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.

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