Letters from Lodi

An insightful and objective look at viticulture and winemaking from the Lodi
Appellation and the growers and vintners behind these crafts. Told from the
perspective of multi-award winning wine journalist, Randy Caparoso.

Randy Caparoso
November 10, 2010 | Randy Caparoso

A Lodi wine country Thanksgiving

Let your turkey guide your wine choices, and one Lodi family’s Thanksgiving menu and secret family recipe for potato rolls…

The turkey is one of our greatest comfort foods.  When we were kids we simply traced our fingers to draw them.  It has also remained as all-American a culinary delicacy as any:  as ubiquitous as it may seem to us, it’s never caught on in other countries, even in Europe (because they used to confuse native Americans with Indians from India, the French still call it coq d’Inde, the “cock of India” – how twisted is that?).

Take that back:  in Louisiana the old-time Cajuns still call turkey coq d’Inde (they speak something that sounds French, after all).  Then again, the French would never take an oversized bird, as Paul Prudhomme instructs us to do in his classic The Prudhomme Family Cookbook, and deep-fry it in 12 gallon industrial drums filled with sizzling lard or something even more dangerous and polyunsaturated.

Have you also heard of Marcelle Bienvenu’s paen to bayou cooking, Who’s Your Mama, Are You Catholic, and Can You Make a Roux?  Check out her oyster-rice dressing, complete with chicken livers and gizzards. Stuff your turkey in similar fashion, sprinkle some chili flakes over the skin. Start at 425° F. at midnight, take it down to 300° F. and let it crisp up all night long; give it a final rest it in the morning, then dish it out at noon.


So there’s a lot to be said for crispy skinned deep-fried or chili flaked turkey; especially for those of us who like a light, crisp, dry or even fruity white wine.  If you happen to be that rare bird who likes to deep-fry turkey à la Louisiane, no doubt you’ve discovered the fact that crispy deep-fried turkey practically demands white wines with crispy edges of acidity.  Wines like the zesty, silky, minerally and fragrant 2009 Bokisch Lodi Albariño (they make two:  the Las Cerezas from the Mokelumne River AVA, and the Terra Alta from the Clements Hills AVA).

Also ideal for Cajun styles of turkey:  the airy fresh, lemon and flower perfumed 2009 Alta Mesa Lodi Verdelho (both St. Jorge and Woodbridge by Roberrt Mondavi also sell excellent, crisply edged Verdelhos at their winery doors).  Maybe even better yet:  the 2009 Uvaggio Lodi Vermentino, made from a grape winemaker/owner Jim Moore blithely calls the “thinking man’s Pinot Grigio”… but “better,” of course (Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi also offers a fine, zippy Vermentino at the winery).  If anything, these wines made from cutting-edge grapes would make your Thanksgiving meal that much more interesting.

But hey, if you happen to like Pinot Grigio, you’ll find plenty of the skinny legged, lemony, stony and lavender scented qualities of the grape in the 2009 Grands Amis Lodi Pinot Grigio. Who’s your mama, indeed!


Light, lemony dry white wines for Cajun turkeys may make a gau-ron-teed (as the old-timey Cajun cook, Justin Wilson, might have put it) match, but what wine with the classic roasted turkey stuffed with bread, sage and other herbs?  The traditional turkey, in other words.  After all these years, we have to say that the best match for herby bread stuffed turkey is a traditional, oak barrel influenced Chardonnay.

Are you “tired” of Chardonnay, my darlings?  Get over it.  There’s something about the flavors of sage flavored bread stuffing, even if enriched by chopped mushrooms or caramelized onions, that connects with the fleshy, creamy apple toned qualities, with its moderated acidity, of a good Chardonnay.  An eHarmony culinary match.  We were recently treated to exactly those qualities, embellished with additional nuances of toasted hazelnuts, baked pears and minerals, in a tasting of the 2007 Lucas Lodi Chardonnay – as good as anything grown and produced in Napa or Sonoma (but “better,” if you prefer more nuanced subtleties, which we do!).  Then again, Lucas winemaker Heather Pyle and her husband, owner/grower David Lucas, both toiled for Robert Mondavi for many years:  if anyone “knows” barrel fermented Chardonnay, it’s this winemaking couple.

There are other fine, elegant Chardonnays grown in Lodi, of course.  The 2009 Van Ruiten Family Lodi Chardonnay, for one, combines the viscous textures achieved through barrel fermentation with the pure fruit toned, crisp qualities of Chardonnay fermented in stainless steel – a delicious, 50/50 balancing act.  The weird thing about Chardonnay, though, is that even when very little oak aging or barrel fermentation goes into it, it still manages to taste quite full and fleshy.  Less than 20% of the 2008 Michael-David Lodi 7 Heavenly Chards, for instance, sees a splinter of oak, yet it is still smoothly textured (like buttah, to quote SNL), with aromas of sweet apples mixed with tropical fruit scents.


Then there are the myriad ways of roasting turkeys with more aggressive, super-rich stuffings, like

  • Cornbread with chile peppers (or ham hocks or collards)
  • Spiced sausage pork sausage stuffings of any sort
  • Wild rice with wild mushrooms (or truffles, for the congenitally spendthrift)
  • Assertive breads like sourdough and brioche (mixed with lardons or smoky bacon, pungent celery, and/or combinations of chervil, sorrel, tarragon, and other aromatic herbs).


These rich settings are where red wines become the highest percentage match, although we say this with the eternal caveat:  turkey can be a dry bird, and so any red wine choice probably needs to be lighter in (potentially) palate drying tannin.  This means that you’re better off with softer tannin, fruit forward red wines – which, as it were, Lodi happens to excel in.

Lodi’s Zinfandels, for instance, can be robust with tannin, but rarely at the expense of pure, sweet, unadulturated, often jammy fruitiness; which are particularly good qualities to have when you mix in the inevitable sides of sweet/tart cranberry.  Michael-David’s David Phillips finds similar qualities in his 6th Sense Syrah, telling us that the “smoky, warm” aromatics of the grape add to the equation.  When you throw in Phillips’ favorite Thanksgiving side dish – Brussels sprouts roasted with sea salt – the lush profile of Lodi grown Syrahs make even more sense, since nothing balances salty green tastes better than frutiness.

Even Lodi reds vinified from thicker black skinned grapes like Petite Sirah and Cabernet Sauvignon tend to veer more towards a jammy fruitiness than the dryness of tannin.  Thanksgiving is tailor made for Lodi reds!

Our suggestions, of course, are downright plentiful, so we’ll stick to those that definitely err on the side of a soft, easy red wine fruitiness – something that no amount of cranberry relish can detract from:

  • 2007 Ripken Under the Sea Lodi Primitivo (the Zinfandel that’s “not a Zinfandel” – the Primitivo grape giving soft, picquant, oh-so-luscious berry flavors)
  • 2008 Gnarly Head Lodi Zinfandel (like Underdog, it’s-everywhere-it’s-everywhere, but there’s no denying its reliably rich, spiced blackberry qualities, oozing like melting chocolate in the mouth)
  • 2008 Jessie’s Grove Lodi Earth Zin & Fire (the harlot with the heart of gold – lovably round, friendly, jammy fruitiness, flush with cinnamon and spice)
  • 2008 Klinker Brick, Lodi Zinfandel (everything nice – raspberry/strawberry perfumes, tea and chocolate sensations – in a soft, sumptuous package)
  • 2008 Harney Lane Lodi Zinfandel (blending a large percentage of Primitivo with Zinfandel, Harney Lane’s softest, most sensuously round, chubby red wine)
  • 2005 Lucas Nova Vineyard Lodi Zinfandel (velvet textures encapsulate sweet raspberry/strawberry preserve-like fruit with caressing qualities)
  • 2009 d’Art Lodi Garnacha (blackpepper/peppermint spiced strawberry fragrances and initially zesty fruitiness morphing into green leafy rose petal-like sensations)
  • 2007 Van Ruiten Lodi Carignane (from 104 year old vines, a sturdy yet bright, buoyant expression of wild raspberry and bing cherry varietal qualities)
  • 2006 Michael-David Lodi Incognito Rouge (as wild and crazy as it may be, a deliciously smooth, fluid, peppery spiced and perfumed blend of Mourvèdre, Syrah, Petite Sirah, Cinsault, Carignane, Tannat, Malbec, Cabernet Franc and Grenache)
  • 2008 Grands Amis Winery, Première Passion Lodi Red (velvety rich and Rico suave smooth blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Malbec and Merlot)

Unpicked Lodi grapes in November


Annalisa Sharp Babich and her family live in the midst of vineyards in Lodi’s Mokelumne River AVA, and they have their Thanksgiving meal in the early afternoon (nothing like picking at leftovers later in the evening).  What they’re planning this year:

Great Gram Van Buskirk’s Raw Apple Cake (in the morning with fresh whipped cream)

Deep-fried free range turkey (pre-ordered from Whole Foods)

Homemade bread sausage stuffing

Green beans with crispy onions,

Grandma Marilyn’s potato salad

Homemade cranberry sauce

Mashed potatoes

Sweet potatoes with marshmallows

Fresh green salad

Black olives (for finger dipping)

Great Great Aunt Louis Van Buskirk’s potato rolls (with homemade strawberry preserves)

Natural turkey gravy

Pumpkin pie

Mincemeat pie

Fresh apple pie

Chocolate pudding pie with whipped cream


Great Great Aunt Louis Van’s Potato Rolls

Annalisa tells us, “the potato roll is the bread you have on your side plate to help you push your meal onto your fork.  As an adult, I began to use a knife in civilized European style, but I am always tempted at the Thanksgiving table to go back to using the roll as a utensil because that’s what I did as a kid growing up in Lodi.  Sometimes my whole meal was roll after roll with butter and jam!”  The “secret” family recipe:

1 pkg. rapid-rise yeast

½ cup sugar

½ cup lukewarm water

1 cup mashed potatoes

2/3 cup shortening

1 cup scalded milk (cooled)

2 tsp. salt

2 eggs

In large bowl:  mash potatoes, then add sugar, shortening, salt and eggs.  Cream together well.

In small bowl:  dissolve yeast in warm water, then add lukewarm milk and stir together.  Add yeast/milk mixture to potato mixture.  Sift in enough flour to make a stiff (not sticky) dough – up to 6-7 cups.  Turn onto well floured bread board, and knead until firm.  Grease/butter the large bowl and place dough into bowl.  Cover with a damp cotton towel over the bowl rim, and let rise until doubled in size.  Turn dough back on to floured bread board and knead lightly

Option 1:  pinch of dough and place into greased and floured baking pan, allowing room to rise until doubled

Option 2:  butter top of dough & refrigerate 1.5 hours before baking; remove from refrigerator, and prepare as in Option 1.

Bake 10-20 minutes (depending on the size of the rolls) at 400°.  Tops should be golden brown and rolls should sound “hollow” when tapped.




Lodi Wine Visitor Center
2545 West Turner Road Lodi, CA 95242
Open: Daily 10:00am-5:00pm

Lodi Winegrape Commission
2545 West Turner Road, Lodi, CA 95242
Open: Monday-Friday 8:00am-5:00pm

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