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Gallo's premium wines: Good examples of winemakers art

By By Stan Torgerson
March 28, 2001
Gallo Winery is the 500 pound gorilla of the wine business. They are the largest wine producer in the world, producing everything from sparkling wines to cabernets to wine coolers. They don't put their own name on everything but they are behind everything.
Totts is one of their labels. Andre, which ranks at the very bottom of my sparkling wine list (although surely somewhere in the world there has to be someone who makes a poorer one) is another. Bartles &James Wine Coolers are a Gallo product.
But they also put their name on a number of wines, most of which are low or middle priced and are not a favorite of the experienced wine lovers.
We wrote a column that said just that a few months ago and if there's one thing of which Gallo employees are proud it is the reputation of their company.
After that column appeared Gallo people got in touch. On one hand they disagreed with my reviews. Naturally. On the other hand they said if you want to taste better wines we've got better wines and they were right.
They arranged a tasting of four wines, two zinfandels, one cabernet and one chardonnay. All were delicious. The chardonnay was a knockout. None had a label that said anything about being Gallo products but all of them were.
The zinfandels carried a Rancho Zabaco label. One was a 1998, labeled Sonoma Heritage Vines. The other came from the 1996 vintage and was designated Dry Creek Valley.
The 1996 sells for about $16 and was good but not great. It didn't show the fruity, peppery nuances of taste that you should find in a first rate zinfandel. My bottle had a dryish taste, still nicely drinkable but certainly not one to which I would give a top score, considering what is available on today's zinfandel market. It was an unfiltered wine. Filtering is a process that allegedly removes unwanted material from the wine. There is wide disagreement as to whether or not that is a good thing. As a result of being unfiltered perhaps something was left in the wine that affected its flavor. I might point out, however, that many great wines are left unfiltered because the winemaker believes it helps rather than hurts the final product.
Then I turned to the 1998. It was an entirely different story. Rich, fruity, with that pronounced pepper background that makes zinfandel so wonderful. Also at about $16, depending on your retailer, it is well worth buying to accompany red meat or even for cellaring. The Rancho Zabaco 1998 zinfandel will please most red wine drinkers. It certainly pleased this one.
The cabernet sauvignon carried a Marcelina label. It acknowledged that a third generation Gallo, Gina Gallo, had joined veteran winemaker Marcello Monticelli in the wine's production. Together, they did good work.
This was a 1995 so it had had time to age a bit. It is not the big, heavy powerful cabernet so many California wines have become. This is a very fruity wine, made for turkey, chicken, veal or red sauce pasta. It is not something that would match up against a highly seasoned steak as many others are. But I could sit and sip this wine with cheese and crackers and enjoy every drop. It sells for about $24, substantially above the cabernets labeled Gallo but well worth it. A very nice wine.
But my favorite was the Marcelina Chardonnay 1997. We gave it the ultimate test and served it with baked oysters.Yes, I too didn't think it would have the necessary high acid level to go with that particular dish but the marriage was just fine. This wine has very highly concentrated flavors meaning if you want your chardonnay to be somewhat bland, this Gallo product won't do. But if you like chardonnay to taste of rich fruit, honey and vanilla, this is one heck of a wine. Talk about a fine sipping wine. The Marcelina Chardonnay is certainly one that qualifies.
Please understand, there are as many different approaches to chardonnay production as there are winemakers. Some prefer lean and austere, almost Sauvignon Blanc like. But some blend to show the fruit that is contained in quality grapes and the Marcelina is one of those.
Obviously, Gallo knows its business. It didn't get to be the largest winemaker in the world without appealing to the rank and file, price against quality, wine drinker. But for those of you who want something better and are prepared to pay a little more to get it, I recommend the Marcelina and Rancho Zabaco wines.
I hardly need to remind those who are looking forward to the Riedel wine tasting that tomorrow night is it. Start time is 6:30 p.m. with a tasting of a very nice sparkling wine. You'll want to be on time.
Stan Torgerson, a longtime Meridian resident, has written a wine column for several years.

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