"Oh, Lord, Stuck in Lodi Again..."

Stan Bliden

                When John Fogerty, lead singer of the famed 60’s Rock and Roll band Credence Clearwater Revival, wrote those lyrics, he must have been making a pronouncement on their wine.  I can imagine a flannel-clad Fogerty, hung over and dripping in sweat (from the combination of the famed heat of Lodi and the shirt, no doubt), cursing the drinkability of those lovely Lodi wines made from  Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Sirah, and of course, Zinfandel.  However, that story couldn’t be further from the truth;  Fogerty never even visited Lodi before 1969 and picked the town because it  had “ the coolest sounding name.”   Nonetheless, as art mimics life, this song hit it right on the head, and many wine drinkers, like myself, are stuck “on” Lodi (the wines of, that is).

                Lodi is located 100 miles directly east of San Francisco in the San Joaquin Valley.  It is the birthplace of A&W Root Beer and the home of the wine superpower Robert Mondavi’s Woodbridge label.  In fact, it was here that Mondavi was raised, after his Italian immigrant parents decided to relocate from the perpetually cold tundra of Minnesota.  The Mondavis might have been seeking the warmer climate that makes this a great winemaking area.  The weather is steadily hot and dry in the summer and cool and moist in the winter.  But dry heat is not the only factor that makes this area great for growing those big bold red varietals – it’s also its location at the edge of the Sacramento River Delta, which provides Pacific Ocean breezes that cool the grapes at night.

Despite its notoriety as a jug wine capital, in recent years it has become a home to many quality producers of big bold reds at not-so-big-and-bold prices.  Sure there are some boutiques that are producing wines with big price tags, but for the most part they are reasonable, even in this economy.  Zinfandel is really the prize of the appellation, producing flavors of black pepper, spice, raisins, cocoa nibs, and big lush fruit with great acidity and a big alcohol backbone (14-16%).  Petit Sirah, a hybrid of Syrah and Peloursin, is used for blending, mostly with Zinfandel, however, by itself,  it makes very dark, fruit forward, well balanced and sturdily tannic wines that are extremely unique and have quite a cult following.   Cabernet Sauvignon also does really well in Lodi’s dry heat and cool breeze, and a few Rhone rangers come out of this area, as Syrah and Grenache are particularly suited for the weather and soil.

When looking for value and quality, look no further than Michael and David Phillips Winery.  These guys are responsible for the Windmill, 7 Deadly Zins, and Earthquake wines.  The first two are moderately priced Zins that always satisfy, and the latter makes huge Zin, Petit Sirah, Cab, and Syrah that can be laid down or enjoyed now.  Van Ruiten Family vineyards also make a couple of neat wines that are starting to find their way to the market.  Overall these bold fruit forward wines are very friendly and please an array of drinkers.

In Vino Veritas…

Van Ruiten Family Vineyards Glory Days Zinfandel & Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 $9.99
Great introduction wines to Lodi under ten bucks, they are both big with tons of fruit, good viscosity and acid backbone.

Windmill Zinfandel 2007 $13.99
The Windmill brand is Michael David Winery’s value line. They produce pretty good Cabernet and Chardonnay as well.  This Zin has good dark fruit, a little bit of chocolate and a hint of vanilla.
Michael and David Winery 7 Deadly Zins 2007 $17.99
This wine has a cult following, and many in the cult are young people.  It’s made with grapes from 7 great growers in the Lodi Appellation and has flavors of blueberry, cocoa nibs, blackberry and subtle creamy vanilla.  An excellent buy for less than twenty dollars.

Earthquake Petit Sirah 2006 $27.99
If you want to try serious Petit, look no further.  Deeply extracted with flavors and aromas of blackberry, blueberry, graphite, and licorice.  The silky-sweet tannins will keep this one great ten years from now. Their Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Zinfandel are also excellent.
90 pts Wine Advocate, Robert Parker



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