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Thinking About Grenache with Bokisch Vineyards Garnacha

September 22, 2018 3 comments

Grenache. Garnacha. Garnatxa. One of the 10 most popular red grapes in the world, one of the most planted grapes in the world (according to the Court of Master Sommeliers, “world’s most widely planted grape”). Some call it “unsung hero”; I generally designate it as King of the Blends. While Grenache can perfectly perform solo (think about Sine Qua Non, Horsepower, No Girls, Bodegas Alto Moncayo, some of the Chateauneuf-du-Pape), it typically plays its part in the blends – that’s what “G” stands for in all of the GSM renditions, whether coming from Australia, Southern Rhône, Southe Africa, or California; it helps with Rioja and Priorat, and with lots of other wines.

Yesterday, wine lovers celebrated International Grenache Day, which prompted some thoughts on the subject. As I confessed many times, I like aged wines. Of course, I thoroughly enjoy the exuberance of the young wines, but my honest preferences are with the wines which gain some complexity after been aged. Out of 10 most popular grapes – Pinot Noir, Tempranillo, Sangiovese, Merlot, Zinfandel, Malbec, Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon, Nebbiolo, Syrah/Shiraz – Grenache is the one which concerns me the most with its ageability. Of course, the Grenache wines produced by Sine Qua Non, Horsepower, Bodegas Alta Moncaya Aquilon, Châteauneuf-du-Pape from Clos des Papes or Domaine de la Janasse can age perfectly for a very long time – but all of these wines will set you back for hundred(s) of dollars, so their ageability is rather expected. Meanwhile, I had lots of Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Sangiovese, Tempranillo, Syrah (oh well, pretty much all of those 10 major grapes), priced in the $15-$25 range and age beautifully (here is one example for you) – but I don’t have a great luck with aged Grenache in that price category – maybe because the most of it comes in the blends (don’t try aging Côtes du Rhône reds – it is just not going to happen).

If you are an oenophile who can spend 15 minutes pulling back and forth numerous bottles in your cellar, unable to decide what to open for the evening, I’m sure you really appreciate the grape holidays. Your selection shrinks down, as now only the appropriate bottle can be opened, so the life becomes much easier. This recent Grenache Day gave me a good reason to finally open the bottle of the 2011 Bokisch Vineyards Garnacha Terra Alta Vineyard Clements Hill Lodi (14.5% ABV, $25) – I had this bottle in my hands a few times this year, but always put it back as “not this time” object.

Lodi was one of my relatively recent discoveries as one of the very best wine regions in California, and in the US in general – both with the wines and with the people who make the wines there. Lodi might be most famous for its Zinfandel vineyards, but it is really a capital of Mediterranean grape varieties in the USA, and so Lodi Grenache is something to look for as a category. And if Lodi is the capital, Markus Bokisch might well be the king of those Mediterranean varieties – he started planting Spanish varieties in Lodi back in 1999 and only made his first Zinfandel wines a few years back. Markus’s range includes all best-known Spanish varieties – from Albariño and Verdejo to Garnacha, Monastrell, Tempranillo, and Graciano.

In a word, I made an excellent choice of the celebratory wine for the International Grenache Day, as the wine was beautiful from the get-go. Garnet color; espresso and mint jump right out of the glass, intense aroma, tar, a whiff of the dark chocolate came as the second layer, minerality, spices – I could actually smell this wine for about … forever. The palate? Wow. Tart blackberries, tobacco, a touch of pepper, bright acidity, perfect firm structure, delicious. The wine was going and going, further opening up over the next two days and showing the smoke and rocky minerality which I previously experienced with No Girls Grenache (here is a bonus, Bokisch Garnacha is only a quarter of a price of No Girls Grenache). Drinkability: 8+/9-. The wine was a perfect example of Grenache which can age – and could’ve waited for longer to be opened, for sure – but it was definitely enjoyed (of course this was my only bottle, you don’t need to ask).

What do you think of Grenache? Do you have a favorite Grenache wine or a region? Cheers!

Lodi Thanksgiving

November 24, 2016 14 comments

Thanksgiving is definitely one of my most favorite holidays – maybe because it is so centered on the food. Of course it is about families and friends getting together, and giving thanks for many many things which comprise our lives – we all have a lot to be thankful for. Nevertheless, the food on Thanksgiving is essential, it is a canvas of gathering, and even more importantly so if you are hosting the gathering.

lodi wines

For many years we visited our close friends to celebrate Thanksgiving together with them. This year we are hosting Thanksgiving dinner at our house, which gave me a pleasure of doing a boatload of cooking, and – I’m sure you expected that – to select the wines for the dinner.

Thanksgiving is a quintessential American holiday, so choosing to serve the American wines comes easy and logical. But then America is all about freedom, so of course, you can drink whatever you feel like, I’m just talking about my personal choices. About a month ago I visited Lodi region in California (my second trip there, after Wine Bloggers Conference back in August), and while I was tasting through the line of delicious wines at Bokisch Vineyards, it dawned on me – this year, we should celebrate Thanksgiving with wines from Lodi. Now, as it is almost time to get to the table, this is exactly what we are doing.

Lodi is somewhat under the radar (and believe me – I would love to keep it like that, for it to stay the best kept secret for a few oenophiles only), but totally unique and totally unexpected region, which produces unique and delicious wines. Lodi is a California appellation, yet it produces the world class wines absolute majority would never associate with California. Look at the wines I’m planning to open. Sangiovese Rosé from LangeTwins – yes, an Italian star, Sangiovese, right out of the Central California. Graciano from Bokisch Vineyards – yes, Graciano, the unique grape from Rioja in Spain – this was the wine which prompted this whole “Lodi Thanksgiving” idea. Or how about Borra Vineyards Heritage, a field blend (!) of Barbera, Carignane, Petite Sirah and Alicante Bouschet – here is another core Italian varietal, Barbera. I don’t have a Lodi white wine, this is where Turley White Coat should do, as it contains Grenache Blanc and Verdelho from Lodi. Unique grapes, unique and, most importantly, delicious wines – this is what makes Lodi wines such an easy choice for me.

The Thanksgiving dinner will include the infamous “3 in 1″ bird, the Turducken, and lots of the side dishes – you can see some of the key components in the picture below.

thanksgiving prep

I have an ambitious plan to report on the dinner right after its completion – that might never happen, but I will try. By the way, do you care to guess what wine is hiding behind the wrap? Maybe name the grape, and maybe even the producer? How are you going to celebrate? With what wines? Is there a dish you are looking forward to making or, at least, eating? Happy Thanksgiving! Cheers!

Celebrate Tempranillo! 2016 Edition

November 10, 2016 7 comments

Tempranillo is one of the most popular red grapes in the world, requiring no introduction to the wine lovers, now even less than before. The star grape of Spain, a foundation of the timeless beauty of Rioja, finess of Ribera del Duero and dark raw power of Toro. Today (if I manage to publish this post before midnight) is International Tempranillo Day, the day when we acknowledge this early ripening grape, capable of bringing lots and lots of pleasure to the wine lovers everywhere.

I discovered Tempranillo in 2010, at the wine seminar at the PJ Wine store in Manhattan – and fell in love with it. And how you can not, after tasting 1964 Rioja Gran Reserva, which was still young and exuberant. I was seeking Tempranillo ever since, trying it at every occasion – some encounters happier than the others.

What interesting in this journey is that when I discovered Tempranillo for myself, my world was squarely limited to Spain, and even inside Spain, it was all about Rioja, Ribera del Duero and a little bit of Toro. I was always happy to celebrate the Tempranillo Day, so here is the collage which I produced based on the wines I knew, back in 2011:

Tempranillo_AutoCollage_23_ImagesTo my total delight, it appears that my Tempranillo worldview was inexcusably narrow. Texas, Oregon, Napa Valley and my newfound oenophile’s heaven, Lodi, are all producing world-class, delicious, complex, exciting Tempranillo wines. I heard about Tempranillo in Australia; never tried them, but now I’m a believer – great Tempranillo wines don’t have to be only from Spain. Thus I created a new collage, to better represent my latest discoveries:

Tempranillo wines collageAbacela from Oregon, Duchman from Texas, Irwine Family from Napa, Bokisch, McCay, Fields, Harney Lane from Lodi – lots and lots of tasty discoveries over the past few years – I hope you had your share of Tempranillo fun too.

Do you have your favorite Tempranillo wines? Where are they from? Who is the producer? Tell the world about them. Cheers!

Life’s Happy Moments – Virtual Lodi Wine Tasting on Snooth

October 26, 2016 7 comments

When I got an offer to participate in the Lodi wine virtual tasting on Snooth, my first reaction was “that’s okay. I just was in Lodi just recently for the Wine Bloggers Conference (WBC16), and still perfectly remember it”. Then the second thought came in – “but it is Lodi, remember? Great wines, great people, why not”?

Lodi Wines Snooth tasting

When I opened the box with samples, huge smile embellished my face (this post would be perfect for the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge #28 (#MWWC28), as the theme was “Smile” – if only it would be written on time, sigh). Do you smile when you run into a good old friend who you are genuinely happy to see? Yep, that was me at that moment.

Looking at the bottles one by one, you can imagine me talking and thinking.

Acquiesce. I heard people raving about their wines, but never tried it – great, now I will! LangeTwins – the flow of happy memories – we visited the winery with the group of bloggers and had an incredible time there; so glad to be drinking their wine again. McCay – an immediate image of Mike McCay, pouring his Zinfandel out of the double-magnum during the dinner at the WBC16 – another huge happy smile. So looking forward trying this Grenache. Klinker Brick – had their Zinfandel during speed tasting, but heard a lot about the Syrah – now I can taste it, great!

Then the day of the tasting arrived, and for an hour, I was among friends, feeling more like a WBC16 reunion – the fact that we didn’t see each other was not a problem – it was easy to imagine happy and smiley faces, tasting delicious wines, and excitedly talking across each other. Exactly as we did in August back in Lodi.

I have to be entirely honest – we had great hosts for this session – Tim Gaiser, Master Sommelier, Stuart Spencer, who represented both Lodi Winegrape Commission and his own winery,  St. Amant,  and Mike McCay of McCay Cellars – but I was entirely focused on the chat window, so I don’t have much of their conversation to share with you. But – I’m happy share the tasting notes for these delicious Lodi wines.

2015 Acquiesce Belle Blanc Mokelumne River Lodi (13.5% ABV, $26, 45% Grenache Blanc, 45% Roussanne, 10% Viognier, 288 cases)
C: light golden
N: intense lemon, lemon peel, candied lemon (hint of), white stone fruit
P: creamy, plump, touch of candied lemon, long acidity-dominated finish
V: 8, easy to drink from the start. The wine kept evolving for the next 5 days – definitely an age worthy wine which will bring you lots of pleasure.

2014 LangeTwins Vineyards Nero d’Avola Red Tail Vineyard Lodi (13% ABV, $20)
C: bright garnet
N: ripe sweet plums and earthiness, medium intensity
P: clean herbal profile first, sweet basil, then layer of fresh, ripe blueberries – clean, well-structured, perfectly balanced.
V: 8-, excellent pop and pour wine, should be easily a crowd pleaser

2013 McCay Cellars Grenache Abba Vineyard Lodi (14.2% ABV, $32, 309 cases)
C: smokey Ruby
N: intense gunflint, granit, underripe plums
P: smoke, mix of tart and sweet cherries, clean acidity, firm structure and medium body, crisp
V: 8+, outstanding. Once you start drinking, you can’t stop

2013 Klinker Brick Farrah Syrah Mokelumne River Lodi (14.9% ABV, $20)
C: dark garnet, almost black
N: intense aromatics, espresso, mocca, mint, raspberries, red fruit, very inviting and promising
P: wow, intense, mint, eucalyptus, blueberries, tar, spicy core, good acidity, velvety present texture, long finish
V: 8/8+, very good from get go, should improve with time

I would like to thank the kind folks at Snooth for arranging this delicious tasting. And for you, my friends – yes, those wines are made in a very small quantities, but if you will make an effort to find them (many might be available directly from the wineries), you will be well rewarded. These are the wines worth seeking. Cheers!

WBC16: Overwhelmed Even Before The Day One

August 19, 2016 20 comments

Zinfandel grapesYet another ambitious plan goes nowhere. While attending the Wine Bloggers Conference 2016 in Lodi, I had a great idea of posting a recap of the prior day in the morning. No need to start checking for the missing posts from me – none of it happened. Every day was so packed from dawn to dusk that what seemed to be a great idea didn’t survive the test of the reality. Yes, I probably could muscle a few lines in, but it would come at the expense of the great time talking to the fellow bloggers, which was the trade off I didn’t want to make.

So here we are, the conference is over, so now I will do my best to share my perspective of the events as they took place. Here we go.

I took a flight early morning on Thursday to arrive to San Francisco. After getting the rental car, my first stop was in Napa, at Oxbow Public Market, where I met for lunch Danielle Irwin and her husband Derek. Oxbow Public Market is a very interesting place, conceptually somewhat close to the Chelsea Markets in New York, only built in modern, contemporary style, with lots of small artisan shops and restaurants, offering food and wine, fresh produce, coffee and whatever else your heart desires. Great place to stop by if you are looking for a break during your winery visits.

It was a great pleasure to meet Danielle and Derek face to face. I had been virtually talking to Danielle for a while – she is writing her blog Danielle Dishes The Vineyard Dirt at Naggiar Vineyards in Sierra Foothills, where her husband Derek is the winemaker. Derek is a vigneron who is involved in a lot of vineyard and winery projects, and he also produces his own wines under Irwin Family Wines label. I had a pleasure of tasting his Tempranillo, which was the first California Tempranillo I ever tasted. Conversation with Derek was an excellent introduction into the Lodi wines, as he gave me some ideas for what to expect there.

A hour an a half later, after a ride along route 12 which I wouldn’t call pleasant (lots of stop and go traffic, not a fun ride) I arrived to the Hampton Inn in Lodi, which became home outside of home for the next 3 days.

The first event of the night was the conference opening reception at the Mohr Fry Ranch, sponsored by Lodi Wine. With that reception came my first real encounter with Lodi wines.

LoCA wine glasses

Until coming to Lodi, I only knew it as a source of many Zinfandel wines. And then there was a perception of hot, high alcohol wines, based on the tasting of occasional Cabernet Sauvignon with Lodi regional designation. Yep, that’s all I had on Lodi in my head.

The very first taste of the Lodi wine broke that perception. By the end of the tasting, it was shattered completely and didn’t exist anymore.


I stopped at the table of the Fields Family Wines, and the very first white wine I tasted was 2015 Fields Family Wines Clay Station Vineyard Grenache Blanc Lodi. I never tasted Grenache Blanc from California, let alone the fact that it is coming from one of the hottest regions (yep, sense my fear?) – yet the wine had clean acidity, touch of minerality, restrained fruit – a great start.

You know what – now I’m afraid to bore you away with all this “acidity and restrained fruit”, but this was the trait of literally every Lodi wine I had an opportunity to taste – there were no fruit bombs, there were no hot wines, there were delicious, well made world-class wines, made with love and care. I just have to tell you this, as it was really an overarching impression over the three days of tasting, so now I will [try to] avoid repeating myself all the time.

Have to be honest – the next red wine I approached with trepidation (huh, like the previous one I did not, right). Tempranillo from Lodi? I already told you that I had good experience with Irwin Family Tempranillo from Napa, but it was one particular wine, which doesn’t guarantee anything in a long run. And if you are reading this blog for a while, you know my passion for the Spanish Tempranillo wines – and now in my mind I was facing a clear opportunity to be disappointed. First sip of this 2010 Fields Family Wines Tempranillo Lodi put all my doubts to rest – the wine had a nose of black fruit and spices, and it was dark and brooding on the palate, with those espresso notes so characteristic in the wines of Toro in Spain. An outstanding rendition by all means, and I would love to see it in a blind tasting against the actual Toro wines.

2010 Fields Family Wines Estate Grown Syrah Lodi was an excellent example of the cold climate Syrah – touch of roasted meat, dark fruit, spicy with clean acidity – great rendition of another one of my favorite grapes. 2011 Fields Family Wines Estate Grown Syrah Lodi added more complexity and more roasted meat, all with perfect balance. 2010 Fields Family Wines Petitte Sirah Lodi was simply outstanding, offering silky smooth, velvety texture, supple ripe black and blue fruit with enough acidity in the core to make the wine perfectly balanced. As you can tell, Fields Family Wines provided a splendid introduction into the wines of Lodi.

Harney Lane Winery

My [now exciting] Lodi wine deep dive continued at the next table. Successful first experience should’ve really put me at ease – and still, an Albariño on the label triggered a subconscious alarm – Lodi doesn’t leave the impression of the Rias Baixas (not that I visited Spain, unfortunately, but just a mental image of coastal region), so “just in case, prepare for the worst”, the concerned brain said. This happened to be really a needless worry. 2015 Harney Lane Albariño Lodi had a a nose of white fruit and excellent acidity on the palate, which is the typical characteristic of the Spanish Albariño. 2013 Harney Lane Tempranillo Lodi was a bit lighter than the Fields Tempranillo version (it was also 3 years younger), but still preserving the core of dark fruit and good acidity. 2013 Harney Lane Lizzy James Vineyard Old Vines Sinfandel Lodi was as classic as Lodi Zinfandel can be – blueberries, blackberries, spices – very tasty.

I could continue tasting Lodi wines as there were many more winemakers present. However, there is something you need to know about Wine Bloggers Conference. In addition to all of the program events, there are always lots and lots of activities taking place somewhere around the WBC space. Call them private tastings or what, but this is something to pay attention to. Thus we left the reception, and after a short drive arrived at a house where Troon Vineyards tasting was taking place.

Troon Vineyards started in Southern Oregon in 1976 (vines were planted in 1972). I’m sure that when you hear “Oregon wine”, your first thought is Pinot Noir – nevertheless, Troon Vineyard doesn’t produce any Pinot Noir wines, and instead focuses on Mediterranean grape varietals (and Zinfandel). Another interesting fact is that many of the Troon wines (especially the whites) are co-fermented, meaning that different varietals are fermented together at the same time, as opposed to fermenting separately and blending afterwards.

I tried a number of Troon wines, with the two favorites been 2015 Troon Blue Label Longue Carabine, Applegate Valley, Southern Oregon (blend of Vermentino, Viognier, Marsanne and Roussanne) – touch of perfume on the nose, medium to full body with expressive minerality and good acidity. 2013 Troon Black Label M*T Reserve, Applegate Valley, Souther Oregon (blend of Malbec and Tannat) had nose of black fruit with dark core and good structure, medium to full body and good balance.

The last stop of the long day (remember, I left the house at 5 am in the Eastern time zone) was at the Rodney Strong Vineyards party, which was luckily taking place right at the hotel.

Rodney Strong winery had been producing wines in Sonoma for more than 50 years and would well deserve its own post to talk about their long history (the oldest vineyard at Rodney Strong was planted in 1904) and their achievements. But for the sake of this post, let me just talk about few of their wines I had an opportunity to enjoy.

2015 Estate Sauvignon Blanc, Charlotte’s Home, Northern Sonoma was excellent – grassy nose, fresh, crisp and restrained palate, with just a touch of grass and lemon – delicious and very refreshing. 2009 Ramey Platt Vineyard Chardonnay Sonoma Coast was a stand out (no wonder Ramey Chardonnay was one of Decanter magazine’s 10 best Chardonnay wines in the world outside of Burgundy) – classic intense vanilla nose, vanilla apple and pear on the palate, excellent balance and excellent overall. As an extra bonus, the wine was poured from double-magnum (3L) bottle. In case you are wondering about connection here, David Ramey is a consulting winemaker at Rodney Strong.

The reds of Rodney Strong provided an amazing finish to the very long but very exciting day. 2013 Davis Bynum 2013 Jane’s Vineyard Pinot Noir Dijon Clone 115 Russian River Valley was a classic California Pinot Noir – with plums and smoke, soft and round. 2010 Rodney Strong Symmetry Meritage Alexander Valley is one of the very best Bordeaux blends from California – again, classic, classic, classic – cassis, green bell pepper, mint, perfect structure, absolutely delicious wine. The last three reds were flagship single vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon wines – 2009 Rodney Strong Alexander’s Crown Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley, 2013 Rodney Strong Rockaway Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley and 2013 Rodney Strong Brothers Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley. Considering the end of a very long day, I’m not going to give you any details on the notes other than that all three were classic Cabernet wines, pure, varietally correct  and delicious – I would love to drink those at any day.

If you are still with me, aren’t you tired reading this post? I’m tired even writing it – but we are done here. My first WBC16 report is over – and more to follow. Cheers!

To be continued…

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