Discovering an unfamiliar grape varietal, reading about a wine region, or being intrigued by a winemaker’s philosophy is often a catalyst to trying a new wine. Uncovering a hidden gem, especially one that I can buy locally, gives me a thrill. Although I aspire to have a more informed approach to picking wine, more often than not, my wine shopping is impulsive. Browsing bottles to see what catches my eye, something new to try that’s within my budget, or replacing ones that we enjoyed. Having seen the Louis M. Martini label for years, it was time to add it to my cart.
Being an impulse buy without any research ahead of time, tasting the Louis M. Martini Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 was “partially” blind. I only know what’s on the label. If I don’t know much about the winemaker, my tasting notes will be less biased by reputation and hype. I particularly try not to read other people’s reviews just prior to tasting.
In the glass, Louis M. Martini Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 has a nose of ripe berries, smoke, and cherry-cola. On the palate are currants, cherry, blackberry, vanilla, black tea, and dark chocolate with a lush, silky mouthfeel. The finish is fairly long with smooth integrated tannins. Overall, the wine was moderately complex, balanced, and quite enjoyable.
After tasting, I’m curious to know more about winemaker and visit the Louis M. Martini Winery website. The winery had been founded by its namesake, Louis Martini, who emigrated from Genoa, Italy in 1900. At age 19, Martini went to Italy to study winemaking and upon his return, went into business with his father and others. In 1933 at the end of Prohibition, he planted vineyards in Napa Valley and established the Louis M. Martini Winery. During the 1930s, Martini purchased a mountainside vineyard in Sonoma County focused on making wine from higher elevation grapes. In 1946 he was succeeded by his son and eventually his grandson in 1974. The fourth generation, however, wasn’t interested in continuing the family winery business and sold to E & J Gallo Winery who increased the volume of production and focused specifically on the Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel varietals.
When we owned our wine and liquor store, the Gallo salesperson typically supplied a hefty percentage of the shelf space with a wide variety of wines and spirits owned by E & J Gallo Winery. The company is a privately-owned conglomerate and the largest family-owned winery in the US. Their portfolio of over 100 brands includes Thunderbird, Ripple, Night Train, and Boone’s Farm that have notorious reputations for being cheap “wino wines”. Their budget-friendly Carlo Rossi, Barefoot, and Andre are also hugely profitable best-selling wines. Other familiar wines and spirits in their portfolio include Apothic, DaVinci, Don Miguel Gascon, Franciscan, J Vineyards and Winery, Mark West, New Amsterdam Gin and Vodka, and RumChata.
For an impulse buy, the 2016 Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon was a solid performer in the $35 price range. But I’ve had to make an effort not to let the fact that Gallo produces the likes of Ripple and Thunderbird taint my perception.