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The wine of the Irish


The young Irish immigrant couple immediately moved west from Ellis Island. The husband landed a good sales job hustling one of the year's hottest trends, rubber stamps, over a territory ranging from Canada to Mexico -- by horseback.
But she wanted him home with her, and convinced him that growing grapes in central California and selling altar wine was the right course.

What's an Irish kid know about making wine? Not much at the beginning -- but now, 126 years later, a fourth generation is showing a family of wines that are palate-friendly and a fitting testament to the legacy of founder James Concannon.
You could say he was born with the luck of the Irish -- coming into the world on St. Patrick's Day 1847.

But company history depicts a brilliant mind, hard work and inventiveness which propelled Concannon into the future -- where it is one of the nation's oldest continually operating wineries. The winery has been on the leading edge of viticulture -- and lays claim to being the first winery to bottle Petite Sirah, and one of the few to employ a woman wine maker as early as the 1950s. During Prohibition it was one of only a handful of California wineries that remained in operation to produce sacramental wines.

I spent part of an evening last week with John Concannon, the fourth generation to lead this Livermore Calif., winery. We tasted wines from two of the product lines: Select Vineyards and Limited Release.

Keystone wines of the Select line are Sauvignon Blanc, Rose, and Chardonnay. The packaging is contemporary and inviting; clear glass bottles show off the wines' great colors and clarity.

The Sauv Blanc was a great opener on the hot night. A beautiful floral and citrus nose gave way to a nicely balanced range of equally citrus and floral flavors. Crisp minerality and nice acid insured a clean, refreshing finish.

By now, you should know that I'm a zealot for dry Rose -- and Concannon's Righteous Rose delivered the goods. Lots of berries filled the nose, fresh fruit and melon teased the palate while, again, nice acidity helped the wine make a clean get-away.

The Pinot Grigio was another summer night refresher. Tropical fruit, peach, pear and lemon zest combined for cool, satisfying flavors. Again, the region's rocky soil helped bring minerality and a clean finish to this wine.

The Cabernet was the rock star of the family. Balance is the watchword. The wine delivered everything I expect in a nice dinner Cab: black and red fruit, spice and mild oakiness. It came to the table as a ready-to-drink wine with characteristics of a much more pedigreed wine. It was nicely complex with a seductive, lingering finish.

Moving to the Limited Release line -- which boasts a big, heavy Bordeaux-style bottle with a raised vineyard logo on the shoulder -- I was wowed by the Petite Sirah. Again, luscious fruit and soft tannins made this wine a seductive dinner partner.

Plenty of other varietal and blends fill out both lines -- and I tasted far more winners than I have room to address.
Don't start padlocking your bank account.

Are Concannon wines a good value? No.

Are they a remarkable value? Yes, unequivocally, yes!

Vineyard Select labels will begin showing up on package store shelves at $10 or less. The decadent and luxurious big reds of the Limited Release labels retail at $15 or less.

These are wines that look and drink far bigger than their modest prices and carry a wonderfully historic back story of America's wine-making pioneers. Have a bottle over for dinner soon.