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CA State Fair rosette

By Dan Clarke

Sacramento, California June 18, 2015 - Today the California State Fair announced winners of its 2015 Commercial Wine judging. Wines selected as Best of Show in both red and white categories were made from varieties native to Spain and relatively obscure in this country. Moreover, the grapes were grown and vinified in regions obviously capable of producing great wine, though perhaps not well-known by the average consumer.

Picked as Best of Show Red was the 2012 Tempranillo from El Dorado County’s Lewis Grace (Grace Patriot) winery. Honors for Best of Show White went to the 2014 Albarino entry from Oak Farms Vineyards in the Lodi appellation.

While many “Cult Cabernets” are now priced way over $100 a bottle, 72 of the best wine judges in California chose a wine retailing at $30 as 2015’s best red wine. Though top quality Chardonnay, California’s most popular and most prestigious white wine, can approach—and even exceed—$50, those same judges declared that the $19 Oak Farms Vineyards Albarino is the best white wine of 2015.

This year's wine competition consisted of 2,881 wine entries received from 743 participating winery brands. Seventy-two judges on 18 panels awarded 57 Double Golds and 254 Golds, and the top winners showed the diversity of California wine, coming from around the state and from wineries of every size.

“California's 78,000 farms and ranches produce roughly half of all the fruits, nuts and vegetables grown in the United States; and our grape industry accounts for 90 percent of all wine consumed in America. As one of the oldest professional wine competitions in the nation, we are extremely pleased that for the second year in a row the State Fair has seen increased participation in our prestigious wine competition,” said Rick Pickering, CEO of the California State Fair. “With more than 2,800 wine entries from 700 plus wineries, the State Fair continues to be an enormous showcase of the Best of California."

The first State Fair Wine Competition was held in 1855. The competition is the oldest and one of the most prestigious wine events in the country. Top wines, including Best of Region and Best of California winners, will be featured at the State Fair in Sacramento ain the Save Mart Supermarkets Wine Garden for visitors to enjoy July 10-26.

Comprehensive information on all the winners of this year’s California State Fair Commercial Wine Competition is available here.

Editor’s Note: If you’re planning to visit the wine country of El Dorado County or of the Lodi appellation, first check out Taste California Travel’s Resource Directory. There you will find links to the websites of all the Wineries, as well as links to the websites of hundreds of nearby Lodging and Dining options.

Wednesday, 21 May 2014 00:23

Zinfest at Lodi Lake

 Zinfest PickmonkeyZinfest arrivees picked up their glasses by the lakeby Dan Clarke

 

Lodi grows about one-third of all the Zinfandel grapes in the U.S. While justly famed for its Zins, the area also produces a diverse array of other varietals. Curiously enough, it was Lodi's just-concluded Zinfest that showcased many of these wines.

Zinfest has a ten year history. The cornerstone event is an outdoor tasting held at Lodi Lake. On Saturday over 40 area wineries poured samples of their Zinfandel, of course, but many had other wines to taste, too. The festival actually is more than a one-day affair, as many wineries welcome visitors with tours and open houses on Sunday. A few wineries even arranged special dinners for the evenings preceding the big Saturday tasting. Beyond the tasting and the socializing, attendees had other diversions, as they could drop by tents devoted to the Zinfest cooking and wine schools. Separate areas were home to barbecue and barrel building demonstrations. Music was played on a main stage, and at a comfortable, outdoor piano bar. The Vintners' Regatta featured a parade of vessels made from wine barrels and “sailed” by local winemaking teams. Food was available from about a dozen local restaurants and purveyors.

Woman pouring at ZinfestBusy, but not too crowded

While the Lodi wine region has experienced huge growth in recent years, it retains a family farm and small winery feel. Many of the booths were staffed by people whose vineyards supplied grapes for the products being poured. In some cases the pourers were also the winemakers or winery owners.

Offerings at Bokisch Vineyards included a delightful white wine made from the Verdelho grape, which is grown in Lodi, of course, but is a variety native to Portugal. Another white, an Albariño, traces its ancestry to Spain, as did their two reds varieties that Bokisch poured—the Graciano and the Tempranillo. E2 Family Winery also had a Verdelho and Estate Crush, Harney Lane Winery brought their own bottlings of Albariño. Tempranillos were also offered by d'Art Wines, Harney Lane and m2 Wines.

If you wanted to venture beyond the Iberian varieties, there were several wineries whose lineup included wines made from grapes native to the Rhône Valley of France. Acquiese Winery specializes in white wines made from such grapes as Grenache Blanc, Roussanne and Viognier. H-G Vineyards also produces a Vigonier. Estate Crush makes a Cinsault. Syrahs were offered by Berghold, Klinker Brick, Kidder Family and Michael David. Petite Sirahs were available at the booths of Ironstone Vineyards, McConnell Estates, Peltier Station and Viñedos Aurora. There was even a Rhône blend made by The Dancing Fox. Their “Cote de Renard” comes from grapes grown in the Clements Hills area in the southeastern part of the Lodi Appellation. It is a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mouvèdre (sometimes called a "GSM), with the addition of 3% Viognier, a white variety.

Larry Mettler at Zinfest Larry Mettler poured Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon from Mettler Family Vineyards

Wines made from more familiar but-not-Zinfandel varieties, included Chardonnays, Pinot Grigios, Sauvignon Blancs, Barberas, Sangioveses, Cabernet Sauvignons and Merlots. Toasted Toad Cellars even brought their Primitivo.

Visiting an event named “Zinfest” and concentrating on experiencing everything but Zinfandel might seem to be missing the point. However, you can't taste everything in one afternoon and I already know that Lodi is home to greats Zins. Saturday's Zinfest and the Red & White Night that preceded it were the most recent evidences of Lodi's continuing evolution and that it deserves to be taken seriously for more than just its Zinfandel.

Editor's Note: If you're planning to visit this wine region, we suggest you check out the Central Valley section of Taste California Travel's Resource Directory. There you will find links to the websites of all the wineries, as well as links to the sites of Lodging and Dining options.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014 22:54

A Red & White Night in Lodi

Crowd Shot at AcquiesceThe evening began at Acquiesce

by Dan Clarke

When invited to an evening in Lodi billed as “Red & White Night!” I was intrigued. Two wineries, Acquiesce and Macchia, planned to put on a progressive dinner with each pouring its own wines. Macchia specializes in red wines, mostly Zinfandels. The winery produces several bottlings of Zin each vintage, each of them expressing the virtues of specific vineyards. Some years ago I served on a panel of wine writers that was charged with picking a dozen Zinfandel wines to represent Lodi. We judges worked our way though many wines in what is called a “blind tasting” (bottles covered so that we could not identify the producers). My recollection is that four or five of the Zins selected for our final dozen turned out to be Macchia wines. Obviously, winemaker Tim Holdener has a special touch with this variety and I thought any other reds he makes were also likely to be good.

I'd never heard of Acquiesce, whose wines would provide the white contribution to the event. They were fairly new and, frankly, I didn't expect much. But they had chosen to make only white wines. That was unusual enough in this area, but they were making only wines from grapes native to France's Rhône Valley. White wines—but not the ubiquitous Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio. This could get interesting.

About 60 people would be attending the red and white dinner, many of them members of the wine clubs of these wineries. Acquiesce would host the evening's first segment and winemaker Sue Tipton suggested I arrive a little early to taste her wines. All were from the 2013 vintage. They included a Grenache Blanc, a Vigonier, a Grenache Rosé and the Belle Blanc (a blend of Grenache Blanc, Roussanne and Viognier). The latter wine is Sue's version of the little-known white wine of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. All four of these wines were of surprising quality.

Guests began to gather in the Acquiesce tasting room and soon were all enjoying glasses of Belle Blanc and snacking on the goat cheese and smoked trout appetizers. Conversations were animated and an apparent good time being had by all when the word came that it was time to move on to Macchia, a couple of miles to the west. Ten minutes later we were entering the shady Macchia courtyard adjacent the winery where the rest of our evening would be spent. Ordinarily, a May event like this would be held out of doors, but temperatures reached the mid-nineties earlier in the day prompting the move to air conditioned surroundings.

Red and White Centerpiece

I was fortunate to share a table with Sue and Rodney Tipton where I found out more about these people who have charted such an innovative course. The short story is that Rodney's career necessitated they make frequent moves earlier in their married life before settling in Lodi about 15 years ago. The couple lived in many parts of the world prior to that time and along the way Sue developed a fascination with Rhone whites. Though she has made wines at home since 2003, she has been making her own versions of these white wines professionally for just three years. The Tiptons grow 12 acres of Zinfandel on their property, but those grapes go to Gallo's winery, not theirs. Two other Acquiesce wines—the Grenache Blanc and the Viognier—were paired with the first two dishes at this sit-down segment of the evening. These were followed by three courses paired with wines from Macchia—a Barbera, a Zinfandel and a Port-style wine. (see menu below)Short Rib Pairing at Red and WhiteShort Rib Pairing with Macchia "Serious" Zinfandel was brilliant

Sacramento caterer Community Tap and Table provided a creative dinner menu. The food was tasty and helped show the wines to good advantage. For me the most successful course of the evening was the beef short rib with candy carrots accompanied by Macchia 2012 “Serious” Zinfandel. It was splendid. Chef Emily Baime and both winemakers gave the diners brief background on the ingredients and preparation of each course and the wine accompanying it. Sue and Rodney Tipton, Tim and Lani Holdener and their staffs created a very cordial environment for the evening.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Red & White Night

 

Mint-Smoked Tahoe Trout Tarts with Goat Cheese-Crème Fraiche & Chives

Acquiesce Winery 2013 Belle Blanc

 

San Joaquin Spring Lettuce and Tarragon Soup with Green Apple Chip

Acquiesce Winery 2013 Grenache Blanc

 

Cauliflower Salad with Honeyed Onions and North African Olive-Harissa Dressing

Acquiesce Winery 2013 Viognier

 

“Minnestrone” Pesto Pasta with McFarland Heirloom Beans, Fingerling Potatoes and Blistered Tomatoes

Macchia 2012 “Infamous” Barbera

 

Lucky Dog Ranch Braised Beef Short Ribs with Candy Carrots

Macchia 2012 “Serious” Zinfandel

 

Decadent Chocolate Fudge Brownie “Sundae” drizzled with Port

Macchia 2011 “Dangerous” Port

 

Friday, 16 May 2014 14:04

May 16, 2014 Wine Pick of the Week

 

Belle Blanc from Acquiesce Picmonkey

2013 Belle Blanc

 

Acquiese Winery & Vineyards

Lodi

Alcohol: 13.5%

Suggested Retail: $26

 

“Lodi is known primarily for its red wines. This grapegrowing region 35 miles south of Sacramento produces outstanding Zinfandels and decent, if unspectacular, Cabernet and Merlot. Lodi also grows white grapes and many wineries in more prestigious wine regions are happy to bolster their Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc bottlings with fruit sourced from Lodi.

“But there's more to the story than that . . .

“At Acquiesence, Sue Tipton makes wines from white grape varieties native to France's Rhône Valley. Production is small, but all her wines are selling out, so she and her husband, Rodney, are about to convert more of their Lodi Zinfandel vineyard to these whites. Yesterday Taste California Travel experienced three whites and one rosé from this winery—all were excellent. Today's 'Pick' is comprised of Grenache Blanc (45%), Roussanne (45%) and Viognier (10%). It is the winemaker's homage to the relatively rare white wines of Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

“The 2013 Belle Blanc has much of the minerality and lean, racy quality of the winery's Grenache Blanc that makes it such a good food wine. However, there is a bit softer and rounder mouth feel and a lovely, though subtle, floral and spicy aroma likely contributed from the Viognier.”

Food Affinity: “Smoked trout and crème fraiche canapés, Salade Lyonnaise, salmon in almost any preparation.”

Wednesday, 16 April 2014 00:07

Winemakers Discover Lodi Natives

 

Lodi Native six wines and brochure PicmonkeyOur first tastes came at Wine & Rosesby Dan Clarke

Lodi is both an old region and a new one. Though some of its century-old vineyards are still productive, much new planting has been done in recent years Lodi is now home to between 110,000 and 120,000 planted acres of winegrapes. It produces about 40% of all the Zinfandel grown in the state.

Though maps will show Lodi just about in the middle of California's very warm Central Valley, its growing conditions belie that fact. Lodi benefits from a marine influence that travels eastward from San Francisco Bay, making its climate considerably cooler than the interior growing regions south of it.

As wine consumption in America has grown in the last couple of decades, Lodi has become a valuable resource for California's wineries, producing good quality varietal grapes at reasonable prices. However, much of each harvest has gone to large wineries outside the area, often to be blended into wines carrying the identities of more prestigious coastal regions.

Todd Maley in Wegat Vnyd PicmonkeyTodd Maley explains the nature of head-trained vines to his visitors

The Lodi region is diverse and grows more than 60 different grape varieties commercially with more planted experimentally. Two thirds of the production is reds, but the signature grape here is Zinfandel and some of those old Zin vineyards are absolute gems.

As the quality of Lodi fruit has become better known, the area has attracted artisan winemakers. At the moment there are more than 70 wineries in the area, most of them small and family operated. Many of the winemaking newcomers have sought out those old Zinfandel vineyards that are the heritage of the region.

What are the best of Lodi's Zinfandel vineyards capable of producing? At the instigation of wine writer Randy Caparoso, some of the area's best winemakers and growers put their heads together to explore that idea. After a considerable number of meetings, the group devised the “Lodi Native protocols,” which defined what the winemakers could do—or perhaps not do—in making that fruit from these vineyards into wine. The vineyards were already known to the six participating winemakers and had supplied grapes for some of their best wines. But this was about the vineyards, not the wineries. It was decided that the vinification would involve minimal intervention from the winemakers. Only the ambient (native) yeasts on the grapes would be used, no new oak would be employed, no alcohol reduction techniques, no fining, no filtering. As Caparoso put it, “the objective was to make the most vineyard-expressive wines possible.” Each winemaker agreed to make a quantity of wine in this manner from the 2012 harvest. Ultimately, 120 six-bottle cases would be made available for sale—every case containing a bottle from each of the half-dozen winemaker/grower collaborations.

St Amant Marians Vnyd bottle PicmonkeySt. Amant label shows vineyard sourceAs part of The Lodi Zinfandel Experience, a few journalists joined a larger group of Zinfandel fans to hear from the growers and the men making wine from their heritage vineyards. Visitors who gathered in the ballroom of Lodi's Wine & Roses Hotel recently had half a dozen glasses in front them, allowing tastes from the products of each of these six vineyards as it was being discussed. Later in the day attendees boarded buses to visit three of these Lodi Native vineyards, where they could again sample the wines expressing their essence while hearing about the viticultural practices from the growers themselves.

Locals speak of “West Side” and “East Side” vineyards, with the division being Highway 99, which bisects the area in a north-south line. Asked about this East-West difference, Maley Brothers winemaker Chad Joseph replied as a winemaker at first, saying vineyards to the east tend to produce fruit that is more spicy, giving clove and cinnamon qualities. In those to the west, he believes fruit tends to produce wine with more baked cherry aspects and pronounced herbal notes.

Todd Maley's family has been farming in the area since the 1850's. Our group got first hand experience at his Wegat Vineyard, which is located on the West Side. It was field-budded onto St. George rootstock by the Maley family in 1958 and was one of the three vineyards our group visited in the afternoon. There we again tasted the wine that the Wegat Vineyard has produced and got a chance to hear Todd Maley tell us more about how he farms the property while we walked among his vines.

Stuart Spencer, winemaker at St. Amant, related that he and his father started using the Mohr-Fry Ranch's Marian's Vineyard in 1999. The relationship with Bruce and Jerry Fry has been felicitous. “We had no written contract, we just worked it out,” remembered Spencer, who added, “which I think is what Lodi is all about.” The 113 year-old, eight-acre vineyard is about in the middle of the West-to-East divide, but shows more of the sandy soils typical of Lodi's East Side vineyards. Marian's Vineyard yields the more classic big Lodi cluster with big berries, he said.

Tim Holdener at Noma Vnyd PicmonkeyTim Holdener gestures toward encroaching properties

Macchia is known for producing an array of vineyard-designated bottlings and its proprietor-winemaker Tim Holdener chose the Noma Ranch to source grapes for his contribution to the Lodi Native project. The vineyard, planted in the early 1900s, is half-a-mile east of Highway 99 and is described as one of the East Side's sandiest sites. It is dry-farmed and yields only about one ton per acre on scraggly, low-lying vines, but its small Zinfandel berries provide powerful flavors. The 15-acre vineyard is becoming surrounded by commercial neighbors and, at such tiny production, doesn't return much on the ever-increasing value of the land. Its future agricultural viability may be in doubt, but for the moment the Noma vineyard remains the source of Macchia's most intensely concentrated fruit.

The six vineyards providing grapes for the 2012 Lodi Native wines are part of the heritage of this winegrowing region. It's expected that others will join these pioneering growers and winemakers and that The Lodi Native project will continue in each subsequent vintage. Stuart Spencer called the development, “very encouraging,” adding “I think we'll keep looking at it to raise the profile of the Lodi region and help tell its story.”

Editor's note: More detailed information about the Lodi Native project can be accessed at www.lodinative.com. If you're planning a visit to this growing region check out the Lodi listings in the Central Valley section of Taste California Travel's Resource Directory. There you will find links to the websites of area wineries, as well as links to Wine & Roses and other Lodging and Dining options. 

Thursday, 15 August 2013 13:46

August 9, 2013 Wine Pick of the Week

 

Loma Prieta Pinotage bottle Picmonkey

2010 Pinotage

 

 Loma Prieta Winery

Appellation: Lodi

Alcohol: 15%

Suggested Retail: $45

 

“This wine is made from a grape unknown to most consumers in the United States. Pinotage, sometimes called “the workhorse grape of South Africa,” is a cross between the more familiar Pinot Noir and Cinsault, a variety native to the Rhone growing region in France. We have tasted some South African Pinotage that we liked, but none as much as this example from Loma Prieta. It's possible that just as Malbec, a grape native to the southwest of France, finds a higher expression when grown in Argentina, South Africa's signature grape also does better elsewhere.

“Loma Prieta is a boutique winery located at the 2300-foot level in the Santa Cruz Mountains and, though they do have a small plot of Pinotage growing on the estate, our Pick of the Week was sourced from Pinotage grapes grown in the Amorosa Vineyard in Lodi. Loma Prieta proprietor Paul Kemp tells us that as far as he knows there is only about 20 acres of Pinotage growing in all of the U.S. and that his winery is the largest producer of this variety in North America.

“Paul is justifiably proud of his 2010 Pinotage, which has been awarded a platinum medal, as well as 10 gold medals. We found it powerful, yet soft and very drinkable for a wine this young. Though the label says 15%, it didn't show any of the unfortunate heat often associated with wines at this alcohol level. While not exhibiting flavors radically different from red wines made from more familiar varieties, it isn't quite like any of them, either. It's less reminiscent of red Burgundy or Pinot Noir than wines from the southern Rhone, we feel. There's plenty of berry fruit here, some coffee notes and just a bit of spice. It's a damn fine red wine and wouldn't seem out of its league if poured at a dinner where more expensive California reds were being served.”

Food Affinity: “The winery suggests 'fatty meats, like lamb or ribeye steak.' We can't disagree with those choices, but we served it with stuffed red bell peppers and thought it a delightful pairing.”

Friday, 24 May 2013 13:52

May 24, 2013 Wine Pick of the Week

 

IS Old Vine Zin NV lg Picmonkey

 2011 “Old Vine” Zinfandel

 

 Ironstone Vineyards

 Appellation: Lodi

 Alcohol: 14.5%

 Suggested Retail: $10

 

“This Ironstone wine exhibits the traditional Zinfandel personality and has a hint of the pepper that's lost in too many current big Zins. It's full, but strikes a winemaking balance between that leaner old style and the voluptuous treatment. There's a trace of residual sugar, but it stops short of the sweet, syrupy and high alcohol profile favored by some wineries whose Zinfandels tend to be blowzy caricatures of the varietal.

“This is a very appealing Zinfandel and, at $10, a great bargain. So much of what we consider the taste of wine is actually determined by the aromas that precede each sip and this wine has a wonderful nose. Take a whiff—there's lots of blueberry and blackberry qualities, with subtler aspects of ground pepper and licorice. The first sip reprises these characteristics, maybe concentrating on the blackberry component."

Food Affinity: Good choice with barbecued ribs or burgers. Also appropriate with pastas, especially those prepared with red sauces. 

Friday, 25 January 2013 22:07

December 28, 2012 Wine Pick of the Week

 

MET cab 09 bottle Picmonkey

 

2009 Cabernet Sauvignon

 

Producer: Mettler Family Vineyards

Appelleation: Lodi

Alcohol:14.5%

Suggested Retail: $24.99

 

“A big wine and an attractive one. The Lodi appellation has long held a fine reputation for Zinfandel, but Cabernets like this show the region should not be dismissed lightly when considering their other varieties. Composition is 86% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Petite Sirah, 4% Cabernet Franc and 2% Petit Verdot. We have tasted several vintages of Mettler Cabernet and this one seems the best yet.”

“Big—lots of fruit. Blueberry and plum qualities with some cedar and leather aspects.”

“More power than finesse, but a good example of the powerful, fruit-forward style at a decent price.”

Food Affinity: Many bold, red meat dishes come to mind. How about some prime rib beef bones slowly roasted in the oven or a Webber kettle?”

Sunday, 06 January 2013 02:54

April 1, 2017 Lodi Spring Wine Show

Region: Central Valley     City: Lodi     Contact: www.grapefestival.com

Region: Central Valley     City: Lodi     Contact: www.lodiwineandchocolate.com

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