Review: Gallo Single Vineyard Series Cabernet and Chardonnays

The Gallo You Don't Know

Bottom Line: It's time to look beyond our upturned noses at the Other Gallo.  The Single Vineyard offerings are worth the search and price.  The Frei Ranch Cab is one of the most enjoyable wine drinking experiences we've had this year.

The Rest Of The Story:  Friends, family, and friends of friends and family often ask for advice when planning a trip to northern California wine country.  "Napa", they say, "We're going to Napa".  But by the time they've answered a few basic questions as to the type of vacation they're looking for, they're soon saying, "Healdsburg!  We're going to Healdsburg!'  And a mandatory stop right on the town square is used to be the Gallo of Sonoma Tasting Room.  (Lamentably, they closed their doors this past March.  Big.  Fat.  Bummer.)

Anyway, the tasting room was a proving ground of sorts - a way to establish street cred - they didn't just pour the normal stuff, they also offered upgraded, super-premium tastings.  Gallo?  Super-premium?  Uh, huh.  It was a great chance to do vertical tastings of their Family Estate line (think $95 a bottle), but they also showcased their Single Vineyard bottlings, which themselves are shocking.  Shockingly good, that is.  This is where we first learned of the Other Gallo.

For many of us the name Gallo conjures images of our parents' philosophy in choosing wine: the bigger the handle on the jug, the better the wine. But that was a long time ago. Since then, we've grown up - and so has Gallo. In fact, their Gallo of Sonoma Reserve line is a perennial favorite for consistency, value, and, at times, brow-raising quality in the $10-12 range.

But shrugging off that jug reputation can be very hard indeed. Which makes these higher-end wines such a terrific tool.  Those who have experienced them are like born-again believers. So pay attention, people. If you're open-minded, your impressions are about to be changed...

It'd been several vintages since we'd laid hands on these bottlings, so it was lucky for us that they recently sent two (very different) Chardonnays and a Cab from the Single Vineyard line for review.  These wines are all made in limited quantities from special sites around Sonoma county.  Okay, so they are not value-priced.  But they are certainly in a completely different quality echelon that what you probably associate the Gallo name with.  (Full disclosure: these wines were received as press samples from the producer.)

Keep an eye out for these labels in specialty wine shops or check the website's wine locator.  You pretty much can't go wrong.

2008 Chardonnay Sonoma Coast Two Rock Vineyard $28
Light in every way - eye, nose and mouth.  Tight flavors that mean business without being overwhelming.  Enjoyable for its refreshment and character.  Very clean.  Grown at the southern end of the Sonoma Coast AVA (west of Carneros), it's not a typical Cali Chard at all - much more French.  Light-to-medium bodied and uncomplicated by over-handling or treatment.

2007 Cabernet Dry Creek Valley Frei Ranch Vineyard $40
An emotionally provoking wine.  While not perfect in technical terms, it is fucking sublime.  Deep dark color and alluring fragrances with depth and meaning.  Full bodied with gripping flavor, and instant wow factor.  Serious, but still loose enough that you'll willingly surrender to this comforting experience.  Like an embrace from that favorite aunt who always makes everything okay.  Yum, yum, yum.  Giddy-making wine.  So happy to be drinking this wine.  Cheap it is not, but if there is a better experience for the money, we don't know about it.  One of the most enjoyable wine drinking experiences of the year.

2007 Chardonnay Russian River Valley Laguna Vineyard $28
There is little doubt as to the seriousness of this wine even at first glance.  Rich, deep gold color in the glass.  The aromatics are sophisticated, elegant, and intense.  The palate follows through on the nose's promise.  Big, but refined, and with enough acids on the finish to make it food friendly and interesting.  Lordy, this is the epitome of great California Chardonnay. A seductive wine.