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      04.12.2003 23:05
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      The Gallo Winery produce a mamoth amount of wines red, pink, white from a great variety of grapes. I am concentrating in this review on wines made from the Canernet Sauvignon grape. There is quite sufficient misinformation and misunderstanding on this topic without obfuscating the picture with other labels. Let me be quite dogmatic in my opening remarks. There is no such thing as Ernest & Gallo Cabernet Sauvignon. Rather, the American vintners - E&J Gallo - produce a whole range of wines under a variety of labels from the Cabernet Sauvignon grape. I have more to say about these varieties later, but it is of fundamental importance to understand the differences AND to be clear about what it is you are drinking before you can appreciate any given bottle. The subject of this review is E&J Gallo "Coastal Vineyards" Cabernet Sauvignon 1999. In the past I have had bottles of other 'Cabs' from their catalogue including 'Turning Leaf' and 'Gallo Sonoma'. I recently promised to carry out a small series of reviews of wines which have impressed me over the years. In my time I have tried all manner of wines - red, wine, French, New World, vintage, non vintage - and a few have left a lasting impression; an impression strong enough to tempt me to try again. Even fewer have lingered long enough to persuade me to buy a few bottles to keep in my store. These form the basis of the following reviews. These wines do share a common theme. They are red, medium (but not bargain basement) priced, reasonably easily available, can be found gracing the wine list of a range of restaurants and are dependable across time and space. The bottom line is that when I order a bottle when out for a meal or when choosing an accompaniment for the Sunday roast there is a very good chance I will not be disappointed with my wine. I do not claim to be a wine expert and will not be tempted to emulate the Goulden-Clarke style rhetoric
      . However there is a certain language that is necessary in order to attempt to impart something of the sensory embodiment of a good wine. THE VINEYARD There are many fine wineries (some boasting produce that will compete with the best in the world - both in terms of quality and price) in California, ranged along its Pacific coast and further in land. The state now produces 90% of the wine output of the United States and 75% of this comes from the area south of Sacramento - the San Joaquin valley. This area is perhaps 75 miles inland and East of San Francisco and the climate here is reliable and hot. E&J Gallo founded their business in 1933. Now in his 90s, Ernest maintains a keen interest in the winery. Julio died in 1993. The business remains a family concern (now into its third generation: Matt and Gina) and is based in the neighbouring town of Modesto. It is by far the largest wine producer in the world (its production facilities are themselves the size of a small town) and boasts the biggest bottle factory in the western United States. Much of their blended and table output comes from this area although there are single variety specialist vineyards in the higher hillsides near the town of Lodi. The Company also has a large foothold in the coastal region of Sonoma county, centred around the town of Healdsburg. This area is about 100 miles north of San Francisco. The vintners prize the climate as being perfect for grapes as the cooling influence of coastal fog moderates the heat of the day. The Cabernet Sauvignon grape is a small late-ripening dark blue/black berry with a thick skin. It thrives, particularly in the coastal regions, in California. It is the fundamental ingredient of the French Bordeaux but its temperamental nature in that country often requires it to be blended with other varieties such as the Merlot. When ripe its juice has an intense colour and flavour with rich tannins - all of which favour long periods
      of aging in wooden barrels. THE WINES As noted above E&J Gallo produce a wide variety of wines from the Cabernet Sauvignon grape. These range in price, taste, body and age from the common red cheap 'Cab' so frequently seen on the shelves of the local supermarket to the rare highly prized vintage bottle that will challenge anything from the chateaux of Bordeaux. It is often the intangible elements of wine production that set the different labels apart. The wine can be a single grape varietal (100% named juice) or a blend. The two 'secret' ingredients in the development of taste and flavour are time and oak. The grapes are harvested, crushed, macerated, the juices fermented and the resultant young wine is transferred into oak barrels to mature and age. This process also promotes a secondary fermentation ('malolactate'), adds tannin and flavours, softens the texture and clarifies the wine. The wood traditionally used comes from either America or France. Usually the longer the wine spends in oak the more expensive it becomes (time, storage, loss from evaporation all increase the costs) The Spanish are perhaps the most adept at describing this in their labelling where words such as 'Crianza' and 'Reserva' indicate precisely this process. There is no such system for New World wines and you are left to your own devices if you wish to explore further. E&J GALLO CABERNET SAUVIGNON: THE RANGE. Below I have listed the various labels that are produced and obtainable from this Company. Again I emphasise that this is only the Cabernet Sauvignon type: they produce equally large ranges of labels from other grape varieties and even bottles of 'plonk' where the variety is not named. In general the list runs from cheapest and least sophisticated to most expensive and mature. I have also indicated the blend; strength; maturation in oak and it?s keeping potential in the bottle. Wine Cellar; Cab: 87%, Syrah: 13%; 13.3% ABV; none; 18-24 months Turning Leaf; Cab: 100%; 13.5% ABV; 3 months; 18-24 months Sycamore; Cab: 100%; 13.3% ABV; 18-24 months Coastal Vineyards; Cab: 86%, vary 14%; 13.5% ABV; 15 months; 2-3 years Gallo Sonoma County; Cab 87%, vary 13%; 13.9% ABV; 13 months; 2-3 years Gallo Single Vineyard (Barrelli, Frei, Stephanie); Cab 100%; 14%ABV; 24 months, 5-10 years Gallo Estate: Cab 100%; 14.7%ABV; 23 months; 5-10 years It is of interest that 'Turning Leaf' (which is the second most common E&J Gallo supermarket label in the UK) is produced from grapes from the Lodi vineyards and has only three months in oak whereas the 'Coastal Vineyards' comes from Sonoma County and is in barrels for over a year. Note also that significantly the cheapest variety is not put into oak at all. THE BOTTLE 'Coastal Vineyards' comes housed in a dark green but otherwise undistinguished wine bottle. It is sealed with a cork - signed by the directors along the side ' and then covered with a black metal capsule. It is also recommended that red wine should be opened and poured gently into another vessel (decanter) an hour or two prior to serving. This allows the wine to 'breathe' and develop its flavour (exhaust any fusty smell and absorb a little oxygen). It also allows the separation of any sediment from the bottom of the bottle. The main front label is a simple affair declaring its origin and bearing Ernest and Julio's signatures. This vintage is 1999. There is a small secondary front label showing an effigy of the two old masters in profile. The rear label gives a brief account (in English, French and German) of the reason for choosing this part of California for the growing of grapes. The winery also recommends serving the wine with filet mignon, duck or grilled vegetables. THE DRINK This wine poured a deep ruby red which was crystal
      clear when examined against a strong light. There was a thin deposit left at the bottom of the bottle. The business end of the cork maintained a strong vinous nose (wine aficionados will tell you that sniffing the cork in a restaurant is sufficient to decide if the contents are 'off') after pulling. There is plenty of black fruit here (cherries, blackberries and blackcurrant) with traces of amyl. There is only a modest hint of oak from the bottle (perhaps the best example of 'oak' is that scent and taste you used to get from Grandma's best sherry). 'Coastal Vineyards' is a full flavoured, full bodied red wine. The first taste is definitely dry (but not tongue-shrivellingly so) rather than sweet. It is generously fruity (as above with the addition of plum jam) and is quite smooth and well balanced. There is a quite pronounced level of oak here (more akin to the Riojas than other Californian Cabernets) with quite a lot of tannin (but it certainly does not make your toes curl!). It is warming and its flavours linger pleasantly on the palate after swallowing. Kept tightly corked or cool in a stoppered decanter this wine will be just as delicious the next day. I served mine with roast chicken today but it would be equally at home with red meal or strongly flavoured cheese. Ernest & Gallo is a name whose wines I have enjoyed over the years. I have quaffed bottles of 'Turning Leaf' without giving them much of a second thought. There are other labels which repay exploration and savouring (indeed when it was still available and stocked by Sainsbury, the Gallo Sonoma 1993 was my favourite 'special occasion' red wine). 'Coastal Vineyards' is in the second category. Its price puts it in the upper end of the supermarket range but after all, you get what you pay for. Would I buy it again? Perhaps, but in my league table it still rates behind the Navajos Crianza Rioja and the Fetzer Merlot.
      AVAILABILTY: Ernest & Julio Gallo 'Coastal Vineyards' Cabernet Sauvignon. 750ml bottle Sainsbury Supermarket £10.99 [NOTE: My star rating is for the particular wine under review. I would rate "Turning Leaf" perhaps 31/2* and "Wine Cellar" an average 3*]

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    • Product Details

      The Gallo Family Winery was founded with a philosophy which Ernest & Julio called Being true to the grape. The philosophy focuses on the grape's true varietal character which comes from growing the best grapes - this requires dedication to, and preservation of the vineyard and its environment.