Friday, May 24, 2019

Lodi Wine: Prost from Mokelumne Glen Vineyards

During our Snooth trip to Lodi, a major theme stressed was the large diversity of grape varieties grown in the AVA.  Over 100 in fact.  But this number results primarily from the unique endeavor of one family, the Koths and Mokelumne Glen Vineyard. This vineyard is located on the east side of the Mokelumne River AVA right alongside the river and is planted with more than 50 German and Austrian grapes. It's hard to imagine that there are even that many such grape varieties, but the Koths found them.  Their entire portfolio is listed below but we will be focusing on a few grapes:  Kerner, Bacchus, Dornfelder, Blaufränkisch, and Zweigelt.

It all started in the early 1990s when Bob Koth and his wife Mary Lou started traveling to Germany to visit their daughter Ann-Marie, who was studying abroad on a Fulbright scholarship. After becoming acquainted with German wine, Koth was determined to grow the Northern European grapes in Lodi's Mediterranean climate. Randy Caparoso, in the Lodi Wine Blog, explains how this was possible:
No doubt, the immediate proximity to the river's cool, refreshing waters (you still find local kids splashing away on hot summer days) helps to moderate the Mediterranean climate in the Koth family's lush, shaded corner of the wine world.

Furthermore, classic Mokelumne River AVA Tokay sandy loam – basically, a deep, fertile yet porous, slightly alkaline (pH of 7.0 to 7.5 below 4 feet) pile of finely crushed granite accumulated over millions of years of run-off from the Sierra Nevada mountains to the east – helps contribute to retention of natural acidity in grapes cultivated by Koth, even in this Mediterranean setting.
Our group was introduced to Mokelumne Glen Vineyards through a tasting of various wines produced by MGV grapes and a vineyard tour led by vineyard manager Brett Koth. The vineyard itself is nondescript and overgrown with cover crops. Walking deeper into the vineyard leads to newer plantings and a slope down to the Mokelumne River which often floods lower plots. But out of these seemingly abandoned and overgrown vines derives wonderful and complex wines.

A perfect example is the Markus Wine Company Markus 2016 Nativo ($22), a blend of  69% Kerner, 21% Riesling, 10% Bacchus. MGV is the only source of the rare Kerner grape in California and accounts for 50% of the total crop in the United States. This was my favorite white of the tasting and one I brought home with me. The three lots are picked on the same morning and pressed together to co-ferment as a traditional field blend. The wine aged on its lees for awhile which provides a little texture for this citrus, stone fruit, and minerally driven wine. The winery also produces the Markus 2016 Nimmo ($24) which is a 64% Kerner, 16% Riesling, 5% Bacchus blend from MGV plus 15% Gewürztraminer from Grand Island Vineyards, Clarksburg.   Here's Markus Niggli to describe the wine and Mokelumne Glen Vineyards.
I applaud to the Koth family that they have the passion for these unknown varietals and that they are willing to plant them, even facing the troubles of selling them. I believe others can learn from them. The microclimate at the lower level of the vineyard is very diverse. It is the coolest spot in the morning but restores the warmth at the end of the day. A perfect site to grow grapes. We are trying to showcase that in our wines. Our wines are light and refreshing, the acid is focused and the fruit is showcasing what Lodi can offer. A perfect example is the Nimmo blend: The Kerner has the minerality and flintiness, the Riesling the sweetness, the Gewuerztraminer the spice and the Bacchus the acidity, layered by the oak profile.
Mokelumne Glen grapes are also in high demand outside of Lodi with Sonoma's Sidebar Cellars also attracted to Kerner. Sidebar is a project from David Ramey & Ramey Wine Cellars focused on "fun and diverse" grape varieties. And their 2018 Kerner Mokelumne River AVA ($25) is fun; expect bright floral aromas and acidity enveloping a textured citrus and peach core with layers of minerals and spices. According to Associate Winemaker Lydia Cummins:
"We have been working with the Bob and Brett Koth since 2014. Collaborating with such passionate growers is a true pleasure... Kerner is an aromatic white grape that was developed in the late 1920s in Germany. It is a cross between Trollinger (a red variety also known as Schiava) and Riesling and is grown most widely in Germany, Austria and in Northeastern Italy in Alto Adige. Kerner produces wines with some of the best qualities of Riesling (the gorgeous aromatics and crisp, mineral-laced acidity) paired with the mouth-filling, beautiful palate of Gewürztraminer. Some Kerners are made with residual sugar to balance acidity, but they can be problematic when pairing with food. We make ours dry so it pairs exceptionally well. We whole cluster press our Kerner for phenolic delicacy. We ferment the juice in small stainless steel barrels using native yeast and age the wine sur lie for three months. It does not go through malolactic fermentation. We lightly fine our Kerner and bottled unfiltered."

Dornfelder is one of the 16 red grape varieties grown by Mokelumne Glen Vineyards and is a dark-skinned German variety. It was created by August Herold in 1955 at the grape breeding institute in Weinberg. PRIE Vineyards crafts the 100% 2017 Dornfelder ($27) using a combination of MVG's older (~70%) and newer (~30%) plantings. Like a good German Dornfelder, this wine has rich layers of black and blue fruit with approachable tannins and acidity. And quite savory.

Trail Marker Wine Company is another non-Lodi operation sourcing MGV fruit and owners Drew Huffline and Emily Virgil were present to pour their unique California Zweigelt and Blaufrankisch. They noted that "We fell in love with the story of the Koth Family planting all these ultra-obscure varietals out in the middle of Lodi. We were also drawn to the varietals themselves and the opportunity to tell our own story with these wines. Trail Marker's focus is primarily on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir but at this point, just about everyone has an opinion of what 'California Chardonnay' or 'California Pinot Noir' should taste like - for better or worse. NO ONE has an opinion of what 'California Zweigelt' or 'California Blaufrankisch' should taste like!" And with the Trail Marker 2017 Lodi Zweigelt ($27) expect a similar profile as the PRIE Dornfelder but replace the black and blue fruit with sour cherries.

Regular readers are familiar with our obsession with Blaufrankisch and its Hungarian equivalent Kekfrankos so I was pleased to see the Trail Marker 2017 Lodi Blaufrankisch on the tasting menu. In general, Hungarian Kekfrankos provide similar weight, acid, and structure as old world Pinot Noir with more spice and tarter fruit flavors. The Trail Marker Blaufrankisch has a similar character with more expressive fruit and less spice.

Hatton Daniels Wine Cellars also produces a pleasant and well made MGV Blaufrankisch. Owner/Winemaker Dan Fishman prefers to source fruit from vineyards where the owner/manager actually lives on-site as "this is better than any certification for indicating someone who really cares for the land, and obviously, the Koth's exemplify this idea". He also believes that Mokelumne Glen Blaufrankisch provides the most depth and character of the MGV red grape varieties he works with and comes close to the Austrian versions "in terms of the fruit character and complexity".  Their 2018 MGV Blaufrankisch ($24) is both weighty and complex with bright fruit and approachable tannins. Cheers to Blaufrankisch and the other Mokelumne Glen grape varieties.

Red Grapes
Affenthaler, Blaufrankisch, Blauer Portugieser, Cabernet Dorsa (Dornfelder and Cabernet Sauvignon), Domina (Blauer Portugieser x Pinot Noir), Dunkelfelder (Färbertraube x Blauer Portugieser), Dornfelder (Helfensteiner x Heroldrebe), Fruhburgunder (a.k.a. Pinot Noir Précoce), Regent (Silvaner and Muller Thurgau x Chambourcin), Rondo (Zarya Severa x St. Laurent), Rotberger (Trollinger x Riesling), Schwarzriesling (Pinot Meunier), Spaetburgunder (Pinot Noir), St. Laurent, Trollinger, Zweigelt

White Grapes
Albalonga (Riesling x Silvaner clone), Arnsberger (Riesling Clones 88 x 64), Bacchus (Silvaner x Riesling), Ehrenfelser (Riesling x Silvaner), Faberrebe (Pinot Blanc x Müller-Thurgau), Forta (Silvaner x Madeleine Angevine), Gewurztraminer, Gruner Veltliner, Gutedel (Chasselas ), Huxelrebe (Gutedel x Courtiller Musqué), Kanzler (Müller-Thurgau x Silvaner), Kerner (Trollinger x Riesling), Morio Muscat (Silvaner x Pinot Blanc), Muller-Thurgau (Riesling x Madeleine Royale), Noblessa (Madeleine Angevine x Silvaner), Optima (Riesling and Sylvaner x Müller-Thurgau), Oraniensteiner (Riesling x Silvaner), Ortega (Müller-Thurgau x Siegerrebe), Perle (Gewürztraminer x Müller-Thurgau), Phoenix (Bacchus x Villard Blanc), Prinzipal (Geisenheim 323 58 x Ehrenfelser), Räuschling, Reisling, Reisling Clones (49, 110, 198, 239, 218 N356, Martini S10), Roter Veltliner, Rotgipfler (Traminer x Roter Veltliner), Rulander (Pinot Gris), Scheurebe (Riesling x unknown), Schönburger (Pinot Noir x (Chasselas x Muscat Hamburg)), Siegerrebe (Madeleine Angevine x Gewürztraminer), Sirius (Bacchus x Müller-Thurgau), Sylvaner, Traminer, Weißburgunder (Pinot Blanc), Würzer (Gewürztraminer x Müller-Thurgau)

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Tio Pepe Palomino Fino Jerez Xeres Sherry

"There can't be a more misunderstood type of wine than Sherry." The Misunderstood Genius that is Fino Sherry  - De Long Blog

Fino ("refined") is a dry, pale white sherry wine produced within the D.O. Jerez located in south-western Spain, near the coast and just northeast of Gibraltar. The Jerez DO (Denominación de Origen) title was Spain's very first, awarded in 1933. It is strongly influenced by both the cooling effects of the Atlantic Ocean and the warmth that originates in the eastern plains. The coastal winds moderate temperatures, helping to preserve acidity and also provides natural air-conditioning in the wine cellars. According to, "this contributes to a slow and gradual maturation of the wines". Because Fino is delicate, it is generally made from Palomino grapes grown on the best soils, namely the chalky, white albariza marls. It is meant to be consumed fresh and young and one of the best-known examples is Tio Pepe ($19.99).

In 1835 at only 23 years old Manuel María González Ángel founded the precursor to Gonzalez Byass creating the Tío Pepe (Uncle Joe) sherry brand inspired by his uncle, José Ángel. In fact, the winery’s foundational solera is still inscribed with “Solera del Tío Pepe”. Nearly ten years into his operation Manuel united with his English Agent Robert Blake Byass to form González Byass as they shipped "exceptionally pale..." Tío Pepe wine to the United Kingdom. Together they built the company to be the leading exporter of sherry wines in Jerez. González Byass focused exclusively on sherry until the 1980's when they started incorporating wineries from other notable Spanish wine regions into the corporate umbrella. During the same period "the Byass family withdrew from the business and the winery passed into the hands of the direct descendants of Manuel María González".

González Byass owns 800 hectares in vineyards in Jerez Superior where the hand-picked Palomino grapes are gently pressed without crushing the stems, seeds, or skins. The resulting must is called "yema" which is fermented and fortified to 15.5% then enters the Tio Pepe solera system where it is aged for five years in American oak. During this aging period, the wine undergoes biological aging under a layer of yeast called "flor". This gives Tio Pepe its unique pungent aromas that blend with the almond notes characteristic of the Palomino grape. For those where dry sherry is an acquired taste, serve well chilled to lessen these aromas. Otherwise, serve slightly chilled or in a cocktail like the Tuxedo Cocktail. Cheers.

Friday, May 17, 2019

The Caledonia Spirits Barr Hill Gin: Enjoy Neat or with Tio Pepe Sherry

Most gin brands differentiate their products by the amount of juniper or other botanicals used in the process.  In general, the grain bill has less impact on the spirits as the botanicals drive the flavor.  This differentiation is definitely the case with the Caledonia Spirits Barr Hill Gin ($35) as it consists of only two botanicals: juniper and honey. Like a distilled gin, the juniper is added to a neutral spirit before running through the distillery's custom designed 300-gallon extraction still. The spirit is cut with water to 45% ABV and then fortified with honey to provide a unique profile. Since this step is performed post-distillation the product is labeled correctly Gin as opposed to Distilled Gin (labeled if all the botanicals were added pre-distillation).

Caledonia Spirits is named after its Vermont county home and was founded by beekeeper Todd Hardie. In 2009 he acquired a 15-gallon fire heated pot still and experimented with distilling honey - deciding that Gin was the most likely option. He recruited a local homebrew store owner, Ryan Christiansen, who eventually sold his business and together the duo distilled 235 cases of Barr Hill Gin and Barr Hill Vodka the first year. In 2015, Hardie sold the operation to Christiansen and used the proceeds to purchase a farm which provides the distillery with barley, rye, and elderberry.

I prefer to consume the Barr Hill Gin neat or with an ice cube in order to enjoy the interplay of juniper and honey. The sweetness starts early, envelopes the mouth, then transitions to juniper, leading to a mildly hot burn. The gin packs plenty of flavor with just two botanicals.

I also wanted to experiment with a cocktail and chose a version of a Martini called the Tuxedo Cocktail which swaps vermouth with fino sherry. Fino is a dry, pale white sherry wine produced within the D.O. Jerez. This recipe replaces vermouth's herbal character with the sherry's inherent nuttiness and in this case, the sherry is the reliable Tio Pepe from Gonzalez Byass. Use 2oz gin, 1 oz sherry, and a dash of bitters. The honey and nuttiness from the sherry compliment each other with the juniper still dominating the finish. Not a bad alternative - but I still prefer this gin neat. Cheers.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Harpers Ferry Brewing - Overlooking the Potomac and Maryland Heights

On September 13th, 1862 Confederate units under Brig. Gens. Joseph B. Kershaw assaulted the lightly defended Maryland Heights, the highest mountain overlooking the strategic transportation hub of Harpers Ferry. This town was strategically significant because it was built at the point where the Shenandoah River meets the Potomac River with a junction of the Baltimore-Ohio Railroad. Thus Gen. Robert E. Lee sent Maj. Gen. Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson to capture the town to buttress his supplies while he marched into Maryland prior to the Battle of Antietam. Harpers Ferry was virtually indefensible as it is surrounded on all sides by higher ground. Yet the Union commander, Col. Dixon S. Miles refused to strongly fortify any of these positions and instead concentrated his forces near the town.

By mid-afternoon, the inexperienced and overmatched Union soldiers had abandoned Maryland Heights and escaped across a pontoon bridge into the town. Col. Miles, compounded his previous misjudgment and refused to press a counter-attack. With the Confederate capture of Maryland Heights as well as the Confederate positions in Loudoun Heights to the east and Bolivar Heights to the west, the fate of 12,000 Union troops were sealed. On September 15th, the largest surrender of United States forces during the Civil War took place.

Late last year Harpers Ferry Brewing opened on Loudoun Heights (the northernmost point in Loudoun County) providing generous views of Maryland Heights and for those with a keen eye, Harpers Ferry itself. The brewery is located next to the Harpers Ferry Adventure Center whose owners J.R. and Holly Heffner teamed with Old 690 Brewing Company's owners Darren and Tammi Gryniuk and Mark and Ronda Powell to launch this destination brewery. It houses a 15-barrel brewing system, a 40 tap inside bar, a 20 tap outside bar, and ample seating. Besides the views of Maryland Heights to the north and west, the east provides scenic views of the Potomac and Maryland countryside.

 And expect plenty of beer options. During our visit in late April, the brewery was pouring a dozen beers with multiple styles represented. Our flights consisted of the Tri-State Tripel, Oatmeal Stout, Baltic Porter, Wake Up Call White Stout, River Daze Berliner Weisse, and Potomac Pale Ale. The most intriguing were the Tripel, Berliner Weisse, and White Stout - the later a lactose enabled, creamy, and coffee noted brew. Use theCompass Craft Beverage Finder to guide you to these delicious beers and scenic views. Cheers.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Lodi Wine: Turley Wine Cellars Old Vine Cinsault & Zinfandel

The quality of Lodi wine grapes is not only evident in the excellent wines made by Lodi wineries, but also the wines produced by non-Lodi wineries. One example is Turley Wine Cellars, who largely make single-vineyard designate wines, with several focusing on Lodi old vine Zinfandel & Cinsault. The winery is based in Paso Robles with a second tasting room in Amador and sources fruit from several of Lodi's old vine vineyards such as the Bechthold Vineyard, Kirschenmann Vineyard, Dogtown Vineyard, and Steacy Ranch. During our Snooth-Lodi visit, Turley Director of Winemaking Tegan Passalacqua introduced us to these vineyards through a couple of verticals within a single-vineyard designate and a horizontal across multiple vineyards.

The Bechthold Vineyard
The Bechthold Vineyard
Much has been written about the famous Bechthold Vineyard -- not only the oldest continually planted vineyard in Lodi but also in the world. The vineyard was first planted by Joseph Spenker in 1885 as Black Malvoisie. The self-rooted vines are not as susceptible to phylloxera (a root louse that eats away at roots near the surface) because of the extremely sandy soils in the Mokelumne River AVA.  That was not the case in Europe where phylloxera ravaged vineyards in the late 19th century until their vines were grafted upon American rootstock. Because the Bechthold grapes were believed to be Black Malvoisie, they carried little interest to commercial winemakers and were instead sold to home winemakers or shipped out of state. Al Bechthold, who farmed the vineyard from the mid-seventies until 2008, claimed "I came very close to pulling the entire vineyard several times… the only thing that kept that from happening was my age!"(1). Fortunately, before he could replant the vineyard, Kay Bogart, from the Department of Viticulture & Enology at U.C. Davis suggested DNA testing and in 2003 UC Davis determined the grapes were Cinsault.
Turley Cinsault Bechthold Vineyard
Turley is one of a half-dozen or so wineries able to source this fruit from Bechthold where they harvest a plot in the mid-section of the vineyard. Passalacqua was attracted to the vineyard because, "..wet years, dry years, early years or late years – there’s nothing an old vineyard like this hasn’t seen and almost nothing that it can’t adjust to on its own. And Bechthold Vineyard defies what a lot of people think of Lodi wines. It makes a red wine that is not heavy, not high in alcohol, but rather, light and refreshing. It reminds me of crus Beaujolais in some ways – it has structure, but also high drinkability, and its aromatics are intoxicating, extremely perfumed. Some say, as a grape, Cinsault makes a simple wine, but we do whole cluster fermentation, which adds a lot of complexity.”

We compared two Turley Bechthold Cinsault, the 2013 Lodi Cinsault Bechthold Vineyard and the 2017 Lodi Cinsault Bechthold Vineyard ($20). The later is fresh and bright with a solid fruit structure of tart raspberries. The grapes were fermented whole clustered so expect subtle tannins but loads of acidity. The 2013 retains similar brightness with the acids pushing the fruit forward. There was also more tannic structure providing a denser wine. Two delicious wines.

Turley Dogtown Zinfandel
Dogtown Vineyard
The Dogtown Vineyard was planted own-rooted in 1944 and is located on the eastern side of Lodi within the Clements Hills AVA. The region is warmer and wetter with more clay and volcanic soils in contrast to the sandy Mokelumne River AVA. Turley took over management in 1997 which required the replanting of dead spots with vines grafted to St. George rootstock. And even these juvenile vines are head-trained like the original vineyard; this trellis system creates the gnarly look of each vine and limits yields. Dogtown is also dry-farmed because says Passalacqua "dry farmed vineyards produce superior wine" (2). All of Turley's wines are fermented using wild yeast as Passalacqua noted this "gives you more complex wines, with more terroir distinctions". During our visit with Tegan, he presented a vertical tasting of three Dogtown Zinfandels: the 1997, 2010, and 2013 Lodi Zinfandel Dogtown Vineyard. The 2013 showed noticeable leather and tea mixed with sour cherries and great acidity. Still a showoff. The 2010 had lower amounts of each characteristic but the wine's acidity still made it playful. Finally, the 1997, the first vintage after Turley took over the property's management, still shows the potential of the vineyard. The fruit is slightly waning but there are boosts of acid that keep the wine lively and not flabby.

2016 Turley Zinfandel
Kirschenmann Vineyard & Steacy Ranch
The Kirschenmann Vinyard hosts ancient vine Zinfandel as it was planted, own-rooted, back in 1915.  Passalacqua owns and farms this vineyard which contains the ultra sandy soils of the east side of the Mokelumne River AVA.  Tegan has also discovered that deeper sediment contains limestone - a most coveted soil type. Like Dogtown, the vineyard is dry farmed and head-trained, but unlike Dogtown, the vineyard receives a heavier dose of the delta breezes which help cool the grapes (3).

The Steacy Ranch is another ancient vineyard (1907) and located on the east side of the Mokelumne River AVA, but this is the oldest vineyard in Lodi planted on St. George rootstock. Like the rest it is dry-farmed and the soils contain slightly more gravel interspersed with the Mokelumne River sandy soil. The older vines are harvested together to form the Turley Lodi Zinfandel Steacy Ranch the whereas the younger vines are designated for the "Juvenile" program.

Tegan provided an opportunity for a horizontal tasting for 2016 across these two vineyards as well as the 2016 from Dogtown Vineyard. And each was distinct, representing the features of each vineyard. The 2016 Lodi Zinfandel Kirschenmann Vineyard ($39) was the lightest and brightest of the trio with bright, bright cherries. Passalacqua noted this was the most Pinot-ish of his Zinfandels. The 2016 Lodi Zinfandel Steacy Ranch ($30) was meatier in the classic east side Mokelumne River style. The wine was darker, firmer, zestier, with some black tea, but abundant acids. The 2016 Lodi Zinfandel Dogtown Vineyard ($44) was the biggest with solid tannins and funk but still finishing with bright acids. Of the three vineyards, the Dogtown has the smallest clusters and yields resulting in a dense wine. Cheers to Tegan Passalacqua and Turley Wine Cellars.

(1) Lodi’s oldest existing vines: the magical Bechthold Vineyard
(2) Why Turley is bonkers for Lodi
(3) Can Zinfandel be saved? Conversation with Turley's Tegan Passalacqua

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

The 2019 WineAmerica Wines of America Reception

After a week of meetings and lobbying, WineAmerica held its annual Wines of America Reception in coordination with the Congressional Wine Caucus; an event that features a wide selection of wines from across the United States. This year the states represented crossed the map from Georgia to Vermont, Texas to Michigan, and Arizona to Washington.  The wine grapes continued to expand across regions as there was Gruner Veltliner from Pennsylvania (Galen Glen Vineyard & Mazza Vineyards) and Michigan (St. Julian Winery); Albarino from Virginia (Ingleside Vineyards) and Washington (Maryhill Winery); Blaufrankish-Lemberger from New York (Fox Run Vineyards), Indiana (Huber Orchard & Winery), and Colorado (Carlson Vineyards); Viognier from Idaho (Cinder) and Texas (Blue Ostrich Winery & Vineyard & Becker Vineyards).  Cinsault is now grown in Texas-(William Chris Vineyards) and three Russian grape varieties are found in Maryland's Big Cork Vineyards Russian Kiss. This an off-dry wine we keep well stocked in the cellar.

Other notable wines from the other 46 were Vermont's La Garagista Damejeanne Marquette, Big Cork Vineyards BCV Reserve Petit Verdot, the sparkling wines from the Illinois Sparkling Co., the Chardonnay Ice Wine from Ohio's Vermilion Valley Vineyards, the Pinot Noir Rose from Michigan's Chateau Grand Traverse, and the Arche Vineyard & Winery Syrah from Texas.

There are also a few wines I'd like to highlight from Oregon and California. The Brooks Winery Amycas is a delicious blend of Reisling, Muscat, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, and Gewurztraminer. That wine needs to come East.  And Sonoma's Saini Vineyards used an interesting blend in their Valentina Marie Rose - Grenache, Carignane, and Sangiovese. Dry and flavorful.  Saini also provided a contrast in vineyard sites pouring Old Vine Zinfandel from the Apple Block and Olive Block; the later is deeper and bigger whereas the Apple Block is earthier.  Cheers.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Lodi Wine: Mediterranean Mineral Vermentino

Vermentino -- the "thinking man’s Pinot Grigio", Jim Moore, winemaker/proprietor of Uvaggio (1)
Like Albarino, our Snooth group quickly noticed another under-appreciated white wine grape grown in Lodi Wine county: Vermentino. This Mediterranean grape propers in the Italian regions of Liguria, Tuscany, Piedmont, Corsica, and Sardinia as well as in the southerly French regions of Provence and Languedoc-Roussillon where it is known as Rolle. Vermentino wines typically exhibit herby and lavender-like notes in the nose, bright citrus, stone fruits, and mineral characters, particularly if the grapes were sourced from seaside vineyards. Vermentino also seems to be able to retain its natural acidity even in relatively warm areas. And on occasion winemakers use various winemaking techniques such as skin contact, lees contact, and barrel aging to create a Vermentino whose weight and aromatics can be compared to that of Viognier.

During our Lodi tour, we sampled four Lodi Vermentino wines that shared these Mediterranean characteristics -- particularly the bright citrus, racy acidity, and salty minerality. At face value, this may not seem surprising since the Lodi AVA is described as a Mediterranean climate region. But similar terrior doesn't necessarily translate into equivalent wines; variations in sunlight, rainfall, and soil obviously cause distinctions. And even if one condition is similar -- like soil -- it is "physically impossibility for vines to uptake the taste of minerals through their root systems" (2).  Yet what makes Lodi so conducive to Vermentino that over fifteen years ago Napa-based Uvaggio Winery planted it in several Lodi sub-AVAs (3).

It appears that the combination of abundant sunshine and similar soil composition lays the foundation and viticulture practices round out the profile. Two of the four Lodi wines derive from Delu Vineyard in the Alta Mesa AVA known for its nutrient depleted soils comprised of sandy loam, clay, and strata of decomposed granite - somewhat similar to Sardinia. And according to John Gash of PRIE Winery, "This particular vineyard is located along a small wooded creek providing a small micro-climate allowing the vineyard to stay a couple degrees cooler in the summer. In addition to the creek, the vineyard has a small valley that traps the cool delta nights."

The other two derive from the Mokelumne River AVA where the sandy soils also provide plenty of their own mineral character. Wineries can also capture a minerally taste by harvesting early at higher acidity and lower fruit profiles - this allows the "sensation of minerality to push through in subsequent wines".  Here's Peltier winemaker Susana Rodriquez Vasquez: "to preserve those subtle qualities, we ferment the wine in small stainless steel tanks, and we pick early enough to get the right acidity and keep the alcohol low. The wine sees no oak, and we get it into the bottle early to keep its freshness and elegance."

Our group had specific thoughts of each wine and each should be available through the Lodi Wine Store. Cheers.

Todd Godbout - WineCompass on the Peltier Winery & Vineyards 2017 Black Diamond - Vermentino ($18)
Before tasting this estate wine I couldn't really recall an American Vermentino wine that matched an Italian Vermentino in terms of acidity and minerality. The citrus profile blends with the salinity and almond body for a light and delicious wine.

Debbie Gioquindo CSW, WLS - Hudson Valley Wine Goddess on the m2 wines 2018 m2 Lodi - Mokelumne River Vermentino
Vermentino is not a grape let alone wine you see often grown stateside. You recognize it as an Italian variety and expect the wine to be a product of Italy. In Lodi, California they are growing Vermentino and M2 Wines makes a nice crisp, clean Vermentino with bright acidity. You’ll find it hints of pear and citrus, predominantly lemon-lime, with mandarin orange on the finish. A great wine to celebrate Spring!

Luiz Alberto - #winelover on the Prie Winery 2017 Delu Vineyards Vermentino ($21)
"The Prie Vineyards Vermentino was one of the “great whites” discovered during my recent visit to Lodi. Lots of citrus fruit and minerality in a ballerina body. In a blind tasting, it would be hard not to think that it was from a vineyard with a view of the Mediterranean… You know, those wines that you can taste the saltiness of the sea and feel a light breeze on your face."

Michelle Williams - Rockin Red Blog on the Fields Family Wines 2017 Delu Vineyard Vermentino ($21)
"Not surprising, this Mediterranean grape has found a home in Lodi, and, in my opinion, Ryan Sherman, winemaker at Fields Family Wines, is knocking it out of the park. In a blind tasting, the 2017 Fields Family Wines Vermentino Dula Vineyard ($21), was paired against one of Corsica's best - 2017 Yves Leccia Patrimonio Blanc ($42). The tasting stumped five wine writers, leaving us unable to determine Lodi versus old world Vermentino - one of many examples of how Lodi wines deliver high quality at value prices."

(1) Lodi’s ingenioso Vermentino & Moscato
(2) Peltier leads the way with Lodi grown Vermentino and Sauvignon Blanc
(3) Uvaggio Vermentino

Monday, April 29, 2019

The State of the Rhone Nation

Last month the Rhone Rangers presented a seminar on the State of the Rhone Nation at City Winery in Washington D.C. The seminar was moderated by local wine writer Dave McIntyre and featured seven prominent American wine growers who specialize in Rhone grape varieties. The Rangers mission is to promote American Rhone varietal wines, specifically, those that include "75% of one of the twenty-two traditional Rhone grape varieties as approved by the French government for the wines of the Cotes du Rhone". The non-profit consists of over 100 winery members with the majority located in the Paso Robles AVA, followed by Sonoma County, Santa Barbara County, and the Lodi AVA. Other regions represented in the seminar and the associated trade-consumers tastings were Monterey County, Santa Lucia Highlands, El Dorado AVA, and the Monticello AVA in Virginia. This latter region was represented by Horton Vineyards where the late Dennis Horton planted Rhone grape varieties back in the late 1980s. And here are the Rhone-inspired backgrounds for each of the wineries that participated in the seminar.

Halter Ranch Vineyard: 2017 Grenache Blanc, Paso Robles ($28)
The property encompassing Halter Ranch Vineyard was first settled in the 1880s with the present estate vineyards established in 1994. Over the years the estate has expanding to include 17 grape varieties with 40% of the estate planted with Rhone varieties. The elevation, excellent water drainage, sun exposure, and limestone-rich soils of the Westside Adelaida District helps create a juicy, fresh, and aromatic Grenache Blanc.

Horton Vineyards 2016 Viognier ($20)
In the 1980s Dennis Horton traveled to the Rhone valley where he realized that the thick skin and loose clusters of Viognier would be perfect for the Virginia climate. Twenty-five years later this insight proved accurate as the Virginia Wine Board established Viognier as the signature grape of the Commonwealth. Horton has continued to be a consistent and reliable producer of Viognier showcasing the old warm charm of stone fruit and balanced acidity.

Tercero Wines 2018 Tercero Mourvèdre Rosé, Santa Barbara County ($30)
Larry Schaffer is proving that Rhone grape varieties can excel in Santa Barbara County mostly grown in the Santa Ynez Valley AVA, Ballard Canyon AVA, Los Olivos District AVA, or the Los Alamos Valley. Each region provides a distinct micro-climate and soil type enabling the disperse planting based on ripening time and soil conditions. This Mourvèdre Rosé is a great example as it is a blend of different vineyard plots and shows a tropical aroma, strawberries and light cherries, and a persistent finish.

Two Shepherds Wine 2017 Two Shepherds Wine Cinsault ($20)
In general, William Allen sources his passion for Rhone varieties from Sonoma's Russian River Valley but in this case, he has access to the oldest surviving Cinsault Vineyard in the world -- the famed 135-year-old Bechthold Vineyard in Lodi. This vineyard still produces excellent fruit as modern sustainable vineyard practices have increased the health and vigor of grape clusters. This Cinsault differs slightly from the several single varietal wines produced by other wineries as Allen utilized minimal wine-making techniques such as native yeast, no additions other than minimal S02, neutral barrel fermentation and aging, whole cluster pressing, and unfined & unfiltered production. The result: a delicious wine with a candied cherry aroma, light and tart cranberries, and fresh acidity

Tablas Creek Vineyard 2016 Tablas Creek Grenache, Paso Robles ($40)
Perhaps the Rhone Rangers owes their actual existence to the pioneering work of Tablas Creek after Robert Haas established a friendship with the Perrin family of Château de Beaucastel and later established the winery in 1989. Clones and rootstocks were imported from the famed Rhone estate and after a USDA-mandated three-year quarantine the Tablas Creek estate was planted. These and other newly imported clones have spread to help establish other Rhone dominated vineyards such as Lodi's Acquiesce Winery & Vineyards. This Grenache is back after a few years hiatus and shows the old world character of soft fruit, spiciness, depth, texture, and chewy tannins.

Ridge Vineyards 2015 Ridge Red-Blend, Sonoma ($36) - 54% Syrah, 30% Grenache, 16% Mataro
In 1991 the Lytton Springs vineyard formally became part of the Ridge family when the winery acquired the property because of its acclaimed Zinfandel fame. As a collateral benefit, this Dry Creek Valley estate is also a suitable host for Rhone varieties such as Syrah, Grenache, and Mataro - the Californian name for Mourvèdre. And these Lytton Springs Rhone wines are known for their barnyard, leather, and tobacco characters.

J. Lohr Winery 2016 J. Lohr Syrah (South Ridge) Paso Robles ($15)
When Jerry Lohr decided to enter the wine industry, he searched the best sites in California to produce Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet and settled on Paso Robles to plant his Cabernet vines. Like Halter Ranch's experience, the vines benefit from elevation, excellent water drainage, sun exposure, limestone-rich soils, and the dramatic diurnal swings of  50-degrees. These conditions are also conducive to Syrah which are grown in the estate's South Ridge -- a large vineyard encompasses the warmer Estrella and San Miguel districts as well as the cooler Creston, Adelaida, and Willow Creek districts.  The grapes are sourced equally from these two warm-cold groups which according to current CEO Steve Lohr "the warmer areas tend toward black tea and camphor while the cooler districts provide aromatic white pepper and blue fruit notes.  An excellent wine - and value.

Friday, April 26, 2019

Lodi Wine: Albarino Ascending

"When I first tasting Albarino, I became very excited about this grape and knew we had to grow it", Steve Felten, Owner\President Klinker Brick Winery
As a result in 2013, Felten regrafted 10 acres of under-performing Chardonnay in Ted's Vineyard (alongside Alpine Road) with the Rias Baixas clone. In this regard, he leveraged the earlier work of Markus Bokisch who first planted Albarino in Lodi Wine country back in 1999 and provided the vines to Felten. Today there are still only a handful of Lodi wineries producing Albarino, but the grape's potential is clear. Our Snooth group recognized this potential the very first evening during a dinner at Oak Farm Vineyard after sampling the Klinker Brick Winery 2018 Lodi - Mokelumne River Albarino ($15) and the Mettler Family Vineyards 2017 Estate Albarino ($20). Both of these wines were very reminiscent of their Spanish contemporaries.

Albarino is the signature grape of the Rías Baixas Denominación de Origen (DO) wine zone in the Galicia region of northwest Spain. It is the Irish region of Spain based on its past Celtic heritage, proximity to the ocean, and abundant rainfall which provides lush landscapes. Mists and fogs cool the region further and vines are planted on pérgola trellising systems that are up to seven feet high allowing breezes to flow through to prevent mildew. This coolness helps the grapes retain acidity but despite the rainfall, Rías Baixas is blessed with abundant sunshine. The soils are primarily mineral based granite with lesser amounts of alluvial and colluvial soil (clay, silt, sand, and gravel) deposited from the region's many rivers and tributaries.

Rías Baixas wines are characterized by their intense aromatics, minerality, and crisp acidity however there can be noticeable diversity within and between the region's five sub-zones. In most instances, green apples are the dominant fruit, but one can often ascertain apricots and peaches or more tropical notes from warmer sub-zones located further from the ocean.

The Klinker Brick and Mettler Albarinos both share the classic Rías Baixas style as did the Bokisch Vineyards 2017 Clement Hills Terra Alta Vineyard Albarino ($20). These wines are characterized by a pronounced floral aroma; green apples and citrus; noticeable minerality; and racy acids. In fact, during a blind tasting of new vs old world white wines, the Bokisch TAV Albarino tasted closer to Rias Baixas than the Palacio de Fefinanes Albarino de Fefinanes which had appreciable new world qualities such as intense stone fruits and shades of honey. This perception was most likely the result of the Lodi wines' distinct minerality which Felton attributes to the dense sandy loam near the Mokelumne River. And in the case of the Bokisch TAV Albarino, the Clement Hills soil closely mimics those in Rias Baixas where volcanic, gravelly, clay loam washed down from the Sierra Foothills.  Jorja Lerner, co-owner of Harney Lane Winery, also attributes Lodi Albarino's resemblance to Rias Baixas to the "temperature shifts contributed to the Carquinez Strait which brings a bit of the coast all the way to Lodi, essentially warm days and cool evenings".

But not all Lodi Albarino meets this steely - green apple & citrus - highly acidic style. For instance, the Bokisch 2017 La Cerezas Vineyard Lodi - Mokelumne River Albarino ($23) more closely resembles the warmer Rias Baixas sub-zones of Condado do Tea and Ribera do Ulla where fleshy tropical notes develop. And the Harney Lane Winery 2018 Lodi Albarino ($20) more closely resembles the Palacio de Fefinanes with it's enhanced stone fruit profile. Lerner explains: "When we started making Albarino, we strove for the higher acidity, steelier version of the variety which we felt was truer to Spanish style Albarinos. We have found over the years, though, that we can capture a bit more of the fruit component in the wine while still maintaining a dry finish that is slightly softer in acidity. Consumers have shown to love this approach!"

It is clear that the Lodi wine industry is ready to escape from its dependence on marketing solely old-vine Zinfandel. There are several white grape varieties ready to be recognized, with Albarino squarely poised to lead the group.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Malbec World Day with the Hess Collection, Colomé, & Amalaya

"Malbec World Day" or "Malbec Mondo" as English speakers prefer to say is celebrated on April 17 to commemorate the day back in 1853 when Argentina's President Domingo Faustino Sarmiento officially made it his mission to transform Argentina's wine industry.  He asked Michel Aime Pouget, a French soil expert, to bring over new vines from France and amongst Pouget's selection, was Malbec.  In the following years, the Malbec varietal flourished in Argentina's dry, and sunny weather, particularly at high elevations.  Today, Malbec is Argentina's star varietal.

Here we are for Malbec World Day 2019 and I received a trio of Malbec samples from the Hess Collection portfolio, specifically from Bodega Colomé and Bodega Amalaya. The wines are produced in the Calchaquí Valley in Salta, Argentina. The valley has altitude - from 5,500 ft to over 10,000 ft above sea level - making it one of the highest viticulture regions in the world. This high altitude provides intense daytime sunlight and cool nights that help better retain the acidity and concentrated fruit characteristics of the grapes.

Bodega Colomé is one of the oldest working wineries in Argentina and home to the highest vineyards in the world in Salta's Calchaquí Valley. The winery was established in 1831 when the vineyards were first planted on original rootstock imported from Bordeaux -- and these vines are still bearing fruit today.

Bodega Amalaya wines began as an experiment at Bodega Colomé in order to find alternative sourcing and varieties for Malbec and Torrontés blends. Donald Hess instructed his researchers to seek an area where no vines had ever been planted the workers labeled the quest using the Inca expression Amalaya meaning 'Hope for a Miracle'.

Amalaya Malbec 2017 ($16)
This is a fresh and fruit forward blend of 85% Malbec, 10% Tannat, and 5% Petit Verdot that will be gone before you realize.

Colome Autentico Malbec 2017 ($30)
The ‘Authentico’ Malbec is made from 100-year-old Malbec vines planted at over 7,000 feet. It is a textured and plush wine with dark intense fruit, both chocolate and vanilla, with a long silky finish.  This is an elegant wine with power.

Colome Estate Malbec 2016 ($25)
The fruit for this wine derives from the  Colome Estate vineyard as well as from the El Arenal, La Brava and Altura Maxima vineyards. It comes across with more dark fruit blackberries with bits of earthiness, tobacco, and spices. It also has more of a tannic structure providing enhanced aging potential. If only I had the patience.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Lodi Wine: Old Vine Zinfandel & Ancient Vineyards

Marian's Vineyard at
Mohr Fry Ranches
Lodi is the "self-proclaimed Zinfandel Capital of the World" producing over 40 percent of California’s premium Zinfandel, with the vast majority of it grown in the Mokelumne River AVA. But to paraphrase a favorite song, " did it get there"? According to Zinfandel: A History of a Grape and Its Wines, brothers George and William West had added Zinfandel to their Stockton based El Pinal Winery by at least the 1860s. In 1889, German-born Joseph Spenker planted a vineyard, most likely from cuttings from El Pinal, that consisted of Zinfandel, Carignan, Mission, and Tokay -- the later a Vitis vinifera table grape that closely resembles the gnarled look of the Zinfandel vine. This plot is still farmed today by Spenker's ancestors (Wanda Woock Bechthold and her son Greg Burns) in the Royal Tee Vineyard of Jessie's Grove Winery and is Lodi's oldest Zinfandel-dominated planting.  By the way, the oldest continually planted vineyard in Lodi was also planted by Spenker a few years earlier, in 1885, and is the famed Cinsault dominated Bechthold Vineyard.

Lizzy James Vineyard
Other historic vineyards, planted in the early 20th century, are Marian's Vineyard at Mohr Fry Ranches, Lizzy James Vineyard owned by Harney Lane Winery, and Soucie Vineyard. The 225 acre Mohr Fry Ranches contains nine distinct blocks of own-rooted Old Vine Zinfandel. The ranch is currently farmed by the father-son team of Jerry and Bruce Fry, whose family has been farming in California for over 150 years. Jerry named the oldest Zinfandel block, 8.3 acres of own-rooted vineyard planted in 1901, Marian's Vineyard after his mother Marian Mohr Fry Zimmerman.  The Lizzy James Vineyard is a 20-acre plot of gnarly Zinfandel vines first planted in 1904. It is named after Lizzy and James, the children of proprietors Jorja (Mettler) and Kyle Lerner, after the Mettler family purchased the vineyard in 2005. And, in 1916 Edward Soucie, Sr. planted own-rooted Zinfandel on Lodi’s far west side which is today owned and managed by fifth-generation Lodi native Kevin Soucie.

Michael Klouda at
Bechthold Vineyard
A logical question regarding these ancient vines is "do their yields deteriorate drastically over time"? Michael Klouda, vineyard manager at Michael David Winery and winemaker at Michael Klouda Wines agrees that this does occur occasionally and individual vines must be replaced periodically. But in general, modern sustainable vineyard practices have increased the health and vigor of grape clusters. Kyle Lerner mentioned a similar opinion when discussing the restoration project at Lizzy James Vineyard and the necessity of resuscitating a number of unhealthy vines.

Geographically these ancient vineyards share a common planting within the Mokelumne River AVA and are often own-rooted -- even when the St. George rootstock was available. This was possible since the sandy soils along the river are a deterrent to the phylloxera louse -- although the soils do not eliminate the threat completely -- it's just more manageable. The Mokelumne River location has remained conducive to Zin, as currently 99% of Lodi’s Zinfandel plantings are concentrated in this AVA.

That being said, there is also an east-west dimension to the soils within the Mokelumne River AVA that leads to a dichotomy in the wine styles. On the east side of Lodi (or east of Highway 99) the soil is sandier and deeper and can be described as more of a loamy sand than sandy loam; whereas west of Hwy. 99 the vineyards are sandy loam with generous amounts of finely crushed granite washed down from the Sierra Nevadas. In addition, the east side contains lower water tables which along with the sandier soils equate to smaller berries and clusters.  According to Randy Caparoso:
"...this means higher skin to juice ratios as well as earlier ripening; and both factors can result in lower pH, higher total acidity as well as increased phenolic content (the color, tannin as well as aromatic compounds of wines are derived from grape phenols and polyphenols). In plainer English, this means brighter, crisply balanced white wines, and darker, firmer, zestier, flavorful red wines. The opposite – larger clusters and berries – means lighter colored, softer, rounder, less aggressively flavored wines". 

Mokelumne River Zinfandel
During our visit, we experienced this dichotomy in practice during a blind tasting of East vs West Zinfandel.  For instance, the west side M2 Wines Soucie Vineyard Lodi Native Zinfandel, the Maley Brothers Vineyards Lodi Native Wegat Vineyard Zinfandel, and the Harney Lane Scottsville Vineyard Zinfandel share characteristics of earthiness, mushrooms, and a softer structure. Wines made from Mohr Fry Ranches' grapes also possess these classic westside traits. In contrast, eastside Zins such as the McCay Cellars Lot 13 Lodi Native Zinfandel, Fields Family Stampede Vineyard Zinfandel, and Ironstone Vineyards Rous Vineyard Reserve Ancient Vine Zinfandel share characters of a brighter cherry flavor, black tea, zestiness, and structured tannins. The Harney Lane Lizzy James Vineyard Zinfandels also fit these descriptors. These and other excellent  Mokelumne River Zinfandel we sampled were clear indicators of how the grape variety excels in Lodi.

Cheers to old-vine and ancient Lodi Zinfandel and please note that this post was heavily influenced by Randy Caparoso and his Lodi Wine Blog and special thanks to the Lodi Winegrape Commission and Snooth.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Wines of Navarra, the Camino de Santiago, and French Grape Varieties

The Camino de Santiago (the Way of St. James) is a large network of ancient pilgrim routes stretching across Europe and concluding at the shrine of St. James the Apostle in Santiago de Compostela in the Spanish province of Galicia. The pilgrimages started very shortly after the believed discovery of the tomb of the Patron Saint of Spain in 814. There are two competing claims regarding James evangelization of the Iberian Peninsula with one, based on the Epistle to the Romans where St. Paul suggests a disciple hadn't visited Spain and the alternative, that after James was martyred in AD 44 his remains were transported back to the land that he had in fact evangelized.

Regardless, pilgrims flocked to the site using the Camino de Santiago and Wines of Navarra website, "in 1234 the first of a succession of French monarchs ascended by marriage to the throne of the Kingdom of Navarra, ushering in over three centuries of cultural flowering still evidenced today by the beautiful and well-worn vestiges of the region’s late Romanesque and high Gothic architectural ambition". As a result of these events, French pilgrims and Monarchs desired French wines so that French grape varieties were planted in the province.

by the "12th century the Camino emerged as a highly organized international phenomenon". Soon afterward continues the

These Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Garnacha (Grenache), and Chardonnay vines remained planted among local Tempranillo and Viura vines through throughout the centuries. According to, "In 1933 the regional Navarra DO was created and its geography is diverse with a number of different features that affect the region's vines and climate. Its proximity to the Bay of Biscay (Atlantic Ocean) in the northwest, the Pyrenees in the northeast and the Ebro River all combine to moderate temperatures created by the effects of the Mediterranean climate.

Because of this diversity, five sub-zones were created: Baja Montana in the northeast, Valdizarbe in the north, Tierra Estella in the northeast, Ribera Alta in the center, north of the Ebro, and Ribera Baja in the south below the river. A small section of Navarra is classified as Rioja DOCa (Denominación de Origen Calificada)".

Recently I received three wine samples that reflect the abundance of French grape varieties but also the history and geography of the region.

Bodegas Castillo de Monjardin Pinot Noir 2017 ($12)
Castillo de Monjardin is located in the foothills of the Pyrenées not far from the French border and literally part of the Camino de Santiago as the Castle of Monjardin is a populate hike. The Castle's heritage peaked in the 12th Century but grape growing continued dominated by Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Garnacha, and Pinot Noir. Bodegas Castillo de Monjardín operates a family estate of 220 Ha of vineyards that aged were planted 15, 30 and 70 years ago. These Tierra Estella situated and Atlantic influenced vineyards reside on sunny slopes at an average altitude of 1800 feet and are cooled by the "Cierzo" wind -- "a strong, dry and usually cold wind that blows from the North or Northwest through the regions of Aragon, La Rioja, and Navarra". This Pinot Noir is made from grapes harvested from the high altitude and 30-year-old "El Cerezo" vineyard and aged 6 months in oak barriques after fermentation. This process provides slight vanilla and toastiness which are subtle compared to the soft earthy tones and dusty finish. Excellent.

Bodegas Ochoa Calendas Viura Chardonnay 2018 ($12) - Adriana Ochoa winemaker; Ribera Alta
Although the current Bodegas Ochoa operation has "only" been in an operation since 1845, the winery possesses an invoice from 1370 where the residing King requested wine from an Ochoa brand. Not only was its location in Olite, the summer residence of royalty in medieval times but it is also situated in the heart of Navarra in Ribera Alta. This is a continental climate bordered by Atlantic and Mediterranean influences, thus warmer with less rainfall than Tierra Estella, but cooler than the Mediterranean climate to the south. The current winemaker is Adriana Ochoa -- the 6th generation of family members to produce wine. She crafted this 50-50 blend to showcase the liveliness of the Viura and the structure of the Chardonnay. It is delicious.

Bodegas Inurrieta Cuatrocientos 2016 ($18)
Bodega Inurrieta is also a family-owned company and located in Ribera Alta, but with a little more Mediterranean influences. The name Inurrieta pays tribute to the family name Antoñana and refers to the land where their family grew vines almost sixty years ago. This is a recent endeavor, with the first vines planted in 1999. This Crianza wine is a blend of 68% Cabernet Sauvignon, 23% Merlot, 6% Syrah, and 5% Graciano. After fermentation, the blended wine was aged 14 months in French Allier and American oak barrels. The result is a structured wine, medium to full-bodied with noticeable but approachable tannins.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Alternative Packaging from Argentina's Santa Julia

Who's been looking for wine distributed in alternative packaging to bring along during hiking, cycling, boating, or fishing trips? I know I have. And I recently received a strong contender from Winesellers Ltd. a trio of wines packaged in 375ml cans (SRP $5.99).  The wines are produced by Santa Julia, an Argentine brand that leverages their Mendoza location. The winery practices certified organic vineyard management, thus two of these wines are labeled Organic. The Organic Chardonnay provides a classic unoaked Chardonnay flavor; very refreshing with subtle depth and sufficient acidity. The Organic Malbec Rosé behaves again as expected, refreshing with layers of strawberries. However, the red Tintillo is the most interesting as the 50-50 blend of Malbec and Bonarda is fermented using carbonic maceration -- a process where the grapes are fermented intact order to achieve a fruitier wine. It's also designed to drink chilled,  or mildly so in my opinion. A fun wine.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Lodi Wine: The Basics

Last week I spent four days exploring Lodi California with Snooth and witnessed the unique wine culture that reflects this region. Over the next couple of months expect regular Monday posts describing this culture.  But today I want to highlight the region's significance so here are a few basic facts available from the Lodi Winegrape Commission.

The Lodi Appellation (American Viticulture Area) is the most prolific in California and accounts for 20% of all wine grapes crushed in the Golden State. According to the Lodi Winegrape Commission, "there are more acres of wine grapes planted in Lodi than all of Napa Valley and Sonoma County combined; in fact, more than the entire states of Washington and Oregon together, plus another 30%". Thus, Lodi is arguably the most widely planted wine region in the entire U.S. and why the region is relevant to wine consumers.

The Lodi AVA is located between the San Francisco Bay and the Sierra Nevada Mountains on relatively flat terrain. It enjoys a classic Mediterranean climate with warm days and cool evenings -- particularly when the "delta breezes" move in from the San Joaquin/Sacramento River Delta. Lodi's soils were formed millenniums ago as erosion from the Sierra Nevada mountain range were carried to the valley via the Mokelumne and Cosumnes rivers. In addition,  the land adjacent to the Mokelumne River contain layers of sandy soils where Zinfandel vines were planted own-rooted a century ago. In the east, the closer vineyards are planted to the mountains, the soil becomes heavier in clay and stone.

Lodi was heavily influenced by the California Gold Rush of 1849 as miners looked for farmland as an alternative to failed mining operations. Wine grapes were first planted in 1850 and in 1858 George West founded El Pinal Winery to become the region’s first commercial operation. Soon after several German families immigrated to the region from the Dakotas and their descendants are still growing grapes today - sometimes as 5th and 6th generation farmers. Along the way, Prohibition did not destroy the industry like in so many other regions as Lodi growers shipped grapes eastward for home winemakers (which was still perfectly legal). Post-Prohibition, wineries rebounded with old-vine Zinfandel becoming Lodi's unofficial signature grape.

The Lodi AVA was created in 1986 and is located in the counties of Sacramento and San Joaquin. (TTB). In August 2006, seven new AVAs were created within the broader Lodi AVA to allow wineries to differentiate among the geographic and climate variances: Alta Mesa * Borden Ranch * Clements Hills * Cosumnes River * Jahant * Mokelumne River * Sloughhouse. However, in general, Lodi winemakers continue to utilize the broader Lodi AVA designation on their labels in order to leverage and market the Lodi name.

Grape Varieties
Lodi is predominately a red winegrowing region, with approximately two-thirds of the acreage dedicated to red grape varieties. In fact, Lodi is the "self-proclaimed Zinfandel Capital of the World" producing over 40 percent of California’s premium Zinfandel. And these are old-vine zinfandel with the oldest plantings dating back to 1888. More recently, however, Cabernet Sauvignon has overtaken Zin as the most widely harvested grape -- with many going into the bulk wine industry. Yet, the real story is Lodi's grape diversity with over 100 varieties crushed into wine with half of these German-Austrian varieties planted by Mokelumne Glen Vineyards.  Other notable grapes we will cover are the Spanish grapes Albariño, Verdejo, Graciano, Tempranillo, and Garnacha; the Italian grapes Barbera, Aglianco, Sangiovese, Teroldego, Fiano, and Vermentino; and the southern Rhone grapes Cinsault, Viognier, Syrah, Picpoul Blanc, and Clairette Blanc.

You can follow the Lodi Wine story here.  Cheers.