From the archives… 1986 Cassis Blanc • Clos Sainte Magdeleine

by Kermit Lynch

Back in 1969 before Bacchus waved his magic wand and made me into a wine importer, I was banging about Europe on a penny-pinching holiday. Needing a rest en route from Barcelona to Salzburg, I pulled off the highway to find a hotel. The nearest village was Cassis, proving that accidents are not always tragic. I did not know the beauty of the place had attracted painters such as Vlaminck, Matisse, and Dufy, or that there were literary connections with Marcel Pagnol and M.F.K. Fisher. I simply needed a bed.

And stayed a week. I ate in cheap backstreet restaurants: fish soup, fish stew grilled fish, fruits de mer, always with a bottle of the local sun-drenched white wine. All the vintners produce red and rosé, but those don’t matter. It is its unique dry white that puts Cassis on the wine map.

The 1986 will convert cynics who say the incomparable beauty of the site makes the wine taste good. The vintage plays a role; conditions were perfect. The aroma is ripe and grapes, and all the flavors are intact because the Clos Sainte Madeleine has agreed to forgo a filtration at the mise en bouteille. A blend of Ugni blanc, Claudette, Marsanne, and Sauvignon blanc, here is the wine to enhance seafood and shellfish. On a warm evening it serves as an appropriate apéritif. It goes particularly well with Roquefort and goat cheese. And you sailors, here is the wine for your boat’s ice chest. It tastes as good on the Pacific as it does on the Mediterranean.

[From the June 1988 Newsletter]

28 years later, the tiny Cassis appellation is glimmering like never before. Try the 2014 Cassis Blanc from Clos Sainte Magdeleine to see for yourself.

From the archives… Lulu’s Aioli Secret

by Kermit Lynch

We are excited to announce a new “From the archives” series. We will be sharing handpicked favorites from Kermit’s newslettersgoing back to the early 80’s through the 00’s! We hope you enjoy these blasts-from-the-past. Stay tuned for more.

Lulu is Lulu Peyraud of Domaine Tempier. Aioli is the garlicky mayonnaise of Provence, but the word aioli can also refer to the mayonnaise and all the assorted goodies onto which the people of Provence traditionally heap it: sweet potato, carrots, artichokes, hard-boiled egg, sea snails, salt cod, octopus stew, garden tomatoes, beets, and so on. For grand occasions when guests are numerous (the end-of-harvest celebration, for example), Lulu always serves bouillabaisse or a grand aioli.

For some reason bouillabaisse and aioli have taken on some sort of spiritual significance to me. When I eat them, I satisfy more than one kind of hunger.

Why then did the aioli gods turn on me? For years my aiolis fell apart no matter how careful I was! Drop by excruciating drop I would add the olive oil, turning all the while until my arm wanted to fall off, 15, 20 minutes, and then in a matter of seconds my precious aioli would separate into an unappetizing glop of olive oil and raw egg. In frustration I finally tried to make it in a blender. Even that fell apart!

So I sat down with Lulu, mortar and pestle, garlic, egg yolk, and olive oil, and asked her to show me how it is done.

“You add a little salt first to help grind the garlic to a paste, then the egg yolk, then you start in the olive oil. It’s easy.” She said.

Folks, that is exactly how I always did it, so I insisted she demonstrate.

All, first, there was no drip-drip-drip. Lulu splashed in a healthy glug of oil and turned it with the pestle until it firmed up, then glug-glug, another pour. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Surely it was bound to unbind.

But, to hurry along… Lulu did have a step she hadn’t mentioned. When her aioli began to thicken too much, she aded a spoonful of tepid water. Since learning the tepid-water trick I haven’t lost a single aioli and my life is more meaningful. But why had no one ever explained that you don’t want your aioli to get too thick? I always thought that was the goal.

Surprisingly, Lulu serves not rosé, but red wine with aioli. Soul food, soul wine. A young, cool red. The 1986 works; the 1985 is already too evolved for an aioli. Save it or an older Tempier for the cheese platter, when the aioli is finito.

[From the December 1989 Newsletter]

Though fresh out of the ’86, we do have the 2014 Tempier Bandol Rouge in stock now for your handmade-aioli-pairing pleasure.


by Chris Santini

Picture Patrimonio, Corsica, back in 1920. On an island desolated and neglected by colonial French rule, with no tourism and no industry, locals had only the dream of leaving to keep them going. Their choice was subsistence living or emigration, so most chose to leave (my own family among them). A few brave—or perhaps crazy—families chose to stay. While others packed their bags, the Arenas continued to plant and tend vines for themselves and a minuscule local market. By the 1970s, when Antoine Arena was old enough to head for better shores himself, his family encouraged him to leave, since the outlook was unchanged. The measly two hectares of vines that had allowed the family to survive until then were not sufficient to provide any kind of future for Antoine. He reluctantly acquiesced and left the island for a new life, yet the memory of his family’s vines haunted him. Would his be the generation that let this history disappear forever from the island? Would that be his cross to bear and explain to his children?

Unwilling to assume that role, and inspired by an island-wide riacquistu, or “reappropriation,” of Corsican language and culture by his generation, he returned home against his parents’ wishes and decided—much like his ancestors had—to plant, develop, and expand, even if he had no market to sell his wine to. A sort of “If you build it, they will come” faith and determination. To make this happen, Antoine knew right where to start: the oldest parcel of vines in all of Patrimonio, planted by his grandfather in 1920, which had never seen a drop of chemicals or fertilizer, and provided a pure, direct connection with the Patrimonio of the past. From here, Antoine selected his cuttings and propagated his vines to the fourteen hectares they occupy today. He thus launched a revolution that would take the Paris wine scene by storm and eventually woo wine lovers the world over, bringing Corsica the fame it greatly deserved. It all began right here in the Arenas’ vineyard, this living connection with memories and struggles of the past.

Antoine has always vinified the fruit from these old vines separately, yielding just a few barrels of wine. More often than not, the treasure was kept and enjoyed only by family and visiting guests, too rare and intimate to release anywhere else. The 2013 is the last vintage Antoine made from these vines before handing off the vineyards to his son Antoine-Marie. As a sort of parting gesture, Antoine is allowing us, for the first and last time, to share this wine in a very limited fashion with you. Mémoria is a deeply personal wine, with notes of black fruit, tapenade, chimney embers, and smoked meat—the scents and savors of a shared family meal in the Arena home, past or present. Ti ringraziu, Antoine, for sharing your final Mémoria with us.



$56.00 per bottle $604.80 per case

Introducing La Marca di San Michele


by Dixon Brooke

The little village of Cupramontana, perched high in the hills of Italy’s Le Marche region, within view of the Adriatic Sea to the east and the Apennine Mountains to the west, is the birthplace of this young, exciting estate. Founded by the children of an old winemaking family who struck out independently to create organic wines of great character and integrity, La Marca is the alliance of this region’s strong and proud history with the best possible vision for its future. In the right hands, the Verdicchio grape is capable of making one of Italy’s finest white wines—the hands of this family have just the right touch.


Capovolto is aged exclusively in stainless steel and is the estate’s younger-release Verdicchio that is aromatic, fruit-driven, and ready to enjoy immediately. It is medium-bodied and versatile at table, with fresh citrus, spring flowers, stimulating acidity, and succulent pit fruits.

$24.00 per bottle $259.20 per case


This wine takes its time throughout every stage of the production process. Picked carefully, fermented slowly with wild yeasts (including full malolactic fermentation), aged in large Slavonian oak botti, and bottled unfiltered, Passolento deserves to be decanted and savored with fine cuisine, and it has development potential in your cellar.

$32.00 per bottle $345.60 per case

Artisan Vignerons – In Defense of Prices

by Anthony Lynch

We take pride in the bargains in our portfolio, but from time to time we cannot resist buying wines that some people would deem expensive. Our intention is not to gouge or cheat; in fact, we regret that something like wine, a product of the earth whose purpose is to unify and provide indiscriminate pleasure to all regardless of creed, color, and class, can be inaccessible by virtue of price or rarity. But rest assured that in most cases, the vigneron in question is not living a glamorous lifestyle with fancy cars and diamond rings.

Certain wines, like grand cru Burgundies and classified Bordeaux growths, are expected to demand a very high price—after all, these have long been considered to be among the most prestigious bottles in the world. Given that vineyard land for grand cru Burgundy sells for almost $2 million per acre, the price tag on these wines might begin to make sense. But what is the justification for the steep cost of wines from places where the cost of land is more humane, such as the Languedoc, Veneto, or Corsica? Or even Bandol, where a prized terroir is selling for about $65,000 per acre?

In rural areas of France and Italy, many vignerons live entirely off of a very modestly sized plot of land—some as little as two hectares (five acres). Those with whom we have chosen to collaborate are fully committed to crafting the best wine possible, which comes with its share of economic sacrifices. They eschew chemical products in the vineyard in favor of full-time salaried workers. A hired team picks grapes over the course of weeks instead of the violent, albeit speedy, job of a mechanical harvester. The search for complexity and concentration often results in very low yields—sometimes from ancient, unproductive vines—so while the cost of land may not be as high as in Burgundy, the resulting volumes produced are barely sufficient to support a family.

© Gail Skoff

Working such small plots of land completely by hand entails high costs of production, so artisanal vignerons must charge what they need in order to get by. These micro-productions represent their entire livelihood, and you can bet they are not living large: many resort to canning their own food and curing meats for cost-effective (and delicious) solutions to supporting their family through a given year. While it pains us to know that the shelf price of such wines makes them out of reach for numerous consumers, we take comfort in knowing a dedicated and honest farmer is subsisting off his or her labor. Just as we have come to expect to pay more for top-quality organic farmers’ market produce, these hand-crafted, sustainably farmed wines from small-scale artisans also demand a premium. We hope you keep this in mind the next time you are browsing our store shelves.

Humble Wines

by Dustin Soiseth

Last fall, a few days before a big portfolio tasting, my colleagues and I got together to go over the featured wines and decide who would pour what. There were some big names in the lineup and serious negotiations ensued as we angled to pour the most prestigious wines. I mostly avoided the fray though, because I only had eyes for a humble Aligoté. Why so excited about the “other” white grape of Burgundy? Because it is made by Arnaud Ente, and it is better than many comparably-priced Meursaults or Puligny-Montrachets.

By now, my clients are probably tired of hearing me say that entry-level wines from great Burgundy producers usually over-deliver. Yet whenever I taste through the selections from a top domaine like Méo-Camuzet or Chevillon, I always end up feeling like it’s the best advice I can give them. Like Ente’s electric Aligoté, these entry-level wines often carry the basic Bourgogne AOC label, yet are still made with the same care and attention to detail as the more expensive cuvées. What they lack in prestige, they more than make up for in QPR.

Purchasing a few bottles of Bourgogne Rouge or Blanc instead of one or two pricier bottles maximizes my modest wine budget. That way, I have several bottles from Chevillon, Bruno Colin, Méo-Camuzet, or Lucien Boillot in my cellar instead of just one or two, and I get to enjoy them at several points in their evolution without having to fret about finding the perfect moment to pull the cork.

Of course I’d love to have a cellar full of premier cru and grand cru Burgundies, but that’s just not going to happen right now, and that’s fine because at the end of the day, these Bourgognes fit my hectic, kid-centric life. They have personality, a sense of place, and excel at the table. They don’t require a special occasion to be properly enjoyed, yet can make any occasion a bit more special.

Dustin’s Favorite “Humble” Burgundies

2014 Bourgogne Blanc • Bruno Colin $34
(available in the Berkeley shop)
The Blanc sees the same élevage as his premier cru whites, and is full of pure, chalky Chardonnay fruit.

2014 Bourgogne Aligoté • Arnaud Ente $75
(available online and in the Berkeley shop)
While certainly not cheap, it’s less than half the price of his sought-after Meursault and is vinified in the same manner.

2014 Bourgogne Rouge • Bruno Colin $29
(available in the Berkeley shop)
Bruno’s rouge is a blend of parcels in Chassagne-Montrachet and Santenay, and always has a hearty peasant rusticity.

2014 Bourgogne Rouge • Lucien Boillot & Fils $35
(available online and in the Berkeley shop)
Full and structured, this is a blend of fruit from Volnay and Gevrey-Chambertin that takes a year or two to unfurl.

2014 Bourgogne Rouge • Méo-Camuzet $39
(available in the Berkeley shop)
Definitely the most silky and sensual Pinot of the lineup. This really starts to roll after a few years in bottle.  Only 2 cs left.

2014 Bourgogne Rouge • Robert Chevillon $47
(available in the Berkeley shop)
Consistently elegant, with the exotic, spicy nose found in the domaine’s top bottlings.

Call 510.524.1524 or Email Dustin >

February Newsletter: Verdicchio at its Finest, 2015 Colin Pre-Arrival, Introducing Luigi Gregoletto, Artisan Vignerons

The February Newsletter is now available.

Click here to download the pdf.

Highlights from this month’s newsletter…



by Emily Spillmann

“Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work.” –Aristotle


Taking pleasure not only in the finished wines but also in the hard work that goes into making them so good is a common thread among our producers. No one better exemplifies that than Valentin Montanet, the fun-loving, down-to-earth—and freakishly intelligent—vigneron from Vézelay. He’s the kind of guy you feel you’ve known for years, probably because he skips small talk in favor of candid winegrowing observations. Like him, his wines have too much to say to bother with chitchat. Take the 2015 Bourgogne Vézelay, for starters. (Actually, it would be perfect with starters.) The nose is so fresh, the palate so pure, and the finish so clean that one sip leads effortlessly to another, and another until you’ll be eager to open a red of equal promise.

$28.00 per bottle $302.40 per case


As luck would have it, Valentin has just the thing, although you need to act quickly because there won’t be much of it in the coming months. Northwest Burgundy, like the Côte d’Or, was hit hard by frost and hail last year, making this 2015 Champs Cadet the last of our stock from a normal-sized harvest. (Eternally optimistic and with typical craftiness, Valentin responded to nature’s blow by expanding his négoce project, La Soeur Cadette—but more on that in a future newsletter.) Partially whole-cluster-fermented, aged in neutral oak, and bottled unfiltered, this expressive, fruit-forward Bourgogne rouge is quite simply flawless: a true testament to the pleasure Valentin derives from his work.

$32.00 per bottle $345.60 per case


by Chris Santini

For decades, Jean-Charles Abbatucci could see from a window of the family home a steep, barren slope. In this remote corner of deep-country Corsica, where the climate may be hot and dry, the rolling hills are nonetheless covered with abundant green shrub and native grasses—so much so that this slope stood out like a sore thumb, a blemish. Not a blade of grass, not a single plant would grow there. Too much granite and too poor a soil? Too much erosion? No one really knew. Over time, the family gave the white, rocky slope the moniker Monte Bianco, which in Corsican means “white hill,” and viewed it as a bit of a challenge. Jean-Charles’s father tried in vain to plant various vines on various rootstocks on the slope. Nothing took, not even for a single season. Years later, when Jean-Charles took over, he was eager to prove his capability and promptly planted the hill once again, only to watch his vines shrivel and die, just as his father’s had. The Monte Bianco was deemed untamable, and the project was shelved.

Fast-forward fifteen years, during which time Abbatucci has painstakingly implemented and developed biodynamic agriculture to a whole new level on his estate. The methods are applied not only to vines but to all the flora and fauna, every inch and every aspect of the domaine being imbued in the process. Farmers and vignerons near and far regularly make pilgrimage to Abbatucci to witness all this for themselves.

So to come back to our impossible slope here, Abbatucci decided to give it one last try, this time with full biodynamic accoutrement. Amazingly, it took. It didn’t simply take, it thrived. Within a few years, the “white hill” was awash in vigorous vines, green grass and shrubs between the rows. The Monte Bianco had finally found harmony with its surroundings. Jean-Charles insists that this success is the indisputable evidence of the potential and power of biodynamics. I would go one step further and say that it also provides indisputable evidence of the otherworldly taste biodynamic wines can bring. Traditional tasting notes cannot do justice to this wine. There’s something more here than simple tastes or sensations. Never in my life have I tasted a wine so alive, so light to the touch yet able to express so much. The Monte Bianco talks without speaking, and screams without raising its voice, as the old song notes. Sciaccarellu has never had so much to say, so take a listen.


$89.00 per bottle (Very limited quantities)


by Clark Z. Terry


Two whole months. That’s how long we’ve been sold out of the Fontsainte Gris de Gris rosé—nearly an eternity for some of our clients. But wine is not a widget. It’s a finely crafted agricultural product, and supply is dependent on the whims of nature. Though we’d like to have this wine available year-round, its selling out is a useful reminder that even our most widely available wines are hand-crafted and limited in production.

The 2016 Gris de Gris is delicate and lively, featuring light strawberry fruit and just a touch of Languedoc garrigue—refreshment restored, once again.

$14.95 per bottle $161.46 per case

2015 PAYS D’OC rouge “les traverses”

When it comes to wine, Cyriaque Rozier is a serious man. He’s well traveled, his cellar is filled with wines from across France, and he’s the winemaker not only at his own domaine, Château Fontanès, but also at the famed Languedoc winery Château La Roque. He is studious in his craft and incredibly hardworking—a combination that year after year yields stunning results.

The Fontanès Cabernet Sauvignon bottling, from vines planted in the 1970s, is one of those rare “Top that!” wines. No, really—just try to find another Cabernet for under $15 that will bring you as much pleasure as this wine does.

$14.00 per bottle $151.20 per case


If beautiful wines come from beautiful places, then the Brunier family’s Mégaphone bottling might top our list of greatest values. The vineyard from which it is sourced is tucked away in a small canyon on the far side of the Dentelles from Gigondas, with contoured hills of vines, cypress trees that provide a bit of shade, and cigales chirping away throughout most of the summer. All that beauty translates to the wine—bright ruby fruit, just enough tannic grip, with a dose of black olive and a hint of rosemary.

$22.00 per bottle $237.60 per case

Antoine Arena’s Rosé

by Kermit Lynch

During 2016 I had the pleasure of going wine hunting in five satellites: Pays Basque, Catalonia, Corsica, Sardinia, and Sicily. I imagine them breaking the colonial chains that bind and forming a United Independent States for strength in numbers while controlling their own destinies. Corsica has been free only a handful of years during recorded history. And we think our political situation stinks?

Imagine, what if you were Corsican with a Roman name like Arena, and every move you made was controlled by French bureaucrats? Yikes, no, you wouldn’t dig it.

Speaking of Arena … I’m not sure why, but Antoine Arena’s 2015 rosé comes to mind. Antoine is the one who first showed the world how great Corsican wine can be. I tasted with him and his two sons this summer, and their rosé caught me by surprise, because they did everything right in the making of it, according to me. I’m sure you’ll see how different it is from the technological Provençal rosés that are so hip these days. For those interested: native yeasts, malo completed, gently bottled without filtration. Wow! Nor was it hurried into bottle to meet some arbitrary, springtime Rosé “Nouveau” release date.

Taste it alongside almost any Côtes-de-Provence rosé—it’s like comparing real wine with pink lace panties.

Antoine himself is so genuine, he is a favorite of everybody in the wine biz who has had the luck to spend time with him. He and his sons work together and sell the results under three separate Arena labels: Antoine, Jean-Baptiste, and Antoine-Marie. Please don’t ask me why. I asked them and ended up more puzzled than I had been. Just know that, yes, when you uncork one of their wines—this rosé, for example—you are in for an honest wine and a real treat.




     $32.00 per bottle $345.60 per case


2015 Cru Beaujolais

by Anthony Lynch

Look out, folks—2015 Beaujolais crus are now in stock! After an abnormally hot and dry summer last year, timely late-season rains restored balance to the grapes just before harvest. These wines make a statement—a deep, booming bellow beyond the habitual “Buvez-moi!” we have come to expect from the land of Gamay. Chock-full of ripe, palate-coating fruits, they have serious presence on the palate, but fear not: there is no shortage of pleasure here, so whether you plan on quaffing, pondering, or cellaring these reds, you can be sure 2015 has something in store for you.

The vineyards at Domaine Chignard


Max Breton’s higher-altitude vineyards give a remarkably lively, ethereal expression of Morgon. This year is no exception, but you’ll have to slurp your way through a broad layer of plush, sexy fruits and flowers to access the refreshing core of minerals that lies buried beneath. Big and juicy with a gorgeous tannin, it will show its best after some aeration or decanting.

$34.00 per bottle $367.20 per case


Dense and voluptuous, Chignard’s Fleurie does not disappoint in 2015. Fruit, structure, and concentration are turned up a notch this vintage, but Cédric Chignard’s traditionalist methods have once again yielded a wine that transparently expresses its terroir, right on the border of Fleurie and Moulin-à-Vent. It is pure velvet on the palate, with a spicy minerality jazzing up the elegant finish.

$26.00 per bottle $280.80 per case


Tasting the new vintage with Nicole Chanrion is always a bit of a relief. Rather than going through dozens of tanks and barrels for a daylong affair, as with some growers, Nicole has just four ginormous foudres devoted to the new wine, only two of which were filled due to the vintage’s meager yields. I perfectly recall dipping my nose into my first sample of her 2015: what an intoxicating, jubilant, regal perfume! A fresh acidity and thick, chewy tannins give this Côte-de-Brouilly a mighty backbone that will certainly reward cellaring.

$22.00 per bottle $237.60 per case

Up Late with Verset’s Ghost

by Dustin Soiseth

It was about 2 a.m. the other night and I was in the kitchen heating up a bottle for my baby girl. There was a half-empty bottle of wine on the counter—the 2012 Barruol/Lynch Côte Rôtie “La Boisselée”—left over from an earlier tasting and I gave it a swirl while waiting for the water to boil. As I gave this “La Boisselée” the organoleptic once-over my thoughts drifted to the Cornas of Noël Verset, some older bottles of which I have had the good fortune to try. I admit it’s a bit of an apples-and-oranges comparison, but having never tasted the legendary Côte-Rôties of Marius Gentaz, my fatigued mind couldn’t help but to stray south to Cornas. Even though they are from different vintages and distinct terroirs, these wines are connected in a way that goes beyond simply “Northern Rhône Syrah”.

New Syrah with a nod to the past
© Dustin Soiseth

I was just getting into the wine business when Verset made his last vintage in 2006, and the bottles I’ve tried were simply magical—some of the greatest wines I’ve ever had. They are delicate, ethereal, almost baroque in texture. All the aromas and flavors are there before you, as if held in suspension, and you can ponder them one by one. There’s smoke, charred meat, iron, blood, and mouth-coating but fine-grained tannins. Not quite elegant, not overly rustic, but somewhere in between. Wines that were described as “Burgundian” and actually were.

Now you’re probably thinking, “Hey jagoff, why are you waxing rhapsodic about unicorn wines that are expensive and impossible to find?” Well, the great thing for me, and for you too if you love this type of wine, is that the young Barruol/Lynch Côte Rôtie I was sniffing in the middle of the night—the one that reminded me of those old Versets—is readily available and costs a lot less than many contemporary Côte Rôties, let alone old Verset. We have a nice selection on our online store or you can give me a call at the shop.

Louis Barruol pulls a barrel sample of Côte Rôtie
© Anthony Lynch

The Barruol in Barruol/Lynch is none other than Louis Barruol, of Château de Saint Cosme in Gigondas. At some point in the not too distant past, Kermit and Louis discovered their mutual love of old-school Northern Rhône Syrah from the old masters like Verset and Marius Gentaz and decided to make some. Simple reverse engineering, right? Louis sources the fruit, working exclusively with Sérine, the ancient clone of Syrah, and ferments it in cement tanks with lots of stems. The élevage is in used oak and the wines do not undergo fining or filtration. Kermit chooses the blends, and Louis offers his expertise as well. There’s smoke, meat, black olives—all that great Northern Rhône Syrah stuff. And the texture is there, too: they have the same savory nuances, the same complexity, and the same fine tannins as those magical old bottles.

The collaboration is now in its eighth vintage and includes multiple Côte Rôtie bottlings, as well as Hermitage blanc and rouge and Crozes-Hermitage. The wines get better and better every year. Working as I do for a company whose portfolio contains, or has contained, so many iconic names, I often wonder who will be next. What wines, readily accessible and reasonably priced now, will be unobtainable in twenty years’ time? I suspect these might. As I had my nose in the glass in the middle of the night, I sensed the continuation of a tradition exemplified by Verset. Bleary-eyed and tired, I felt could see back in time.