+ News: Articles
Wednesday, January 28th,
to Zin City
a once derided appellation, now home to ‘old vine’ zinfandel revolution
by William Rice, Chicago
Tribune food & wine columnist
, a small town at the northern tip of California ’s San Joaquin
Valley and south of Sacramento , is an unlikely candidate for the
title of most progressive, dynamic wine appellation in California
. Until a decade or so age, if Lodi was mentioned at all in a conversation
among wine aficionados, it was with derision. The prolific vines
of Lodi spat out eight or nine or maybe more tons of grapes per
grapes possessed with considerable color and body but thought to
be short-lived and lacking complexity, were blended into generic
jug wines or used for varieties such as white zinfandel.
since 1991, a concerted effort by growers and the wineries they
feed has lifted the quality of Lodi fruit by lowering yield and
farming many of the appellation’s 80,000 acres of wine grapes in
an old-fashioned way that is truly progressive.
the unremitting encouragement of the Lodi-Woodbridge Winegrape Commission,
farmers follow the dictates of sustainable agriculture. An integrated
pest management program has helped reduce pesticide and herbicide
use while introducing into the vineyards natural enemies of a variety
of pests, such as planting prune trees to harbor wasps who attack
the grass leafhopper, or setting out nesting boxes for owls and
kestrels who enjoy dining on gophers and field mice. Quality grapes,
such as merlot and chardonnay, have replaced alicante-bouschet and
who once strove for record crops have voluntarily reduced the volume
of water pumped into their vineyards and now willingly thin their
crops to increase the quality (and price) of the grapes they do
Lodi manages to produce more than 20 percent of the state’s varietal
wines-more than Napa and Sonoma combined, locals like to say.
the appellation’s glamour grape is a red beauty that has been in
residence-in some incidences-for a century of more. The zinfandel
is particularly grateful for care and attention and repays those
who provide it with bright berry-fruit flavors and enticing hints
of spice. Yet even today, about 75 percent of Lodi ’s zin harvest
goes into the aforementioned white zinfandel. Another 15 percent
continues to disappear into generic blends.
leaves 10 percent for “old vine” zinfandel, the rich wine that attracts
tourists to Lodi ’s 17 tasting rooms.
reach old vine status after nature has begun to limit the yield
of gnarled and thick vines that have been bearing fruit for 35 years
or so. The vines, in turn, can produce berries with a lovely concentration
of rich juice; after aging in small oak barrels, a wine of notable
flavor and power may emerge. At this point, the grower has to decide
whether to go with the old guys or replant.
Chandler, executive director of the commission, acknowledges that
zinfandel has “had to struggle to maintain market share” against
fruity reds such as syrah from the Rhone and shiraz from Australia
as well as Italian and Spanish varieties.
was not unhappy, therefore, to report that after a “short” yield
in 2002, the crop harvested last fall was “extremely light.”
a mixed blessing,” Chandler explained. “Small can mean better and
we expect 2003 zinfandels to be of high quality. Meanwhile out growers
will hold their current prices and hope that shoppers looking for
value will buy and thereby lower the backlog.”
are the comments on several Lodi zinfandels that are among those
that were selected by a panel of industry tasters as the best in
the region. All but one are from the 2001 vintage. Any of these
wines is a candidate to be paired with beef (steak or hamburgers),
ribs or grilled lamb; pasta dishes served with tomato sauce; blue
cheese or Spain ’s manchego.
Bargetto Zinfandel, Rauser Vineyard, $12:
hundred percent zinfandel from a vineyard planted 95 years ago.
Wine aged in French and American oak for one year: Alcohol, 15.2
percent. Tastes like a fruit bomb: concentrated cherry and blackberry;
well balanced and maturing quickly.
Robert Biale Vineyards Zinfandel, Spenker Vineyard, $33,
scented aroma, generous cherry jam flavor but well-balanced and
smooth. Yield in the vineyard less than one ton per acre; 14.9 percent
alcohol. Aged 10 months in Burgundian oak, 25 percent new.
Laurel Glen Vineyard ZaZin Old Vine Zinfandel, $18:
zin from this vineyard in ’01, so the winery’s 02 was put forward.
In it, zinfandel is blended with petite syrah in an 80/20 ratio.
Words such as “monster,” “gracefulness,” “exotically spicy” and
“luscious finish” intertwine in the description. There’s high acidity
here, 15 percent alcohol and fresh cherry-berry flavor.
St. Amant Zinfandel, Marian’s Vineyard, $24:
8.3-acre vineyard where the first vines were planted more than a
century ago. Yield of about 3 tons per acre (89 percent zin, 11
percent old vine petite syrah). Aged for 10 months in French and
American oak. Big generous wine with ripe fruit flavors, 15.2 alcohol
and considerable tannin.
Windmill Estates Old Vine Zinfandel, $10:
from four growers produce an aroma of blackberry and red cherry
and a full-bodied, raisin-y, vanilla- and chocolate-accented flavor.
At 13.2 percent alcohol, taste is relatively delicate.
Michael David Vineyards 7 Deadly Zins Zinfandel, $16:
from seven vineyards foster what the winemaker described as “a marriage
of deep brambly blackberry and lustful cherry” that produces “supple
pepper and licorice-clove notes.” Alcohol 14.8. Long fruit-filled
Watts Old Vine Zinfandel, Pescador Vineyards, $16:
vintage of zin from a family vineyard planted in 1937. Spicy aroma
with hints of cinnamon and nutmeg; smooth and rich-tasting with
chocolate and discordant green bean flavors.
Talus Zinfandel, $9:
weather early made berries smaller and reduced crop size; aged in
stainless steel with French oak staves. Blend is 77 percent zin,
8 percent each petite syrah and syrah, 5 percent sangiovese. 13.3
percent alcohol. Well balanced with a somewhat austere, cabernet-like
aroma of plum and black cherry.
Bogle Reserve Old Vine Zinfandel $18:
dry-farmed vines, $13 months aging in American oak. Alcohol 15 percent;
aroma of black pepper; chocolate and cherries; an elegant steak
Kenwood Old vine Zinfandel $11:
(two) planted in early 1900s, yield 2 ½ to 3 tons per acre. Aged
for 12 months in American oak. Alcohol 14.8. Fleshy wine from very
ripe fruit with a surfeit of soft tannins.
Klinker Brick Winery Old Vine Zinfandel, $24:
a year in small, mostly new American oak. 15.4 percent alcohol.
Flavors of blackberry and raspberry; very tannic, reserve for rich
Macchia Zinfandel, $14:
American oak, 13.5 percent alcohol. Purple tint and plum flavor;
vegetal note and flat finish.