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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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