Must-Try Wine of Week: Gallo Family Vineyards California Hearty Burgundy

I have fond memories of Gallo Family Vineyards Hearty Burgundy as it was my late father’s favorite wine. It graced our family dinner table on many occasions, and was a frequent accompaniment to pizza when we dined at his favorite neighborhood Italian restaurant.

First released in 1964, and this year celebrating the 50th anniversary of production, Hearty Burgundy, bottled in 1.5 liter “jugs,” is a non-vintage dated, proprietary blend of red grape varieties of consistent style and quality.

When Ernest Gallo realized the popularity of full-bodied red wines among his winery executives, he asked brother Julio and his winemakers to come up with what became the Hearty Burgundy blend. For years, the exact composition had remained a trade secret, but a 2006 press release revealed that it’s a blend of zinfandel (Julio’s favorite), tempranillo, syrah, petit verdot, grenache, and cabernet sauvignon.

Winemaker Stephen Russell, a University of California at Davis enology graduate who went to work at Gallo in 1960, recalls, “The mixture of zinfandel, merlot, and almost anything else available at the time was challenging to produce because the goal was to make Hearty Burgundy taste consistently the same, although the types and sources of grapes varied widely with each vintage.”

Technically, the wine was not Burgundy, although in the early years of production it did contain Russian River Valley pinot noir from such iconic producers as Joe Rochioli, Jr., and Charles Bacigalupi. Rochioli told me that in the early 1970s, there was little demand for varietal pinot noir, so he shipped his grapes to Gallo’s production facility in Windsor where it was eventually incorporated into Hearty Burgundy. The inclusion of pinot noir in the wine today is highly unlikely, given the expense of those grapes.

Hearty Burgundy became wildly popular among American wine drinkers and widely praised by wine critics, even those who usually scoffed at the quality of Gallo wines. The wine graced the cover of Time magazine in 1972, an issue devoted to the booming California wine industry, and noted Los Angeles Times wine critic, Robert Balzer, wrote in that issue, “Gallo Hearty Burgundy is the best wine value in the country today.”

A commemorative, limited edition bottling of Gallo Family Vineyards Hearty Burgundy is now available for a suggested retail price of $9 for a 1.5 liter bottle. It’s decked out in a special gold label and 50th Anniversary seal as a nod to the wine’s “golden anniversary,” as well as the proclamation, “America’s First Iconic Red Blend.”

The wine is darkly colored and highly aromatic, with scents of blackberry jam on toast, and oak-driven notes of coffee and vanilla. Silky smooth on the palate, the flavors of blackberries and black currents are annotated with vanilla and oak. Definitely hearty, but not brawny or tannic, the wine is perfect for casual meals that feature pepperoni pizza, spaghetti Bolognese, hamburgers, or barbecue.

This wine’s wide appeal is understandable, given its value price, which is often discounted. Total Wine & More offers it for $6.49. Look for the commemorative bottling in grocery stores and retailers throughout Orange County.

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