Ah, for the days when top wines sold at about $4 a bottle—yes, I am old enough to remember. Besides, the 1970s isn’t that long ago.

Among the Bordeaux, Italian, and Spanish wines that were good to splurge on once in a while were a number of California wines of equal quality and at far better prices. These $3 and $4 bottles came from venerable names like Beringer, Beaulieu, Inglenook, Sebastiani, and Martini. The latter two producers were always standouts, especially in their rustic presentation of Zinfandel that spoke to wines from the earth.

Among the many times that I drank Martini wines I cannot remember having ever been disappointed either with the wines or their value. This was the case well after Louis M gave way to his son Louis P who gave way to his son Michael in 1977. Although I haven’t bought a Martini wine in a long while, I can say that from what I recently tasted, the Napa winery is still doing well for us consumers, and if you relate the value of the dollar today with its value in the 1970s, the price hasn’t risen at all.

Today’s Louis M. Martini wines are the responsibility of the multi-tentacle E. & J. Gallo Winery, and based on the back label of the Louis M. Martini 2006 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Michael is still the winemaker who, “continues his grandfather’s tradition of crafting rich, complex and beautifully-structured wines.”

It isn’t exactly the description that I would have used for Martini wines of thirty years ago. For the purpose of this blog entry, however, the word that got my attention on that back label was “crafting,” which is different from winemaking, and which I’ll get to later.

First, let me say that I take exception to most back labels because more often than not the writing is deplorable and because I hate being told what I’m supposed to taste in the wine; that’s my job. This particular back label description, however, wasn’t too far off from my personal description, although I have no idea what the back label means by “old-world complexities.” The only thing that description brought to mind was the way European monarchies used to in-breed.

In any case, for $27 suggested retail, the Louis M. Martini 2006 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is quite a mouthful of dark fruits, lush body and firm, yet silky tannin, and at the labeled 14.2% alcohol, it does not come off hot. A nice wine.

The wine came to me free and unsolicited from the company’s promotion arm in San Francisco. The press release and description sheet that came with it did a good—and objectionable—job at telling me what I’m supposed to think about the wine, but what no one ever told me is who produced this wine.

It says on the front label that it’s a Napa Valley wine from Louis M. Martini—even has a near unintelligible signature at the right hand corner that is ostensibly the old man’s. I know that Gallo owns the winery, and I know that the winemaker named on the back label is Michael Martini yet, based also on the back label, I have no idea who actually made the wine.

The back label states that the wine was: VINTED AND BOTTLED BY LOUIS M. MARTINI WINERY, NAPA, CALIFORNIA.

Estate Bottled on a wine label tells you that the grapes were grown and the wine was fermented and bottled by the winery that owns the license, vineyard, and winery.

Produced and Bottled By… tells you that the winery that owns the license fermented, stored and bottled the wine, but not necessarily from its own grapes or grapes from its own vineyard.

Cellared By and Vinted By… are really rather meaningless, but they do tell you that the entity that grew the grapes and fermented the wine was not the entity that bottled and labeled it. In other words, wines with those designations on the label have been either assembled or stored, but not fermented or made, by the license holder.

If you want to kill some time, see if you can find the definition of the word “vinted” in a standard English dictionary.

Michael Martini may have crafted this Cabernet Sauvignon, and if so he did a fine job, but according to the label, neither he nor anyone at Louis M. Martini made the wine.

The problem that I have with this kind of label information is that under the rules it is perfectly possible that the same wine was shipped from its source to more than one winery. Following that trail, it is also perfectly possible that the same wine can be bottled under many labels and at many different prices.

Buyer beware: the romance of the wine isn’t always reflected in the reality of the label.


If you are reading this entry anywhere other than on the vinofictions blog, be aware that it has been lifted without my permission (and without recompense), and that’s a copyright infringement, no matter that the copyright information appears with it.

Copyright Thomas Pellechia
December 2009. All rights reserved.

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