Gallo Family Vineyards Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Northern Sonoma 2003
When you encounter an important wine from a well-known company the tendency to prejudge
can be very strong, yet the Gallo Family Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, fielded from selected
sites in northern Sonoma County, nicely pushes all preconceptions aside. Any thought of an
over-fruited, over-oaked, over-potent chore of a Cabernet evaporates in the face of this wine's
smooth mouthfeel and elegant balance.
The blend—83% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Merlot, and 6% Cabernet Franc—is classic Médoc; the feel, and even the look of the wine brings an evocative image of claret to mind. The $80 wine is a clear, mid-level ruby with violet at the edges. Black fruit predominates on the nose, including the cassis element that is so strongly associated with Cabernet, but at no time does that grape push itself in front of the wine. The fruit aromas are served with toast and a whiff of spicy fruitcake.
The black fruit from the nose remains on the palate, but I also enjoyed a range of red fruit, including some cranberry tang with a deep ripe cherry. Behind all this, and absolutely delightful, is roasted chocolate, a touch of burnt sugar, toasted walnut and a fragrant vanilla. Many of these notes are presumably the result of the 24 months the wine spends in a combination of French, American and European barrels. Like the Cabernet Sauvignon grape itself, the oak contributes but does not overreach. The wine has such an elegant feel of its own, in fact, that individual elements appear only after a little purposive digging.
The wine manages to be bone dry and yet project a number of levels of texture and flavor
through to its satisfying finish. Fruit, while never dominating, never gives up. The well
integrated tannins can make the same claim. The toast, chocolate, and kernel notes keep the
pleasure machine going. All these elements aside, the wine has an arc, a unity, a feel that
brings on an experience far more interesting than any of its parts. While the first pour of this
wine may lend itself to analysis, the remainder demands experience.
Cabernet Sauvignon may be a powerfully evocative grape, but it still requires a human hand to turn it into wine.
James Beard Award Nominee Elliot Essman