Perhaps Mathew Berger has a soft spot for the Bonacquisti Wine Co. He is, after all, a third-generation northwest Denverite who has spent much of his life within a mile or two of where the Sunnyside winery now resides.
But he's a lover of all wine, from all regions; probably a good trait to have as one of the wine buyers for Mondo Vino, a Highlands Square staple for the last dozen years. His wine career started on the other side of the food and wine pendulum, however. Berger spent seven years working as a sushi chef at Sushi Den (the always delicious sushi epicenter of Denver).
"The Japanese are epicureans to the nth degree," Berger says. "Everything they do as far as the meal setting goes is very important. One of the things that is very important to them is what beverage is beverage served."
So he got a heavy does of sake, whiskey, beer and sparkling wine before coming back the northwest side of Denver to round out his palate. He next served as a manager for Parisi and its downstairs Firenze a Tavola, a position that allowed him to travel to Europe and develop a love of fine Italian wine.
Those two experiences — plus a desire to stop working 80-hour-weeks and unplugging toilets — led him to Mondo Vino, the wine shop that sold him his first bottle of wine (legally) shortly after his 21st birthday. It's been a rewarding three years for him since the switch to retail.
"After falling in love with the way the Japanese do it, which is very dogmatic, you get the Italians with the hand waving and the loud parties," Berger says. "You have two polarizing views of what wine food and culture can be together. It's nice to have those bookends to find something in the middle, which is what I can do here. "
At Mondo Vino, which is a store staffed by those heavy on culinary and wine knowledge, the wine selection leans toward Old World-style wines that are more reserved and food-friendly. But Berger and Co. also love seeking new and interesting wines, which is where Colorado comes in to play. Mondo Vino has a rotating stock of a dozen local wines — a collection that almost always includes a Bonacquisti option.
Bonacquisti wines, he says, hit on both flavor consistency and price point. But there's one other distinct advantage to carrying the label: "If there's an issue with the wines, we know who to go to," says Berger. "It's just down the street. If there is praise for the wine or someone wants to go down to see the winery and see what's really going on, they can go down the street." It's the benefit of staying in the neighborhood.
"If you peruse this neighborhood, there is that locavore vibe going on, which is why we have Denver's best cheese shop (St. Killian's), which is why we have Denver's best bread baker (The Denver Bread Co.). We've got a great fish monger (Seafood Landing)," Berger says. "People like to do things in their neighborhood and support their neighborhood; Bonacquisti plays into that."
Berger's Tasting Notes:
2008 Bonacquisti Wine Co. Syrah | $19 at Mondo Vino, 3601 W. 32nd Ave., Denver
"The first thing I like about this it doesn't bombard you with big fruit or a bunch of oak. It has balance. It has some of the gamey qualities to it. It's not just bramble berries and whiskey. You get that big bright shot of fruit. It has a nice, spicy finish. It has some qualities that make you want to think of the countryside rather than a downtown urban winery.
With food: "Colorado lamb chops and fresh market greens. Something grilled, something not too complex. Let the wine wrap kinda just wrap the meat up. Or maybe some bratwurst. Something that actually has some spice to it."
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