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The World of Gallo Wines

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Raise your wine glass if you think Gallo represents California wines. Now put it down – the Gallo family has long gone global, and now is focused on creating affordable, well-crafted “local wines from around the world.” I was lucky enough to attend a recent tasting at Manhattan’s fashionable Eleven Madison Park, where journalists could sample several international wines in Gallo’s collection.

The first one we tried was Bodegas Martin Codax Albarino 2008. The winery was founded in 1986 as a cooperative made up of about 50 local grape growers in Galicia, Spain. Gallo helped the winery grow while improving the quality, and today the wines have won international awards and are for sale in 40 countries around the world. I buy this wine, and it’s a good value with its slight aroma of peach and pear and sharp acidity on the palate. What’s interesting is that it is grown on a “pergola” trellis system to keep the grapes off the damp ground (it rains a lot in Galicia).

Next up was the Frei Brothers Reserve Wines, an excellent 2007 Chardonnay with a buttery, oaky nose and palate. In a story that could be called “it’s never too late,” the original Frei Winery had been conceived by 70-year old ex-miner Charles Dunz, who developed the land, planted vines, and sold it to original owner Andrew Frei. E & J Gallo Winery bought the Frei Brothers winery in 1978. I detected some red apple on the nose, which the winemaker described as “Gravenstein apple.” Curious as to what this would smell/taste like, I consulted a dictionary, which says that this apple is considered to be one of the best all-around apples, with a sweet, tart flavor. Next time I have the opportunity I’ll have to locate this apple, buy the wine, and see for sure.

MacMurray Ranch Pinot Noir is another Gallo holding, with the winery located in Healdsburg’s Russian River Valley. The land was originally owned by Col. Hugh Porter, veteran of the Mexican War, who used it as a cattle ranch. The Gallo family bought the ranch in 1996 and planted Pinot Noir, followed by other varietals. The PN 2007 has a sweet cherry nose with a hint of smoke, and a long finish filled with black cherries and blackberries.

Bridlewood Estate 2006 Central Coast Syrah is a dark, pungent, opaque purple-ruby wine with a nose of jammy blackberries, blackcurrant, and spice. On the palate one experiences black fruit and a roasted meat/bacon flavor along with mushrooms. The quality is incredible at any price, and this one is under $20. The grapes grow on the high bed of an ancient seabed in the eastern Santa Ynez Valley on what was once an Arabian horse farm.

From Argentina comes a Malbec from the Catena family, who began making Alamos Wines in 1993 to help meet the rising demand for Argentine wines. Alamos is located in the prestigious Mendoza growing region of Lujan de Cuyo. A small amount of Cabernet Sauvignon is added, in addition to Bonarda, and the wine is “conditioned” with French and American oak before the blend is assembled. The 2008 Malbec is lush with blueberries and blackcurrant on the palate and a long, delicious finish of cloves and blackberry jam.

The last wine was Don Miguel Gascon Malbec 2008, jam-packed with blue fruit, cooked plums, delicate violets, and mocha. The winery’s founder, Mr. Gascon, was born in 1861 in Aragon, Spain, grew up as a farmer, moved to Argentina, and became dedicated to proving that Argentina could produce fine wines.

Throughout the lunch, winemakers told their stories, some apologizing for their English which was actually quite good. Yet even if it wasn’t, their passion for their wines rang true in any language. A delightful afternoon filled with many wonderful wine stories. Salut!

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