How do Lodi wines stack up?

For wine grape diversity and winemaking talent, Lodi is pretty hard to beat.

Thanks to growers and winemakers embracing all that this region has to offer, Lodi is the most diverse wine growing region in the state. Though Zinfandel still is king, some 100 other wine grape varieties are planted on a total of more than 100,000 acres in the Lodi American Viticultural Area, with its Mediterranean climate and sandy loam soils.

Want Italian wines? Lodi makes them. Want Spanish wines? Lodi has them too, as well wines grown in France, South Africa, Australia, Argentina, Germany, Austria and Portugal.

But how do Lodi’s wines stack up against the best wines in the world? The answer is: quite favorably.

”]Last Friday, Randy Caparoso with the Lodi Winegrape Commission led a panel discussion and blind tasting with noted wine educators and scribes Fred Swan and Deborah Parker Wong before an audience of winemakers, growers and wine enthusiasts at Wine & Roses in Lodi. The event helped kick off the 13th annual ZinFest, which took place Saturday at Lodi Lake.

“We wanted to give people a good idea where Lodi stands in the world of wine, not just compared to wines grown in Sonoma or Santa Barbara or Oregon, but South Africa and Spain and all over France,” said Caparoso, who writes an award-winning blog at “Ultimately, the Winegrape Commission wanted to demonstrate the fact that Lodi wines can compare favorably.”

Tasters knew the variety in their glass but the wine’s place of origin was kept secret before the big reveal.

Round 1: Picpoul.

Nicknamed “lip stinger” for its screeching acidity, this white varietal from the South of France is a must with oysters. The 2016 Acquiesce Winery, Lodi Picpoul Blanc ($22) from the Mokelumne River sub-AVA went up against the 2015 Cave de Pomerols, HB Picpoul de Pinet ($13.99) from Languedoc-Rousillon, France. Both wines are high in refreshing, citrusy acid, but the Acquiesce had more fruit, such as green apples and peaches with mineral expressions and tropical fruit on the finish.

Round 2: Albarino

This Spanish white varietal can be floral and perfumed, or salty and savory. Bokisch’s 2015 Terra Alta Vineyard Clements Hills-Lodi Albarino ($18) is a wine for Sauvignon Blanc drinkers because of its grapefruit and peach notes, Swan said. Its counterpart from Rias Baixas, in Spain’s northwest corner, the 2015 Palacio de Fefinanes Albarino ($26), was floral and perfumey.

Round 3: Vermentino

PRIE Winery’s 2015 Delu Vineyard Lodi Vermentino ($21) from the Alta-Mesa sub-AVA has gorgeous citric, stone and mineral notes with pear and banana; a nuanced wine that would go beautifully with sushi, Swan said. The 2014 Antoine Arena, Patrimonio Blanc “Carco” ($45) from Corsica, France, was more forceful, more fruitful and just as wonderful. Either wine would be respectful of food.

Round 4: Cinsaut

This polarizing variety has graced Lodi for more than 130 years in the 25-acre Bechthold Vineyard, the state’s best source for this spicy, perfumed wine. The 2012 Onesta Wines, Bechthold Vineyard Lodi Cinsault ($29) has good impact in the mouth with lots of fruit and light tannin. The 2014 Waterkloof “Seriously Cool” Cinsault ($25) from Stellenbosch, South Africa, was whole cluster fermented and is light in color with flavors consistent with Pinot Noir. Parker Wong described its aroma as “patchouli spice.”

Round 5: Grenache

Grenache in France, Garnacha in Spain this red variety is blended with Syrah and Mouvedre in the famous GSM wines of the Southern Rhone Valley. As a single varietal, it can be juicy, floral or gamey. McCay Cellars’ 2013 Lodi Grenache ($35) from the Abba Vineyard in the Mokelumne River sub-AVA has a pure, fresh and fruity approach with a cherry focus. The 2014 Domaine Gramenon, Cotes-du-Rhone Rouge “La Sagesse” ($39) from 60-year-old vines in the Southern Rhone has much more spice, tobacco and tannin.

Round 6: Carignan

Ripe fruit, more oak, more tannin, juicy, delicious and very new world in style were descriptors bandied about for the 2014 Klinker Brick, Lodi Carignane ($25) from the 108-year-old Rauser Vineyard in the Mokelumne River sub-AVA. Darker spices, dark fruit and light tannin dominate the 2015 Domaine Maxime Magnon, Corbieres Rouge “Campagnes” ($47) from 100-year-old-plus vines in Languedoc-Rousillon, France.

Round 7: Zinfandel

It can’t be a Lodi wine tasting without Zinfandel. In this round, two zins from California were featured: the 2014 Lodi Native, Maley’s Lucas Road Vineyard, Mokelumne River-Lodi Zinfandel ($35) by Macchia Wines, and the 2015 Ridge Geyserville ($40). The Lodi Native is Zinfandel in its natural state with a wide spectrum of aromas and flavors. The Ridge, sourced from vines up to 130 years old in the Alexander Valley, is a fruit forward, jammy wine, though the alcohol is dialed down.

Round 8: Syrah

Pretty, bright fruit, lean, herbal and floral (violets, big time!), the 2015 Domaine Faury, Saint-Joseph Rouge ($36) from newer vines planted between 1979 and 2007 in the Northern Rhone Valley is a gorgeous wine. Ripe, rich, smooth on the palate with great presence in the mouth describe the delicious 2014 Fields Family Wines, Estate Mokelumne River-Lodi Syrah ($25).

Each wine is beautiful in its own way. What I learned from this exercise is Lodi’s wines are every bit on par with some of the best wines in the world. A trip to another part of the world is just a short drive away.

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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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