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“I never saw a wild thing sorry for itself,” David Herbert Lawrence, 1885-1930, Sorry for itself, Self-Pity (1923).  When I was young, not many years ago, my dad used to pile us into his station wagon and drive to Skid Row in Chicago, where down-and-outers would quaff gallons of Gallo, Carlo Rossi and other bulk […]

“I never saw a wild thing sorry for itself,” David Herbert Lawrence, 1885-1930, Sorry for itself, Self-Pity (1923). 

When I was young, not many years ago, my dad used to pile us into his station wagon and drive to Skid Row in Chicago, where down-and-outers would quaff gallons of Gallo, Carlo Rossi and other bulk wines with dispirited gusto. “This is what will happen to you if you don’t behave”, he said. I didn’t see many Gallo products again until my sophomore year at Cornell when our fraternity had a standing order for one case of Boone’s Farm wine daily (another Gallo product). Naturally, I refrained…

Gallo is the largest producer of wine in the United States with an annual production of 70 million cases – the same as the entire country of Portugal. Started in 1933 in Post-Depression California by Ernest and Julio Gallo, the brothers borrowed heavily from family members and researched winemaking at books from libraries. Julio was in charge of production (and later credited for many tremendous innovations, including a cutting-edge lab that became the training ground for many ambitious winemakers), and Ernest handled marketing and distribution. Growth was explosive and aggressive, and one of every three bottles of wine currently consumed in the United States today is a Gallo product. The company owns seven wineries and a panoply of labels, among which areBarefoot, Carlo Rossi, MacMurray Ranch, Tisdale, Turning Leaf, Rancho Zabaco, Sebeka, Redwood Creek, Ecco Domani, Bridlewood, William Hill, not to forget Thunderbird, Night Tain and Boone’s Farm. Additionally, in 2007, Gallo joined forces with Martha Stewart Enterprises to create her own label of wine.

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In the 1980s, Gallo began to branch out from bulk batches (as noted from its enormous Shell Oil-like tank farm in Central California) into finer small batches from its extensive holdings in Sonoma County. Its high-end Cabernet Sauvignon from that area often fetches eye-popping prices of more than $60 per bottle, with one even demanding $85 – not exactly Skid Row material. Gina Gallo is the very able winemaker for the company. I found it fascinating to note that Gallo was named the Bon Appétit Wine of the Year in 1996, 1998 and 2001 at the San Francisco Wine Competition. In addition to its holdings of 15,000 acres, they own a dandy collection of tank farms.

Recently, I tried to contact a variety of Gallo representatives in an effort to chronicle this firm’s amazing growth (blogs say 50 percent last year) and diversity into today’s behemoth market presence. I’ve gotten no response, so I decided to buy an assortment of its products for today’s column. Gallo’s reach is huge, and a number of these wines may be found in a variety of outlets from supermarkets to your neighborhood Walgreens, another creative expansion idea. Here are my tasting notes, using my normal “A”-“F” ranking:

1. Gallo Chardonnay, non vintage, $5.79 per four pack at Walgreen’s. Off-white color with medium body. Slightly fruity with medium notes of butterscotch and depth on the nose. Light to medium fruit with a lightly acidic finish. B-

2. Gallo Merlot, non vintage (same price as No. 1). Garnet color with heavy body. The nose was medium-rich with faint notes of rich berries. In the mouth, it showed medium fruit with some depth. Clean finish. B-

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3. Gallo Family Hearty Burgundy, Twin Valley, $3.99. Dark ruby with heavy body. The nose displayed deep plums with depth and some complexity. The mouth displayed medium fruit, trailing into a semi-rich finish. C

This is a fascinating wine to me and to many others, except to Frenchmen from Burgundy, who equate this to utter heresy because it isn’t actually made from Pinot Noir grapes in Burgundy, France. From what my research showed, Gallo’s Hearty Burgundy is probably a proprietary blend of leading San Joaquin Valley grapes like Grenache, Petite Syrah, Zinfandel and, possibly, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The company ain’t talking.

It was a tad hard to pick a Weekly Winner from this tasting. My conclusion after overnight perusal was that the winner is Gallo.

Cheers to you, Big Guy!

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