of the Jerez region. The “Antique” range of wines are intense sherries, from a single solera that sees extended aging in the cellars. The vineyards are farmed without pesticides or herbicides and all sherries are estate bottled. The “Antique Fino” is eight years of average age when bottled; it’s fragrant and perfumed, feminine and subtle, with dry flowers and caramel. The palate shows a much more serious wine, pungent, intense, saline, sharp and at the same time delicate, complex and long. A perfect way to jump start your palate before Thankgiving dinner. Serve well chilled, and it’s dynamite when paired with salty snacks, cured olives and fried foods. Any type of seafood starter, like a bacalao or some fresh dungeness, would truly be the winning combo however.
Bodegas Grant “La Garrocha” Amontillado
IN THE BOTTLE: Amontillado: There’s no guarantee that a flor blanket will hold, and in cases where it doesn’t, amontillado is the result. Amontillados take on a darker brown hue, due to extended contact with air inside the solera barrels. And rather than the crisp, saline flavors of finos and manzanillas, amontillados deliver oxidized notes of nuttiness, sautéed mushrooms and a richness best described as umami.
IN THE GLASS: Bodages Grant has been owned by the same family since 1841. Edmundo Grant and his son Edmundo are the current caretakers of the bodega. Like so many small production houses that release their own bottlings today, the Grant families sherries used to be released by a larger house. Only recently has the market, and more specifically the local laws, allowed for distribution of the private labels. This is definitely your second course Sherry and should be enjoyed more at cellar temp than too chilled. It will pair beautifully with any savory soups or vegetable dishes and will easily add incredible depth to your turkey and stuffing as well.
Gutierrez Colosia “Sangre y Trabajadero” Oloroso
IN THE BOTTLE: Oloroso: Whereas amontillado is a Sherry in which the flor breaks up naturally, an oloroso sees the cellar master intentionally destroy the flor to promote oxidation. Olorosos can be sweet or dry in style, olorosos can withstand decades in barrel, which creates extra richness and complexity. This example is not a typical Oloroso, though it does show that quintessential nose I refer to as “Eggo Waffles,” it is far more high toned and dry than others more commonly found.
IN THE GLASS:The combined effects of the Guadalete river and the ocean breezes create a very active flor that remains on the wine year round, creating distinct Sherry which illustrates the concept that in Jerez, location is everything. The ocean is palpable everywhere within the walls of Gutierrezes cellar, creating an especially healthy flor which extends all the way up the walls in the summer heat. Although I would not at all categorize this as a dessert wine, I can safely say that I would so much rather to have this over something sticky and sweet to pair with my pecan pie or cheesecake.
Of all the regions in Italy, Puglia stands out as somewhat of a last frontier. It has always been an important area for viticulture, but it’s role was predominantly as a work horse for bulk grapes and wine. It gets pretty darn hot there during summer, yet the heel of the boot is surrounded by water (Adriatic Sea & Gulf of Taranto) which can provide perfectly cool evenings and ideal growing conditions. Take the grapes out of the equation altogether and Puglia is a drop dead gorgeous treasure for those very same reasons. I mean like Greek Islands kind of stunning. But when you hear that your friends are going on a trip to Italy, I doubt the first spot that pops into your mind is Puglia. The people of the region are just as unique. After all these are people who are known for speaking with there hands (no, really, even much more so than any other Italians!) Hands gestures and all, their singular goal is to bring the Puglian reputation for quality wine up a few notches and we can proudly say that these three wines are gold standards of what we’d like to see more of in time.
-Kevin Wardell, October 2014
Santa Lucia “Vinga del Melograno” / Castel del Monte, Puglia, Italy 2010 / Nero di Troia
IN THE BOTTLE: Santa Lucia is one of maybe three producers of the Uva di Troia (sometimes called Nero di Troia) grape that makes it to the US. For this reason its hard to truly understand the grape fully. That and the fact that the grape itself is named after a “lady of the night,” to be polite. It is notoriously difficult to grow, shy in its yields and inconsistent in maturation. Clearly these attributes pushed the the grape into being used more commonly as a blending grape, lending its natural acidity to other less fortunate grapes making clunky wines. Santa Lucia is an organic production that has always revered the grape on its own attributes and the results seem to get better and better every year.
IN THE GLASS: Too often we overlook the (sometimes) subtle difference in the color of red wine. Uva di Troia is one of those grape that always show a distinct garnet, dark blood like hue. The nose is much more bramble bush that straight fruit, lots of tar and herbs with boysenberry and plums as the background. The palate is not dissimilar and there is a lingering, pleasant bitterness somewhere in between cacao and star anise spiced black tea. The crunchy tannins seem to soften after a short time leaving a very balanced structure built for a wide range of food pairing. But the absolute best thing about this wine, I’m finding, is that if I go back through all of these descriptors I am picturing a far more intense wine in my glass. Taming the Uva di Troia grape successfully seems to be about creating a wine that is still light on its bright berry feet.
Taurino “Notarpanaro” / Salento, Puglia, Italy 2006 / 85% Negroamaro + 15% Malvasia Nera
IN THE BOTTLE: Dr. Taurino is the certainly the most well regarded producer in the area, making wines with incredible ageability and quality for decades. His techniques have caught on in the area and younger winemakers often refer to his wines as their ideal. This particular bottling is made rom Negroamaro grapes harvested at three separate times. Some actually to the point of being considered “late harvest” which certainly adds to his thumbprint soft bodied wines almost ripasso in style. It may be that we see more wines like his out of Puglia soon, but because his from the 20 years ago are still just coming into their own, it could be another 20 years until we really start to understand them.
IN THE GLASS: Taurino wines have a texture and flavor that is always so wonderfully velvety, it is very hard to compare to other examples as that is, unfortunately, not often the case. As a 2006 you can sense that this wine is truly built to age because although there are signs of maturity in the fruit, there is still obviously a ton this wine still has left to give. I love the rich notes of baked cherries and tart plum pie (cinnamon crust and all.) I’ve conveniently left this little dangling question mark out there, until now; what in the world is Malvasia Nera? Well, it is exactly as it sounds, it’s the red (Nera/Nero actually refers to black, but same same) version of the white grape of the same name and guess where that pretty aromatic touch and lip smacking acidity is coming from. This wine needs some air to really show at its best, open and revisit over the course of a really good book!
Guttarol “Lamie delle Vigne” / Gioia del Colle, Puglia, Italy 2009 / Primitivo
IN THE BOTTLE: There are very few examples to date of “natural” winemaking in Puglia, but Cristiano Guttarol is certainly turning some heads with the results of his approach. The most endearing part is that is that he is having way too much fun doing it. Constantly challenging himself to make the best wine he can each year, his vines and his wines are an expression of his passion for smiling through life. He wants his vines to happy, he wants his yeasts to happy during fermentation, and wants you to be happy drinking his wine.
IN THE GLASS: How else to describe the smell of Primitivo other than “grapey?” There’s nothing else about this wine, however, that aligns itself with anything else typical of other Primitivo. First thing that is immediately apparent is impossible acidity. Impossible you say? Well yes, simply said this is just not a grape variety nor area that is known for retaining a high natural acidity. Cristiano certainly admits he is picking his Primitivo earlier than his neighbors, but of course points out that he feels that his biodynamic vines are producing healthier, more mature fruit well before them as well, regardless of the brix. This is a polished and elegant wine with plenty of earthy notes and leather to remind you where it’s from. It’s a patent leather Blundstone. Ah Puglia.
This month The Back Alley Wine Club celebrates three incredible white wines from Hungary. A look beyond the historically important sweet wines of fame and into the modern era of impossibly complex and surprisingly elegant single varietal dry wines. Picture a chain of 400 volcanoes of unparalleled geological and microclimatological complexity, coupled with a long history of viticulture and wine making with an appellation system that pre-dates Bourdeaux by a hundred years. Excited? A little nervous? Good. To help describe the true love for these wines I introduce my good friend Eric Dansch from Blue Danube Imports. Eric has first hand experience and unfathomable knowledge of the people, the cultures and the wines we are about to embibe. He is a virtual circus act of a story teller who can spin the most uncommon tales and bring you to the unlikeliest corners of the earth, and he’s even got the worn through socks to prove it. Keep a look out for our second upcoming tasting with this man at Bergamot, a hilarious and educational experience not to be missed.
-Kevin Wardell, September 2014
Tokaj Nobilis “Susogó” / Tokaji, Hungary 2011 / Furmint
IN THE BOTTLE: Sorlata Bárdos combines experience with clever instinct to create wines in order to showcase all that her healthy fruit and complex terroir have to offer. She is described as being incredibly loving person whose hugs and kitchen skills will instantly have you feeling like part of her family. Sorlata takes the same approach to her wine. Although she has plenty of know-how in modern techniques she feels the best wine she can make is one that she has simply given the best nurtuing care for with- out any additions or manipulations. This kind of wine is what’s happening in the local Tokaj scene and much different than the larger producers I’ve encountered. This really makes me excited for the future potential of the Furmint grape.
IN THE GLASS: Where many Furmints can have hard edges in terms of acid and structure, this one has soft edges, and an uncanny soft honey aroma. I mean, I’ve used honeysuckle as a desciptor many times, but I do not think I’ve ever smelled a wine that has that straight natural honey scent such as this one. Eric describes this a “crazy throat lozenge like character – sounds weird and I don’t encounter it often, but it makes you go back to the glass.” White pepper, licorice and toasted oats compliment the honey as the wine opens up. This wine has tons to give still and reminds me of a volcanic Chenin; where opulence meets endless natural acidity. I love a wine that can be equally subtle and complex and truthfully I’m stumped in terms of a food pairing suggestion. Honestly I just want to hang out with this wine and forget to eat.
Bott “Határi” / Tokaji, Hungary 2012 / Hárslevelü
IN THE BOTTLE: I am getting more and more restless these days to get back involved in winemaking on some level. I mentioned to Eric Dansch that we may have the opportunity this season to play around with the only Furmint and Hárslevelü that is grown right here in Sonoma and he nearly flipped. Come to find out that Steve and Gill Matthiasson have beat us to the punch (and quite frankly it couldn’t be in better hands than that, clearly.) Turns out Judit and József Bodó visited our area a year or so ago and during that time and visited Steve and Gill through, you guessed it, Eric. So when I broke the sad news of the missed opportunity to Eric, his only response was, of course gleefully, “oops, yup, that’s entirely my fault!” Point is, the Bodós and the Bott wines have inspired what is sure to be a fun local expression of Hárslevelü to come and through this bottle here, it’s sure easy to see how.
IN THE GLASS: True to their style, József and Judit Bodó accomplish rich layers of exotic flowers and fruit without sacrificing one drop of the expected chalky and flinty mineral backbone. They pick their grapes fairly late compared to most and really push the limit of when Botrytis hits, accounting for the all the characters of over-ripe stone fruit. This wine is impossibly long on the palate and is generous with change as it warms and opens. The strength of this wine can be proven even further with food. Feel free to roast a whole goat as a pairing and you’ll be amazed at how well it stands up. After drinking this wine there is little room for doubt about its’ historical pedigree and its’ modern potential for reviving the Tokaj regions’ reputation for greatness.
Fekete Béla / Somló, Hungary 2011 / Juhfark
IN THE BOTTLE: “When we entered Somló for the first time we had no idea what we were doing. It’s the smallest appellation in Hungary, barely a paved road, no running water, and not many foreigners visit. We walked into a few bars (there are only a few) and asked who makes the best wine. Everyone said go talk to the old man of Somló, Béla. A rare importer moment to be sure. He doesn’t green harvest, he wants to make as much wine as possible, and he’s not a fan of plugging anything in apart from the mobile bottling truck. As you’ll read about, he’s in his 90’s, so the 2013 is probably his last vintage. End of an era.” Sometimes it’s best to just let Eric speak.
IN THE GLASS: This gives new meaning to tactile terroir in wine as Somló sits on dormant volcano that was once at the bottom of an ancient seabed. It’s a wine you tend to second guess because there is so much going on, it’s difficult to put your thumb on any one thing. Volcanic rock, ok, yes that stands out pretty strongly but fruit flavors are most difficult to identify here. There is citrus in there but more rind and leaves than pulp. There is an herbal tone in there that kind of reminds me of Feijoa (or Pineapple Guava here in the states, though I have know idea why we call it that.) I am so enamored by the feijoa smell and I’ve never actually smelled it in a wine until now! This wine is alluring and bewildering, a true challenge to the palate and a reminder that there is still so much out there to learn. Sure glad to learn this particular lesson from a Jedi such as Fekete Béla.
Sicilian wine culture is at an impasse. Although the story could be compared to many other regions in Italy, it naturally appears more impassioned and downright sexier simply because it’s Sicily. Not long ago a big push in the region was favoring international grape varieties (Syrah and Chardonnay specifically.) Simultaneously, wines made from the native work horse variety Nero d’Avola were also being produced with modern technique and to appeal to the voluptuous and showy palate. As always, however, we at Bergamot Alley are here to celebrate the pendulum swinging the other direction. Towards the small batch producers that grow things organically and produce wine naturally. Towards the winemakers that believe in true varietal expression, minimal manipulation and the truth that their soils have every bit of influence in the essence of their wine as their climate does. These are the new champions of Sicily. And here are three beautiful examples of their art showcasing the native red grapes they each use as their medium.
-Kevin Wardell, August 2014
Graci Etna Rosso / Etna, Sicily, Italy 2012 / Nerello Mascalese
IN THE BOTTLE: Etna wines are considered the shining star of Sicily when it comes to complexity. The crescent shaped appellation that hugs the (very very) live volcano, Mt. Etna, is iconic for all the obvious dramatic geographical reasons but also has a pedigree of producing wines of incredible quality. Alberto and Elena Graci work a vineyard that sits 1100 meters above sea level on the side of the volcano consisting of 100+ year old pre-phylloxera vines that do not receive nor require any treatments or fertilizers whatsoever. An insanely impressive site by any viticultural standards. Graci Etna Rosso is 100% Nerello Mascalese, which is a rarity as very few sites in the area are without some amount of its more muscular interplanted cousin, Nerello Cappuccio.
IN THE GLASS: Have I also mentioned that there are many who refer to Etna wines as being as close to Burgundy as Italy seems to get? Well, damned if you don’t get some seriously Pinot reminiscent elegance in this glass! Ripe with both fruit and acid and sweet tannin, leaving your tongue with the lively excitement of eating fresh berries off the vine. 2012 was a warm and arid vintage and this wine is showing beautiful natural concentration of flavor because of that. The tell tale smoky flavors from the soil are taking a bit of a back seat at first, but they are most certainly present and will undoubtedly integrate further over a bit of time. Knowing that other local producers favor a small degree of oak on their wines, I am immediately thankful that Graci uses nothing but older large format barrels to avoid any such interruption of natural beauty. Don’t let the light complexion of the wine fool you, it will evolve immensely in the glass and can be paired up with some serious culinary creations. Test it.
Occhipinti SP68 / Vittoria, Sicily, Italy 2013 / 60% Frappato + %40 Nero d’Avola
IN THE BOTTLE: “a seminal figure… whose rise to prominence is meteoric…” So much poetic praise has been unleashed on Arianna Occhipinti since she’s made her first wine about five years ago. Every bit of it well deserved mind you. But despite all the success and the spotlight, despite how wine people get giddy around her and tend to act like a teenage fan of (insert boy band of your generation here) – Arianna remains Arianna. She is indeed a badass winemaker, a natural beauty and loaded with equal parts intellect and charm. But she identifies herself as a just farmer trying to make wines that best express the fruit she grows and the soils and place from which the grow equally. Kudos. The greatness of this young woman is her ability to stick with being true to both herself and her wines throughout her success, genuinely and effortlessly. Something few in her position are truly capable of.
IN THE GLASS: This is a wine I truly get excited about vintage to vintage. The quality is always very high, but it is a rare breed of wine that has the ability to transport you to the place where it was grown and made. This wine tastes like Sicily to me. The fruit is immediately exotic both on the nose and the palate, it retains intense acidity but shows all the ripeness from its Mediterranean climate all the same (a neat trick I assure you!) Clearly it’s not all about the fruit here though. Throw in some white truffles and brine and violets… Did I mention how much I love this wine? SP68 will make anyone a believer in the beauty of a “natural wine” (save your debates on what that truly means. Or come in tonight and I’ll get on my soapbox.)
Cantina Barbera “Microcosmo” / Menfi, Sicily, Italy 2010 / 90% Perricone + 10%Nerello Mascalese
IN THE BOTTLE: Perricone is the rarest of these grapes that are found on the island. There are very few producers growing it anymore, but at Cantina Barbera that simply makes it more special. Marilena Barbera is a another rockstar Sicilian winemaker who has made her life purpose to put the soul back into wine and we’ve featured her insanely chuggable rosé once before in our club. Menfi is a stunning coastal spot in western Sicily that has plenty of viticultural history, dating back with the greek ruins scattered throughout, and an identity that Marilena fights hard to preserve. Industrial farming and modern winemaking are her nemesis just as the sun drenched dunes along the Mediterranean are her inspiration. She makes the “Microcosmo” to evoke all the feelings of her coastal paradise, the hot sun on your shoulders, the cool breeze at sundown and the omnipresent salt air thick with life. Who are we to argue with that?
IN THE GLASS: In the few examples of Perricone I’ve encountered, this wine truly shows its potential. There exists a dark ripeness that swings between black cherries and black olives. Could that scream any louder for Mediterranean food? The tannins have developed beautifully since bottling and its showing great secondary notes that are remind me of tarry molasses. It was the boom of Nero d’Avola that has pushed Perricone out of favor and into obscurity. Simple explanation is that Nero is easier to grow, ripens easily. Clearly Nero d’Avola can be delicious (see: Occhipinti, Cantina Barbera) but sometimes it boggles the mind, after tasting this wine, that a grape like this can be pushed to near extinction. Cheers to Marilena and to her self proclaimed fatal attraction, making wine that is the purest expression of where she is from.
The Jura, in the Franche-Comté region of France bordering Switzerland, is a miniscule region with only 4600 acres planted (for comparison, that’s half the acreage of Dry Creek Valley.) The region in general is more widely known for its delicious Comté cheese and perhaps as one of the more challenging and picturesque stages in the Tour de France year after year (and just yesterday!) “Jurassic wines” do also have a big reputation for distinct wine styles: vin jaune or vin de voile, white wine oxidized under flor yeast veil like sherry; vin de paille, sweet wine made from grape clusters dried on straw mats; macvin, sweet and fortified; and notably pale, feral reds. More and more, however, there are wines arriving to our shores that are far more approachable and easy to understand as well. The wines are truly a reflection of the hearty people of the Jura Mountains who eat their moxie with their muesli and drink vin jaune with their joie de vivre. Enjoy!
-Kevin Wardell / July 2014
Julien Labet “Fleurs” / Jura, France 2012 / Chardonnay
IN THE BOTTLE: When our friend Charles Neal first met Julien Labet he described him as having the disposition of half punk and half stoner and possibly having cut his blond hair himself. Since then, Charles considers him a feather in his import portfolio cap as each and every delicious small bottling that arrives from the Labet family is snatched up almost immediately. For the past couple of years they were releasing wines under both Juliens name and his fathers label, but it seems life is going to get easier for the consumer soon as they will finally be merging the wines as one label. Perhaps his father Alain has finally faced the fact that the fruit doesn’t fall too far the vine, so to speak.
IN THE GLASS: Roasted almonds and hazelnuts, honeycomb, soft cheese rind and applesauce? What the heck kind of Chardonnay is this? Clearly there are still recognizable aspects to the grape in this wine that keep it from being completely unfamiliar. But it sits in a beautiful position between Burgundian mouth feel, Chablis quality minerality with just a whisper of the distinctive oxidative quality that make it truly a Jurassic Chardonnay. If you don’t have a hunk of Comté handy, some well aged Gouda will do I suppose, but you should really go see your nearest cheesemonger to enjoy this pairing.
Champ Divin Brut Rosé / Cremánt du Jura, France 2012 / Pinot + Trousseau
IN THE BOTTLE: Fabrice and Valérie Closset are the epitome of the hippie side of Jurassic wine culture. The region itself is dominated by organic and biodynamic practices in the vineyards and the approach in the local wineries have always been “laissez faire.” Growing up, the Clossets have always kept bees and maintained a biodynamic and biodiverse garden. They have continued that ethos, even after planting their vineyards, to ensure that their land didn’t fall into the common health issues that are common to mono-cropping. We’ve been fortunate to enjoy the small amount of wines they make from this idyllic five-hectare estate.
IN THE GLASS: There is very little about this wine that doesn’t put a smile on your face. Pink sparkling tends do that inherently, true, but this one has such complexity and depth that it truly stands out. Layers of bramblefruit and crunchy minerality as well as the perfect amount of creamy yeastiness reminiscent of a great grower Champagne. Those attributes also make this a great food pairing wine as it can stand up to foods much stronger in flavor than traditional pairings. Let’s get down to the brass tacks here, this is kind of a perfect wine in so many ways. It’s the kind of wine that makes you want to go see where it’s made, meet the lovely people who made it, and drink it right there on the farm. Surrounded by bees. Jurassic bees.
Domaine Rolet “Tradition” / Arbois, Jura, France 2010 / Trousseau + Poulsard + Pinot Noir
IN THE BOTTLE: The Rolet family is a one of the largest producers in Arbois. Which basically makes them only a slightly bigger small fish in a small pond. They have made their mark with wines that showcase purity and ripeness. In any other wine region those would be overused marketing buzz words, but to achieve purity and especially ripeness is a feat unto itself way up here in the mountains. Ironically, the soils here are mostly uplifted Jurassic limestone, but the region is named for a vernacular word for forest.
IN THE GLASS: It goes without saying that a red wine with such a light color is always a surprise when it’s poured in the glass. Thankfully the second half of that surprise is just how packed with flavor this is despite its transparent hue. The nose is fresh baked cherry galette, coffee grounds and fresh turned earth. The coffee grounds thing, albeit slight, I often get in quality red wines from this area (and others similar, like the Aosta Valley in Italy.) But in the end it is all about the acidity and rich earthy tones packed into this ripe, yet low alcohol beauty; drink at cellar temp or slightly below.
Riesling is king. Sometimes people are still surprised to hear that. More surprising is that for as long as so many winemakers, wine writers and somms have been touting this fact for what seems like forever. So whether you’ve seen the light or not in this regard, we present to you three very distinct and delicious examples of Riesling each from benchmark regions within Germany, Italy and France respectively. Certainly there are other areas, however, where the grape has been made with a high level of quality. I’ve had outstanding examples from New Zealand, Oregon, British Columbia and even the Finger Lakes area in upstate New York. A handful of California producers have recently refocused their attention to growing Riesling in cooler sights with very promising results as well. Austria, it has to be said, is the unfortunate glaring omission from this months selection as they too have some of the very best Riesling in the world. But if I’m honest, I’ve likely subconsciously left them out because they are not in the World Cup. So there.
-Kevin Wardell – June 2014
Leitz “Dragonstone” / Rheingau, Germany 2012 / Riesling
In The Bottle: The Drachenstein Vineyard, reputedly named for the fossilized dinosaur prints found nearby, dominated by slate although there is lots of quartzite as well. What is really important is to picture the insanely sloped vineyards along the Rhein River, in this case rising some 850 feet at a slope of 37 degrees. Another of his sights is cultivated at whopping 62 degrees. Folks in these parts have been hand picking these grapes on such slopes for generations and to this day there is very little place for anyone without a strong back.
In The Glass: Have you ever smelled a ripe Key Lime right off the tree? Well, that’s where my mind goes when I smell this wine. There is a strong mineral backbone to the aromatics for sure, but I get enough sweet lime scent on the nose that I’m almost salivating for a freshly squeezed margherita. The palate brings me right back to everything lovely about German Riesling however. I heart the tart cherry! This wine obviously has a bit of residual sugar but there is also an added textural quality that comes from Johannes’ use of extended yeast contact. It’s really quite easy to fall in love with this wine. It balances that slight sweetness with all the classic minerality and acidity making it optimal for pairing with your favorite spicy asian dish, ideally at a picnic out in the summer sun.
Kuenhof “Kaiton” / Eisacktal, Südtirol, Italy 2012 / Riesling
In the Bottle: Peter and Brigitte Pliger farm the Kuenhof vineyards organically between 1,800 and 2,300 feet above sea level. The Isarco Valley is one of the few areas under vine in Italy that really mimics the “heroic” mountainside viticulture that the Mosel in Germany is known for. It’s also an area where families generally grow their small amounts of fruit for a local co-op winery. The Pligers changed that in 1990 and have been making incredibly distinct wines from their own slopes since. They also ferment the wines using only indigenous yeasts which take between up to four months to finish and then age in both stainless steel and acacia-wood vessels. Kudos for the use of screwcaps as well, not everyone buys into those as a viable option for whatever reasons, but I think there is far more sense to it than folks want to believe.
In the Glass: I love my friend Oliver McCrum’s quote about this wine as having an electric mineral character “I am reminded of licking a nine-volt battery as a dare when I was younger.” The first thing that this wines shows is a bit of sulphur. This is common issue for Rieslings in their youth even if the winemaker doesn’t use too much SO2 at bottling, which the Pliger family does not, but can also be all too common unfortunately. The wine opens up to show it’s true nervy texture and flinty profile quickly with mouth watering acidity. It falls more on the spicy herbaceous side of Riesling than it does the more typical floral or tropical attributes. There is no mistaking the grape varieties calling card “petrol” quality in this wine that will only integrate itself further into this zippy dry wine over a few years.
Meyer-Fonne Katzenthal / Katzenthal, Alsace, France 2012 / Riesling
In The Bottle: Félix Meyer feels that fermenting micro sections of his vineyard sites separately, based on their granite composition, and then blending them afterwards is the best way to achieve great results. He also trims his yields down with multiple passes through the vines to a level that his neighbors refer to as “ridiculously low.” Despite this, Félix is not the maniacal perfectionist that one might assume. He is more akin to a kid in a candy store. He loves his craft and believes there such a thing as an idol moment in either the cellar or the vineyards themselves.
In The Glass: It’s an odd claim to state that one winemakers wines are reputably more aromatically seductive than any of their neighbors, especially in an aromatic white grape mecca such as Alsace. Yet, somehow, Felix makes wines that are consistently transcendent in that way and here a great example of that fact. The layers of honeysuckle, lime leaf and rainwashed stone makes me a little weak in the knees. This is certainly where Riesling plays with your head as well, all that rich ripe depth on the nose from a wine that is as bone-dry as this is a fun roller coaster for the senses. Once again this is a wine that will just be getting better and better in the years to come, but it sure is a beauty now as well.
ABOUT THE BACK ALLEY WINE CLUB
Owner Kevin Wardell’s passion is geeky, delicious wine. The name “Bergamot Alley” was inspired by the essence of Wardell’s favorite obscure grape variety, Lacrima di Morro d’Alba, in tribute to it’s exquisite bergamot and rose petal bouquet. The name invokes experience, and adoration for the obscure, a path which Wardell has tread well for many years.
Wardell’s decade plus of tutelage started with 5 years at SF’s Italian mothership restaurant A16, a path which led directly to a Sommelier certification and extensive travel in Europe, Asia and Down Under. He peppered in 5 years as a cellar rat in California’s Dry Creek Valley (Unti Vineyards) and New Zealand (Mt. Difficulty) and was then called to the position of Wine Director for flour+water restaurant, the Bay Area beauty of Italian culinary miracles. A series of Dry Creek crushes, a growing penchant for country living, and a keen eye for the missing link inspired Wardell to move up and on. Healdsburg became the place, and Bergamot Alley is the dream come true.
Through each professional and personal jig there were exclusive opportunities for Wardell to meet the producers, their families, tour the terroir, and intimately understand the wines he was bringing to his own State-side wine programs. Many years, tastes and tours later, his focus at Bergamot Alley is terroir-driven wines from emerging Old World wine regions that fly under the radar and present excellent value. They all have a story, of people and place, time and tradition. Within our Wine Club the goal is simple- to share these stories and an Old World education through a healthy dose of geeky, delicious wines.
Do you know your Bugey & your Bouzy from your Buzet & your Bonnezeaux? Or could you draw a route from Salice Salento to Enfer D’Arvier with a quick stop off, naturally, for some Est! Est!! Est!!! di Montefiascone? The world is shrinking and wine regions you’ve never heard of are creeping into the world’s wine conversations. It’s been the focus of wine educators and enthusiasts alike to discover the roots and history of our favorite wines as well new grapes to fall in love with.
You come to us to find this wow in wine. Now we want to bring it to your doorstep, one custom delivery at a time. With each box of bottles from our Back Alley Wine Club you will delve deeper into these pocket places of the Old World, stacking up your knowledge cards. This is what Wardell does best, what he loves to do, and what the Bergamot Back Alley Wine Club is all about.
Every month a new triplet of wines will arrive at your door. If you are a local Healdsburgian we kindly suggest that you come pick up your box of bottles at the bar. Standard FedEx Ground delivery rates apply. So do local laws and regulations on booze. Somebody 21 or older must be available to sign for the shipment, and FedEx will email you confirmation of your day of delivery.Your three monthly Wine Club wines will be boxed up and ready for pick up on the 3rd Thursday of every month. Shipping occurs the following Monday (We don’t like them sitting in a warehouse over the weekend.)
Tastings of each month’s wines will be held the third Thursday of every month from 6pm to 8pm at Bergamot Alley. Wardell will be presenting detailed dialogue and stories about each wine on tasting nights (Kevin’s notes will accompany every box of bottles via email too, and when we can, we try to time Back Alley Wine Club releases with special guest producers who might just be in town.) Tastings are free for Back Alley members.
We look forward to extending friendship rates and exclusive deals to all of our Wine Club members. As a member of the Bergamot Alley Back Alley Wine Club you will receive:
* 15% off all Wine Club wine re-orders during their featured month.
* 10% off all retail purchases every day of the year.
* Free tasting on the day of shipment/pick up (3rd Wednesday of every month, from 6-8pm)
* Exclusive deals and promotions for in-house tasting events and products.
The easiest way to sign up for the Bergamot Back Alley Wine Club is to:
*Call us and we will fill in the information for you (707.433.8720)
*Email us and we will send you a form to fill out (email button to the right)
*Visit us at the bar and fill in the info in person (hello!)
No matter which way you choose to sign up, we will contact you to confirm details. A hearty and sincere thank you for supporting our small, family owned business.
With love, from Kevin Wardell and Sarah Johnson