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.
Iberian grapes thrill Fenestra Fanatics
Lodi is the California epicenter for Portuguese and Spanish grapes…
Sometimes in life you crave more than vanilla and chocolate. For wine lovers, this means more than Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, or even Pinot Noir and Zinfandel. The recent emergence of Lodi as the epicenter of exotic Iberian grapes — like Verdelho and Graciano, Alvarelhão and Touriga — has been fulfilling many a tired, jaded wine lover’s appetite. When it comes to fine wine, nothing wrong with kinky!
Lanny and Fran Replogle of Fenestra Winery have been producing classic California varietals in an historic old winery in Livermore Valley since 1980; but beginning with the 2002 vintage, they began producing wines that have made members of their wine club, appropriately called Fenestra Fanatics, positively delirious with kinky organoleptic pleasure: from grapes of Portuguese origin grown in the Silvaspoons Vineyards, farmed by Lodi’s Ron Silva (see our blogpost, Lodi’s Portuguese grape king), as well as Spanish grapes grown by Lodi’s Markus Bokish (see The world according to the Bokischs).
Now, we can talk all day and all night about what an incredibly delicious array of wines the Replogles have been crafting from Mr. Silva’s and Mr. Bokisch’s meticulously farmed grape, but you don’t have to take our word for it: at the recent 2011 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, hoity toity judges awarded Lodi grown wines no less than four silver medals (for Fenestra’s Tempranillo, Graciano, their Tourvanillo red wine blend, and their Silvaspoons Vineyards Port) and two bronze medals (Fenestra’s Malbec and Touriga). For a complete listing of 2011 Lodi award winners, see our post, Lodi reaps more Chronicle gold than ever.
The highly successful Fenestra/Silvaspoons collaboration began, according to Mr. Replogle, with the winemaker’s long frustrated desire to make an authentic Portuguese style Port. “Before we met Ron, back in 2001, we had tried making Port from typical California varieties, like Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah, but they were never right. Ron actually attended an event we held here at the winery in Livermore, and he told us that he had classic Portuguese varieties, like Touriga Nacional and Touriga Francesa, and so we said, why not?
“The grapes that he delivered for our Port in 2002 were so beautiful, we eventually began to experiment with making table wines as well, from grapes grown in Ron’s vineyard. From the start the Tourigas have been very interesting — makes red wines of not just a forward fruitiness, but also of great structure, with complex flavors, rich mouth feel, and lingering finish. In large part, this is why we recently branched out to Spanish grapes — the Graciano and Tempranillo offered to us by Markus Bokisch.
“Ron got us started experimenting with Verdelho in 2005, when we were looking for an alternative style white wine that goes beyond Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. The Verdelho turned out so well, we could barely produce enough to make the Fenestra Fanatics happy. Then Ron got us started with Alvarelhão, which I didn’t have high hopes for at first, because it was such a light colored red wine grape — but that one has turned out a lot better than we expected, too!”
Fran Replogle adds, “Fenestra Fanatics are always asking, ‘what’s going on?’ They’re always looking for the cutting-edge; and not just that, wines that are au naturel — tasting purely of the grape. We enjoy working with Ron because he is attuned to our needs, which is keeping our Fenestra Fanatics happy.”
“Ron is very attentive in the vineyard,” Mr. Replogle tells us, “plus he’s a nice guy — we’ve become close friends, not just business partners. Markus Bokisch, we don’t know so well because we just started working with him. But we’ve been extremely happy with where our relationship with Markus is going, with these outstanding Spanish style wines; and we’ll probably start putting vineyard designations for our Bokisch grown Tempranillo and Graciano, the same way we put Silvaspoons Vineyards on all our wines grown by Ron.”
The best way to experience Fenestra’s extraordinary Iberian varietal wines and Port is by stopping by their winery on Vallecitos Rd. in Livermore, off I-205 (tasting room opened Fri.-Sat.-Sun., 12-5 PM). To first-timers, we promise: you will leave as one more soldier in the army of Fenestra Fanatics! Our notes on Lanny and Fran’s current releases:
2009 Fenestra, Silvaspoons Vineyards Lodi Verdelho ($15) – If you like a dry white wine that is lighter and crisper in natural acidity than, say, Chardonnay, Verdelho may be for you. Chardonnay may make deeper flavored whites, but Verdelho is more intense in floral and citrus/lemon perfumes, with undertones of sweet pea and passionfruit. Fenestra’s has all that, unadulturated by oak and wrapped in a silky fine, light-medium body, finishing with a radiant freshness on the palate.
2010 Fenestra, Silvaspoons Vineyards Lodi Torrontes ($14) – Lanny gave us a tank sample of this white wine, which will be bottled by March and available for sale shortly thereafter. Starts with an almost unbelievable nose: humongous, exotic perfumes, leaping from the glass, suggesting honeyed pears and tropical fruit (Fran calls this “adult Kool-Aid”). Ballerina-like qualities follow in the mouth: the exotic fruitiness dancing on the palate — a light body infused by lithe, lively acidity — finishing bone dry and crinkly crisp. A tribute to Ron Silva’s talent and originality as a grower.
2006 Fenestra, Silvaspoons Vineyards Lodi Tourvanillo ($28) – Unquestionably, Iberian red wine grapes have evolved to be blended, as you find in the sweet fortified (i.e. Port) and dry table reds of Portugal’s Douro Valley wine region. Fenestra’s is an artful harmony of the two Tourigas (53%), Alvarelhão (25%), Tempranillo (8%), Malbec (8%), Tinta Cão (2%), and Cabernet Sauvignon (2%). Results: lush aromatic notes black plum and blueberry, with a violet-like fragrance. The wine slides smoothly onto the palate, leading to balanced, centered, fruit forward flavors, meaty rather than tutti-fruity, with rounded tannins underpinning fluid, lingering qualities.
2008 Fenestra, Lodi Graciano ($24) – Grown by Markus Bokisch, this freshman effort with this Spanish grape is as delicious a Graciano as you would find anywhere, in California or Spain. Luscious aromas suggesting black cherry and cranberry are polished by a discreet vanillin veneer — winemaker Brent Amos’ barrel regimes are decidedly underplayed in all of Fenestra’s Iberian bottlings — and those lush qualities follow up in a svelte, savory, medium sized body. Says Lanny, “Graciano has impressed us from the beginning with its wonderful, spicy fruit character… we don’t know exactly what it is about it, but it is a very satisfying wine.”
2008 Fenestra, Lodi Tempranillo ($28) – Another wine farmed by Markus Bokisch, Fenestra’s Tempranillo falls squarely in the classic tradition of Rioja style reds in terms of pure, joyous drinkability, only without the dominating accent of oak (the Spanish do love their wood). Fresh, unfettered red berry aromas come sheathed in fine, suede-like leather nuances; and on the palate, its medium bodied feel is smooth, suave, and seamless, underlain by moderated tannins.
2007 Fenestra, Silvaspoons Vineyards Lodi Alvarelhão ($16) – Now for something completely different! Unless you are native Portuguese, pronunciation of this grape can be difficult; and so Fran Replogle says they simply call it “Alva.” She is also an exotic beauty (Alva, that is, although Fran is extraordinary in her own way): spicy, gingery/peppery, almost musk toned perfumed fruitiness in the nose and flavors, tasting of blueberry and raspberry — soft, light, zesty and finely textured sensations — shimmering through an almost sheer veil of tannin.
2007 Fenestra, Silvaspoons Vineyards Lodi Touriga ($28) – Made from roughly equal proportions of Touriga Nacional and Touriga Francesa — the former known for making robust, full tannin reds, and the latter for lighter, more perfumed and finesseful reds — this is hands down the finest of Fenestra’s Iberian style reds; and as such, hugely promising for California style Touriga in general. The nose is of roasting, beefy meat and concentrated, almost liqueur-like, plum and blackberryish fruit. On the palate, this meatiness comes across as dense, full, zesty fruit emboldened by firm tannin, yet amazingly round and pliant. Did we we already say “amazing?” Well, that’s what you keep saying, after every sip.
2004 Fenestra, Silvaspoons Vineyards Lodi Port ($30/750 ml.; $17/375 ml.) – The Replogles’ pièce de résistance is, simply put, a liquified chocolate red velvet cake: rich, sweet, tender, velvet layers of plummy fruit smoothed by vanillin oak. Yet not heavy: bright and nimble on the palate, finishing with a long, smooth, balanced elegance. Masterful blend of the two Tourigas (34%), Tempranillo (26%), Tinta Cão (20%), and Souzão (20%).