Chenin Blanc is Clarksburg’s calling card

Chenin Blanc is a light-bodied, dry white wine that’s perfect in the spring and summer.

Chenin Blanc goes well with sushi, Mediterranean cuisine and hearty fare like veal. The variety is widely planted in South Africa and the Loire Valley in France, and even has found its place in California.

Chenin Blanc is the primary white wine grape grown in the Clarksburg American Viticultural Area near Sacramento. If you’re not familiar with Chenin Blanc or equate it with the sweet stuff your parents used to drink, take the beautiful drive along the Sacramento River through Walnut Grove and Locke (stop at Al the Wop’s for a cheeseburger) to the Old Sugar Mill. There, you’ll find 11 tasting rooms under one roof, some offering nice examples of one of the world’s most versatile wine grapes that can be made into dry, off-dry, sweet or sparkling wine.

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The Old Sugar Mill in Clarksburg is home to 11 tasting rooms. [BOB HIGHFILL/THE RECORD

Rendez-vous Winery’s 2014 Chenin Blanc ($18) won double gold and best of region at the 2016 California State Fair. The wine has an almost clear core that deepens to light gold near the rim. The nose is clean and fresh. There’s a pleasant floral note and even a little damp concrete. The initial attack is off-dry, but the finish is crisp, clean and dry. The flavors are tropical and citrus with ripe honeydew melon and a mineral undertone.

Rendez-vous Winery has been at the Old Sugar Mill for about five years. All of the fruit in its eclectic lineup hails from Clarksburg, home to more than 35 varietals. Check out the Rendez-vous 2016 Grenache Rose ($19), another double gold and best of region winner at the 2016 California State Fair. The wine has a faint, pinkish hue with a flinty nose and subtle floral and strawberry components. The flavors match the aromas. The finish is slightly sweet, though the wine is dry, light-bodied and refreshing.

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Heringer Estates in the Old Sugar Mill offers an eclectic lineup that includes award-winning Chenin Blanc and an intriguing Nebbiolo. [BOB HIGHFILL/THE RECORD

Heringer Estates’ 2015 Chenin Blanc ($16) won double gold at the 2016 California State Fair. This wine hits the mark, because minerals and dry stones are at the forefront and the fruit takes on more of a supporting role. Gold flecks along the rim twinkle when the glass is held up to the light, making one think of prospectors striking it rich in the Sierras. Believe it or not, fresh-popped popcorn comes through on the nose. Dry, light-bodied, high acid.

Heringer Estates boasts six generations of grape growing know-how. Michael Heringer took the reins and expanded the family business from primarily growing Chardonnay to some 20 varietals, with Petite Sirah, Tannat, Cabernet Sauvignon and Teroldego serving as the core varieties. Heringer Estates wines also are 100 percent Clarksburg.

When you go, try the 2013 Heringer Nebbiolo ($27). Does it measure up to a Barolo or Barbaresco from Piedmont, Italy? Not quite. But Heringer’s Nebbiolo has elegance and the firm tannic grip Barolo and Barbaresco lovers love, just not to the same degree. Roses, white pepper and cherry-covered concrete are on the nose with copper, cherry and strawberry on the palate. It’s a nicely integrated, well-balanced wine.

Chenin Blanc is a worthy drawing card to Clarksburg. But there are other interesting wines to try.

 

 

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Lodi building food and wine culture

Some exciting news on the food and wine front was released recently.

Lodi’s Wine & Roses Hotel, Restaurant and Spa has secured the services of celebrated chef Bradley Ogden, who will work with executive chef John Hitchcock to oversee all culinary aspects of the property, including the Towne House Restaurant and Lounge.

Ogden had been consulting with Wine & Roses the past six months.

Ogden is a two-time James Beard Award winner who has opened some of the more acclaimed restaurants in the country. Ogden’s culinary vision using the freshest, high quality ingredients is in step with the Central Valley’s bounty and Lodi’s status as a first-rate wine region.

Renowned chef Bradley Ogden has joined the culinary team at Wine & Roses in Lodi.

“Lodi reminds me of the way wine regions like Sonoma and Napa were like when I first came to California in the early ’80s,” Ogden said in a blog post by Randy Caparoso for the Lodi Winegrape Commission. “Back then, there was a sense that we had everything we needed at our fingertips — the best and freshest ingredients, the finest wines made from the best grapes — and all we had to do was take advantage of it. Lodi has all of that, and it’s just a matter of bringing it further out into the open.”

Ogden graduated with honors in 1977 from the Culinary Institute of America at Hyde Park in New York and worked at the American Restaurant in Kansas City for his mentors, Beard and Joe Baun. Ogden rose to national prominence as executive chef at Campton Place Hotel in San Francisco. He then opened The Lark Creek Inn in Marin County, acclaimed by critics as one of the best restaurants in the country.

Ogden’s empire also includes One Market in San Francisco, Lark Creek in Walnut Creek and San Mateo, Yankee Pier in Larkspur, Parcel 104 in Santa Clara, Arterria in Del Mar, and his namesake restaurant, Bradley Ogden, at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas.

“Lodi as a whole will benefit from his presence,” Wine & Roses Managing Owner Russ Munson said, “and we cannot wait for the community to welcome Chef Ogden.”

Noted chef highlights LangeTwins’ dinner

James Beard Chef Molly McCook, co-owner of Ellerbe Fine Foods of Fort Worth, Texas, will be the guest chef at the LangeTwins Winery and Vineyards’ annual ZinFest kickoff dinner on May 18 at the Acampo winery. Chef McCook will prepare a menu that will be paired with 10 different LangeTwins’ wines, including a four-year library tasting of their California Bordeaux blend, Midnight Reserve, and their newly released chenin blanc. McCook and Ellerbe Fine Foods co-owner and wine aficionado Richard King, who also will be at the dinner, were childhood friends on Ellerbe Street in Shreveport, Louisiana. They joined forces and opened their award-winning restaurant in 2009.

McCook’s commitment to sustainable dining is in line with LangeTwins’ sustainable farming practices.

“Chef McCook has trained in sustainable dining practices at some of the country’s finest restaurants, including Gary Danko, Stars and Luques, and her commitment to family farmers aligns with our hands-on agricultural focus,” LangeTwins co-founder Randy Lange said in a statement.

The dinner is $150 per person. Reservations: jmulrooney@langetwins.com or (209) 334-9780.

To the victors

Linda Neal, who was featured in a January column for her Tierra Roja Napa Cabernet Sauvignon, won double gold and Best of Sierra Foothills Red for her 2014 Mellowood Vineyard Fairplay Syrah at the 2017 California State Fair Wine Competition, which included 2,663 wines from 711 California wineries.

Area wineries that received Best of California accolades were Andis Wines 2013 Painted Fields Amador County (Best Bordeaux Varietal Red Blend), Macchia (Lodi) 2015 Flirtatious California (Best Other Fortified Desert Wine), Bella Grace 2016 Vermentino Shenandoah Valley Amador (Best Other White Varietal), Deaver Vineyards 2015 Primitivo Amador County (Best Primitivo), and Peirano Estates (Lodi) 2015 Heritage Collection Viognier San Joaquin County (Best Viognier). For the list of winners: CAStateFair.org/California-Commercial-Wine.


 

 

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Newcomer Klouda brings a fresh perspective

Michael Klouda is a newcomer to the Lodi wine scene.

But he’s become enamored with Lodi’s glorious past and believes it must survive.

The gnarly, single-head trained zinfandel vines, some dating to the 1800s that are synonymous with Lodi, are disappearing, perhaps not in alarming numbers but enough so that Klouda is concerned.

“It’s going away because of the cost of labor,” Klouda said on a recent misty morning standing in Roland Hatterle’s head-trained zinfandel vineyard off Turner Road. “People are ripping out old vines and planting stuff for either high wire, which can be mechanically pruned or other systems that can be machined more efficiently.”

Head-trained vines resemble bushes. Harvesting must be done by hand. It’s hard work to keep them going. But when done right, old vines produce lower yields of intense, complex fruit — the kind Klouda likes to work with for his outstanding wines.

“It’s like a true expression of zinfandel,” Klouda said as he thinned burgeoning shoots from a head-trained vine showing tremendous vigor from the heavy winter rains. “On sandy loam soil, this is Lodi.”

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Lodi viticulturist and winemaker Michael Klouda thins shoots from a head-trained vine at the Hatterle Vineyard in Lodi. [BOB HIGHFILL/THE RECORD

Klouda didn’t know Lodi existed until he accepted an interview with Michael David Winery in 2009. Klouda, then 22 years old, left behind his life in agriculture and as a chef in Ohio to chase his dream of making it in the wine business. He flew to Los Angeles and bought a baby-blue 1982 Subaru hatchback that leaked oil whenever he made a left-hand turn.

“The car had survived four earthquakes, the owner told me,” Klouda said. “I drove up Highway 99. If I went up I-5, I don’t think I ever would have made it. There are fewer places to stop on I-5.”

Klouda made it to Lodi and he’s made his mark at Michael David, where he now is the viticulturist and northwest grower relations representative. And he’s making critically acclaimed wines for his own label, Michael Klouda Wines, a brand showing solid growth in its infancy.

“I’m very grateful people like my product and it’s selling and it’s moving,” said the 30-year-old Klouda, who’s married (Katie) and has two children: daughter Juniper, 7, and son Logan, 4. “I’m starting to get a lot of traction.”

Klouda has developed relationships with Lodi growers and winemakers such as Hatterle, who has farmed a 90-year-old, own-rooted plot of head-trained zinfandel behind his home for nearly 50 years, Bob Schulenburg, who has a 60-year-old zinfandel vineyard, Ron Silva in the Alta Mesa sub-AVA, Layne Montgomery at m2 Winery, and of course, Kevin Phillips with Michael David Winery. Klouda’s style is down to earth, not pretentious in any way.

“He really is an up-and-coming superstar in Lodi,” said Lodi winemaker Chad Joseph during a recent Facebook Live virtual tasting showcasing Lodi Rules sustainable wines including Klouda’s Broken Vine Zinfandel from Schulenburg’s vineyard. “He’s definitely an up-and-coming great winemaker in this area showcasing Lodi wines.”

In addition to the Hatterle and Broken Vine zinfandels, Klouda’s lineup includes Stem Theory (a blend of cab, cab franc and petit verdot), carignane and mourvedre to name a few. Nugget Stores in Elk Grove, the Lodi Wine and Visitor Center and select restaurants carry Michael Klouda Wines. If traveling to England, Klouda’s wine is on celebrity chef and restaurateur Jamie Oliver’s list.

Klouda’s pretty excited about that. But mostly, he’s excited to be in Lodi working with its grand old vines, a passion he wants to continue pursuing for a long time.

“Hopefully with buyers like me, winemakers like me who are willing to pay a little bit extra,” said Klouda, “these vines can stay in the ground a little bit longer and we will be getting some heritage wines out of them.”


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Lodi’s growers live by their own rules

LODI — Many industries await calamity before adopting altruistic processes to achieve long-term success.

Not Lodi’s wine grape growers.

In 2006, some of the 750 growers in the Lodi American Viticultural Area adopted California’s first sustainable viticulture program, the Lodi Rules for Sustainable Winegrowing.

And it’s not a fuzzy, feel-good joke of a program.

To be certified, a grower must meet rigorous standards pertaining to 100 sustainability practices organized into six chapters: business management, human resources management, ecosystem management, soil management, water management and pest management.

When first created, just five growers and about 1,200 acres were certified sustainable by Lodi Rules. In 2016, more than 100 growers and 36,000 acres, about 22 percent of the appellation, had become certified sustainable. More than 25 wineries have wines bearing the Lodi Rules seal.

“Sustainability is the future,” grower Aaron Shinn said during a recent Facebook Live virtual tasting that also was hosted by St. Amant Winery owner and winemaker Stuart Spencer and noted winemaker Chad Joseph. “Becoming part of a program that allows you to be certified through rigorous standards is kind of a way to adapt to the market. It’s something that people are looking for. It’s something that people care about.”

The Lodi Rules were not created to comply with a bureaucratic edict. They were a proactive measure created voluntarily by Lodi’s farming community, which includes many multi-generation families, to ensure a healthy wine grape business for years and years to come. Lodi Rules has become a benchmark program for other regions in California and elsewhere to follow.

Grape quality has improved as a result of the Lodi Rules.

“You know that if a grower is going through these steps and processes, they are paying a lot more attention to what’s going on in the vineyard,” said Spencer, who also is the program manager for the Lodi Winegrape Commission. “It’s ultimately going to end up in a better quality product. What it says is our vineyard is a better vineyard because of the attention we are giving it.”

To illustrate how sustainable vineyard management pays off in the bottle, four Lodi Rules certified wines were featured in the virtual tasting attended by a cyber audience of wine writers and bloggers. Each wine carries the Lodi Rules seal indicating that at least 85 percent of the juice came from Lodi Rules certified vineyards.

“When you buy that product with that seal on it, your money is going to people that care about future generations and about taking care of the land and the people that work the land,” said Joseph, winemaker at Oak Farm Vineyards, Harney Lane Winery and Dancing Coyote Wines. “That’s a great selling point for me right there.”

2015 Bokisch Vineyards Albarino, Terra Alta Vineyard ($18)

Liz and Markus Bokisch generally are credited for bringing this Spanish white varietal to Lodi. Albarino is an early-harvest grape that creates a light-bodied wine with a beautifully fresh acidity. The citrus fruit expression from the Terra Alta Vineyard in the Clements Hills sub-AVA is gorgeous, and the wine has a mineral, almost flinty texture.

2016 Oak Farm Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc ($20)

Joseph has made a pure sauvignon blanc with aromas of lemongrass, grapefruit and pear with refreshing acidity and honeydew melon and citrus flavors. There is an underlying grassy element but not too much. The grapes are from the venerable Mohr-Fry Ranch.

2014 Michael Klouda Broken Vine Zinfandel ($26)

This is Klouda’s third vintage from Bob Schulenburg’s vineyard, which has 60-year-old vines that produce small clusters with small berry size. Just more than a third of the juice was fermented with native yeast. The wine spent 16 months in second-year barrels that had been used for pinot noir.

2014 Michael David Winery Inkblot Cab Franc ($35)

Michael David Winery was among the first that signed on with the Lodi Rules, and they incentivized their growers to comply with the program. Among their eclectic lineup is this cabernet franc, a Bordeaux varietal noted for its black cherry flavor and touch of graphite on the finish. A beautifully structured wine that represents the wide range of styles Lodi has to offer.

The Lodi Rules for Sustainable Winegrowing are a credit to the Lodi wine community. The rules help ensure that Lodi will be a vibrant wine region for years to come.

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Everything old is new again

LODI – A new wine brand is in the market place with a rich history behind it.

Wine industry veteran Richard “Ricardo” Kanikari and Stama Winery in Lodi have resurrected Tipo wines, one of the oldest and most popular wine brands in California first established in 1906 by Italian Swiss Colony Winery in Asti near the Sonoma-Mendocino county line. Tipo enjoyed great success prior to and after Prohibition. During the 1950s, the winery was the second-most visited spot in California behind Disneyland.

Tipo winery closed in the 1970s, and the brand remained dormant before Kanikari purchased the trademark and partnered with Stama to re-create one of the state’s trail blazing wine labels.

“We found it to be an opportunity, Stama Winery, when he came with this to us, being the history of the trademark and where it came from and the whole story behind it,” said Frank Kapiniaris, executive vice president of Stama Winery. “We felt it was a win-win for both us and Ricardo.”

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Tipo White, left, and Tipo Red wines represent a label established in 1906 and resurrected by wine industry veteran Richard Kanikari and Stama Winery in Lodi. [BOB HIGHFILL/THE RECORD

Tipo is available for purchase at Stama Winery (17521 North Davis Road). There are two wines with the Tipo label: Rosso (red) — 100 percent old vine zinfandel — and Bianco (white) — chardonnay with a touch of muscat. The zinfandel and chardonnay are from Stama estate vineyards in Lodi, and the muscat was sourced from Sonoma county.

Both wines are from the 2015 vintage and retail for $13.95 per bottle, $135 per 12-bottle case, and are enclosed with stelvin screw caps. The labels are brightly colored and were designed by Kanikari, owner of Pavona Wines in Monterey and host of the web wine show “Wine Nation TV.”

Stama’s winemaker, Franck Lambert, made the Tipo wines. He said research indicated the original Tipo Rosso was zinfandel-based with dolcetto in the blend. The re-released red wine is 100 percent zinfandel from old vines planted at Peltier and Kennefick roads. The chardonnay is from a vineyard on Ham Lane, and the muscat is from an area north of Healdsburg. The original Tipo Bianco had muscat in it and was slightly bubbly (petillant) — an homage to Asti, Italy, the home of Asti Spumante, a popular style of white sparkling wine.

“We followed the trail of the brand as it was created back then,” said Lambert, a native of Provence, France, whose winemaking career includes stints in Bordeaux, France; Capetown, South Africa; and Lodi with Michael David Winery and others in the area. “The chardonnay is fermented in tank with a little bit of oak during fermentation, and the zinfandel is also fermented with oak and aged in tanks.”

Tippo Rosso is a lighter style of zinfandel, bright and fruity, and Tipo Bianco is crisp and refreshing with a pleasant hint of muscat on the nose.

Lambert said about 300 cases of Tipo Bianco and about 500 cases of Tipo Rosso were made.

Kapiniaris said a second release of Tipo with new labeling and packaging should be available early in 2018, if not sooner.

 

 

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Changes coming to Borra Vineyards

LODI — Steve Borra opened Lodi’s first bonded boutique winery in 1975 on property along Armstrong Road near where his mother was born.

Borra’s wife, Beverly Bowman, was born across the street from where the winery stands today.

Plenty of joy, sweat and tears have been invested by the family in building Borra Vineyards into a respected purveyor of fine wines. Changes are coming to the company. And though change almost never is easy, in the wine industry, it’s the norm.

That might explain why Borra didn’t sound sentimental that his label is going away, at least temporarily. Rather, the 74-year-old Lodi wine grape grower and winemaking pioneer seemed pragmatic about the future of his brand during a recent telephone conversation.

“We won’t see the Borra label for a while,” Borra said. “Right now, we’re changing the focus on making wine under different labels for other wineries, which has become rather profitable. As a tasting room, it just never was profitable.”

Borra’s tasting room is somewhat isolated on Armstrong Road just east of Lower Sacramento Road. The tasting room hasn’t attracted enough wine-buying customers to be profitable. So, Borra will instead focus on selling wine in bulk to out-of-state wineries to meet their growing demand.

“Now, the wine leaves by the pallet rather than the bottle,” he said. “When it leaves by the bottle, there are a lot of costs involved.”

Borra will continue to manage his vineyards in the Lodi American Viticultural Area, but his current and pending releases will be the last to carry the Borra label unless someone in his family takes on the business.

“I’m kind of winding down, retiring until someone else in my family decides to do it,” he said. “The winery’s not going away. I’ve got grandkids coming up, and if someone wants to do it, it’ll be there for them.”

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Steve Borra, left, and Markus Niggli have collaborated at Borra Vineyards in Lodi since 2006.

Markus Niggli, 43, has been making wine for Borra Vineyards since he joined the company 11 years ago. He will continue to make wine for Borra’s clients as well as for his own label, Markus Wine Company, at Borra’s facility.

“Markus is being allowed to produce his label at my facility temporarily until he finds his own spot,” Borra said. “Nothing changes in the vineyards and a little will change in the winery, but not a lot. We’re going to allow him to do his own label, too, until he can find a place.”

Niggli started Markus Wine Company about four years ago. His new lineup will include syrah, old vine carignane, a petite sirah blend and an old vine zinfandel or petit verdot, as well as white blends and standalones using German and Austrian varietals grown by the Koth family in Lodi. He also makes a blend made with torrontes from Ron Silva in the Lodi AVA and traminette from a winery in North Carolina. Last year, he sourced gewürztraminer from Clarksburg.

Niggli, who is Swiss-born, makes dry wines with beautiful aromatics and crisp acidity. He’s helping showcase Lodi’s diversity as a winegrowing region.

“You don’t get rich off this stuff, but I think you can make a difference,” Niggli said. “Lodi is a region with diversity in it. All of these different varietals out there we can grow here. Being different is the key. You can lead or follow and as a region we have to lead. We have the capability here.”

Borra Vineyards’ tasting room at 1301 E. Armstrong Road is open the last weekend of each month. Spring releases will be available for tasting from noon to 5 p.m. March 24-26. Markus’ new releases will be offered from noon to 5 p.m. April 28-30. Private tastings with Niggli can be scheduled at borravineyards.com.

“It’s a little deeper, more information, a little more detail oriented,” said Niggli, describing the private tasting experience. “I think that’s what people are looking for.”


 

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Crack open some crab and some bottles

It’s crab feed season in these parts.

Many civic organizations raise funds by throwing shin-digs with tasty Dungeness crab cracked and ready to be consumed.

At most of the crab feeds I’ve attended over the years, the star attraction is marinated, usually in olive oil, garlic, lemon and parsley. Sometimes, Dungeness in its good-old, plain, unadorned glory is offered, which is my preference. I’ve seen people bring rice cookers, lemon wedges, vinegar, sterno butter pots and other gadgets to enhance the cracking, flavorful fun. Me? I usually bring a bottle — or two or three — of wine to share with the group, if permitted by the organizers of the crab feed.

I have some personal favorites, but I also asked other wine/crab-feed aficionados for their picks. As you’ll see, everyone’s palate is different, so the lesson here is: drink what you like.

Markus Niggli's Nativo is a blend of German varietals grown by the Koth family at Mokelumne Glen Vineyards in Lodi. BOB HIGHFILL/THE RECORD

My picks include the 2015 Markus Wine Company Nativo, Lodi ($19). Winemaker Markus Niggli’s intriguing array of off-the-grid blends includes his vibrant Nativo made from Kerner, Riesling, Bacchus and Gewurztraminer all grown at the Koth family’s Mokelumne Glen Vineyard. Fermented in stainless steel using native yeast and no malolactic fermentation, there’s lychee, peach, lemon and lime zest, honeysuckle and bright acidity.

I also like the 2014 Ginglinger-Fix Gewurztraminer, Vin d’Alsace AOC ($25). From the Alsace region of France, this aromatic and versatile food wine with floral notes, orange peel, baking spices, and honey is medium bodied with nice acid.

Ginglinger-Fix Gewurztraminer is from the Alsace region in northeast France. BOB HIGHFILL/THE RECORD

Mark Ellis, owner of Madison Wine Company in Stockton, said an un-oaked chardonnay or sauvignon blanc is the way to go.

“There’s a popular, new style of chardonnay called ‘no oak’ chardonnay with no barrel fermentation,” he said. “It’s just real clean and fruit forward. That’s what I’d take to crab feeds. That would be the style that I would pick.”

Ellis’ pick is the 2014 Morgan Metallico Chardonnay ($22) made with fruit from the Santa Lucia Highlands, Arroyo Seco and Monterey appellations. Metallico is un-oaked and does not go through malolactic fermentation. The grapes are whole-cluster pressed, cold-tanked fermented and aged five months in stainless steel. Perfect with shellfish and light summer fare.

Randy Caparoso is a sommelier and writer for the Lodi Winegrape Commission and other outlets. COURTESY

Randy Caporoso, sommelier and wine writer for the Lodi Winegrape Commission and other outlets, said any white wine with high, lemony acid and moderate alcohol in the 12.5 to 13.9 percent range is ideal.

Randy’s picks include the German blends by the aforementioned Markus Wine Company, as well as Borra Vineyards, Susan Tipton’s Picpoul from Acquiesce Winery, Grenache Blanc from Fields Family Wines, Bokisch Vineyards’ Garnacha Blanca and most Vermentinos, including those made by Uvaggio and Prie. These wineries are in the Lodi AVA or source fruit (Uvaggio) from Lodi and range in price from the high-teens to the high-20s.

Peter Bourget and Nancy Brazil, authors of the must-read wine blog PullThatCork.com, suggest pairing a crab feast with wines from the western Loire Valley of France. Muscadet Sevre et Maine is an appellation southeast of Nantes near the Atlantic Ocean. Its wines – comprised of Melon de Bourgogne (Muscat) – are floral, fruity, flinty and high in acid. Peter and Nancy also like sparkling wine that isn’t sweet with crab. In the sparkling wine department, Caporoso suggests the LVVR Sparking Cellars Brut ($20) or the LVVR Blanc de Blancs ($20), two outstanding sparkling wines crafted in the Methode Champenoise by Ohio transplant Eric Donaldson at Tuscan Wine Village in Lockeford. Both are dry and nutty, crisp and palate-cleansing.

Time to get cracking.

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Lodi wineries take home the hardware

Many Lodi wineries started 2017 on a positive note by garnering big awards at prestigious competitions.

The San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition early last month included some 7,000 entries from wineries in 28 states. Wineries from the Lodi American Viticultural Area or wineries with fruit from Lodi took home 245 medals, including eight that were awarded Best of Class (for a complete listing of winners, go to http://winejudging.com/medal-winners/):

• 2015 Bokisch Vineyards, Terra-Alta Vineyard, Clements Hills-Lodi Albarino

• 2014 Bokisch Vineyards, Lodi, Tempranillo

• 2013 Jessie’s Grove, Lodi, Ancient Vine Carignane

• 2014 Loma Prieta, Lodi, Petite Sirah

• 2015 Macchia, Mischievous, Lodi Zinfandel

• 2014 Oak Farm, Lodi, Petit Verdot

• 2014 OZV, Lodi, Zinfandel (Oak Ridge)

• 2014 Lodi Zynthesis, Lodi, Zinfandel

Here are highlights on two of the Best of Class winners:

2014 Oak Farm, Lodi, Petit Verdot ($34)

Sourced from the Elk Vineyard in the Borden Ranch American Viticultural Area of Lodi, where the soils just begin to turn red at slight elevation in the Sierra Foothills, Oak Farm owner Dan Panella said he and winemaker Chad Joseph did little to influence the wine and instead let the fruit speak for itself. Panella said Cabernet Sauvignon aficionados would appreciate his Petit Verdot, which is big but approachable.

“Even though it’s big, it’s very pleasant, not overbearing,” Panella said. “It strikes a nice balance of being bold and at the same time, it’s elegant.”

2013 Jessie’s Grove, Lodi, Ancient Vine Carignane (NA)

Fruit from a five-acre, 128-year-old plot and an eight-acre, 117-year-old plot comes into play in this deep and complex wine.

“It’s the age of the vine that makes the difference,” said Jessie Grove’s owner, grower and winemaker Greg Burns, who was a judge at the San Francisco Chronicle wine competition. “It has such an antiquity to it. It creates some uniqueness in the flavor profile with that age. Ancient vine carries an intrinsic value of depth and complexity.”

At the 10th annual American Fine Wine Competition last month in Dade County, Florida, only 800 wines from around the country were entered. Why? The AFWC is invitation-only. Its organizers combed Lodi last September looking for wines worthy of being entered. It’s a tough cut and Lodi more than held its own.

Just more than half of the entrants, 461, received Best of Show, Best of Class, Double Gold, Gold or Gold medal honors. Of those, 18 came from Lodi, a good haul considering only about 2 percent of the total entries were from Lodi.

Lodi’s lone Best of Class winner was the 2014 Oak Farm, Lodi, Grenache. Double Gold recognition went to the 2013 Bokisch, Terra Alta Vineyard Clements Hills, Lodi, Garnacha.

Gold medals went to three Lodi zinfandels: the 2014 Earthquake by Michael David Winery, the 2013 Klinker Brick Marisa Vineyard and the 2013 Lust by Michael David.

In the crowded Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon categories, the 2015 Harney Lane Winery emerged with Gold, as did with 2014 Michael David Chardonnay. Both wines retail for $25 and $16, respectively, a mere pittance compared to entries from Napa and Sonoma. Michael David’s 2014 Lodi Cabernet Franc ($35) earned Double Gold against heavy hitters from Napa and Sonoma whose wines cost more than twice as much.

Overall, Lodi’s producers have much to be proud of, as their wines continue to garner recognition in some of the most respected competitions in the nation.

Wine & Chocolate Weekend

The Lodi Wine & Chocolate Weekend is celebrating its 20th year with a nod to the Roaring 20s.

Some 50 wineries in the Lodi AVA are taking part Saturday and Sunday. Many wineries will offer special wine tastings, chocolate treats, as well as small bites and live music.

This year, participants are encouraged to dress in outfits from the days of speakeasies, Prohibition and Al Capone. Organizers are sponsoring a costume contest on Instagram with one lucky winner taking home a prize package.

Tickets are $55 in advance and $65 the days of the event. Wine club members can receive a $10 discount through their winery. Tickets are good both days. Designated drivers are free. Information: LodiWineandChocolate.com.

– Lodi Wine Commission writer and blogger Randy Caparoso contributed to this story

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Prime Table Steakhouse has prime time wine list

The magical interplay between food and wine when brilliantly executed can be a memorable experience.

Arezou Soleimani and Lauren O’Leary are passionate wine enthusiasts and foodies who took great care in developing the wine list for the new Prime Table Steakhouse in Lincoln Center with the hope of delivering a memorable food and wine experience.

Soleimani is the beverage director at Prime Table and Market Tavern, also in Lincoln Center, and O’Leary is owner of Nipote Wine Imports and a wine educator and restaurant consultant. They spent some nine months compiling Prime Table’s wine list, which includes several domestic and international selections to go with the restaurant’s steak, prime rib, salmon and vegetarian entrée selections.

Prime Table offers wines by the glass, half-bottle and full-bottle formats from familiar regions in California, including Lodi, Napa and Sonoma, as well as imports from Italy, France, Spain and Argentina — wines not commonly offered on area restaurant wine lists.

“The goal with such a strong international wine list as this is to encourage people to step outside of their comfort zone when it comes to wine,” Soleimani said. “The goal is to get people to start a conversation about wine and understand that there is more to life than a rib eye and a Napa cab.”

Lauren O'Leary, left, sommelier and wine consultant, and Arezou Soleimani, beverage director sit at the bar at Prime Table Market and Tavern. CLIFFORD OTO/RECORD PHOTO

Soleimani and O’Leary enjoy exposing people to something unexpected; blowing their minds with wines they’ve never tried or ever heard of before. They want to challenge their diners without being pretentious or intimidating. Wine should be enjoyed, they said, not stressed over.

“We don’t want to be those people who talk down to a table and they are intimidated,” said Soleimani, who used to work at Papapavlo’s restaurant in Lincoln Center. “Our service here is so approachable that anybody can pull us out and talk to a table about some different stuff.”

For instance, Soleimani might suggest the Doña Paula Estate, Torrontès, Valle de Cafayate, Salta, Argentina, 2011 ($32, full bottle) as an aperitif or with Prime Table’s French onion soup, griddled thick-cut bacon or wild shrimp cocktail instead of chardonnay, pinot grigio or sauvignon blanc. Foods with fat, like the griddled thick-cut bacon, or salinity, such as the shrimp cocktail or most any type of seafood, pair well with Torrontès, the most popular white wine in Argentina. Grown at a higher altitude, this light-gold colored wine from the Salta region has medium-high acidity, minerality, tropical fruit, such as lychee and pineapple, floral perfume and a hint of petrol, similar to Riesling.

“For me, the hopes of bringing on a wine like this in a city like Stockton is wine education,” O’Leary said. “We could definitely say there are some serious wine drinkers in Stockton, but to get people to open up their palates and minds to something like this is the end-all goal for me.”

The Chateau Teyessier, Pezat, Bordeaux Superieur, 2012 ($45, full bottle) is an entry-level Bordeaux at an approachable price point. This is the style of red wine Soleimani drank when visiting family in the South of France. Classic terroir-driven, earthy mushroom nose with blue fruit, plums, anise and a hint of French oak. It’s a nice alternative to cabernet sauvignon or merlot with red meat.

“This was the approachable import that both of us were hoping to put on a wine list like this,” Soleimani said. “People who are going to take a risk on a $45 bottle of Bordeaux, I would think, wouldn’t be disappointed by this.”

Among the big hitters on the list, The Arena, Amarone DOCG, 2008 ($75, full bottle) is a dry, rich red wine from Valpolicella in the Veneto region of Italy. Made from Corvina, Molinara and Rondinella grapes that have been picked late and partially dried in the sun to concentrate the flavors and sugars, Amarone has complexity, elegance, power and finesse. The Arena from Tony Sasa is full-bodied with aromas of dried flowers, chocolate-covered raisins, tar and tobacco. It’s a powerhouse with a velvety texture.

“I love this wine,” O’Leary said. “This is the definition of complexity. You’ll get salt, you’ll get chocolate, you’ll get soy sauce, you’ll get brown sugar, you’ll get fermented flavors. This is a fun wine to pair with red meat.”

Prime Table Steakhouse offers a memorable food and wine experience, and a wonderful opportunity to try something different.

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Exuberance in a bottle

ACAMPO – Cassandra Durst wakes up every day believing it will be the best day of her life.

Her infectious optimism and exuberance are big reasons why her winery on Acampo Road has fast become a fan favorite and a must visit on the Lodi wine trail since it opened in 2014.

When you visit Durst Winery and Estate, expect to be welcomed by the wine dogs, Jack and Gracie, before you taste her wines and stroll the beautiful grounds. Chances are you’ll get a hug from her and feel like part of the family before you leave.

Minutes into a recent visit, Durst had me drive her to a tiny vineyard just more than a mile from her estate where she and Tom Hoffman, owner of Heritage Oak Winery, source Charbono grapes. As we drove on North Tretheway Road past gnarly head-trained vines on one side and neatly trellised vines on the other, Durst explained the mysterious history of the Charbono vineyard.

Story goes the vines are either Inglenook cuttings planted by a young suitor courting a young woman in the 1940s, or they simply were planted by the property owners in the 1970s.

“The young couple story just seems to make sense,” said Durst, “because I want it to.”

In any case, the vineyard had been neglected for many years before it was brought back to life. Now, the tiny parcel on what Durst described as potting soil is responsible for the rare treat that is Charbono, the second most popular red wine grape in Argentina behind Malbec but a virtual unknown in this country.

After taking some photos of the vineyard, we returned to the winery which rests behind Cassandra’s and husband Dan’s gorgeous two-story Santa Barbara Spanish revival house, which they renovated in the late 1990s.

Before we sampled the Charbono, tasting room manager Danielle Zoller brought out a chilled glass of Durst’s Amada Mia White made from the Symphony grape. In 1948, UC Davis grape scientist Dr. Harold Olmo crossed Muscat of Alexandria with Grenache Gris to create a white wine grape that would flourish in Lodi. The grape sat on the shelf for decades before the Kautz family, owners of Ironstone Vineyards in Murphys, planted Symphony on Victor Road in Lodi.

Durst’s Amada Mia has tropical and stone fruit on the nose with orange peel and an enticing floral component on the palate. The flavor is not overly sweet and the medium-high acid strikes a nice balance. Think about pairing this wine with gooey cheeses or with food that has sweetness and/or chili heat, such as Indian, Thai or Mexican food. It also would be great as an aperitif.

“It’s very unique, in that, it’s not uber sweet,” Durst said. “It’s just off-dry. There is the slightest bit of residual sugar. I intentionally went into it as a dry wine and got just a little bit of sweetness there. And so every single year, we do it the same way.”

Cassandra and I then sampled her Charbono. The color was dark and inky. Blueberry pie, blackberries, plums and a savory, meaty aroma that made me think of bacon were on the nose. The body was surprisingly light given the intense, dark color that suggested it would have a much heavier mouth feel. The flavors had medium intensity and were consistent with the nose. The high acid and tannins give the wine considerable aging potential. This would pair with cheeses, grilled Portobello mushrooms, steaks, stews, and pastas with tomato-based sauces. Durst also suggested chilling her Charbono to about 60 degrees before sipping it on its own.

“It’s not big flavors. It’s rather delicate,” she said. “It’s totally unique. You just can’t compare it with anything else.”

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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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