Big Wine Gets Even Bigger

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In some of my recent reading, I came across the fact that E. & J. Gallo, The Wine Group and Constellation Brands produce more than half of the wine consumed in the U.S. Wow!

But then early this month I learned that Gallo had entered into an agreement with Constellation Brands to purchase more than 30 wine and spirits brands, along with six wine making facilities located in California, Washington, and New York. Double wow!

So, here’s a listing of some of the most familiar wine labels Gallo previously had in its portfolio — Alamos, Amarone, André Sparking wine, Apothic, Barefoot (this one accounts for almost 5% of all the wine consumed in this country!), Bartles & James, Boone’s Farm (Yup, they’re still around), Branciaia, Bridlewood, Carlo Rossi, Carnivor, Souverain Columbia, Dancing Bull, Dark Horse, DaVinci, Gascon, Edna Valley, Frei Brothers, Ernest & Julio Gallo, Gallo Family, Ghost Pines, J Vineyards, LaMarca Prosecco, Locations Brand (previously owned by Dave Phinney), Louis Martini, MacMurray, Mirassou, Orin Swift, Red Rock, Redwood Creek, Talbott, The Naked Grape, Tisdale, Tott’s Sparking Wine, Turning Leaf and William Hill.

That’s not the full listing, just some of the most notable.

Now, you add to that the labels from Constellation Brands — Clos du Bois, Black Box, Estancia, Mark West, Wild Horse, Franciscan, Hogue Cellars and Ravenswood.

That’s quite a portfolio!

So, maybe you don’t regularly purchase the Gallo label wine, but now looking at this list, you are likely to be purchasing wines that are part of Gallo’s portfolio. Cheers!

Wine Q&A: Wine Tasting at a Winery

For some, going to a winery for a wine tasting is a bit intimidating. There are so many questions and concerns that keep people away, especially those who are new to wine and just learning. But going to a winery for a wine tasting is actually a perfect way to learn about wines.

Q: Isn't it intimidating to go to a winery if you really aren't a wine expert?

A: Far from it!  Going to a winery is a great place to learn about wine if you are just beginning. Your wine server is there to help you experience their wines and to educate you, if you are interested. You'll get an opportunity to taste a variety of wines from rosé to whites, reds and sometimes even a dessert wine. They'll help you to find the wine that's for you.

Q: Does it cost a lot to go wine tasting?

A: Wine tasting costs are varied. Sometimes you can find coupons for free wine tastings, or two-for-one tastings on-line, at your local hotel, or through other wineries. Without coupons, costs can be as little as $5 or up to $20. And, typically if you purchase wine, the tasting is free.

Q: How many wines do I get to taste?

A: Typically, a tasting at a winery will include 5 or 6 wines. But, if you show interest, or identify a particular style of wine that you like, they'll often pour others.  And, depending on the circumstances, they may also provide you with tastes of other wines not on the standard list, including some of their wines intended just for wine club members.

Q: So, how much do they pour of each wine?

A: A typical pour is approximately 1 ounce. That is sufficient to be able to have a couple of sips of each wine.

Q: I've heard they provide spit buckets for use during tasting. Do I have to spit?

A: No. The bucket on the bar is there if you choose to spit out the wine instead of swallowing it. It's also there to pour out the remaining wine in your glass if you are through tasting any particular wine.  And, don't feel bad about pouring wine in the bucket.  They won't care.

Q: Is there a lot of pressure to buy their wines after a tasting?

A: Not at all. The servers at wineries are not commissioned salespeople and do not provide any pressure. They are simply there to help you experience and learn about their wines.

Q: Am I expected to tip the server?

A: Not normally. But if you have someone that's gone above and beyond to give you a great experience at a winery, you can certainly show your appreciation by tipping.

So, go out and do a wine tasting. You'll find it to be a very friendly atmosphere and it can be a lot of fun. Cheers!


Are there "Better" Wines Made by Wineries?

There are a lot of wines available on store shelves. A grocery store, liquor store, or big-box wine seller will have plenty of wine offerings. But most of the wines are large production wines from big wineries. And, as previously discussed, the terms 'Reserve' or 'Estate' can be misleading or completely meaningless when looking for "better" wines. 

But there truly are different 'grades' of wines made by wineries. For example, I recently had the opportunity to enjoy a bottle of Francis Ford Coppola 'Director's Cut' Cabernet Sauvignon (See my notes in Behind the Cork). While Coppola turns out a lot of good wine, their line of 'Director's Cut' wines are a step up in quality and wine making craftsmanship. And this is true for most wineries. They make their large production wines that show up on store shelves and then they make wines that are limited production. You may be able to buy some of these in stores but most often they are held by the wineries for sale in their tasting rooms or for their wine club members.

It's definitely worth taking an extra moment on the wine aisle to read labels and do some comparison shopping. You may be surprised to find a higher-end bottle of wine from some of the big wine producers. Many times these wines will distinguish themselves from the winery's mainstream wines by providing the vineyard's name where the grapes were grown, or the label may be 'fancier' than the other label by the same winery. Price will also be an indication.

Where you really get 'better' wines is by visiting wineries.  I had an acquaintance once ask why I bothered to go to wine country to buy wines when I could just go to the store. And besides, he said, the wines at the wineries are more expensive!  Well, yes, the wines at the wineries can be more expensive but that's because you are getting something 'better' than you can buy in stores. A lot better.  Wineries will truly have 'Reserve' and special 'Estate' wines that are of better quality than those on the grocery store shelves.

So take a closer look at the wines on the store shelves, visit a smaller wine shop or, better yet, visit a winery.  You will certainly find wines that are a 'Cut' above. Cheers!


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Behind the Cork™ Wine of the Week - Chateau St. Jean Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

This Pinot Noir from the Sonoma Coast is really a great value at $13.  It's delicate, as a Pinot should be, with the cherry, raspberry and cola flavors that are typical of Pinot Noir from the Sonoma region.  Pinot Noir pairs amazingly well with everything from Salmon to Steaks.