Wine Time: Lodi leaps to top of chart

December 9, 2012 

Grapes are the most abundant crop in the world. With the addition of South Dakota a few years ago, grapes are now grown, and wine is now produced in all 50 states. Of course, growing conditions vary from one place to another and different types of grapes will prosper under different conditions.

Some places, such as Napa and Sonoma, have geological and climate conditions conducive to producing good quality for a wide variety of wine grapes.

There also are places that have the proper soil and climatic conditions, and produce fine quality wines but have never received the name recommendation as have Napa and Sonoma. One of these places is Lodi, Calif., located in the San Joaquin Valley. Perhaps because just about everything grows well there, the San Joaquin Valley is commonly known as “Americas Salad Bowl.” Lodi may lack pizazz and celebrity. In fact, Credence Clearwater sang about being “stuck” there. But there are a good number of wineries that produce fine wines. Land is much less expensive in Lodi than in Napa or Sonoma. As a result you can find great values in wines from this area.

A prominent winery in Lodi that produces great wines is the Michael David Winery.

Michael and David Phillips, the namesakes of the winery, are the fifth generation of the Phillips family to have grown grapes here. The family has been prominently established in the area since the 1860s. Currently they have 650 acres of wine grape vineyards near the Mokelumne River. David was kind enough to show us around their production facilities and, over lunch, we talked about their philosophy in making and marketing their wines. They enjoy a bit of whimsy with their colorful labels, and there’s nothing shy about their winemaking style. With names like Earthquake, 7 Deadly Zins, Freakshow, and 6th Sense Syrah, you might expect their wines to be fruit forward, lush and concentrated. You’d be right! Their wines are new world. They like to harvest at maximum ripeness, which yields wines with big bold flavors. While they bottle a variety of varietals, their big, full-bodied red wines are their biggest hits.

One of their most popular offerings is their 7 Deadly Zins. It’s a blend of Zinfandel grapes from seven local vineyards, along with Petite Sirah and Petite Verdot. It’s aged in a combination of French and American oak for 12 months. It’s a well-made wine and has received high ratings. The popularity of the wine has inspired additional offerings of Zinfandel labeled: Lust; Gluttony; Sloth and Rage. These are premium wines made from select vineyards throughout California. The Lust is from Lodi, Gluttony from Amador in the Sierra Foothills, Sloth from Mendocino, and Rage from the Dry Creek valley in Sonoma.

Wine recommendations

• 6th Sense Syrah 2010, Michael David Winery, Lodi, Calif., about $18. This monster of a wine is as black as a banker’s heart. It has strong flavors of dark red fruit with notes of bacon, vanilla and nuances of spice on the finish.

• Freakshow Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Michael David winery, Lodi, Calif., about $21. This wine comes from a vineyard adjacent to the winery. It’s well balanced with soft tannins and flavors of cassis, black current and blackberry. It has a long finish with notes of toasted oak.

Rage Zinfandel 2010, Michael David Winery, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma, Calif., about $50. We really like this wine. It’s an experience. The Zinfandel comes from 45-year-old head-pruned vines. It’s blended with a little Petite Sirah to give it additional depth and texture, and aged for 18 months in a combination of French and American oak. It’s a big, big wine with pronounced aromas of dark berries and spice. It’s a deep and dark inky color, and you’ll have to sip it slowly. It’s well balanced with strong fruit flavors around a core of raspberry. Made from Sonoma fruit, it’s a bit more expensive but for the quality, it’s still a good value at this price.

Jim and Marie Oskins live on Lake Wylie in Fort Mill. Email questions about wine or wine and food pairings to winetime@comporium.net.

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