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.
For Lodi’s newest winemaker, a bouquet of floral grapes and possibilities
One of Lodi's newest winemakers – so new, she doesn't officially start working for Bokisch Vineyards until this coming December 2 – is already showing a magic touch with Lodi grown grapes. A touch that grew out of a long and steady pursuit of her passion – first for unusually aromatic wines, and then for turning aromatic grapes into her own unusual wines.
For Elyse Egan Perry, winemaker/owner of tiny Egan Cellars, moving to Lodi is a culmination of a path first etched out nine and a half years ago, when she and her husband (Jeff Perry) were on their honeymoon in Spain. "That's when I tasted my first Albariño," says Ms. Perry, "and found things I had never found in a wine before – really bright, beautiful aromatics, like lemon curd and citrus blossoms, with high acidity and a real, pure sense of fruit expression. Until then, I was never really into California Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc – Albariño was the first white wine that I really liked."
After living in the San Francisco Bay Area for 17 years, Perry embarked on the usual grunge work in winery cellars; working her way up to assistant winemaker positions at Bin to Bottle (a custom crush facility in Napa Valley) and, most recently, at GV Cellars in nearby Green Valley, Solano County. All the while, Perry kept visiting Lodi as an enthusiastic consumer, because this is where she knew she could find the wines she loved most. As a member of Bokisch Vineyards' Salut! Tasting Club, she found that she could cozy up to Markus and Liz Bokisch, whose Spanish grapes have been in great demand in Lodi and elsewhere in California.
"Right before the 2011 harvest," Perry tells us, "a deal that I had made for some Lake County Tempranillo fell through at the last minute. I mentioned this to Liz Bokisch at a tasting at Lodi Cellar Door, and a few days later I got a call from Markus, who said that he found an extra ton of Tempranillo from his Liberty Oaks Vineyard for me.” Thus, the launch of Egan Cellars.
In 2011 Bokisch also found some Albariño for Perry, which would represent her first release. Perry's current bottling, the 2012 Egan Cellars Terra Alta Vineyard Lodi Albariño ($18), is an effusive bouquet of honeyed apricot and peach, stretched tautly like a live wire in lemony tart, mouth-watering sensations, while at the same time smoothed over by markedly viscous, silky texturing. The alcohol of Perry's Albariño is a light and breezy 12.1% — a reflection of her contemporary style, which she says is consciously "more food friendly… especially for Thai and other spicy Asian foods."
According to Perry, "I really try to be true to the variety in my wines – picking at lower Brix (i.e. grape sugar readings) to avoid the higher alcohol and sweet taste more typical of California wines. After working with my first vintage, I found that that I could get all the acidity and aromatics I need by picking Albariño earlier, but can increase textural qualities by aging in a combination of neutral oak and stainless steel.
"The Albariño has the mouth-feel that makes even wine drinkers who normally go only for red wines say wow!. The only thing missing is the minerality that is more common to Spanish style Albariño.” Given Perry’s propensity towards picking grapes at lower sugars, it would be no surprise if she nails that varietal note some time in the future, too (much of what is perceived as “minerality,” particularly in European wines, attributable to lower sugar/higher acid grapes).
While Perry is already showing an instinctive mastery of Albariño, her 2011 Egan Cellars Liberty Oaks Vineyard Tempranillo ($25) may be even more impressive: sharply defined, bright and upbeat strawberry/cherry aromas tinged with meaty, butcher shop notes; couched in a medium body (13.9% alcohol) that feels both zesty and fleshy, and unperturbed by moderated tannin and virtually invisible oak (despite 18 months spent in a combination of neutral French and American barrels).
"A few months ago," says Perry, "the 2011 Tempranillo was showing more vanillin oak qualities in the nose, but recently that seems to have disappeared – which is fine for me because I like the emphasis on fruit, not wood."
Perry also produces a Carneros grown Vermentino under her label, and a Bokisch grown Graciano is also in the works. But she is especially excited about living and working in the Lodi community because, she says, "Lodi feels like a community… it's more homegrown than anywhere I've ever lived."
Lodi also gives her the opportunity to work with other grapes, and more growers. "I recently visited Ron Silva at Silvaspoons Vineyards," she tells us. "Portuguese varieties, and grapes like Cinsaut, will be more accessible to me. I also discovered there is some Kerner, and other unusual floral varieties, growing right next door to Markus and Liz's home vineyard – just so many interesting possibilities."
Perry's energetic enthusiasm will be a welcome addition to Lodi's winemaker community, particularly because of her penchant for grape purity in lighter, crisper, less oak influenced permutations: a style of wine clearly preferred by a good chunk of the latest generation (i.e. Millennials) of wine drinkers.
In fact, unlike most renditions of the grape (Californian and Spanish), Perry's Tempranillo has enough ringing clarity of varietal fruit and palpable acidity (Tempranillo not known as a “high acid” grape) to make an ideal match for the salty/sweet, pungently spiced and earthy sensations found in dishes such as Chinese style pork belly. Here is a recipe equal to the magic of this bourgeoning talent's winemaking style:
RED-COOKED PORK BELLY with Winter Vegetables
Braised pork belly
One 2-inch piece of fresh ginger, sliced into 6-8 coins and smashed
3 scallions, white and green parts, cut into 1-inch pieces
One 3-inch cinnamon stick
2 oz. Chinese rock sugar, smashed into small rocks with hammer (or ¼ cup brown sugar)
2 whole star anise
¼ cup dry sherry
¼ cup soy sauce
¼ cup dark mushroom soy sauce
5 cups chicken stock (or water)
1-½ to 2 lbs. pork belly, preferably skin-on, cut into 2-inch chunks
1 lb. mixed vegetables (suggestions: bok choy, carrots, kale, parsnips, beets and/or turnips)
1 ½ tablespoons peanut oil
Coarse salt and fresh ground pepper
¼ cup water
1. Braising liquid: In carbon steel or stainless steel wok, combine ginger, scallions, cinnamon stick, sugar, star anise, sherry, boy soy sauces, and stock or water. Bring to boil over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve sugar, and boil for 12-15 minutes to infuse liquid with spices.
2. Braise: Slide pork into the wok and lower the heat to gentle simmer. Braise, uncovered, turning pork with tongs from time to time to braise evenly, until meat is fork-tender, about 3 hours. Monitor heat so sauce simmers modestly, never vigorously. Lower heat if necessary. When pork is tender, turn off heat and let sit.
3. Vegetables: After washing and trimming, drain and slice in medium (1 to 2 inch) portions. Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add vegetables a handful at a time and cook, stirring and tossing with tongs until softened, 4-5 minutes, and season lightly with salt and pepper. Add water, cover, and lower heat to medium. Simmer until vegetables are crisp/tender, about 5 minutes more. Set aside in warm spot.
5. Finish: With tongs, transfer pork to large platter and cover loosely with foil to keep warm. Strain the braising liquid into medium saucepan, and discard solids. Skim some but not all of clear fat from surface (some fat essential to flavor). Boil the braising liquid until reduced by one quarter to one half, about 8 minutes. Taste should be mildly salty and intense.
6. Serving: Serve pork and vegetables with drizzle of reduced braising liquid.