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.
Lodi zins conquer ZAP in the City
7,500 people can’t be wrong. Either that, or they don’t wanna be right: about loving red wines made from Zinfandel and attending three days of events dedicated to the grape at the twentieth annual Zinfandel Festival put on by ZAP (Zinfandel Advocates & Producers) in San Francisco this past January 27-29.
First off, where do you fit that many wine lovers, plus all those vintners representing the 200-plus wineries showing off their stuff? ZAP’s Grand Tasting last Saturday took place in two football field sized pavilions, sitting side-by-side in Fort Mason, on the Bay looking directly at Alcatraz. Even so, it was wall-to-wall zin freaks and geeks.
ZAP’s Good Eats & Zinfandel Pairing event last Thursday night took place in just one of those pavilions, and was a more sedate affair – if you can call 1,100-plus people strolling around enjoying the wines of 50 zin specialist wineries together with dishes produced by 50 chefs sedate. That’s a whole lotta zin braised ribs and earthy, meaty canapés, no matter how you slice it.
Needless to say, many of Lodi’s finest were there, dishing it out with the best of ‘em. On Good Eats night, Lodi’s own rising star chef, Ruben Larrazolo of Alebrijes Bistro, was showing off his delectable duck with his outrageously decadent Oaxaca mole matched with the earthen, elegantly styled Zinfandels of Layne Montgomery m2 Wines; while Wine & Roses Hotel chef Didier Gerbi and co-proprietor Kathy Munson were serving up zin-friendly, Lodi wine country hors’oeuvres alongside the newly acclaimed Lodi grown Zinfandels of McCay Cellars.
Klinker Brick’s Steve and Lori Felten as well as Macchia Wines’ Tim and Lani Holdener were also at Good Eats; the latter couple, matching their deep, pectoral zins with classic barbecue served over their customary tie-dyed tablecloth (chortled Lani, “there always has to be one loud, obnoxious grape in the bunch, and it might as well be us…”).
If you missed the 2011 San Francisco ZAP, did you miss a good party? Goodness, yes; although goodness may have had nothing to do with it. But there’s always next year, or – leaf roll, please – Lodi’s very own annual Zinfest, taking place this coming May 13-14 in the pristine riparian setting of Lodi Lake Park. Zin lovers, mark your calendars!
Some tasting notes on some of the outstanding Lodi reds wowing the zin lovers at last week’s ZAP:
2008 Brazin, Lodi (B)Old Vine Zinfandel ($16) – Unabashedly lush, intense berry aromas, and we mean the entire jammy mix, from blackberry and blueberry to smidgens of bright, zesty raspberry sandwiched in between. These fruit forward sensations are wrapped in a velvety, meaty, moderately full yet not overly weighty mouth-feel, lingering in a finish tinged with roasted coffee and brown spices.
2009 Fields Family, Sherman Family Vineyard Lodi Zinfandel ($24) – Like McCay, this was Fields Family’s first appearance a ZAP as one of Lodi’s newest wineries. For a first release, their ’09 Zinfandel is stupendous, and has been expanding in leaps and bounds over the past few months: last week, already showing a starburst of brambly raspberryish fruit and cinnamon/clove spices, lush and lively on the palate – the texturing velvet-smooth, and the flavors juicy, with mouth watering zest.
2008 Harney Lane, Lodi Zinfandel ($22) – Although made from 40% Primitivo – a more evenly ripening, hence softer, more pliant clonal variation of Zinfandel – there is plenty enough rich, gushy Zinfandel qualities to go around in this wine. The nose is bright and red – like crushed raspberry/cherry – and the lush, juicy flavors are round and bouncy, couched in a zesty, medium weight body, unfettered by excess tannin or oak.
2008 Klinker Brick, Old Ghost Lodi Zinfandel ($37)– In dramatic contrast to Klinker Brick’s 2008 “regular” Old Vine Zinfandel – which is as lush, friendly, plump and jammy as ever – the Old Ghost (a blend of zin sourced from 97 and 89 year old vineyards) is something of a bruiser: seriously big, dense with tannin and equal proportions of sweet, concentrated varietal berry qualities. If you like a good, dry, musclebound Zinfandel, this bud’s for you.
2009 LangeTwins, Lewis Vineyard Lodi Zinfandel (barrel sample) – One of the fun things about events like ZAP is wineries showing off barrel samples; like this exciting single vineyard bottling produced from a 100 year old vineyard on the eastern side of the Mokelumne River AVA off Victor Rd., which will be bottled in the spring. The nose is huge, suggesting wild berries and cranberry, and on the palate, the flavors are an absolute cherry bomb explosion, emanating from a sleek, viscous, medium-full body, intertwined with cinnamon and peppermint spices in a ridiculously long finish. Lodi zin lovers: keep your eye out for this one!
2007 The Lucas Winery, Zinstar Lodi Zinfandel ($35) – From this stalwart winery’s 77 year old estate vineyard, a Zinfandel crafted in the more medium bodied, understated style; earthen, leather laced cassis berry notes polished with subtle, sweet oak undertones, in neatly balanced, crisply creased packaging. Old-timers might call this elegant style “claret-like,” as if you sip it in satin robes while speaking the Queen’s English. Proprietor/winemakers David Lucas and Heather Pyle just call it Zinstar and say, “that’s the way we like it.”
2008 m2 Wines, Artist Series Lodi Zinfandel ($35) – This modern day Lodi classic was showing super-spicy, almost exotic perfumes last week, emanating from a core of crushed, wild berry fruit underpinned by scrubby, dried forest leaf tertiary aromas. The feel is broad, velvety and fleshy, beefed up by generous yet perfectly rounded tannins, finishing with sensations of black and red berries dipped in chocolate, with whiffs of smoky Chinese opium dens (that is, what we imagine that to be). Need we say more?
2009 Macchia, Oblivous Lodi Old Vine Zinfandel ($24) – Macchia has become so popular recently that its ‘08s are pretty much sold out, and their ‘09s are what they are currently putting out. This means extremely young, mouthy wines, somewhat lean and tight, slapping you across the palate. Macchia disciples relish Oblivious as one of the Holdeners’ wildest, most concentrated single vineyard selections – coming, as it does, from one of Lodi’s rare, dry farmed plantings, approximately a 100 years old, yielding as little as a ton per acre (a quarter of what most of Lodi’s old vine vineyards give) – and right now this wine is showing tightly wound raspberry notes and a big, chunky, tannin dominated structure. Even so, the fruit is forward, almost sweet on the tongue; but given another six to twelve months, it should begin to stretch out nicely, with the satiny touch for which Macchia zins are known.
2008 McCay, Equity Lodi Zinfandel (barrel sample) – During the ZAP festivities winemaker/proprietor Michael McCay gave us a sneak preview of this yet-to-be-bottled cuvée — a blend of zins from his Jupiter, Locust Tree and Truluck’s vineyards — which should be available to buy by summer of 2011. We’re copying you on our pre-release notes because of the Equity’s significance as a definitive example of the sleek, balanced, fruit focused style (as opposed to fat, heavy, oaky styles) of Zinfandel to which more and more Lodi growers and winemakers are starting to gravitate. The nose is both floral and “pure” in the varietal fruit profile – wild berries with peppery spices, veering towards exotic notes of ginger and white pepper and cardomom laced Chinese spices – and the textures are outwardly of black velvet, couching the bright, ultra-spicy fruit in seamlessly knit layers. Mr. McCay also calls it a “foodie” wine, and if you think of foods many of us really love to eat – from Chinese takeout to fresh Thai, or sticky-spicy ribs and/or cracked pepper and Fiori Butcher Shoppe seasoned steaks – then you know exactly what he’s getting at.
2008 Michael~David, Lust Zinfandel ($59) – Multifaceted nose – pungent blackberry fruit, with bitter chocolate and earthy/mushroomy/crushed leafy nuances – followed by a full, dense feel on the palate, amplified by generous sweet oak and muscular tannin. Always a distinctive wine, owing to its primary sourcing from the 95 year old Soucie Vineyard at the western edge of Lodi’s Mokelumne River AVA, off Turner Rd. where the Delta breezes hit first.
2009 St. Amant, Marian’s Vineyard Old Vine Zinfandel ($24) – Lodi zin lovers have affectionately called the 110 year old Marian’s block in Mohr-Fry Ranch the “Mother of all Zins,” and St. Amant’s ’09 solidifies that lofty reputation: the nose is of dark berry jam and drippingly sweet Santa Rosa plum, without being raisiny or overripe, with smoky oak subtleties. On the palate, “opulence” is what comes to mind; the intense fruit coming at you in dense, liquid waves, yet well rounded, finishing with loamy terroir and Christmas spices, hinting at peppermint and bay laurel. Classic.
2008 Van Ruiten Family, Lodi Old Vine Zinfandel ($23) – This Van Ruiten bottling continues to stand out as a shining example that it is very possible to grow and vinify Zinfandel in Lodi with all the fruit forward generosity associated with the AVA, within a more elegantly composed, balanced buoyant framework. The nose here is tight yet perfumed in black and blue fruits under a sheer, vanillin oak veneer. Medium to medium-full on the palate, finely textured and proportionate – the tannin and oak embellishments all there without being intrusive, allowing the varietal berryishness to linger with slightly smoky, roasting coffee spices.