You’ve probably come across Carlo Rossi wines before, especially if you’ve lived in the USA. For years, they’ve been one of the top-selling wines there. The wines come in those huge iconic single handled “jugs” which can hold up to four litres, as well as in standard bottles and wine boxes. The company is owned by the gigantic E & J Gallo Winery, based in Modesto, California, a city immortalized in the George Lucas film American Graffiti. In 1933, Ernest and Julio Gallo started a new wine company with money borrowed from Ernest’s mother-in-law. By 1993, the company was the largest winery in the USA. Today, it makes wines for more than sixty different brand labels, one of which is Carlo Rossi, named after Charles Rossi, who at one time was a salesman for Gallo and by marriage, a relation of the family.
In terms of wine descriptions, you can’t get much more basic than “California Red” but at least with a simple description like this on the label, you’ll know that you’re getting a pretty basic wine. This kind of ordinary wine used to be known as “jug wine” in the old days, because you’d just show up at the winery door with an empty jug and they’d fill it up for you. You’d be expected to pay of course, but not very much.
The Modesto Arch (Photo: Carl Skaggs)
The effusive Gallo website proclaims that Carlo Rossi “introduced good, honest wines for real people in 1962”. When you come to think about it, this is a rather puzzling statement largely because it doesn’t make sense. Does it imply that before 1962 they were making bad, dishonest wines? And who exactly are these Real People? Perhaps Modesto, California has a growing population of Unreal People, with the result that some kind of distinction has become necessary. If you ask me, this stuff about Real People is meaningless linguistic nonsense. Anyway, these good honest wines carry no vintage year because commercial wines like this are blended for consistency, year after year. In the USA, they evidently sell by the truck-load and the Carlo Rossi Winery will probably still be churning out the stuff long after we have all bitten the dust.
Carlo Rossi California Red (USA) (Bt. 429 @ Big C, Tesco-Lotus)
From the Carlo Rossi Vineyards in Modesto, this wine has aromas of slightly sweet, jammy red fruits and berries and maybe a hint of plum and vanilla. It’s a pleasant enough smell but this isn’t a wine for swirling, sniffing and generally pontificating about because it’s really just a simple glugger. It’s light-bodied and medium dry with hardly any acidity and tannin. At least, I couldn’t detect very much. And neither could the dogs, since you asked. It’s a smooth and unassuming wine obviously designed for mass appeal, but pleasant enough to knock back with a hamburger or with light meals. If you have friends who normally find red wine a bit of a challenge, then they may well enjoy this very easy drinker. I’d guess it would go down well at a party or at a barbeque, especially if Real People are there.
Carlo Rossi California White (USA) (Bt. 429 @ Big C, Tesco-Lotus)
I must admit that this wine was better than I expected and actually seems a better wine than the red, because it has a richer aroma, a more satisfying balance and a longer finish. It has a pleasant floral smell with hints of pears, sweet candied orange and lemon, a dash of mint and a faint reminder of honeysuckle. It’s off-dry and quite light-bodied with plenty of fresh fruit on the palate. The wine has a smooth texture and an attractive dash of crisp acidity which gives it a refreshing feel. There’s a decently long, clean dry finish too. At only 9.5% alcohol content, it would make a good partner for grilled chicken, seafood dishes or other lightly-flavoured dishes. Although it doesn’t say so on the label, the smell (plus a little bit of light research) reveals the wine is made mostly from Chenin Blanc and Colombard grapes.
Carlo Rossi Red Moscato (USA) (Bt. 429 @ Big C, Tesco-Lotus)
This is a very well-travelled wine indeed, because in minuscule print on the label it says “Wine of Australia”. Presumably it was hauled from Oz to the USA for blending and then trundled half way back across the world to Asia and to us. It must feel exhausted. The Moscato grape is sometimes known as Muscat and its wine usually has a fragrant, floral and raisin-like aroma. This Rossi version has in addition a sweetish, raspberry jam sort of smell with hints of other red fruit. It’s medium-bodied and only 10% alcohol content but there’s quite a bit of light fruit on the palate with virtually no acidity or tannin.
There’s a very smooth texture and a faint spritziness but surprisingly it’s also rather sweet. Sweet reds always seem a bit paradoxical to me, because what you see doesn’t quite match what you taste. It’s a bit like that slightly disorientating experience when you step on to an escalator that isn’t moving. But I have no doubt that thousands of people drink this wine and enjoy it. And thousands of people can’t be wrong, can they? Of course they can’t. Perhaps you are even one of them, though on second thoughts you’re probably not. As a food wine, it might possibly work with dessert. I tried some with a piece of apple pie to find out.
Carlo Rossi Frescato (USA) (Bt. 429 @ Big C, Tesco-Lotus)
You could be forgiven for assuming that like Moscato, the Italian-sounding word Frescato might be some kind of grape, a town in Umbria, a style of wine or at least something vaguely connected with freshness. Be not deceived, for the word is merely a clever trade name and it’s entirely meaningless, even in Italian. To my astonishment, this wine is even sweeter than the previous one and only 9% alcohol content. One degree lower and it wouldn’t be classed as wine at all in many countries. Still, I’m not complaining on that issue, because we have far too many high-octane wines around, especially some of those from Chile.
The wine has a faintly fruity aroma of red fruit and caramel, but “fresh” is not the first word that springs to mind. Because of the sweetness and slightly syrupy texture, this seems to me more like a dessert wine. It’s fairly full-bodied but lacks acidity or tannin with the result it has rather a bland and undemanding taste. But at least there’s a decently long finish. If you like a rather soothing, sweet and unassuming red wine (and judging from the enormous sales, there are plenty of people who do) you may find this to your liking. Especially of course, if you are one of the Real People.