by Fred McMillin
for May 27, 1999


Martini, The Wine


San Francisco claims to have a connection with both Martinis...

Martini, the Cocktail—Decades ago a San Francisco bartender was asked to shake up something to brace a traveler before he boarded a boat to cross the bay to reach Martinez. The resulting gin- vermouth combination was named after the destination.

Martini, the Wine—While there are rival claims about where the cocktail originated, nobody doubts that Louis H. Martini made his first wine about that time in San Francisco. He had joined his father after making a no-frills (in steerage) crossing of the Atlantic alone at age thirteen. They fished for a living.

The Rest of the Story

Louis Martini That first vintage spoiled so it was back to the drawing board. Louis was sent to Italy temporarily and learned his lessons well.

Fast forward to the Hotel Senator in Sacramento in 1935. The late Leon Adams recalled the event. "The fiery, blue-eyed, square-jawed ex-fisherman told me, 'Five years from now, mark my words, I'll be making the best dry wines in California.' I judged him either a boaster or a dreamer, since at the time he was merely a bulk wine producer in the Central Valley."

Little did Leon know that Louis had quietly purchased a St. Helena vineyard and winery. There aging were those fine table wines that created a sensation when they all were suddenly released in 1940.

One of the Martini favorites was the Italian grape Barbera. with typical creativity, he added backbone by first fermenting Petite Sirah and Zinfandel in a vat. After draining off the liquid, he fermented his Barbera on the Skins of Zin and Sirah that remained in the vat. It would have been fun to taste the result. But would you believe, you can! I don't mean you can buy the 1950 vintage...instead, Louis' grandson, Michael, still uses that same procedure. We reviewed the 1993 Barbera in the May 21,1997 WineDay titled, " Barbera with Backbone." I've kept a bottle of the 1992 in my cellar, and it is...

Wine of the Day

1992 Louis M. Martini Barbera [Ph.(800) 321-9463]
Rating—The '93 was a little over three years old when we gave it a RECOMMENDED rating. This '92 was twice as old at this tasting and the rating jumped up some 20% to a HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. Put a few bottles of the current release in your cellar; it won't disappoint.
Price—It was our Best Buy of the Tasting at $12.


Why did we write about Louis Martini today? He was born May 27,1887. This is his birthday.

Credits: Leon Adams, The Wines of America, 1st Ed.

About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.


WineDay Annex

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