Recently at the California Wine Festival in Santa Barbara, I had the opportunity to taste the wines of Lodi's Abundance Vineyards. I wasn't familiar with them before the festival's grand tasting event, but I was quite impressed with the product I sampled.
Farming Lodi soil since 1951, the Mencarini family has focused on wine grapes since 1961. The outfit is spearheaded by third-generation brothers Dino and Ron Mencarini. All their wines are estate grown and produced. Dino states his family's vision clearly: "...to give the average working person a high-quality wine for an affordable price." It's a noble endeavor, if you ask me, and it seems they are checking off both concerns nicely. Nearly all the family's wines are award-winners, and nearly the whole list comes in at under $20 per bottle. Even the winery itself is an award-winner: Visit Lodi named Abundance the winery of the year for 2010.
Wine is in their blood, and judging from the juice I tasted in Santa Barbara, it's an understatement to hear Dino say, "I have a passion for it." The very first of their wines I tried opened my eyes.
The 2007 Bountiful Blanc is 65% Symphony grapes and 35% Sauvignon Blanc. I'm not a big fan of the Symphony grape, and the pretty floral nose I encounted in this wine - although quite lovely - did nothing to convince me that things were about to change. However, the Sauvignon Blanc really takes over on the palate and helps deliver a wine that is substantially more than just a sipper.
The Abundance Reds also came as a bit of a surprise. They are mouth-puckeringly dry while still maintaining a big fruit profile and a chewy complexity.
Their 2007 Merlot has 15% Zinfandel in the mix. Zin plays at least a minor role in many of the Abundance red wines. Spicy cedar notes grace the nose while smoke and earth are all over the palate. The wine spends 17 months in French and American oak.
The 2005 Old Vine Zinfandel was one of my favorites not just on the Abundance table, but on any table at this tasting event. Dark, earthy raspberry dominates the palate of this very dry wine. The “old” fruit is 110 years old here. The “young” grapes are from 60 year-old vines. This award winner is 85% Zinfandel. Judging from the age of the vines, I would imagine the remainder is a melange of field blend grapes. This one sees 19 months in French and American oak.
Another one that really captured my fancy was the ‘05 Abundantly Rich Red. This blend is 45% Carignane, 40% Zinfandel and the rest Petite Sirah and Syrah. With 17 months in French and American oak, there’s a campfire nose to match a big, blackberry taste. Dark and earthy, it’s loaded with a strong mineral profile.
The 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon has a curve thrown into it - even the Cab has 15% Zinfandel in the blend. It’s really a different take on Cabernet. Earthy in the extreme, very, very dry and showing the influence of 19 months in those French and American oak barrels, this wine has surprisingly good fruit from the dry, sandy soil of Lodi.
The ‘05 Petite Sirah also carries some Zinfandel, but only 8%. Dark fruit on the nose meets cherry, blackberry and plum on the palate.
One delightful wine after another left me thinking that surely the other shoe had to drop at some point. The 2008 Bacio Dolce Carignane Dessert Wine. was the final taste, and it was a winner, too. A 100% varietal wine, they call this sweet drink “user friendly.” I would imagine it would be difficult to find a user who could find this one unfriendly. Plum notes abound in a setting which makes it easy to see why they named it the “sweet kiss.” At 19.5% abv, it’s a hefty drink, to be sure, but it was a fitting end to the day’s best tasting.
As I was finishing up at the Abundance tasting table, Dino was effortlessly entertaining all who appeared. Looking every bit the farmer he has been much of his life, he laughed and talked easily about his wines. When a camera crew strolled up to interview him and shoot some video, he just as effortlessly shifted gears and launched into his ready-for-prime-time TV persona. His wines may be able to speak for themselves, but as long as Dino Mencarini is around, they will never have to face the crowd alone.