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.
Passport advisory: where to find Lodi wines that walk the wild side
Attention, “all you protest kids” (to quote Lou Reed’s Sweet Jane) on the look-out for something off-the-beaten-track during this month’s Passport (good through October 6) Road Trip!: the Lodi AVA does indeed grow and produce its share of glass shattering wines… if you know wherefore or what to look for.
Wines, that is to say, that are very much contemporary in terms of having a little lighter body and zingier,, tongue prickling natural grape acidity – qualities associated with wine descriptors like “balance” and “elegance.”
Either that, or wines that simply slap you upside the head with never-before-tasted sensations, tasting very much of a “place,” rather than the same ol’, assembly line “varietal character.” Whodathunk – that Lodi would become one of the leaders in production of wines ranging from light to big, from nuanced to brazen, and very much expressive of terroir?
You see, Lodi is strongly influenced by a permissive Mediterranean climate and the deep, rich yet porous soils of the San Joaquin-Sacramento River Delta. Combine growing season temperatures strikingly similar to those of coastal regions like Napa Valley, Sonoma County and Paso Robles with a history (both recent and going back 100 years) of being able to successfully plant virtually every wine grape known to man, and you get a growing list of individual wines that are changing the way the entire world looks at California wine.
Hence, 10 examples of such wines, boldly leading the way, and making you wanna say hey babe, take a walk on the wild side…
2011 Borra Intuition Lodi Field Blend White ($22)
It’s fitting that your first stop should be Borra Vineyards, because this is Lodi’s oldest bonded winery; and still, after all these crazy years, one of the most innovative. Intuition is a fantastically perfumed white wine, bursting with tropical flower and exotic lychee notes of Hawaiian backyards, yet desert dry and feathery light in its pointedly tart, lemony edged light-medium body (just 12.8% alcohol!). It is also a 100% native yeast fermented, unfiltered, unblemished blend of Lodi grown German grapes – Kerner (60%), Gewürztraminer (20%), and Rieslaner (20%) – grown on the eastern side of the Mokelumne River AVA. Believe it! Visit borravineyards.com.
2011 Bokisch, Terra Alta Vineyard Clements Hills-Lodi Albariño ($16)
Thanks to great waves of Spanish imports, Albariño is slowly but surely becoming nearly as familiar to Americans as Pinot Grigio. This bottling represents a breakthrough for California growers, with its airy lightness (around 12% alcohol), razor sharpness, and brilliantly fresh, citrus, tropical flower and wet stone fruitiness, as lithe and lovely as anything from Spain. You can taste and purchase the full range of Bokisch’s Spanish varietals at Downtown Lodi’s Cellar Door; and visit bokischvineyards.com for more details.
2011 Phoenix Ranch Bechthold Vineyard Lodi Cinsault Rosé ($18)
This is quite possibly – no, make that positively – the most soulful pink wine made in all of California. Sourced from Cinsault grapes coming off the historic Bechthold Vineyard, the oldest continuously farmed vineyard in Lodi today (vines originally planted in 1886!). Like a classic Provençal inspired wine, the Phoenix is a shimmering pale pink color, and as dry as summer; its palate tingling berry flavors caressing the palate like silk stockings. Only 85 cases of this ultimate rosé drinker’s rosé were made, which you can taste or buy (along with many other boutique production specialty wines) at Downtown Lodi’s Estate Crush (at Lockeford and Sacramento); also re phoenixranchwines.com.
2010 Michael David, Bechthold Vineyard Lodi Ancient Vine Cinsault ($24) – This is one of the red wine versions of Becthhold Vineyard grown Cinsault, and it’s phenomenal. Although this winery is known for hunking, downright oaky wines, this bottling is decidedly opposite: deliciously petite, tiptoeing through the taste buds with soft, lush yet concentrated strawberry-rhubarb fruit qualities, subtly sweetened by slivers of French oak, light and zesty in the mouth, and plumped up by smoothly rounded tannins. More than great wines, you can experience Michael David as terrific breakfast/lunch café as well as produce stand and baker (insanely good, sky-high pies!) at their winery, coming into Lodi along Hwy. 12. Please visit michaeldavidwinery.com.
2009 Harmony Wynelands, Lodi Alicante Bouschet ($30)
Made from a black skinned grape that was once (in Prohibition days) one of the most planted in the state; solid as a Mack truck, plush yet beefy enough to eat; with exotic aromas of boysenberry, sun dried cherry, and a smokiness resembling the little bits of char from caramelized tips of grilled, soy marinated ribs. If you’re driving along Harney Lane on Lodi’s east side, a stop at Harmony Wynelands’ tasting room is a must. Also, please visit harmonywynelands.com to read about their historic 15,000 pipe organ, rescued from San Francisco’s Castro Theater.
2006 Peltier Station Reserve Lodi Teroldego ($35).
Strictly for grizzled, hard driving red wine lovers who also like their coffee bitter, their meat raw, liquor uncut, and women (or men) nasty – a solidly black-purplish wine made from a Northern Italian grape, giving a bold, muscular yet upbeat feel, banging away with aromatic notes of dried trail mix (dates and berries), mocha espresso and leather. Peltier Station is a working winery on N. Kennefick Rd. (off Peltier Rd., east of Hwy. 99), but you can arrange a visit (appointments only, please) by calling 209.367.4882. More information at peltierstation.com.
2010 Sorelle, Sorriso Lodi Primitivo ($22)
Primitivo is a kinder, gentler clonal variant of Zinfandel; hence this impeccably balanced estate grown red – redolent of raspberry and black cherry, wisps of smoky tobacco, and compellingly smooth yet zesty flavors – carving out an entirely new varietal niche. No visit to Lodi is complete without dropping in Sorelle’s tasting room at the southern end of appellation, next to the historic Dodge House (originally built in 1866, and in the process of being lovingly restored by the Scott family). Please visit sorellewinery.com.
2010 Kidder Family, Lodi Duet ($22)
If, like more and more wine lovers, you prefer a red wine that is the opposite of soft, mushy and tutti-fruity, this is the wine for you: a sexy, sinewy blend of Graciano (57%) and Tempranillo (43%), grown by Aaron Kidder at his Clements Hills home and vineyard. The wine flashes you with brilliant purple colors, an earthy wild cherry nose, smidgens of sweet oak and balsamic-like thickness; but it is on the palate where you feel the Kidder signature – whippersnapping acidity, silk texturing, and a moderately weighted body. In other words, great food affinity (braised meats and caramelized root vegetables, or else chocolate moles perked up with fruit or pungent nut shavings). You can visit the Kidder family on Hillside Dr. (off Brandt Rd.); and find more information at kidderwines.com.
2008 Pasos, Lodi Charbono ($38)
There was a time when the Charbono grape (called Corbeau in France, Bonarda in Argentina) was considered California’s premier red wine grape. Okay, so that was somewhere between the 1940s and 1960s; but still, though woefully unappreciated, it is still cultivated by fanatical winemakers like Antonio Pasos, who renders it a contemporary classic: exuding sweet, dark plums and mocha café, with touches of dried blueberry and animal skin in the nose. Full, dense, fluid sensations on the palate – flowing smoothly despite sinew and flesh in the texture – with a zesty edge of natural acidity, giving it an Italian-ish feel (despite the grape’s Southern French origins). Find Mr.. Pasos diligently laboring in his winery/tasting room located in Vino Piazza Wine Village (please see pasoswinery.com), in the lovely, old bedroom community of Lockeford.
2010 m2, Soucie Vineyard Lodi Old Vine Zinfandel ($28)
Few wines, made from any grape anywhere in the world, say as much about a place as this one, from vines planted and farmed by the Soucie family since 1916. Oh, there is the chocolate coated raspberry taste typical of the varietal, but also loamy, organic, almost mushroom/brothy qualities that are distinctly “Soucie,” floating on waves of velvet textures. Soucie Vineyard is located on Lodi’s west side (off Turner, near I-5), but you can find m2 winemaker/owner Layne Montgomery in his unassuming (i.e. no bull pie) winery/tasting room on the east side of the town on Turner Rd. (see m2wines.com). Montgomery, you will also find, is a “character” – famous for pulling legs, and just as famous for wines that don’t pull punches.