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.
Test your Lodi white wine grape knowledge (part 1)
So you think you know your white wine grapes? Perhaps you do, and perhaps not nearly as much as you think.
Whatever the case, here’s a fun exercise: see if you can identify the following six white wine grapes captured below in recent photos, accompanied by detailed descriptions of each grape’s history and provenance, past and present. We’re not telling you the names of these grapes until the very end of this post, which gives you the chance to test your knowledge of both the wines of Lodi and of wine grapes in general.
Hints: Most of these grapes are commonly grown up and down the West Coast, from Santa Barbara to Walla Walla, but one of these is quite unique to Lodi (meaning, very little is grown outside Lodi, except in its country of origin). But all are members of Vitis vinifera, the classic European family of wine grapes. Ready, set? Guess away!
Mystery grape #1
The grape in the photograph above is pretty ubiquitous: grown everywhere fine white wine grapes are grown: California, Washington, Oregon, everywhere in Australia and New Zealand, all over South American, and especially in its original home in Burgundy, France. It makes dry, full bodied white wines with an aroma commonly described as apple-like; especially good when fermented and aged in white oak barrels, which add creamy, smoky or “toasty” complexities, although examples fermented in stainless steel and aged with zero or very little oak are becoming more and more popular as we speak.
Mystery grape #2
The grape pictured above is also grown up and down the West Coast, and originated in France (particularly the Loire River and Bordeaux wine regions). Makes a dry, generally medium bodied white wine (neither light nor heavy) with good, zesty acidity and pretty, melony, citrusy fragrances, often tinged with herbal, leafy “green” qualities. Over the past twenty years, varietal bottlings made from this grape have become something of a specialty in New Zealand, and over forty years ago Robert Mondavi popularized it in California.
Mystery grape #3
The wine wine grape pictured above originated in France’s Northern Rhône Valley, where it is often co-fermented with Syrah to produce truly extravagant, exotically perfumed reds. In California the so-called “Rhône Rangers” began to popularize it in the late eighties and nineties; and in Lodi, as in throughout the state, it produces dry, full bodied white wines with intense perfumes suggesting violets, often honeysuckle, peach, lilac or various tropical flowers or fruits; with peppery spice nuances in the best of bottlings. On the palate, the acidity is usually moderate, sometimes finishing with a trace of bitterness from tannin phenolics.
Mystery grape #4
If the grape pictured above looks suspiciously like a red wine grape, that’s because it’s a clonal variant of a famous red wine variety that originated in Burgundy, France. But the red pigments drop out during fermentation and the end result is a beautiful dry white wine, usually just medium in body (i.e. alcohol between 12% and 13%), with fragrances that are often both flowery and fruity (suggesting melon, apple, pear and/or citrus), sometimes with notes of minerals, spice (musk or white pepper), or even lavender. In the Alsace region of France, white wines from this grape can be aggressively minerally and honeyed. In Northern Italy, the varietal qualities are usually subtle, or refreshingly light; and in California, these qualities usually come out somewhere between Italian and Alsatian bottlings in intensity and complexity.
Mystery grape #5
The grape pictured above is native of Spain’s northwest coastal region, and a handful of Lodi’s growers and wineries have recently emerged as California’s leading progenitors of this varietal. It makes a dry, medium bodied white wine of zesty (but rarely overly tart) acidity; terrific for drinking, and perhaps even better when enjoyed with food. The nose tends to be flowery with suggestion of lemon or lime, often with minerally or flinty accents that also fill out the flavors.
Mystery grape #6
The grape pictured above is of Portuguese origin, and makes beautifully dry, perfumed, silky, light to medium bodied white wines. The nose is often of lime and peach, often hinting at wet stones, lavender, sometimes even lemon verbena. The acidity tends to be lightly tart and crisp edged; never really sharp, and invariably refreshing.
The mystery grapes:
1. Chardonnay (photo: Ripken Vineyards, Kettleman Ln.)
2. Sauvignon Blanc; a.k.a. Fumé Blanc (photo: Lodi Wine & Visitor Center)
3. Viognier (photo: neuf du Pape clone; Guard Ranch, Ripken Vineyards)
4. Pinot Gris; a.k.a. Pinot Grigio (photo: Vino Farms, Peltier Rd.)
5. Albariño (photo: Terra Alta Vineyard, Bokisch Vineyards)
6. Verdelho (photo: Silvaspoons Vineyards)