Imola, Emilia-Romagna, Italy 2019


At the very top of the podium, and the very first DOCG awarded in all of Italy, stands a little humble white grape named Albana. Grown only in the heartland of Emilia-Romagna, and introduced to the area by ancient Romans, it was likely named by them too, (Albus is latin for white.) Albana is said to be a red grape in a white grape’s clothing. It is full-bodied, tannic, and aromatic. Maybe it was this robust character – the grape’s high acid, exotic, floral, and phenolic nature – that made it stand out as the most inspiring candidate for the very first DOCG designation in 1966.

Azienda Agrícola Tre Monti dates back to the early 1960s, beginning with the inspiration of husband and wife team Sergio and Thea Navacchia. After Thea’s death in 1989, friends Francesco Spagnolli, Vittorio Fiore, and Donato Lanati joined in the endeavor. The winery farm estate lies in the center of Imola, where all of the vineyards are managed (as of 2014) with sustainable viticulture, including inter-row cover-cropping and organic practices. The winemaking is now handled by Vittorio Navacchia, with a deft hand and minimal intervention. This bottling is fermented in stainless steel, and then refermented in bottle. At just 11% alcohol, this bubble is ever so slight and can be enjoyed anytime, anywhere, in any vessel you can find to pour it in. 

This wine is a chameleon. At once it appears simple, lithe, and green, but then it shape-shifts into something more exotic, becoming robust with ripe pear topped with white cherries.  It is somehow clean as cotton, fluffy as sea spray foam, delightfully dry and perky, and yet as fruity and juicy as tangerine wedges alongside bites of plump red tomato. It keeps up an intrigue of aromatic wood, like nag champa or san paolo, while also being intensely clean and mineral. This is a favorite Bergamot pastime, finding wines that aren’t one-dimensional or easy to pin down, but are most definitely easy to please.

Albana is barely ever made bubbly, it is much more common as a dry, middle-of-the-road white. It is also made as a sweet Albana Passito wine, where grapes are botrytised or air-dried to make a sticky.


Sorbara, Emilia-Romagna, Italy

[lamb-ROU-SKOE dee SOR-bah-rah]

The oldest and most famous of the Lambrusco lineage, di Sorbara is the most abundant and widely planted of the fizzy red grapes. It is the lightest Lambrusco both in body and in color, and is well-loved for its floral fragrance, often reminiscent of violets. It stands out in the family for its brilliant acidity and beautiful pale, crushed cranberry color.  

Paltrinieri is a family winery three generations and running. Alberto runs the vineyards and manages the cellar, his wife Barbera manages the business and also manages Alberto. The vines are grown in alluvial sand and chalk soils near the town of Modena, right off of the A1 autostrada, the main vertical highway connecting Italy North to South. Modena is an ancient, historical waypoint and connection for travellers. The Vigna del Cristo is the Paltrinieri’s main vineyard, named for a neighboring trattoria, a well-known waystation situated between the two local rivers: Secchia and Panaro. The trattoria was established before the town and appellation of Sorbara were officially created. This bottling, “L’eclisse” (Eclipse) is a tank selection from this historic site. Maceration occurs on the skins for about three days, then alcoholic fermentation in stainless tanks, with secondary fermentation for about 90 days in pressurized stainless steel tanks, with all native yeasts.  

Incredibly, grandma/Nonna still hand ties every single bottle of this lightly effervescent fizzy lifting drink.  So pale and yet so robust, this is one of those wines that is not so much about fruit as minerality. There are some pithy pink grapefruits, a ribbon of Meyer lemon rind, some salted blood orange, and guava juice, and there are dark raspberries all over the nose. But all the while there is so much brightness, and it finishes with dryazabone character. Flashes of tart marderin and valencia orange somehow hint at SourPatch candy. That acidic fruity tartness will pair perfectly well with all kinds of the local charcuterie – serve this up alongside prosciutto di Parma, mortadella, coppa and salumi di fellino.

In the fertile fields of Emilia-Romagna, pigs have been reared since at least 1000 BC, and the local art of making prosciutto, mortadelle, sausages and salami has been renowned since Medieval times. The capital city Bologna is, as a result, an internationally famous food destination. 


Kick On Ranch
Santa Barbara, California 2017


Riesling absolutely needs no introduction. It’s planted all over the world (oh- except where it’s banned in France!) it’s notorious, misunderstood, abused, reviled, botrytised and devoutly worshipped… but arguably the best-of-the-best come from its OG German homeland (for 6 centuries) on the Rhine River, where it cranks out minerality in slate rock “soils.” While some translation is usually required to gauge a bottle’s sweetness, riesling always liebe to deliver its boundless bright acid, floral bouquet and endless nerve: sometimes apricot petrol fruity, sometimes pure rock crunch, sometimes nutty savory. It’s almost more verb than grape. Riesling. 

Graham Tatomer has had his sites focused on Riesling and Grüner Veltliner since high school, and he began his winery dedicated to those grapes in 2008. A harvest gig in school first introduced Graham to the oldest Riesling in Santa Barbara at Lafond Winery, and this first love propelled him to work-study with Weingut Knoll in the Wachau, Austria. Add on some apprentice time with the guru of the Santa Barbara mountains, Adam Tolmach of Ojai Vineyards, and Graham has now become the voice for soulful Riesling in the New World. Kick On Ranch takes on the incessant cold Pacific winds that are pulled into the little Los Alamos Valley, one of the three east-west valleys in Santa Barbara County. This makes for perfect Riesling country as it loves to mature slowly to impair that high-toned fruit and instead draw its stone backbone and tense sense of place from the long, cold growing season and sandy river cobble soils. Fermented to absolute dryness under Graham’s purported “full Austrian treatment’, the wine sees some skin contact and is aged in neutral barrels.

Pour this glass, and then let’s all stop and praise Graham for bringing serious F*in’ trocken riesling to California! White tea, meadow flowers, sushi ginger, salinity, apricot velvet, crushed river rock, jump into the stream of consciousness that gushes from this glass. This is why Riesling is the king and Kick On kicks the arse. 


Prié Blanc
Morgex, Valle d’Aosta, Italy 2017

PRIÉ BLANC [pree-yay blahn]

Prié Blanc gets a double gold star for being the oldest native grape in Valle d’Aosta and the very highest planted in Europe. It makes a beautiful sparkling wine as well (third gold star) – it’s simply that there is not enough of it to go around. Historical records are very thorough in this area and point to one very important fact: Prié Blanc is the only vine that was able to survive the extreme cold temperatures in this far reaching corner of the Aosta Valley. It is as delicate as meadow flowers and crisp as freshly melted snow dew, with piercing acidity and full bodied elegance. Ian d’Agata calls it “Italy’s best light-bodied white” – a warranted hyperbole for this brave blanc!

Piero Brunet took over his family’s vineyards in 1985, and at the same time he acquired some of the oldest plantings of Prié Blanc. Piero, his wife, and their two daughters organically farm just under a hectare (2.5 acres) at supremely high altitude (3900 ft.) on superlatively steep terraces. The growing season is so short and the summer so temperate that the vines are pergola-trained very close to the ground to absorb just a hint of heat from sunlight reflected off the stone. These own-rooted vines yield just over 300 cases of the Blanc de Morgex, the family’s only wine. What an honor to drink the legacy of this alpine grape, sprung from the highest mountain vineyards, thanks to the folks who cling to their slopes.

Sooooper herbal wine to the point of being almost perplexing. Rosemary and tarragon are the first things that come to mind, but there is also that wonderful descriptor that makes most Americans smirk with nostalgia: fresh cut grass. Underripe apricots and blushing quince are the fruit characteristics that shine through on the palate, even though clearly this wine is not remotely one that can be described as ‘fruit forward.’ The minerality screams “crunchy waterfalls”… as abstract as it gets, yes, but not if you think about the terrain of Aosta. Picture icy falls made from melted glaciers, frozen in time and cascading from the extreme cliffs of this picturesque alpine valley. See? Crunchy.

Morgex and la Salle are neighboring villages at the base of Mont Blanc in the highest part of the Valley, making them the very highest vineyards in Europe at about 4,300 feet. Dizzyingly delicious.