Everything Wine And More

Jeramy Torrance
May 7, 2014 | Jeramy Torrance

All's Well and Zinfandel!

In my last entry, I made a comment about how I have been watching wine trends. For today’s edition, I want to touch on that again with a little more in-depth discussion. The goal of this article will be to explore and educate on the Lodi appellation in California; what makes it special, what kind of styles they focus on, and what to look out for. I will follow of this up with some tasting notes and products for you to try.

As an appellation, Lodi gained its designation in 1986 as an AVA: American Viticultural Area (similar to DOCGs from Italy for example). Situated east of San Francisco, Lodi finds its home at the edge of the Sacramento River Delta [1]. For perspective, this places Lodi South-East of the famed Napa Valley. Originally, the area produced a lot of bulk grapes to be shipped throughout California for the production of California Winemaker Blends [3]. One of the most prominent grapes grown in Lodi is Zinfandel, a big, thick skinned grape. Using Zinfandel in blends adds deep purple hues, making red wines look more appealing, and giving a good dose of fruity flavours which is favourable for higher production wineries looking to beef up their reds. Big blends like Apothic Red and our own Unruly Red lend some of their appeal to Zinfandel grapes coming from the Lodi region. In recent years, more producers are now seeing the potential of bottling their own estate wines over selling off their grapes to other wineries. This has caused a surge of wineries sprouting up in the last decade, and the proliferation of the ‘Lodi’ appellation appearing on bottle labels.

Just over a decade ago, Lodi had 10 wineries. Today there are over 75 and the number is continuing to grow [1, 2]. Lodi growers are known for their old vine Zinfandel (some vines have been in the ground from as far back as the civil war). If you have never seen old vines before, I recommend looking up some photos. They are stubby, gnarly, low lying branches that look like something from a Gothic horror novel. As the vines get older, they produce less fruit but give more concentrated flavours to the wines. There are numerous sub-regions within Lodi that see various degrees of soil composition that lend to the creation of some pretty unique wines [1, 3]. Spanish varietals such as Albarino and Tempranillo are being grown with moderate success, as well as some Rhone varietals such as Carignane (which gains an E in the US) [3,4]. High quality Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc also emerge from this region, sporting the ‘Lodi’ AVA proudly on the bottle.

Generally speaking, Lodi is a very warm climate. Being further inland than Napa Valley, it does not benefit as much from the coastal winds coming off the Pacific. Hot winds rise and bring in cool breezes from the Delta, cooling the region and providing a long warm growing season that is focused within a 30 mile corridor around Lodi. Some exceptional vintages, 2010 and 2011, saw below average temperatures through most of the region [3]. This allowed for a slower, more even ripening and has caused the old-vine Zin from those vintages to really shine. Other things to keep an eye out for are new wines on the rise. With the 2014 growing season in full-swing, we can expect to see the 2012 releases hitting shelves soon (if they haven’t done so already at the time this blog is published).

With all of the technical jargon out of the way, I would like to delve into what products from Lodi can be found on the shelves here for you to enjoy. One of the biggest names in wine, Mondavi, hosts his entire Woodbridge line of wines, which is a more value-based brand, out of the appellation. The terrior allows for some high quality grapes at lower prices than can be found in Napa and the Greater Sonoma area. There is a good collection of killer mid-range wines hailing from the region as well, such as the Earthquake Zinfandel or wines from Cline vineyards.

I would like to finish off with some tasting notes of products to try, as I am usually inclined to write about. The main inspiration for this article was a meeting with Scott Montgomery from the Delicato Family Vineyards. Scott shared some of his Lodi Appellation wines with the staff and helped educate us a little on the main directives of the wineries that full under the DFV label.

Gnarly Head Zinfandel $18.99

Coming from vines with ages ranging from 35-80 years old, Gnarly Head packs the intense flavours of an old-vine Zin at a pretty reasonable price bracket. The word Gnarly used in the title is due to the gothic-looking nature of the pruned vines that I mentioned earlier, as well as the surfer slang to describe something interesting as ‘gnarly, dude’. The style of Gnarly Head advocates the use of zero oak in the production of the wine, giving a much better sight into the fruit profile of the Zinfandel grape without the added vanilla and spice that comes from extensive oak aging you find on most American Zin. It is a blast of ripe raspberry, blue berry and boysenberry and refreshing acidity. Tannins are still evident from the grape skin, but the overall dryness is lessened by the stainless steel fermentation. A beautiful barbeque wine, enjoy it with back ribs glazed with a savory sauce with a touch of sweetness.

Noble Vines: 181 Merlot and 337 Cabernet Sauvignon $16.99

The other product line Scott introduced us to was the Noble Vines line. Specifically, he tasted us on the 181 Merlot and the 337 Cabernet Sauvignon. The number on the wine label represents the specific clone of the grape variety used to create the wine. Clone 181 of Merlot was born in Pomerol, France and is valued for its late-blooming nature. In Lodi soils, it offers up a Bordeaux-style wine, elegantly displaying cherry, blackberry and sweet spice on the nose. Smooth tannins support the core flavors of plum and spice, balanced by a lovely cut of acidity. Preferred food pairing is with saucy Italian pastas or braised lamb shanks.
Clone 337 of Cabernet also calls Bordeaux its home, but finds favorable climate in Lodi. Sunny days followed by cooling nights play a key role in bringing out the best of the grape. The grapes of the 337 Cabernet undergo two fermentations: it starts with a whole grape fermentation, to extract additional flavor from the skin before the grapes are pressed and a secondary fermentation takes place. This results in a wine with supple tannins, good acidity, and an unmistakable blackberry/black cherry core. Neutral oak is utilized (2-5 years old) to give only a slight influence to the wine, adding a bit of toast and black pepper spice on the back of the palate. The fruit is the real star with this wine, making it pair well with sweet barbeque and roasted pork loin.

That wraps up the latest edition of my wine blog. Thank you for taking the time to read this post. I invite anyone to comment with their own thoughts and opinions this might invoke. Have a cool wine story to tell? Come visit me in store and we can swap stories.


[1] http://www.lodiwine.com/

[2] http://www.lodigrowers.com/

[3] http://www.snooth.com/articles/live-from-lodi/

[4] The World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnson, Jancis Robinson and Mitchell Beazley (5th Edition)

Time Posted: May 7, 2014 at 5:15 PM
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