Learn to navigate the most complicated country in the wonderful world of wine. Once a month you receive four hand selected small batch production bottles of Italian wine. We share with you the stories of the people and terroir behind each one, the grape variety that makes the wine, and the regions of Italy that bring the whole story together. While normally one would say “crack ’em open!” at Bergamot Wine Co. we encourage you to take an extra moment to pause, dig in to the Tasting Notes for each month’s collection, and start expanding your wine knowledge one bottle, one winemaker, and one grape at a time.
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CURRENT OFFERING: Love Pinot? Love Sicily!
When learning about Italian wine, or even just simply trying to order one in an Italian restaurant, it makes sense that instinctively we try to find commonality from the wines we are most familiar with. For most of Italy, thats a hard task as there are so many grape varieties and flavors that there are seldom direct parallels to be made. Wines just taste different from there compared to what we make here (for the most part.) But the most common request I get as a Sommelier is “Can I try something from Italy that tastes like a Pinot?” And you know what… That’s one question I can say yes to without hesitation! Welcome to the Island of Sicily.
It could be thought of as the most unlikely place to find wines that seem to hit on all the same notes that Pinot Noir does, be it from California or Burgundy or New Zealand. But it’s true, from the southern city of Vittoria to the slopes of Mt Etna, we bring you four wines that will inevitably have you drawing delicious lines of comparison with your tastebuds. There are tons of reasons that people have fallen for Pinot Noir as their favorite grape, and there are equally as many reasons to now make Sicily and it’s native grapes your new favorite as well.
-Kevin Wardell, Wine Protagonist
Paolo Cali ‘Violino’
Vittoria, Sicily 2017
Organic / Re-Order: $22
GRAPE: Nero D’Avola – Or should we say Calabrese? That’s really the official name of this grape?! Why have we been mis-lead, nay, lied to for all these years?! Put simply, it would seem that the moniker Calabrese was wrongly placed on several other grape varieties throughout Italy over time and the local Sicilian name for this grape, meaning ‘dark from Avola’ kept its identity separate from that mess and then it just sort of stuck. Thankfully. It is far and away the most prolific and important grape in Sicily but only in recent years are we seeing more single varietal wines of great quality. Often it was blended with international grapes that were an unfortunate trend in the region for some time.
GROWER: Paolo Cali has one of the most unique properties in the area of Cerasuolo di Vittoria. His land is essentially referred to as a prehistoric sand dune. As you can imagine, one man’s sand dune is another man’s treasure and Paolo considers his challenging terroir to be the source of his beautifully aromatic wines. The property does evoke feelings of the tropics without question as the vines and olive trees are neatly rowed in a bright beige sand that seems to change shape with the wind much like it would on a beach. His biggest challenge here are crickets that burrow in the sand and damage roots, dealt with by churning the loose topsoil to keep those bugs moving.
GLASS: Although a bit shy in its expression at first, this opens up with some air fairly quickly to reveal the plump red raspberries and tart hibiscus delight that this wine is all about. This is as bright and delicate a Nero d’Avola you will ever find anywhere. Red licorice as well as bitter, dried cocoa notes and a soft herbaceousness that reminds me of fresh tarragon. Lastly there is a touch of sweet grilled onion in there, giving the wine an unexpected depth of flavor. The Pinot comparison is pretty obvious here, in fact there are some examples from Central Otago New Zealand that remind me of this wine. Despite being the polar opposite in location and terroir… besides the fact that they’re both Island wines
SIDE NOTES: Paolo names his wines with expressions of music (Violino, Jazz, Blues etc…) as he feels music is the type of raw expression of art and beauty that he wants people to feel in his wines.
Gulfi Cerasuolo di Vittoria
Nero D’Avola + Frappato
Vittoria, Sicily 2017
Organic / Re-Order: $22
GRAPE: Nero D’Avola + Frappato – A magic combination that makes up not only Sicily’s only DOCG wine, Cerasuolo di Vittoria, but what is also fast becoming one of the more popular Italian blends imported into the US today. With all that warm climate fruity appeal of these wines, it’s no stretch to understand why that is. The Nero is the dark, saturated and structured ingredient while the Frappato is the light, high toned and crunchy bit. Cerasuolo producers almost invariably bottle one wine each of these grapes as mono varietal examples and it’s never dull to try them all at once to sense just how obvious a pairing the two grapes are for one another.
GROWER: Matteo Cattania’s family winery, Gulfi, is known as one of the benchmark examples of Nero d’Avola wines in all Sicily. Matteo’s father started working with the Etna viticultural legend, Salvo Foti, to discover the methods of growing their native grapes with true quality in mind, as opposed to the common practices that were clearly designed more for quantity. The results have turned heads in this region around Vittoria and many growers have been adjusting their approach since. Gulfi wines range from site specific single vineyard Nero d’Avolas that are uniquely expressive of the individual terroir, to the the Cerasuolo di Vittoria that is all about the perfect interplay between these two native grapes. There is not a single wine from Gulfi that I wouldn’t strongly encourage you to try.
GLASS: Be warned. This wine may cause a giggle and a wiggle upon first sip. Blackberries and fragrant black raspberry are nicely dense in this wine, though the weight on the palate remains light and playful. Frappato certainly plays a strong role in that by creating a floral lift to the nose and a candied red fruit element to the taste. Gulfi blends the two grapes equally at 50% each, and it is indeed evident here. The ripeness of fruit just feels like a warm day in the Sicilain Sun. There is a verdant quality to this wine that reminds me a bit of the eucalyptus in Russian River. If I get a Pinot from there that his this kind of nuance, and less concentrated fruit, I’m jumping for joy.
SIDE NOTES: Cerasuolo di Vittoria wines can be up to 70% Nero d’Avola, Gulfi is a rarity with it’s 50/50 blend. Oddly many producers do not list what percentages of each variety is used on the bottle, though we may see this changing soon.
Barone di Villagrande
Etna, Sicily 2017
Nerello Mascalese + Nerello Cappuccio
Organic / Re-Order: $26
GRAPES: Nerello Mascalese + Nerello Cappuccio – These two grapes are the reason why Mt. Etna has become the most important region in Sicily, perhaps all of Southern Italy in the past two decades. Despite their obvious differences, theses two grapes (as well as a third, Nocera) were traditionally interplanted with one another and field blends were simply common place. The grapes have been growing here on this iconic volcano for several generations, but only recently has the true potential of the wines been unlocked, and the ceiling for world class wines seems nowhere in sight. As you can imagine, however, there isn’t much land to go around and so the growing popularity of it is coming at a premium.
GROWER: Barone di Villagrande is one of the original houses to be tending to these volcanic vines for many years. Marco Nicolosi is 10th generation and his family has basically written ‘the book’ with regards to the viticultural history here. Located on the more eastern edge of the old vines areas in a valley essentially created by the collapse of an ancient volcanic crater lake. Nothing like a good dramatic back-story to make a wine even more intriguing, eh? The Barone di Villagrande vineyards in Milo are set in an incredible picturesque natural amphitheater, 700 meters high and overlooking Sicilies eastern coastline. Drinking this wine is not only a piece of local history, but a pure example of tasting everything this stunning corner of the world has to offer.
GLASS: We reach the more distinctly earth driven side of this comparison, along with a lot more cherries and wild strawberries. Where many wines from Etna can pick up a more smokey element from the volcanic influence, it is simply a background note here to the complex flavors of dried flowers and blood orange. The Nerello grapes can have a fair bit of natural tannin, but they are velvety smooth in this wine simply providing a persistent dry grip but not at all overpowering the wine and, thankfully, there is no new oak here. This wine is far more akin to the Pinots of either Sonoma coast or Willamette Valley. Lean and crunchy with beautiful aromatics and tart acidity. Again, it is really fun and a bit wild to think of these wines from Sicily having such similarities to wines coming from such different climates.
Side Notes: Marco and his wife Barbera have breathed new life into this historic winery in recent years, but have not changed a thing when it comes to the wines. Remarkable quality for this kind of value is as rare as it comes in modern day Etna.
Etna, Sicily 2016
Organic / Re-Order: $30
GRAPE: Nerello Mascalese – Nerello vines are the source of great study these days. There are vines vines that are hundreds of years old and rooted straight down through generations of volcanic activity. Currently the viticulturists are trying to map out the oldest vineyards according to lava flow over the years; think the complexity of a Burgundy map, and then add magma – thrilling stuff! We are seeing more single varietal wines from Nerello Mascalese as the flavor profiles and styles of wine in the region are being explored. But whether it’s this one amazing grape or a field blend of the three traditional grape varieties, there is no doubt that the world has turned their attention toward the incredible wines that are now being produced here.
GROWER: Graci would be considered one of the young guns in the Etna wine scene, but his dedication to the classic methods and respect for tradition is important. He does not use new oak or try to create a wine expressive of anything but the grapes and the soil that they are grown in. Located on the northern slopes of Mt. Etna, in Passopisciaro, his vines reach up to 1000 meters above sea level. That’s amazingly high considering the sea is visible from here and is basically at the highest point at which these grapes can grow. Theses slopes can get cold very quickly come fall and harvest doesn’t tend to finish until late November.
GLASS: Once again I close my eyes and try to remind my Italo-centric palate not think in Italian wine (old dog, new trick) and I am transported to place like Burgundy. Cigar box, black cherries, crushed rocks, nutmeg and clove… this wine has it all. The robust red fruit and persistent acidity hit with elegance and there is also a fresh, clean mushroom scent that I absolutely can’t get enough of (reminds me of our fabulous mushroom guy we visit often at our local farmers market.) The tannins are sweetly integrated and this wine is just balanced from start through the very long finish.
Side Notes: Alberto Graci has a practical view concerning growing vines on the slopes of a live volcano “Lava? We are fatalists.” he says ”We don’t care. It’s normal for us.”