BUZZ: Hey Marnie, can you settle a bet? My brother-in-law says California makes the world's best cheap wines, but I don't trust anyone who drinks Gallo. I said Argentina, since it's hard to beat their malbecs and quality chardonnays on price. Who's right?
Marnie: Neither of you is exactly right, since no single region can claim that distinction. California makes delicious wines at affordable prices, but many other places do, too. That includes Argentina, but also Spain and Chile, Washington and Australia. I do think you should rethink your low opinion of Gallo, though.
Buzz: Why should I do that? It's swill. I'm sticking with my William Hill.
Marnie: Do you know who owns William Hill?
Buzz: The Hill family?
Marnie: E&J Gallo, the world's largest family-owned wine company, is deserving of respect. Their innovations have improved the quality of value wines worldwide and introduced more Americans to wine than anyone else.
Buzz: Yeah, right. I suppose next you'll tell me that my good Alamos chardonnay and malbec from Argentina is Gallo, too.
Marnie: It is. Gallo makes some world-class stuff as well. Gallo Family makes a prestige "Signature Series" under their own name that is remarkably good. However, most of the company's best wines are produced under other labels, like MacMurray Ranch and Louis M. Martini.
Buzz: If those are Gallo wines, why don't they say so on the label?
Marnie: Big wineries frequently market their wines under more than one brand name, tailoring flavor profiles and packaging to specific audiences. Gallo pioneered this approach in the 1970s with cheap and cheerful brands like Carlo Rossi, Boone's Farm and Thunderbird.
Buzz: That was my breakfast, lunch and dinner in college.
Marnie: They are still produced, but other labels have since been created for younger demographics, like Dancing Bull and Apothic, or acquired outright, like the wildly popular Barefoot brand. And the company owns premium stand-alone wineries like William Hill, while making others, like Rancho Zabaco, at their premium facility in Sonoma.
Buzz: Wow. It sounds like Gallo has California all sewn up.
Marnie: It's not just California, either. Not only has Gallo acquired Washington wineries like Columbia and Covey Run, they now act as a U.S. distributor for more than a dozen imported brands, from Ecco Domani, in Italy, to Starborough, in New Zealand.
Buzz: So folks like me who snub Gallo are actually drinking it all over the world and enjoying it without even knowing. It's almost like we never left Boone's Farm.
Marnie Old is a local sommelier and wine author. Buzz's musings are interpreted by Daily News Assistant Managing Editor Gar Joseph.