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.
Hibachi salmon and all three colors of Lodi-grown Grenache perfectly fill May's sultry evening hours
The weather here in Lodi wine country is warming up. The days are long enough to enjoy the local farmers markets up until the late-evening sunsets (already past 8:00 PM!), and guess what: It's time to dust off the grills for outdoor dining during the extended blue hours!
Barbecuing, of course, doesn't have to be the usual steaks or smoked meats — or in Lodi's case, varieties of gourmet sausages from our famous, local Lockeford Meats and Sausage (where lines, which are always out the door, start to wind around the block once the barbecue season begins). The perfect, heart-healthy fish for grilling is fresh salmon.
Interested in something on the exotic side? In this post we're sharing a recipe for grilled "hibachi" style salmon served with a Japanese ponzu dip, devised by the well-known, celebrity Hawaiian chef named Roy Yamaguchi. This dish is so widely acclaimed, it's been enjoyed by countless guests in over two dozen of Chef Yamaguchi's restaurants (called "Roy's") in states from Hawaii to Florida.
The reason for this particular salmon recipe: Its extreme wine-versatility — equally refreshing with light, refreshingly tart edged whites as it is with soft, spicy/peppery reds and bone dry yet fleshy, savory rosés.
All of these different colors of wines work, and for these reasons:
1. When it comes to white wines, it's the dish's snappy, citrus infused ponzu and teriyaki marinade that becomes marvelously balanced and refreshing when partaken with snappy, citrusy tart whites.
2. For red wines, it's the smoky char you get when you grill salmon over a hibachi as well as the pervasive umami sensations imparted by the soy sauce employed in both the marinade and the ponzu, plus in the sake and kombu (i.e., dried kelp) ingredients, that is magical with red wines with softer tannin and pronounced spice notes, particularly of black pepper (to understand more about the significance of umami in food and red wine matching, please see our past blog on Deconstructing Umami).
3. For dry rosés, it's the fleshy taste of grilled salmon plus the citrusy notes in the marinade and ponzu that is absolutely dynamite with the rounded, fleshy taste of dry rosé.
Our choices of whites, reds and rosés for this preparation of grilled salmon? We strongly recommend wines made from the Grenache grape, known as Garnacha tinta in Spain, where the variety probably originated as a black-skinned grape. Grenache, as it were, has also evolved as a white wine variant, growing in vineyards with the light green tint typical of most white wine grapes. White wines are made from the Grenache blanc (called Garnacha blanca in Spain) grape, and both reds and rosés are produced from the classic black-skinned clonal variants. To produce rosés from black-skinned grapes, vintners press the juice off the skins as soon as they hit the winery, and the resulting wines retain just a smidgen of "rosy" color from the skins, and the finished wines are consumed nice and chilled like white wines.
In fact, Grenache, grown all over Southern France and throughout Spain, is the quintessential "Mediterranean" grape — it loves hot sun, the same way Polynesians have historically thrived on sun-soaked tropical islands. If you put Grenache in a cold climate region, its fruit withers and putters out well before it becomes sufficiently ripened. Therefore, it is never grown in cold climate regions — at least in Europe (Americans are known to break "rules").
Grenache thrives in all of California's coastal regions because of their predominant climate, which is classified as Mediterranean — meaning, lots and lots of sun and dependably dry summer weather. Lodi may be the most "Mediterranean" of all of California's wine regions because, unlike most of the state's coastal regions, Lodi summers are not inhibited by fog or extreme winds. Therefore, Lodi-grown grapes see unvarnished light touched only by gentle Delta breezes from the moment the sun rises over the Sierra Nevada to the second it drops into the Pacific.
Plus, Lodi's night-time lows are a degree and a half higher than those of Napa Valley of Sonoma County (falling into the mid-50°s), and day-time highs at the peak of summer are about a degree or two higher (averaging about 89°), adding up to more moderate temperature swings (closer to that of Provence, where the diurnal swings are even narrower than anywhere in California). (For more details on Lodi temperatures, see our recent blog on Why dry rosés are preeminently suited to Lodi's Mediterranean Climate).
Consequently, the Grenache grape blossoms under the Lodi sun, in the same way that Zinfandel absolutely adores this high-beam climate. Red varietals made from Grenache, such as those of Bokisch Vineyards and McCay Cellars, are probably the spiciest scented versions of the grape grown in the state (something we have learned in our own blind tastings), and are typically soft in tannin yet zesty in acidity — and as such, the perfect "red-wine-with-fish" wines, especially (of course) char-grilled salmon.
There are now a number of Lodi wineries specializing in Grenache blanc. Klinker Brick Winery's Grenache Blanc, for instance, was included in Wine Spectator Magazine's latest listing (2020) of "Top 100" wines of the world, and it is a beautifully fragrant, silky, crisp wine. The Acquiesce Winery Grenache Blanc has also become a benchmark — crisp, mouth-watering and medium bodied, like sinking your teeth into a fresh pear or apple. Not to be outdone, the lithe and lissome Bokisch Vineyards Garnacha Blanca was the first American wine (period) to be awarded a gold medal in the Grenaches du Monde, the International Grenache Competition held in Europe each year — and it's done that more than once!
In both France and Spain, the black-skinned Grenache has traditionally produced the world's prototypical dry rosé. In Provence, for instance, nearly all of this vast winegrowing region's Grenache plantings go into rosé production, rather than into reds (what else are you supposed to drink on the famous beaches of the French Riviera?). Lodi-grown rosés produced entirely or primarily from Grenache, naturally, can be dead-ringers for the Provençal style: Look for those of Klinker Brick Winery Bricks & Roses (at least 40% Grenache), Acquiesce Winery (100% Grenache), Bokisch Vineyards Rosado (at least 50% Garnacha), McCay Cellars Rosé of Grenache (100%), or Oak Farms Vineyards (100%).
You just can't go wrong with a Lodi grown wine made from Grenache or Grenache blanc. The recipe (enjoy!):
Hibachi Grilled Salmon with Citrus Ponzu Sauce
- 4 salmon filets,
- 4 cups white rice, cooked
- 1 cup light soy sauce
- 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
- 3 tablespoons garlic, minced
- 3 tablespoons ginger, minced
- 1/2 cup green onions, sliced
- 1 lemon, juiced
- 1 limes, juiced
- 1/2 cup mirin
- 1/2 cup sake
- 1 pinch dried red chile flakes
- 1 piece kombu (dried kelp), 3 in. x 3 in.
- 3/4 cup light soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon orange juice
- 1 tablespoon lime juice
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
Combine the teriyaki marinade ingredients in a large mixing bowl and marinate the salmon filets for 15 minutes. To prepare the ponzu sauce, combine the mirin, sake, chile flakes and kombu in a saucepan, and bring to a boil. Reduce for 5 minutes to burn off the alcohol. Allow to cool to room temperature. Whisk in the soy sauce and citrus juice.
Set aside. Remove the salmon from the marinade and grill on barbecue over high heat for 1 minute per side for medium-rare. Kids probably like it cooked a little more.
To serve, divide the rice between 4 serving plates. Place cooked salmon on top of the rice. Ladle 2 ounces of ponzu over fish. Serve with vegetables of your choice. At Roy's, we serve with sliced Roma tomatoes and sliced cucumbers, to keep it healthy.