Spotlight on Lodi Zinfandel
If John Fogerty of Credence Clearwater Revival was actually stuck in Lodi today, he’d probably be a happy man. Lodi, about an hour and a half drive from Napa, is making some of the best Zinfandels in California. Self-proclaimed the Zinfandel Capital of the World, Lodi boasts production of over 40 percent of California’s premium Zinfandel.
The distinctive character of Lodi Zinfandel was officially recognized by the federal government in 1986 as an American Viticulture Area (AVA). The area is now home to nearly 80 wineries, hundreds of “Lodi” labeled wines, and approximately 100,000 acres of premium wine grapes. About 5,000 acres of Lodi vines still grow on their own root stocks, representing one of the largest stands of ungrafted Vitis vinifera in the world.
Wine-growing in Lodi goes way back to the late 1800’s. Many of the region’s best wines come from the thousands of acres of “old vines”-- some actually dating back to the 1880’s, believe it or not. When many folks ripped out grape vines during Prohibition, many Lodi vines survived with savvy owners shipping grapes to home winemakers since making wine at home was allowed under the Volstead Act. These stocky old vines survived another difficult period by providing the grapes for the pink wine that folks fell in love with called White Zinfandel.
Today wine lovers can easily move beyond sweet blush wine and fully appreciate the high quality of a red made from Lodi Zinfandel. We recently tasted the following Lodi Zins side by side. We found them both to pair equally well with grilled chicken breasts seasoned with our house made paprika pepper rub as well as grilled chopped sirloin burgers topped with baby bella mushrooms sautéed in olive oil and garlic and finished with a splash of red wine.
Macchia 2011 Old Vine Zinfandel “Mischievous” 16% abv In Italian, “Macchia” means “the spot.” Husband and wife team, Tim and Lani Holdener, started their operation in the Lodi Appellation in 2001. They own no vineyards, but manage to purchase grapes from “the spots” where great fruit grows. They produce more than 10 different Zins with catchy names like “Luxurious,” “Dangerous,” and “Outrageous.”
The “Mischievous” bottling is a blend of grapes from 5 different Lodi vineyards. Just a touch of Petite Sirah adds structure and complexity. It is one of their best selling Zins with most of it going to Cali retailer Total Wine.
We found the “Mischievous” to exhibit the typical sweet berry aromas typical of many Zinfandels. The mouthfeel was medium to full bodied. This dark purple wine hit our palate with a heavier hand than the Uvaggio, probably due to the significantly higher abv. The high alcohol carries a lush, mouth-coating burst of dark fruit flavors of raspberries and blackberries. A soft vanilla finish is balanced with a touch of oaky spiciness.
Uvaggio 2010 Primitivo 13.5% abv The winery name refers to the Italian term for a wine made with a blend of grapes. The Winemaker Jim Moore prefers to focus on Italian varietals, thus, choosing the Italian name “Primitivo” instead of “Zinfandel.” While Primitivo's DNA is identical to Zinfandel, Moore claims the grapes for his Primitivo mature much later and exhibit more uniformity in ripening than most Lodi Zins.
After picking fresh mulberries from our backyard tree, the aroma of those dark fruits was fresh in our minds as we nosed the Uvaggio Primitivo. Those juicy, dark berry fruit aromas carried through on the palate with also a hint of pomegranate and currant. The wine was medium bodied with a supple texture carrying through with nice and ripe blackberry flavors. It finished with a dash of black peppery spice. The Uvaggio showed zingier acidity than the heavier-handed Macchia.