© 1997 JDM Enterprises
KEEPING UP WITH THE GALLOSby Jerry D. Mead
I remember when Ernest & Julio Gallo (we're talking the real guys) didn't believe in aging wine in oak, didn't believe in varietal wines and weren't all that big on planting their own vineyards.
I also remember when the Gallos swore they'd never have vintage-dated wines, because like the late August Sebastiani and a lot of other old-timers, they believed better wines could be made by blending from several years.
And I also remember all the firsts. The first Gallo varietals (which included such jewels as Ruby Cabernet and French Colombard), which weren't very good and were pulled off the market shortly after being released. And the next wave of varietals, which were a success.
I remember the first vintage-dated Cabernet Sauvignon (1978, it was) and how it debuted very quietly as the "by-the-glass" wine at the very elegant San Francisco Fairmont Hotel, months before its general release and how a spy tipped me off allowing me to scoop the world on the first Gallo Cab. It was good stuff...I still have some.
And I remember so many other Gallo firsts...the major investment in Sonoma County vineyards, the first barrel-fermented Chardonnay, the first "Estate" Cabernet at $60, and the first vineyard designated wines.
I don't mean to imply that Gallo did most of these things before anyone else...they didn't. They were actually very slow to adopt every one of the above mentioned practices which were pioneered by California's small family wineries. (Never forget Gallo is a family-owned winery, too, although bigger than most.)
But when Gallo does decide to do something, no one has the capability of doing it more or better. Viticultural research? They're probably ahead of U.C. Davis, thought to be one of the top schools for winegrowing in the world. Buy barrels? They've got an underground cellar in Sonoma County with more barrels than a half dozen large wineries own. Design fancy bottles? They own their own glass plant. And on and on, including hiring top people. You wouldn't believe all the famous vintners who started at Gallo.
The point of all this is to lead into the latest wave of Gallo firsts, which I can hardly keep up with and keeping up is my job. The latest Gallo thing is developing new brands (which don't say Gallo anywhere on the label) to showcase and profile new wines from new growing regions. One of those brands I told you about some months ago, Indigo Hills, which represents wines produced from Mendocino and North Coast appellation fruit. Anapumu is a new label for Central Coast wines and its already winning gold medals. There are others and there will be more, and that is not to overlook the Gallo Sonoma and Ernest & Julio Gallo "Estate" wines.
The newest brand and the newest release has only just been shipped. It may take a few days to reach your favorite wine shop. It is Marcelina and will grace the bottles of Gallo's first Napa Valley appellation wines. (Gallo has been buying Napa grapes forever...they've just not put the Napa name on the label before.)
The Marcelina name comes from a young woman that legend has it was California's first female grape grower. Hers is also a story of unrequited love, which I'm sure the Gallo's will tell you via the media one day soon. A Cabernet will be released in the fall. For now there is only a Chardonnay...and it's a goody.
BEST BUY WINE OF THE WEEK
There also some exciting new red releases from Gallo's Sonoma properties:
Gallo Sonoma 1994 "Barrelli Creek" Valdiguie ($14) Don't feel bad if you've never heard of Valdiquie (val-de-gway), it's the proper French name for what we've always called Napa Gamay. The Gallos decided to go with the real name. A bigger, more serious wine than is usually made from the grape, with intense ripe plum flavors, and a structure reminiscent of a ripe Zinfandel. One of the best Valdiguie's/Gamay's ever made. Rating 94/85
Gallo Sonoma 1994 "Frei Ranch" Zinfandel ($14) A real biggie. Berries and black cherry and pleasant oak nuance. There's a touch of Petite Sirah in the blend. Has enough backbone to carry all that fruit through some cellaring time. Rating: 92/89
Gallo Sonoma 1993 "Frei Ranch" Cabernet Sauvignon ($18) Unfined, unfiltered and very, very intense. A monster, in the very best sense of the term. Earthy, slightly herbaceous (but not green or grassy) notes. Black fruit, primarily blackberry. Flavors explode in the mouth and then hang around for the longest time. Rating: 95/90
Ernest & Julio Gallo "Northern Sonoma Estate" Cabernet Sauvignon ($50) This is Gallo's signature wine, it's finest achievement, which seems to get better every year. Interestingly, it is actually 100 percent from Frei Vineyard, too, but is vineyard (specific sections) and barrel select. Not only are the best barrels, from the best coopers, used, but the best tasting barrels from that exclusive lot. It's everything the "Frei Ranch" Cab is in depth and intensity, but with elegance and finesse as a bonus, leading Julio Gallo's granddaughter Carolyn Bailey to coin the term, "Super-Frei," which has a certain ring to it. Blackberry, black cherry and some bittersweet chocolate hit you like a bare knuckle punch, but it's followed by a velvet glove of soft, silky, supple textures that make your mouth feel literally pampered. Very complex, smoky, toasty after-flavors. Rating: 100/84
Wines are scored using a unique 100 point system. First number rates quality; second number rates value.