By Jim Campanini
The longtime family viticulturists at Matchbook Wine Co. have come up with another gem – Pillars of Hercules Red Blend – and it just might be the best value of the new year.
In fact, I’m picking it as one of my top 100 wines of 2023.
The Giguiere family has been making wine for nearly 50 years in the warm and sunny Dunnigan Hills AVA, which is located in the northwest sector of Yolo County in the Sacramento Valley. For wine country travelers, Yolo County is 67 miles north of Napa Valley.
The Giguiere brothers – John and Karl – still consider themselves farmers, and the sprawling family estate (a total of 2,500 vineyard acres) continues the ranching operations of their early childhood upbringing.
With Lane, John’s wife, the Giguieres worked the farmlands in the 1970s and gradually planted new vineyards. In 1983, they created R.H. Phillips winery which grew to become the single largest in Yolo County. Today, it controls 1,600 vineyard acres.
In 2004, after the sale of R.H. Phillips to Vincor International, the trio launched the Crew Wine Co., which is now Matchbook Wine Co.
The key to Matchbook’s success is that most of its wines are produced from grapes grown on the Giguiere estate.
In addition to Pillars of Hercules, which debuted in 2019, the winery produces seven other brands. They are Black’s Station, Chasing Venus, The Arsonist, The Herdsmen, Mossback, Tinto Rey, and Matchbook.
So why am I so bullish on Pillars of Hercules?
The three-grape red blend is unique and distinctive – Petite Sirah, Petit Verdot, and Teroldego – a purple-colored varietal native to northern Italy that adds brightness and peppery spicyness to wine mixtures. The grapes are all estate grown.
Like its name, Hercules is a bold wine with plenty of fresh, dark fruit flavor and other fine attributes like cherry-chocolate crumbles and cinnamon. Though powerful on the palate, it’s not a muscle-bound wine of thunderous tannins. It flows smoothly and elegantly, leading to a plush, soft finish of enduring tastes.
For a wine of this quality, you’d expect to pay a premium price. But I purchased the 2020 Pillars of Hercules for $18.99 at Costco (The suggested retail price is $19.99).
In early January, I featured Pillars of Hercules on my Grapefully Yours Wine Podcast that airs on www.InsideLowell.com. It must have had an effect on the New Hampshire market, because the Granite State’s wine outlets promptly sold out the remaining lot of the 2020 vintage at $10.99 a bottle. What a deal!
Wine Enthusiast magazine rightfully gave the 2020 Hercules a top rating of 93 points.
“This quietly impressive wine is deep and saturated but not showy,”” wrote the WE reviewer, “offering its incredibly concentrated black fruits and dark chocolate on a full body.”
The prior vintage, the 2019 Hercules, earned a 90-point rating from WE.
That’s two solid ratings in back-to-back years – with a big jump in year 2. I’m not saying WE is the end-all on wine ratings, but certainly the scores reflect top quality and consistency from Matchbook’s team, headed by chief winemaker Dan Cederquist.
The 2021 Pillars of Hercules is now on sale on the winery’s website (www.matchbookwines.com) and hopefully will soon be making its’s way onto store shelves across the United States.
As previously mentioned, Pillars of Hercules is a good wine to put on your buy list.