Lodi is no Napa Valley. Hell, it's not even Sonoma County or the Central Coast when it comes to possessing a strong reputation for good wine. Yet Lodi is experiencing a sort of winemaking rebirth, fueled by families who have owned old zinfandel vines for up to a century and have opened up their vineyards recently to produce some solid, affordable offerings.
So Wineau and a group of close friends figured it was time to check out some Lodi zins. At Berkeley Bowl, we found three for right around $10 or less — a 2007 Flying Winemaker Zinfandel ($10.99), a 2008 Ironstone Old Vine Zinfandel ($11.50), and a 2005 Talus Lodi Zinfandel ($6.95).
Situated on the eastern shore of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, Lodi enjoys cool, moist air that resembles a Mediterranean climate. It's more suitable for zinfandels than the hotter northern and southern areas of the Delta. The area's sandy alluvial soil also turns out to a good match for zinfandel vines. In 1986, the Lodi appellation became an official American Viticulture Area.
Owned by Cameron Hughes, the 2007 Flying Winemaker Zinfandel comes from vineyards that include vines that are 100 years old. This wine sports an unassuming nose with scents of berries. And it leaves a sweet, fruity, mellow taste on the palate. This is a smooth, simple wine, and was the favorite in our group. One of us, however, found it to be a bit too lacking in complexity. Over all, we gave it a six on a scale of one to ten, with ten being the highest.
Our second favorite was the Ironstone. Although based in the Sierra Foothills, this zinfandel comes from Lodi vines that are 45 years old and is aged in French Oak. Ironstone has become known for using organic materials and cover crops in order to limit the need for pesticides. The winery also places owl and wood duck boxes around the vineyards to help preserve the surrounding habitat.
In short, we really wanted to like this wine. And we enjoyed its fragrant scent of berries, but unfortunately we found its nose contained a tinge too much alcohol, leaving it with an almost antiseptic smell. The flavor exuded hints of spice and plums, and although the tannic aftertaste mellowed after the wine had a chance to breathe, this zin still left a resin-like substance on the tongue. We gave it a four.
And finally, our least favorite was the Talus. Its nose smelled of berries, licorice, and cinnamon. But it's an exceedingly mild-tasting wine, bordering on the bland. It's not worth buying, even at the cheap price of $6.95. For a few dollars more, the Flying Winemaker is far superior. We gave the Talus a two.
The eastern section of the Delta is experiencing a zinfandel renaissance, and its inexpensive wine helps explain why.
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