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.
Downtown Lodi’s Wine Social wine bar is a cozy corner for wine lovers
Wine tasting is fun; and good wine, sipped in healthy moderation, stimulates both mind and body. And so naturally, good wines also perk conversation, ushering moments of eloquence or, at the very least, some semblance of sanity in our lives – just the thing to unwind, tune in, and drop out, if only for a few glorious minutes.
Which is why, when the Scott family of Lodi's Sorelle Winery and the Marks family of Clarksburg's Six Hands Winery (who also source grapes from Lodi) decided to come together to establish a tasting room in Downtown Lodi, they were determined to make it a place where conversation could flow as easily as their smooth, sensible wines.
Hence, Wine Social: a wine bar located right in the thick of things at 7 N. School St.; where wine lovers may converse comfortably around a circular bar, on plush sofas or armchairs, or even at a barstooled communal table. Every effort was made, according to Sorelle's Ron Justice, to bring the feel of "comfort" to the room, along with a strong sense of the heritage intrinsic in Lodi grown wine. To peel off the façade preferred by previous tenants in the building, plaster was jackhammered off the walls to expose the original red bricks; and carpeting over two layers of linoleum were laboriously pulled up to expose a Douglas fir wood floor, since gorgeously refinished.
A faux overhang was torn down to heighten the ceiling and give the room a much airier atmosphere; allowing natural light to come pouring through a continuous expanse of paned windows, once hidden above the storefront. Joanne Scott painted three of the panes with colorful depictions of wine bottles and glasses, and she decked the brick walls with whimsical antiques found in Amador County. Peter Marks put together coffee tables and ends from reclaimed wood; and the entire wall behind the wine bar was covered with lumber rescued from an old, 1800s barn on Six Hands' Delta property.
To enhance the wines and complete the air of tranquility, Wine Social also offers small plates of charcuterie, cheese, chocolates, and panini sandwiches. Live music has been featured every Saturday night; along with a monthly "Ladies Night Out," plus "Foodie Fridays" when a local chef makes a guest appearance, preparing three dishes matched to three wines (Alebrijes' Ruben Larrazolo and Mike Midgley of Ernie's in Manteca have taken guest chef turns at Wine Social).
Ultimately, it's the wines that make a destination like Wine Social worth the peregrination. For a still-new winery (established in 2010), Sorelle has consistently over-delivered, while carving out a solid rep as a specialist in Italian varietals. Four years into it, the Scotts are still surpassing expectations. Their newly released 2012 Sorelle Bellezza Fra Lodi Barbera ($25), for instance, has everything a Barbera lover seeks in this black skinned grape: zesty, bouncy, spot-on black cherry flavors underscored by a polished frame of wood spice – practically singing for pasta e fagioli or a Piemontese ragu.
The sandy soil and mild Mediterranean climate of the Lodi AVA are not conducive to "big," Napa-ish styles of Cabernet Sauvignon; which is why the 2012 Sorelle Lodi Russo Red ($34) – a svelte, artful, French oak and Italian inflected blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (50%), Sangiovese (35%) and Petite Sirah (15%) – makes so much sense. The snappy quality of Sorelle's estate grown Sangiovese seems to lengthen and perk up the cassis-like qualities of the Cabernet Sauvignon; while the Petite Sirah (not exactly "Italian," but who cares?) adds tannin muscle and a whispery kiss of berry jam to the mix.
The "six hands" behind Six Hands Winery belong to a winemaker/grower/oenologist couple, Peter and Richéle Marks; abetted by Peter's father, Norman Marks, the man-Friday of the team. From these steady hands, you get red wines like the 2011 Six Hands Cusumano Ranch Lodi Carignane ($17): a beautifully lush, fragrant, bright and zippy 100% varietal – like biting into a fresh, drippy, locally grown Bing cherry, only with moderate alcohol, a tinge of loamy earthiness, and the suave finish of French oak – sourced from the far west side of Lodi's Mokelumne River AVA.
The 2011 Six Hands Cresci Vineyard Lodi Petite Sirah ($25) is an even "showier" (as Mr. Marks puts it) varietal explication of the meaty textured, spiced fruit character; couched in a fine balance of tannin and natural acidity, tucked into a modestly full, curvaceous body. "We manage our acidity to avoid the jammy, over-extracted style typical of most Petite Sirahs," says Marks – "ours is a Petite Sirah made for drinking."
But should you be fortunate enough to find yourself sinking into the welcome cushions of Wine Social's upholstery, you might do even better by treating yourself to a taste of the 2011 Six Hands Lodi Prestige ($24): a muscular yet round, sleek, zesty (balancing acidity being a Six Hands signature) blend of Cusumano Ranch grown Carignan (54%), Cresci Vineyard Petite Sirah (from Lodi's Borden Ranch AVA), and Mourvèdre (18%) grown by Silvaspoons Vineyards in Lodi's Alta Mesa AVA. It is the bright, red berry/cherry Carignane fruit that jumps out of the glass; while the Petite Sirah adds the tannin stuffing, and the densely textured Mourvèdre pulls it all together. A practically perfect combination of serendipitous style and feel of Lodi's deep seated, down to earth authenticity…
Which, as it were, well describes the Wine Social wine bar!