Food & Drink

Trinchero well beyond white zin

You could call it the company that white zinfandel built. In the 1980s and ’90s, the wine company that came to be known as Trinchero Family Estates experienced huge growth, propelled by the phenomenal success of its Sutter Home white zinfandel.

The company now encompasses five California wineries and more than 7,000 acres of vineyards in the state. But it all began with Sutter Home, which John and Mario Trinchero revived in 1947. At first, the Napa Valley winery produced mostly jug wines, but in the early 1970s, Sutter Home began to gain a reputation for its Amador County zinfandel. In 1972, thenwinemaker Bob Trinchero, now chairman of the company, tried to intensify the zin by removing some of the free-run juice before fermentation. That was turned into a lightly pink wine. In 1975, the pink wine experienced a “stuck” fermentation, leaving a lightly sweet white zinfandel that became a sensation.

Sales of white zinfandel have been sluggish of late, but Trinchero Family Estates has continued to thrive, even in a depressed economy. The company has been so successful that it was recently named 2009 winery of the year by wine industry analyst Jon Fredrikson of Gomberg, Fredrikson& Associates in Woodside. Total sales volume was up 1.8 million cases, or 16 percent last year. “That’s a big accomplishment in a tough year,” he says.

Or, as Trinchero president and COO Bob Torkelson quips: “We’re a 63-year-old overnight sensation.”

Fredrikson says one big reason for the company’s success is that “they over-deliver on quality.” Many of the prices certainly are attractive: Sutter Home wines are $6 (and often can be found for around $4), and the company has also done well with wines in what Torkelson calls “that strike zone” of $10-$15.

I’ve sampled a number of wines in the Trinchero portfolio in recent weeks, and here are some recommendations.

For the Sutter Home brand, the current big success is the floral, lightly sweet Moscato ($6). My favorite is the 2008 Riesling ($6), with its lime flavors and good balance of sweetness and tartness.

Trinchero acquired the Menage a Trois label when it bought the Folie a Deux winery in 2004. The easy-to- drink 2008 Menage a Trois Red Wine ($12, though I saw it for $6.59 at Costco), a blend of zin, merlot and cabernet sauvignon, offers soft berry and cherry flavors and some spicy notes, while the 2008 Menage a Trois Chardonnay ($12) has plenty of bright apple and pear fruit and some creaminess.

The relatively new Main Street brand includes a racy 2008 Sauvignon Blanc ($10) from Monterey County and a 2008 Pinot Noir ($10) that has a somewhat coarse texture but appealing raspberry and rhubarb flavors.

Trinchero acquired Napa Cellars in 2006. The 2007 Napa Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon ($26) is a decent value in Napa Valley cab, with juicy black cherry fruit, hints of anise and earthiness and fine tannins.