Monday, October 17, 2016

Lodi Wine Dinner Displays Diversity of Unique Region

We enjoyed the wines of the Lodi California AVA so much, we just had to “revisit” them for a special wine dinner.

Yep, Lodi Is More Than Zinfandel

Forty percent of California Zinfandel hails from Lodi, where more than 20,000 acres of it are planted. That’s not a bad thing, there is some incredible Zin from Lodi. But as our recent visit to Lodi for the 2016 Wine Bloggers Conference proved, there’s a world of exciting winemaking going on there – and it all doesn’t start with the letter Z.

Lodi is predominately a red wine region with about two-thirds of the vineyards devoted to reds. There are more than 100 grape varieties including all of California’s leading grapes plus those from Spain, Portugal, Germany, Italy and the Southern Rhone. You can find out more about Lodi in our recent article.

We were so blown away by the quality of Lodi wines, that we jumped at the chance to participate in a virtual wine tasting by Snooth. As is our style, the Green Dragon prepared an amazing wine dinner and we were joined by good friends to sample the wine before the online activities started.

Lodi White A Stellar Start

A great discovery from #WBC16 was that Lodi has some superb white wines. Right at the top of the list are wines by Acquiesce, Lodi’s only dedicated white wine winery. The vines are lightly watered and thinned. Grapes are handpicked and whole-cluster pressed to optimize fruity characteristics.

Our meal kicked off with the 2015 Acquiesce Belle Blanc. Belle Blanc is a blend of 45% Grenache Blanc, 45% Roussane and 10% Viognier. This is a Rhone-style white from the Lodi Mokelumne River AVA. The grapes come from Tablas Creek Winery in Paso Robles, which is well known for popularizing Rhone varieties in California. The grape clones are from cuttings from the famous French Chateau de Beaucastel in Chateauneuf-du-Pape.

While the winemaking team at Acquiesce were busy obsessing about making great white wine, Green Dragon was in the kitchen whipping up a superb dish. Our first dish was an organic beet salad with crispy chevre crouton accompanied with a swordfish skewer.

This was a golden combination! The Belle Blanc had a warm, tingly apple flavor. The Roussane brings more substantial body to the wine and Viognier adds its wonderful honeysuckle aroma. It is a balanced and food-friendly wine. This is a limited production wine of only 288 cases produced under the stringent Lodi Rules certification. Only $26? Are you kidding me? It is worth that for the elegant bottle alone.

Grenache In The House

Our next wine was the 2013 Grenache from McCay Cellars, and our friends pronounced this wine simply as “dynamite.” Michael McCay and his family have farmed in Lodi for more than 20 years. Michael’s winemaking style includes natural fermentation, a layered “Old World” style, and a concentration on Rhone varieties.

What do you pair with a Lodi Grenache? The Green Dragon opted for butternut squash soup with pork tenderloin, cranberry gravy and wild rice. The cranberry gravy is a favorite of mine – it is a blend of cranberries plus onions. Sounds a bit off-balance perhaps, but it works in a delightful way.

Our guests Maria and the Cabernetor provided important tasting notes as we worked through this gastronomic masterpiece. The McCay Grenache is garnet colored in the glass. Cabernetor proclaimed this as a highly flexible wine that could stand up to an even heartier entree.

The wine has delicious notes of red fruit and cola. It is 100 percent Grenache finished in natural oak with native fermentation. It undergoes malolactic fermentation, which enhances its rich, smooth texture.

This is another “micro-production” wine with 309 cases produced. It is a wallet-friendly $32 and punches above its weight class.

Italy Comes To Lodi

I don’t think I’m the only one to be surprised to hear of the Italian grape variety Nero d’Avola growing in Lodi. The Lange Twins 2014 Nero d’Avola is their first vintage of this grape. We hope to taste many more.

The winery is a fifth generation family farm. Randall and Brad Lange (the twins) have focused on ecologically responsible winemaking and this bottle is certified sustainable. Nero d’Avola is an Italian variety with roots in Sicily. Historically it was used to add color to light red wines, but recently has made a name for itself as a stand-alone wine.

The wine did not have to stand alone at our table, as it was accompanied by chicken cacciatore over egg noodles. Our crew gave this first vintage an enthusiastic thumbs up. It was a more robust wine than the previous Grenache and opens with rustic and earth notes. While the Grenache was all about red fruit, the Nero had deeper notes of black cherry.

Aging is done is both French and neutral American oak barrels. This allows the fruit to show nicely but adds a light touch of oak. Aging is for 18 months. Currently this wine is exclusively available at the winery.

Klinker Is Not A Klunker

We’ve been fans of Klinker Brick Winery for many years. In fact, we met Farrah for which the Klinker Brick 2013 Farrah Syrah is named at a wine tasting a number of years ago. The wines are all flavorful and tremendously over-deliver on quality for the price.

Speaking of over-delivering, Green Dragon prepared a delicious herbed rack of lamb with oven roasted Asiago cauliflower to pair with the Syrah. Lamb is a classic pairing with Syrah, so we were anxious to begin sipping away.

The Farrah Syrah is also from the Lodi Mokelumne River AVA. It is aged in French oak for 15 months. The alcohol percentage is 14.9%, on the upper end for fine wines.

This is a smoky, beautiful wine. We detected licorice and spice flavor notes. It’s balanced and smooth – a great match for our grilled food.

As this quartet amply demonstrates, Lodi is a diverse wine region. It offers many pleasurable surprises for wine lovers. We suggest you explore this area – a bottle at a time.

Full disclosure: These wines were received as marketing samples.

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