Friday, March 6, 2015

Boston Wine Expo: Lodi Wines, Not Just Zinfandel

When many people think of the wines of Lodi, they immediately think of Zinfandel. That is not unusual as the region produces more than 38% of California’s premium Zinfandel. However, there is more to Lodi than Zinfandel, and it is a region worthy of closer examination. While exploring the Boston Wine Expo, I spent some time at the booths of the Lodi region, acquiring a glimpse into the greater diversity of Lodi wine.

The Lodi American Viticultural Area (AVA), located in the Central Valley region, received legal recognition in 1986, and seven smaller AVAs within the Lodi area were added in 2005. The Lodi AVA contains over 103,00 acress of vineyards, with about 750 growers and 75 wineries. Most of those wineries are small, artisan wineries producing small amounts of wine. The vineyards grow over 75 different varieties of grapes, though about two-thirds of the acreage are for red grapes. Interestingly, Lodi accounts for 18% of California's total grape production, an amount greater than Napa and Sonoma combined.

When the first explorers came to the Lod region, they found plenty of wild grape vines, even naming one stream Wine Creek because of the abundance of nearby grapes. During the later 19th century, numerous grapes were planted in the region, and as many Italian and German immigrants came to the area, they brought grapes from their homelands. You'll now find grapes in the region such as Albariño, Carignane, Sangiovese, Tempranillo, Touriga Nacional, and Verdelho. Some of these vines that were planted in the 19th century still exist, and there are about 2000 acres of vines which predate Prohibition. Though the term "old vines" has no legal definition in California, in Lodi, they generally self-police, and will only use that term on a wine label if the wines are at least 65 years old.

Lodi is dedicated to sustainable agriculture and in 2005, established Lodi Rules, California’s first third-party certified sustainable winegrowing program. This program was created under the auspices of the Lodi Winegrape Commission by a group of growers, vintners, academics, and scientists. It is dynamic, as it is continually reviewed and revised to remain current. About 20,000 acres are now certified under this program, though a number of vineyards follow the rules though they are not certified. You can look on the wine label for the Lodi Rules certification.

As my time at the Expo was limited, I only had the opportunity to try some wines from three different Lodi wineries. I wished I'd had more time to further explore their wines, but I had sufficient exposure to show me some of the potential of this region.

Oak Farm Vineyards
The location of this winery is on an estate that was originally owned and built in 1864 by William DeVries, who loved trees and there remain many oak trees on the property. During the 1990s, vines were first planted and there are now 60 acres of vineyards. Besides some of the usual grapes, like Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, and Chardonnay,they also grow some Italian and Iberian grapes like Barbera, Tempranillo, Albarino and Verdelho.

The 2014 Albarino ($20) is fermented in stainless steel and sees some light lees aging. The wine has some richness to its texture, with pleasant flavors of melon and green apple. It could be enjoyed on its own, or paired with fresh seafood. The 2013 Verdelho ($20) is also fermented in stainless steel, with an alcohol content of 13.5%. This wine had more weight than the Albarino and was much more floral with bright citrus flavors and hints of herbs. Nice acidity and a pleasing finish, this was a tasty wine which also could be drank on its own on a nice summer day.

On the red side, the 2012 Barbera ($25) spends about 12 months in oak, 25% new French and 75% neutral oak, and has an alcohol content of 13.8%. I found this wine to be fresh and bright, an easy drinking wine with juicy flavors of cherry and plum, with a subtle undertone of spice notes. Good acidity, a nice balance, and a lengthy finish. This would certainly pair well with pasta or pizza, or even a burger or tacos.

With its Mediterranean climate, Lodi is able to grow well Iberian and Italian grapes, and I would love to taste more examples of wines from these grapes.

LangeTwins Family Winery
The ancestors of the current owners settled in Lodi during the 1870s, starting a watermelon farm. Over time, the farm's operations expanded and in 1916, grape vines were planted. These vineyards continued to grow, expanding to a couple other ranches, though a winery was not constructed until 2006.

The 2013 Sauvignon Blanc ($15) is produced from a Musque clone of Sauvignon Blanc, and is aged sur lies for a time. As expected, this is a very aromatic wine, with lots of floral and bright citrus aromas. On the palate, there are bright grapefruit and lemons notes, with herbal accents presenting a more unique Sauvignon. It is crisp and clean, with a pleasing finish.

I needed to try a couple Zinfandels too, including their 2011 Old Vine Zinfandel ($15), which is produced from a blend of grapes from a 110 year old vineyard as well as much younger grapes. It spends about 2 years in new American oak and has an alcohol content of 15.5%. Inky dark in color, this is a rich, muscular and concentrated wine with lots of black fruit flavors, vanilla, and dark spices. Tannins are moderate and it is well balanced so that you won't notice the higher alcohol. For the price, you are getting a lot of wine, making it a very good value.

Klinker Brick Winery
This winery, which began producing their own wines in 2000, owns 15 vineyard blocks where the vines are aged from 40-117 years old. From the very best of their old vine Ziinfandel, they produce their 2012 The Old Ghost Old Vine Zinfandel ($35-$40). The grapes are from 90+ year old vines, which have tiny yields, and making this wine has always been a challenge. The wine, with an alcohol content of 15.9%, is aged for about 18 months in 40% French and 60% American oak barrels. This wine is inky purple in color, with a nose of dark spice and dark berries. On the palate, it is a supple, rich and elegant wine with concentrated ripe plum, blackberry and black cherry flavors, accented by dark spices, hints of vanilla,and a touch of eucalyptus. Good complexity, well balanced and with a long and satisfying finish. An impressive wine which is fairly priced, and indicative of the wonders that old vines can bestow. Highly recommended.

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