Lodi Against The World (sort of)

Well, here we are on a beautiful Friday, May 19 on what feels like the first day of summer in Lodi. It is starting to get hot, and will be hotter tomorrow for the Zinfest general tasting at Lodi Lake. But as for today, we are indoors in the beautiful confines of the Wine and Roses Garden Ballroom for one of the early Zinfest weekend events  – a blind tasting of 8 Lodi wines versus 8 “non-Lodi” wines of the same varietal. This was an opportunity that I (Gord) could not pass up. Kudos to my wine buddy Phil Silver of Prie Winery for alerting me to the fact that this event was happening, or I would have missed it. And you would not have been able to read my fantastic notes on the event. Speaking of which….

The event was hosted by Randy Caparoso, Lodiwine.com resident blogger and aficionado of all things Lodi wine related. He was joined on the front panel by Fred Swan, Certified Wine Specialist, blogger and wine educator; and by Deborah Parker Wong, a wine educator who writes/advises for numerous publications. Both Fred and Deborah have obtained a Diploma from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust which, believe me, is not an easy degree to obtain.  An esteemed panel.

The Panel (with Fred describing a wine)

The room was filled with about 60 tasters. Many of them were Lodi wine business types, wine makers and winery owners. And then there was the general public, including yours truly, many of whom I knew to be home winemakers and avid wine geeks. This was going to be interesting. We were going through 8 flights, 2 wines of the same varietal per flight. One wine would be from Lodi, one would be ……not from Lodi. 3 white flights, 5 red. Sound interesting? Yah, that’s what I thought, so let’s get to it! I will present my notes, and then what the wines were. As usual, ratings are on a 20 point scale.

Flight 1 – Piquepoul (or should I say Picpoul???) 

Piquepoul is an unusual varietal, typically grown in South France either in the Rhone / Languedoc area or closer to Spain. Regardless, areas are usually close to the Mediterranean, where this high acidity (piquepoul translates as lip stinger) wine can be paired with local seafood dishes.

Wine A was pale to pale/medium gold. Nose was melon, with a tutti frutti note and a slight herbal tinge. On the palate, medium plus acidity, medium plus body, round entry with a bit more of that tutti frutti juicy fruit gum flavor, and a mineral finish. The panel thought the fruit was apples/white stone fruit. Hmmmm, not so sure about that. I gave it 14.5 points.

Wine B was pale/medium gold. Nose was dry, minerally, no discernible fruit, slightly herbal. Palate has medium plus acid, the acidity built in intensity towards the mid palate. Attack was lemony, with medium body, a long minerally finish with a slight bitter nutty note. Panel thought this one was more lean, minerally, and pithy. Yah, I agree with that. I gave it 14.5 points.

As you no doubt have discerned, this round for me was a tie in points – no clear winner, so the nod will go to the cheaper wine. I guessed Wine A was from Lodi – which would make it from Acquiesce since I don’t know anyone else in Lodi that produces this varietal. Plus I recall that tutti frutti note from our visit in early April. Wine B was likely French.

Wine A was indeed the 2016 Acquiesce Picpoul Blanc. $22

Wine B was the 2015 Cave de Pomerols, Picpoul de Pinet, from the Languedoc in France. $14

Wine B is thus the winner.

Flight 2 – Albarino

This one was not going to be so easy. There are lots of Lodi producers of Albarino. Of course, home to Albarino is northwest Spain, in a place called Riax Biaxas. Hard to say and spell, but worth exploring. Again, close to the ocean which fits right in with these normally lighter high acid wines.

Wine A was medium gold. The nose was white fruit, slightly herbal, with a hint of neutral oak. The palate had low to medium acid, medium plus body, with a sharp white apple and lemon mid palate. Good length. 14.5 points.

Wine B was medium minus gold. Nose was tight, slightly dusty. Palate had medium body, low to medium acid, crisp apple fruit with juicy minerality. Finish had a bitter nutty note. Good length. 14.5 points (again, wtf, this is getting predictable).

The panel agreed that these wines were very similar, both being Spanish in style. I felt that both were fine, solid wines, but neither were spectacular. Really hard to pick the Lodi wine from this crowd. I guess that A was Lodi, as it was a bit more fruity. Wine B would then have been Spanish.

Well, that was a bad guess. Wine A turned out to be the 2015 Palacio de Fefinanes Albarino, from Riax Biaxas. $27.

Wine B was the 2015 Bokisch Terra Alta Vineyard Albarino from Lodi. Aack, I was wrong! Good job Bokisch (shout out to Elyse Perry, winemaker at Bokisch and occasional Wine Swines attendee), you are producing a fine example of Spanish Albarino right here in Lodi!

Tie goes to the lowest priced wine, therefore Lodi is the winner of this flight.

The First Two Flights (plus a bit of the third….)

Flight 3 – Vermentino

Vermentino is a varietal that I love. Vermentino from Corsica can be minerally, nutty, just a great seafood wine. And Lodi produces some fine offerings as well.

Wine A was pale to medium gold. The nose was melon, with a bit of dried herb. The palate was round, with low to low/medium acid, white fruit, and a spicy almost cinnamon note in the mid palate, that carried on to the finish. 14.5 points (OK, getting really predictable here!!!).

Wine B was medium minus gold. The nose was dry, dusty, with a hint of toast and green tea. The palate had low to low/medium acid, and a white stone fruit attack, lasting to a minerally nutty slightly bitter finish. This wine was very nice, complex and powerful. 15 points. Woohoo!

By the way, you may have heard the term garrigue, which is a dried floral/herbal smell that is commonly found in Rhone wines. Well, I learned something new today – in Corsica it is called “maquis”. So don’t go around talking about how you detect garrigue in Corsican wines. You’ll look like a newbie. Detect only maquis, and be subtle about mentioning it. If you know what’s good for you.

This was another tough one, but I guessed Wine A was Lodi based on the spice. Turns out A was the 2015 Prie Delu Vineyard Vermentino from Lodi. $21.

Wine B was the 2014 Antoine Arena Patrimonio Blanc “Carco” from Corsica. $45.

So I am 2 out of 3 on origin, preference score is Lodi 1, non-Lodi 2.

Flight 4 – Cinsault

Now this is a grape that I do not have a lot of familiarity with. Often used as a blending grape, and has been crossed with Pinot Noir to make Pinotage which is commonly produced in South Africa.

Wine A was medium to medium deep ruby, with a garnet rim. The nose was spicy, with ripe red fruit and slightly earthy. The palate was medium plus body, low to low/medium acid, really soft tannins. Succulent cherry fruit, a soft sweet entry and a long minerally finish. Deborah loved the nose on this wine, said she wanted to make a men’s cologne out of it. That would be interesting. Myself, I gave it 15 to 15.5 points.

Wine B was dark ruby. The nose was dark cherry fruit, quite ripe. The palate had medium to full body, low medium acid, low tannins, ripe dark cherry attack and mid palate. This wine is loaded with fruit. Spicy finish. Alot of ripe fruit and oak. Screams California. 14.5 points.

I guessed wine B was from Lodi. Turns out Wine A was the 2014 Waterkloof “Seriously Cool” Cinsault from the Stellenbosch in South Africa. This wine is made with all native yeast and minimal intervention. $25.

Wine B was the 2012 Onesta Bechthold Vineyard Lodi Cinsault. This vineyard is 130 years old. Wow. $29.

Now 3 out of 4 on origin, preference score is Lodi 1, non-Lodi 3.

The Vermentino and Cinsault Flights (bottles 2 through 5)

Flight 5 – Grenache

Now this is a grape that I love. A primary varietal in most Rhone blends, it makes a great single varietal bottling as well. Grenache is also the primary varietal in most of the dry Rhone and Provence roses that I like to quaff in the summer heat.

Wine A was pale to medium ruby. Nose was a gorgeous mix of cherry and strawberry. A hint of spice, and dryer lint. Palate had low plus acid, soft tannins, medium plus body, soft round ripe cherry fruit with oaky spice notes on the finish. Very pinot noir like. Lovely wine, 15.5 to 16 points. This has to be from McCay Cellars, it is so like their version of grenache.

Wine B was dark ruby. Nose was tight, with hints of plum and dry herb “garrigue”. Palate has low to low medium acid, low medium plus tannins, dark plummy fruit, medium heavy body with a medium spicy peppery finish. This wine is much more aggressive in attack and mid palate than Wine A. 14.5 points.

I guessed Wine A was Lodi. Turns out Wine A was a 2013 McCay Cellars Lodi Grenache. Nailed that one. $35.

Wine B was a 2014 Domaine Gramenon Cotes du Rhone “La Sagesse”. From the southern Rhone Valley in France. $39.

Now 4 out of 5 on origin, preference score is Lodi 2, non-Lodi 3.

Flight 6 – Carignan

Carignan is another varietal that is primarily used in Rhone type blends. I don’t have alot of familiarity with 100% Carignan bottlings, but let’s give it a whirl!

What I do have alot of experience with is corked wines. Wines that are affected with TCA (tricholoroanisole, for the chemistry nerds in the crowd), which is a definite flaw identified by a damp, musty, corkboard smell. It freaking ruins wine, making it smell bad and taste dead. Anyway, Wine A was corked. Obvious on the nose, I did not risk a taste. Not all of the bottles were flawed, but definitely the one that was poured for me. I was not impressed that we did not a get a second pour from a non flawed bottle. So no judgement on wine A.

Wine B was a deep ruby color. The nose was tight, with a bit of spice. The palate had low medium acid, similar tannins, medium full body and a red plummy fruit attack. The mid palate became slightly herbal, with a dry dusty finish. I thought this tasted Lodi’ish. 14.5 points.

Turns out Wine A was the 2015 Domaine Maxime Magnon “Campagnes” from Corbieres in the Languedoc. $47.

Wine B was the 2014 Klinker Brick Lodi Carignane. $25.

At the end of the event I went up and snagged a taste of Wine A from a non-flawed bottle. I did not make extensive notes, but it had a lovely red fruit nose (much better than damp cardboard!). The palate was nicely balanced, with similar ripe red fruit and minerality. Long finish. 15.5 points.

So, discounting the corked version, I am now 5 out of 6 on origin, preference score is Lodi 2, non-Lodi 4.

The Cinsault, Grenache, and Carignan bottles

Flight 7 – Zinfandel

Here we go. What Lodi is known for. But wait, where would the other wine come from, since Zin is really a California thing? Randy gave us a hint, the other Zin was also from Cali, just from a different region. He also noted that it was from a “famous producer”. So we are not battling the world here folks, just our neighbors (who may be snooty Napa types, or down to earth Foothills types).

Wine A was deep ruby. The nose was plummy fruit and spice. The palate had low plus acid, low to low medium tannins, super ripe plum and blackberry fruit, almost a dried fruit/raisiny flavor, medium full to full body. 15 points.

Wine B was very dark ruby. The nose was tight, and a bit earthy. The palate had low to low medium acidity, low medium tannins, and ripe red cherry fruit. The finish was earthy, with nice spice and pepper. This wine was nowhere near ready to drink, it will get much better with time. 15 points also, but preferred to Wine A because of the aging potential.

Hmmm, which is which? I thought A was a superripe fruit bomb. Interestingly, the panel had a difference of opinion, with Deborah making comments about A that were quite different from mine, and indicating that wine A had a much lighter body and texture. Fred’s analysis was closer to mine. Now this is getting harder to peg. Wine A really reminded me of a Turley zin, big and fruity. Alot of Lodi wine has been made this way Lodi has started to move away from that to more earthy, balanced, lighter zins. Many of the Lodi Native wines are dialed back like that and you can really taste the earthy terroir. I guessed that Wine B was from Lodi, a Lodi Native,  and Wine A was a Turley.

WRONG. Wine A turned out to be a 2014 Lodi Native from Maley’s Lucas Road Vineyard. The wine was made by Macchia Wines. $35. Well, if I had known that the Lodi entry was a Macchia product, I would have said Wine A was from Lodi. It is definitely made in their style. Big, ripe and fruity.

Wine B was the 2015 Ridge Geyserville (although this is a bit of a cheat since it is only 70% zin). Ridge is definitely an iconic zin brand, and this wine had the ageability characteristics of most Ridge products. The price was not given, but it is usually around $35.

Now 5 out of 7 on origin, preference score is Lodi 2, non-Lodi 5.

Flight 8 – Syrah

Erik pouring the Syrah

Who doesn’t like Syrah? There are so many different styles, from the northern Rhone bacon/smoked meat red fruit syrah, to the full blown plummy fruit bomb Shirazes from Australia.

Wine A was very dark ruby. The nose was smoky and meaty. Textbook northern Rhone. The palate had low to low medium acid, similar tannins, medium heavy to heavy body, ripe red plum and cherry. 15.5 points.

Wine B was dark ruby. The nose was tight and dusty. The palate had low to low medium acid, low medium tannins, ripe red plum fruit with a good clean mid palate. medium heavy body. 15 points.

This one was pretty clear to me. Wine A was a northern Rhone syrah, with that meaty almost bacony aroma and red fruit. Wine B was an excellent new world version of an old world syrah – did not quite have the nose, but it had the elegant red fruit.

Wine A was the 2015 Domaine Faury St. Joseph from the northern Rhone. $36. I have some experience with this wine, I think it is at its best fairly young. If you are so inclined, buy a bottle and drink it soon.

Wine B was the 2014 Fields Family Wines Estate Syrah (Mokelumne River). $25. Fields have been doing some great things with Rhone varietals recently, I highly recommend a visit. Steph and I will be there soon to do a review.

The Zin and Syrah bottles on the right

So the final score was 6 out of 8 on origin. My preference was 6 for the non-Lodi wines, and 2 for the Lodi wines. However, the scores were very close, and all of the wines (expect the corked bottle) were worthy of serious contemplation. The expert panel had glowing things to say about the Lodi entries. Proof positive that Lodi can compete. I believe that if this type of event had been held 10 years ago, it would have been no contest. There has been vast improvement and diversity in the Lodi wine industry in the last 10 years, and it can only get better. Looking forward to that!

The Full Lineup!