Road Trip – At Long Last Lodi

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It’s 10 a.m. and I’m entering Lodi. Lodi, California, that is and not to be confused with Lodi, Wisconsin, home of the town’s mascot “Susie the Duck.”

Lodi, California is home to old vine Zinfandel. As I near the heart of wine country, I see nothing but naked, gnarly old vine Zinfandel vineyards for miles. The scenery prompts me to sing a little diddy I’ve just made up: “Zinfandel fields forever.” Sing it to the tune of “Strawberry Fields Forever,” by the Beatles. Make sense now?

Zinfandel is one of Lodi’s claims to fame, but I wasn’t here for the Zin; I was here for a private wine and food pairing scheduled for later that day with Bokisch Vineyards, specialists in Iberian-style wines—a far cry from Zinfandel—so I thought I’d try my palate at a few wineries.

I hate to admit, but I’ve never been wine tasting in Lodi. Not to say that I haven’t had Lodi wines at industry tastings and elsewhere. And, while I live less than 2 hours from this other wine country, I’ve stayed away for one reason or another. Maybe it’s because I assumed that I’d be overwhelmed by Zinfandel. While Zin was the star of the flights at each winery I visited, it wasn’t the only varietal being featured: Barbera, Sangiovese, Syrah, Albariño, and even Rose shared the spotlight. I would eventually come home with all but Sangiovese and Syrah. I couldn’t find a Sangiovese that I had to have. And, being a fan of coastal Syrah’s, the varietals I tried were too hot, too fruity, and lacking in substantial acidity.

Since I was in Zin country, however, I had to visit Klinker Brick, whose history dates back to the early 1900s when the family first planted Zinfandel vines in Lodi. I also wanted to get a bottle of their “Old Vine Zinfandel”—the winery’s highly recognized label that sells through retail—for a dear friend who fancies it. For me, though, the 2010 Old Vine Zinfandel from Marisa Vineyard caught my attention. Klinker Brick made just 250 six-packs (yes, six-packs) of this vintage and sells it exclusively through the tasting room. This Zin is spicy and complex, with balanced dark fruit. Not too jammy as most Zins go, this wine has enough of a tannic structure to cellar for at least two years.

Also a winner was the 2011 Klinker Brick Rosé Wine. A dry wine, this rosé is an eclectic, fun blend of Mourvèdre, Grenache, Carignan, Zinfandel, and Syrah that dances on the palate.

Macchia was my next stop. Macchia, which means “ink spot” in Italian, is known among locals for its Barbera. Given the amount of driving that lay before me (Lodi is still very agricultural), I passed on most of the varietals on the flight and stuck to the Barbera. Only one was being offered, but the kind tasting room host opened a second Barbera, the 2011 “Infamous,” made from grapes grown at Cooper Ranch in Plymouth, Amador County. This wine is full-bodied and rich in brambleberry fruit, with approachable tannins.

I hated to leave Macchia, as I was enjoying my chat with my tasting room hosts, but the clock was ticking and I was on a mission to buy Albariño from Harney Lane Winery before closing time. Albariño, a Spanish variety grown in Galicia, the northwest part of Spain, and of course California, is known for its rich, fruity aromas such as peaches, apricots, and nectarines. High in acid, these wines can sometimes be too fruity or too minerally, with an almost bitter aftertaste. I prefer something in-between, and one that has spent a short amount of time in neutral oak to soften the acidity. The 2011 vintage from Harney Lane is big on stone fruit with intense citrus. A tad fruitier than the previous vintage, I liked it just the same and will enjoy it with spicy fare and certain fish dishes. Other California-produced Albariños I highly recommend include Quinta Cruz and New Clairvaux Vineyard.

Winetasting in Lodi requires much driving. The wineries are spread out and the country roads are single-lane. That’s fine if it weren’t for those drivers who tended to speed and follow too closely. For this reason, I suggest tasting with a friend or significant other so that one person can give directions while the other one drives. Or, if you are alone, use a GPS so that you don’t have to continually pull off the road to read the wine trail map like I did. Furthermore, to avoid an accident—especially if you are unfamiliar with the area—take a plastic cup with you and spit your wines into it during tastings to avoid consuming too much alcohol. This is a good practice regardless. However, if you don’t feel like spending too much time on the road, you can check out a number of tasting rooms that dot the downtown area—one of which I was about to visit (see Roxy’s Pick, “Did Someone Say ‘Sea Scallop’? – Winter Fiesta Food and Wine Pairing with Bokisch Vineyards,” following this story).

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