Gina Gallo made the star turn at Washington's first-ever
International Wine Festival on February 12, adding some sex appeal for lonely
oenogeeks who have warmed to her smile on every third page of Wine
Spectator for the past few years. She made the circuit like a power-hungry
pol on primary day, with personal appearances at Calvert-Woodley Wine &
Liquors (touted with her drivers license photo in their newspaper advert that
week) and Dean & Deluca. She paused in between for a meet-and-greet at the
festival table of the Tasting Society International, a
swirl-sniff-and-schmooze group whose founder, Charlie Adler, fairly oozed
testosterone at the thought of having such a celebrity pass however fleetingly
within his orbit.
I almost missed her. I'd been cruising the hall tasting wines and begging
everyone I saw to subscribe to Dave
McIntyre's WineLine, and by the time I got to TSI's table, Charlie looked
like he really needed a cigarette.
"She was here," he sighed. "Briefly."
She'd been by the WineToday.com exhibit,
too, where someone blurted, "She kissed me!"
Just as I thought the trail had gone cold, someone offered the reasonable
suggestion that I might check at the Gallo of Sonoma table. And there she was.
In the harsh light of the Ronald Reagan International Trade Center, Gina
looked, well … taller … than in the air-brushed and soft-focus
atmosphere of the Gallo vineyards and barrel rooms. Dressed casually in blue
jeans and a plaid shirt, she looked more real than the company hangers-on in
their fancy suits, spit-shined shoes and slicked-back hair. (Men who work for
Gallo always look like they're about to offer a wine you can't refuse.)
And, perhaps like all winemakers should, she seemed genuinely uncomfortable
with the celebrity thrust upon her by the company's marketing campaign. She
greeted me with that famous smile and an aw-shucks manner that seemed to say,
"Relax. Put your tongue back in your face." I felt like we were really
connecting, but just as I was about to ask for her e-mail address and offer a
free subscription, I was elbowed aside by a crowd of horny geeks eager to see
if she really is as pretty as she looks in those ads. (Answer: Yes. Only
Shunted aside like yesterday's blind date, I found myself in front of a
line up of Gallo single-vineyard wines and one of those pin-striped
bodyguards. So I decided to taste. I always take advantage of the opportunity
to try the Gallo wines, just to see what the hullaballoo is about. (For some
reason, Turley et al. are not so accommodating to the trade or the public.)
Now, I've always been skeptical of the Gallo line, wondering just how they got
those high scores and preferring to think it isn't the advertising budget. To
me, the wines always tasted a bit vegetal and astringent, like floozy jug
wines tarted up in $20 bottles.
Now, I never put that opinion in print, although I heard through the grape
vine - WINE GEEK PUN ALERT - that some Gallo reps
were perturbed by an article I once wrote dissing boxed wines. So I'm now more
than willing to eat a little humble pie: The wines being poured at the DC
Festival nearly made a convert out of me. My favorite was the Gallo Sonoma
1997 Barelli Creek Zinfandel, which showed zesty raspberry and white
pepper flavors and an attractive, medium-length finish that was well-rounded
and polished. The Cabernets from Barelli and Stefani vineyards were also quite
good, although the 1996 Stefani Zin had a hint of varnish that turned me off.
I'm not exactly joining the Gallo bandwagon - I'd need to be intellectually
honest and do a blind tasting of similarly priced Cabs and Zins, without Gina
within hailing distance - but these were good wines, I have no trouble
If Gallo (the company) can continue producing mass quantities of wine at
increasing quality and stable prices, wine lovers everywhere will only
benefit. And Gallo (the smile) may be the best weapon they have for overcoming
the inherent bias many of us have against the company name - that and the
improving quality of the wines she's making.
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