Lodi. Just utter that rather simple four-letter word and I will get a couple armfuls of goosebumps. Why does a town, which up until about 20 years ago was best known for the derision it received in a late 60’s rock song, provoke such a response? Three reasons: 1. It was my first press trip, 2. I consider a number of people there friends, and 3. The region makes some really fantastic wines regardless of value.
Am I biased? Perhaps. But that first press trip was extremely well-organized, the region has a compelling story, and the region has some incredible vineyards (including the oldest Cinsault vineyard in the world).
Many of the people that I met on that first trip remain some of my closer friends in the wine industry. At the time, my in-laws, whom we visited at least a couple of times a year. lived in a God-forsaken town just a short 45-minute drive from Lodi, making it an easy excuse to get out of Dodge and taste some wine.
Speaking of the wine, the region produces some incredible wines and most of them are 30 bucks or under–a source for incredible values. While Lodi is perhaps best known for its Zinfandels, there are over 100 different varieties grown in the appellation, making it one of the more diverse wine regions, not just in the country, but the world.
Recently, I was sent a few wines from Lodi to taste, each comprised by varieties that you are unlikely to find in your local Piggly Wiggly, and, inadvertently, they caused me to travel down memory lane a bit. (That is great since my in-laws no longer live in the area, and my visits to Lodi have been reduced dramatically. Oh yeah, they now live about 200 feet away. But I am not allowed to write about that.)
2018 Acquiesce Winery Ingénue, Lodi, CA: Retail $32. 35% Clairette Blanche, 35% Grenache Blanc, 20% Bourboulenc, 10% Picpoul Blanc. I have spoken about Sue Tipton a number of times on this blog and I have to say that she is certainly one of my favorite winemakers. Not only does she make stellar wines, but she is willing to take risks and thumb her nose at the “standard winery formula” (if there is such a thing): 3-4 reds (A Cab and either a Pinot, Merlot, or Syrah, or all three), 1-2 whites (Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc). Not Sue. Not only does she not make a single red, she makes neither a Chardonnay nor a Sauvignon Blanc. Instead, she makes only white wines (and a rosé) largely from grapes that the average wine drinker has never heard of much less tasted. Such is the case here as the blends four varieties that I would guess most French (where all the varieties originated) wine drinkers would have a difficult time placing, into a beautiful harmony of tropical fruit goodness: melon, pineapple, guava all dance on the tongue with a shot of tartness and considerable depth. Really close to a Whoa. Excellent. 91-93 Points.
2017 Harney Lane Chardonnay Lodi, CA: Retail $28. Although I have never been to the winery, Jorja and Kyle Lerner several times and there are not nicer people in the world. The wine? Good lemon curd and acidity on the palate and is well-balanced but this certainly an oaky, buttery, traditional California style Chardonnay; a style that has alienated some, but deserves love. Very Good to Excellent. 88-90 Points.
2018 M2 Wines Vermentino, Mokelumne River, Lodi, CA: Retail $20. Winemaker/Founder Layne Montgomery is one of the more colorful people in Lodi and any time spent with him usually results in several quotes, most of which can’t be published. Vermentino hails from Northern Italy, but it has also found a home in Southern France under the name Rolle (which I prefer, by the way, but no one cares about that). In the US, at least in 2017, there were only about 90 acres total planted in this country, with a large portion of those acres in Lodi. Why? The short answer is Lodi winegrowers are either extremely forward-thinking or crazy whack-a-doodles. More than likely they are a little bit of both, and we all should be thankful. This screwcap enclosed wine?. Pineapple and acacia, with plenty of tartness and a pleasantly long finish. A near-perfect wine for the back patio, the pool, or listening to Layne rattle of another crazy (whack-a-doodle?) tale in the early evening Lodi sun. Very Good to Excellent. 88-90 Points.
2016 Mettler Family Vineyards Pinotage, Lodi, CA: Retail $25. Chambourcin. That is the only wine grape that sends a bigger shiver down my spine than does Pinotage. Sure, there are “good” Pinotage wines out there, perhaps there are even a few great ones, but the vast majority of them taste somewhere between fruity messes and funky feet. I know, I know, as a wine writer I am supposed to embrace these esoteric varieties, but I just can’t. I mean, come on. So when I received this wine, I cringed. Pinotage from the U.S? You must be joking. It stinks in its “native” land of South Africa (for the most part), how on earth can this be good 10,000 miles from home? Well, surprisingly, it ain’t bad. In fact, it is good, even “Very Good.” Fruity and fun, both on the nose and palate, this is more of a sipping wine or even a pizza accompaniment than it is a contemplative masterpiece. But hey, sometimes we need a wine over which we can say: “At least it’s better than Chambourcin.” Good to Very Good. 86-88 Points.
2016 PRIE Vineyards Carignane Ancient Vines Spenker Ranch, Lodi, CA: Retail $30. In all of my visits to Lodi, I do believe that this is the first bottle of PRIE that I have tried (and I am not sure why they do they all-caps thing with the name). The vines were planted in 1900, which is really amazing whether you think about it or not, and Lodi is chock-full of vineyards like Spenker Ranch. More old world than new with restrained fruit and really nice tartness. A very nice wine. Very Good to Excellent. 88-90 Points.