Dave McIntyre WineLine



Dave McIntyre's WineLine

February 22, 2000
Number 5

Welcome to issue #5 of Dave McIntyre's WineLine, offering free-wheeling news, views and reviews from the wonderful world of wine. Subscriptions keep climbing and I've received lots of encouragement from readers - and a real sign of success, people asking me for plugs! As always, feel free to e-mail me with any feedback or suggestions. And don't forget: Back issues are archived at Robin Garr's Wine Lovers' Page.

This is also my first attempt at sending WineLine as an HTML file, so users of PCs or Macs can view it (I hope) with some formatting. No graphics yet - I think I need to set up a Web page to do that …

In This Issue:

Chasing After Gina …
Observations from the DC Wine Festival …
Keeping Chenin alive …
Dave McIntyre

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 taller.)

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 admitting. (Gulp!)

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.

* * *

Other notes from the DC Festival: There were plenty of Californians there, and Virginia wines held center stage. The Italian Trade Commission reserved an entire hall that was so crowded I turned tail and ran. But where were the French? Sure, this festival is smaller than the annual Boston fete, but were all the Français so tired they couldn't stay over here another week? Are they still so miffed over the bananas and the hormone beef that they couldn't pour wines in the Ronald Reagan International Trade Center?


Hmmmmmmm, perhaps we should organize a boycott!!!

One table I was particularly impressed with: Elizabeth Imports from Denver, with Steven Berardi Selections from Italy. This line has been highly rated by Parker and others, but it was my first opportunity to taste the wines, which are not marketed in the DC area. The whites were especially fetching: an almondy Soave Classico Superiore 1998 "Alzari" from Coffele (about $15) with an incredibly long finish … La Zerba Gavi "Terrarossa" 1998, with hints of sandalwood ($16) … and a lovely Vernaccia di San Gigminano "Alata" from La Rampa di Fugnano for $13.

Reds featured a Tuscan Sangiovese-Cabernet blend from Censio "Erte", 1997, at $12 that would put many $20 Chiantis to shame. As the reds increase in price, the value-to-price ratio declines, as is so often the case, rather quickly, but the quality of wines in this line is consistently high. Steven Berardi has a palate worth watching.

Two final festival notes: Kenwood 1997 Russian River Pinot Noir proves yet again that good Pinot can be had for under $15, and the Kenwood folks are doing quite well next door at Valley of the Moon … and anything by Renwood.

"My Favorite Wine? Whatever you're pouring!"
-Dave McIntyre
(Sorry, folks! I can't find my book of funny wine quotations!)

Tastings: I celebrate any time I find a Chenin Blanc made in this country that features enough acid to balance the fat fruit flavors, and I weep a little when I read of more Chenin vines being ripped out of California soil to be replaced with Chardonnay or Merlot.

So imagine my delight recently when I found three Chenins worth celebrating: Newcomer Vinum Cellars, with vineyards near Sacramento, offers Cuvée CNW (for "Chard No Way") 1998, 100% Chenin Blanc ($12). Already softened by some age, this is pleasant, apple fruit and a good, well-balanced finish. Their "Pointe Blanc" 1998 ($17) is more complex - 77% Chenin is blended with 13% Viognier and 10% Roussanne for a ripe, round wine in a southern French style that would be great with seafood.

And here's one to buy by the case for your summer sipping, now that warm weather is on the way: The Hogue Cellars 1999 Chenin Blanc from Washington's Columbia Valley is the most delightful domestic Chenin I've ever tasted - crisp, palate-cleansing acidity and refreshing fruit that makes you want to gulp it down and pour some more before everyone else at the table catches on and reaches for the bottle first. But no worry - at a mere $7-8, you can open another bottle!

And how long will you have the chance to swirl your glass with something so fresh and say, "Oh, it's a modest little wine from the previous century!"

Copyright 2000 by Dave McIntyre

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