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

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