The Whites (and a Rosé) of Lodi

Six Lodi wine bottles
The lineup for Snooth’s tasting of Lodi wines included a rose, two whites and three reds, but no Zinfandel

I recently sampled six wines from Lodi, California, for the latest Snooth “virtual tasting.” And not one of them was a Zinfandel!

If you have any knowledge of the wine industry, you are probably aware that Zinfandel is quintessentially Lodi, and that it is the “State Grape” of California. However, it’s not the most fashionable grape, even though many beautiful examples, especially those from old vines, come from this region.

I’ve always thought that Lodi is a red-wine-only region. It does in fact produce a great deal of the red-wine grapes that go into “California”-labeled wines. But the area is putting out some beautiful, crisp, aromatic whites, mostly of Rhone varieties, which is putting Lodi on the map as a quality white wine region.

The Virtual Setup

A virtual tasting involves having wines shipped directly to participants, who can then sample them in the comfort of their own office or home, and interact in a live, on-line presentation. It’s great fun, and also quite informative, as the panel is comprised of industry experts. In this case, the moderator was author, speaker, consultant, and TV host Leslie Sbrocco, and the two panelists were Stuart Spencer, Executive Director of LodiWine, and Adam Mettler, winemaker at Michael David Winery and Mettler Family Vineyards.

Another advantage of the virtual tasting is that it’s a great way to taste wines you might not otherwise come across (thank you Snooth!), even if you work in one of the best wine shops in the world, which I do. This is especially true when the wines are from an up-and-coming quality wine area like Lodi, where many of the wineries are small, family-run, artisan, and cutting edge.

I’ve visited Lodi wine region only once, when I attended the Wine Blogger’s Conference (renamed the Wine Media Conference) in 2016, just after it had been named Wine Region of the Year by Wine Enthusiast magazine. I was under the assumption that I’d find vast flat vineyards producing Zinfandel by the tankful, and that’s about it. What I did not expect was a region with varying geography, climate, and grape varieties. I was also blown away by the enthusiasm and integrity of the multiple small- and medium-sized wineries I visited.

The Wines

The LodiWines virtual tasting consisted of six wines: one rosé, two whites, and three reds. I’m going to focus here on the rosé and the whites, as they demonstrated the most to me about Lodi as a region that’s capable of producing more than Zin:

2018 ‘Ingénue’ from Acquiesce Winery
This is a beautiful Rhone white blend of 35% Grenache Blanc, 20% Bourboulenc, and 10% Picpoul Blanc. Grown in the cooler climate Lodi Mokelumne River AVA, this wine shows the amazing potential for white wines in this region, with good acidity, a nice floral nose, and a delicacy that pleases the palate. It also has a mouth-coating weightiness to it, which I expect from any Rhone-style white. Owners Susan and Rodney Tipton set their sights on being an all-white winery, a bold move when they started 10 years ago, but I think it’s paid off for them. The vines for this wine are Tablas Creek cuttings (I consider them the best producer of Rhone varieties in California, by the way), originally from Chateau de Beaucastel in Chateauneuf-du-Pape in the Southern Rhone Valley in France. ‘Ingenue’ is a stunner. It’s being released in July and will be priced at $32.

2018 Vermentino from M2 Wines 
This is another wine from the Mokelumne River AVA, showing that Vermentino, a grape that originated in Italy (or Greece or France, where it’ called “Rolle”  — origins are always debatable!) is well-suited to the soils and Mediterranean climate of this AVA. This $20 wine is a lively, crisp, aromatic wine with citrus notes and a touch of minerality. At just 12.3% alcohol, I envision drinking many glasses of this on a warrm sunny afternoon in my backyard.

2018 Aglianico Rosé from LangeTwins Family Winery 
This wine got to me … in a very good way. I’m not a huge lover of the Italian red grape Aglianico, as it can be a bit too aggressive for my palate. It’s a big, bold, powerful grape, indigenous to the Campania region of southern Italy. It usually requires years of aging before it mellows out. But from LangeTwins of Lodi, and crafted into a luscious Rosé, I’ve found an Aglianico that I can get on board with. My palate was filled with strawberries, in fact I think this wines tastes like a vinous version of strawberry shortcake. It’s got a lovely mouth coating quality, balanced with fresh fruity and pleasing acidity. At $20 per bottle, it’s priced right too.

Final Notes on Lodi

Here are some things I learned from the panelists about Lodi:
  • The 2018 vintage in Lodi was good, with very long, even ripening with no high peaks, plus good sugar levels and high volumes. This bodes well for a region that’s “giving Paso Robles a run for it’s money,” according to one participant at the virtual tasting.
  • With more than 85 wineries (compared to just 8 in 2000) Lodi is a hip, fun place for new wine makers, and the land is also more affordable than in other wine regions of California.
  • There are currently seven AVAs, which produce 20% of the total premium wines in California and 40% of the premium Zinfandels.
  • Lodi and its AVAs are strongly influenced by the San Francisco Bay, with all the rivers in the Sacramento Delta draining into it. The cooling winds off the bay are brought into Lodi AVAs via the gap in the mountain ranges, cooling the entire Delta area, creating a suitable growing environment for Mediterranean whites.
  • Kerner is another white grape showing great promise in the area.
After tasting the “Whites of Lodi,” I plan to explore the area further to see what other gems I can discovery.
Until next time,