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G Force

Poetry in a glass

Bergamot wine expert Kai Gagnon has a unique — and lyrical — way of describing the wines he loves

(Michele Mcdonald for The Boston Globe)
By Devra First
Globe Staff / July 7, 2010

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Q. You’ve put together an unusual wine list, both in content and terminology. There are categories such as “seashore, citrus, and stones’’ and “hearth and pantry.’’

A. I just brainstormed words that would express the categories. They’re a little bit purple, I’ll be the first to admit. It even makes me uncomfortable sometimes.

Q. It’s very poetic. Are you a poetic kind of guy?

A. I tend toward that. My favorite poets are the romantic poets.

Q. How did you wind up in Boston?

A. I moved here [in 2005] from San Francisco. One reason I moved was that I was tired of California wine. I wanted the opportunity to really immerse myself in European wines, specifically French. My first job here was at Craigie Street Bistrot. Tony [Maws, the chef-owner] has a passion for Burgundy and Beaujolais, which I also share. Then I ran the wine program at Pigalle.

Q. Why do those French wines draw you?

A. The first wine I learned about was Beaujolais. I have a close relative, it’s all she used to drink. She lived up in the Northeast Kingdom in Vermont. She would take regular trips over the border to Quebec to shop for wine. I started going with her. The shop we’d go to had a huge Burgundy and Beaujolais section. I’d buy a case or two and bring them home to explore those regions. I would just buy however many of the Beaujolais Crus I could find until I’d tasted a bunch from all 10.

Q. You give Bergamot customers a chance to do the same — taste intensively in a single category. The wine list currently has sections devoted to chenin blanc and Bandols, with lyrical introductions. “This is a little ode to my favorite grape,’’ you write of chenin blanc. And then, “I have never been to Provence, but when I taste a Bandol the place somehow feels familiar.’’

A. The bergamot is an intensely aromatic citrus. It’s a lovely scent, floral and citrus at the same time. That’s what the name of the restaurant evokes for me. I wanted to do the same thing with the wines — provide a lot of aromatic intensity. Chenin blanc is intensely aromatic. It can be in altogether different ways. Same thing with Mourvedres. There’s nothing like Mourvedres planted in Bandol. They’re unique wines that often go unnoticed and underappreciated.

Q. I have a huge pet peeve about wine being served at the wrong temperature. At Bergamot, it’s never too hot or too cold. I’m guessing you’ve thought about this a lot.

A. It’s a complete obsession. It’s one of the things that drive me crazy. If a glass of red wine is too hot, I’ll put ice cubes in it. It’s a respect thing. These people who make these wines, they work so hard and make so little money off it.

Q. If you were going to recommend one wine on the list for people to try immediately, what would it be?

A. The Domaine des Hauts Chassis Crozes-Hermitage. It’s so beautifully aromatic. The first thing I thought about when I tasted it was raw meat wrapped in nori. You’re expecting this really powerful wine, and the texture is so soft and bright and playful.