Markus and Liz Bokisch, who own Bokisch Vineyards in Lodi, have recently been turning the wine world on its head.
You’ve probably heard, for instance, winemakers sanctimoniously talk about how they pick grapes “by flavor, not numbers.” How they all wait for “physiological ripeness” before harvesting. As if, of course, they would be waiting for “physiological unripeness” before sending out their harried crews. Well, Markus has been following along with that for most of the past eight, nine years, while still making the best damned white wines from the native Spanish Albariño grape in California (of course, there’s only three, four other wineries in California producing Albariño, but so what — Markus makes the best!).
Problem was, although the Bokisch Albariños sported drop dead gorgeous aromas of honeyed almonds, slaking slivers of citrus like lime and mandarin, drippy apricot and pineapple fed from bare naked hands of brine scented mermaids or else hula maidens of some such… the Bokisch Albariños were also quite full and viscous. I mean, they were so big, round and voluptuous, they made Turley-rized Chardonnays feel like waifs by comparison; and so powerfully, compellingly pungent, they made exotically scented Viogniers smell like very old nuns.
So in the 2009 vintage, according to Markus, “we decided to fix that by picking our Albariño by Brix (i.e. sugar reading) rather than flavor. It was leap of faith, but we felt that it would be a key to making a wine with lower alcohol and slightly more acidity, and end up with a brighter, crisper, more varietally correct style of Albariño.” And you know what? By throwing out the old (or is it new?) adage that you pick by “ripeness not numbers,” Bokisch ended up with 2009 Albariños that are brighter, fresher and more mouth watering, yet still possessing those beautifully honeyed, citrus and wet stone fruit fragrances that make you want to shout, roll in the hay, kiss a Billy Ray peace officer, or run home and write to mama… anything rather than sit in the dark with pursed lips and emptied ardor.
Okay, maybe we’re a little enthusiastic. But have you also tasted the latest Bokisch Tempranillo, from the 2007 vintage? Admittedly, after five or six vintages under his Spanish leathered belt, Markus was still feeling like he could do better with this, the red wine grape of Spain. “’07,” he tells us, “was the first vintage that we picked by pH, because we felt that in Lodi we tend to lose acidity if we wait too long for the grapes to begin to taste ‘ripe’ — and with good natural acidity, all wines tend to have more stable fermentations, retain better color and fresher flavor.” So once again, by eschewing the modern rule that you don’t pick by numbers, Markus came out with 2007 Bokisch Tempranillo of more velvet, bouncy texture, and sweet earth and focused berry aromas that simply restore your faith in red wines capable of caressing rather than wrestling your palate to the mat; that flow rather than waterboard you with alcohol, or just make you wanna say, in your best Georgian, or Vivien Leighish, accent… home… I’ll go home, Tara… after all, tomorrow is another day.
… because going by what the Bokischs are putting into the bottle right now, Spanish grapes may have finally found its second home — here in Lodi!
Lest you think of the Bokischs as Spanish obsessed dilettantes, keep in mind that this is a serious grower of Lodi grapes; farming some 1,300 acres, mostly in the hillier eastern side of the town, the grapes (much of it Bordeaux and Rhône varieties) going to some 115 different winery clients. 50 acres of Bokisch Ranches are planted to Spanish varietes; and out of that, only about 7 acres end up under the Bokisch label. So when you buy a Bokisch label wine, you actually get a crystal blue persuasion of what they grow best; like, say, the Bokisch Rosado — a world class style of rosé that is always completely dry, fluid as lace in the wind, chiming in red berry fruitiness with pomegranate-like zip in round, smooth bodies.
Or, still a favorite after all these years (okay, there’s only been about five of ‘em): the Bokisch Graciano, which is but a minor grape in Spain, but produces a red wine of major proportions in Lodi — the silk stockings of a Marlene Dietrich, the gingered spice of a Penelope Cruz, and the feathery muscle of a Zhang Ziyi.
But what of Liz Bokisch, and what has she done for us lately? Really, all we can say is she’s organized culinary experiences — in the context of Bokisch wines, of course — that exists in dreams for most of us. Which doesn’t mean we can’t try…
At a dinner at the Spanish vine rimmed Bokisch home two weekends ago, for instance, Liz whetted our whistles with Marcona almonds (moon shaped, flattish almonds imported from Spain — didn’t know this before, had to look it up) soaked in virgin olive oil, rosemary and sea salt; followed by delicious little bamboo skewers of pineapple, dates, kumpquats and mint that tasted like a collision of all that is good in this occasionally miserable world. Both served with a Spanish style sangria made from the Bokisch Graciano and secret ingredients packing a kick that knocked us over like a team of 72 vengeful virgins (recipes to follow!). Then she restored our senses with a simple but pure, vivid gaspacho, washed down with Bokisch’s soft, sprightly, strawberry-fresh Garnacha… before following with three more courses.
Did we mention that 49 other people were sitting at that dinner table? Liz, not to overstate our case, was deftly assisted by Lodi’s own multi-award winning chef/restaurateur Ruben Larrazolo of Alebrijes Bistro; but all the aforementioned dishes and concoctions originated from either Liz or the Bokisch family on Markus’ side (half Catalan/half German, as it were).
But you, too, can entertain like Liz and Markus Bokisch by simply going to their Web site to download their Tapas Party Guide, or by referring to our Taste Lodi: the Bokisch Way right here on this very same blog.