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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 21, 2022 | Randy Caparoso

Why Lodi's Cinsaut may be the single finest wine for Thanksgiving tables

Are you ready for a 100 millionth article on wines for Thanksgiving? We like to think ours is special because, well, we recommend Lodi-grown wines. Which tends to mean two different things:

1. Exceptional value, a byproduct of sourcing from the country's largest winegrowing region.

2. Fruit-forward qualities, which are byproducts of the region's steady Mediterranean climate and largely sandy loam soils (at least half of Lodi's grapes grown in alluvium laid down over thousands of years in the Mokelumne River watershed).

"Fruit-forward" gives any wine a huge leg up when it comes to Thanksgiving. Of course, we are talking mostly about the grand old tradition of turkey, stuffing, gravy, cranberry, buttery mashed potatoes and vegetable casseroles—the gustatory cacophony of foods, enjoyed with cherished family and friends, that we Americans look forward to each year.

Of course, for many of us Thanksgiving is also about sweet-salty baked ham, seasonal crab, roast beef or lamb or even imaginative salads or tofurky—whatever floats your boat.

Which means the ideal wines always tend to be wines that are either round or light, and also aromatic and flavorful with fruit qualities.

Beaujolais from France, for instance, is often cited as the best red wine for Thanksgiving dishes. Why? Because these are light, fruity red wines that you can practically drink like water. Sounds good to me!

Well, Beaujolais is in France and is made from a grape called Gamay noir, which is virtually nonexistent in California (you can find some delicious Gamay reds in Oregon and British Columbia).

Turley Wine Cellars' Tegan Passalacqua (left) with Bechthold Vineyard Cinsaut harvest.

In Lodi, however, we have the classic Southern French grape known as Cinsaut. It was Turley Wine Cellars winemaker Tegan Passalacqua whom I first heard quip, "Cinsaut reminds me of cru Beaujolais"—that is, a red wine that resembles wines coming from the Beaujolais region's finest villages; which, while round and fruity like typical Beaujolais, are also a little deeper in flavor than typical Beaujolais.

No doubt, Cinsaut in Lodi reminds Passalacqua of higher quality Beaujolais because here in Lodi's high vigor soils the vine produces fruit as large and plump as table grapes, which results in pillowy soft tannin reds. The aromas of flavors of Cinsaut in Lodi, however, go far, far beyond even the finest Beaujolais: redolent of fruit suggesting strawberry, cherry or raspberry, rhubarb, occasionally pomegranate or cranberry, and almost always, pungent kitchen spice aromas (clove, black pepper, cardomom, occasionally mace or cinnamon). 

Now, think of these fascinatingly spicy, gushy sensory qualities in the context of multi-herb stuffing, spiced cranberry, or the occasional Cajun spices often lavished in our Thanksgiving meals. Case closed.

2022 Bechthold Vineyard Cinsaut harvest.

In Lodi, most brands of Cinsaut are sourced from one of two vineyards: 

• Bechthold Vineyard, consisting of own-rooted ancient vines planted in 1886 (Lodi's oldest, as it was, continuously farmed block) in the heart of the region's historic Mokelumne River AVA.

• Sprague Family Vineyard, much newer, trellised vines planted in 2017 in the Clements Hills AVA.

Here's the thing: both vineyards produce quintessential style Cinsaut reds—soft in tannin, super spicy, chubby as a November turkey. Proof that fulfillment of this particular grape's varietal character in Lodi has more to do with terroir (i.e., "sense of place") than it does age of vine; although Bechthold Vineyard is certainly considered a national treasure (re our 2014 post, Bechthold Vineyard is named California's "Vineyard of the Year").

Younger trellised vines in Sprague Family Vineyards, Lodi's Clements Hills AVA.

A quick rundown on brands and styles of Lodi Cinsaut:

Turley Wine Cellars—Partial whole berry/cluster fermentation rendering plush, bright, zesty spiced fruit qualities that, not coincidentally, strikingly recall the finest crus Beaujolais.

Markus Wine Cellar—Bottled as "Ancient Blocks Cinsaut" and as different from the classic Turley iteration because it is just 75% Cinsaut (the current vintage, a 2020, has 20% Zinfandel/5% Petite Sirah) as it is strikingly similar because of the way it positively exudes holiday spices and upbeat fragrances of baking fresh berry pies. markuswine.com.

Michael David Winery—While a riper, fuller bodied style of Bechthold (just topping 14% ABV), this winery (which also farms the Bechthold Vineyard) captures a pure essence of the spicy strawberry-rhubarb pie-like qualities of the grape. michaeldavidwinery.com.

Iconic "Myriad"—A micro-brand sourcing from the Sprague Family, notable because it rings with the varietal's spiced fruit perfume with an ultra-soft Beaujolais Nouveau-like ease resulting almost entirely from the French style of carbonic maceration (involving whole berry intra-cellular fermentation under inert conditions). iconicwine.com.

Cinsaut in Bechthold Vineyard, Lodi's Mokelumne River AVA.

Perlegos Family—The latest homegrown Lodi brand, sourcing from Sprague Family; a 20% carbonic maceration style couching the sumptuously spiced strawberry/pomegranate fruit in a lower alcohol (12.9%), zesty acid palate-feel. perlegoswine.com.

Christopher Cellars—Another small Lodi brand, similar to the Perlegos in its zesty edged, contemporary style medium body (just 12.2% alcohol), coming across as more like spiced cranberry and blueberry pie and just the faintest tinge of neutral French oak (like a drop of vanilla in airy cream). christophercellars.com.

McCay Cellars—Championing the natural, native yeast fermented style of the grape grown in Bechthold Vineyard; organic, almost raw, naked aromas of kitchen spices and red fruit, soft yet almost toothsome in its unfettered layering on the palate. mccaycellars.com.

Onesta Wines—This brand, owned by Jillian Johnson, always swings for the fences with as intense and lively a style of Bechthold Vineyard Cinsaut as you can find. onestawines.com.

Ser Winery—Winemaker/owner Nicole Walsh's iteration of Bechthold is a joyously aromatic bundle of black pepper, peppermint, clove and allspice, lighting up cranberry/raspberry-like fruit in a lightly tart, tingly, mouth-watering medium-full body. serwinery.com.

Ser Winery's Nicole Walsh (right) sorting incoming Bechthold Vineyard Cinsaut.

Fields Family Wines—Not just another native yeast style of Bechthold Vineyard Cinsaut; this tiny homegrown brand is consistently precise in its perfumed, spicy, finely delineated soft and silken textured style. fieldsfamilywines.com.

Estate Crush—While there tends to be a quieter note in the nose of this Bechthold-grown Cinsaut, on the palate the spiced holiday berry fruit profile is as lush and explosive as any brand's. estatecrush.com

Jessie's Grove—The house style is to age Bechthold-grown Cinsaut considerably longer in neutral barrels than any other wineries, producing a smoother, leaner style that is still zesty and brightly scented in the varietal's classic kitchen spiced profile. jessiesgrovewinery.com.

There are other excellent brands of Lodi-grown Cinsaut that are possible to be found, although they tend to be sold out to eager mailing list customers well before the yearly holiday season. These include Sandlands (Passalacqua's personal brand), Marchelle (by winemaker/owner Greg La Follette, famed for raw, engimatic styles), Two Shepherds and BIRICHINO.

Grape varieties grown in Lodi that typically exude spice notes suggesting peppercorn (right): (clockwise from top left), Syrah, Petite Sirah, Grenache and Zinfandel.

Other soft and sumptuous spice varietals

In a pinch, there are certainly other Lodi-grown "spice" varietals—that is, red wines made from grapes that also have an intrinsic kitchen spice (notably black pepper)—that would do just fine on your Thanksgiving table. 

Since we are talking about Lodi-grown styles of these grapes, our recommended bottlings tend to be soft enough in tannin and exuberant enough in fruit to fulfill the food-versatility required in a wine suitable for Thanksgiving. More holiday ideas:

• First and foremost is Grenache. Look for either McCay Cellars or Bokisch Vineyards' "Garnacha" as examples of this beautifully soft, silky, pungently spice perfumed varietal. 

• Red wines made from Syrah (excellent examples include those of Markus Wine Co., Michael David, Klinker Brick and Fields Family)

• Petite Sirah (we love Lodi bottlings by Peltier Winery, Harney Lane, Mettler Family, Heritage Oak, m2, Ironstone Vineyards and Old Soul)

• Even Zinfandel is typically peppery spiced and lush with berryish fruit (for choices of bottlings, see our 2017 post on Why Zinfandel tastes great with peppery foods).

Have a safe and joyous holiday season!

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