The annual Zinfest Wine Festival at Lodi Lake Park should be on the calendar of wine fans everywhere. Zinfest provides an excellent opportunity to taste wines produced in the Lodi AVA (American Viticultural Area) by its greater than 80 wineries. It is worthwhile to consider this opportunity because Lodi is turning out some exciting wines.
As the name suggests, plenty of Zinfandel flows at Zinfest. Plenty of other wine varietals are also poured. Lodi is the self-proclaimed Zinfandel Capital of the World. Although Lodi has been involved in grapes in one way or another since the 1850s, Zinfandel has played a significant role there for a long time. Numerous old vine Zins are currently produced in the Lodi AVA. Old vines being grapevines well on their way towards the century mark, with some surpassing that milestone.
The unique style of Lodi Zin is characterized by intense flavors of red fruit accompanied by a silky texture. This uniqueness comes from Lodi’s terroir. The classic Mediterranean climate, the fine sandy loam soil bordering the Mokelumne River where most old Zin vines are planted, and the un-grafted, un-trellised grapevines all play a role Lodi Zin.
But let’s pause right here. For sure, Zinfandel is an important player in Lodi’s winegrowing, but it is only one part of what Lodi has to offer in the way of wine. Lodi has seven distinct appellations that grow grapes and produce wine. Soils are diverse with two major rivers, the Mokelumne and Cosumnes, transporting granitic-based minerals from the Sierra Nevada mountains into Lodi soils. Each sub-appellation imparts different characteristics to its wines.
Lodi’s fortuitous mélange of attributes does not stop there either. The cool nights in the Lodi AVA, assisted by the marine influence from the Sacramento–San Joaquin River Delta (California Delta), help preserve the acid in the grapes. This gives Lodi wines freshness, better food pairing potential, and an energetic quality.
These days Lodi offers a wide array of wines vinified from esoteric mix of grapes, many of which are indigenous to, or historically planted in top European wine locals. A number of these grape types have origins in Spain or Portugal, such as Albariño, Veldello, Granacha, Tempranillo, and Graziano. Others come from France’s Rhone Valley such as Viognier, Marsan, Rousanne, and Syrah. There are many, many more in Lodi. Some of the wines produced from these numerous grapes are less often found in the market place, at least in the USA. Wines made from a number of these grapes made an appearance at the Zinfest, which provides an opportunity to make or continue an acquaintance with them.
The Zinfest took place Saturday, May 14. The tents of wineries and other providers were strung out around most of Lodi Lake. Free shuttles were available as well as smaller fee-based carriages to circumnavigate the lake. For those enjoying exercise like me, walking was the way to go. Another nicety was the large amount of shade available from lake shore trees. Winery booths were covered with canopies, so too much sun was not an issue.
Driving into Lodi on Turner Road finds the Lodi Wine & Visitor Center. Questions about the area can be answered there, and a winery map is available. The Visitor Center also features a large and stylish tasting bar. Although Lodi has seen significant grape and wine activity since the mid 19th Century, much is happening today such as the 2016 Wine Bloggers Conference in August.
My tasting notes
91, Chardonnay, Jessie’s Grove Winery, Lodi, 2014.
This pale-straw colored Chardonnay by Jessie’s Grove was produced with estate fruit and received time in American oak. The aroma offers sweet white flowers, while the complex flavor profile includes almonds, bright citrus, and melon. This medium-light bodied wine shows a notable suppleness, and the acid level provides exciting freshness and lift. The persistent finish delivers intense notes of anise. A fine effort!
90, Zinfandel, St. Sophia, 2012
Pretty ruby with orange. This medium-full-bodied wine fills the glass with pungent aromas of wild berries. The rich fruit yields intense flavors of red berries with tangy mulberries. Smoothly textured, the ripe tannins lend structure, and the wine finishes long.
90, Van Ruiten Family Winery, Pinot Grigio, Lodi, 2015
The aroma of this nicely balanced white is of dry grass, while the fruit is round and sweet on the mid-palate. A notable vein of acid runs through providing contrasting brightness and focus on this well made wine, and the fruit laden finish persists.
89, Van Ruiten Family Winery, Chardonnay, Lodi, 2015
Very pale gold in color. Demonstrates very good overall balance and is overly forward or over-oaked, but rather is a very nicely-drinking wine. Quite an inviting wine with an acid level that gives notable freshness.