Ratatouille and tempranillo

My husband surprised me with a bottle of Gallo Family 2004 Winemaker’s Signature Tempranillo, a gift from a friend of ours who works in the California wine business. When the friend said it’s guaranteed to be something I’ve never tried before, it’s true; I’ve never seen this in a store and I can’t find it online. It’s almost too bad because it’s delicious wine, and neiner, neiner, neiner!, you can’t have any!

Ok, so maybe that’s not fair. And maybe if you look harder than I did, you might find your own bottle. I find it interesting, though, that Gallo, perhaps the original king of value wine, is bottling such exclusive wines.

I remember a day from my college wine-tasting class when the professor advised us to search for the traditionally “cheap” labels because they’re making increasingly high-end wines but at a very reasonable price. Wineries that are known to produce cheap wine have to continue to sell their wine at a value or risk alienating customers who think they’re being overcharged. Like when you shop at Target and refuse to spend more than $20 on a shirt simply because it’s Target. You might pay $40 anywhere else, but because it’s Target, you think you’re being overcharged by paying that much.

I don’t know how I just connected wine and Target, but oh well.

So here’s my take-away from tonight’s tasting: Look for Gallo labels. Gallo’s vineyard is in St. Helena, Calif., a place where the grapes are so good, and the winemaking knowledge runs so deep, that it’s practically impossible to make bad wine. The key to finding great value wines is to look at where the grapes are grown and the experience and history of the winemakers (hey, Gallo has been around for ages for a reason!). And keep an open mind.

Tasting notes on the Gallo 2004 Winemaker’s Signature Tempranillo:

Does “simply delicious” constitute tasting notes? Maybe not. So here goes.

The aroma is mossy and earthy, like a redwood forest after a rain (ooh, try to imagine that if you’ve never been to a redwood forest!). The initial taste has a slight burst of oak tempered by some fresh green bean and mildly sweet blackberry.

I paired it with a ratatouille pot pie (recipe here, and I added Italian sausage to give it kick and some protein.). I found that the heat of the sausage brought out a smoky quality in the wine. The Italian sausage was mildly spicy, and I wouldn’t go much hotter than that with this wine lest the smoke, oak and berries be overpowered by the spice.

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Checking in on chardonnays

I’m a “red” person. I love red wines, or most of them, and just don’t really have much use for whites. On a really hot day in the middle of summer, I enjoy a spry pinot grigio, but it’s not something I’ll pour after a long day at work and just sip.

But for you, dear reader, I’m willing to put my prejudice aside and sample some white varietals. I’d hate to be known as “that red-only gal.” How limiting!

Not one to dive right into a dubious situation, I decided to stick with a winery I know and like. I found a 2008 Montevina chardonnay at Raley’s for $7.49 and decided to give it a go.

Wine-tasting at Montevina in Amador County, Calif.

A couple of summers ago, my friends and I found ourselves on the wine trail in Amador County, a wonderful hamlet of wineries in the Sierra foothills of California (find San Francisco and Sacramento and head east). Montevina was one of the wineries we stopped in to wet our whistles. It’s a beautiful winery, and committed to sustainable agriculture, which scores big points in my book. 

Friends making tasting notes at Montevina in 2008.

OK, back to the wine. At first taste, the 2008 chardonnay is melony and light, in both color and taste/feel. But after a nice swish around the palate, light oak and hints of a nutty vanilla make a brief appearance. It’s good, if you like chardonnay, and I’m learning to. (Oh! Bonus for those of us who can’t drink a whole bottle in one or two nights: Montevina uses a screw-cap rather than cork, so this bottle can stay in the fridge while I get back to my beloved reds.)