Wine enthusiasts of a certain age fondly remember Gallo Hearty Burgundy, the king of the jug wines that introduced several generations to California wine long before most consumers had heard the words "Napa Valley."
Brothers Ernest and Julio Gallo established their winery in Modesto, California, in 1933. By the mid-1960s, Gallo had become by far the largest winery in the United States in terms of sales volume, a distinction it maintains to this day.
The E. & J. Gallo empire is not only big; it is remarkably diverse. Almost quietly, if that is even possible, Gallo has staked out a strong position in the luxury wine market, buying up vineyards and wineries in the Napa Valley, Sonoma County, California's Central Coast and Washington's Columbia Valley.
Established stars such as Louis M. Martini, J. Vineyards, Talbott Vineyards, William Hill, Columbia Winery and Edna Valley Vineyard now fly the E. & J. Gallo flag. To be sure, Gallo hasn't abandoned the value market. Its Barefoot Cellars and Barefoot Bubbly sell a reported 18 million-plus cases combined per year.
What's more, the E. & J. Gallo company has plunged headlong into the import market and now represents several important and highly regarded Italian brands (think Jermann, Renato Ratti, Allegrini and Pieropan).
Gallo power was on full display at the 10th annual Winemaker Challenge International Wine Competition on Jan. 19-20 in San Diego. Between its own brands and its import brands, E. & J. Gallo entered 99 wines in the challenge, which is judged exclusively by professional winemakers.
The results were impressive, with 77 of the Gallo entries earning medals, including two platinum, 17 gold and 58 silver. The lesson from the 2019 Winemaker Challenge is obvious: Big is not always bad, and sometimes it's better!
Wines are rated on a 100-point scale. Wines are chosen for review because they represent outstanding quality or value, and the scores are simply a measure of this reviewer's enthusiasm for the recommended wine.
Seeker 2018 Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand ($13.99) — This tangy sauvignon from New Zealand delivers mouthwatering acidity along with notes of grapefruit and lime. Rating: 91.
Castello Banfi 2015 SummuS, Toscana IGT, Italy ($69.99) — The greatest feat in winemaking is the ability to craft a rich, powerful red wine that is elegant, too. The Banfi 2015 SummuS is a remarkable Super Tuscan blend that is suave and sophisticated, combining nuance and balance with impressive depth and complexity. Showing seductive aromas of blackberry, cassis, cherry and blueberry on the palate, supple tannins, a note of graphite and exceptional length, this is an impeccably made wine that rivals Banfi's other heavy hitters in quality. Rating: 98.
V. Sattui 2016 Zinfandel, Gilsson Vineyard, Russian River Valley ($42) — V. Sattui is so famous for its vineyard-specific cabernet sauvignons that it would be easy to overlook the Sattui zinfandels. That would be a mistake. The Napa Valley winery takes great pride in its zins, and with good reason. The Gilsson Vineyard in the Russian River Valley is one of V. Sattui's zin treasures. The 2016 is beautifully structured and well-balanced, showing pure red- and black-fruit aromas and a generous note of wood spice. Rating: 96.
Ledson 2015 Bellisimo, Estate Vineyard, Sonoma Valley ($86) — This red Bordeaux-style blend is decidedly Right Bank-inspired, with merlot making up 60 percent of the blend (the balance is cabernet sauvignon). Richly layered and full-bodied, it shows note of plum, blackberry and cherry, firm tannins and a prominent touch of wood spice. Rating: 95.
Cru 2017 Pinot Noir, Sierra Madre Vineyard, Santa Maria Valley ($50) — This beauty from Santa Barbara's Sierra Madre vineyard delivers a dollop of earthy goodness; notes of forest floor and damp leaves; bright cherry fruit on the nose and on the palate; and a touch of sweet oak spice on the finish. It's beautifully balanced and refined. Rating: 94.
Gloria Ferrer Sonoma Brut, Sonoma County ($22) — This is a rock-solid bubbly from Gloria Ferrer that is delicate and elegant on the palate and has impressive length, a fine mousse, and pretty aromas of apple and spice. Rating: 94.
V. Sattui 2017 Dry Gewurztraminer, Anderson Valley ($29) — V. Sattui's dry gewurztraminer is rich and lush with a floral nose; notes of spice, apple and pear; and a long finish. It was a platinum award-winner at the 2019 winemaker challenge. Rating: 94.
Sunscript 2017 Chardonnay, Central Coast ($23) — Balanced chardonnay was once a lost art. The pendulum is swinging back toward balance in recent times, and the Sunscript is a good example. This vintage shows subtle notes of lemon, apple and pear, a touch of wood spice and a clean, crisp finish. Rating: 90.
Follow Robert on Twitter at @wineguru. To find out more about Robert Whitley and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com. Email Robert at [email protected]