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California Love w/ Macchia Graciano // #WBC17

5 Nov

It’s that time of year. Time for my trek to the Wine Blogger’s Conference. #WBC17

But it’s actually the wrong time of year. It’s traditionally been held in the summer, which is much easier for me to attend. I was sure I would not be able to attend WBC in November because it’s always a crazy busy month for me. But somehow, I have managed to squeeze a few days to get out to Santa Rosa, visit Sonoma, and attend WBC17.

I’ve mentioned this trip to some friends.
“Sonoma?” they inquire incredulously, concerned.
“You mean where the fires were?  Didn’t they lose everything? Why would you go there?”

Just chill. Hear me out.
Sure, there was devastation from the wildfires. The Tubbs wildfire of 2017 was the third deadliest in California history, and destroyed 5% of homes in the area, 45,000 acres total, claiming 19 lives. But while everyone in the area was indeed affected by the fires, destruction was not total. As a matter of fact, most wineries had harvested their crop and expect to have 2017 wines. And what they really need right now is our support, and a little trust.

Besides, last year I was expecting to love the wines from Napa (I did, of course). I was not prepared or expecting to totally impressed by the wines of Lodi. But I sure was! I was knocked out by superb Old Vine Zinfandel, Rosé, plus German, Rhone, and Italian grapes being grown and bottled with brilliance and love by winemakers who are passionate, interesting, and fun. And they are making tremendous wines in every-day wine price points that you should be buying by the case!

So please, support Sonoma, Napa, Lodi, and all the local California AVAs! I’ll be live tasting and tweeting, and there’s always a wrap-up post from my WBC trips. But don’t forget to buy California wines and support their efforts!

Besides, California knows how to party!

Here’s a steal for you- if it’s not in your local store, you can get it direct from http://www.macchiawines.com !

 

Macchia Acampo “Gracious” Graciano 2015, Lodi, CA. ABV 14.8%, SRP $25/bottle.

 

The color is deep ruby with a dark purple center. The nose offers a sensual and spicy dark fruit mixed with African violet. On the palate: black cherry, boysenberry, and black plum. Secondary notes include rich, dark spice, tobacco leaf, forest floor, toasted oak, and sandy loam. The high ABV sears across the top palate with only medium acidity and a gentle tannic structure. Long finish with the darker edge of the purple fruit and a hint of rich earth.  

This is a wine that has a Spanish flair, tons of fruit flavor with muted acid and tannin reminding me of tempranillo, malbec and cabernet franc.  Gentle enough to work with salad and vegetables, flavor and personality enough to pair with grilled meats, and delightful by itself. Gracious, indeed! I could just sit with my nose in the glass for minutes at a time, inhaling this aroma.

Yum. I finished the bottle on Day 2, before I realized it. Damn. I had more pairings for you. I had people to share you with.  I’ll have to pick up some more.

Although Spanish is not my language, I’ll give it a go:

Se me hace agua la boca!

 

 

 

 

à votre santé!

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Harney Lane 2013 Zinfandel

18 Jun


Harney Lane 2013 Zinfandel, Lodi, CA. 15.5% ABV, MSRP $24/bottle.

There’s a backstory here. When in Lodi last summer for #WBC16, I visited this winery. I tasted their rosé, and I thought “this is really good”. But when I tasted their old vine zinfandel, I was truly blown away by the power of the beautifully made Old Vine Zin, Lizzy James.

 

 

Months later, I pull a bottle of their 2013 “house” zinfandel from my cellar, open it gently, allow it to air, and taste it. Oh yes, my Father’s Day treat to myself!  The next day I serve it to my in-laws, not telling them what the grape varietal is. The bottle is gone within the first few minutes of the meal- and my brother-in-law doesn’t believe me at first when I tell him he is drinking zinfandel, so I remind him of my trip to Lodi.

 

 

If the independent Lodi winemakers (like Harney Lane, Bokisch Vineyards, Borra Vineyards, Klinker Brick, McCay Cellars, Fields Family Wines, and Acquiesce, just to name but a few of Lodi’s standouts ) were only making fair quality wines, there would be no point- they might as well sell their fruit to the huge corporate winemakers. But in Lodi, they are making smaller quantities of superb, high quality wines- single varietals, single vineyards, custom blends, -really, whatever they choose- they are simply making the greatest wine they can, to the best of their ability. This is how they can make wines that stand out and have an impact: they have to make tremendous wines with superb value in the bottle that makes a customer go “WHOA”,  to remember that experience. In doing so, they create their own brand fanatics who want to join their wine club and drink more than a case per year.

 

I know you want the tasting notes, so without further ado:

Color is deep magenta with violet edging. The nose offers complex, mature black and blue fruit (and really, it smells of blackberry pie) followed by dark chocolate and green, leafy vegetation. On the palate: mature blueberries dominates the lower palate with a small portion of red fruit, -cassis and young raspberry- with secondary notes of mocha, pepper, and clove. Great acidity on this wine follows the fruit across the top palate, but the tannins hit from the tip of the tongue across the top palate simultaneously, making perfect closure to the sip. For the finish, notes of oak, pebbles, and sand round out the long, lusty finish with echoes of that fruit across the palate. For those who have heard my past complaints about too much alcohol in wine, I never sensed this wine as “hot”. To be completely fair, I didn’t even notice this wine was 15.5%ABV until after the bottle was finished. So I’m keeping my trap shut, as this wine rocks. I paired this beautiful zin with cold sesame noodles when I first opened it, and then served it alongside  a beef, tomato and bean chili for dinner. It will rock a steak house menu, pair easily with Italian cuisine, match up with grilled or cured meats, or handle anything that is Mediterranean in style, as well as being purely delightful on its own.

Matured 15 months in American oak, this Zin actually has 5% of syrah blended in. Given that they made 700 cases (about 28 barrels) you can still find some, but I wouldn’t wait very long to get some for the cellar.

 

 

Jorja and Kyle Lerner of Harney Lane call themselves “control freaks” when it comes to maintaining their vineyards, growing the best clusters, and picking their best fruit at the perfect time; but all you have to do is taste it and you will be convinced. Whatever they are doing, it simply works. This is a world-class wine with style, class, depth and tenacity. You’d happily pay five times the price for a wine of this quality in a steakhouse- in the under $25/bottle range, this is a no-brainer. Better yet, join their wine club, and get this wine for $19.20 per bottle!

As a final note, all Harney Lane wines are certified green under the strict “Lodi Rules” for sustainable wine growing. That might make you feel better, about being a better citizen of the planet when you buy the wine. But when you drink it, you might not care anymore. You’ll just be glad this deliciousness is in your glass. 

à votre santé!

Drinking World Wines in Toronto

14 Nov

I continue to be out of the country working on a new Broadway musical, trying Canadian wines when our production schedule allows. Wine selections at the LCBO (basically, the Canadian Liquor Store) are OK by my standards, but not stellar. I managed to find a bottle of Michael David’s Chardonnay from Lodi, here in Toronto of all places…along with many bottles of Zinfandel. That bottle made me very happy with great memories of picking viognier in the MD vineyard this past August, and I drank it and fondly recalled fun adventures with my WBC friends. 

 

Michael David Winery 2015 Chardonnay. 13.5%ABV, $23CAD/bottle from LCBO. Color is pale gold. Nose of green apple, white peach, and hibiscus flower. In the mouth, the fruit profile is a balance of golden delicious apple, honeydew melon and pineapple. Secondary notes of peach, cedar, vanilla, and clay on the medium-short finish. For me, this bottle was a delightful memory of the 2016 harvest in the MD vineyards. While I enjoyed this, I wished the LCBO had stocked the MD Viognier as well.

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This is a shot of me from the viognier harvest in the MD Vineyards.
Photo by Randy Caparoso!

 

 

Working in the entertainment industry often means very long hours and few days off. Since arriving,  I thankfully have managed to get to a couple of nice restaurants in Toronto that feature excellent wine lists that are worthy of sharing!

 

Nearby the Royal Alexandra Theatre at Byblos, the middle eastern fare is warm and inviting. Their lamb shoulder is braised for 12 hours and falls off the bone, succulent and savory, accompanied by a garlic paste, shug (a hot pepper blend) and house-made pickles and turnips, with tasty sides of rice and brussel sprouts. With the help of my trusty iphone (it’s a dark restaurant) I scanned the wine list and found an appropriate comfort wine to match the house specialty.

Chateau Musar “Hochar Père et Fils” 2011, Bekaa Valley, Lebanon. This red blend is deep garnet in color with an opulent, floral nose. On the palate, mature black plum, fig, cherry, and the distinct quality of baked fruit is met with notes of earth, leather, mocha, allspice, black pepper and cinnamon. On the dry, lengthy finish there are beautiful flourishes of oak, along with gravel and sandy limestone on the side palate.  It is a heady aroma and velvety mouthfeel, a gorgeous second wine from a brilliant winemaker. I have long been a fan of Chateau Musar, with an ’04 and a few bottles of the 2000 remaining in my cellar, and I was trepidatious at the youthful age of this bottle, but ended up being very pleasantly surprised. I thoroughly enjoyed this blend of 50% cinsault, 30% grenache, 10% carignan, and 10% cabernet sauvignon. 14% ABV, Street price avg $33 USD, (obviously not what I paid in the restaurant.)

 

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Further down King Street is a hidden gem suggested by my co-workers for having a high quality (and somewhat pricey) wine list. Buca is a northern Italian restaurant that is reknowned for savory delights and curing their own meat;  you can see examples of their delicacies hanging in a cooler as you walk down a hallway to the bar and to one of the two dining rooms. We obliged our evening hunger by ordering shared dishes, starting off with olives stuffed with sausage and fried to hot, crisp, and salted savory perfection;  hand-rolled ricotta gnocchi stuffed with taleggio cheese; carpaccio di mango; and a pizza salumi di buca- delightful, mouthwatering bites. Strongly salted meats and powerful, savory flavors beg for a tremendous wine, and the sommelier did not disappoint! A native Italian (whose name I sadly did not understand when I asked), we chatted, I inquired about some of the ‘hidden treasures’ on the wine list, and he came back with his arms full of options,  from which I selected his very last bottle of a reserve Nebbiolo- and I was very glad I did!

Ar.Pe.Pe.’s  2011 Sasella Stella-Retina Valtellina Superior Riserva, Lombardy, Italy. The color is deep ruby while the perfumed nose offers crushed rose petals and lush vegetation. This wine opened up beautifully with a bit of time in the glass to offer mature raspberry, dried cherry, and african violet. Secondary notes of vanilla, wet earth and aged leather on the finish with hints of toasted almonds, sodium, wet stone, and granite. A beautiful soft mouthfeel; feminine expression of aged fruit meets bright acidity and firm tannins. 100% Nebbiolo, 13.5% ABV, Street Price around $52 USD.

 

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The clock is ticking until my return to the USA! I still have two bottles of Canadian red wines I need to review before my time is up here in Canada. Keep an eye out, and enjoy. Life is beautiful and precious, and I hope we all see the beauty every day in our loved ones and the world around us.  -JvB

à votre santé!

 

 

2015 Nativo by Markus Wine Co, Lodi CA

22 Oct

2015 Nativo Lodi White Wine, Markus Wine Company, Borra Vineyards. Lodi California. 13.2% ABV. MSRP$18.99/bottle.

 

Pale straw in color; featuring a delicate nose with hints of lychee, gardenia and honeysuckle. On the palate, restrained white peach, lemon-lime zest, starfruit and gorgeous acidity with rigid chalk and stone on the finish. Such a subtle balance of flavors and responses without any of the oppressive heat I’ve found in great kerner wines from Europe, Markus Niggli’s white wine blend will smack you over the head with beauty, convince your mouth it is enjoying a brilliant expression of a $50+ Austrian wine, and make you open your wallet to order a case of this to enjoy whenever you simply want a really well made wine that goes with almost anything. I like this wine even more now that I first did when tasting in the vineyard in Lodi, both times I approached with low expectations and had an eye-opening experience. You will, too. Thank me later- I’m finishing this glass first. Fermented in stainless steel, using only native yeast and no malolactic fermentation, it is a blend of 52% Kerner, 29% Riesling, 15% Bacchus, 4% Gewürztraminer all grown in Lodi’s Mokelumne Glen Vineyards.

 

 

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à votre santé!

 

 

Markus Joey 2015 Insieme

22 Sep

Markus Joey 2015 Insieme, Markus Wine Company. 13% ABV, $19/bottle. Available from Borra Vineyards

 

What happens when two winemakers are friends and decide to partner on a wine? Sometimes you get a beautiful result, and here is a great one! Markus Joey Insieme is the blend of 95% Lodi, California Torrontes grapes (winemaker Markus Niggli)with 5% Lewisville, North Carolina Traminette grapes (winemaker Joey Medaloni). If you look closely at the label, you’ll see both winemakers, Markus facing West to Lodi, Joey facing East to Lewisville. But just wait until you taste what they made in the middle!

 

The color is pale straw, while the nose offers faint peach, gardenias and a hint of pineapple. On the palate: beautiful citrus, honeydew melon, and a white floral bouquet are met with a moderate body, focused minerality and strong acidity. The flavors are gentle but they linger, tantalize your palate, and challenge you to drink more.

 

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This wine is what you want to serve your oenophile and sommelier friends, because they won’t guess what it is, unless they’ve already been fooled by it. So hold on to a bottle if you can, but I can’t. It’s too delicious to cellar! I found myself reaching for the bottle of Insieme in the late afternoon and pouring myself a tiny bit to sit in the late day sun, sniff, sip, and admire. I’d love to buy a case of this but I doubt it would ever make it past the first floor of my home.

 
I paired a bottle of Insieme (which is Italian for “together”) over a two week tasting period with a cheese platter, Mexican food, Chinese food, and a Julia Childs-style braised chicken breast with new potatoes. The supple flavors, beautiful mouthfeel and delightful acidity make this sing like one of the stunning, gratuitously expensive wines from the Bavarian alps, but this wine is pure American made fruit. Its complexity allows you to enjoy it with many pairings, but I ended up preferring it all by itself, it’s just that much of a pleasure to drink and focus on. And even over two weeks(!) it stayed fresh and consistent in my fridge, thanks to the screw cap and high acidity that keep the blend in check.

 

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If I had to put this wine partnership into a mental image, I’d offer it up as Wassily Kandinsky/Jackson Pollock mesh of art styles. But trust me, you white wine lovers, you’d rather put this in your mouth and savor the flavors of partnership. This bottle offers incredible value with a reasonable price for exceptional drinking pleasure, and that’s all the reason you need to keep some on hand.

 

à votre santé!

Old Vine Barbera 2013, Borra Vineyards, Lodi

9 Sep

Borra Vineyards Old Vine Barbera 2013; Mokelumne River, Lodi, CA. 15.2%ABV, MSRP $25, available direct.

 

Color is deep ruby, while the nose offers blackberry, raspberry, red plum, and fresh cut bell pepper. The first sip and my mouth swears this is a wine from the Piedmont region of Italy. No, the label says Lodi, California. Holy smokes!

Soaring acidity matches the red and black fruit up front, a swallow renders my mouth fresh and ready for the next sip but the top and rear palate are still rejoicing in the fruit that is mature, full, and delightfully larger-than-life. A note of heat on the finish along with sand and clay. I’d swear this was a classic northern Italian wine with a decade plus age on it costing $60 or more. Your mouth will agree.

 

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I paired this over a couple of meals with Grandmother Pizza, caprese salad with balsamic reduction, and meatballs- and was in heaven with the pairing each time. Now I need to pick up a case for my friends who prefer Italian wines, for a blind tasting that will make their heads spin!

à vôtre santé!

Q&A with Followers, Sept 2016: Spain, Lodi, Lodi, & BottleShock!

8 Sep

With the Labor Day holiday, it was a very busy week on social media. Here are a couple of recent interactions from three different followers who were kind enough to let me share our conversations on this forum for JvBUnCorked: 

Q: I’m on a serious wine budget. What wines should I be buying, under $15, max $20 for a bottle?

A: That really depends on what you like to drink! You can find great value wines from all over the world- but if you aren’t drinking wines from Spain, you’re missing out on great values of delicious wines. You should be drinking Cava, Spain’s sparkling wine, and checking out wines from the regions of Rioja, Priorat, Rias Baixas, Ribera del Duero- those are just off the top of my head- and there are many more! With a couple of clicks, I quickly hit Wine.com and found 125 wines from their 90+ rated Spanish wines under $20. Many are in the $8-15 range, and I bet your local wine store carries some of them.

Pere Mata Cava

pecina-rioja

 

 

 

Q: What wines are you excited about right now?

A: I just got back from the 2016 Wine Blogger’s Conference in Lodi, CA where I was blown away by the viticulture and winemaking in that region. Get on the internet, go to Lodi Wine.com,  and check out the wineries- all the resources you need (including buying) will be at your fingertips. And for the person who asked Q#1 (above), there are some real steals in the $8-$18 range in Lodi wines!

Ok…Long Story Short: I tasted over one hundred wines at the conference and was really impressed- it’s NOT just zinfandel being grown in Lodi. They have ever 100 grape varietals being grown in Lodi, and the wines being made are simply STUNNING. Just to name a few winemakers, I was really impressed by the wines of Acquiesce Winery (all Rhône varietals), Bokisch Vineyards (Spanish Varietals), Fields Family Wines, Harney Lane Winery, Markus Wine Co (German varietals), McCay Cellars, Michael David Winery, and so many more! I hope you are finding these wines locally in your wine market, because you should be enjoying them! You can get them easily online, but ask your local wine store for them, too!

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Spend five minutes on Lodigrowers.com  and you’ll gain sincere appreciation for the AVA’s own self-imposed set of laws for sustainable certification- and you can be even more impressed when you put two and two together, of the amazing flavors and quality of the wines grown and made with sustainable, certified green winegrowing. It’s arduous and endearing work that is conscious of the local environment, the earth and atmosphere, and our children. And the resulting fruit of this hard labor tastes delicious and should be in your glass. Check out my “speed tasting” notes here (white & rosé wines) and here (red wines).

 

Q: What are you drinking these days?

A: I’m fortunate to have been able to have guests over for wine and food several times lately. I taste more than I drink, so I have a slew of assorted open bottles right now. So last week, for example, we tasted wines from France, Italy, Germany, Spain, New Zealand, and from the USA, wines from Napa, Sonoma, and Santa Barbara. I have received a shipment from Lodi that I’m very excited about opening from Markus Wine Company and Borra Vineyards, whose wines are sourced from Mokelumne Glen in Lodi- I tasted tremendous fruit in these vineyards, and Markus (below in the blue shirt) makes delicious wines.

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I had to check them out before putting them in the wine cooler, right? 

 

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Last weekend with the neighbors. Tasty! 

(Follow-Up Q): Why do you say “you’re excited about opening” the wine? Why aren’t you drinking it already?

A: Bottle shock. (Yes, like the movie with Alan Rickman, but I refer to the phenomenon, NOT the film.) Wine is a living, breathing, evolving mixture that sometimes undergoes a phenomenon called wine sickness, aka “bottle shock” when it ships. (More details in this .pdf from the North Texas Winemaker’s Organization.)

Much like the way we humans might need time to catch up and get acclimated to a new environment from travel or jet lag. Likewise, wine needs time in a dark, cold place to rest after a trip to show its proper (hopefully best possible) flavor profile and nuances. Not all wines are affected, and those that are may be affected in different ways, but past experiences have proven this and made me a firm believer. So I make sure to give wine that travels the time it may need to recuperate and be the best it can be. I store wines either in my climate-controlled cellar or in a wine cooler and allow them to rest before jumping in with the corkscrew- sometimes as long as a few months, but an absolute minimum of a couple of weeks in extreme circumstances. I always a have a queue of wines I’m tasting and reviewing, so it works out pretty well. So look for those reviews on JvBUnCorked, they’ll be coming soon.

And since I mentioned the film Bottle Shock, I have to include the trailer. Alan Rickman was tremendous in this and I was lucky to meet him. Sigh… Anyway, Enjoy, and please expand your palate- make sure you try something new when you’re looking for a bottle of wine tonight!

Did you like this post? Do you want to talk wine with JvB?

Contact me at JvBUncorked@gmail.com, or @jvbuncorked on Twitter!

à votre santé!

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