Bergamot Back Alley Wine Club


Three wines, hand picked every month by Kevin Wardell. On the third FRIDAY of every month you can pick them up 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.



-BAWC Members will enjoy a 10% discount on all retail wines. A 15% discount is applied to all re-orders of the current month’s Club wines.

-BAWC Members have their monthly wines available on the 3rd Friday of each month. On a 5-Friday month (they do happen!) Pick-Up will be adjusted to be on the 4th Friday of that month.

-All Club dues are processed on the 16th of every month. If you need to update your account information you will need to notify us prior to this monthly due.

-One month notice is required for all Club cancellations and changes. That means if you don’t want March’s wines you will need to notify us by the pick up date in February. Or if you want to pick up instead of ship, we need a month of lead time.


-Shipping fees are not included in the base Club price and will be added to your monthly total. We will verify your shipping fees before we ship to you.

-An adult (21+) must be present to sign for all received shipments of wine. FedEx will attempt delivery twice- you will be notified for approximate delivery times. After two attempts for delivery the wine will be returned to us. Members will be charged additional shipping rates for re-shipment.

-Shipping to your business is encouraged if you are not home during business hours. Any adult can sign for your shipment.

-Shipping is available in fourteen states only. Federal and State rules apply. Contact us to see if we can ship to your State.


-We have very limited space for which to store wines in at Bergamot Alley. Therefore, we can only hold up to 3 months of Club wines for any one Member. When you reach the three month mark for storage we will notify you. We will either work with you on a pick up date or make arrangements to return your additional months’ wines to the shelves. (You will receive a credit for these wines redeemable at Bergamot Alley- bar or retail.)  Thank you for your understanding in this delicate space related matter.


-In 2018 we will offer an online shopping cart to expedite things like updating your credit card information and re-ordering Club wines you absolutely love. Stay tuned!

BAWC – JAN 2018 – PDF

Welcome 2018 and welcome to yet another year of the Back Alley Wine Club -This is Club shipment #60! That means we’ve covered 180 different wines (without one repeat, I might add). It’s an amazingly diverse and delicious world out there and we’re sure glad to have you on board for the ride.

Here at Bergamot Alley we are in the midst of a three week long educational tasting series featuring wines from Eastern Europe and we couldn’t resist bringing you a few of our favorite reds from these amazing and far reaching lands. Thankfully, we’re getting beyond the point of being surprised by the quality of wines from these countries and can see their merit based on what’s in the bottle rather than getting caught up being awestruck by how they got here.

Sure, there is still an immense amount learning, tasting, sharing and enjoying still to be had before grapes like Refošk, Kadarka and Blatina become household names, but I mean to say that it’s worth noting that upon introducing these wines I no longer feel obligated to speak first about the residual negative effects of Communism and the decades of war had on their industry. Clearly there’s a huge conversation surrounding all that, but Croatia, Slovenia, Hungary and now even Bosnia/Herzegovina have all shown a fabulous track record in recent years of great wine- being recognized for this alone is paramount for their future. These small family wineries have very proud histories and we are incredibly fortunate to be able to crack open a bottle of what small amounts of wine that is currently making it to our shores. Cheers! Egészségedre! & Na zdravje!              

-Kevin Wardell, January 2018


Rojac ‘Refošk’ / Teran (aka Refošk) / Istria, Slovenia 2014

IN THE BOTTLE: Uroš Rojac is the latest generation making Refošk under the family name, going all the way back to the 19th century. This red grape is without peer in the area but it’s actual identity took a bit to sort out; Refošk and Teran in Slovenia and Croatia and Terrano in Italy are the same but those are not identical to the Italian Refosco, although certainly all in the same family. It’s also a parent grape to Corvina, the workhorse grape in the wines of Valpolicella. But for every winemaker in and around the Istrian Peninsula, it is the most important native born treasure that expresses every bit of their land and their culture. Grown from the infamous, iron rich, bright red clay soils (well, locally they say it’s ‘a land without soil’ as that topsoil layer is very thin) over top hard bone white limestone of the region, the vines are both challenged and treated to a terroir that makes them the envy of many growers throughout the world.

IN THE GLASS:  The dark inky violet color of this wine brings me back to childhood when my sisters and I would play with tye dying our shirts with these peculiar shaped little berries growing in our backyard. Sorry Mom. That said, they were most likely very poisonous, but hey, back then we’d also ride in the reverse jump seat in the back our station wagon and see how far we could hang ourselves out the back window (what seat belts?) But despite its intense complexion, this wine is much more bright and playful. Mulberry pie, violets and purple ‘Spree’ candy. Sure, there is a scoach of brett in this wine as well, but give it a small amount of oxygen and it dissipates rather quickly. This has all the juicy elements I want from the grape, and plenty of layers of earth as well, with none of the brooding seriousness of so many examples of it’s relatives on the Italian side of the border.   


Eszterbauer ‘Nagyapám’ / Kadarka / Szekszárd, Hungary 2016

IN THE BOTTLE:  The Eszterbauer family from Bavaria established its vinous roots in Szekszárd in 1746, which of course explains the last name, and is just a drop in the local historical bucket as vineyards have been cultivated here since before the Celts (thats 800–450 BC to you and me.) It is most famous for its dark spicy red blends, ominously labeled Bikavér or “Bull’s Blood” stemming from an old legend where a small group of Hungarian soldiers drank the local wine (that was clearly mixed with Bull’s blood judging by its color) providing them the super strength to fight off the Turkish invaders against all odds. Don’t try this at home kids. The fruit from their oldest vineyards is the base for “Nagyapám” (Grandfather), argued by many to be Hungary’s finest Kadarka. János Eszterbauer feels that it’s not enough just to have healthy fruit, that it is most important not to over-extract the delicate Kadarka grape otherwise it can become bitter and loose the evocative perfume characteristic of the grape. It’s clear he’s onto something there!

IN THE GLASS: It says it right there on the back label; Jasmine and Raspberries. Now, 99 times out of 100 I find myself either disagreeing with, scoffing at, or flat out questioning ‘what were they thinking?’ when reading a back label. But in this case, bravo! That’s exactly what I smell. And I’ll even second their suggestion that this is best served with a chill. This is absolutely the most purely pleasing and delicious Bull’s Blood I’ve ever tried. Now, let’s quickly address the fabulously shiny stickers fancying (see: muddling) up such a cool vintage front label. I’ll be the first one to rant about the innumerable roadside signs I see here in wine country daily that read “6 SILVER MEDALS!” or “3 DOUBLE GOLDS & 11 BRONZE!!” (and so on) as being the most transparent and rudimentary marketing tricks that wineries use simply to get someone to stop at their tasting rooms. Maybe trick isn’t the right word, as I’m sure they did receive said lofty endowments, but let’s keep it simple and remind people to, well, perhaps consider the source. But here is an instance where these awards are truly a big achievement not only for their small family winery but also for their region on a national scale and are accolades to be quite proud of, as they clearly are. Often times importers will beg and plead that wineries refrain from displaying such achievements in all their decorative metallic glory, as it can lead to an unfortunate reaction opposite from it’s intention on retail shelves and, even worse so, in restaurants (who are more often concerned with label appeal than they’ll ever admit to.) But when it’s all said and done, if it would make Nagyapám proud, well then heck yeah I’ll drink to that!


Brkić ‘Plava Greda’ / Blatina / Čitluk, Bosnia Herzegovina 2015

IN THE BOTTLE: Josip Brkić’s father, Pasko, planted the vineyards in a Southern corner of  Bosnia where the limestones soils and Adriatic climate influence make up what is now, and historically once was before, the most important growing region in the country. He decided after his father passed that his family vineyard needed to be farmed biodynamically, and did so without haste nor compromise. At first his vineyards went through shock ‘like a drug addict being detoxified’ he says. ‘But diseases have to be accepted, Josip told us, to allow the vines to grow stronger. Why use water in a dry year? The winemaker has to be honest with the vintage. Thanks to organic farming, the vineyard is a special place, not just an ordinary piece of land. It’s a place of dedication, a place that demands respect, attention, love, knowledge and passionate work. It is farmed to let nature be in control, which is harder and more risky. The berries are smaller, the yield is lower, but this is necessary to let the wine express itself.’ Josip’s influence and modern take on viticulture, with all the respect for the earth and local history, is vast, and we sure hope to see such quality from others following in his footsteps in years to come.

IN THE GLASS:: Layers and layers of pleasant perfume from the moment this hits the glass with botanicals from Cinnamon to Juniper and fruit notes from Plum to Grapefruit. This is a truly polished and stunning wine from the Zinfandel ancestral lineage (see: Crljenak.) Josip does a fabulous job extracting all of those deep flavor components without the gripping difficult tannins that often show with most other local wines in this family of grapes. I’m even tempted, and wrongfully so, to say that this wine somehow transcends it’s sense of place. Am I somehow wishing for it to be more ‘old world’ or ‘rustic?’ The fact is that this is a beautifully made wine from super healthy vineyards, and even acts as an incredible ambassador for the potential of the grape varietal itself. Even the most astute of experts would be hard pressed, in a blind lineup, to identify this wine’s origin, and for that Josep deserves a rollicking round of applause for working tirelessly to showcase his home in Southern Bosnia/Herzegovina as being worthy of the historically distinguished reputation it once had.


Pétillant-naturel (natural sparkling) is the term for sparkling wine made in the ‘méthode ancestrale’ meaning that the wine is bottled before primary fermentation is finished, without the addition of secondary yeasts or sugars, allowing the effervescence to occur naturally. Pét-Nats are popping up everywhere and range from simplistic and fun to deeply complex. They can also get pretty funky if the winemaker isn’t careful (well, I should acknowledge that funky is sometimes exactly what some producers are gunning for. AKA Pet-Nasty. Yeesh.) Not to worry, the three Pét-Nats we’re bringing to you for this year’s holiday fun fall much more in the ‘clean’ camp- but more importantly are an amazing exploration of the delightfully savory side of wine. The inherent nature of these wines is that they’re truly bone dry, therefore you have a whole different encyclopedia (that dusty one next to the one that’s marked Floral-Fruit) of non-fruit descriptors to play with. Don’t we get enough sweet stuff during this time of year? These are best paired with holiday parties, ugly sweaters, insanely fatty passed appetizers and complicated conversations. Just stay away from politics.  -Kevin Wardell, December 2017

PS: These wines are not about the ‘delicate bead’ that is often referred to in just about every big Champagne house marketing portfolio – the bubbles are much more alive and play a big part in the lighthearted nature of the experience. As I always do with any bubbles, and in this case more than ever, let me encourage you to experience these in your most rotund wine glasses as opposed to some dainty flutes. The aromatics are such a huge part of the flavor of every single wine you drink (bubbles or no bubbles) and can be all but lost in more restrictive vessels. If you run out of bubbles during your drinking experience, don’t blame the glass, you’re simply drinking too slow. Happy Holidays!



La Biancara ‘Garg’n’go’ / Garganega / Gambellara, Veneto, Italy 2016

Ever wondered what fresh fermentation smells like? It’s an aromatic that is maybe unexpected in wine, but certainly not off-putting. Really cidery, isn’t it? Pears and Apples. Toss some ginger and honeycomb on some green tree fruit and now we’re really getting somewhere. Garganega is a deliciously honeyed grape variety and it shines through this wine beautifully. (Remember Soave? Best not to, honestly… but the grape can actually be delicious.) Nothing against Prosecco (that’s not entirely true, I’m on record for spouting all kinds of anti-Glera propaganda) but if I put this in a glass when my guests arrive they will know that I love them, where Prosecco often says ‘Cin cin everyone! I found this between the Enquirer and the Kit-Kats.’ Don’t let the fizzy frivolity of this wine fool you either. Angiolino Maule is one of the most important names in the natural winemaking movement in all of Italy. He’s an icon in natural grape growing, achieving biodiversity and reaping myriad benefits from this practice. He remains to this day one of the few exciting producers out of this region. But there is still hope, and for this we remain thankful.


Paltrinieri ‘Radice’ / Lambrusco di Sorbara / Lambrusco di Modena, Emilia Romagna, Italy 2016

Yes, I know, I just asked you to remember Soave, and now I’m giving you Lambrusco? (I also referred to Encyclopedias as actual books, holy crap I am old.) Perhaps there’s just a sense of nostalgia filling the air this time of year… No, no. Stop. No one should be nostalgic for the sweet and cheap poor quality wines that once saturated the US market under those two particular monikers. I digress.

Experiencing the new trend of beautifully balanced and dry wines that are finally reaching us from Lambrusco is much more worthy of your excitement. First of all you’ll notice that this ‘sparkling red wine’ looks much more like a Rosé from Provence than it does the classic dark wine with purple froth. This type of Lambrusco, Lambrusco di Sorbara, is traditionally far less pigmented and relies on its cutting acidity and grapefruit skin bitterness to deliver your palate to its happy spot. The slight creaminess from the yeast- what you might often associate Champagne with- is most certainly there, it is just constantly being kept in check by the zesty edge that holds your palate on the edge of it’s seat.


Le Petit Saint Vincent ‘Cab a Bulles’ / Cabernet Franc / Saumur Champigny, Loire, France 2016

Nothing says holiday happy hour like a good Campari Spritz, am I right? Wait a sec. Ok, not quite, but this is as close to a spritz as I’ve ever come across in a wine. Orange rindy-ness, maraschino cherry-ness (good lord, I’m getting older as I write this), a bit herbal and a kiss of cinnamon spice finish. It’s only slightly bitter in comparison but just enough to be delightfully reminiscent and yee-haw that’s a really fun aperitif!  You probably already know that Cab Franc has a very savory and vegetal side to it, but I doubt you’ve ever tasted those components in this way before.


It’s become a tradition where I find that I am up late yet again, drinking a bottle of Gamay (Julienas, Chignard, if you must know) and celebrating the annual Beaujolais Nouveau release event date in my own way by doing my best to steer you all as far away from ever putting such things in your glass. I know, I know. Bah humbug. Poppy cosh! What a snob. At the very least I’m here to save you from the wicked headache tomorrow that comes with downing bottles far too many bottles of super fresh carbonic guzzle juice (see: worst. hangover. ever.) You’re welcome. So without further ado, please enjoy these three examples of why we love Gamay with reckless abandon, every other day of the year. Besides being the Bergamot crew’s favorite subject matter, it is also just the perfect pairing material for whatever is on your plate this week be it Turkey (or Ribs and Crab in our case!). Gulpable and sippable and shareable and lip lickable- Happy Thanksgiving!

                   -Kevin Wardell, November 2017


Guillaume Clusel ‘Traboules’ / Gamay / Coteaux Lyonnais, Rhône, France 2016

IN THE BOTTLE: For all you Northern Rhone Syrah fans out there (for the love of the Gods, please raise your hands) what we have here is the son of the fabulous duo Clusel-Roch, who’s Côte Rotie has actually been known to make one see the aforementioned floaty guys in the sky. Guillaume has found, along with a handful of other younger up-and-coming stars, some incredible vineyard sites to work with that exist in a sort of no man’s land south of Beaujolais and just north of Côte Rotie and adjacent to the very hip city of Lyon. Named after the famed ‘Traboules’ which are a series of secret passages and stairways throughout the city, methinks Guillaume knows what a hidden treasure he is creating. It makes one giddy with the simple pleasure of discovery as you sit back and enjoy the magic of blurred lines between Syrah and Gamay.

IN THE GLASS: Can you stand it? This has so many markers of an uber fragrant Northern Rhône Syrah on the nose it’s silly. When you get round to the first sip, however, it is unmistakably Gamay again. That beautiful grape bubble gum over tone is a one of those guilty pleasure tasting notes. It’s a super high toned and fruit driven indulgent wine on all levels, honestly. A big ol’ bucket of raspberries with some sweet smelling potting soil underneath. This is a home run cheese course wine – bring us your nutty, your grassy, your pungent epoisses yearning for the cutting board and a glass full of Traboules!


Clos la Tue-Bouef ‘La Butte’ / Gamay / Touraine, Loire, France 2015

IN THE BOTTLE: Need a new hero? When asked what wine Thierry Puzelat likes to drink, his response: ‘No limits of region, country, price or notoriety. My favorite wines are the the ones where the bottle is empty in less than 5 minutes.’ Loire is ever the stomping ground of the renegade-push the limit winemaker (that goofy Alaskan has ruined the word maverick for ever). Puzelat’s wines are prime example of that spirit and have shown vintage after vintage of great quality that has created a cult-like* following. Thierry and his brother, Jean-Marie, are salt of the earth farmers that truly have a knack for precision in winemaking and ingratiating themselves to both the natty crowd and the more buttoned up dilettantes as well. Often, and understandably, a monumentally difficult task.

*(I loathe the term ‘cult wine,’ it has simply been abused too often to manipulate the minds of the…. heyyy wait a minute)

IN THE GLASS: Most of you know me by now, I don’t spread the ju ju vibe and exclaim, at least too often, that ‘this wine is alive!’ For starters, I do not like my wine to have too much life. Microbial wine flaws may be exciting to some, but I certainly have my limits (and I’m looking at you too, Mister Have You Tried This Sick New Sour Beer?) Despite a bit of brett, which blows off with some air and is no surprise at all, we do indeed have vibrant, electric, powerful and totally alive wine. All the cool climate markers of spice and meatiness, but with ample ripe fruit that doesn’t leave you with that sense of green bitterness that can sometimes lurk beneath the surface of Gamay in Loire. And the depth, oh the depth. If only I could come up with a clever Sommelier based terminology for the measurement of depth in a wine. I can’t fathom it.  


Domaine de Colette ‘Les Charmes’ / Gamay / Morgon, Beaujolais, France 2014
IN THE BOTTLE: Morgon, Morgon, Morgon. Always my sweet spot. And for many others like me, simply seeing that word on the label truly influences how much I’m going to like the wine, fair or not. Not to say I’ve never had a Morgon that underwhelmed. But, if in fact that actually happened and after my mind has been mercifully washed of such a sad event, it would be instantaneously replaced with visions of raspberries, violets and pencil shavings dancing above my head not unlike Wile E. Coyote after being bashed with a boulder. Slightly more serious and gripping than the estate’s other wines, Morgon has the reputation for fabulous ageability and this was made with that in mind. Organic fruit from the increasingly important granite site ‘Les Charmes’ and classic methods is how the Gautier family makes their mark. Carbonic. Concrete. Les Charmes-ing as can be.

IN THE GLASS:  If you, unlike me, have the capacity, and by that I don’t mean available space, to hold on to good wine for a time – this is a good candidate. Or just fess up to your sins, drink the kool aid and enjoy what is worth enjoying while you’re here on this particular planet. The structure of is a great cross between cracked black pepper, bracing acidity and a soft touch of tannins to compliment the beauty that is Gamay from Morgon. The granite-y profile is strong to the point that it’s almost more akin to neighboring Cote du Brouilly, where that grip is the defining thumbprint. For the price this is a true gem. Opens up quickly with some air and will be the clear favorite as the centerpiece for your holiday meal this year! I mean, besides that elaborate decorative gourd display you worked so hard on. That’s nice too.



This month we focus on and lend our support to others in the wine industry who have just experienced the same nightmare we have just faced in Northern California. In Western Portugal and Spain there have been massive wildfires causing widespread destruction of property and, sadly, taking lives. They did not have anything near the resources that were available to us here it terms of containment of the fires, nor the seemingly insurmountable rebuilding process. We celebrate three winemakers that are very important voices and role models for their regions and we hope the best for their families and loved ones and for the rebuilding process for their local communities. We are honored to be sharing a little of their rare magic with you and to support friends in times of need, both here and abroad.

-Kevin Wardell, October 2017


Eladio Piñeiro Envida Cochina’ / Albariño / Rias Baixas, Galicia, Spain 2016

IN THE BOTTLE: The name means “the envy of the worm,” the pithy Spanish way of conveying that “I want to be in your shoes when good things are happening.” Eladio helped put Rais Baixas on the map with his early work with Albariño a larger winery. Since then, he and his wife (who designs the whimsical and wonderful labels) moved to creating small batch wines that are above the curve when it comes to the category. When they made his move, they retained ownership of the small vineyard sites Eladio felt were the most special and have cultivated them Biodynamically ever since. They also spend time in Portugal’s Alentejo region where they make a red wine from similarly ‘magic’ (his words) vineyard sites that is also not to be missed.

IN THE GLASS: Immediately, assuming you’ve perhaps had a few other examples of Albariño for comparison, you can sense this wine is anything but typical. Albariño has laid its rightful claim as the one high acid and mineral driven, tropical toned delight in an otherwise inconsistent landscape of Spanish white wine (despite outliers like we enjoyed just a couple months back.) Eladio, however, seeks to make his Albariños with greater depth of texture and also ageability. The perfume is more about almonds and walnuts than it is of fruit at first, showcasing not only the extended lees contact but also his unorthodox technique of adding 15% of the previous vintage wine that has been on its lees the prior 15 mos. Aha! Here we see the layers starting to unfold. The minerality is still omnipresent and the fruit I can best describe as lemon curd or marmalade- as the citrus rinds are an equal part of the flavor makeup. A thinking man’s Albariño, one might say, coming from a thoroughly thoughtful and artful man.


Filipa Pato ‘Post-Quercus’ 500ml / Baga / Bairrada. Beiras, Portugal 2015

IN THE BOTTLE: One cannot have a conversation about magic in wine without bringing up Filipa Pato. Filipa brings her own brand of joie de vivre (alegria de viver) to her wines and she is not afraid to take risks. In this case she set out to make the Baga grape act a bit more like a Pinot as she notes that not only the terroirs of Burgundy to Bairrada, when compared, are quite similar but the local cultures are as well. Oh yeah, and let’s try aging it in Amphora while we’re at it? Love. Now, Bairrada may have a long way before it becomes recognized as the Burgundy of Portugal, but that won’t stop Filipa from meticulously mapping out the region by soil parcels and micro climates. Her approach is to produce first the best grapes her particular sites can give, through organic farming, and then to make ‘authentic wines without make-up’ so that the world can taste their true potential and she can share in the enchantment she holds for her life’s work.

IN THE GLASS: For a notoriously burly grape variety, Filipa has certainly tamed the beast. Too often Portuguese red wines are blunt instruments against the palate and finding finesse is a fool’s errand. I would expect nothing less, however, for this delightful surprise to come from a rockstar like Filipa. The aromatics are exploding with fresh red berries and are devoid of the sappy and sometimes overripe or baked fruit components I’ve come to expect from some of the more hot climates of Portugal. The palate brings an impressive balance between earthy clay notes and silken fruit tannins. This is a pretty serious wine and yet it’s almost comical how singular and unique it is. Not to say there are not others seeking, and achieving, similar balance and beauty in modern Portuguese Reds, it has simply been a long time coming (and long promised) that I am excited to share such delicious results. Filipa is certainly considered a trailblazer for exciting new wines coming out of Portugal.


Aphros, Reserva Bruto / Loureiro / Vinho Verde, Minho, Portugal 2014

IN THE BOTTLE: What more do you need to know than that Vasco Croft, an architect, educator and devotee of Rudolf Steiner, discovered the mysteries of wine in his mid-thirties through the intervention of a Brazilian Buddhist monk? Vasco is part renaissance man, part farmer and he is currently engaged in an ambitious project to create a cultural center/restaurant and a food forest on his recently expanded estate. He works hard to knock down the misconceptions about the wines from his region first with his dedication to Biodynamic farming, but more with his fleet of great wines that are a far cry from ‘typical.’ This ‘metodo classico’ sparkling wine is one, but it also includes a low alcohol Vinho Verde designed for everyday drinking (is that called a ‘session’ wine?) and a red Vinho Verde which is like the wine equivalent of a unicorn. A Portuguese unicorn, naturally.

IN THE GLASS: Well this is just too cool. For those familiar with Vinho Verde, the common expression of the wines are an ever so slightly spritzy, slightly sweet, chuggable and cheap bottle of fun. Not only is it fun to try single varietal wines from the Loureiro grape, but to have an example of just how bright and fresh the grape can taste in a champagne method sparkler such as this is next level stuff. Kudos to Vasco as well as the grape, of course. Juicy apples and pears with just enough biscuity backbone to remind you you’re drinking wine and not a fresh cider. Wines like this are such a special find to me. There was so much care taken on every level of growing and making this wine, and the result is a bright and delightful treat that is both really limited and yet surprisingly affordable! It’s become an instant fav at Bergamot and I’m guessing will be gone way sooner than we’d like.


Sorry, this PDF is temporarily unavailable. 


Spanish wine has a lot of exciting changes underway and there is no place better to look at this than in Rioja. Unquestionably the most famous wine region in Spain is currently focused on its identity, and more importantly, its integrity while it struggles to adapt a more viable system of regulation help classify quality. Things like the Gran Reserva classification, which is a surprisingly arbitrary category based solely on aging versus quality, and the desire for emphasis on single vineyards are two of the hottest topics in debate today. There is an unpredictable wide range of both quality and price when it comes to shopping for a Rioja and there is no doubt that it has eroded its reputation over the years. And although it seems inherently Spanish to resist any sort of strict governmental guidelines placed upon their proud wine culture, there are many who see great benefit in looking to their peers for wisdom in this case. Burgundy and Barolo, for example, are leading the trend when it comes to identifying their highest quality wines through single vineyard site ‘Cru’ designation. Rioja has a long way to go on this front as you can imagine that proving what locations are truly special when compared to others is clearly a political pandora’s box. As for price point to quality ratio, what can possibly be done? Certainly regulating the amount of Reserva or Gran Reserva a winery can produce each vintage (like Brunello) is one way to force the issue. But again, to get a majority to comply with such change is proving a massive up-hill battle. Not to mention the necessity of a system to ensure no one is cheating (like Brunello) -a whole other ball of bees.    Kevin Wardell, August 2017


Azul y Garanza / Viura / Bardenas Reales, Navarra, Spain 2016


The Azul y Garanza vineyards begin in the lunar landscaped Bardenas Reales Natural Park. Founders Dani Sánchez and María Barrena (and Maria’s brother Fernando) work with ‘landscapes’ – not merely vineyards – with each of their plots enjoying as much biological diversity as this harsh climate will allow. The surrounding plants, shrubs, trees, and animal/insect life play as much a part to the success of the grapes as the vines themselves. Winemaking is quite natural – the widespread, almost exclusive use of concrete vats, natural yeasts and gentle hands.’   –Sometimes the importers tell the whole story – Many thanks to our friends at Valkyrie Selections for this blurb.

IN THE GLASS: *Porch pounder alert* When crisp green apple and a juicy green melon are catapulted into one another, this happens. How wise of them to package the result in a very green labeled, green glass bottle. It’s so easy to fall in love with a cheap liter bottle of wine with such high yum factor. Viura, or more widely known as Macabeo, has been all over our wine list this summer from both sides of the France/ Spain border and has collected tons of new fans. You don’t always need complexity, sometimes you just require simplicity, provided it comes with enough natural acidity, it’s a delicious desert-born divinity.


Suriol ‘Els Bancals’ / Xarel-lo / Cava, Alt-Penedes, Spain 2015

IN THE BOTTLE: I first met Assís Suriol at a tasting here at Bergamot Alley and felt like I tasted the true potential in Cava for the first time from his wine. Not only are both his sparkling and still wines incredibly layered but they also have a sense of character I’d not yet run across from this region until that moment. Needless to say, we’ve been big fans ever since around here. Assís and his family have a certain fondness for the Xarel-lo grape as their property in Alt Penedes is a sweet spot for growing the grape and the 80 year old+ vineyard for this wines are a family treasure. Xarel-lo, which can sometimes have quite the ‘gris’ complexion, has enjoyed some extra love from a small handful of winemakers of late for it’s great potential for expressive and ageworthy varietal wines. Though sadly it’s not nearly as widely planted as its fun loving Cava counterpart, Macabeo. The Suriol Family is another important leader in their firm belief in Organic farming in the vineyards and natural practices (bare minimal SO2) in the winery. Harrumph!

IN THE GLASS: Where the first white was light a frivolous, this one is anything but. Xarel-lo reminds me of Gewürztraminer, but without that forceful floral backbone that too many people either hate on or just don’t get. What it does have is all those exoctic spice notes that not only make this a super unique wine, but also a killer food pairing wine. The color does show some of the ‘gris’ hue and it is very obvious that the wine is unfiltered. You may also notice that it tastes like cider a shade more so than wine. The natural phenolic content in the certainly helps add to that apple skin type texture and the unfiltered leesy (yeasty) flavor is the other factor that helps that comparison. Beyond that, sit back and enjoy the layers of ginger and rosemary baked pears. And take your sweet time with it – Nerdy, deep and just super cool.  


Vina Coterro Rioja Reserva / Tempranillo / Alfaro, La Rioja, Spain 2012

IN THE BOTTLE: It’s a bummer that when I get round to writing about Rioja, I’m generally lukewarm about it. And it’s in the opposite way than most would think. There is indeed an issue with quality variance in the region, but it’s the bigger more modern wines, the ones more commonly praised, that I generally don’t care for mainly due to over use of Oak (like Brunello). This wine is made by Fernando Mora however and his style leans pretty far away from the full throttle modern style, but still captures the classic notes and feel of pure Tempranillo from La Rioja. And its cheap! We’ve featured his Garage Project Garnacha in this club before- take advantage while you can.  

IN THE GLASS: This tastes like everything Rioja. Wood spice, leather, tobacco are all present and accounted for. Add the dried cherries and dark plum markers typical of Tempranillo and you’re there. Literally there. I first visited Rioja well before I entered the wine business and this wine brings me back to that moment where I first glimpsed the beauty, magic and importance of it all. And despite my consistent outspoken disdain for wood flavor in my wine, this Rioja certainly displays exactly that. After all, we can’t ignore it all together. And in the case of Rioja it is virtually a compulsory character of the wine. So when I find an example like this that carries the wood plus the few years of age and the lush fruit in a relatively balanced manner, I am certainly able to appreciate it. Wine is truly a time machine.


Expect the unexpected. If there is a lesson that we can all take away from 2017 so far, that is it. As much as I don’t need to be using the Back Alley Wine Club tasting notes as a sounding board for political opinions it’s sure hard to ignore the amount of times my jaw has hit the floor this year in genuine shock. So instead we will look to those moments in life where surprise is not only welcome but often times a delightful experience that should be embraced and invited into our lives more often! Moments where common knowledge is challenged and understanding of a new a unique thing only can enlighten and enhance your surrounding world. Take these three wines for example, perhaps they make this world a better place if only to remind us to keep an open mind.                 -Kevin Wardell, July 2017

Goisot / Aligoté / Saint-Bris-le-Vineux, Bourgogne, France 2015

IN THE BOTTLE: Ok. So Aligoté is not such a big stretch for some of you. But the fact remains that when someone tells me that they’re pouring me a glass of White Burgundy, Aligote is not exactly the first thing that comes to my mind. Now throw the real plot twist in there, which is that this particular Aligoté is technically from Chablis. ??! Well, more precisely, Saint Bris once was part of Chablis, but was removed from the Appellation after phylloxera decimated the old Chardonnay vineyards, but now it stands as a true anomaly inside Burgundian boundaries. One that not only produces a ripping good Aligoté such as this, but can also produce Bourgogne Sauvignon Blanc (insert jaw drop here.) Guilhem and and father Jean-Hugues Goisot make incredible wines at even more incredible value and this is by far the most compelling Aligoté out there, in my book.

IN THE GLASS: There’s no question in either the nose or the palate that this is a wine grown in the tell-tale Kimmeridgian limestone of the area. Minerality ground zero. In most cases, although I enjoy tasting every single Aligoté I can get my hands on, the grape can be a chameleon. Often times Burgundy producers employ a bit of oak in order to make their Aligoté wines a bit more elegant (or serious) and reminiscent of their Chardonnay. For others, it can be made as a very simple and crushable table wine, made to drink while your other wine is decanting. In almost no other cases will you find the depth of mineral structure and bright acidity that the Goisot family bring to the table. THIS IS your gateway Aligoté.

von Oetinger ‘Blanc de Noirs’ Trocken / Pinot Noir / Rheingau, Germany 2014

IN THE BOTTLE: So we’ve covered a lesser known grape from Burgundy where we all know Pinot Noir to be king. Ok. Let’s now drink a Pinot. A white one. From Rheingau. No, not a Weissburgunder, or Pinot Blanc. A still (as opposed to sparkling) example of a ‘Blanc de Noirs’ from one of the most distinguished Riesling growing regions in Germany. Achim von Oetinger’s family has been growing Riesling in the Rheingau since 1828 and although they also grow and produce small amounts of Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc they’ve found a love for the result they get out of this unique bottling. Surprisingly, a ‘White Pinot Noir’ is not altogether unheard of in Germany and Alsace, but I can safely say it sure is an unexpected treat for us.

IN THE GLASS: Golden like the California hills this time of year, this wine is chock fulla contradiction, dude. It’s nose displays both the grit from its terroir and the ripeness of its varietal. The palate is truly a textural roller coaster ride. Acid and honey, velvet and crunch, baked fruit and green grass. In a way a wine like this says a great deal more about the winemakers thumbprint and prowess than it does about the grape. I mean honestly, who knows what direct pressed Pinot Noir ‘Blanc’ is truly supposed to be like? Outside Champagne, that is. With that in mind, some of my favorite Blanc de Noirs Champagnes ride that line between red fruit weight and white wine brightness masterfully just like this wine does. Subtract the yeasty backbone and, of course, the bubbles and add in the Rheingau minerality and a perhaps touch of German precision… Now we’re on to something!

Domaine la Grangette ‘Cocoriko’ / Piquepoul Noir / Langudoc, France 2016

IN THE BOTTLE: A red grape, made white. Got it. Now how about a red version of what virtually everyone of us would recognize as a white variety. I mean, not only a white grape variety, but one that you never expect could possibly have a red counterpart due to its racy, lean and green reputation. Ok, sure, if I go back to my study notes for my Somm exam, at one time I knew there was such a thing as Piquepoul Noir. But only because it is one of the 13 grapes allowed in Chateauneuf du Pape that you have to memorize. Certainly not because I’ve ever tried a varietal wine from such a grape. And yet here we are, once again, with a wine that changes our perspective and allows us to appreciate that we all have something more to learn. (Hippo Sweat is Red!!) Domaine la Grangette makes a classic style and above average Picpoul de Pinet, but now they have won my heart for this very different reason. Thanks for the lesson!

IN THE GLASS: Oh boy- this one is really fun. It’s got the nerve one would expect from its Pique-poully nature, but at the same time there is plenty of ripe fruit to remind you that we are talking about the south of France here. At first my mind goes to red wine comparisons from much cooler climates, like in the Loire. A bit of flint and tobacco and granite in the texture. But then as the fruit opens up wide there is a backbone of fresh ripe raspberries that might bring me to Sicily in a blind tasting, as it is a flavor I immediately associate with Nero d’Avola. As you’d expect, this wine would do well with a slight chill but is equally delicious as it warms up and unfolds. It is versatile as a food pairing option, despite the presence of some tannin, and can go great with a summer (insert meat here) grill topped off with padrons. MMmmm.


It’s been quite a while since we’ve done a ‘producer focus’ for Back Alley Wine Club, for no particular reason really, just that there is so much to cover and to play with sometimes we get caught up in the big picture. Every so often, however, we drink three wines from one winery and just have to share the experience. Guillaume Reynouard from Manoir Tête de la Rouge is  a shining example of the Loire cool factor that is sought after in the market today by we the super geeks. Champion of both biodynamics and biodiversity, making wines that are honest and pure, and oh yeah, he makes Pineau d’Aunis. And we’re sold. Le Manoir de la Tete Rouge itself is an old self-sustaining farm and fortress dating back to 1649 that Guillaume took over in ‘96. He grows just these three grapes and produces a range of small lots wines from each, each one as delicious as the last. Wines like this that are vibrant and truly alive are what I want to be drinking in summertime. Check that, all the time. Be sure to toss all three of these wines on some ice, and be sure to drink the Cremant last!                -Kevin Wardell, June 2017

‘Bagatelle’ Cabernet Franc, Saumur 2015 / IN THE GLASS: By now you may know my love for Cab Franc and it’s natural mashup savory earth tones and ripe fruits. First dig your nose into all that gratuitous roasted red pepper and dark chocolate cocoa. Then the tongue experiences some altogether different flavors however as black cherry cola, strawberry rhubarb jam and tobacco take center stage. This is a wonderful rendition of all those distinct treats combined together that just makes me jump for joy. Guillaumes decision to age this wine in stainless steel is an important one, as too often Cab Franc tends to really absorb the flavors of a barrel and lose the natural layers that are on display here. Not to mention how tragic it would be to impart wood tannins on to this lovely wine. “Too much tannin pisses me off.” Guillaume Reynouard. Right on Guillaume. Right on.

‘K’ Sa Tête’ Pineau d’Aunis / IN THE GLASS: Step 1. Get out those obnoxiously big wine stems that you bought on a whim but are too afraid to break. Step. 2. Remove dust. You really should use these more often you know. Step 3. Inhale and immerse yourself with the intoxicating world of of Pineau d’Aunis! This is as out there as a grape variety gets in France, and wouldn’t you know it, it has a zealous if not downright maniacal following. White pepper, a sharp #2 pencil and do you remember those raspberry candies ‘Les Framboises’ in the round metal tins? Now although those aren’t exactly the everyday descriptors you might throw out there to describe what you’d like in a wine, when combined together, the result is fabulously delightful. To compare with so many grapes in Italy that have been replaced due to difficulty in growing and yields, or a lack of concentration in flavor or structure, we are all very fortunate when there becomes a demand for wines like Pineau d’Aunis and for those like Guillaume that work extra hard to make sure they do not get forgotten.

‘Tête en l’air’ Crémant de Loire Non Dosé, Chenin Blanc / IN THE GLASS: The scent of yeast, or more specifically of fermentation is something that can be debated endlessly with regards to it’s value in assessing positive or negative attributes to a wine. Often this is done over a backgammon board just before sunrise between two feral Sommeliers armed with keys to the cellar. Regardless, there is no other way to explain those first aromas on this wine. With it’s clean and lively mousse, I feel like the palate is much more expressive than what is given away on the nose. As expected from a sparkling Chenin with no added sugar, the acidity is ripping, but the mix of dried apples and marcona almonds and touch of pickled ginger sweetness on the tongue are all wonderful surprises. Complex for sure as there is a bitter edge that comes with the perceived sweetness, a great wine for anyone who shares the knowledge that quality bubbles are just as good for contemplation for as they are for celebration. By now I sure hope that is all of you.


Nothing screams summer like our annual Rosé installment of the Back Alley Wine Club, and this one wins the blue ribbon. Pink primer for hot weather, for working in the garden, for holiday weekend BBQ’s and for all of those highly competitive lawn games (we’re talking to you, bragging rights people), it’s safe to say that Rosé is officially back en vogue. There is a big range in quality, and therefore complexity in all of the Rosés that have flooded the market (drowned in Rosé? OK, if I must…) no matter where they come from. You will see dramatically more domestic pink on the shelves this summer than ever before and we (USA!) are now the third largest Rosé producer in the world, ranking just ahead of Spain. So how are you supposed to determine if a Rosé is going to be good? Color is everyone’s stand-by, and rightly so. Pale and more orange/ salmon tones are favored over the deeper pinks with more purple hues. You can’t say this necessarily reflects quality, just as you can’t be too quick to judge pinks that are more deeply hued; but at least as a consumer you can guess the style the winemaker was going for by appearance alone. And now let us present three decidedly complex and amazing pink wines from Spain, Italy and, of course, France that we hope will provide you the tools to view other rosés with a more discerning eye, err, palate.                 –Kevin Wardell, May 2017

Antidoto ‘Rosélito’ / Tinto Fino (aka Tempranillo) 75% + Albillo 25% / Soría, Ribera del Duero, Spain 2016

IN THE BOTTLE: Bertrand Sourdais has been an ardent champion of Soría, poetically describing it as “the rooftop of Ribera,” where temperatures are cooler than the rest of the Ribera del Duero. It seems like he’s drawn the eye of other artisan winemakers in the area because while other parts of the region have recently enjoyed strong popularity, Bertrand has stuck to his guns in a virtual paradise for terroir driven wines. Soría soils are abundantly made up of sand which has kept Phylloxera away for the past 150 years. Remarkably it is one of the largest concentrations of ungrafted vines remaining in Europe! These nutrient poor soils and often abandoned and unkept ancient vineyards are a nightmare for most, a dream for others. Merci beaucoup Bertrand (yes he’s French. No wonder he makes a transcendent Rosé.)

IN THE GLASS: This one is an easy target on the shelf: sharp packaging, catchy fantasy name, exotic grape varieties (or, at least the use of a regional name for maybe a slightly less exotic one) and just that right pale salmon color. But beyond those obvious markers, this little co-fermented Rosé backs up our expectations, and then some. Lofty floral and aromatic citrus -think kumquats and yuzu, both are delicious and also fun to say! Tempranillo generally makes decidedly average to boring Rosé (there, I said it) but with the aforementioned magic of Soría combined with Bertrand’s decision to coferment with of a significant amount of the beautifully honeysuckle-like white grape, Albillo, there is something very special about this Rosélito. And despite your natural desire to open, sniff, chug… know that this wine gets even better if you allow it to take a breath. Always remember to breathe.

Antoniolo ‘Bricco Lorella’ Rosato / Nebbiolo 100% / Gattinara, Piedmont, Italy 2016

IN THE BOTTLE: Gattinara is such a special place for red wine in Piedmont. It is the undersung hero of Nebbiolo (or Spanna, locally) from the north. The ‘Alto-Piemonte’ area is a stunning landscape in the foothills of the alps where Nebbiolo takes on a much softer character than in its more famous soils to the south. Lorella Antoniolo carries her family name with her winemaking and does her pioneering mother proud by delivering some of those most compelling wines in Gattinara every year. Mom, Rosella, was the first to move away from the favored local style of blending to focus on 100% Nebbiolo wines and always allowing their naturally tended fruit to shine through minimal intervention winemaking practices. Lorella picks the grapes for the Rosé earlier than for the red, but not by as much as most producers of pink have to. Nebbiolo has little trouble retaining acidity in Gattinara and the natural tannin structure here is significantly subdued when compared to the Barolo/Barberesco zone. Her primary aim when picking for Rosé is to find that perfect sweet spot for the aromatics.

IN THE GLASS: Lets face it, Nebbiolo is such a singular and distinctly noble grape variety one might wonder why one would ever dare or bother make a Rosé out of it. That said, I’ve had my fair share of them and, sadly, they’ve consistently under-delivered. Until this one. Blood Orange, dried roses and a balanced yet refreshing bitterness not unlike a perfectly made Negroni. Slightly smoky with a endless lingering dried cherry flavor. Clearly there are enough flavor markers in this wine that point to its varietal origin, but in no way do they feel out of place in wearing pink – Italians love pink after all. Here is a firm reminder that Rosé and food pairing can turn out to be a train wreck more often than most of might think. Serious Rosés such as this do not follow many of the standard rules and, wrongly, common wisdom is to class them as most similar to white wines. Lorella’s Rosé is born to wash down the Lamb lollipops straight off the grill, not your light fresh summer seafood salad.

Clos Cibonne “Tradition” Rosé / Tibouren 90% + Grenache 10% / Côtes du Provence, France 2015

IN THE BOTTLE: Tibouren? Not familiar? All of the famous Rosés from Provence are Mourvedre and Grenache (*and Syrah, although we at Bergamot cannot condone such a thing, we must acknowledge it’s existence.) As you learn about Tibouren, you learn about Clos Cibonne as they’re stories are bonded together in perpetuity. That may be slightly dramatic, but when André Roux became this native grapes biggest fan and he replaced all of the estate’s Mourvèdre with Tibouren the two quickly became synonymous. So much so that Clos Cibonne alone has special permission from the A.O.C. to list Tibouren on its labels. Certainly they are not the only ones still growing this grape in France and you can find it along the Mediterranean coast in Liguria as well under the name Rossese di Dolceacqua. But this wine in particular has a cult like following amongst aficionados of great rosés and it seems to embody all things Provençal, despite its distinct uniqueness amongst its peers.

IN THE GLASS: Open this up and whisper sweet nothings into the bottle for an hour or so. It’s a racy yet shy wine, designed to age a bit not unlike its neighbors in Bandol, so you’ll need to prove yourself worthy through patience. Inevitably if we’re talking Provençal Rosé we’re going to have to define ‘Garrigue.’ Garrigue is the name of the underbrush or the wild scrub e.g. herbs like lavender, sage, rosemary and thyme, that grow in the limestone rich soils of the Mediterranean coastline, in particular, Provence. Garrigue is not only my favorite marker of the best wines from this area, it is also the distinct scent that Jancis Robinson accredits to the Tibouren grape. Wrapped up in all those herbs is mouthwatering watermelon rinds and quince. Oh yeah, it is also aged in for a full year, under flor – similar to sherry, in 100 year old foudre. What? Ok, that just goes beyond special and it is also what gives it that amazing knife edge of salinity and texture. There is a special occasion for coming up for you sometime this summer,  just make sure to have a bottle of this at the ready.


There still remains a void in the European wine map for far too many people with regards to Austria and it’s long history of making fabulous juice. Something that is, still, somehow explained away by the old ‘anti-freeze’ scandal in the ‘80s. But by now it’s time to embrace how amazing Austrian wine has become. True, they seemingly lack the major intrigue of varietal diversity like their neighbors to the south, their top white wines will always play second fiddle to their neighbors in the north, and they may forever be found lacking when you compare their ‘je ne sais quoi’ to their neighbors further west. And while Austria has its serious side, it also provides us with incredible value in 1 liter bottles of both red and white wines that are often quite delicious. Most important on my radar however, are wines like these three that scream purity, complexity and approachability. Wines that transcend the expectations of their category like these three do, and to exclaim that this country has taken yet another big step into our hearts. So pack up a picnic of Schnitzel mit apple and cabbage slaw (actually make that a ginger asian slaw), convince a friend to dress up like Julie Andrews and swig these wines in a field of flowers with a yawp & a yodel. Zum Wohl!     –Kevin Wardell, April 2017


Geyerhof ‘Rosenstieg’ / Grüner Veltliner / Kremstal, Austria 2015

IN THE BOTTLE: Ilse Maier and her family run the Geyerhof winery that was founded in the 1600’s. They focus primarily on organic farming and getting the best they can out of the fruit grown their healthy, living soils. They take a simple approach to achieving pure varietal expression through minimal manipulation in their wines, but can never be accused of making simple wines. Grown in deep loess (literally “loose”) and alluvial soil situated on massive terraces sloping down to the Danube, Rosensteig is their largest production of Grüner and the calling card of the estate. “Rosensteig” means “rose path” in German.

Fun Fact: Tartrates are tiny, crystalline deposits that occur in wines when potassium and tartaric acid, both naturally occurring products of grapes, bind together to form a crystal. You’ll find them in the bottom of the bottle and they’re a perfectly natural occurrence (can also be a sign they’ve not ‘over scienced’ their wines) so don’t be afraid. They are not pleasant to coat your tongue with, however, so I suggest you pour the last glass and then twirl that glass as you pour the wine into another glass making it easy to leave those pesky wine diamonds behind.

IN THE GLASS: Smells like white pepper, fresh peppermint, cut green apple, lime zest and clean mineral water. As much as that may sound like a recipe for a this year’s hot new cleanse diet, it’s actually a delightfully shy yet archetypal nose for Grüner. The palate follows through on those notes and well beyond. This is a fun example of how a white wine can burst into a broader palate of flavors and textures from front to mid palate, and then zip up neatly into a steely and almost impossibly light finish. The fruit really puts on a show in the early flavors and with a little time in the glass it goes downright tropical and exotic. The acid is the next sensation to really get the mouth watering and then there is also a vegetal quality that can be found in a number of good Grüner Veltliner, one I adore, and that is Celery salt. Grüner is a always a slam dunk with your favorite dishes from southeast asia and this one in particular has me jonesing for a bowl of Pho and a spicy green mango salad. I’m a long time lover of Grüner and this lives up to and beyond my already lofty expectations.


Meinklang  / St Laurent / Burgenland, Austria

IN THE BOTTLE: The Michlits family live, work and breath their dedication to their Biodynamic farm. And by Biodynamic, I mean the true definition of it. Where every piece of their fully functional farm feeds back full circle into the another piece; grain to cow (and to Demeter certified beer!), cow to soil, soil to veg and to grape etc… ‘Biodynamics’ has a number of controversial methods that many do not subscribe to, but at it’s heart it is often simplified as the practice of basing farming decisions on the lunar calendar. The Michlits practice what I see as one of the most important parts of true biodynamics that is too often not even in the conversation in many newer ‘Bio’ vineyards, and that’s biodiversity. I applaud and celebrate any winery willing to put the significant amount of extra man hours in the vineyards it takes to follow biodynamic practices, but the question remains whether your land can fully benefit from this in a monocrop situation. For the Michlits, there is no question.

IN THE GLASS:  Seductive and silky St. Laurent. Funny that these are the terms that come to mind so often when people try a well made example of this grape variety, where for a long time the wines were thought of as being too assertive and tough. More and more however, we are finding wines like this that are channeling the more elegant side of the grape and, as a direct descendant of Pinot Noir, it certainly makes sense. Notably inkier than Pinot, this is in many ways more akin to Northern Rhone Syrah with that nice balance of bright aromatics and gamey-ness in the glass. As a by the glass option at Bergamot Alley it is incredible how versatile this wine can be; ‘I like Russian River Pinot,’ ‘I want something bolder,’ ‘I like earthier reds,’ Meiklang Sankt Laurent for all my friends! Also a good thing to remember if you find yourself on the spot choosing a wine at a restaurant with a reasonably adventurous list – few grapes can act as such a consistent all around crowd pleaser as this one.


Muhr-van der Niepoort ‘Samt & Seide’ / Blaufränkisch  / Carnuntum, Austria 2014

IN THE BOTTLE: I’m a little embarrassed to reveal how limited my education is in Austrian producers might be… How the hell have I never heard of Dorli Muhr?! This woman is a true force in the industry (as well as a force for leading women within the industry.) She’s has traveled and learned from so many icons throughout Europe, but always returned to her amazing vineyards on the limestone rich Spitzerberg hill in the appellation of Carnuntum. This is not a part of the Alps like the virtually the rest of Austrian wine. This is the very beginning of the Carpathian mountains, right on the border with Slovakia and looking down onto the Hungarian plains and is in fact is the hottest wine growing region in Austria. 2014 was a wet and difficult vintage where about 60% of the fruit was lost. This is where so much credit belongs in the wine makers hands and how her use of a variety of vinification techniques—some lots whole clusters, some foot-trodden etc.. she was able to take what little love the vintage gave her and make something pretty darn special. Take a bow Dorli, we’re so glad to have been introduced to your work.

IN THE GLASS: Now I’ve enjoyed some Blaufränkisch in my day, and we’ve showcased two through the Back Alley Wine Club in the past that I felt were solid and very typical expressions of the grape. However, and be still my heart, what in the world is in this glass? The use of whole cluster shines through on the nose with that distinct fresh ground black pepper and it is littered with fragrant dried flowers and herbs. The fruit is much fresher and brighter than I ever associate with Blaufränkisch, which could be explained by Dorli being described as ‘being seen picking her Blaufränkisch while her neighbors are picking Grüner.’ Hard to reverse engineer a blind tasting of course, but I feel like I would be guessing that this would be somewhere in between Cru Beaujolais and Cote Rotie (well it’s no wonder why the wine tickles me so.) Tasting even beyond the peppery stems and the crunchy fruit and the ripping acidity there is a depth of savory earthy tones that completes my school boy crush on this wine. A really special Blaufränkisch. 


Marche Madness returns! For those following along, Le Marche is hands down my very favorite region in all of Italy. We create a tournament style tasting pitting wines against one another to determine an overall favorite. (Look for that this next week at Bergamot.)  This time around we turn the spotlight to three iconic producers, the classics that all deserve to be celebrated for their consistent quality and contributions to the greatness of Marche wines. (For the NCAA fans at home, think Duke, Kentucky and Kansas.)

The three grape varieties that make up the large majority of production in this area are Verdicchio, which exists almost exclusively in Marche, and then the more famous red grapes Montepulciano and Sangiovese. Similar arguments are found throughout Italy, but many Marchegiani growers believe that the Montepulciano from Marche is a different, and clearly superior, grape variety than those grown just south in Abruzzo. I won’t make any enemies by discounting that notion, but I will say that the Marche certainly can lay claim to the best Montepulciano wines in Italy without question. I’ll also go out on a limb and state that I often enjoy Marche Sangioveses far better than I do most other Sangioveses from that other region to the west that also makes wine… starts with a T, i think?

Lastly I will also add that Le Marche still, somehow, undiscovered as a culinary treasure for Italy. Let it stay that way, more for us. Is it finally time Bergamot hosts a wine trip to Le Marche? Seriously. Who’s in?

-Kevin Wardell, March 2017

Bisci / Verdicchio / Matelica, Marche, Italy 2015

IN THE BOTTLE: It’s true. I once had the pleasure of serving a bottle of this wine, during my A16 days, to Lars Ulrich, a huge wine lover and also the drummer from Metallica. I mean, to be the person to have introduced that man to Verdicchio di Matelica? Irresistible, and unforgettable. I digress… Giuseppe Bisci produces one of the most iconic Verdicchios from the small Matelica region there is. The larger and more widely recognized appellation, Castelli di Jesi, tends to produce much richer and grandiose wines where the cooler sites and mineral rich mountainous soils of Matelica result in a more focused and leaner style Verdicchio. They are also one of the few houses that will frequently release older vintage reserve Verdicchio to showcase its incredible (and under recognized) ageability. I’d suggest anytime you can find a Verdicchio with some age on it, to give it a try. Now where to find a place daft enough to have that on the shelves, I wonder?  

IN THE GLASS: Don’t you just love a wine that actually gets your salivary glands to fire simply by smelling it?! Lime zest and green apples dominate the nose. There is also (read: daydreaming of a B&B near Ancona) the scent of clean sheets, line dried in the warm Marche sun and salted air from the Adriatic. The palate doesn’t wander to far from the nose, with the exception of the sheets, as that tart acidic fruit explodes on your tongue and leaves your mouth swimming in minerality. Crudo is the most profoundly delicious food I’ve had in Italy, and a standard along this part of the Adriatic coast. Not hard to imagine drinking this, and lots of it, alongside dish after dish of fresh raw seafood, with just a drizzle of olio nuovo. Headed to Italy anytime soon? Wanna lose your culinary mind? Go see rock star chef Moreno Cedroni at Il Clandestino Susci Bar on the beach in Porto Nuovo, Marche. Delizioso.


Villa Bucci “Tenuta Pogneli” / Sangiovese + Montepulciano / Rosso Piceno, Marche, Italy 2013

IN THE BOTTLE: There is no greater ambassador for the Marche region than Ampelio Bucci (and yes, the name Ampelio is greek for “he who makes wine.”) A humble master of his craft and genuinely tickled to share when someone shows enthusiasm to talk about his wines. Ampelio also exudes an incredible intelligence that makes you feel like you’re always going to learn something when he speaks. He could easily be your favorite uncle, who also just happens to be the prime minister of something of that rank. He is also, without doubt, the most celebrated producer of Verdicchio in all of Italy,  but still admitted to me once “a few meals might be sometimes better with red wine.” Love the “might,” and the “sometimes.” It’s clear he’s willing to debate (and win) that point. And I’m in his camp! His Verdicchio Riserva will stand up to just about anything and will flat out shock any ardent white burgundy drinkers. That said, I’m happy he concedes that red wine has a place in his world too.

IN THE GLASS:  Perhaps this example of Sangio and Montepulciano can back up my claims that the reds here are just plain prettier. The bright red fruit perfume on this wine is arguably more akin to Burgundy then it is, say, Chianti. Again, it is pretty apparent that this wine is made by a man who is first and foremost a white wine aficionado as it likely one of the more delicate and nuanced reds found in all of Le Marche. Especially one made from these two more notoriously brawny grape varieties. Regardless of how it compares to its peers however, it is hard not to love the purity and liveliness this wine shows. Incredibly versatile, despite its lightweight demeanor, it pairs amazingly well with every type of local cuisine- from the aforementioned crudo to Olives Ascolane (fried olives, stuffed with sausage), even Vincisgrassi (lasagna extreme with liver, sweatbreads, bechamel and truffles.)


Le Terrazze / Montepulciano / Rosso Conero, Marche, Italy 2013

IN THE BOTTLE: Antonio Terni is certainly more of an incredible character than an ambassador in the wine world of Marche. When I first met Antonio, he stood out in a lineup of producers as someone with whom I was confident I was going to become fast friends. Perhaps is was the Bob Dylan tie dye he was wearing. Hippie points! I had only hoped he enjoyed that conversation as much as I did, there in the middle of the chaos of the impossibly massive VinItalia tasting, we sat and talked in depth about music, nuclear physics (his profession prior to winemaking) and America’s movement towards legalizing marijuana. I didn’t need to hear about his wines, I knew them all too well, they’re always stunning, I told him we can talk about wine at his winery instead. His smile when I actually arrived at his doorstep two weeks later was like a pat on the back from an old friend, the type of welcome that strangers get only in a magical place such as this. The man is an artist and a humble inspiration. To quote his favorite musician “What else can you do for anyone but inspire them?”

IN THE GLASS: Good old Montepulciano. Ripe and juicy meets earth and meaty. The fine tannins, the herbaceousness and the pleasant licorice flavors are the things that make this wine stand out beyond its grapey profile. It is a big and burly grape on the vine and can make a equally brooding wine. Unless it’s a maestro like Terni, who can coax the more subtle refinement out of the grape and create a wine that reaches far beyond it’s clumsy strength. It is a grape with incredible potential in other soils; we are already seeing a few examples CA stateside and there is huge potential for many more. (I’ve even had others from as unlikely places such as New Zealand!)

Being that I’ve already begun, admittedly without planning to, bringing you on a culinary journey through Le Marche, let’s leave you with easily my favorite regional treat that was simply built for this wine (or better yet, Antonio’s higher end beauty “Sassi Neri”) Coniglio in porchetta! Stuffed and roasted rabbit porchetta. Good lord. Mangiare bene. Bere bene!

BAWC -FEB 2017 pdf

In light of our current wet ride along the Pineapple Express here in Sonoma County, I thought it appropriate to showcase a few wines this month from folks who have had similar brushes with high water levels in recent years. Just this past November in Northern Italy there was a massive storm that broke the banks of the Po River and wreaked havoc from the City of Turin all the way down to Venice. The Sesia River, which cuts through the stunning Alto-Piedmonte wine appellations from Switzerland, was overwhelmed at many points as well. In 2014 there was another, more Northern deluge that flooded Lago Maggiore into coastal villages and swelling waterways between the Sesia and the Ticino Rivers. These are two of the major feed rivers to the mighty Po, so it’s no great wonder that the Po River is no stranger to flooding. And although huge volumes of water also emptied into the Mediterranean to the South of Piedmont during the November storm, Ligurians recall 2011 as the most damaging flash floods where the incredibly picturesque villages of Cinque Terre had rivers running through the streets. The fact that this most recent storm came and went relatively quickly, as opposed to our current prolonged season of drenching, was certainly a saving grace in terms of damage caused throughout these important wine regions. Just as we all hope that any damage caused to our local wine industry and communities is minimal by the time we reach the end of this super-soaking. Drink deeply… and keep that raincoat handy! –  Kevin Wardell, February 2017


Giacomelli “Pianacce” / Vermentino / Colli di Luni, Liguria, Italy 2015 / RETAIL: $24

IN THE BOTTLE: Roberto Petacchi started managing the vineyards of his grandfather Pietro Giacomelli in the mid-nineties. Located in the area of Castelnuovo Magra, southern Liguria, in the heart of the Colli di Luni appellation and situated in the hills just above Cinque Terre. The combination of the mild climate (when there’s no flash flood warning, one might presume) due to the Tyrrhenian sea, and of the soil rich in minerals makes for a perfectly protected nest for these coastal Vermentino vines. I’ve come to know this wine specifically through our friends Dino and Sonja Bugica, who are from there and learned winemaking alongside Roberto. My one long ago experience in this impossibly breathtaking corner of the world will always be recalled by the seemingly endless seafood with truly endless flat bottom glasses of Vermentino.  “Allora.. the fish is caught righta over there, and the grapes are righta over there.” Heaven.

IN THE GLASS: When you compare Vermentino from the island of Sardenga to ones from Liguria, generally it’s about ripeness versus minerality. Not that Sardinian Vermentino is without minerality, but more often I find they are fruit dominant where the best mainland examples tend to have a grittier vein of texture and flavor. This wine is all minerality scented with lemongrass, yellow apples and ginger, and lacks the more tell-tale tropicality that would normally be associated with the variety. Reminds me somewhat of the other great white grape in the area, Pigato, for that reason… which is only funny to those that might know that Jancis Robinson has declared that the two grape are actually identical genetically, much to the chagrin and flat disbelief of every single Ligurian (and likely 99% of every other Italian winemaker)

Boniperti “Favolalunga”  / Vespolina / Colline Novaresi, Piedmont, Italy 2014 / RETAIL: $23

IN THE BOTTLE: In Ian d’Agata’s book (“Native Wine Grapes of Italy” – buy this book immediately if you ever aspire to reach uber geek status in Italian wine knowledge) he describes Vespolina as “one of Italy’s best native grape varieties…” Gilberto Boniperti is a young up-and comer in Colline Novaresi appellation, located the eastern most region of Alto Piedmonte just below Lago Maggiore. This is an viticultural pocket I simply cannot get enough of (also see; Ghemme, Gattinara, Boca, Fara…) yet Boniperti is only one of a relatively small number of producers who we see 100% Vespolina wine from, despite the fact that this is its’ native home. We are sure to see a few more in time, I’m sure.  

Footnote: d’Agata also refutes the aforementioned claim that Pigato and Vermentino are the same grape. So there.

IN THE GLASS:  Vespolina is a close relative of Nebbiolo and shares some similarly lovely attributes: spicy cinnamon, cedar and sweet leather. It is however a bit juicier and more supple and a bit less gripping in the tannin department, although even Nebbiolo in this region does not develop the tannins we’re accustomed to from further south. Other examples of Vespolina I’ve had have told a varying story- but this is one of the first varietal wines I’ve fallen for and feel like I can truly put my thumb on what Vespolina is all about. To look outside Italy for a comparison, I’d say it’s similar to a delicious Cab Franc sans pyrazines.

“A really useful table wine, I will be drinking quite a bit of this.” -Oliver McCrum. Great man, that Oliver, look for his name as the importer when shopping for Italian wine. A solid guarantee of incredible quality and great value every time!

Vignetti Massa “Sentieri” / Barbera / Monleale, Piemonte, Italy 2015 / RETAIL: $30

IN THE BOTTLE: Walter Massa, or “Maestro of Timorasso” is the real deal: a contadino (farmer) with deep family roots in his native Colli Tortonesi, situated just south of Turin on the banks of the Po River and has truly championed this small region into prominence. No small feat in Piedmont.  He spends most of his time in his winery Monleale, a village that sits precariously near the Po and Sesia Rivers junction. Tirelessly spending hours showing around, pouring wines for, and talking with the continual waves of journalists, sommeliers, importers, buyers, and just plain fans who make their way just to meet him. Besides being one of Italy’s truly great cult producers (for lack of a better word), he’s a stellar example of what the Italians call a “personaggio.” When you get lost going there, as it’s easy to do driving 128kph in a Fiat, start asking people in a 100 kilometer radius; they all know and love him, from the gas station guy to the producer next door.  

IN THE GLASS: A lightsaber Barbera. A bright, powerful, electric weapon of deliciousness. Barbera has such a huge range with regards to its impact on the palate. There are many who turn towards the ones that are riper or see heavier extraction and most often a bit (or a lot) of oak as the more “serious” Barberas. In general we steer away from anything with heavy oak treatment at Bergamot, in case you hadn’t noticed, and Barbera is a grape I feel very strongly about on this subject. (Not that it should all be fermented in stainless, like this mouth watering beauty, but the variety absorbs oak flavors really aggressively so even a tiny bit goes a long way, therefore making it too easy to go overboard.) Also, Barbera has very little natural tannin as opposed to, say, its neighbor Nebbiolo, so the desire to use oak as an addition of structure to the final product is another pitfall as wood tannins tend to stick out like a sore thumb in those wines. Hand me my lightsaber! Especially if I’m lucky enough to be drinking with a true Jedi such as Walter Massa.

BAWC -JAN 2017 pdf

Syrah is, of course, simply one of the classics. And as much as I have enjoyed a good Syrah from all corners of the wine world, there is nothing quite like one from its true home, the Northern Rhône. There have been all kinds of supposed paths theorized as to the origins of Syrah, but it is now known that the direct parentage comes from the grapes Dureza and Mondeuse Blanc. Geographically that put us in the area from the French Alps to the Rhône Valley, so confidence is high that it’s story at least begins there. But reading up on the many other theoretical paths this well traveled grape has in its history, true or not, is the fun part; from Pliny the Elder’s Syriaca grape and the ancient Persian wine center Chiraz, the root of the grape’s modern day southern hemisphere moniker “Shiraz,” to tales of it coming through Egypt to Syracuse in Sicily or even tales that Syrah comes from the Island of Sýra, Greece or from Albania as Serina e Zezë.

Now, in all likelihood, the majority of our Club members have had their fair share of Syrah, regardless of where from. But I find it is one of the most important varieties to revisit just to remind ourselves just how different and profoundly delicate it can be from this unique, river locked and relatively cool climate region. Even though this is a more base level trio of Syrahs, as clearly wines from Côte Rôtie, Cornas and, slightly less so, Saint-Joseph tend to cost quite a bit more, the quality of these wines and the fruit that goes into making them, is higher than much else at this level anywhere in the world! Enjoy!  – Kevin Wardell, January 2017


François Villard “L’Appel des Sereines” 2014 / RETAIL: $22

IN THE BOTTLE: François Villard stands out as such a different story to what I normally find myself telling in that his background is as a chef in the restaurant industry and he’s the son of a farmer who was never even a wine drinker. Gasp! But sometimes, when you grow up in the right spot, fall in with the right crowd (see: Yves Cuilleron, below) and if you fate can sometimes shine upon an unlikely candidate such as it did here. And has it ever! François is completely self taught and never stops moving, doing, learning. He now makes about 250,000 bottles a year from some of the top parcels in the region, mostly Syrah but he also makes insanely good Viognier and Marsanne, Roussanne blends as well.

IN THE GLASS: This is an absolutely classic Syrah nose: Black cherries, grilled fennel and olive tapenade. At first appearing slightly simple, but the b-sides just seem to linger on the palate and treat you to a savory smorgasbord that keeps you salivating. This is a quick drinker, and I say don’t hold back! Remember these are all right at or below 13% alcohol. None of these will irreversibly stain your teeth nor with they crush your skull and soul the next morning like too many of their new world counterparts… well, that is, depending on how many get drank in one sitting of course. Villard’s “L’Appel des Sereines” (Sereines is the old word for Syrah) is one of my favorite gateway wines for the love of Northern Rhône Syrah and I’m pretty sure that it was the first wine I ever bought a whole case of for personal consumption from a wine shop. Do you recall yours?

Yves Cuilleron “Les Vignes d’à Côté” 2015 / RETAIL: $26

IN THE BOTTLE: Yves Cuilleron is one of the more important modern names in the region today and, although he was born into growing Syrah, he has certainly formed his reputation with his own incredible wines over the last 15 years. This bottling is made from his impeccably grown organic fruit from just outside Condrieu (and, if you are so inclined to spend the dough for a bottle of Condrieu, I’ll be the first to say that his is downright magical) and is a great example of how Yves always finds a way to bridge the old world gritty terroir driven texture with a still polished modern result. With all the more series appellation and vineyard specific beauties to be discovered from Cuilleron, this one is a treat to get our hands on as it’s usually gone before it arrives in port.

IN THE GLASS: This is an absolutely classic Syrah nose: Fresh ground pepper, cured meat and dried mint and herbs. There is of course plenty of dark fruit to round those notes out, but the strength of this wine stands with those spicy and savory flavors as it remains a surprisingly lean and high acid delight. Here’s a perfect example of the clear difference in the end result as compared to what we are accustomed to from the new world. The focused finesse, the understated grip and the definition without power – think of a body sculpted by yoga as opposed to weightlifting. I can say it is the most common surprise reaction we receive at Bergamot when have a wine like this by the glass: “This is Syrah? How and why is it so damn pretty?”  

Laurent Combier “Purple Label” Crozes-Hermitage 2015 / RETAIL: $27

IN THE BOTTLE:Maurice le Fou” or Crazy Maurice, was what Laurent’s father was called in the 70’s when he was growing his fruit organically. And by fruit, I mean predominantly apricots and peaches as the surrounding area of Valence was at the time France’s hub for such stone fruits. But as his orchards found their balance and started to produce superior fruit to others in the co-op, other farmers followed suit. It was a natural progression for Laurent to do the same as together they decided to plant more vineyards and he and “Maurice le Fou” became leaders in the movement towards organic viticulture in modern Crozes-Hermitage. Crazy good!

IN THE GLASS: This is an absolutely classic Syrah nose: Bouquet of Violets, fragrant raspberries and cocoa powder. Laurent is all about the fruit. He obsesses over the aromatics during the winemaking process over all else as he is striving for wines that are impossibly packed with aroma of fruit. There is little doubt that the both the nose and the palate of this Syrah are truly intoxicating and layered in fruit, but if there is a textbook example of a wine displaying more “freshness” “vibrancy” and “alive” fruit as opposed to “jammy” or “extracted” or “a fruit bomb,” well here it is. This wine hits a happy, comforting and somewhat hedonistic nerve for me that’s perfect  for the winter. I want it with a pork roast straight out of the slow cooker, and then I want another bottle available in case there’s (and there had better be) a cobbler for dessert.


2016 will be a year reflected in the history books as the year of “What the hell just happened?” Please raise a glass (read: several glasses) of bubbles with those you love and join us in a humble toast:

“To the Goblin King, the thin white Duke and, of course, to a Prince. To the Lord Byron of Rock and Roll, to the Okie from Muskogee as well as a Soul Sister from Brooklyn, once Queen amongst Dap-Kings. To the Man of Constant Sorrow, to a rank of the Wrecking Crew, to a five-foot Phreak named Malik, and to a pioneer of Beasties. To Willie Wonka, The Wako Kid and Dr. Frederick Frankenstein. To Severus Snape, Hans Gruber and Dr Lazarus. And lastly to the Greatest Champion of All Time, who would remind us that in this year ahead it is up to us to stand up and fight. To fight for human rights and equality. Yes, for all humans. And against those who act to chisel away value or choice from any human being. To fight for the environment. And to fight against those who think nothing is wrong with how we’ve treated Mother Earth in the past. To fight for our freedoms to choose, and against those who would deny us that right.”

“If you even dream of beating me you’d better wake up and apologize.”

We humbly present you with three bottles of very unique and very “Bergamot” bubbles in hopes that you find equal doses of joy and strength during this holiday season. We thank you for supporting us at Bergamot Alley for exactly 5 YEARS today!! And, as so many of you are local, please join us tonight in celebrating this milestone, one we are so very proud to share.

We thank you all, in particular, for being a part of our Back Alley Wine Club as this wraps up our 4th year of an amazing and delicious journey of wines throughout the Old World – 141 different individual wines, 1 big ole’ sack of knowledge, and hopefully a plethora of smiles along the way. We so very much look forward to sharing many more!  – Kevin Wardell, December 2016


Lucchetti Brut Rose / Lacrima di Morro d’Alba / Marche, Italy NV

“I am the greatest, I said that even before I knew I was.”

Feast your eyes on this electric pink beauty… then get your nose in there… breath… Now that you’re already weak in the knees, you can know finally feel free to sip away. My beloved Lacrima grape from my dream countryside in the Marche, but in bubbly rose form. Sigh. I’ve had one other producer that attempted a bubbly wine with this grape before and the results were good, but not like this, this is great. Bergamot and rose petals. Be still my heart.


Le Sot de L’Ange “Sotisse” Pét-Nat / Gamay / Loire, France 2015

“A man who views the world the same at 50 as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life.”

Pétillant Naturel. It’s all the rage. Sometimes it’s amazing, and sometimes not so much. Sometimes it is just so damn good you want to put on the list of every day requirements like coffee, or stretching, or listening to music. Incidentally I condone adding this wine to only two out of three of those routines. Youthful and alive, Grapefruit and dried cherries. Complex enough to contemplate and alluring enough to guzzle. Let’s be honest, pet-nats can be a game of chance, but this an example of everything coming together correctly inside the bottle.


Domaine Karidas / Assyrtiko + Xinomavro / Amyntaion, Greece 2013

“Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing.”

Make a stunning Champagne method wine in Greece with Assyrtiko and Xinomavro instead of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir? As they say in Greece, What the heck fire! Karanika has done this for just a few vintages now and the results are clearly outstanding. Delicately floral yet still a briny perfume from the Assyrtiko, just a kiss of the compulsory yeasty component, and the strong back and ripe fruit one should expect from going all “blanc de noirs” with Xinomavro. A jaw dropping stunner, but with strength to match its elegance. Impress your friends! See how long it takes them to guess where this wine is from. Truly a rare treasure from deep in the Mediterranean.
“Live everyday as if it were your last because someday you’re going to be right.”

BAWC – NOV 2016 pdf

Welcome back to the Bergamot happy place! That wondrous place where our Joie de Vivre meets our Raison d’Etre (he then buys her a bottle of Morgon and they proceed to play a heated game of Cribbage.) We’re talking about this one classification of wine with a brand name more synonymous with cheap and chuggable. It is one grape variety, that for many, is portrayed as pedestrian at best. About a tiny southern step-brother of a King, divided into a unique set of even smaller identities that inspire a select few in comparison it’s neighboring appellations. And at the same time we’re talking about a wine that has long been the hidden  favorite of just about every true student of wine. Welcome to Cru Beaujolais! It’s certainly no longer the best kept secret of Somms that it used to be but we can rest assured, and very thankful, that it won’t be corrupted any time soon either. Well, except in price point, and more importantly, in terms of availability. Those challenges are already well underway, but fear not – we at Bergamot are prepared and ready to help you stock up for your fix. Here are great examples from three of the ten Crus in Beaujolais; Fleurie, Côte de Brouilly & Chiroubles. Drink deeply!   –Kevin Wardell, November 2016


Domaine Ruet “La Fontenelle” / Gamay / Chiroubles, Beaujolais, France 2014

IN THE BOTTLE: When the vineyards of Chiroubles were originally planted, the pink granite soil was so hard they had to bore holes in the rock first. Domaine Ruet holds fast to the tradition of semi-carbonic maceration, and boasts generations of hands on farming all the way through hand harvesting year after year. They have holdings in Morgon and Brouilly as well, but it’s classic old houses like this that keep the lesser known wines from Chiroubles exciting. Certainly this wine is designed to drink young and fresh, unlike the more “serious” Crus, but that too is equally important for understanding real Beaujolais. On a side note; Great Gamay inspires the exclamation “I can’t wait to try this in five years” but is so often easily just compelling to open and drink now (see: true wine unicorn.) Not that you will manage to hold onto even your most age worthy Beaujolais. Stop it. You just wont. I don’t know anyone with any such willpower, it is simply too often drank too young and, well, we’re all just fine with that, too.

IN THE GLASS:  An archetypal aromatic profile for a Cru Beaujolais. A beautiful floral melange with black cherry flavored fruit roll-ups and a handful of Red Hots. Cru Gamay in its most feminine form can often be identified as coming from Chiroubles. Do not confuse that as being the lightest on its feet (that’s more likely from Saint-Amour) as clearly this wine is not without it’s crunchy granite structure. There is more vine ripe raspberry on the palate and then there are some baking spices (think snickerdoodles) that act as the background singers. That all gives way to the much anticipated wash of bright and lively acidity and a truly fine and focused finish. This wine simply hits on all points and can be both a fabulous gateway drug to the Cru Beaujolais madness as well as it is a “I could take one of these down every single day” wine for those that are already on board the ship.

Domaine du Pavillon de Chavannes “Cuvée des Ambassades” / Gamay / Côte de Brouilly, Beaujolais, France 2015

IN THE BOTTLE:  Côte de Brouilly is the smallest of the Beaujolais Crus, with only 1.3 square miles of vineyards, it’s known for producing wines of focus, energy and drive. Mont Brouilly rises to a height of 1,587 feet all by its lonesome, an old volcanic thumb sticking out of a plain, and at the highest and steepest vineyard sites you’ll find Paul Jambon. He was born in its shadow and he carries on the family tradition of making very old school Beaujolais in the best possible sense. He strives to showcase the perfect sense of place in his wines; for that precise garnet color, beguiling aromatics, and that tell tale burst of toothsome minerality that is a reflection of Mont Brouilly’s blue granite.

IN THE GLASS:  Please feel free to let out a little giggle when you first get your nose in this… I sure did. You’re immediately struck with the knowledge that this is a much more youthful wine that has tension or is a bit nervy. There’s a much darker fruit profile lurking beneath some more complex aromatic layers. I’m talking dried herb crusted goat cheese, watermelon rind, and Grape Nerds. Ok Kevin, those are pretty out there, even for you. Hell yes they are, but at the very least I think you’ll agree this wine boasts a nose that is quite singular. Yet somehow the palate just seems to give it the definition of character that it requires. It really ties the wine together… if you will. Not to say it makes it any easier to describe – this is truly an entire education in one glass, and now you’re starting to witness the magic and mystery of Cru Beaujolais! We have you now my pretties.

Domaine de Prion “La Madone” / Gamay / Fleurie, Beaujolais, France 2012

IN THE BOTTLE:  Morgon is certainly the best known Cru in Beaujolais and many people know the “Côte de Py” or “Corcellete,” but in Fleurie alone, for example, there are 10 lieux-dits begging to be explored in more depth. Sylvain Chanudet is easily one of the more important producers to look at when trying to put Fleurie into focus. The wines he crafts are the embodiment of everything we love about the Beaujolais region. Naturally and organically farming a perfectly exposed, steep, granitic slope of ancient vines of “La Madone,” Winemaking with traditional semi-carbonic maceration by way of whole-cluster fermentation. Slow fermentation is followed by long aging in cement tanks and occasionally, when the wine demands, large, neutral oak casks. The quality coming from Domaine de Prion wines is something that we will be following closely year after year as they just continue to impress the hell out of me.

IN THE BOTTLE: Here we dive into another level of complexity and instead of edgy youthfulness, this wine will show you a glimpse of the potential that some age truly has on these wines. I’d be failing you if I didn’t mention the brett on this wine, but I’d be equally failing you if I told you that it bothers me in the least. By now you’ve likely heard rant about the existence of positive attributes in a wine with a bit of brett, but here I’ll point out that as a seasoned Beaujolais drinker sometimes you just have to find your peace with it. This Fleurie is stunning, and it wears its “flaw” with grace and with pride. Please give it a chance to see some oxygen, as it shines much brighter after some of that blows off. But also, don’t hesitate to try a splash as it does so in order to bare witness its transformation into the black currant, star anise, fresh cut iris’ and cinnamon baked peach party that it truly is.


Sometimes we have very clear focuses for the Back Alley Wine Club, and sometimes commonality just presents itself. In this case, although we weren’t specifically looking for wines along the bordering countries (of Italy) per se, but these three wines we love just happen to share that very trait in common. The three regions; Arribes, Irouléguy & Alto Adige have their very own stories as much as they are are steeped in history from both sides of their current borders. They are also all three lesser known wine appellations, when compared to rest of their respective countries, Alto Adige being a slight exception as it actually does have a modest international recognition, comparatively. One thing is for sure though, the wines are each reflections of the people and cultures around them as the winemakers are proud to be true outliers making something that reflects well on their land. The regions are also places where nature has already provided some seriously challenging land for viticulture, the vines have to be as hearty and stout as the people.        -Kevin Wardell, October 2016

Almaroja “Pirrita Blanco” / Field blend: Mostly Doña Blanca / Arribes, Zamorra, Spain

IN THE BOTTLE: Charlotte Allen is a British woman living in Fermoselle, 30 kilometers from the Portuguese border along the Duoro River. Fermoselle is in the region of Arribes which is the West/central border below Galicia, where much much recognizable Spanish viticulture can be found. It is appropriately dubbed ‘The Wild West’ which speaks as much to the lack of infrastructure as it does incredible movie set type landscape. Charlotte has meticulously restored her vineyards; old vines interplanted with a hearty list of grape varieties. To pin a wine like this down to grape identity is really difficult, Charlotte admits she herself is not 100% aware of what’s out there. At best estimate, this wine is mostly Doña Blanca with some Godello, Moscatel a Grano Menudo, Albillo & Puesta en Cruz (that is correct, two of those grapes you’ve had very recently as single varietal wines in our Ladies from Spain shipment. Thanks for paying attention!) Charlotte does all of the work in the organic vineyards herself and hand picks with a small team at harvest time. She may be an outsider in this remote land, but she feels completely at home now and has found that everyone in the region is always willing to help out. Oh yeah, and she also cellars the wine in a 500 year old cave that just happened to be discovered on the property. Pretty sure Doc Holiday hosted a card game there once…

IN THE GLASS: As I’ve mentioned a couple times now this year, I am super excited to finally be finding compelling white wines with very unique character from little pockets throughout Spain. This wine smells like really good Sake in the glass… which, if you’re only iffy on Sake knowledge, I must recommend you remedy someday. There is a very slight fizz to the wine that I adore- think Vinho Verde without the sweetness, as opposed to Txokolina size bubbles. Salt air, dry hay, apricots, green apple and nettle tea. It’s a wine that is both lean and viscous at the same time, I won’t even attempt to describe that but hopefully you agree. The herbal qualities is what I am left with on the finish and they seem to linger really long, indicating again that this is wine more than it first appears. New to us from a new importer, Charlotte’s wines are pure and raw which seem to fit both the Wild West where she lives, and her character for making a go of it there just the same.

Castelfeder “Breitbacher” / Vernatsch / Schiava / Cortina, Alto Adige, Italy 2015

IN THE BOTTLE: Alto Adige is an amazing system of valleys that will trick you into thinking that you’ve clearly past the border out of Italy and into Austria well before that actually happens. The architecture, the language on the signs, the people, all appear much more Germanic than Italian. Castelfeder is a true family operation, a bit of a rarity in the region as farmable land is scarce which in turn means that most wine from Alto Adige is from a cooperative. Schiava, or Vernatch in Austria, or Trollinger in Germany, is held in high regard by the Giovanett family as they feel it’s the one red grape that reflects the similar local characteristics that their whites do. This sentiment is common in the area, even as wineries become bigger and more modern it seems that Schiava holds a place of history in their hearts and it’s certainly what you’ll see on their tables at home for supper!

IN THE GLASS: Tart, fresh and fruity: an autumn bridge between the crisp summer pounders  and belly warming winter reds. As bright and fresh as the fruit is, there is a certain amount of dustiness and a dried leaves earthy quality that make it something other than simple. As much as that may seem like a backhanded compliment, on the contrary. I don’t believe we’ll ever meet a truly complex Schiava, which is perfectly fine as it’s simplicity is it’s true appeal. It’s also why, for a long time, winemakers from Alto Adige wouldn’t dream of exporting their Schiava wines our direction. Americans would never understand this concept of simplicity… Right? Even funnier that it’s the most widely planted grape in the region- kinda greedy of them to keep this secret from us dontcha think? This wine is built for fall squash, root vegetables and yes even pumpkin pie. Light in body and and lighter in color, but it’s the ample acidity and just-enough dry tannins which give Schiava a sturdy backbone to stand up to myriad food pairings.

Herri Mina / Cabernet Franc / Irouléguy, Southwest, France 2014


“Yet the land, the climate, the language and the culture remain apart, isolated by the Pyrenees, which wrinkle upward in a confluence of steep, verdant slopes like the sides of a giant bowl, containing this land of picturesque towns, rivers and patchwork farms. The wine expresses those differences as plainly as the Basque differs from the French on the region’s dual-language signs.”    -Eric Asimov

Jean-Claude Berrouet is an Irouléguy native who left home to serve for more than three decades as the winemaker at Château Pétrus. But he returned to his native soil in Basque Country “herri mina” (in Basque, herri means “country,” and mina means “homesick.”) His vines are planted on the somewhat steep South-facing slopes of the Pyrénées, no higher than 400 feet above sea level, enjoying the climatic influence of the Atlantic. They are protected from cold north wind and actually receive more sunshine than most any other French wine region.

IN THE GLASS: We’ve showcased only one other Irouléguy in our Wine Club before (a year ago) and it was a big hit. There are so few producers and such little great wine coming from this tiny region, that it is a real treat to be able to share it with you all. Nothing whispers in my ear during cooler nights better than Cab Franc. Sweet tobacco, bitter dark chocolate, olives and plums, a handful of gravel and fresh chili peppers. I can get all the pleasure I need out of this wine from the nose… not that the palate doesn’t deliver just as wonderfully, but omg the nose! That beautifully vegetal aromatic profile is something that is too often masked with over ripe fruit and the dreaded toasted oak (such a hater, I know. But I present my argument with this wine for example; those gorgeous yet delicate scents and flavors are erased with the introduction of new oak.) This wine really defines the type purity that a few winemakers in the US are starting to recognize as absolutely beautiful aspects of this grape variety.


This month we go back to sharing a little focus, as well as a little thanks, to a specific importer. Introducing:  The Piedmont Guy. Weston Hoard started his deep love for all things Piedmont after working in the cellar for a vintage at Paolo Scavino. He arrived with no cellar experience, nor was he able to speak a lick of Italian. But he returned much wiser and with a plan to bring a small collection of great producers, the likes of which, he felt, were being under represented in the US. His portfolio has eight carefully curated producers, and honestly every wine on his list is worth getting excited about. We sure love Piedmontese wines round here at Bergamot and we are happy to support The Piedmont Guy in his growing quest to bring more delicious treats, like these three wines, to our attention.  -Kevin Wardell, September 2016


Angelo Negro “Onorata” / Favorita / Langhe, Piedmont, Italy 2015

In The Bottle: Our Wine Club write ups are never truly complete without some sort of introduction to a new grape variety, but in this case it’s simply a familiar grape under its Piedmontese pseudonym. The rising popularity of Vermentino from Italy and France (as Rolle) and now also in California has in fact helped folks like The Piedmont Guy convince great producers like Giovanni Negro to export their Favorita, as they are also one in the same grape. The Negro family has long been one of the most important houses for high quality Arneis, in fact they were the first on record to make a dry Arneis in the early seventies. While their several bottlings of Arneis and Nebbiolo are their primary focus, it’s their Favorita they crack open when it’s time to sit back and enjoy simplicity and beauty.

In the Glass: Vermentino has been a go to wine for so many reasons throughout the years and this example showcases all the reasons why. The stark differences I’m noticing are that, due to differences in soils and climate of course, the wine is less tropical like what you find from Sardegna and less mineral focussed like in many examples from Liguria. The result is beautifully ripe pear aromatics (love) and a much softer overall mouth feel which just couldn’t be more satisfying. Vermentino naturally retains plenty of acidity to make for a harmonious balance with its ripe fruity nature and allows the wine great length on the palate as well. This is one instance in white wine where racy or ripping acidity need not apply – this wine is can keep us quite happy all round and jolly-like.  


La Miraja  / Ruche di Castagnole / Monferrato, Piedmont, Italy 2014

In the Bottle: It was Eugenio Gatti’s wines where I was introduced to The Piedmont Guy portfolio. One of those very nerdy wine buyer moments where someone hands you a glass and you don’t skip a beat between smelling the wine and reaching for the bottle to read the back label to see where the hell this thing of beauty has come from (and why wasn’t I informed!) Eugenio produces less than 900 cases of wine per year out of the once armory, turned cellar, in the original Castle of Castagnole Monferrato from the 11th century. His wines are standout examples of purity and varietal expression of some of my favorite local grapes not named Nebbiolo. La Miraja is exactly the type of gem that lends this small grouping of wines from Piedmont massive credibility, and once discovered, you can ever forget. There are other diamonds in the rough out there to be found in the treasure trove that is Piedmont, but to find someone who does a Ruche (and Barbera and Grignolino) this well – Bravo Weston.   

In the Glass: I know, I know. Here we go again Kevin (insert eye roll here.) Yet another aromatically intoxicating red wine. I’m sorry (no I’m not). I just can’t help myself. Why bother even drinking this one? Just bury your nose in the glass, close your eyes and let it animate your senses. There are very few examples available (sadly) of Ruche to compare it to, but take it from someone who has tried at least most of them, that this one is dynamite. The floral tones are less Lavendar and more Rosey than others, the fruit is brighter and fresh red fruit where others lean towards the blueberry pie side. As always with a great dry red wine made from the small family of highly aromatic red grape such as Ruche, there is inevitably a anticipation of sweetness from the nose that is quickly turned on edge as the wine itself finishes not only dry, but straight up zippy and downright crisp. This wine may induce smiling. in fact I dare you to try and make a frowny face after a sip. Go ahead. Try. It’s like the banjo of the wine world. “You can’t play a sad song on the Banjo” Steve Martin


Cantina del Glicine “Olmiolo” / Dolcetto / Alba, Piedmont, Italy 2013

In The Bottle: Truth be told, I’m often underwhelmed by Dolcetto. It has a tendency to be a bit thin and sadly one dimensional at times. Then there is this example from Cantina del Glicine that occupies that perfect Dolcetto happy spot of bright and crunchy and peppery and plump. A truly perfect everyday drinker, which is how it is thought of by the locals in Piedmont for sure. If it were up to us… If it were up to any of us, drinking Nebbiolo all day, every day sounds like an place in heaven that we’d be super lucky to be worthy of. But in reality, that darned reality, Nebbiolo isn’t built for the every day (see: tannins.) While many of us can recall some of our most transcendent wine moments with Nebbiolo, I personally rejoice in the fact that I’ve found a Dolcetto that drinks up to the standard that I would think outstanding Barbaresco producers, like Adriana Marzi and Roberto Bruno of Cantina del Glicine, would want in their glass as well.  

In The Glass: Blackberry bubblegum! Well, not in a confectionary, lab manufactured kinda way. More like petit four made from fresh blackberry juice. It just jumps out of the glass and goes down so easy. At the same time, though, this is not a simple wine. There is also just the right amount of the peppery bite in the mid palate. That particular aspect of so many Dolcettos end up expressing itself as a bitter note that can put a halt to any of the pleasant sensation that the ripeness had once hoped to create. Not here. The fruit and the grip hold hands and slide headlong into a mouthwatering and lip smacking tart finish that leaves you wanting for more. I’m almost giddy about sharing and singing the praises of a Dolcetto, finally, as I’ve so wanted to love it more in the past but have never reached this point. I do hope this has perhaps opened a door for me, but the very small sceptical side of me really just wants to drink the heck out of this one until it’s gone just in case it is an aberration.


All hail all the women of the wine world! This harvest especially many of our local rock star ladies in wine, who we feel so fortunate to both know and to support, have been hashtagging up a storm to remind the world just how badass they are. Huzzah! In that spirit we bring you three ladies of Spain that are doing it right in their respective regions and in a country that truly has an incredibly strong and growing female influence in the industry.

Brava ladies. Brava!

-Kevin Wardell, August 2016


Sierra de Tolono – Sandra Bravo / Tempranillo / Rioja Alavesa, Spain 2014

In The Bottle: Sandra Bravo is a rock star in the making and in only her second vintage, she’s turning heads with her stunning wines. The approach, as unconventional there as it is here, is as grassroots as it come; no investors, no employees, just Sandra + her drive, her talent, her art. The vines are old head pruned, organically farmed vines at 650 meters above sea level that are not your ideal picture of vigor and production if you are most anyone else in Rioja. To Sandra, though this site is filled with strength and with vines that have deep roots and work hard to survive – therefore the story they will tell in the wine is far better than one that can be manufactured.

In the Glass: We’re always excited to find a Rioja that exists outside the traditional box that the older houses are known for. It’s Tempranillo in a pure expression. I often compare Tempranillo to Sangiovese. A workhorse variety that is often blended with other native grapes to lift acidity and is too often hit with new wood to lend it bigger structure for both ageability and global market appeal. Then I find a gem like this that proves that without all that nonsense, Tempranillo is simply delicious. It is bit young, so do yourself the favor of allowing it to stretch a bit, decant if have the means (you don’t need a decanter btw, any household vessel will do. Be creative.) It will result in a powerful yet graceful wine that over delivers in every way.


Matias i Torres – Victoria Torres / Abillo Criollo / La Palma, Canary Islands, Spain 2014

In the Bottle: Victoria Torres is a fifth-generation vinegrower from the town of Fuencaliente on the island of La Palma who took over the reins a few years ago after having worked alongside Juan Matias in the winery and vineyards for many years. Their winemaking remains old-school in this house: no temperature control, wild yeast fermentation and plenty of whole cluster. The estate’s total production is only 1,200 cases. Victoria has a love for the incredible place her family is from and can find no greater success than when her wine truly embodies the flavors of La Palma. My favorite quote from her is “When tourists visit these vineyards, they think we treat the vines with herbicides, but the truth is, with this ground and wind, nothing grows here but the vines.”

In the Glass:  Volcanic jalapeno and guava salad! Tell me you wouldn’t order that if you saw that on a menu (I’ll tell Chef Donn to get working on that one!) We’ve covered tasting “terroir” in wine many times before, but this is as extreme an example as it gets. Flint and smoke are the first things out of the glass, reminding you that although the island of La Palma does not have the famous jet black soils that Lanzarote has, these are still clearly grapes grown out of old volcanoes. That smoky essence is just one part of this wine, however. The layers of vibrant tropical fruit and zippy green spices are really fun to explore. Victoria is clearly a worthy guide as she has provided us with a beautiful wine that most will make many of you exclaim -all wide eyed and with a huge grin, mind you, “I’ve truly never had anything like it!”      


Vina Godeval “Cepas Vellas” / Godello / Valdeorras, Galicia, Spain 2014

In The Bottle: Godeval is the benchmark for Godello. Not just as the first modern winery to champion the grape, but everything they do seems in the true spirit of showcasing how highly they regard the wine and its native land. Valdeorras (Valley of gold for those at home) is a striking region in the highest Galician mountains bisected by the Sil river which creates more dramatic and picturesque vineyard sites than much of the rest of Spain. Araceli Fernandez is the Maestra charged with bringing out the best in the estates old vine (50+ years) Godello and she proudly takes on that responsibility with sheer grace.  

In The Glass: Godello is like a getting a new toy. It’s mysterious and exciting and it opens up new possibilities for your taste buds that perhaps you didn’t know were there. At least, from Spain. I say that because, outside of Albarino, of course, it can sometimes be very difficult to fall in love with Spanish whites. Godello brings weight and seriousness beyond the native other spanish grape varieties. This wine is a classic example of that, where the slightly honeyed mouthfeel, the almost minty minerality and lingering chamomile and fennel flavors are seamless and not at all overbearing. Similar to Chenin Blanc, but with less acidic intensity and more a persistent splash of background tartness.         


The big news around here these days is all about California. You read right, we are (finally) bringing our local love home to Bergamot Alley as we will now be selling California wines in our expanded wine shop! We will begin this expanded journey with what we know and love best; wines from the Seven % Solution. If for some reason you are unfamiliar with this event, and, perhaps live under a rock, it is an annual tasting we host that both celebrates and aims to expand varietal diversity in California (please see our website for more details and join us in supporting this important direction in the wine world)

Starting next month we will be launching another of our educational tasting series; Seven % Inspirations & Comparatives. We will be covering as many bases as we can over seven weeks where we can enjoy old world models side by side with fantastic California representations. Look for more details about those tastings this week and sign up before they fill up!

This month we bring you three red wines, one each from Spain, Italy and France, from grape varieties that we’d sure like to see grown, or a lot more of it at least, in California. Cheers!    –Kevin Wardell, July 2016

Benito Santos / Mencia / Monterrei, Galicia, Spain 2014

IN THE BOTTLE: The one grape from Spain that gets the mouths watering and raises a wanting eyebrow with so many of my winemaker friends, is Mencia. It’s a grape that naturally carries fabulous acidity, the primary reason winemakers love it here. It’s also why it stands out in the world of Spanish wine, where the reds are not normally known for such brightness. Often compared to Gamay, Mencia can show its strong versatility as some winemakers, especially in the Bierzo region, are making a bit more extracted version of the wine (and in some sad cases a  tragic use of oak.) And just like what we’re coming around to finding with Gamay here in the states there are plenty of cooler vineyard sites here that can suit a grape such as this, achieving proper ripeness without sacrificing the natural acidic balance.   

IN THE GLASS: Benito Santos showcases the true character of the Mencia grape; Aromatic, juicy and vibrant. It’s association with Gamay is always a compliment around these parts, but where it may lack in the tell tale granite tones of Cru Beaujolais, it more than makes up for it in fresh picked tart berry goodiness. Ribeira Sacra is not without its own tremendous terroir mind you, many of the best vineyard sites are along the very steep canyon banks of the Sil and Miño River, where the summer nights stay nicely cool influenced by the not too distant Atlantic Ocean. This is a wine that is best served with a chill and can easily replace so many food pairings that you may immediately think of a needs a white wine for.   

I Favati “Cretarossa” / Aglianico / Irpinia Campi Taurasini, Campania, Italy 2010

IN THE BOTTLE: There are just too many grape varieties from Italy to list that I’d love to see more of, or in many cases, any of in the US. But Aglianico, to me, is the one that stands out as something we should easily see more of soon. The very few examples there are actually being made in California are getting better and better as winemakers are beginning to learn just how to work with it. Doubtfully will there ever be one that nails that tell tale volcanic minerality, simply because we don’t have anything quite like Mt Vesuvius in our back yard, but I truly believe that the greatness of the Aglianico grape can be expressed regardless. The potential for an amazing wine, at least in this case, is not solely dependant on its native terroir alone and is clearly a grape suited for our warmer climates. Aglianico has become heralded as one of the most noble grapes in all of Italy… Folks growing Sangiovese, or even trying their hand at Nebbiolo, should recognize that this grapes should be right there in the conversation for more consideration in California.

IN THE GLASS: Did I mention Mt Vesuvius? Of course I did. Now can you taste it? There is always a deliciously flinty or smokey earth backbone to these wines and this one does not disappoint. This was an old favorite of ours at A16 and every vintage it is a classically delicious Aglianico, that truly over delivers. I Favati is one of the older wineries in the area and still stands by making their wine to reflect how it’s always been made, as opposed to some in the area that have steered towards a more polished and modern style as a by product of the somewhat recent recognition the region has attained. You can hardly call this wine rustic, however, clean and sound in every way, a true earth driven wine an ever so slight touch of wood with well integrated tannins and structure. Drink with good pizza. Really good pizza.

Domaine Le Briseau / Pineau d’Aunis / Coteaux du Loire, France 2012

IN THE BOTTLE: Is there really such thing as a “cult grape variety?”  I guess if there were one, this is it. And this cult is almost entirely made up of Sommeliers and wine makers, as your average consumer crowd see such a miniscule amount of it. Clearly we rate you as an way above average crowd, so welcome to the wild and mysterious world of Pineau d’Aunis! Also known as Chenin Noir. Yes, really. The question is asked often when it comes to sought after grapes like this (we at Bergamot like to call them “unicorn varietals”) is that why, if they’re so special, are they so rare? Pineau d’Aunis falls into the common growing issues where time makes those selection decisions; uneven ripening, tendency towards shatter, small yields etc. Modern viticulture has helped make those issues a little bit more manageable but certainly some Loire locals remain understandably dubious.  Regardless, however, there are in fact whispers that some cuttings have finally landed here in California, but who am I to spread rumors or out to someone for their delicious and dastardly deeds (…and there was much rejoicing!)    

IN THE GLASS: One thing to note is that when dealing with Pineau d’Aunis, you are most often experiencing it through the craftsmanship of a natural winemaker, so a modicum of tolerance for a bit of funk can be helpful. In this case there is some reductivity (see: eggy) on the nose upon opening, but this is one of the few flaws that can blow off with oxygen, and in this case does so quickly. And once that’s gone – boom! The dried flowers, mint, sharpened pencils, currants and kirsch and white pepper explode through on the both the nose and the palate. A recurring theme mentioned here is the presence of ripping acidity, which when you think of it as being the red Chenin it makes perfect sense. As this opens further, it becomes clear why Pineau d’Aunis is a favorite in it’s wine geek circles. Crunchy and complex, a wine for contemplation, for inspiring creativity, and a wine that makes you want to crush another bottle. I’ll admit I opened a second and tossed it in a decanter after the first glass of our first bottle.          


Riesling is something that we could honestly dedicate an entire year’s worth of Wine Club to and still only be scratching the surface. On an experimental level my sick and twisted mind would love to see actually who holds on for such a wild ride, but in the end we will continue forth exploring all of the other aspects of both the bizarre and the beautiful when it comes to the world of wine. Stopping off every so often to remind ourselves that there is nobility amongst the ranks that can defy almost all other logic or rules that (most) the others must follow. Furthermore, we explore three wines that even defy the rules made for the grape itself in its native homeland, eschewing tradition and thoughtfully redefining possibilities and potential with organic farming or even the minimal use of sulphur. Once again we preset: the genius, the versatility, the allure of Riesling!

-Kevin Wardell, June 2016

Immich Batterieberg “C.A.I.” Kabinett Riesling / Middle Mosel, Germany 2014

IN THE BOTTLE: Immich-Batterieberg is one of the oldest wineries in the Mosel. The earliest documents we have trace it back to the year 911. It was originally founded by a Carolingian owner that belonged to a monastery, and the base of the cellar is from the end of the 9th century (around 870). The family that gave its name to the winery took over in 1495 and owned it up until 1989. The name C.A.I is a tribute to “the guy with the dynamite”, Carl August Immich, whose decision it was to dynamite this hill between 1841 and 1845 to create terraces and plant vines (Batterieberg translates to the Battered Mountain).  Gernot Kollman runs the show here now and his approach leans much more to the “natural wine” side of things than is common in the area – he bottles this wine without sulfur and vinifies in stainless steel.

IN THE GLASS: Lemon rinds, dried herbs and a touch of beeswax on the nose. Grapefruit minerality, sea salt and dry, slatey acidity on the palate. Zingy? No. Zippy doesn’t even do it justice. Electric? That’s better. The acidity is obviously the appeal here for anyone who has loved Riesling forever or even for those just trying to learn what high level of praise is all about. Examples that are as dry as this want salmon, oysters, scallop etc… Oily fish and other fatty seafood that can just as easily be prepared in light dishes or even raw. It’s more the opulent Rieslings with a touch or more residual sugar (RS) that go perfectly with spice and/or asian flair – same main family of ingredients are of course fabulous options, just feel free to kick up the heat on the preparation!

Eva Fricke “Lorch” Riesling / Rheingau, Germany 2014

IN THE BOTTLE: Eva is a up and coming rock star and certainly has the chops to make it big quickly. She is also one of the winemakers that has decided to try to change the Prädikat system of labeling that loosely indicates the sweetness of the wine. It’s a bit  tricky but I’ll explain it the simplest way I know how; When shopping for a Riesling you’ll see Kabinett, Spätlese, Auslese etc… on the bottle. Here’s the thing though, those classifications are based on when the grapes were picked, not on the final sweetness/ dryness of the wine itself. Meaning that some houses Kabinett is sweeter than others Spätlese for example. From a consumer standpoint it sure makes it difficult to tell what you’re getting – even if you can read German! I applaud Eva and others trying to make a change – though it’s a rare sight to find a bottle such as this that simply reads “off-dry.” Best rule of thumb though in the future – take a look at the alcohol % as a secondary indicator; If it’s 8 or 9% it’s gonna be sweet, higher alcohols like 12% indicate it may have been fermented fully dry.

IN THE GLASS: This is my new love in the world of Rielsing… The wine, not Eva herself, but I’ll happily tell her that her wines make me a little weak in the knees whenever I might get the chance to do so. Almost clear in color, this wine is not at all what it seems in several ways. The aromatics are very subtle, but no less intoxicating than the more opulent ones. Green high notes point to a very dry Riesling on the nose, but then you find the undertones of nectarine, citrus blossom and even a touch of that tell tale petrol quality and you know you’re in for something a bit more. The sugar on the tongue is so very very slight, but after all that minerality and bright acid, you really do appreciate that little soft, sweet kiss. This is a wine with tension… which also can make for a better kiss, does it not?

Hofgut Falkenstein “Krettnacher Euchariusberg” Spätlese Riesling / Saar, Mosel, Germany 2014

IN THE BOTTLE: I’ve featured wines from Erich Weber before, in the form of a stunning sparkling Riesling a couple years ago. Point of fact, I don’t think I’m doing my job right if I don’t have at least one of his wines on the shelf at all times. 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 allows naturally fermentation with wild yeast. His wines are insanely good. If you know German Riesling reasonably well, you might scratch your head at the price and think that perhaps it cannot be so special. I’ll leave you with a favorite quote I found from him as he explains that Hofgut Falkenstein is a labor of love, not a financial investment “Too much money is something not so good.” We are not worthy.

IN THE GLASS: Ok, now here we get into what is most likely more familiar territory for people when they think of good Riesling. You know, the kind of wine you find yourself smelling so many times, huffing, actually, sticking your nose deeper and deeper into the glass… It’s almost a little embarrassing. In which case, you’re keeping the wrong company if they’re not doing the same, clearly. Mind you, as beautiful as this is on the nose, the amount of RS on the palate is indeed low for most Spätlese wines, and in my opinion is in no way the defining character of the wine. Ripe apricots and fresh pineapple. Ginger, dripping honeycombs and diesel fuel! Who doesn’t want to stick their nose in that particular compote?! Still a mere baby in it’s lifespan, but offering up plenty of it’s beauty in it’s youth as well. If you’re so inclined (and able to, I seem to lack that gene) to cellar one of these – this is certainly the one!

PDF: BAWC – MAY 2016

It has become tradition that the May installment of Back Alley Wine Club launches Rosé season… funny enough though, this year it seems the arrival of many of our favorite 2015 Rosés have been slow in their arrival to our shores. As you can imagine that causes quite a panic for many retailers who are awaiting that giant wave of pale pink delites, stacked to the ceiling, welcoming the summer weather. 

But we know better. Right? So often Rosés are simply drank too young. Clearly there are ample guzzlers from Provence and elsewhere where that’s ok, but if we’re talking about Bandol or even the example of Sancerre that is included this month’s club, it is an absolute must to give it a year or more to develop. So this year I decided to turn our pink selection over to an old friend in the wine industry, Chris Deegan.

Chris is a partner in Sacred Thirst Selections, a relatively young import company that we often work with here at Bergamot as it carries so many of those terrifically nerdy and delicious gems that make us oh so very happy! These three wines really show how diverse and also how serious the world of Rosé can truly be. Oh yeah, and did I mention that two of them are sparkling? You’re welcome.    

          -Kevin Wardell, May 2016

Pere Mata “Cupada” Rosé / Cava, Penedes, Spain 2011 / 35% Macabeu, 20% Xarello, 20% Parellada, 25% Monastrell

IN THE BOTTLE: This is from a tiny, organically farmed, five hectare vineyard in the town of Sant Sadurní d’Anoia, in the heart of the Penedès, There is not a single wine from this Cava producer that doesn’t rock my world, especially for the price. Made Champagne method (as is all Cava, amazingly) with primary fermentation in stainless steel. And aged sur lees in bottle for almost 3 years with zero added dosage! Bonus! When people compare Pere Mata’s wines to Champagne, he simply says:

“I don’t want to make Champagne, I want make great Cava.”

This strong sentiment of identity and pride is a testament to the recognition that great Cava producers have to reach for to separate themselves from the two long established stereotypes for their wines: low cost, low quality and high cost “Champagne” wannabes.

IN THE GLASS: Fresh baked croissants with a side of sea sprayed spiced strawberry spread. Clean and pure rainwater minerality with fruit notes ranging from meyer lemon rinds to sun warmed ripe apricots to green cantaloupe. Of the three wines this month, this one is in most danger of being empty in the bat of an eye. That’s not to to say it’s less serious than the others, but you’ll quickly find that it just goes down a little too easy. That combined with it’s just barely pink hue, you’ll be hard pressed to find anyone objecting to top off of this juice. If you’re thinking, hey wait, Monastrell = Mourvedre which makes for a dark and brooding wine, how is this so darn light and soft? Hey good question! With Monastrell the skins are very thick, and the pulp bright green, so it takes an unusually long maceration to extract color from the grape while it enjoys all the complexity of fruit. Genius.

Gérard Villet Crémant du Jura Rosé / 100% Trousseau / Arbois, Jura, France NV

IN THE BOTTLE: Domaine Gérard Villet, which is located in the oldest AOC in France (1936), has been making wine since 1900. The family run estate is now managed by husband and wife Gérard and Christine. Gérard tends to the vineyards and winemaking, while Christine manages all commercial and administrative aspects of the domaine. In 1988 the domaine converted to organic farming practices and it has not looked back since. The sparkling rosé spends 30 months on the lees before being disgorged. In contrast, the ageing requirements for Crémant du Jura AOC are only 9 months. Native yeast in stainless steel. Despite its stark appearance, especially in contrast to the Cava, this a delightfully delicate and bright example of Crémant du Jura.

IN THE GLASS: Calling this a Rosé may be a stretch for some as its darker plummy appearance mentally prepares you for something quite different clearly. And there’s no doubt this is a indeed different beast as it is a) from Jura b) Trousseau and c) Sparkling. With those things in mind, however, it delivers all the rustic beauty that you could desire. Dried meats (see: Bresaola) and mountain herbs (see: Ricola. Really!) And lastly, a big mug of Hibiscus Tea.  Dry as a bone but with ample plump fruit notes make this wine feel round on the palate, finishing crisp with a perfect touch of tannin. Balanced tannins on a pink sparkler? Think Lambrusco but without that bitter gripping edge. Not that this a wine that can be put in a box, but if you’re looking for the right occasion to showcase this one with friends – stock up on some funky sharp cheese (see: Comte) and win the day!

Pascal Gitton “Les Romains”  / 100% Pinot Noir / Sancerre, Loire, France 2014

IN THE BOTTLE: From his 27 hectares in Sancerre, Pouilly Fume and the Côteaux du Giennois, Pascal Gitton crafts an insane selection of wines that are incredibly singular to their terroirs. I’ve had the pleasure of tasting 30+ year old Sancerre from Pascal that will have you rethinking everything you may have thought you knew about Sauvignon Blanc. And the fun thing about him is that he releases a lot of older vintages almost out of the blue. When we get those gems in at Bergamot – Do not hesitate! The Pinot from Les Romains Vineyard is certainly regarded as some of the best in Sancerre with it’s 50+ year old vines in Silex / Limestone soils. In addition to this stellar Rose, again I encourage a leap of faith on the red that Pascal produces from this site. Transcendent.    

IN THE GLASS: Boy oh boy, oh boy. Here is where one really has to resist the temptation to crack this open as an daytime starter during a nice game of horseshoes. This wine is far more serious, think Lawn Bowling. And yeah, sure, you can don the whites as well. A stunning and explosive balance of ripeness and bracing acidity. Bracing may not even do it justice, more like ripping acidity with unending mouthwateriness? Whatever the words, fasten your salivary seatbelts. Yellow nectarines and tart watermelon and wild strawberries. The brightness and high tones scream Sancerre with lovely purity of fruit and all that distinctive steely minerality. You may experience “disjointed” flavors at first but give this wine a little bit of air and it will all harmonize together perfectly and make you an instant believer in the range of grace and complexity that Pinot Noir and Pascal Gitton are capable of.    


This is the time of year where I can’t seem to get enough bright and crunchy Red wines, and one of the best areas to find these types of treasures is high up in the Alps. More specifically we’re going to travel along the border of France and Italy to three regions surrounding Mont Blanc; Savoie, Hautes-Alpes and Vallée d’Aoste. It’s true that these regions are certainly more famous for their White wines, but the Reds are more than worthy of delving into further as well. It is incredibly striking to stand in the middle of a vineyard and be looking up with a clear view of one of the world’s most famous mountain peaks. Aosta Valley really gives that exact perspective in the most dramatic fashion.

On my visit there I was told, with the grandest of grins, that “In order to pick grapes here, one must be half Ibex. In order to grow grapes here, one must be half mad.” With impossibly terraced vineyards climbing from the valley floor up 900m to some of the highest in vines in all Europe combined with drastic diurnal temperature shifts, life is taxing for vine and viticulturalist alike. There is no question that these three regions have more than dramatic geography in common, the people share a joie de vivre, a strength and fortitude that can only be attributed to life in the Alps. “It’s a wine that doesn’t go to your head, it goes to your legs. We Alpine people say it doesn’t affect you if you try to speak, but if you try to get up, you won’t be able to.” Alex Stoffel (Swiss Viticulturalist)

       -Kevin Wardell, April 2016

Petit Aout “La Memoire Neuve” / 100% Mollard / Hautes Alpes, France 2014

IN THE BOTTLE: Yann de Agostini is only one of two champions for this grape, and in turn the region. He and his neighbor, Marc Allemand, are fighting to get Mollard from Hautes-Alpes recognized as a AOC as opposed to their current VdP status. The quality of wines they are putting out is certainly worth recognition as they’ve all but erased old notions that Mollard produces only under ripe, astringent wines. The region is notched in between Provence and the Savoie and borders Piedmont. Sounds like some serious wine country that we all need to know more intimately, don’t you think?

IN THE GLASS: It’s a little bit country and a little bit rock and roll. You choose which one of those is Provence and which Savoie, arguments could be made on both sides. Reminiscent of Gamay from Loire, without that pencil lead thing, this little brambly Mulberry like number just hits the spot for me. It tastes like coastal garrigue just as much as it tastes like alpine strawberries and wildflowers. Drink with a slight chill – this is my new favorite for Spring juice. Drink during that magic hour leading up to sunset. Drink with friends, or easily make new ones with something this delicious to share.

Jean-Pierre and Jean-François Quénard “Les Deux Jeans” / 100% Persan / Chignin, Savoie, France 2014

IN THE BOTTLE: We’ve had wines from Quénard family, which is funny to say as almost everyone in the Savoie is either a Quénard or most certainly related to one. When deciphering wines however, that’s where first names become very important. The Domaine of Jean-Pierre and Jean-François has been handed down from father to son since 1644. It’s located in the upper part of the commune, at the foot of the famous Towers of Chignin, ruins of an ancient fortress whose origins remain shrouded in mystery. They have been a big part in the revitalization of the Persan grape in the Savoie region as it was brought to near extinction by pollution from an Aluminium mining boom in the fifties. The Monduese grape is the more prominent red grape in the circle of Savoie wines fans, and JP & JF make a great one, but Persan has piqued the interest of producers and drinkers alike to easily become another delicious hit from this very special place.

IN THE GLASS: Give this wine just a bit of air as it does have some reductivity. That’s the slightly eggy or sulphurous smell on nose at first. It is a flaw that blows off very readily, thankfully, and has no effect on the palate at all, again, thankfully. In fact – the second it does subside, you’ll get hit with the intense aromatics that this grape really has to offer. Beyond that… Persan! Truth be told, I’m trying this grape for the first time as well. I am very familiar with the quality from the Quénard estate (these Quénards to be exact) and had no hesitation buying this on the story and reputation alone and I’m certainly happy I did. Tart berries, rhubarb, Hibiscus tea, iron & blood, tobacco & thyme. Happy times!     

Grosjean Frères / 100% Pinot Noir / Fornet, Valle d’Aosta, Italy 2014

IN THE BOTTLE: Don’t you just love that we had to get to the Italian side of the border to taste a Pinot of all things? Silly Bergamot, chock full of surprises. If you know the Valle d’Aosta, then you most certainly  should know Grosjean Frères. And sure we could have picked one of their other delicious and more indigenous reds like Cornalin or Tourette (traditional blend of Petit Rouge, Mayolet & Fumin.) But they have always made a stand-out Pinot Noir, and they make so little of it that I just had to share. Vincent Grosjean is an icon in this region that was all but forgotten by the remainder of the Italian wine world until he and a few other producers showed them what they’d be missing.

IN THE GLASS: Pinot from high elevation is so fun. It’s not actually “Burgundian.” Unless of course you’re comparing it to say Russian River, but as a general term that is used to point out that it’s an earth and acid driven Pinot, that’ll do. All Cherries and coffee grounds. The great reputation of the 2014 vintage in particular is showing its class beautifully, as well. A touch of smoke, soft and crunchy at the same time on the tongue and a sweet kiss of tannins that lingers but doesn’t loiter. Vincent’s wines can sometimes run a little funkytown, which, as you know, I have very little problem with, but on his Pinot Noir specifically I appreciate that it is clean as can be. This wine straddles elegance and ruggedness perfectly, resulting in a perfect liquid representative of it’s origins.


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
Štoka Teran


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.

So lets explore what the hype is all about regarding those crazy wines from the Canary Islands. Wait, are you even aware of such a hype? Could you even point to the Canary Islands on a map in less than, say, 15 seconds? The fact is that these wines are the perfect combination of so many sweet spots that tickle every wine geeks funny bone, and proffer wine writers rare fodder for fun. The grape varieties there are either indigenous or have a mysterious story as to how they first may have arrived on the islands and the vineyards are both high elevation and coastal and they remain own rooted and still unaffected by Phylloxera. The volcanic soil is dramatic and it often gets compared to something extraterrestrial, yielding beautiful wines with a very distinctive textural thumbprint. The Canary Islands archipelago are a region of Spain despite the fact that they are geographically and geologically part of Africa; 60 miles off the southwest coast of Morocco. They are also home to the highest vineyards in Europe. Let that one sink in for a moment. The dormant volcano on Tenerife boasts higher altitude viticulture than even Switzerland! Are you getting the picture that these are pretty special wines, well deserving of our attention and, dare I say, maybe even a bit of hype?
-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.


In the heart of California Wine Country we heard the call. The call for a challenge. For homage to winemaking roots. For inspiration. We saw a need to bring the Old World onto the menu, to highlight it’s little known regions, viticulture and winemaking practices. Our answer? Bergamot Alley Wine Bar and Merchants, in little ‘ole Healdsburg, California.

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

Joshua SullivanWine Club