Lodi: The ‘Other’ Appellation

Oh, Lodi. Home of tons of value wine, some really cool old vineyards, and lots of teen-style angst.  This sunny area west of Napa in the Sacramento river delta is seems to be a soul sucking frequent topic of debate when the topic of “value” wine comes up. Can Lodi stand up and make wines that are worth more than $10? Can they be Napa quality?

Can Kirstie Allie wear the same dress as Kate Bosworth? Will Brad Pitt age into the next George Clooney?

Like with celebs (has-beens or not), I think it’s totally unfair to demand regions to impersonate each other, so I can’t answer that question. Regardless, the wines I’ve tasted lately from Lodi were delicious, and definitely worth more than $10.

Recently, I sat down with Lodi Wine experts Craig Ledbetter and Camron King to have a about all things Lodi–mostly the variety of wines coming out of the area (and there’s a lot of it, with 8 official subregions), Zinfandel (DUH), and taking the image of Lodi away from “Bulk” wine to “Beautiful” wine.

The  most interesting thing in my opinion was how openly and earnestly these dudes talked about Lodi’s role as a bulk wine producer.  Every year, tons and tons (and tons) of Lodi fruit is blended into wines from other California appellations without the thought of putting Lodi on the label. Most regions try to hide the fact that they use grapes from large appellations like Lodi to amp up their wines, but this practice is what’s kept the Lodi grape economy alive since Prohibition (literally).

For example, a “Napa” wine is only required to have 85% of its grapes grown in Napa, and the other 15% often come from outlying regions where grapes ripen easily and vintage variation is less severe (read: Lodi, the Central Valley, etc.). Most times, grape growers in well-established regions won’t talk about this elusive 15%, and that’s usually ok.

Yet, if Lodi grapes are good enough to be blended into Napa and Sonoma wines, are they good enough on their own? Yup. And that’s just what Craig and Camron showed me over a few bottles.

The McCay Cellars 2011 Grenache was a rich, cherry-bomb of a wine with nice notes of black pepper and blackberry.  Some oak aging gave this wine toasty vanilla notes too, and with BBQ I think it would be a fantastic choice.

My favorite wine was the m2 2010 Artist Series Zinfandel. Tons of vanilla and caramel on the nose led to great mixed berry flavors on the palate. Imagine expensive, “artisanal” wild berry jam atop brioche with a sprinkle of cinnamon. Totally decadent, and totally delicious.

During other adventures I also drank sampled Peirano Estates The Other which is a fantastic value, not to mention the possibilities of the label as a conversation piece. First off all, there’s a naked woman (which always excites conversation) and her hair looks like a pile of ramen with some chopsticks in it. The wine is almost as interesting with lots of smooth berry fruit, and some surprisingly delicate floral aromas–more of that fancy  jam but this time with violets.

In short, if you’re looking for a Cali wine give Lodi a shot. Chances are, they’re grapes are in your other CA wines anyway.

Lodi Uncorked:

Laura Loves: Zinfandel with lighter curries and stir frys that involve fresh ginger.

That Lodi is dangerously close to the Jelly Belly Factory in Fairfield, California.

Fun Facts: Lodi was a consistent grape producing region since the 1850s (Prohibition couldn’t stop its large Italian population from drinking…).

You can blame Lodi for a lot of those American wines labelled “Chablis” or “Red Burgundy.”

Lodi produces 32% of California’s Zinfandel.

 

2 Responses to “Lodi: The ‘Other’ Appellation”

  1. Bill Stroud says:

    Laura, I love the way you highlight ‘off the radar’ wines and regions. Unlike some food writers who exalt impossibly esoteric ingredients (The Tunisian white truffle, orchid vine grass has become an essential ingredient in Mediterranean dishes…et-freaking-cetra) you accentuate wines that are readily available, but often overlooked. Little did I know that I’d probably already tried the Lodi grapes! Thanks for a straightforward and interesting tip!

  2. Glad you enjoyed it!! Will be searching for more of those wines on your side of the pond soon!!

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