LoCA, the Lodi Winegrape Commission, recently held a wine tasting titled “How Do Lodi Wines Compare to the Best In the World? (A Blind Tasting with a Panel of Professional Wine Educators)” as a prelude to their annual Zinfest celebration. I was pleased to be a guest at the tasting and put my blind tasting skills to the test. It was an instructive and, as usual, humbling experience.
Blind tasting wine. It can be fun and frustrating at the same time. I love it because blind tasting forces me to be systematic and organized in evaluating a wine. Without knowing the grape variety or region of the wine I must rely on what I see, smell and taste in the glass. It is a very good way to learn to trust your palate. On the other hand, I find it frustrating when I am unable to correctly determine the variety or origin of a wine. So, what am I to do but continue to taste, taste, taste?
The tasting featured eight pairs of wine. Each pair consisted of one Lodi wine and one wine made elsewhere in the world. The eight varieties included Piquepoul, Albariño, Vermentino, Cinsaut, Grenache, Carignan, Zinfandel and Syrah. To give the Lodi wines some stiff competition the comparison wines were all made in regions well known for that particular variety.
Randy Caparoso, editor of lodiwine.com and The SOMM Journal, guided our tasting. Joining Randy were Fred Swan, CSW and educator at San Francisco Wine School, and Deborah Parker Wong, DWSET and Director of Education of Wine and Spirits Education Trust, who shared their tasting notes on each wine and provided us with background on each grape variety.
Each wine was concealed in a paper bag and labeled with the Round number and A or B. For each Round (variety) we were poured wine A and wine B. I made notes on each wine and indicated which one I thought was from Lodi. Sixteen wines. Spitting was essential.
At the end of the tasting Randy took us through each wine, asking for a show of hand as to which wine was from Lodi. He then unveiled each wine, or rather Stephanie Bolton Ph.D., Director of Grower Communications & Sustainable Winegrowing, unveiled each wine.
Below are my notes on each wine.
Round 1 – Piquepoul
Wine A: Complex aromas and flavors of melon, white flowers and citrus with a hint of citrus pith on the finish. This wine has a bit of weight and roundness in the mouth. 2016 Acquiesce Picpoul Blanc, Mokelumne River AVA (east side), Lodi. ($22)
Wine B: Citrus and mineral flavors predominate in this lean, taut, energetic wine. It is light on the palate, but flavorful with a juicy finish. 2015 Cave de Pomerols HB Picpoul de Pinet, Languedoc-Rousillon, France. ($13.99)
Wine A tasted familiar to me, I was certain it was the Lodi wine. It was so flavorful with perfectly-balanced acidity.
Round 2 – Albariño
Wine A: medium yellow in the glass with generous aromas and flavors of apples, ripe pears and flowers. This wine finishes with bright acidity and a touch of citrus pith. 2015 Palacio de Fefinanes Albariño, Rías Baixas, Spain. ($26.99)
Wine B: pale yellow in the glass, bright citrus, tropical fruit and tart pineapple flavors combine for a complex flavor profile with nice acidity and a medium length finish. 2015 Bokisch Bineyards Albariño, Terra Alta Vineyard, Clements Hills AVA, Lodi. ($18)
Honestly, this was a toss up for me. I found similar flavors in both of these wines so I tossed the coin and chose (incorrectly) that Wine A was Lodi.
Round 3 – Vermentino
Wine A: melon and stone fruits predominate with citrusy backnotes and hints of ripe banana and a juicy, acid-driven finish. Deliciously flavorful. 2015 PRIE Winery Vermentino, Delu Vineyard, Lodi. ($21)
Wine B: damp earth, intense minerality, juicy acidity and a bit of roundness in the mouth. This wine made me think hard about what I was tasting. I still don’t understand it, but I want more. 2014 Antoine Arena Patrimonio Blanc “Carco”, Corsica, France. ($45)
I was so in the dark on this pairing. I chose Wine A as the Lodi wine just because Wine B tasted so different. Clearly, I need to taste more Vermentino.
Round 4 – Cinsaut
Wine A: light ruby in the glass with intensely floral aromas followed by bright red fruit, earth, cedar spice and drying tannins. This wine is weightless in the mouth and so complex. 2014 Waterkloof “Seriously Cool” Cinsault, Stellenbosch, South Africa. ($24.99)
Wine B: medium ruby in the glass with generous dark and red fruit aromas and flavors along with dusty earth and red cherries. Complex but light on its feet. 2012 Onesta Wines Cinsault, Bechthold Vineyard, planted in 1886, Mokelumne River AVA (west side), Lodi. ($29)
This was my favorite pairing of the tasting. I love Cinsault from the Bechthold Vineyard by this producer. It has so much flavor and is such a good food wine that I just can’t resist it. But, the Waterkloof Cinsault is an equally special wine, but very different from the Onesta Cinsault. It is very much a lighter, brighter wine with the most intoxicating aromas.
Round 5 – Grenache
Wine A: light ruby garnet in the glass with tobacco, black tea and dried fruit aromas followed by leather, dark cherry and hints of smoky flavors. Tannins are drying and the body is on the light side of medium. Love the flavors in this wine that have developed with time in the bottle. 2013 McCay Cellars Abba Vineyard Grenache, Mokelumne River AVA (east side), Lodi. ($35)
Wine B: dense ruby-violet in the glass with interesting herbal and alfalfa aromas. Dark fruit flavors seasoned with black pepper with drying tannins make for a wine with riper fruit flavors and more body. 2014 Domaine Gramenon Côtes du Rhône Rouge “La Sagesse”, Southern Rhône Valley, France. ($39)
I loved both of these wines, and wrote the letter L next to Wine B. Wrong again, but honestly, I just had no idea which was from Lodi. Both were deliciously balanced wines.
Round 6 – Carignan
Wine A: dense ruby-violet in the glass followed by generous red and dark fruit aromas and flavors along with dusty earth. Tannins are significant and drying. This wine gained complexity with time in the glass. 2015 Domaine Maxime Magnon Corbières Rouge “Campagnès” Languedoc-Rousillon, France. ($47)
Wine B: dense ruby in the glass with concentrated, ripe, dark fruit aromas and flavors. Spicy oak flavors join the ample fruit flavors along with drying tannins and a medium + body. This is a food wine, fire up the grill. 2014 Klinker Brick Winery Lodi Carignane, Rauser Vineyard, planted in 1909, Mokelumne River AVA (east side), Lodi. ($25)
I reflexively chose wine B as the Lodi wine in this pairing. I think it was the combination of generous fruit flavors backed by the complexity of oak aging.
Round 7 – Zinfandel
Wine A: generous red and dark fruit aromas followed by dried alfalfa, bright red fruit flavors, cedar spice and earth. This wine has bright acidity, nice weight in the mouth and drying tannins. This tastes like Lodi Zin to me. 2014 Lodi Native, Maley’s Lucas Rd. Vineyard Zinfandel, Mokelumne River AVA, Lodi. ($35)
Wine B: dense ruby in the glass with intensely earthy aromas backed by dark fruit. Black tea, dark berries and earthy flavors combine with moderate tannins for a moderately long finish. 2015 Ridge Geyserville, Alexander Valley, California.
This was an all-California pairing because Zinfandel is so much a California variety. Wine A just smelled like Lodi to me. That combination of earthy fruit and spice was unmistakeable to me. The Lodi Native wines are made following a strict protocol that includes native yeast fermentation, no acidification and no new oak aging. It is a demonstration of just what some of the older Zinfandel vineyards in Lodi have to offer.
The Ridge Zinfandel is a field blend of 70% Zinfandel, 15% Carignan, 12% Petite Syrah, 3% Alicante Bouchet. Vines are up to 130 years old.
Round 8 – Syrah
Wine A: ruby garnet in the glass with generous dried hay, dark fruit and smoky aromas. Bright red fruit, earth and herbal notes combine with grippy, drying tannins. 2015 Domaine Faury Saint-Joseph Rouge, Northern Rhône Valley, France. ($36)
Wine B: dense ruby in the glass with earthy, dark fruit aromas. Generous red and dark fruit flavors are seasoned with backnotes of cedar spice and black pepper. Ample tannins, long finish. 2014 Fields Family Wines Estate Syrah, Mokelumne River AVA, Lodi. ($25)
This was another difficult decision for me. Just by luck I chose Wine B as the Lodi wine. I would drink either of these wines any day of the week. Delicious Syrah.
In the end I wasn’t so much about my, or anyone else’s, blind tasting skills, but more about the diversity and excellent quality of wines being made in Lodi. I was impressed with every Lodi wine in this tasting. Here are some additional points to consider.
- Lots of Zinfandel is made in Lodi. If you prefer a riper, jammy style with higher alcohol you will find your Zin in Lodi. But if you’re after a more retrained version of Zinfandel you will find that in Lodi too.
- Lodi is so much more than Zinfandel. Just look at the list of grape varieties in this tasting. Every one of them is a delicious representation of the variety. Think beyond Zinfandel when you think of Lodi wine.
- Heritage vineyards. In a world in which so much is disposable it is remarkable that vineyards planted in 1886 and 1909 have been preserved and are still viable. It is a testament to the farmers who carefully tend these ancient, low-yield vineyards.
- Price. Let’s face it, who doesn’t consider the cost of a bottle of wine before purchasing it. If you look at the prices of the Lodi wines in this tasting they are extremely affordable and in most cases lower than the non-Lodi wine.
Thanks to the folks at LoCA for this enlightening and humbling experience. I hope this tasting will inspire you to explore the wide variety of wine produced in Lodi. I’m certain that in addition to delicious Zinfandel, in the style you prefer, you will discover any number of other varietal wines made in Lodi that will surprise and delight your palate. If you are unable to visit Lodi, the LoCA online Wine Store is a source for many Lodi wines.
For additional information about the panelists and what some Lodi winemakers who attended the tasting thought of the wines see Randy Caparoso’s article about the tasting.