Lodi Wine Cellars: In Love with Lodi

Lodi Wine Cellars is a team effort by several local winemakers, who have joined together to create a comfortable space at which they can all sell their wines. When we walked in, one of the winemakers was kicked back on a sofa in the corner, watching the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am on the big screen TV in the corner. Funny, since we’d just fled the crowds at the epicenter of the AT&T in order to come to Lodi!

Lodi Wine Cellars

That’s my purse under the bar. Winemakers and boyfriend, please note: I will love you a lot more if you put purse hooks under the bar.

McKay Cellars

McKay Cellars had a table set up at the back exclusively for tasting their wines. Our first sampling was an A/B test – at least that’s what I, being a geek, would call it. Others might call it “The Zin Challenge.” We were offered two different versions of the 2008 Equity Zin, and told to vote as to which one we liked.

Equity Zin #2 had a hint of soda pop on the nose, and was loaded with tasty cherries, berries and a savoy umami flavor when tasted.

Equity Zin #3 was less sweet but still had a fruity nose. It was still ripe with cherries and berries, but had a few more tannins.

I can’t actually remember which one I voted for, but I do remember that our party was split right down the middle and canceled each others’ votes out.

2007 Truluck’s Zinfandel: This wine got a double gold and the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. It smells of sweet grapes and has a fruity flavor, but with a complex, scotch-like finish.

Benson Ferry

Our group next sauntered over to the bar (see photo above) to sample wines from the other winery tasting at Lodi Wine Cellars, Benson Ferry. Benson Ferry also had a great painting on the wall and banners with their labels hanging from the ceiling.

2008 Chardonnay: This was a very citrus-y, mineral-y chardonnay. Very easy drinking. Mike noted that it had a burst of pineapple.

2009 Pinot Noir: This smells like something that Jules on Cougar Town would drink (raise your hand if you teared up at the death of Big Joe!). Its scent was loaded with prunes, pepper and cinnamon. The flavor was full, too, and “just darn tasty,” I wrote in my notes. It wasn’t too fruity nor too astringent, just 100% easy drinking.

2004 Shiraz: It smelled like caramelized plums and tasted like a savory braised plum creme brulee.

2006 93240 Old Vine Zinfandel: This Benson Ferry sublabel had a powdery raisin scent and a syrupy fruit and honey flavor. According to the tasting room staffer, it’s their most popular wine. I liked it, but it was not my favorite of the group.

2008 Benson Ferry Old Vine Zinfandel: This had a tart cherry scent and a flavor that was a mix of sweet cherries, brown sugar and toasted oak.

2006 9 x 9 Zinfandel: In case you haven’t caught on yet, Lodi less than threes Zinfandel (as the kids are saying nowadays). Or perhaps the reverse. Either way, this zinfandel had a ripe candy cherry scent. It tasted of robust fruit, but there didn’t seem to be many layers to it.

Port: This had a musky warm brown sugar and plum juice scent and a plum pudding sauce taste.

Grands Amis Winery: In Love with Lodi

We’d planned to hit the wineries hard at 10am, but what with cleaning up our rented house and packing the car, we didn’t hit the road until 11am. After a few false starts, we headed to the Lodi Wine and Visitors Center, only to see the Douchenberg, the Jersey Short Bus and Thomas the Tanked Engine all pull up at the same time. “Abort! Abort!” Mike shouted, pulling a quick U-turn.

And thus…we arrived at Grands Amis.

Grands Amis Winery

Grands Amis was a pleasant place to start the day. It’s tucked into a little brick one-story office building, with a cozy setting and friendly staff.  It’s clearly geared toward fewer people than were there with us, but the staff handled it with aplomb, even taking a photo break (see above).

After two days of tasting, I felt in need of a wine critic’s thesaurus. My adjectives are weak and redundant and whimpering after far too much use.

2009 Pinot Grigio: It tasted of mineral and citrus with a little earth. A refreshing way to wash the coffee aftertaste out of my mouth.

2009 Chardonnay: This wine was also citrus with a mineral edge. It was a blend of stainless and barrel aged wine, which gave it a nice softness. Also, it was a Borden Ranch AVA wine, which gave us yet another appellaiton!

2008 Merlot: This wine smelled of rich cherries and had a fruit-forward flavor backed by oak.

2007 Old Vine Zinfandel: This enjoyable wine smelled like a wine perfume and tasted like it had been caramelized.

2006 Zinfandel: This had a musky scent, with a flavor of tart cherries and raisins.

2008 Barbera: The musk scent was even heavier with this one, with a gamy meaty taste.

2008 Premiere Passion: This smelled like lightly candied plums. The flavor was astringent and oaky with a hint of currants.

2007 Petite Sirah: As soon as Mike put his nose into the glass, he said, “That smells nice!” It had a juicy raisin smell with a taste of sweet plums and prunes and a moment of candy on the finish. And one more AVA added – the Jahant AVA!

2006 Petite Sirah: This had a complex scent. Mike said, “It’s almost like there’s a little toasted sugar in the nose.”

Port: This smelled like nectarine and clementines as well as grapes. It was so sugary that it seemed like the sugars were precipitating out, giving the wine a powdered sugar texture. There was a burst of high alcohol at the finish.

D’Art Wines: In Love with Lodi

There was still a half hour left before tasting hours concluded. Carissa demanded port. And I wasn’t willing to give up on tasting just yet. So we pulled up at a winery that came highly recommended by many sources, including the owner of the house we were renting (more on that later), D’Art Wines.

D’Art Wines is both a play on the word “art” and on the name of the owners, Dave and Helen Dart. The tasting room itself is very spacious, but not quite enough for the crowds that were thronging it. The tasting room staff looked weary, but kept smiles on their faces as they served the last several hundred stragglers.

Clearly I, too, had hit the limits of my endurance; I never once broke out my mobile phone to photograph our experience at this tasting room. I thought I would have palate fatigue at this point, but these excellent wines cut through and made me realize there was something worth noticing. It’s definitely a spot to revisit, and not just for the photo ops.

2009 Garnacha: It smelled like chocolate frosting and tasted creamy and deep, like a tart Red Velvet cake with a hint of cinnamon.

2009 Tempranillo: Earthy spicy scent and fruity spicy flavor. This is the sort of wine that Mike loves, but by this time he was far too palate-fatigued to be a good judge. Someday I’ll bring him back so he can taste it again.

2007 Cabernet Sauvignon: This smelled of intense fruit and spice. It had deep, rich fruit on the palate as well.

2008 Cabernet Sauvignon: Our tasting room pourer said, “This is bolder, chewier and more fruit forward.” I noticed a scent like perfume and a musky fruity taste.

Dog Day Red: The website describes this wine as “a pure mutt.” We saw the adorable dog that appears on the label running through the tasting room as we sipped this. It had the exact scent that you’d subtly spray around an LA wine store to make visitors want to buy. It was dry enough to drink with steak but sweet enough to have with cheese, or maybe even certain desserts. But there’s an even better candidate for dessert…

Port: This was what port should be. There was no bitter edge on the finish. It was all just smooth, sweet pleasure.

We were lucky enough to get some barrel tastings after the port, but all the wine must have gone to my head, because I put my notebook away and just enjoyed the wine. Sorry, loyal readers (all two of you), but you’ll just have to imagine what those barrel tastings were like.

Klinker Brick Winery: In Love with Lodi

Friends: still tipsy, but willing to start throwing down again. Mike: still Mr. Palate Fatigue. Me: at the winery tasting room I’d most wanted to taste from, on what was apparently its first day open ever. Clearly, from the crowd, a quarter of the people attending Lodi Wine and Chocolates Weekend felt the same way about Klinker Brick.

Klinker Brick
It looks less crowded than it was because everyone's out of frame at the cheese table

My palate by now was getting a bit overextended, but I wasn’t going to let a silly thing like that stop me. Fortunately, Klinker Brick had brought in an outrageously good cheese maker to offer samples at the event, so my whimpering taste buds got a chance to restore themselves with something not made of grapes. Thus fortified, I was able to make some scant notes on what I tasted.

2008 Farrah Syrah: It smelled of cherries and plums, tasted like plums and raspberries, and got a “yum” from me — quite an accomplishment at this point in the day!

2008 Old Vine Zinfandel: Even the palate-fatigued Mike said “mmm” when he smelled this. I can’t blame him – it smelled of sun dried tomatoes and pepperoni. It tasted like cherries and pepper, with some cinnamon on the finish. It would be great both for a classy party and to go with takeout pizza. Of course, all my classy parties involve takeout pizza, so I may be biased. (Mokelumne River appellation.)

2008 Old Ghost: The vines these grapes are sourced from are just three years shy of being termed “ancient.” There was nothing ghostly about the flavor – it tasted of syrup and pepper. (Mokelumne River appellation.)

After our tasting, we got an unsuspecting member of the crowd to take our photo.

Klinker Brick
Left to right: Kevin, Carissa, me and Mike (happily ignorant of his terrible hair)