Stockton couple blogs about their passion

Stockton residents Nancy Brazil and Peter Bourget enjoy sharing their passion for wine.

Peter Bourget, left, and Nancy Brazil share their passion for wine in an entertaining blog, "Pull That Cork." BOB HIGHFILL/THE RECORD

“Pull That Cork” is an entertaining and informative online blog (pullthatcork.com) loaded with stories from the couple’s travels, along with tasting notes, pairing tips and photos of the places they’ve visited.

In 2010, they came up with the idea of starting a blog while dining in Scottsdale, Arizona.

“We just thought, you know, we really enjoy doing this,” said Bourget, who recently retired from his career as a computer programmer, “so let’s start a blog and start writing about our wine experiences.”

Nancy and Peter, who will celebrate their 20th wedding anniversary this year, are not pretentious wine snobs. They are pleasant and engaging folks who were bitten by the wine bug during a tasting at Gail and George Herron’s shop, Fine Wines of Stockton.

“They had the ’99 Bordeaux’s,” said Bourget, reflecting on the particular tasting in 2000 that turned him and Nancy into true wine appreciators. “One thing that struck us was they were so tannic. It really made an impression and we wanted to explore wine more.”

Nancy and Peter became more adventuresome with wine. They tried varieties that were new to them and kept an open mind. Their interest in wine only increased when they started writing the blog.

“You get a lot more curious,” said Brazil, who worked in the medical field and in human resources before she retired. “You have some opportunities to taste things you haven’t tasted before then you want to taste more variety.”

Said Bourget, “Almost immediately it made us pay more attention to what we were drinking. It was really a good thing for us in getting to learn more about wine and it got us to pay more attention to what we were drinking.”

Nancy and Peter have visited many of the prime wine making regions of the United States and elsewhere in the world. Last year, they toured Sicily and drank amazing grillo and were blown away by a dry style of marsala. They’ve tried wines indigenous to Nepal, India and Zimbabwe. They plan to visit Nimibia this year where they hope to try Nimibian wine.

“When we travel, we always try to find wines from where we are,” Bourget said.

Brazil, a Certified Specialist of Wine, does much of the writing and photography for “Pull That Cork,” but Bourget said he will contribute more now that he is retired. Their advice to anyone who wants to start a blog is to read other blogs and figure out how to differentiate your blog from the others, find web site software or look into a company that can help you design your web site, engage with other bloggers, embrace social media platforms, don’t be afraid to promote yourself, and try to attend blogger conferences. In August, Lodi will host the 2016 Wine Bloggers Conference. You can bet Nancy and Peter will be there.

“Just do it,” Brazil said. “It’s been a lot of fun for us.”

 

 

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Ready to celebrate? Pop some prosecco

Bubbles in a glass just scream celebration.

Sparkling wine makes any occasion feel special. French Champagne is the king of sparkling wine, but bubbly made elsewhere in the world tastes great and can be far more budget-friendly.

Italy’s sparkling wine, prosecco, is gaining popularity worldwide for its freshness and ease of drinkability. It isn’t difficult to find quality prosecco for $20, making it a good value. Prosecco sales are bubbling. According to DailyMail.com, sales of prosecco on the Internet more than doubled in 2014 from the previous year. In 2009, for the first time, Italy surpassed France as the leader in sparkling wine production, mainly due to the popularity of prosecco. Made from the glera grape with pinot bianco and verdiso often playing the supporting role, prosecco is light bodied and made to be consumed young.

“It’s very easy to drink,” said Antonio Motteran of Carpene Malvoti in “Discover the Wines of Northern Italy.” For example, Champagne is fantastic sparkling wine, but it’s complicated. Prosecco is very easy. People like to be happy and not have a complicated life.”

Champagne made in the traditional method undergoes a second fermentation in the bottle. The carbon dioxide is trapped, creating bubbles. Prosecco’s second fermentation occurs in large, stainless steel tanks and the wine is bottled under pressure, a system called the Martinotti or Charmat method. Prosecco is either spumante (fully sparkling) or frizzante (gently sparkling) and is dry (brut), less dry (extra brut) or off-dry (dry). Look for prosecco from Conegliano-Valdobbiadene in the Veneto province of Northeast Italy with DOCG on the label (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita).

Recently, I sampled two proseccos that you might enjoy:

Crede Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG from Bisol in Italy is a fine sparkling wine for any occasion. BOB HIGHFILL/THE RECORD

Bisol Crede Prosecco Superiore DOCG, Valdobbiadene, Italy ($23)

This blend of glera (85 percent), pinot bianco (10 percent) and verdiso (5 percent) is sourced from several vineyards in the heart of Valdobbiadene. It has a pale-gold color with aromas of green apples and pears. The palate is dry (brut), the alcohol is low (11.5 percent ABV) and the bubbles are aggressive (spumante). There is a touch of minerality on the palate. The acid is medium-high. Bisol has made prosecco for hundreds of years in the appellation. Crede works well on its own and with food, such as eggs Benedict or shellfish. It went well with a crab dip I made on New Year’s Eve (recipe).

Desiderio Jeio Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Brut ($15)

Also from Bisol, the Desiderio Jeio is paler in color than the Crede and has light aroma and flavor intensities of limes, green apples and pears. The palate is dry and the acid is medium-plus. The bubbles explode, then leave a creamy texture in the mouth. There is a slight honey flavor on the finish. The alcohol is low (11.5 percent ABV). This pleasant, fresh-tasting wine would be ideal as an aperitif or with a pile of peel-and-eat shrimp or with brunchlike foods, such as Belgian waffles or huevos rancheros.

Prosecco can make any occasion feel special, and not necessarily wallop your wallet.

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Winter pruning an important step for growers

Freshly pruned Zinfandel vines are ready for the coming growing season at Harney Lane Winery in Lodi. BOB HIGHFILL/THE RECORD

Driving through wine country these days, you might have noticed some vineyards have had a “haircut” while others still are shaggy.

It’s winter pruning season, an important time of the year for grape growers.

At Harney Lane Winery in Lodi, owner Kyle Lerner’s crew has been busy pruning vines — removing unwanted leaves, canes and permanent wood to achieve balance, which will lead to good results at harvest.

“What we’re doing here is to maximize the potential of the vine,” said Lerner, as his new dog, Charlie, a 9-month-old Labrador, romped about the property. “So, this is the starting point of the 2016 season.”

Last Friday, Harney Lane workers were tending a block of Zinfandel planted by the late George Mettler in the 1960s on the west side of his property. Workers pruned canes that had grown several feet in length off the cordon (the piece of wood trained to grow laterally from the trunk). They cut the canes into two- or three-bud spurs with 16 to 18 spurs per cordon. Each bud contains everything the vine needs to produce fruit.

Grapes vines left unchecked grow vigorously and focus most of their resources into growing the plant, producing just enough ripe grapes to attract birds to propagate the plant. That doesn’t leave the vine enough energy to ripen all of its fruit. Native vines that grow along the Mokelumne River and elsewhere have huge canopies, long canes and tiny clusters of tiny berries, which is not what the wine grape grower wants. So, for practical purposes, the vigor of the vine needs to be controlled.

 

Kyle Lerner, owner of Harney Lane Winery in Lodi, and his dog Charlie take a break from pruning Zinfandel vines. BOB HIGHFILL/THE RECORD

“If it’s not done correctly, then we have a lot of manipulation to do during the season to get the vine balanced,” Lerner said. “Or we could prune back so severely, we limit the crop potential the vine has, which puts it out of balance the other direction. So, it’s a very critical step.”

The Zinfandel vineyard we visited Friday originally was head-trained, where the permanent wood was a vertical stump with spurs distributed around the head of the vine. In the 1970s, it was converted into a trellised, bi-lateral cordon system to accommodate mechanization. Over the years, modifications to the trellis system have been made to put the vines in a more relaxed, vertical position, which also keeps the canopy out of the fruit zone so it receives morning sun and air. The fruit now is hand-harvested, given the advanced age of the vineyard.

Lerner said he and his crew talk throughout the year about pruning techniques and other subjects they are sure to encounter during the growing season.

“We spend a lot of time through the season talking about technique and training and retraining and making sure everyone is doing things correctly,” he said. “Each vineyard will prune differently based on the needs of that site and location.”

Lerner said recent rain has put his crew a bit behind schedule, but he isn’t complaining about the weather.

Raul Ramirez prunes Zinfandel vines at Harney Lane Winery in Lodi. BOB HIGHFILL/THE RECORD

“It’s nice to have the rain fall on our side of the country for a change,” he said. “You can see normal stuff happening, like cover crops starting to grow with good moisture and you know it’s going to give us this nice, deep profile to allow the vines to come out very strong.”

The Mettler Family has grown grapes in Lodi since the early 1900s and went into the wine making business in 2006. They opened a tasting room on their estate in 2009. The Mettlers have 60 acres under vine and allot about 5 percent of their crop for their Harney Lane label, while the remainder goes to wineries throughout the state. Harney Lane’s portfolio includes Chardonnay, Albarino, Dry Rose, Estate Zinfandel, Lizzy James Old Vine Zinfandel, Tempranillo, Patriarch’s Promise (red blend) and Lizzy James Port.

Though there isn’t much to see on the vine these days, what’s to come is being framed now.

 

 

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Can’t tell the wine without a scorecard

Wine scores can be a valuable resource.

Logic dictates the higher the score, the better the wine. But what do these scores mean and who makes them?

The Wine Advocate’s Robert Parker popularized the 100-point scale and it generally has been adopted by wine critics as a simple, quick way to communicate their opinion about the quality of a wine. Scores can make or break a wine in the marketplace, so they carry significant weight.

In Parker’s scale, wines scoring 95-100 are Classic: a great wine; 90-94: Outstanding: a wine of superior character and style; 85-89: Very good, a wine with special qualities; 80-85: Good, a solid, well-made wine. Wine-Searcher.com calculates an average score based on all collected scores for that wine, so it represents a wider range of opinions.

Everyone’s preferences are different, so a rating based on someone else’s opinion doesn’t guarantee you’ll also like the wine. Try to find the critic whose scores fall in line with your palate.

Fine Wines of Stockton poured several wines critics scored 90 points or higher during a recent Thursday night tasting, which start at 6 p.m. and cost $10 or $15 (no reservation required). As of last week, each 90-point wine from Thursday’s tasting was in stock at its Lincoln Center location.

The wines were poured blind. Did the tasters agree with the critics?

2013 Planeta Moscato di Noto ($19)

90 points, James Suckling

The nose says Riesling but the flavors suggest something different. This medium-gold wine is not sweet like a Moscato. It’s dry and elegant with a light body, medium acid and medium alcohol (12.5 percent). The aromas include honeysuckle and pears and a touch of diesel. The flavors suggest grapefruit pith with an underlying mineral quality. This 100 percent Moscato Bianco from Sicily would pair with shellfish or spicy dishes, such as Thai food. The tasters generally enjoyed this wine. My score: 88.

 

Elk Cove Vineyards in Oregon makes a delicious Pinot Noir from its Mount Richmond Vineyard in the Willamette Valley. ELK COVE VINEYARDS PHOTO

2013 Elk Cove Vineyards Pinot Noir ($48)

92 points, Wine Enthusiast

Mind-blowing. Forget the descriptors and jargon. This wine simply is amazing: Light ruby color, light body, fruit-forward but not obnoxious; delicate, young red fruit on the nose and palate: strawberries, cherries and raspberries; a touch of smokiness, fresh acidity, soft tannins and medium alcohol (13.5 percent). Elk Cove is family-owned. The fruit is from the Mount Richmond Vineyard in the Yamhill-Carlton American Viticultural Area in Oregon. Forget the food. This is a wine to sip and savor. All of the tasters seemed to enjoy it. My score: 96.

2012 Volver Single Vineyard Tempranillo ($19.50)

90 points, Robert Parker (Wine Advocate)

From La Mancha, Spain, this warm-weather red has earth, dust and wood on the nose. The wood carries over but soon gives way to flavors suggesting leather, tobacco and dark fruit, such as blackberries and black plums. The acid, tannin and body are medium to medium-plus. Pair with red meat. Parker likes big wines. The tasters were mixed on this one. My score: 90.

Wine scores don’t mean everything. But they do offer an expert’s opinion about what’s in the bottle, and that can be useful for consumers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Noted importer now making fine wines

As my wine journey continues, my appreciation for Italian wines only grows.

Italians see wine as a complement to a meal. It’s as natural in Italy to have a bottle or two on the dinner table as the obligatory shakers of salt and pepper on Americans’ dinner tables. Italian wines tend to be easy to drink with lighter tannins and lower alcohol levels. And they tend to be a good value.

Acinum, the first propietary collection of fine wines from Vias Imports in Italy, makes a delicious Valpolicella, left, Soave, center, and Valpolicella Ripasso. BOB HIGHFILL/THE RECORD

Recently I was afforded an opportunity to sample three wines from the Veneto region in northeast Italy that fulfill the aforementioned attributes: Soave Classico, Valpolicella and Valpolicella Ripasso. All were made by Acinum within the Vias portfolio. Vias, founded in 1983 by Fabrizio Pedrolli, is a renowned importer of more than 200 Italian wine varietals to the U.S. market. Acinum is Vias’ first proprietary collection of wines. Enrico Paternoster is the winemaker.

Acinum wines can be purchased at K&L Wine Merchants and other fine wine stores. Information: viaswine.com.

Here is a rundown of each wine:

2014 Acinum Soave Classico DOP ($11)

Light gold color with green flecks, this 100 percent Garganega from Monforte d’ Alpone was fermented in stainless steel tanks for 15 days, and aged seven months in stainless steel and two months in bottle.

If you’re not familiar with this variety, it might remind you of an un-oaked Chardonnay. The acid is medium — bright and fresh. The body is light. The alcohol is 12.5 percent. The nose has floral elements. There is minerality on the palate with a nutty flavor on the finish.

It would pair well with fish or do well on its own as an aperitif. Serve chilled.

2014 Acinum Valpolicella DOP ($16)

Medium ruby color with enticing aromas of violets, cherries and black currants. The tannin is medium, as is the body. The flavors match the nose. The alcohol is medium (12.5 percent). There is good structure with no oak influence, as this blend of 70 percent Corvina Veronese, 20 percent Rondinella and 10 percent Molinara from Negrar was fermented in stainless steel tanks, and aged seven months in stainless steel and two months in bottle.

Would pair with roasted meat, pasta dishes, game and fresh cheese. Serve at room temperature.

2013 Acinum Valpolicella Ripasso DOP ($23)

Ripasso is a method of winemaking where leftover grape seeds and skins from the fermentation of Amarone are added to a batch of Valpolicella for a period of extracted maceration, producing a wine with deep ruby color and deep flavor intensity. The blend is in the same proportion as the Acinum Valpolicella but it’s a darker, deeper wine that spent one year in French barrels and four months in bottle. The alcohol is medium — 14 percent – and the body is medium-plus.

Cherries, black plums and dark chocolate are on the nose with flavors of black cherries, black plums and baking spices, such as cinnamon and cocoa powder.

Would pair well with grilled or braised meats, such as lamb shanks, and aged cheeses. Serve at room temperature.

Pedrolli released about 150,000 bottles of each wine and oversaw every step of production. His aim is to provide the best versions of popular Italian benchmarks without breaking the bank. He succeeded with these three wines.

 

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Wine tips from a pro this holiday season

Whether entertaining a large group or hosting an intimate gathering this Christmas holiday season, finding the right wine to satisfy all of your guests can be a challenge.

Bob Paulinski, BevMo!’s Vice President and Master of Wine, has some outstanding suggestions that are sure to please. Best of all, each wine is part of BevMo!’s 5-cent sale. Buy one bottle at the regular price and the second is just 5 cents.

Sparkling wines

For something maybe a bit unique, Paulinski suggests the Toques et Clochers Cremant de Limoux ($19.95). This Cremant from France is made with the same technique as premium Champagne, the Methode Champoniosse, where the secondary fermentation takes place in bottle. Dry and highly expressive with bright acidity and minerality, and a fine bead associated with high-quality sparkling wine. Perfect with brie cheese, shrimp, lobster, light hors d’ oeuvres or as an aperitif.

Paulinski calls it a compelling wine.

“The packaging also is very attractive,” Paulinski said. “For a large get together, this is the kind of thing that would appeal to a broad range of tastes.”

Big Champagne houses put a lot of money into marketing and packaging, and pass those costs on to the consumer. It’s worth the effort to dig a little and find smaller Champagne houses that offer amazing wines at attractive price points.

“There is one that we have that I think is really superb,” said Paulinski of Fluteau Brut Champagne ($29.99). “You think of true Champagne, it’s very rare you’re going to find anything in that $30 price range.”

Made from Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier by one of the oldest family-owned and operated wineries in the Aube region of Champagne, Fluteau is medium-bodied, clean and refreshing with expressive acidity, and bread-like characteristics consistent with high-quality champagne. This, too, would go well with lighter dishes and cheeses.

White wines

St. Clement Vintner’s Collection Chardonnay Napa Valley ($24.95) would satisfy fans of a weightier, fuller style of Chardonnay. The creamy mouth feel comes from barrel fermentation and secondary malolactic fermentation, but there’s enough acid to refresh the palate.

“It’s kind of a big boy Chardonnay,” Paulinski said.

Great pairings would include butter nut squash soup, roasted chicken or seafood in cream sauce.

On the opposite side of the spectrum is the Sand Point Sauvignon Blanc Lodi ($14.95), rated 90 points and selected by Wine Enthusiast as a Best Buy in 2015. The focus with this no-oak-style Sauvignon Blanc is on primary fruit character, citrus and melon, and bright aromatics.

“It’s very bright, fresh and clean, lighter bodied,” Paulinski said. “And all of the emphasis is highlighting what’s in the fruit itself.”

Red wines

One of Napa’s iconic producers, Beaulieu Vineyard, has a new entry — the 2012 BV The Agreement ($49.99) – a blend of Syrah, Zinfandel, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s deep, dense, concentrated, full-bodied and super aromatic after spending more than a year in oak, much of it new. The Agreement would agree with any red meat, especially lamb chops. Another component to its appeal is it doesn’t have a lot of astringency, but it’s big and hefty.

“This one is a beauty,” Paulinski said.

For something softer, look no further than Argentina, producers of outstanding examples of Malbec. For a great Malbec at a great price, try the 2014 Lalande ($19.95) from the Mendoza region of Argentina. This would appeal to a lot of people who are not typical red wine drinkers. It’s medium-bodied, soft and smooth, and has red and black fruit aromas and flavors. It spent enough time in oak to give it some aromatic oomph but wasn’t in there long enough to impart too much tannin. This would go well with a traditional holiday meal.

“I can’t imagine anyone being displeased with this style,” Paulinski said.

I hope these suggestions from BevMo!’s Bob Paulinski help brighten your holiday celebrations. Cheers.

 

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Pride (In the Name of Merlot)

ST. HELENA – There’s a winding, somewhat treacherous road that leads to an idlyllic winery perched high above the Napa Valley floor.

Pride Mountain Vineyards in St. Helena will take your breath in as many as three ways: It’s a bit of a hike at elevation strolling through the property, the scenery is absolutely beautiful and the wines are big and bold and delicious.

Steve Pride and his sister, Suzanne Pride Bryan, co-own the operation, founded by their father, the late Jim Pride, and their mother, Carolyn Pride, who goes by the nickname “Ranch Mama.” Jim ran a successful dental practice management company, the Pride Institute in Marin County, and owned some property in the Sacramento Valley. He and Carolyn, wine lovers to be sure, liquidated some of their assets and searched for a place to settle down.

 

Pride Mountain Vineyards is atop beautiful Spring Mountain in St. Helena and is bisected by the Sonoma/Napa County line. BOB HIGHFILL/THE RECORD

After several months, they found the 235-acre Summit Ranch, a splendid piece of land set at about 2,100 feet atop Spring Mountain just off Highway 29. The ranch is bisected by the Sonoma/Napa County line and happens to be in a prime wine grape growing area where it’s cooler than on the valley floor. Folks have been growing grapes and making wine from them since the late 19th century. The Pride’s became the property’s 36th title holders when they purchased the ranch, believing they would enjoy a nice, quiet retirement.

That all changed when the Pride’s discovered how awesome the grapes were on their property. In 1991, they went into the wine business. Being savvy entrepreneurs, they enlisted the winemaking talents of Bill Foley, who’s considered a legend in Napa. Sally Johnson took the winemaking reins in 2006.

Visit Pride Mountain Vineyards and you’ll swear Julie Andrews suddenly will appear out of nowhere and burst into song. The view from behind the tasting room – dare I say – is breathtaking: Rolling hills blanketed by a thick forest with ponds and a quilt of vineyards. The only continuous residents in the area have been coyotes, deer, fox, rattlesnakes, bears and mountain lions. But they don’t seem to mind if you take a moment to savor their natural playground.

Tastings can be arranged by appointment. An absolute must is the guided cave tour.

Pride’s winemaking philosophy centers on big, juicy, ripe reds made to be approachable in their youth with structure for the long haul. Among those that caught my attention were:

Spring Mountain Vineyards' 2012 Merlot is a Cabernet Sauvignon lover's Merlot. BOB HIGHFILL/THE RECORD

2012 Pride Mountain Vineyards Merlot Sonoma County ($60)

Composed of 92 percent Merlot, 8 percent Cabernet Sauvignon aged 18 months in 40 percent new French oak. The nose is classic: Black cherries, plums, chocolate and vanilla. The flavors are juicy and rich and opulent. This is a Cabernet lover’s Merlot.

2012 Pride Mountain Vineyards Cabernet Franc Sonoma County ($65, sold out)

An 83 percent Cab Franc, 17 percent Cab Sauv blend with the same barrel protocol as the Merlot. Earthy elements, such as forest floor make up just a portion of this wine’s complex aromatics with black cherries, raspberries and anise on the palate.

2013 Pride Mountain Vineyards Chardonnay Napa Valley ($40, sold out)

Sourced from Carneros, where it’s cool and breezy, this vintage was harvested at 3 a.m. on Sept. 9 and delivered to the winery, cold pressed and fermented in French oak barrels, of which 25 percent were new. The malolactic fermentation was arrested at 30 percent completion, the barrels were stirred weekly for 2 ½ months before the wine was settled, racked off the lees and bottled in July 2014. The result is a full-bodied Chardonnay with vibrant acidity and classic flavors.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Legends of the Pfalz

The 2011 Friedrich Becker Pinot Noir from Pfalz, Germany, is an outstanding, entry-level value play that is worth finding. BOB HIGHFILL/THE RECORD

Pinot Noir is prized for its softness, elegance and ease of drinkability.

It’s a thin-skinned grape. It’s fussy and only fully expresses itself in certain spots on the globe. Simple supply and demand economics – boosted perhaps by Paul Giamatti’s monologue in “Sideways” – have shot the price of quality Pinot Noir into the stratosphere. But there are values to be had.

Excellent expressions of this noble grape can be found outside Burgundy, France, where the best Pinots in the world are made, such as Oregon, New Zealand and California. During a recent visit to K&L Wine Merchants in San Francisco, I found an entry-level, value play that comes from a place you might not expect.

2011 Friedrich Becker Estate Pinot Noir Pfalz ($21)

91 points, Wine Enthusiast

Germany is a cool winegrape growing region that is hot right now on the global scene. In a country best known for its world-class Rieslings, there are certain southern areas, such as Pfalz, where it’s warm enough to ripen Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir).

Friedrich Becker owns 36 acres of vineyards in the southern portion of Pfalz and into Alsace, and has earned a reputation as one of the top producers of Spätburgunder in Germany.

The Becker Estate Pinot Noir has a clear, pale ruby color with a clean nose of musty, peaty, leather, pine forest and dusty aromas, traits associated with Old World winemaking practices compared to the fruit-forward styles in the New World.

The flavor intensity is medium-plus, with hints of smoke, tobacco, cinnamon spice, rose petals, sour cherries, strawberries and cranberries. The acid is medium-high, the tannin is medium and the alcohol is medium-minus (12.5 percent).

This wine has complexity and allure; it’s soft and romantic and would pair well with salmon and heavier seafood, poultry, duck or even a steak.

Give it a try and see what you think.

 

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Lodi Native shows off region’s diversity

Lodi Native winemakers (clockwise from left): Layne Montgomery (m2 Winery), Stuart Spencer (St. Amant Winery), Ryan Sherman (Fields Family), Michael McCay (McCay Cellars), Tim Holdener (Macchia Wines) and Chad Joseph (Maley Brothers). COURTESY LODI WINEGRAPE COMMISSION

Stuart Spencer has worked with the Lodi Winegrape Commission for 16 years.

The Stockton native and Lincoln High graduate also is the owner and winemaker at St. Amant Winery in Lodi. Spencer is one of six Lodi winemakers who has taken part in the Lodi Native project, which recently released its second collection of “naked” Zinfandels, this one from the 2013 vintage.

“We’ve done all sorts of projects to build regional awareness, but this one, which the wine commission didn’t conceive, has created the most buzz of anything we’ve ever done,” Spencer said.

The Lodi Native project was cited by Jim Gordon in his article announcing Lodi had been named Wine Enthusiast magazine’s Wine Region of the Year in 2015.

“This particular project has created a lot of buzz in circles where Lodi had originally been kind of dismissed,” Spencer said. “That was one of our goals with this project when the six vintners got together. I think going back over the last 15 to 20 years, some of the early successes we’ve had in the wine market have been wineries making a style of wine that was very fruit-driven, a bigger style of wine, and it came to define what a Lodi wine was out in the market place.”

Randy Caparoso, noted writer for the Lodi Winegrape Commission, presented an idea to Lodi vintners several years ago of crafting single-vineyard, old-vine Zinfandels following strict measures in an effort to showcase the vineyard rather than the varietal or the winemaker’s style; stripped-down versions that allowed the vineyard to speak. They called the project, Lodi Native.

The first release came last year with the 2012 vintage. It was a roaring success. By not using new oak, fermenting only with native yeast with no tannin or color additions – and following another dozen or so rules – six vintners crafted wines that showcased Lodi’s diverse terroir. The Lodi Native wines possessed more finesse and savory qualities than some of the fruit-driven, heavier styles many typically associate with Lodi. The same is true with this year’s release from the 2013 vintage.

“Some critics kind of draw through the conclusion that that was what Lodi was and that it only made

A bunch of Zinfandel grapes ripens in the sun in Lodi. COURTESY LODI WINEGRAPE COMMISSION

these bigger, more alcoholic styles of red wines,” Spencer said. “I think one of the goals of this project was to demonstrate that there is a much greater diversity here.”

Spencer, Tim Holdener (Macchia Wines), Ryan Sherman (Fields Family), Layne Montgomery (m2 Wines), Michael McCay (McCay Cellars) and Chad Joseph (Maley Brothers) have been involved with the Lodi Native project since its inception. Though some in the group might have been skeptical at first, suspecting the “naked” wines wouldn’t stand up to the “normal” versions, the project has been an eye-opening experience. Spencer said most, if not all of the six, have folded aspects of the Lodi Native protocol into their commercial winemaking practices.

The project has brought other benefits, as well.

“Within our group of six, we developed a camaraderie and friendship and shared experience that we all learned from,” Spencer said. “And by kind of baring ourselves in front of each other with these experiments that in some stages weren’t tasting very good, we gained a lot from that. It’s been wildly fun.”

Here is a brief rundown of each wine:

Zinfandel from the Stampede Vineyard in the Clements Hills area is the source of winemaker Ryan Sherman's Lodi Native wine. COURTESY LODI WINEGRAPE COMMISSION

Stampede Vineyard

Winemaker: Ryan Sherman (Fields Family Wines)

Growers: Jeff and John Perlegos

The vineyard is located near the Clements Stampede grounds in the Clements Hills sub-AVA and is the only Lodi Native wine from outside the Mokelumne River sub-AVA. The original plantings on this sandy vineyard on the east side of the Lodi AVA date to the 1920s. The wine’s color is the lightest of the bunch and the flavors are delicate.

Wegat Vineyard

Winemaker: Chad Joseph (Maley Brothers)

Grower: Todd Maley

The 21-acre planting of head-trained vines on the west side of the Lodi AVA on Ray Road dates to 1958, when the Maley family planted St. George rootstock on fine, sandy loam. The quintessential “west side” elements are present: loamy aromas and rich, lush boysenberry and blueberry fruit.

TruLux Vineyard

Winemaker: Michael McCay (McCay Cellars)

Grower: Keith Watts

This vineyard is next to Van Ruiten Winery on Highway 12 and dates to the 1940s. Careful, methodical selection from the tall, almost vertically trained, ladder-like, head-pruned vines produces a wine with a slight herbaceous, tobacco-like quality. There is a little more tannin present than in the previous two wines.

Marian’s Vineyard

Winemaker: Stuart Spencer (St. Amant Winery)

Growers: Jerry and Bruce Fry

Planted in 1901 by the Mettler family and now farmed by Mohr-Fry Ranches near Armstrong Road and West Lane on the west side of the Lodi AVA, this 8.3-acre parcel produces lush fruit, the entirety of which goes to St. Amant Winery. Flavors of sour cherries and plums with bright aromatics from the native fermentation.

Schmiedt Ranch

Winemaker: Tim Holdener (Macchia Wines)

Grower: Ross Schmiedt (managed by Markus Bokisch)

Located on an east side bend in the Mokelumne River off Bruella Road, this 8-acre vineyard dates to 1918 when the Schmiedt family raised dairy cows, grapevines and fruit trees. This wine has all the enticing qualities found in Macchia Wines: lush, voluptuous and earthy. This vineyard is new to the Lodi Native mix.

Soucie Vineyard

The Soucie Vineyard on the west side of the Lodi American Viticultural Area is where Layne Montgomery sources his commercial and Lodi Native Zinfandels. COURTESY LODI WINEGRAPE COMMISSION

Winemaker: Layne Montgomery (m2 Winery)

Grower: Kevin Soucie

This 40-acre ranch planted in 1916 on the west side of the Lodi AVA has own-rooted, head-trained vines on fine, silty soil with the consistency of talcum powder. This site is close to the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta’s cooling breezes, resulting in a distinctively luscious, pungently earthy, terroir-driven style of Zinfandel.

The differences location and viticulture can make are striking in the Lodi Native wines.

“One of our other goals in this project was to demonstrate the diversity of the vineyards and that it’s not one homogenous region,” Spencer said. “As you taste through these six wines, they’re all distinctly different from each other and that’s one of the things that has amazed me in this whole project from the beginning is how different the wines really were.”

The 2013 Lodi Native wines are available only in six-pack sets at the Lodi Wine and Visitors Center on Turner Road for $180. Only 120 sets were made and they are going fast. They would make a great gift for the wine enthusiast in your life.

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Tempranillo can be awfully tempting

The world celebrated International Tempranillo Day earlier this month.

If you missed it, have no fear. There’s plenty of this ancient red wine to enjoy all year, especially when the temperature begins to dip in autumn.

 

The 2012 Tormenta Tempranillo from m2 Winery in Lodi. BOB HIGHFILL/THE RECORD

Though Tempranillo is indigenous to Spain and is the primary grape in Rioja, its love for warm days and cool nights has made it a favorite among growers in the Central Valley. Lodi has at least 25 wineries producing some mighty tasty Tempranillo.

What is Tempranillo? Here are five things Wine Enthusiast magazine says every wine lover should know about it:

1. It’s very, very old. Tempranillo dates before the time of Christ. It’s been grown on the Iberian Peninsula since the Phoenicians settled it in 1100 B.C.

2. It’s an early bird. Tempranillo is derived from the word temprano, which in Spanish means “early.” Among red varieties in Spain, it’s considered an early ripener.

3. It has many monikers. Tempranillo goes by more than a dozen different names around the world, depending on where it’s cultivated. It’s called Tinto Fino in Ribera del Duero, Tinta de Toro in Toro, Ull de Llebre in Catalonia, Cencibel in La Mancha and Tinto Roriz in Portugal.

4. It’s cloned. There are about 500 clones of Tempranillo in Spain alone; Tinto Fino and Tinta de Toro are the best-known.

5. It has a white mutant. Although rare, albino Tempranillo does exist in Rioja. It’s an approved wine grape; it yields a citrusy, rather simple wine akin to Viognier in weight, flavor and overall style.

Tempranillo largely was ignored outside of Spain until the 1990s when the Gallos began to sing its praises. Tempranillo generally needs a blending partner, such as Garnacha, to plump it up. It takes well to oak, but can be too woodsy if aged too long.

Tempranillo is dry and has savory flavors, hints of leather and tobacco leaves, and stewed black fruit. Some of its most renowned examples come from Rioja and Ribera del Duero, Wine Enthusiast’s Wine Region of the Year in 2012, a distinction Lodi earned this year. Tempranillo from Lodi tends to be a little more intense than Spanish Tempranillo.

Here are a few to look for:

The 2009 Bodegas Muga Reserva is a fine example of Spanish Tempranillo. BOB HIGHFILL/THE RECORD

2009 Bodegas Muga Reserva ($26)

I tasted this wine during the Level 3 award classes with the Wine and Spirit Education Trust through the Napa Valley Wine Academy. It left quite an impression with its flavors of ripe berries and oaky spices.

2012 Harney Lane Tempranillo ($25)

Released in February, this complex, deep-ruby colored Lodi Tempranillo has tobacco notes, leather and other savory components with firm tannin. I’ve powered through a couple bottles this year, but it only would improve with time.

2012 m2 Wines Tormenta Tempranillo ($22)

From the Kirschenman Vineyard in Lodi, the m2 Tormenta shows tell-tale Tempranillo tendencies: tobacco, plums and violets on the nose, firm tannin, black cherry and vanilla on the palate, and a long finish.

Good by the glass with a blanket wrapped around you by the fire or with a plate of pot roast, Tempranillo is a great varietal for the full-bodied red wine lover.

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      Bob Highfill

      Record Sports Editor Bob Highfill is a wine enthusiast and has earned Level 3 certification with the Wine and Spirit Education Trust of London through the Napa Valley Wine Academy. Bob will share some of his experiences from his travels to Lodi and other prime wine locales in his blog and welcomes your suggestions, reviews and wine speak.
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