Lodi Wine and Visitor Center: In Love with Lodi

Lodi Wine & Visitor Center
2545 W. Turner Road, Lodi, CA 95242 (map link)
(209) 365-0621

The order of words in the name is telling. It’s not the Lodi Visitor and Wine Center. Sure, that wouldn’t roll off the tongue as smoothly as Lodi Wine and Visitor Center, but it’s more than that. The word order reflects the sequence of discovery you experience when visiting Lodi as a wine lover.

You come for the wine. Then, while you visit, Lodi reveals its many charms.

From the wonderful cottage we shared with friends to the delightful downtown, through every surrounding vineyard and tasting room, Lodi unfolded as a welcoming spot to relax and explore with loved ones and friends.

The Lodi Wine and Visitor Center is the hub of the Lodi Wine and Chocolate weekend. It’s where you pick up your wristbands and maps and any other information you might need to navigate the abundance of venues. That’s not all though – the Center is perhaps the most comprehensive wine tasting facility in all of Lodi. Their website explains that they offer tastings and sales of over 100 wines from the roughly 80 wineries in the area. On any given day they offer 8 different wines for tasting.

We tried to stop in Sunday morning, but as we approached the Center we saw a stretch Crown Vic parked at the curb and a stretch Hummer limo parked in the lot, with a shuttle bus just pulling in from the road. Taking quick advantage of California’s attitude of “anything not forbidden is permitted” we made a (perfectly legal) u-turn and went somewhere else instead. Nikki says: As I recall, we were all shouting, “Abort mission! Abort mission! Retreat!!!” as we turned. Even we have a threshold when it comes to crowds.

We managed to get back to the Center toward the end of Sunday when the crowd was refreshingly sparse. We tasted at their main bar and on the patio, and enjoyed some samples of balsamic vinegar and artisan olive oils in the lobby.

The Wines

We arrived late enough that some of the wines were gone baby gone, but you know what they say – two’s company, three’s a party.

2007 Peltier Station Viognier: Nikki was taken with the scent and flavor of orange blossoms in this aromatic wine. I appreciated how its sweetness peaked at just the right point and I enjoyed the lightly creamy mouthfeel.

2007 Campus Oaks Old Vine Zin: I had a taste of chocolate right before trying this. It was not a good choice for this wine. It had a fairly light body that I associate with a more European aesthetic, but it seemed too acidic through the chocolate aftertaste. Nikki’s notes indicate it may not have been the chocolate that made me feel this way.

2009 Wooden Nickel Petite Sirah: This one was squarely in the California pocket. Fruity and accessible, I’d call it unambitious but gregarious.

I think this is my last writeup for the Lodi trip. As Lodi got smaller in the rearview we felt satisfied but a little sad to be leaving such an endearing place. It definitely belongs on the short list if you’re contemplating a wine weekend in California.

Michael David Winery: In Love with Lodi

When we first started planning our trip, friends told us, “You’re going to Lodi? Go to Michael David.” When I called the woman we rented a house from for the weekend, she said, “Oh, and of course, you must visit Michael David while you’re here.” We posted on Facebook that we were in Lodi, and friends commented, “So, are you going to Michael David?”

As our last stop on our way out of town, we went to Michael David.

Michael David Winery

The facility is definitely set up to handle large events such as Wine and Chocolate Weekend. There’s a lawn with picnic tables, the winemaking facility in which they’d set up a temporary bar, and their usual large tasting room. We got plenty of attention from the tasting room staffer despite the crowds.

And the wines? Well, all I have to say is, “Go to Michael David.”

Okay, okay, I have more to say than that.

2009 Incognito White: This viognier/chardonnay blend smelled like orange blossoms and had a strong floral quality when tasted. It was delicate and wonderful.

2009 Seven Heavenly Chards: This wine is a blend of Chardonnay grapes from seven different vineyards. It had a milder citrus smell than I expected. The flavor was also more complex that I’d anticipated. It had a smoky, savory mineral taste, like it had been slow roasted over a wood fire. This would go well with goose, turkey or pork (says the vegetarian).

2008 Incognito Rouge: It smelled of caramelized fruit, and had a food-friendly flavor with a high alcohol finish.

2008 Seven Deadly Zins: I’ve seen this at the store many times, but didn’t know the story behind it. The grapes come from seven regional growers, and are blended together to make this zin. It had a caramel lacquer scent, and a blackberry pine flavor with a hint of brown sugar.

2008 6th Sense Syrah: This wine smelled of blackberry and strawberry with a hint of mushroom and pepper, and tasted of caramel and blueberries with leather overtones.

2008 Petite Petit: Blackberry crush flavor. I would have said more, but someone knocked into my glass. I caught the glass, but the wine went everywhere, as you can see in the photo below:

Michael David Winery

2008 Earthquake Cab: This had a fruity blackberry nose with hints of poached apple. There was something sparkly and complex about it. It tasted of tart cherries and raspberries, and had the warmth of warm sugar without being overly sweet.

2008 Earthquake Zinfandel: This was my favorite zinfandel of the weekend. It had a cranberry blackberry nose and a flavor with layers of cranberry, basil, sage and crème bruleé.

2008 Lust Reserve Zinfandel: The nose was full of pepper and oregano, reflecting the wine’s creamy, spicy finish.

2006 Zinfandel Dessert Wine: This had a sweet plum scent. The flavor was something I very much enjoy, a sugared raisin taste with no acid and almost no alcohol hit. It had an aftertaste of brown sugar.

With this tasting, we really ended our trip to Lodi on a high note.

2011-02-13 15.46.36

m2 wines: In Love with Lodi

m2 is located in an unassuming building in a business park campus. The incognito quality of their facility is in sharp contrast to the character of their wines.

Normally they might be hard to spot, but on Sunday they had their roll-up doors open and some additional shade structures set up out front. If that weren’t enough of a tip-off, there was a fair-sized collection of people carrying wine glasses mingling about which let us know we were in the right place.

m2 invited Culinary Arts students from The Art Institute of California – Sacramento to create pairings for specific m2 wines. To honor the event’s theme of “Wine and Chocolate,” each dish incorporated chocolate as well. This really set m2 apart from other wineries and made our visit there memorable. The food was all exquisite, and the chefs were on-hand to describe the ingredients they used and their inspirations for the dishes they had created. m2 provided ballots and encouraged visitors to vote for their favorite pairings, but it was just about impossible to choose one over all others because they were all unique and delicious. I was delighted to discover that the pamphlets m2 gave us going in contain the recipes for each of the food pairings.

The Pairings:

2008 Old Vine Zinfandel paired with Tomato Mousse with Basil Oil

The Zin was bold and jammy with a whole range of berry and dark cherry flavors finishing with a hint of oak. The tomato mousse was a perfect savory companion to the wine. It had bright fruity tang to it, tempered by the fragrant basil, peppery olive oil, rich chocolate shavings, and the slight bitterness of the watercress.

2008 Artist Series Zinfandel paired with Duck Confit with Chocolate Cherry m2 “Artist Series” Demi Sauce

In another example of m2 reaching out to other creatives, the labels for the Artist Series wines are created by Lodi-area artists.

The ’08 had plenty of fruit, but stopped short of being jammy. There was a welcome spiciness and just the right amount of oak. The duck confit was rich, succulent and savory. The Zinfandel, cherries and chocolate in the demi sauce gracefully bridged the savory quality of the duck to the fruit in the wine. Absolutely splendid.

Nikki adds: Maybe it’s because I didn’t get to have this with the food, but I found it to have a high-alcohol finish. I enjoyed the molé-cinnamon cherry smell.

2007 Trio Red Blend paired with Chocolate kissed Pork Tenderloin

The Trio Red, a blend of Cab, Syrah and Petite Sirah was warm and inviting, but a bit more austere with the fruit. The flavor developed nicely over time, revealing an array of berries, caramel and licorice all supported by a toasty oak foundation.

Nikki adds: This had a complex scent that included notes of sage. The taste made me think of sour oranges, with a peppery finish.

The chocolate kissed tenderloin reflected the diversity and harmony of ingredients and flavors present in the wine.

These young chefs clearly have refined palates and understand and appreciate the interplay between wine and food.

2007 Petite Sirah paired with Lamb Sliders with Bleu Cheese

My first impression of the Petite Sirah was “Cherries! Yum!” Big, assertive and exuberant. How do you create a pairing that won’t be lost or overwhelmed by such a wine? We have a perfect answer – lamb sliders topped with bleu cheese and an amazing sweet, savory marmalade that includes the Petite Sirah, dark chocolate and brown stock. The bold, meaty, rich flavors of the sliders were lively and assertive, and provided just the right power to accompany the big wine. Nikki notes: This was from the Clarksburg AVA, making our sixth AVA of the trip.

2008 Viognier Dessert Wine paired with White Chocolate Mousse with Lemon Curd

The tears I cried had notes of bitter oak when I learned we were too late to sample this food pairing. I felt a little better knowing that the wine was also paired with the next food offering.

2008 Amador County Viognier Dessert Wine paired with Milk Chocolate and Pink Peppercorn Mousse Gateau

The viognier was highly aromatic and had flavors of pear and melon. Just the right acidity provided a nice brightness. Nikki adds: First I tasted syrup, then saffron, then tangerine. I like all of those flavors, so this was a winner for me. And, since Amador County is within the defined 50-mile radius of the tasting room, we notched another AVA in our belts.

I didn’t know what to expect from a chocolate mousse with pink peppercorns, but I was delighted to discover the peppercorns provided a nice structure to the rich sweetness of the chocolate, the way that oak can provide a sense of structure to an otherwise sweet wine. The interplay between flavors I would not have thought of putting together was exquisite.

All in all I really liked m2’s approach to the event. The wines were outstanding, the food was amazing, and together they elevated my enjoyment of all the flavors being offered.

Ripken Vineyards & Winery: In Love with Lodi

Ripken Vineyards and Winery
2472 W. Sargent Road, Lodi, CA 95242

The folks at Ripken had things figured out. First of all, there was a theme – “PS – I Love You.” PS in this case stands for Petite Sirah, Ripken’s specialty. Second, they placed tasting stations all around the facility so that visitors could progress through their wines in a specific order. Despite these specific elements, the folks pouring and staffing the event were casual and easygoing, and seemed to be enjoying themselves and their guests quite a bit.
Ripken Vineyards and Winery
The tasting route took us first around the right side of the building to a tasting table for the first set of wines. Next it was on to the back of the building where there were more tasting tables, guest seating and a fire pit. The concrete patio was thoroughly enscribbled with sidewalk chalk, which visitors were encouraged to use to express their own artistic impulses. We heard rumors of S’mores, but we were there late on the last day of the weekend and I think they had run out.

Winery co-owner Richard Ripken was pouring at the table in back of the building, and he explained some of the issues and decisions grape growers and winemakers must consider in order to develop fruit with the specific flavor attributes they want. Richard’s admonition was to resist the temptation to water too early.

Proceeding from the back around to the other side of the building we encountered a table full of silly wigs, hats and novelty sunglasses that Elton John would consider garish. We learned that this was not some perverse sobriety test – the props were actually for a photo booth the staff had set up. In exchange for your email address, Ripken would send you a link to a strip of four photos featuring you and your companions in crazy get-ups. I put on a wig resembling Slash’s hair (from Guns and Roses) and was told it was an improvement over the styling of my real hair.

After photo fun it was on to the inside of the building to taste dessert wines.

The Wines

All the wines we tasted at Ripken were Petite Sirah except as noted.

2004 “Wedding Wine”: Fruity, jammy and warm with a taste of grape peel at the finish. Exuberant. Nikki says: I noticed a candied plum scent and a tangy plum taste. I also noticed that my adjectives seemed to have become limited to “prune,” “plum,” “candy” and “caramel” by this point in the day.

2005 “Wedding Wine”: Similar to the ’04 but with a hint of pepper and some cherry flavors. Nikki says: It seemed less harshly sour at the finish to me.

2004 “Rhonealicious”: Higher acidity made this lighter-bodied wine brighter, and the aclohol was more apparent.

2004 “Idyllwild Station”: I noted that it had a scent of raspberries, then when I reached for the glass for a second taste it was empty! I’m going to have to get Nikki to share her thoughts on this wine here. Nikki says: Ally my notebook says is “Chocolate coated plum scent.” On the bright side I’d found a fifth adjective; on the down side, I had no tasting notes.

2005 “Rhonealicious”: Definite notes of cherries and raspberries with a warm character. Nikki says: I tasted tart blackberries, like blackberries taste when they aren’t quite ripe.

2007 “Rhonealicious”: This wine is 5% Tannat and 5% Malbec. It’s jammy and fruity with berry flavors, and just enough spiciness on the finish.

2008 Petite Sirah: This double-gold winner was intense with fruit flavor, nicely balanced with the alcohol.

2008 Late Harvest Viognier Dessert Wine: A beautiful creamy mouthfeel. Grapefruit in the aroma but less so on the tongue. Rich, caramel-butter finish. Nikki says: My notes say “CANDY CANDY YUMMY CANDY! I WANT MORE!” As you may have noticed, I liked it.

2005 Port: Cherries, wood, alcohol and licorice make this a dessert wine that demands to be taken seriously.

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)

Vicarmont Vineyards and Winery: In Love with Lodi

Vicarmont Vineyards and Winery
16475 N Locust Tree Rd. Lodi, CA 95240 (map link)
(209) 481-3386

So by this time, two members of our party were tipsy and one had hit palate fatigue (I’ll leave our audience to do the math on that one), which left me as the Last Palate Standing. It was a heavy burden to bear, made lighter by the spectacular wood-fired pizza Vicarmont was serving as part of Lodi Wine and Chocolates.

Before we pulled in, both the Douchenberg (a stretch limo loaded with way-too-slick folks) and Thomas the Tanked Engine (a mini-bus loaded with way-too-drunk folks) had arrived. We quailed in fear — well, those of us who weren’t tipsy quailed in fear — but the owner of Vicarmont had set up great crowd flow for the event.


One of the two tasting areas at Vicarmont. Notice how it’s not a mob scene? Despite the two clown-car-packed vehicles that pulled up just before we arrived? Yeah, that’s some crowd control.

Though there was quite a crowd, the two tasting bars were set up at some distance from each other, one in the barn and the other on the patio. The jeweler and the sweets vendor attracted attention, but not so much that motion-clogging crowds formed. Apparently, the bar setup was an afterthought. When the man running the show wheeled by (we assume he was owner Vic Mettler, but we’ve been wrong before), he told us he’d switched where the bars were located at the last minute. Good choice! It really improved our enjoyment of the venue and the day.

2008 Sauvignon Blanc: Enjoyably drinkable, tasting of grapefruit and minerals and clementines.

2009 Eclectic Pink Rosé: If you think that white zinfandel is too sweet and traditional rosé is too dry, then you’ve found your wine right here. It had a cotton candy smell and a taste that found the sweet spot, no pun intended, between Beringer white zinfandel and snooty rosé. If you have a friend you’re lookin’ to wean off the sugary stuff and on to real wine (you know who you are), this is the wine to do it with.

2007 Merlot: Cinnamon and pepper nose, and peppery on the palate. According to Gross Out Wine, which has a much more detailed review, the 2008 rendition is available at Grocery Outlet for $5. Cheap at twice the price, I say.

2008 Zinfandel: The nose on this was simultaneously sweet and savory, like a steak with a jammy glaze. It was tangy and peppery on the tongue; very enjoyable.

Clements Ridge: In Love with Lodi

Clements Ridge was a little farther out than the other tasting rooms we visited, but it was well worth the trip both for the wines and the beautiful tree-lined drive with views of the Snow-capped Sierras.

At first we weren’t sure we were pulling into the right place. Clements Ridge is a family-run produce market, with an attached tasting room. Once we saw the banners proclaiming “Wine Tasting” we knew that we were in the right place.

Clements Ridge
Nikki: "I'm styling your hair with my mind."

The wine room at Clements Ridge reps several local wine labels. To accommodate the higher traffic the Wine and Chocolate event would bring, they had set up tasting stations for a couple of the wineries in the front outdoor seating area. A variety of noshes were offered on tables just inside the main store.

The main distinguishing feature that made Clements Ridge a must-visit was that they were going to be pouring some German-style wines. Wine regions often focus on a pretty specific style of wine – in Lodi it’s Zinfandel, in Monterey it’s Rhone-style wines – so when someone’s doing something different like German or Spanish style wines it’s a nice addition to the roster.

The Wines

Nikki has some great notes/thoughts about the wines we tasted, so when she’s off work I’m going to strong-arm her into adding them to this post. For the time being, you’re stuck with me.

We started our tasting with Mokelumne Glen (www.mokelumneglen.com), the winery offering the German varieties. They also offered a sampling of German sausage bites which paired well with some of the wines.

Gewurtztraminer: This is my kind of white wine. Very fragrant fruit-and-floral nose, which continues on into the flavor. Notes of pear and peach under a soft floral perfume. Nikki adds: I also tasted the pear, and a hint of grapefruit, plus a little Granny Smith apple. This would make a great summer wine.

Kerner: The lighter, less fruity cousin of the Gewurtztraminer. I think I would have appreciated the Kerner more if I had tried it before the Gewurtztraminer, but because I had it after the Gewurtz it seemed a bit like a toned-down version of that wine. Nikki adds: I tasted Granny Smith and sweet pineapple, so it seemed plenty fruity to me!

Zweigelt: This is a red wine that opens with fruit and closes with tannins. The tannins seem to get harder at the end. I don’t prefer a wine like this as a sipping wine, but I think it would be great with rich-flavored foods.

Dornfelder: Another red. A bit of ash in the aroma. The flavor is marked with notes of ash, earth and tobacco. More accessible than that description might imply – it’s a stately, well-balanced wine. Nikki adds: I think I was hitting palate fatigue here, because it seemed very astringent to me.

We then moved on to the offerings of Costamagna (they do not appear to have a website). Nikki adds: They don’t, but some digging reveals that the Costamagna family own a grape and cherry farm and a company called Delta Packing that sells said fruit. I’m going to see if I can learn more.

Clements Hills
Thoughts, l-r: "I'm hot." "What's up with the hair?" "Dude, seriously." "Yeah, he's mine."

Chardonnay (missed the vintage on this one): Light fruit at the beginning which develops a cascade of butter, caramel, and pink bubble gum. I was pleased to taste such a layered wine – much of what we had been tasting was delicious but lacking in complexity. This was a welcome exception. Nikki adds: I called this a “candy Chard.” It is very easy drinking, and has everything that Mike describes and more.

2008 Barrel-Aged Zinfandel: Fruity, almost jammy with blackberry developing into a rich flavor backed by soft tannins. Nikki says: There was a candied taste to this that I quite liked.

2004 Barrel-Aged Cabernet Sauvignon: Cherries, ash, tannins over a nice warmth. A bit more formal than the Zin. Nikki adds: It smelled like sugar candy in an oak forest and tasted like a candy-coated acorn. Or maybe what a candy-coated acorn would taste like to a deer, because an actual candy-coated acorn would be pretty gross.

Port (Oops, didn’t note the vintage): Unexpected developments on the tongue! It opens with sweet fruit, then crescendos to tannins which then clear to reveal even more fruit, this time with hints of chocolate. It’s like a dessert wine that has its own dessert at the end. Nikki adds: Sweet and tart, but not like a sweet tart. It reminded me of chocolate-covered blackberries.

After Costamagna we moved into the wine room proper and enjoyed the wines of Gatos Locos Winery. They also do not appear to have their own website. More information is available at the Clements Ridge website.

Clements Hills
Carissa and Kevin taking advantage of the photo-studio-quality wall treatment in the tasting room

2007 Chardonnay: A sweet hit of pineapple melting into butter. Nikki adds: This Mokelumne River wine was fermented in stainless steel. It was fruity and enjoyable, with a hint of caramel at the end.

2006 Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir: Tannins up front fade to reveal a richness that has fruit, but is not jammy.

2007 Clements Hills Syrah: Earthy, ashy hints which I enjoyed. Also had a faint taste of fresh-baked bread. Nikki adds: And our third appellation of the trip!

2007 Mokelumne River Zinfandel: This one just hit my palate wrong, and I’m not sure why. I got a taste of plastic up front which then cleared to reveal fruit, then the flavor just dropped off. I’d like to give this a try again sometime to see if it makes a different impression. Nikki adds: This hit my palate right. It smelled of chocolate and cinnamon and tasted of grape, tomato and molé.

Stealth Syrah: We called this Stealth Syrah because it came from an unlabeled bottle. It was essentially a barrel-tasting of a wine slated for release in the summer of 2011. It was dark and velvety despite its youth, and should develop into a real palate-pleaser.

Clements Hills
Debbie, rockin' the winery hat, poured the Gatos Locos wines for us.