If, like me, you came of drinking age in the 70s, your go-to wines were Gallo Chablis and Hearty Burgundy, both affordable and ubiquitous jug wines. Our cohort was predisposed to them, having grown up watching a Gallo TV ad that seemed to air constantly. A buff, Italian-looking cowboy-type, rode through vineyards on horseback, singing, “Gallo makes wine with loving care, especially for you.” In their marketing jingle, Ernest and Julio Gallo Winery sounded like trusted family members, who would protect us from drinking bad wine.
As our incomes rose post-college, we boomers went on to more costly wines, and often left the brand behind. That meant part of a generation suffered from an association frozen in time: Gallo=Hearty Burgundy. The winery, however, continued to grow while we weren’t looking.
Last year’s California Wine Month media lunch brought me up to date, when a 2008 Gallo Napa Valley Signature Series Cabernet Sauvignon was served. Prone to hoof-in-mouth disease, I exclaimed, “Wow, who knew Gallo made wines like this? It’s really good!” I was told that since the company’s 1933 beginnings, it has become the largest winery in the world and the largest family owned. It is also the biggest exporter of California wine, and either owns, or distributes 60 domestic and international labels.
The Gallo family's leadership in sustainable viticulture is equally impressive as their winery's size. From the start, co-founders Ernest and Julio, showed a commitment to being good stewards of the land with their innovative “50-50 Give Back” plan. For every acre planted to vines, Julio set aside one acre to protect the wildlife habitat. The company’s commitment to sustainability continues to make news today. It was the first US winery to receive ISO 14001 Certification, given to companies worldwide for reducing their environmental impact. In collaboration with Wine Institute and California Association of Winegrape Growers, Gallo spearheaded the development and implementation of California's Code of Sustainable Wine Growing Practices.
Tasting notes on Gallo's family of wines:
2010 Casa Brancaia TRE, IGT Rosso Toscano. From one of Italy’s foremost wineries, for which Gallo gained exclusive importing rights. 80% Sangiovese and equal parts Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot make this a Super Tuscan, but it is not done in the international style. Winemaker, Barbara Widmer and her husband, Martin Kronenberg run the winery, which was bought by her parents in 1981. Located in the heart of Chianti Classico, the grapes for TRE come from three vineyard sites: Castellina in Chianti, Radda in Chianti and Maremma.
Unlike many Super Tuscans, this wine is not a high-alcohol fruit bomb. It is intensely terroir-driven and thought-provoking. There are no overwhelming aromatics; at first sip it seems a tad withholding, and in need of aging. Let it breathe; then the nose reveals rich tobacco and smoke, intertwined with deep, dark fruit in the background. The palate adds mushroom, plum and black pepper, with an interesting tomato undertone on the substantial finish. Slightly green, but integrated tannins. Aged in a mixture of new and used French oak for 12 months. Medium-bodied. 13.5% alcohol. A knockout pairing for anything in tomato sauce, eggplant dishes and Pecorino Toscano. Available at Bay Cities Deli for $22.00.
2008 Gallo Napa Valley Signature Series Cabernet Sauvignon. If you love great big Napa Valley blockbuster wines, this is not for you. Winemaker, Gina Gallo, has achieved a wonderfully balanced wine of which her grandfather, Ernest, would be proud. One of Gina’s mentors, he was known for being conservative with oak, and for his belief that table wines should be of moderate alcohol. Her wine shows balance, bright acidity, lovely red fruit and a dark earthy undertone. Even at 14.9% alcohol, the wine is not hot on the palate. There is an admirable austerity and slight greenness on the end, an intrinsic aspect of Cabernet Sauvignon, which has been all but beaten out of it in California. At John and Pete’s Fine Wines and Spirits for $34.99.
2010 MacMurray Ranch Russian River Pinot Noir. In 1941, actor Fred MacMurray bought 450 acres of prime Sonoma real estate, which he maintained as a working farm and cattle ranch. Upon his death in 1996, the property was sold to Gallo, which planted it to Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris. Fred’s daughter, Kate MacMurray, is the winery’s spokesperson, and winemaking is done by Chris Munsell.
Like cherry pie hot from the oven, this wine warms the senses with aromas of dark red fruit. Describing the vintage, Munsell says, “The 2010 harvest brought in some of the best grapes I’ve ever seen from our estate vineyards. The cooler temperatures fostered bright red fruit flavors and supple tannins in this wine.” Considered a challenging vintage, 2010 was unusually cold until August. Slow ripening, caused by sustained cool weather, kicked up the wine’s acidity, making it more food friendly than the typical, syrupy California Pinot. Well-balanced, with 13.8% alcohol and aged with approximately 25% new French oak. Enjoy with mushroom-based dishes, salmon and roast pork or lamb. One of the more reasonably priced Russian River Pinot Noirs on the market, at Green Jug Fine Wine and Spirits for $17.99.