Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Gallo Signature Series - Serious Juice from a California Giant

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

If you stroll through your nearest grocery or liquor store and take a look at the inexpensive options, odds are you’re looking at a handful of Gallo brands. From Alamos Malbec to Carlo Rossi glass jugs to Rancho Zabaco Zinfandel, Gallo has the American palate covered. A 2011 study by Phillip H. Howard at Michigan State University found Gallo maintained an almost 23% share of the U.S. wine market.

Brothers Ernest and Julio Gallo founded the E. & J. Gallo Winery in 1933, pitching camp in Modesto, California, where the firm is still headquartered. The company’s tremendous success was built on providing consistent, inexpensive wines to fit specific niches in the American wine consumption puzzle.

Over the years, the company has expanded its approach to incorporate a wider range of the wine spectrum. Gallo of Sonoma offered American wine drinkers (my 21-year-old self included) an introduction to Sonoma wines at a very reasonable price. Other mid-level brands like Frei Brothers and Ghost Pines highlight different California regions and styles. And international labels in their portfolio, like Italy’s Brancaia and Australia’s Clarendon Hills, offer collectors much to appreciate. 

In the past few decades, Gallo has upped the ante in California. They acquired Napa’s Louis M. Martini winery and the
William Hill Estate winery, allowing them access to a wide variety of quality Napa fruit. With the purchase of Louis M. Martini, Gallo also obtained Sonoma’s heralded Monte Rosso Vineyard (which I visited in October). The company also bought Russian River Pinot purveyor MacMurray Ranch. Add in some Chardonnay from Edna Ranch in the Central Coast and Frei Ranch in Sonoma. Along with their acquisitions, Gallo still holds lots of family vineyard land in various spots. Basically, they’ve got quite a lot of supply options. 

With their
Signature Series, Gallo is sourcing fruit from some of its best spots to produce a range of classic varietal wines: Russian River Chardonnay, Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir, Dry Creek Zinfandel and Napa Cabernet. The wines are made by Gina Gallo, Julio’s granddaughter. The labels carry the Gallo name front and center and cost $33-$50. I think the company is hoping consumers will see past any outdated jug wine connotation and realize that Gallo produces some seriously good juice.    

I recently tasted through the lineup of Gallo Signature Series, which were received as trade samples and tasted sighted. 

2013 Gallo Family Vineyards Chardonnay Signature Series - California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP: $33
Rich golden color. On the nose, I get nutshell, almonds, nougat, which adds texture to the yellow apple, apricot and honey-glazed pear notes. Rich texture, bold but balanced with some bright, clean acid. Flavors of baked yellow apples, apricot jam, juicy green and yellow pears, I also get notes of almond, peanut shell and nougat. The richness is balanced by notes of white flowers, chalk and sea breeze. Aged 12 months in new French and American oak. 14.8% alcohol, maloactic fermentation with lees stirring, the whole deal, so you need to embrace the richness. But it’s a balanced richness, with vivacity. From Laguna Ranch, Del Rio and Two Rock Vineyard. (90 points)

2013 Gallo Family Vineyards Pinot Noir Signature Series - California, Central Coast, Santa Lucia Highlands
SRP: $33
Juicy, deep ruby/light purple color. Aromas of dark cherries, juicy plums, some blueberries tossed in. A classic blend of cola, toast and peppery spice notes on the nose as well. Full-bodied and quite rich at 14.7%, but the moderate acid keeps the wine moving forward on the palate. Flavors of black cherries, fleshy but crunchy plums. The oak is generous, with toasted almond and mocha notes woven into the overall package, but the wine brings enough other elements to balance it out. I get tobacco, cola, dusty earth, roasted chestnut. A rich and plump wine, but well-done stuff, especially for the price. The fruit comes from Olson Ranch, (which also goes into some of Gallo’s MacMurray Ranch label Pinot). (89 points)

2013 Gallo Family Vineyards Zinfandel Signature Series - Sonoma County, Dry Creek Valley
SRP: $50
Deep purple color. Wow, the aromas of really popping with these deep, dark, juicy elements of blackberries, dark cherries, blueberries. I also get notes of rich dusty earth, cocoa powder, spicy tobacco, toasted coconut. Full-bodied and burly on the palate, some moderately fresh acid, but this is a concentrated wine with some significant grip to the tannins. Black and blue berry fruit, the fruit is quite concentrated but shows a crunchy edge, too. Elements of tobacco, mint, some leafy-loamy, sweet herbal notes. Rounded out with toasted coconut and roasted coffee. A frankly beautiful wine despite the richness. Gallo has access to some really high quality Zinfandel, and this is legit example of it. In my mind, a $50 Zinfandel has to be both a) immediately pleasurable b) showing potential to improve significantly with years in the cellar. This has both. I’d love to retaste in four or five years. The fruit comes from Chiotti, Fox Ranch, Frei Ranch, Monte Rosso and Stefani Vineyards. 15.5% alcohol, aged 9 months in French and American oak. (91 points)

2012 Gallo Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Signature Series - California, Napa Valley
SRP: $50
Rich purple color. Compact at first on the nose, this takes time to open up to show tart cranberries mixed with black currant and blackberry fruit, lots of concentration to the fruit but also some earth, pencil shavings and charcoal aromas as well. Full-bodied, tannins show strength but they’re also quite velvety and the wine has a rounded, robust feel to it. Black currants mix with some tart red berry notes. Rich earth, loamy, dusty with notes of sweet pipe tobacco, eucalyptus and roasted red pepper. Really interesting flavor profile on a well-structured wine. Worthy of some years in the cellar, but pleasant now in a robust way. 14.9% alcohol. 87% from William Hill Estate Vineyard, 13% from Monte Rosso in Sonoma. Includes 3% Petite Verdot. (90+ points)

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