Thursday, August 20, 2009

Mirassou Carrying on a Family Tradition

There are iconic names in the U.S. wine industry: Gallo, Mondavi, and Sebastiani. Those California family dynasties are joined by the oldest of the group – Mirassou family wines.

Pierre Pellier came to the United States in 1854 looking for gold, but fortunately brought along cuttings from vines in his native France. Pierre’s daughter married Pierre Mirassou and later created an iconic name and brand in California wines.
After decades of winemaking, the Mirassou brand was purchased in 2002 by wine giant Gallo. But David Mirassou, the sixth generation of the family, remains in the business today.

“I’m carrying on a great tradition,” he said during a recent visit to Indianapolis. “I’m the link to previous generations and the next generation.”
The Mirassou label is carried in Kroger supermarkets and represents an effort by Gallo to market premium wines. The average price point for a bottle of Mirassou is about $12.

David Mirassou is a Gallo employee with the title of National Sales Manager for the Mirassou brand, though he bristles at any suggestion that he’s just a spokesperson.
“I kind of do everything,” he said. “We do have winemakers, but I go back and taste the grapes and work with our team on blending. I’ve learned for me it’s better to get out and tell the story than dragging the hose (around the winery) all of the time. I help and give guidance to our full-time winemakers.

“I have direct input on every one of these wines, as much as I’d like to have. I sometimes have to set aside extra time because everybody wants me out doing different promotions.”

Mirassou talks of the Gallo purchase not as a buy-out of a smaller guy, which has happened often in California. He describes it as a partnership.
“I do everything that I used to do,” he said. “We don’t make the wines at our winery. It just wasn’t efficient to make wine there. Partnering with the Gallos made things easier.”

The Mirassou Winery was in the Silicon Valley. The vineyard property was more valuable for commercial development than vineyards. Gallo bought the name as developers bought up the property.

Mirassou likes to talk about the long relationship his family has had with the California icons, including Ernest Gallo.

“For 70-plus years we’ve been working together, my family was selling them grapes and helping them move the California wine industry forward,” he explained. “After my grandfather passed away, Ernest would tell me stories about my grandfather. Can you imagine having lunch with Ernest Gallo and he is telling stories about your grandfather!

“I’d drive home teary-eyed after hearing those great stories. It was always about how Ernest admired my grandfather. I sometimes wonder how I’m going to fill those shoes.”

He fills those shoes today with considerable time on the road promoting Mirassou Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot, and Cabernet. He does tasting events and lots of media work.

But for David Mirassou it’s about family. “The most exciting time for me is when I take my son out to the vineyards,” he said smiling. “We go out and taste the grapes and we’ll talk about the vineyards. So I’ll ask, ‘Tristan, what did you think about tasting the grapes?’ And he’ll go, ‘Well the grapes were good but my favorite part was the reindeer with the big horns running up the hill.’”

He smiles and laughs. Even though young Tristan is not yet 10, David Mirassou knows the future of the family name lies in his young son’s hands.

Howard’s Picks:
Mirassou is best known for its Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. I thought the Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc were very nice value white wines. Having spent time tasting Oregon’s higher end Pinot this spring, I thought Mirassou’s Pinot was surprisingly good for the price point. The Mirassou wines are not heavily oaked. They are fruit forward with mild tannins. They are available at wine stores and supermarkets at very reasonable prices.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Everyone Asks for A List - How About 10 Great Wines?

People are always asking for a list of great wines, even a few editors. I’ve been reluctant because you’ll obviously find a few of these, but not others.

The wines listed were purchased in Central Indiana wine shops. I have decided to offer up a list of 10 great wines under $15. You really can’t go wrong with any of these.
These are some of the best wines I’ve enjoyed over the past 6-8 months.

Red Wine
Castano 2006 or ’07 Monastrell – I’ve called it the best bottle of wine I've ever had for under $10. I’ve seen this wine in many shops. It sells for an incredible $6.99 and had a 90-point rating from Wine Advocate. I would compare it favorably to Spanish Garnacha. It is fruity, yet dry, big-bodied wine with some spice.

Duck Pond 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon - It comes from Eastern Washington. It is a complex and intense wine which seldom happens for $11. It has a big nose and a spicy, woodsy flavor. Alternative: 337 Cabernet, $12-$15; Santa Emma 2006 Maipo Valley of Chile Cabernet, $12-$15.

Spellbound 2006 Petite Syrah - While not quite the fruit bomb Syrah can be, it was big on the front of the palate with smooth tannins. It's an easy-to-drink but big and full-bodied Syrah, $12.99 to $15.99. Alternative: Shoo Fly Aussie Salute, $9-$11 (Grenache/Syrah blend)

Caligiore Malbec – This is an intense wine, very fruity - even spicy perhaps. It's 14.5 percent alcohol so it's a pretty serious red. It is a rich, mouthful for those who've tried Malbec and want to sample a bigger one. I paid $16 for this one but have seen it as low as $12. Alternatives: Maipe Malbec, $10-$14; Tilia Malbec-Syrah, $8-$11; Dante Robino Bonarda, $11-$13.

Santa Cristina Sangiovese - The great Italian producer Antinori first produced this wine in the 1940s. It has hints of cherry and herb. It's medium bodied with a smooth finish. It is fabulous with Italian food. The wine experts tend to praise this consistent Italian gem. You’ll find it in the $9-$12 range.

White Wine
Nobilo 2008 Sauvignon Blanc
– This crisp Sauv Blanc became the biggest seller of its varietal in the U.S. earlier this year. It has lemon, lime, and a grassy/citrus flavor and feel in the mouth. It’s a bargain at $9-$12. Alternative: New Zealand’s Fire Road, $13-$15.

Basa 2006 Blanco – Another great value you can find from $9-$12. The wine has a lime/citrus tartness but mild acidity. Many white wines can have overpowering acidity and this is really just right. The acidity on this Spanish beauty will be less than your typical Sauv Blanc.

La Broia 2003 Soave Superiore - The $10 wine has subtle flavor of apple and lemon, very dry and very balanced. I think it would hold up great to lighter flavored seafood and is dynamite by itself on the porch or poolside! Soave wine is easy to find, but go for the Superiore designation which has a little more structure and flavor. Alternative: Salneval Albarino, $9-$11.

Rose Wine
Mas Carlot 2008 Rose'
– This French wine is 60 percent Grenache and 40 percent Syrah. It has a big beautiful nose. It has a bright and light fruity flavor with some mineral, and lots of sweet spicy goodness for $10. Sip this on the porch and all your troubles slip away!

Calderona 2007 Rose' - I picked up this Spanish Rose for $11. It definitely has a stronger flavor than many Rose’ wines but it's an interesting blend of Tempranillo, Grenache, and Verdejo.