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Lodi knows alternative Thanksgivings
“Happy families,” wrote Tolstoy, “are all alike, and every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Or are they? As it’s also often said, we don’t get to choose our families, but to a large extent, we can certainly control the circumstances under which we see them. Especially for Thanksgiving, which is all about everyone returning to the nest.
One thing we also know about families: not all of them have the same taste. Not everyone, for instance, digs turkey. In a prior blogpost, A Lodi wine country Thanksgiving, we furnished a treatise on the ideal wines for many of the variations of turkey we love. But what if your idea of Thanksgiving is, as illustrated by yesterday’s San Francisco Chronicle piece called Crab makes you forget turkey on Thanksgiving, is some kind of fruits de mers (fish or shellfish), or roast beef, leg of lamb, baked ham, wild boar or shotgunned game birds?
Historians often remind us, after all, that turkey was in all likelihood not the center-piece of the Pilgrims’ first Thanksgiving. It was probably venison, or maybe duck, geese or oysters. There’s a fellow named Kenneth Davis, who wrote Don’t Know Much About Anything, who contends that the Pilgrims ate absolutely nothing, nada, zilch: that is, Thanksgiving being more of a religious day for the Mayflower refugees, they probably fasted. Always someone around who wants to spoil the moment (would hate to read what he says about Santa!)…
If your family happens to practice an alternative culinary religion, the good news is that Lodi is still practically God’s gift to wine grapes: the earth here is so rich, and the climate so benign (climatically comparable to the middle of Napa Valley and Sonoma’s Alexander and Dry Creek Valleys, if you really want to know), we can grow far more than just Zinfandel to great levels of generosity and balance.
Heck, let’s throw some more Lodi Jeopardy at you: of all the major varieties of Vitis vinifera everyone knows and loves so well — Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris/Grigio, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel, Syrah, and Petite Sirah – what is the one grape that Lodi does not crush more of each year than any other region in California (including Napa , Sonoma, Mendocino and the Central Coast)?
Answer: what is Syrah – only Fresno crushes more Syrah than Lodi. Lodi, in fact, crushes more Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon than Napa and Sonoma Counties combined; and of course, Lodi crushes almost 40% of the Zinfandel grown in the state.
And so attention, shoppers: let’s talk about some ideal Lodi wine/food matches to consider for your Thanksgiving table, even if it doesn’t include the traditional turkey. Virtually all of the following recommendations (except where noted) can be found at the Lodi Wine & Visitors Center tasting room (and yes, you can taste many of these wines before buying) in the beautiful little town of Lodi, where many of the same families who have been farming the land since the 1850s are still doing so today (also something you won’t find in Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino or California’s Central Coast). Re:
CRAB, OYSTERS, LOBSTER OR FRESH FISH:
White fleshed seafood, of course, is ideal with crisply balanced white wines. Sauvignon Blanc is a classic in this regard; but the great thing about Lodi is that this region is replete with alternative style wines that will not just wet your whistle, but also whet your most inquisitive nature; especially if you prefer a white wine that is neither heavy nor overly fruited, but rather light, lemony with natural acidity, and as fresh as a gum smacking, texting teenager.
The 2009 Bokisch Garnacha Bianca ($16) is a picture-perfect example of that style of white: smacking the nose with lavender, wet stone and wildflower perfumes; sassy and silken dry on the palate. In similar fashion, the lemon/lime zested 2009 Alta Mesa Verdelho ($16) and citrus fresh, seamlessly balanced 2008 Uvaggio Vermentino ($14) fulfill the most jaded palate’s thirst for light yet boldly unique dry white wines.
Lodi also does white pinot well, and you have to be a total snob not to appreciate the silky, flowing, mineral and lemon drop nuances of the 2009 Grands Amis Pinot Gris ($15). And if you are stuffing some whole fish with wheels of lemon and leafy herbs (like fennel, thyme, dill, mint or parsley), you can either hit subtle, harmonious notes with the steely, floral 2009 Harney Lane Albariño ($19), or strike a more emphatic match with the super-fragrant, exotic, white pepper spiced 2009 Loredona Viognier ($13). If anyone says Lodi’s old-time growers are a stodgy lot, they just doesn’t know what they’re talking about!
HAM OR SMOKED PORK
In many a home, of course, the baked ham is right there alongside the holiday bird since festivities are always a good excuse to guiltlessly gild one’s appetite for the salty, smoky taste of cured meats. The same for pork, especially if roasted with dry rub seasonings and/or aggressively smoked.
The basic guideline for matching smoky or cured “other white meats” is this: something fruity yet excess-free – not too much body (i.e. alcohol), not too much (if any) oak qualities, and balanced acidity, (neither sharp nor flabby). Oh, and this: something served cold and refreshing.
But this doesn’t necessarily mean sweetly fruited white wine. Face it, many of us don’t like wines with residual sugar. Hence, the ideal wines for baked ham: good, dry rosé. Dry rosés are ideal because of the fact that they are made from red wine grapes, which make them pungent with the fruitiness necessary to balance salt driven foods, yet deep and flavorful enough to absorb the taste of the richest cured or smoked meats. Two perfect examples: either the gracefully long stemmed, rose petal and strawberry fresh 2009 Uvaggio Rosato ($14), vinified from Barbera and Primitivo; or the more sturdy yet watermelony fresh 2009 Harney Lane Dry Rosé ($17), made from a blend of Zinfandel, Petite Sirah and Tempranillo.
Geese, duck, guinea hen, quail, pigeon or the like: it is with redder fleshed birds where wine matching makes its transition from white to red wines. But because even game birds are not as fatty or sinewy as red meats like beef or lamb, the red wine matches for these birds are ideally lower in tannin; thus softer, rounder, kinder, gentler.
The first thing you think of when it comes to this style of red wine, of course, is Pinot Noir; and although Lodi grows quite a bit of Pinot Noir for many of California’s large producers, the region’s real schtick when it comes to easier styles of reds are with grapes like Primitivo (a more even ripening clonal variation of Zinfandel), Spanish varieties like Tempranillo, Garnacha or Graciano, or Italianates like Sangiovese and Barbera.
Case in point: both the 2007 Ripken Primitivo ($19) and the 2009 Uvaggio Primitivo ($16) demonstrate the smooth, vibrant, modestly weighted style of Zinfandelish spice that this grape is capable of. At the moment, the 2009 Bokisch Garnacha ($16) is an absolute delight – like peppery spiced strawberries fed with gloves of luxury leather.
If you happen to be in Downtown Lodi, you really should drop by the new Jeremy Wine Company tasting room (on W. Pine, steps from the famous Lodi arch) and take a gander at their zippy, bright, black cherry infused Jeremy Sangiovese ($28); and then, walk two blocks north on School St. to visit the Grands Amis tasting room, and pick up bottles of their 2008 Grands Amis Barbera ($20) – a profusion of plump blackberries wrapped in marvelously round yet zesty textures.
Not all of Lodi’s classic Zinfandels, mind you, are oversized and jammy. There are a number of producers who have perfected the art of the lighter, more restrained style of Zinfandel; softer in tannin, not so gushingly fruity, yet properly zinful (redolent of autumnal spiced, wild berry flavors). Right now, the 2006 Jessie’s Grove Fancy Quest Old Vine Zinfandel ($28) is exactly that: smooth as Tuscan leather, with sweet zin flavors mingling with meaty and earthen complexities. More presumptuous in its unabashed fruitiness, the 2008 Hullabaloo Old Vine Zinfandel ($14) is an easy-going mouthful of cranberry and cherry fruit qualities, and the 2008 LangeTwins Zinfandel ($15) is compact, fluidly composed, while flashing fleshy wild berry flavors.
But if you are seeking more of a nirvana in the way of elegant styles of Zinfandel, then you must make that pilgrimage two or so miles west of the Lodi Wine & Visitors, drop by The Lucas Winery on Davis Rd., and revel in the achingly pure, sensuous textures of their 2005 Lucas ZinStar Vineyard Zinfandel ($35).
LAMB & BEEF
If you’re a wine lover who really, really prefers a big red wine – something thick and full blooded, like those made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, Syrah or super old vine Zinfandel – then no one can fault your for eschewing the traditional turkey for something red and juicy, like grilled steaks or lamb chops, classic roast beef, or roasted, herb or mustard slathered legs of lamb. It’s the holidays, after all, and enjoy it the best you know how!
As previously noted, Lodi actually grows more Cabernet Sauvignon than Napa and Sonoma combined, and they can be as thick and juicy as any. The 2007 Mettler Cabernet Sauvignon ($27) is as deep and muscular as any grown in California; and so is the 2006 wham-bam-thank-m’am 2006 Earthquake Cabernet Sauvignon ($28).
But are you looking for something big, brazen, yet totally unique, maybe life changing? Oh my, then you would truly enjoy the 2008 Jeff Rundquist R Touriga ($24); a honking big, luscious red wine, wild with bing cherries in deep, voluminous layers, made from the classic Portuguese grape (Touriga Nacional), grown by Lodi’s Ron Silva in his Silvaspoons Vineyard.
Then there’s the black, heady, power packed 2008 Michael David Inkblot Tannat ($35) – made from the rarely seen and underappreciated grape of South-West France (Tannat) – although you probably need to get to the winery’s Phillips Farms tasting room on Hwy. 12 to stock up on that. And while you’re there, you might as well pick up some 2006 Earthquake Petite Sirah ($28), which is as big in the smoky/spicy blueberry character of the grape as you can find anywhere in the Golden State.
From the now-for-something-quickly-different, and original, department: the 2007 Harmony Wynelands GMA ($35) is a stout and tautly balanced blend of the peppery Grenache, deep toned Mourvèdre, and wildly whirling, boysenberry rich and purple hazed Alicante Bouschet grapes.
Finally, Lodi is all about de beeg Zinfandel, is it not? Many aficionados speak reverently of those grown by the Mettler family’s Harney Lane, and their current crème de la crème is the 2008 Harney Lane Lizzy James Old Vine Zinfandel ($33): beefy, boisterous, bulging and bounteous — just the ticket for lamb laced with sweet mint or treading in fruit infused sauces.