Archive for the ‘Lodi’ Category

Vino con Brio – 59

Sunday, April 3rd, 2005

Vcb_sign_1Vino con Brio was my last stop on my day’s journey to Lodi. With barely six wineries under my belt for this region, I am already looking forward to heading back. Vino con Brio is a little more remotely located than some of the previous posts, but no less charming as it is also the location of Amoraso Inn & Gardens. Approaching the tasting room, there are four adjacent rooms across some charming landscaped gardens. The tasting room is small but charming with a few barstools available for tasting.

Vcb_bottles_1NV Amorosa Sparkling Wine – Stinky and harsh. Sadly undrinkable although my friend who travel led with me this day seemed to enjoy it. $12.99

2003 Sauvignon Blanc – Aged in 100% French oak, this dark golden offering is bright and fruity. Acidic mid-palate with a grassy, mineral finish. $15.99

Vcb_bldg_12003 Pinot Grigio – With 10% Viognier. Engaging and warm with floral aromas. Both fruit and mineral qualities appear in the mouth feel that is layered with a long, creamy finish. $15.99

2002 Viognier – Sweet, floral bouquet enters the mouth with kiwi and green apple flavors. More mineral qualities on the finish. $16.99

2001 Pinotage – There are only ten wineries in the U.S. growing this grape more known from South African producers. Very bright and engaging, cherry and raspberry appears as part of the bouquet and initial taste. The mouthfeel also provides some hints of orange peel as the exciting, fruity mid-palate smooths out to an even, complex finish. $19.99

2001 Sangiovese – Explosion of raspberry candy subsides a bit to reveal some grassy aromas. Acidic and tannic, the fruit continues but in a rather sharp way. $15.99

2001 Syrah – Tight qualities in the nose of mineral, herbal, and green vegetable. Thin and vegetal in the entry with some fruit, but not quite enough. $15.99

2002 Vibrante Red Blend – A blend of 72.5% Syrah, 22.5% Mourvedre, 3% Grenache, and 2% Petite Sirah. Fabulously exciting aromas of cinnamon combined with dark chocolate-covered cherries. The candyshop essences continue into a petulant mouth feel of cocoa, dark cherry, and a spicy, engaging finish. $15.99

2001 Old Vine Zinfandel
– I’m wondering how long this bottle was open as the characteristics were decidedly oxidized. Thin flavors and aromas of mushrooms and truffles in a long, earthy finish. $21.00

Vino con Brio ~ 12479 Locke Road ~ Lockeford ~ CA ~ 888-410-VINO

Michael-David Vineyards – 58

Saturday, April 2nd, 2005

Michael_david_signMichael-David Vineyards is a bit of an oddity in Lodi in that it resides in a building complex which includes not only a winery tasting room, but a roadside market and restaurant. I actually stumbled across Michael-David in the simple act of stopping for lunch — but found so much more.

Michael_david_bldgThe restaurant offers substantial fare including burgers, monster salads, and pretty fabulous soups (I recommend the Chicken Tortilla). In front of the building there were holding pens of baby chicks and baby lop-eared bunnies, both being sold for Easter.

Michael_david_marketThe market has country-style munchie fare including gourmet crackers, condiments, and baked goods. A word on the baked goods — a large cabinet contains freshly-baked pies of exceptional quality. I went home with a Peach Boysenberry pie but a small, freestanding freezer sits nearby and pre-made, ready-to-bake frozen pies are also available. The market includes a small fruit and vegetable fridge which, during my visit, supplied amazingly inexpensive, baby white asparagus (for MY Easter dinner).

Michael_david_tasting_barSo, when you first walk into the buildling, on your far left you see the cafe, in the middle lies the market, and on the far right is the tasting bar for the winery. At first it seems sort of odd, but the tasting bar is extremely communal and lively with guests roaming between tasting wines, shopping, and perusing the menu. Many consumers have come across Michael-David’s 7 Deadly Zins, but I certainly didn’t realize the extent of the additional varietals that is produced by this Lodi winery:

2003 7 Heavenly Chards - Distinct crips green apple and apricot aromas easily predict the buttery mouth entry. Balanced, acidic mid-palate. $17.00

2004 Incognito Viognier – Overtly floral tones which segue to creamy, peach tones. Tangy flavors start to entice but some sharp, harsh acidic notes disappoint on the finish. $19.50

2001 Chenin Blanc
– Very crisp and bright. A sweet, wet entry produces tropical flavors that are thin on the finish. $3.99

2003 Incognito Rouge – A blend of Syrah, Petite Verdot, Carignane, and Mourvedre. Excitingly mineral and herbal tones which are great fun. I didn’t care for the green bell pepper on the mouth entry which was initially thin, but blossomed to a more full, fruitier finish. $19.50

2002 Merlot – Thin, asparagus smells. Somewhat of a cheap cherry taste that is pale and thin with no finish whatsoever. $20.00

2003 7 Deadly Zins – Bright ruby color. Clove and cinnamon with plummy aromas. The spicy tastes which enter blossom and engages. Very nice, spicy finish. $17.00

2003 6th Sense Syrah – Perfumy qualities reminiscent of a dimestore quickly (and thankfully) subsides to produce elegant dried floral amoras. Dried cherry flavors with a dry mid-palate. Did I mention how dry it was? $17.00

2002 Earthquake Syrah – Port-like aromas with concentrated, chocolate-covered cherry qualities. More chocolate cherry in the flavors with a tight finish. Would benefit from decanting. $25.00

2000 Late Harvest Viognier - A golden yellow color anticipates a honeysuckle bouquet which quickly dimishes to show overtly ripe (almost moldy) stone fruit. Thin apricot flavors are immediately overwhelmed with floral qualities which almost seem artificial. $9.00

Michael-David Vineyards ~ 4580 West Highway 12 ~ Lodi ~ CA ~ 888-707-WINE

Van Ruiten Vineyards – 57

Thursday, March 31st, 2005

Van_ruiten_signAcross the board, what I began to discover during my Lodi excursion is that more than a few decently-produced wines are being made on par with those in Napa and Sonoma. However, the price points of these wines tend to be considerably lower. It is thus that I present my findings on Van Ruiten Vineyards.

Van_ruiten_himself_1One of the many great experiences I am discovering about Lodi which has
thus far been remarkably different from "the bigger valleys," is the
propensity of the winery owners to be extremely accessible. Of the six
wineries I visited in one day, I met the owners of half of them. There
is no pretension whatsoever as even in his most crowded tasting room,
John Van Ruiten wandered in just to say hello…

Van_ruitan_bldgThe history is an intriguing one; John Van Ruiten arrived in Lodi from
Denmark just over fifty years ago after World War II and planted
Zinfandel grapes but it took those fifty years before Van Ruiten was
able to build his winery which was constructed just before the 2000 harvest. In general, the architecture, decor, and presentation of Van Ruiten is such that if it were to be plucked from its roadside location and place it against a small hillside in Sonoma, it would be right at home. But first you would have to double the price of the wines…

Van_ruiten_tasting_room2002 Sauvignon Blanc, Lake County – Classic bright, fruit-forward offering with grapefruit and melon qualities. Mellowed a bit in that 50% of the wine saw some American oak. Pretty decent wine for $10.00

2002 Vioginer
– Sweetened honeysuckle and distinct rose petal aromas do not prepare for the creamy apricot and tropical fruit flavors. $10.00

2002 Reserve Chardonnay – 40% of this wine was stored in French oak. Classic butterscotch bouquet gives way to a more elegant apricot. Surprising lemon peel finish punctuates with a bright note. $12.00

2001 Reserve Syrah – An opaque, magenta purple wine which is full-bodied and plummy. Enticingly spicy with a finish that was a tad hot with alcohol. Great flavors suggests that cellaring for five years would diminish the alcohol and expand the lovely spice. $12.00

2001 Cab-Shiraz Blend – 52% Cabernet and 48% Shiraz, an upfront aroma of jalapeno and green bell pepper did not anticipate the mouth entry of plummy dark fruit. A mid-palate of red cherry complements the secondary spicy notes. A surprisingly velvety finish. $15.00

2001 Cabernet Sauvignon – More green bell pepper aromas also demonstrated earthy, green notes. 22 months in French oak provided some darker rich tannins in the black cherry mouthfeel. $15.00

2002 Petite Sirah – Layered, earthy bouquet also provided enticing floral notes and a hint of green herb. Exciting and concentrated, spiced include allspice and clove with a long, fabulous finish of oak, vanilla, and more dark cherry. What a great deal for the price! $18.00

2001 "Old Vine" Zinfandel - From 54-year old vines. Hues of cherry with hints of coffee. A very smooth, rich entry into the mouth with a port-like mid-palate. Full and rich, a touch of licorice on the finish. $18.00

2002 Late Harvest Zinfandel Reserve – Intense and concentrated dark fruit flavors including black raspberry, black berry, and black cherry. Touches of BBQ meat with a sweet, meaty finish. $20.00

Van Ruiten Family Winery ~ 340 West Highway 12 ~ Lodi ~ CA ~ 95242 ~ 209-334-5722

Borra Family Winery – 56

Wednesday, March 30th, 2005

Borro_signContinuing the Lodi adventure and figuratively throwing a dart at the Lodi map, Borra Family Winery was next on the excursion. Well, maybe when I asked Tim Spence of St. Amant where I should go next, he hemmed and hawed a bit, not wanting to speculate on any of his competitors and neighbors. I pestered a bit and both he and Ernie spoke highly of Borra’s Fusion… Finding Borra was considerably easier than finding St. Amant as it lies on a main road and is clearly marked.

Borra_bldgThe tasting room is relatively small, however, in a separate building adjacent to the rest of the facilities. It is beautifully decorated with a variety of items for sale that enhance its charm; furniture, clothing, and jewelry. There is a great deal of natural light that comes in the building, which at best holds 16 or 18 people.

Borra_tasting_roomI had some difficulties with some of the presentation which I am reluctant to describe, only because I don’t like to complain. I was a tad disturbed that the pours were almost too small to get adequate tasting notes; to the tune of less than half-an-ounce. It was nice, though, that a large tasting crackers and chocolate was set up. So often a wine is enhanced with various food pairings and having both sweet and savory choices was warm and inviting.

Borra_tasting_barI found it odd that after each pour, the hostess immediately put a VacuVin into the bottle and proceeded to pump out the air. This with a roomful of people, not an empty tasting room where the bottle won’t be opened again for hours. I can see that Borra is highly regarded – in the short time I was there, several large groups worked their way into the room, bringing friends and comrades to share their delight. I just wish I had been as delighted and will go back another time to see if it was simply an off day.

2002 Borra Viognier, Gill Creek Ranch – Grassy and surprisingly sweet. Bright and metallic, I was surprised to learn the wine had seen some oak. Green grass finish. $16.00

2003 Chardonnay, Gill Creek Ranch – Concentrated apricot bouquet with a creamy entry. Tight, mineral finish. $16.00

2002 Merlot, Gill Creek Ranch – Overtly jammy blackberry and cherry aromas. Warm and rich with a layered, berry jam finish. Did I mention how jammy it was? $16.00

2003 Zinfandel, Gill Creek Ranch
– Hot, hot aromas. Thin and metallic in the mouth with a wimpy, acidic finish. Unknown price.

2003 Fusion – An interesting blend of 46% Syrah, 38% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Merlot, and 8% Zinfandel. Enticing berry and cocoa bouquet. Fresh red cherry with layers of herbal qualities that tease. Thinner finish that I would have anticipated. $16.00

2002 Barbera, Carru’ Vineyard Ranch
– Hospital, medicinal aromas
sadly overwhelm in nose and mouth entry. Some cherry in the bright,
acidic mid-palate with more Band-Aid on the finish. $16.00

Borra Family Winery ~ 1301 East Armstrong Road ~ Lodi ~ CA ~ 95242 ~ 209-368-2446

St. Amant Winery – 55

Tuesday, March 29th, 2005

St_amant_openingI owe the discovery of St. Amant Winery (sorry, no website link) to Derrick of An Obsession With Food.  When I told him I was heading out to Lodi to blog, he recommended I get in touch with Tim Spencer, owner, winemaker, and chief cook-and-bottle-washer of St. Amant. Don’t confuse this St. Amant with the same winery in Louisiana with the same name; they are completely winery. Also, I’ll confess up front, of the six or seven wineries I visited in Lodi during my first excursion, St. Amant was my favorite stop.

St_amant_warehouseCompletely unpretentious, the "winery" is housed in an industrial complex near the edge of town. You have to make an appointment as there is no fancy building, no wine-related decorations, and no grapevine-bedecked clothing to be had. Entering the warehouse, don’t be put off by the plastic chairs around the fold-up table or the plank of wood atop a few barrels as the tasting bar. None of that matters when you taste the wine and when you meet Tim.

St_amant_timIn the wine business for over 33 years, Tim Spencer had no intention of owning a winery. His family had been farming in Lodi and Amador since the 1800’s and in 1972, he planted grapes which he sold. After one of the wineries he sold to went bankrupt, he decided he could just as easily utilize the grapes himself, have the fun of making wine, an go bankrupt himself. Not only did he not go bankrupt, he has travelled the globe lecturing on California winery practices, planted extensive European varietals, and has established himself as the first California Vintner to be honored by the French government with the title "Honorary Frenchman for a Day."

Earnie_dosioOne of the wonderful things about hanging out with such icons in the industry, are the additional characters that you meet in passing. In the hour or so I was tasting wines with Tim, Ernie Dosio stopped in "just to hang out." Dosio runs Pacific Agrilands, a vineyard management company. What is so special about that? Tim let me in a little secret — Ernie manages somewhere close to 55,000 acres of wine-making agriculture (mostly for E&J Gallo). I think that is very, very cool.

St_amant_tim_with_bottlesYou can tell that I think pretty highly of St. Amant and I imagine telling you about the wine will help. Part of it is the grapes. Along with the stalwart Lodi standard, Zinfandel, Tim Spencer grows a number of Portuguese and Spanish grapes which he feels are better suited to the warmer climate of the West Sierra Foothills. As the proof is in the pudding, it was tasting these wines that blew me away – amazing quality wines at stunningly low prices. Being used to paying $50 for a concentrated, inky Zin, I could barely contain my glee at finding wines at less than half that cost!

2004 Verdelho – Grown in Amador and bottled only a week before it was opened for me, this is a Portuguese white grape I had never tasted before. It produced bright, grassy aromas with hints of green apple. The perfumey and enticing notes segued into the mouth with a tantazling green honey sensation with a creamy finish. Outstanding at $15.00

2003 Mohr-Fry Ranchers Lodi Zinfandel – From old vines planted in 1944, this dark, inky red exhibits jammy tones of plum, raisin, and fig. There is a hint of earthiness that opens up with swirling. The port-like entry is concentrated, thick, and rich with an extended ripe and chewy finish. A lovely fruit bomb. $18.00

2003 Marian’s Vineyard Zinfandel – These vines were planted in 1901 and produce an almost blackish/purply wine. Plummy and elegant, with a sweet essence of chocolate and blackberry. Rich, but heightened with a tangy mid-palate that is bright and engaging with a spicy, hedonistic finish. $24.00

2003 Tempranillo, Amador – I’ve never seen such an inky-dark Tempranillo before. This wine is Syrah-like with its bright cherry bouquet and even, smooth entry. A tobacco and balanced tannic mid-palate give way to a mineral finish. As dark as it is, the aromas and dry, even tannins are incredibly balanced. $18.00

Veno Do Sol – The first time this wine was made, this is a white Port made with fortified Verdelho grapes from 67-year old vines. Surprising that a clear, golden-colored wine produces sweet, red apple scents (I might have anticipated GREEN apple, but not RED apple!) While the entry is honey and sweet, it is not syrupy whatsoever, but crisp with a floral finish. $18.00

Here is where my admiration for Tim Spencer grew, for both his red Port offerings were produced from a blend of the five classic Port-wine grapes; Touriga, Tinta Cao, Alvarelhao, Souzao, and Tinta Roriz. He keeps the varietals separate and evaluates the lots to determine which blend of each grapes goes into his two Ports:

2002 Bootleg Port – Complex clove and dark fruit. Inky color with cocoa and lighter chocolate offerings. Engaging and complex, for those times when I like drinking a young, über-rich Port. $18.00

2003 St. Amant Vintage Port – Over-the-top opulent. First fruit, then herbs, then some sweetness but very accessible. Chocolate-covered cherries that keeps going with an intensely smooth mouth feel. I’m going to hold onto this bottle for ten or 15 years. $30.00

St. Amant Winery ~ One Winemaster Way ~ Lodi ~ CA ~ 95240 ~ 209-367-0646