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Choosing Lodi’s top Zinfandels by style, not someone else’s opinion
It's the same for all wine regions that become known for certain wines… be it Napa Valley for Cabernet Sauvignon; Sonoma, Santa Barbara or Willamette Valley for Pinot Noir; or Lodi for Zinfandel: choosing what is "best" becomes more a matter of personal taste or preference.
In other words, don’t believe numerical scores or “expert” ratings — that’s just nonsense. A 95-point wine may be the worst tasting wine to you; whereas a wine that scores “just” 88 might be absolute perfection to your taste. It’s a process (and a fun one!), but you have to figure what’s best for yourself.
Lodi grown Zinfandel bottlings have proliferated to such an extent, the consumer now has the choice of many styles to choose from. Do you prefer a lighter, easy drinking, fruit forward style of red Zinfandel? There are a number of Lodi Zinfandels deliberately crafted in this style; once considered old fashioned, and now very much back in fashion. Or do you prefer a bigger, bolder, ultra-ripe, heavily oaked style of Zinfandel? You'll find lots of these coming out of Lodi, too.
Then, of course, there are the in-betweens: Zinfandels that are medium bodied – not too big, not too light – and either richly oaked or not very oaky at all, tasting of either tart red berries or soft, lush, black fruit jam.
So if you are thinking about enjoying bottles of Zinfandel this holiday season – or passing them out as gifts – you might want to consider the differences in style among the better bottlings. To help you sort through these options, the following is a list of some of the more interesting Zinfandels being grown and produced in Lodi today, divided into stylistic categories defined primarily by scale of body.
Keep in mind that when we talk about "body," we're talking about the overall sense of weight that a wine gives on the palate – a combination of alcohol (bigger Zinfandels tend to exceed 15% alcohol while lighter Zinfandels hover around 14%) as well as tannin (phenolic compounds giving hard, bitter or drying sensations) and degree of oakiness (vanillin and charred sensations resulting from barrel aging).
Another thing to keep in mind: when wine producers list alcohol percentages on labels, they exercise a certain degree of leeway. That is to say, a label that says a wine has 14.5% alcohol may very well have closer to 16% alcohol. That's just the way it is – it's better to go by taste rather than what you see on a label. But since we do a lot tasting, you can be reasonably sure of the following sensory assessments of these Zinfandels, each outstanding in their own way:
LIGHT TO MEDIUM BODIED STYLES WITH SUBTLE OAK
2011 Stellina, Chiara ($32) – All about fine, lacy texturing and floral, sweet pepper spice, buoyed by pomegranate-like zestiness. estatecrush.com.
2010 Maley Brothers ($18) – Luscious floral-jammy notes (boysenberry, blueberry) yet bright, buoyant and restrained on the palate. woodbridgeuncorked.com.
2010 Harney Lane, Lodi ($22) – Brightly fruited, lush yet zesty style, blended with 50% Primitivo (a softer clone of Zinfandel). harneylane.com.
2012 Michael Klouda, Broken Vine ($26) – Refreshing emphasis on bright acidity and quiet yet bright, focused, berry jam perfume and flavor. drinkmkwines.com.
2012 Peirano, The Immortal Zin ($14) – Fresh, bouncy, titillating raspberryish varietal fruit, unhindered by any ungainly tannin, oak or alcohol. peirano.com.
2009 Ironstone, Centennial Rous Vineyard Reserve ($28) – Sheer silk and penetrating raspberry/blueberry perfumes tinged with pepper/clove spice. ironstonevineyards.com.
MEDIUM TO FULL BODIED STYLES WITH RESTRAINED OAK
2011 Klinker Brick, Marisa Vineyard ($35) – Single-vineyard, ancient vine bottling, replete with vivid raspberry and cassis-like perfumes, enriched by sweet oak. klinkerbrickwinery.com.
2011 Harney Lane, Lizzy James Vineyard ($35) – Top-of-the-line from this winery; yet still made in a polished, finely sculpted style, with a rich yet restrained intensity. harneylane.com.
2010 McCay, Trulux ($32) – Round, elegantly wrought, French oak nuanced style; textured varietal fruit qualities underlined by subtle, earthy loaminess. mccaycellars.com.
2010 McCay, Jupiter ($28) – A little more autumnal spice (nutmeg, ginger, clove, cocoa) perfume to this taut yet fleshy, balanced style. mccaycellars.com.
2010 Mikami ($39) – Velvet textured, pinpoint style with fine mix of violet, loam, chocolate and red berryish fruit. mikamivineyards.com.
2011 Heritage Oak, Block 5 ($24) – The fullest and richest of this estate's single-vineyard bottlings; still, with a stamp of elegance, zesty acidity, and licorice/pepper spice complexities. heritageoakwinery.com.
2011 Twisted Roots, 1918 ($35) – Picquant middleweight style, redolent with quivery strawberry jam fruit tinged with blackpepper spice. twistedrootsvineyard.com.
2010 The Lucas, ZinStar ($39) – Firm yet supple style, mixing varietal berryishness with floral, leather and loamy qualities. lucaswinery.com.
2010 Watts, Pescador Vineyard ($25) – Medium-full, terroir driven style evincing generous varietal jam, tinged with composted earth and tobacco-like notes. wattswine.com.
2011 Fields Family ($24) – Fairly big style – owing more to sinewy tannin than excessive oak or alcohol – while effusive in black cherry/berry varietal qualities. fieldsfamilywines.com.
MEDIUM TO FULL BODIED STYLES WITH RICH OAK
2011 Macchia Voluptous, Maley Vineyard ($24) – Downright bosomy texturing and floral-violet perfume, muscled up by aggressively extracted tannin and pungent oak. macchiawines.com.
2011 m2, Artist ($35) – Artful blend of three of Lodi's best vineyards – pungent, fleshy, slightly earthy, rich yet fluid on the palate – sweetened by American oak. m2wines.com.
2011 m2, Soucie Vineyard ($28) – Stylistically similar to m2's "Artist," but even earthier – jammy berry richness laced with loamy, mushroomy, organic aromas. m2wines.com.
2011 Van Ruiten Family, Lodi ($25) – Roasted coffee oak notes skirt the edges of this medium weight style, lacing jammy notes of blueberry and blackberry. vrwinery.com.
BIG STYLES WITH MODERATED OAK
2012 St. Amant, Marian's Vineyard ($24) – From venerated 112-year old planting; full and fleshy, with core of muscled tannin and cornucopian varietal fruit intensity. stamantwine.com.
2010 McCay, Contention ($64) – Big, lavish, intoxicating cuvée; eschewing excessive oak, but teeming with sweet berry, allspice, pepper and composted earth intensities. mccaycellars.com.
2011 Klinker Brick, Old Ghost ($37) – Dense, thick, sinewy style, brimming with brambly fruit and sweet cardamom/cinnamon/peppercorn spices. klinkerbrickwinery.com.
2009 LangeTwins Family, Centennial ($48) – Plump, plush, velvety style; bursting with black cherry, with black tea-like complexity. langetwins.com.
BIG STYLES WITH HEFTY OAK
2012 Macchia Outrageous, Noma Ranch ($24) – This single-vineyard is always among the zestiest (great natural acidity), biggest, deepest and showiest in all of Lodi. macchiawines.com.
2011 Macchia Luxurious, Rous Vineyard ($28) – Texture of this single-vineyard bottling is truly luxurious – velvety, layered – while opulent in fruit and oakiness. macchiawines.com.
2011 Macchia Serious, Lodi ($50) – Blend of this winery's best barrels (regardless of vineyard source); hence, a marvelously concentrated essence of Lodi, in a thick, velvety, mountain sized package. macchiawines.com.
NV Harmony Wynelands, Pipe Dreams ($44) – Ultra-ripe fruit verging on raisin and dried cherry, but teeming with prettily spiced (blackpepper, cinnamon) qualities. harmonywynelands.com.
2010 Mettler Family, Epicenter ($22) – The Mettlers aim to "rock" your palate with their Zinfandel, and they succeed handsomely with this smoky, spicy, scented mouthful. mettlerwine.com.
2011 Michael David, Earthquake ($26) – This wine wrote the book on the popular, big, muscular, smoky oaked style – so much so, many consumers think all Lodi Zinfandels are like this, while forgetting that (as in this bottling) it can also be done with balance and finesse. michaeldavidwinery.com.