Thou shalt covet Lodi grapes
Six bottled reasons why wineries outside Lodi are craving Lodi grown grapes…
Lodi has long been known as a Paradise for wine grapes; the biggest chunk of that traditionally going to large production wineries, or else anonymously into the varietal wines and blends of many an ultra-premium winery (I once heard an industry consultant in the know comment on how many Napa Valley, Sonoma or Mendocino Cabernet Sauvignons, Merlots, Zinfandels and even Pinot Noirs have been greatly enhanced by judicious doses of Lodi grown wines like Petite Sirah and Syrah).
In recent years, more and more producers of great renown — like Sonoma’s Laurel Glen, Napa Valley’s Turley Wine Cellars, and Monterey’s Morgan Winery — have been putting out varietal wines proudly carrying the Lodi AVA appellation on their labels. Lodi’s rep as a top echelon winegrowing region is growing in leaps and bounds!
In recent weeks, during our travels outside the region, we’ve been coming across a number of other specialty, handcraft style wineries with Lodi labeled wines among their repertoire — many of them as good as anything from anywhere (including, of course, wines produced by wineries located right here in Lodi). Here are some of the more outstanding ones, well worth the time and effort to find:
2009 Quinta Cruz, Silvaspoons Vineyard Alta Mesa Verdelho ($20) – Winemaker/owner Jeff Emery is a true believer in Portuguese and Spanish grapes grown in California; establishing Quinta Cruz as the sister brand of his Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard label, dedicated exclusively to Iberian grapes. This Verdelho, grown my Lodi’s “Portuguese Grape King” Ron Silva, was a Double Gold Medal winner at the recent 2011 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, and for good reason: its a beauty of a dry white wine. Emery describes it as “direct opposite of an oaky, buttery Chardonnay,” having “a lively acidity that allows it to go great with many foods.” With or without food, the Quinta Cruz Verdelho throttles the senses with fragrances of lemon drop, toasted honeyed almonds, slivers of peach, and leafy, lacy lemon verbena. On the palate, it is lemony dry and silky from beginning to end, the citrus and nut toned flavors poised gently on a medium weight body. Lovely.
2008 Quinta Cruz, Bokisch Vineyards Mokelumne River Graciano ($28) – Lodi’s own Bokisch Vineyards, of course, produces an acclaimed Graciano. A past San Francisco Chronicle “Best of Class” medal winner, the Quinta Cruz is vinified in an even deeper, more explosive style than that of grower/winemaker Markus Bokisch; beginning with a dense saturated color — black purplish at the core — and an intense nose of sweet plums and smoky spices. The rich concentration follows up on the palate: dense, mouth-filling flavors that are sturdy, zesty, yet round and fluid, amplified by smoky oak and touches of new leather. Wow — pass us some stewed or grilled, caramelized meats, and we’re in business!
2009 R (Jeff Rundquist), Silvaspoons Vineyard Alta Mesa-Lodi Grenache ($20) – Winemaker/owner Jeff Rundquist has established a solid reputation from his Shenandoah Valley/Amador based winery for red wines of intense yet rather puristic varietal definition — meaning, aromatics with just hints of oak, and sensations unimpeded by excess alcohol or tannin. This Grenache walks that same taut tightrope: flowery, penetrating aromas of sweet strawberry with twists of pepper, and flavors that retain that same lush, fragrant, juicy fruit qualities, underlined by zippy acidity and moderate yet firming tannin, packed into a medium weight body. Overall feel: amazing elegance for a varietal known more for transparency rather than subtleties or complexities (in other words: shut up, drink… enjoy!).
2009 Sobon Estate, ReZerve Lodi Tannat ($24) – Sobon Family Wines is certainly no stranger to many Lodi wine lovers: Leon Sobon has been growing and producing kick-butt red wines in Shenandoah Valley in neighboring Amador County since the late seventies; and in recent years Leon’s son, Paul Sobon, has continued the family quest, adding on this knockdown, slam dunk stunner of a wine — made from the South-West French grape, Tannat — to the portfolio. Some say the name of the grape originally derives from “tannin,” and there’s tannin aplenty in this deep, dark, densely textured red. But there’s also a extra-large helping of meaty, raw beefy, sweet toned black fruit qualities in the nose and flavor, filling the full body to slaking capacity. Lots to chew on, lots to savor — just the thing for dyed-in-the-wool “big red” lovers.
2008 Sobon Estate, Silvaspoons Vineyard Lodi Petite Sirah ($24) – Blended with 24% Zinfandel, this is an unabashedly full, flashy, fruit forward style of Petite Sirah (as opposed to a big, drying, high tannin, bruising style); its nose overflowing with fragrant blueberry and dried cherry aromas, gushing almost sweetly in a smoothly rounded medium-full body, buoyed by smoky oak sensations. Guaranteed to please even the novice red wine lovers.
2007 R&B Cellars, Swingsville Lodi Zinfandel ($12) – Louis Armstrong once said, “man, if you have to ask what jazz is, you’ll never know.” If you have to ask what Zinfandel is all about, after sipping this one by Alameda’s R&B Cellars, then maybe the grape will never be for you. It is only one of the freshest, brightest, smoothest Zinfandels we have tasted in a long time, totally unencumbered by the high alcohol, tannin and oak more common than not in contemporary zins. It is also a direct reflection of the levity of R&B owner/winemakers, Kevin and Barbara Brown, who were longtime jazz musicians and aficionados before starting up their wine biz in 1997. They like Zinfandel to taste like Zinfandel, not a a jar of jam or stack of raw wood.
“For all our wines,” says Mr. Brown, “we seek balance… too many wines these days are too massive, too angular, or too fruit forward.” Brown does use a tiny bit of new French and American oak in his zin, yet the predominant qualities in his Swingsville are pretty cranberry/raspberry perfumes, and pinpoint balanced, velvety smooth, zesty, medium bodied sensations of the same. Grapes come from old head trained vines, impeccably grown by Dave Devine (LDL Vineyards) in the rolling hills east of Lockeford, in Lodi’s Clements Hills AVA. No muss or fuss — just a lot of joyful good drinkin’.