What was your first real wine?
For me, it was probably a bottle of Gallo Hearty Burgundy.
That’s after dismissing all the sweet kosher wines I drank on Jewish holidays and the fruity Yago Sangria and Boone’s Farm fruit wines that I chugged with college pals to soothe our throats after inhaling the smoke of a weed now considered medicinal. I remember it was at a dinner at a long-gone Italian restaurant in Port Jefferson, N.Y., not far from the Stony Brook University campus, where I spent my undergraduate days. My roommate was buying to celebrate the completion of a project. We thought we were pretty damn sophisticated ordering a bottle of Gallo Hearty Burgundy to wash down the pizza we ordered.
I don’t remember how the wine tasted, or, to be honest, if I really liked it. I didn’t know Burgundy from Bordeaux until some years later when I entered the working world and Terry Robards had begun scribbling his weekly wine column for the New York Times.
But that college-era recollection came back recently upon seeing a press release from Gallo noting that 2014 marks the 50th anniversary of the introduction of Hearty Burgundy by pioneering American winemakers Ernest and Julio Gallo.
Hearty Burgundy, we are told was the favorite wine of the winery’s late founders, Ernest and Julio Gallo. The brothers originally made it as an ode to the wines from their native Italy. Of course, no wine from Italy would ever be called Burgundy, the region on France best known for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Nor has Hearty Burgundy ever been made from those noble grapes.
Although the exact varietal components of the wine vary from vintage to vintage, two grapes, Zinfandel for its brambleberry flavors and Petite Sirah for its depth and dark fruit flavors, have always been a part of this wine.
There’s a reason it endures. It’s better than most of us remember and, of course, there’s its consistency over the years and its price, $9-$10 for a 1.5 liter bottle. I tried some recently—after hunting it down and finding on the shelf nearest the ceiling in a local wine shop. It’s a moderate bodied, deep purple hued wine. It’s advertised brambleberry aroma is evident in the nose and the berries shine through on the palate as well, along with hints of spice. It’s better that some of the plonk I’ve tried masquerading as red varietal wine. You know the kind that’s served at catered affairs and pizza joints.
The Gallo folks boast that Hearty Burgundy not only introduced Americans to wine, but also for put American wines on the map during an era when spirits dominated consumption.
Indeed, in 1972, Hearty Burgundy graced the cover of a Time magazine issue featuring a story about the booming California wine industry. In the feature, wine critic Robert Balzer called the wine “… the best wine value in the country today” as it outscored more expensive California and French
“We are both proud and humbled by the longevity of Hearty Burgundy,” third generation family member and vice president of marketing Stephanie Gallo said in the press release. “I have so many fond memories of sharing this wine with my friends and family, especially my grandfather, Ernest – it was his favorite.”
Today, Gallo, of course, is more than cheap industrial wine. It markets more than 70 labels across the price spectrum, including value varietals, and premium varietals from a cross section of California appellations. It also markets wines under such brands as Frei Brothers, MacMurray Ranch, Edna Valley Vineyard, Mirassou, Louis Martini, William Hill Estates, and also imports such labels as Martin Codax (Spain), Ecco Domani and Davinci (both Italy) and Alamos (Argentina). It also produces gin and vodka under the New Amsterdam label.
This year, to celebrate Hearty Burgundy’s golden anniversary, Gallo has produced a limited edition bottle that pays homage to the original flavor profile that harkens back to the original blend.
Gallo says Hearty Burgundy pairs well with a variety of hearty foods, including chili, Italian fare, including red sauces, meatballs and hard cheeses like Parmesan and Romano. Though I did not try these pairings, I am fairly confident they’ll work
The anniversary bottling of Gallo Family Vineyards Hearty Burgundy becomes available this month with a suggested retail price of $9 for a 1.5 liter bottle.
Nostalgia comes cheap.