A good bottle of wine can be expensive, yes, but what's a good bottle? Must the piggy squeal? Must the bottle be a confident, understated label that speaks of a historic, costly wine from one of the world's great regions?
Fine wine and price are foundations of wine snobbery, obscuring in hurtful ways the pleasure that a good bottle adds to a meal with old friends. The measure of a great cellar is not numbers, but wines.
But when I endorse a bottle, the production of a wine, or a winemaker, I have two assurances in mind. First, that the product is not bad - technically bad, with defects that are objective, not matters of taste. And second, that the wine is true to its variety: a chardonnay, like it or not, is all the same a chard. There's nothing wrong with you if you don't agree.
These reflections were inspired in part by the many worldwide changes in the production and marketing of wine. In Ohio, the wine industry has progressed significantly from a half-century ago, when domestic Ohio wines, painfully emerging from Prohibition, were selling at very low prices. To say that those wines were not very good is understatement; most were awful, from the grapes to winery equipment to novice winemakers and uninspired distributors. The market was small and Americans relied on bootlegging or the experience of European wines as foreign travel introduced them to a different dining-room culture.
Today, a sophisticated wine industry, in Ohio and across the United States, is altogether fresh and new, but Ohio wines do not compete with West Coast and extensive imports. The stigma of the past wears off very slowly. West Coast and imported wines introduce American customers to taste expectations to which those customers are still unfamiliar.
It appears that just as Ohio wines have encountered the memory of a past and enduring bias, the same is true of Gallo products. The problem has obscured the top-drawer quality of Gallo, marketed under the family name or a handful of Gallo companies, all doing everything right to make and market wines. Among them, for instance, are the newly renamed Turning Leaf Sonoma Reserve, all priced at $12, including a meaty, fruity fine California pinot noir and memorable merlot, chardonnay, and cabernet sauvignon.
And Gallo is not alone. In the future, I'll look at some more mergers, reformations, and professional winemaking skills. In the meantime, remember that the justly popular Beringer winemaking operation is owned by a Canadian company, which in turn is owned by an Australian corporation.