Dec 16, 2013

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Virtual Tasting with LoCA: The Wines of Lodi, California

IMG_2625One of my favorite perks of being a wine writer is that I get to participate in virtual tastings on a regular basis.  Virtual tastings take place in real time, on-line, and they always involve at least one social media outlet – usually Twitter, but often cross referenced with live broadcasts through streaming video channels like Ustream, Google+, and in this case, YourBrandLive.com.

During these virtual wine sipping events, a select group of wine writers will receive samples of the wines being featured during the tasting.  Those writers will help spread the word about the tasting, in hopes that wine enthusiasts around the globe will pick up a bottle of their own, log on to their computers or mobile devices, join in on the tasting, and learn about the wines being discussed.  The tasting events are usually hosted by the owners of the wineries being represented and/or the winemakers of the wines that are being showcased and sampled.  Interaction between tasters and the owners and winemakers is encouraged through questions and thoughts on each of the wines that are sampled.  It’s truly a brilliant interactive marketing tool that shines the light on wine tasting, various wine regions, different varietals and wine education.

IMG_2616For the Wines of Lodi, California (LoCA) virtual tasting, we focused on and sampled five different winter-warming reds including three Zinfandels (Lodi is dubbed as the Zinfandel Capital of the World), a Cabernet Sauvignon and a Cabernet blend.  The theme of the broadcast was a salute to some of the families who have been in the Lodi wine industry for generations, and joining us was host Stuart Spencer, Program Director for the Lodi Winegrape Commission and second generation Winemaker for St. Amant Winery; along with, co-hosts Randy Lange, fifth generation winegrape grower and Director of Winery Operations at LangeTwins Family Winery & Vineyards, and Farrah Felten, sixth generation winegrape grower, as well as, Tasting Room Manager and Wine Club Director at Klinker Brick Winery.

Lodi is located about 90 miles east of the San Francisco Bay area.  Amazingly, many families in the Lodi wine region have been in the wine industry for six and even seven generations – the very first vines were planted back in 1850 and the first winery opened in 1858.  Today, there are more than 100,00 acres planted to vineyards with over 750 growers and about 85 wineries.

The wines we sampled during the virtual tasting: ’09 LangeTwins Winery & Vineyards Centennial Zinfandel, ’11 Harney Lane Winery Lizzy James Old Vine Zinfandel, ’12 St. Amant Winery Marian’s Vineyard Old Vine Zinfandel, ’11 Klinker Brick Winery Bricks & Mortar Cabernet Blend, and ’10 Mettler Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon.

IMG_2633Beginning with the LangeTwins Centennial Zinfandel 2009 ($60), produced from gnarly, ancient-type vines from Lewis Vineyards that were planted in 1903, ripe blackberry and black currant aromas are highlighted by hints of oak, which transform into waves of lush, red fruits like raspberry and cherry on the palate.  Vibrant acidity rounds out the fruit that rolls along the palate in layers of lush, juicy flavors.  The name Centennial is a celebration of the historic friendship between the Lewis (where the fruit was sourced) and Lange families.

The Harney Lane Lizzy James Old Vine Zinfandel 2011 ($35) was super intense and complex.  Dark fruit aromas and tobacco were highlighted by an alluring smokiness that made it seem sort of…rustic.  Yet, the palate was elegant, rich, lush and highlighted by berry jam flavors and fall spices.  I can best describe it by saying, “rustic meets refined.”  It’s a steal at $35 dollars.  I noticed the ABV is a whopping  15.9%.  Have no fear, however, as big and intense as it is, it’s incredibly well balanced with well integrated tannins.  In my humble opinion, the ABV becomes insignificant when it’s indistinguishable.

The vines for the St. Amant Winery Marian’s Vineyard Old Vine Zinfandel 2012 ($24) were planted in 1901 on the Mohr-Fry Ranch.  The name Marian’s Vineyard came to fruition in 1999 when St. Amant collaborated with Jerry Fry, the son of the late Marian Mohr Fry Zimmerman (Matriarch of the Mohr-Fry Ranch), to name the 8.3 acre block of Zinfandel after Marian.  In 2001 the St. Amant Marian Old Vine Zinfandel was awarded the best Zinfandel at the California State Fair, putting Lodi on the map.  Loads of fruit and berry aromas and flavors were highlighted by herbs and smoke that were all balanced out by subtle, refreshing acidity.

IMG_2645Farrah Felton of Klinker Brick Winery is a sixth generation winegrape grower in Lodi, where her family has Zinfandel vines that are 117 years old.  The Klinker Brick Bricks and Mortar 2011 Red Wine ($30) is a blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Petite Sirah and 10% Old Vine Zinfandel.  Plums and dark currant aromas were highlighted herbal notes of sage and hints of mint.  Rich, intense and velvety smooth on the palate, flavors of licorice and blackberries are followed by a bit of white pepper – spicing it up on the long finish.

The Mettler Family Vineyards Estate Grown Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 ($25) celebrates 100 years and five generations of farming in Lodi.  More elegant than I expected from a Cabernet (maybe it’s the added 13% Petite Sirah and 1% Petit Verdot), black cherries, blackberries, licorice and tobacco were highlighted by hints of vanilla and black pepper.  Smooth and silky on the palate, the fruity characteristics were perfectly balanced out by indirect acidity and fine grained tannins.

Before this LoCa virtual tasting event, I had tried limited wines from the Lodi region, and I had no idea there were so many multi-generation winegrowers and wine makers and numerous blocks of truly “Old Vine” Zinfandel- making Lodi an impressively unique region.  I was also impressed with the elegance that came through in such intense, bold wines, something I had experienced only a few times with big Zinfandels and Cabernet Sauvignons.  After sampling this line-up of stellar wines, a trip to Lodi has been added to my wish list – I want to check out those gnarly, ancient-type vines in person.

Check out the hashtag #LodiLive on Twitter to follow the continuing conversation on the wines of Lodi.