Lodi: wine’s (hidden) Treasure Island
Why the Treasure Island WineFest is an absolute must for zin lovers…
Meet the new boss, same as the old boss…
– The Who
One of the seminars planned for the Treasure Island WineFest – Lodi on the Water in San Francisco Bay this coming Sunday (Remember 10/10/10!) will be a panel discussion with multiple winemakers, called Blockbuster Zins of Lodi (4 to 4:45 PM).
Yes, Lodi grown zins can be blockbustery; but then again, so are many of the best ones from Dry Creek Valley, Napa Valley, the Russian River Valley, Contra Costa and other parts of California known for good zin. But exactly what makes Lodi Zinfandel an animal of its own, to be taken seriously by zin lovers of all persuasions? If you will,
- In recent years, as more of Lodi’s old-time growers have begun to bottle wines under their own labels, this unassailable fact has emerged: you have to pay $18 to $30 (retail) to get the level of pure, unadulterated quality of Zinfandel from other regions that Lodi consistently puts out at $9 to $18. In restaurants, practically the only decent zins you can find at $6 to $9 per glass prices are those coming from Lodi. When prestige wineries from outside Lodi, like Laurel Glen and Cosentino, want to make first glass Zinfandel in the below $20, they don’t source from Sonoma County or Napa Valley where these wineries are located – they go to Lodi to get their grapes. Ergo: as drinking zins go, Lodi pretty much rules.
Even in the ultra-premium $20-$40 price points, Lodi sourced Zinfandels are consistently rating as high or higher than zins from other regions by professional wine judges tasting in double-blind tasting (that is to say, when judges are not influenced by labels). With Lodi producers like Michael-David, Van Ruiten and Macchia taking “Best of Show” honors throughout the competition circuit, you have to say Lodi holds its own.
- What do dyed-in-the-wool Zinfandel lovers really look for in “great” zin? Basically, they want mountains of blackberry/raspberry aromas and flavors – nice and ripe, but not too raisiny or pruney – with interesting doses of peppery spice. They don’t mind fairly big tannin and alcohol (14% to 16%) plus zippy acidity, because they know that this is all part of the package. If anything, Lodi grown zins tend to be less oak influenced and a tad softer and rounder in zin qualities than those of other regions, while falling in pretty much the same alcohol range (if you don’t like full alcohol, you’re not a zin lover; although nowadays, it’s hard for Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir lovers to find top examples of those wines that are less than 14.5 to 15% in alcohol). Point being: the classic zin lover’s aforementioned “ideal” attributes practically define what Lodi grown Zinfandel is all about. To use the parlance of today, if it’s all about terroir, Lodi’s terroir generates the flavors most Zinfandel lovers look for with an organic ease, and almost ridiculous consistency.
Last but far from least, it’s the fruit forward, intrinsically balanced, spice scented qualities of Lodi grown Zinfandels that make them some of the most food versatile wines in the world. As multi-food friendly, we dare say, as most Pinot Noirs. We kid you not: more and more foodies have been finding few wines that are as much at home with beef and pork roasts as they are with Asian (soy marinades) and American (dry rubs) barbecues, chile spiced ethnic cuisines, and even seafoods from smoked oysters to grilled salmon. We’ve found delicious matches for Lodi Zinfandels in cheeses from pungent white truffled Boschetto al Tartufo and well aged Beemster Goudas, to Chili Pepper Pecorino and blue veined chèvres (like Holland’s Moulin Bleu). On the table, especially in the context of foods most of us really love to eat, the round, lush style of zins grown in Lodi more than hold their own!
I call that a bargain, the best I’ve ever had…
– The Who (again)
Enough song and dissertation. What makes Lodi such a big deal as a growing region for this grape? Let’s go down the line:
- First, the Lodi terroir – starting with its Mediterranean climate, strongly influenced as it is by direct proximity to the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, which draws cool air from the San Francisco Bay even in the dog days of summer. Recent research puts Lodi’s U.C.-Davis climate classification (a measurement of average temperatures over 50° F. during the growing season) in low Region IV, making it similar to the Napa Valley floor between St. Helena and Calistoga. Not conducive for Pinot Noir, less than ideal for European style Chardonnay, but just fine and dandy for grapes like Zinfandel and Petite Sirah (the latter, Zinfandel’s most natural blending grape); not to mention, Mediterranean varieties like Syrah, Carignane, Grenache, Tempranillo, Viognier, and even Albariño, all thriving in Lodi today.
- The second most significant aspect of the terroir where Lodi’s best and oldest Zinfandel plantings are located is its alluvial deposits of deep, fertile, yet extremely well drained sand and loam. Through the wonders of the deficit irrigation predominant in California vineyards today, Lodi’s vines suffer neither devigorating thirst nor excessive vigor (unlike vines planted in the clay loams of large sections of, say, Napa Valley and Sonoma County).
- In fact, few connoisseurs of California wine are aware of the fact that Lodi’s porous soils have always been an inhospitable environment for the infamous phylloxera louse that destroyed most of the world’s vineyards at the end of the nineteenth century. This explains why over 5,000 acres of Lodi vines still grow on their own root stocks, representing one of the largest stands of ungrafted Vitis vinifera in the world (you find similar situations in parts of Chile and South Australia). The important thing, though, is that many of Lodi’s finest Zinfandels do indeed come from ungrafted, phylloxera resistant vines 50 to over 100 years old; and it’s these kinds of thick, gnarly trunked, head pruned bushes that traditionally yield wines Zinfandel lovers love most: with colors black as night, and flavors that are ultra-rich yet balanced, even at high octane alcohol levels.
- What is even more remarkable is the fact that out of the 80 or so wineries established in Lodi today, more than 50 of them are owned by families with roots in Lodi going back four, five or six generations to the 19th century. In fact, you can say the same thing about most of Lodi’s 700-plus independent growers, who for decades have furnished the grapes going into “North Coast” as well as “Sonoma” and “Napa Valley” wines (and in recent years, the bulk of Robert Mondavi’s Woodbridge wines).
So now are we getting your attention? If you live in or near the Bay Area and have only been considering attending Lodi Winegrape Commission sponsored Treasure Island WineFest this weekend, you may wish to make that decision now that Lodi is bringing it closer to you. Seriously good stuff, man.
Won’t get fooled again!