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.
Phenomenal 2010 Zinfandels, current & upcoming
Since fall of 2010, Lodi’s leading Zinfandel specialists have been saying that 2010 is the best vintage in recent memory. Now that a few of these wines are out in the market, it’s time to ask the hard question: is 2010 truly a “vintage year” for Lodi Zinfandel, or are some people just blowing smoke?
In the world of wine, we commonly say that there are vintages, and there are “great vintages.” When talking about wines from Bordeaux in France, wine journalists have the annoying habit of dubbing at least one vintage out of every ten as the “vintage of the century.” Of course, here in California, the saying that “every year is a vintage year” goes back even further than the days when a portly Orson Welles used to reassure us that “we will sell no wine before its time.”
So it is only natural that many wine consumers have developed a healthy skepticism whenever there is talk of vintages, good, bad or ugly. But that does not negate the fact of the matter: for certain places, entailing certain grapes, some vintages are better than others.
It has everything to do with Mother Nature. For instance, no matter how skilled the winegrower, or how much time, money and effort is put into growing the best possible grapes, there is still no control over, say, an untimely frost during spring flowering, when vines are most sensitive – circumstances that might reduce a crop by 20% or 30%.
Neither do growers have control over summer weather: years when there are fewer than normal days in the 90°s during July and August; thus extending the ripening of red wine grapes into October, which is hit by intermittent rains leading to some bunch rot – taking a little bit more off the crop and, unfortunately, overall quality.
All the above happened, in fact, in Lodi’s 2011 vintage. Which by no means translates into a “bad” year for Lodi in 2011: as challenging as Mother Nature may have made things, perfectly good – and undoubtedly, even a few phenomenal – 2011s will be made by winemakers who diligently sorted the wheat from the chaff, taking advantage of the cooler than usual growing conditions to craft the balanced style of wines possible in years when natural grape acidities are a little bit higher.
The 2010 vintage in Lodi, on the other hand, was, and still is, generally considered a year when Mother Nature was very kind, throwing fastballs right down the middle: a gift of a fairly moderate growing season (as in 2011, fewer days in the high 90°s), allowing grapes to ripen steadily under trouble-free conditions, culminating in a harvest in which winemakers basically picked when they wanted to, not when Nature said you have to.
In 2010 the Lodi Zinfandel crop was harvested mostly during the last two weeks of September and first week of October. Cooler summer temperatures meant slightly lower pH and slightly higher acids than normal, but sugar levels were by no means low: there were plenty of red Zinfandels in the upper 15% and 16%+ alcohol ranges made, so don’t expect 2010s to be lighter than Zinfandels from prior vintages..
But whether or not you are into “big” Zinfandels, the one thing we are hearing across the board from the winemakers is that 2010s have an intensity, purity, and balance of fruit belying their alcohols. That is to say, 16% alcohol Zinfandels so lush and well balanced that they taste more like 14%-15% alcohol Zinfandels. Zinfandels that, well, made it easier to be a “winemaker.” m2 Wines winemaker/proprietor Layne Montgomery recently put it this way: “if you couldn’t make good Zinfandel in Lodi in 2010, you probably shouldn’t be in the business.”
So let’s talk 2010 Lodi Zinfandel, by way of four of the more interesting bottlings that are already out, and four more that are soon to come:
2010, LangeTwins, Lodi Zinfandel ($15) – The black labeled LangeTwins bottlings have emerged as Lodi’s most seriously satisfying in this price range; lavished, as they are, with oodles of blackberry/black cherry varietal fruit, neither undernourished nor overtly ripe or jammy, punctuated by whispers of vanillin oak; its plump, fluid fruit qualities on the palate unimpeded by rounded tannin and fairly moderate (14.9%) alcohol. Blend of LangeTwins grown Borden Ranch, Jahant and Mokelumne River AVA plantings.
2010 Heritage Oak, Block 5 Lodi Zinfandel ($24) – Most of Heritage Oak’s single vineyard bottlings – even in ultra-ripe years, remaining paragons of finesse – have yet to come out, but this one bodes well for the rest: very fragrant, fresh, clean fruit aromas suggesting cassis, blackberry, and a little bit of cherry; silky smooth and finely balanced feel in the mouth, with moderate tannins adding to a smooth, rich finish.
2010 Macchia, Voluptuous Maley Vineyard Lodi Zinfandel ($24) – From a 54 year old Ray Rd. planting on the west side of the Mokelumne River AVA that traditionally yields a slightly fatter, pliant, “voluptuous” style of zin. True to form in 2010: forward red berry perfume touched up with cake spices (allspice and vanilla) – like a young girl, just learning how to use fragrances – soft, round, medium-full qualities in the mouth, underpinned by moderate tannin and tight grained oak qualities.
2010 Macchia, Serious Lodi Zinfandel ($50) – At this price level, you should expect seriously great quality, which you get in spades in the 2010 edition of Macchia’s yearly blend of highest quality barrels: beautifully saturated color following suit with a nose soaking in gorgeously sweet varietal qualities – blackberry and cherry fruit, remarkably fresh and unjammy – enriched with sweet oak without being overpowered by it. On the palate, these compellingly deep, rich qualities come jam packed in a big, plush, velvety, seamlessly textured body, even keeled and viscous in the feel; the somewhat youthful, sprightly fresh berry flavors kicking down the doors, finishing with coffee-ish spices in a ridiculously long finish. Defintely a “wow.”
SUMMER/FALL 2012 RELEASES
2010 Stellina, Lodi Zinfandel (about $24) – Although not scheduled for release at Lodi’s Estate Crush until the upcoming fall, already an extremely lush, velvety and floral/violet scented wine, laced with a red-veering-towards-blue berry fruitiness, and spiked with clove and black peppercorn grinder spices. Silken in the entry; mouth-wateringly tart in the middle; finishing with a slightly sharp, youthful edginess.
2010 m2, Soucie Vineyard Lodi Zinfandel (about $28) – Consistently the most distinctive single vineyard bottling of Zinfandel made in Lodi; from a vineyard on the far western edge of the Mokelumne River AVA, planted (and still cultivated by) the Soucie family in 1916. Tightly balanced, fleshy, medium-full bodied wine; even now, billowing with chocolate covered raspberry, wild cherry aromas – as luscious on the palate as in the nose – with just mild notes of the notorious “Soucie earthiness” (loamy, mushroomy, organic, terroir related qualities more noticeable in vintages like 2007 and 2008 than in more complete years like 2010).
2010 m2, Artist Series Lodi Zinfandel (about $35) – Here, winemaker/owner Layne Montgomery shows off his blending skills to produce a more supple, balanced, multifaceted style of Zinfandel, as opposed to a big, ripe, bludgeoning style. Mix of sweet raspberry and blackberry in the nose, tinged with black pepper and baking spice notes (mace, clove, nutmeg, anise seed); broad, meaty, yet bright, lavish, zesty feel on the palate. Blend of Zinfandel primarily from the Maley Vineyard (about 70%), with a balance from Soucie Vineyard and Mohr-Fry Ranches (also including 4% Carignane and 2% Petite Sirah).
2010 LangeTwins, Centennial Lodi Zinfandel – This upcoming “reserve” cuvée – sourced primarily from Charlie Lewis’ turn-of-the-last-century Alpine Rd. planting on the east side of the Mokelumne River AVA – retains a plump quality similar to this winery’s “regular” Lodi release; only, deeper and denser in texture, with a significantly more focused black cherry fragrance, sweet but not overripe, fleshed out by judicious sweet oak. Pure velvet in the mouth – thick, dense, viscous, flowing layers – bolstered by a sturdy spine of tannin, giving a broad, muscular feel, without the baggage of excess alcohol (14.8%).