Since trying the 2006 Lioco Indica Sonoma County a while back, I've been a fan of this small California producer. I was fortunate enough to hook up with founder Kevin O'Connor at the recent Taste of Beverly Hills Food and Wine Festival, presented by Food and Wine magazine.
O'Connor was formerly the wine director at Spago-Beverly Hills. He and wine importer Matt Licklider got to talking about whether or not California could produce a true "wine of origin." A number of California producers already feel they are doing just that, but O'Connor and Licklider set out to do it their way.
While pouring his creations for me, O'Connor told me of his winemaking philosophy, which is also summed up nicely on the Lioco website.
"Everything begins in the vineyard--without a compelling vineyard site, there is little chance of creating a distinctive wine. Inspired by traditional European winegrowing practices, we seek out vineyard sites with tougher soil, older vines, and some stress-producing aspect (altitude, extreme temperature, poor soil, etc). Then we simply shepherd the grapes from bud to bottle in the least intrusive way possible."
So, using wines from Burgundy and Southern France as a roadmap, O'Connor strives to produce wines with a true California identity. This means Chardonnay with no oak and Pinot Noir and red blends with limited oak effect. The mission is to let the grapes do the talking, and the grapes have plenty to say in Lioco wines.
My introduction to Lioco was a bottle of the '06 Indica Sonoma County. A blend of 87% Carignan and 13% Petite Sirah, this wine showed me a very stong blueberry aroma and flavor, with a spicy finish that mellows with breathing time. Dark undercurrents and an earthiness you'd expect from the grapes used were prominent. I thought it would pair well with merguez sausage or lamb.
At the Beverly Hills event, O'Connor proudly poured four of his wines. The '08 Sonoma Chardonnay uses no oak and has a nose full of minerality with a very clean taste and a nice, high acidity level. The Lioco '09 Carneros Chardonnay is also produced sans oak and shows even more minerals than the Sonoma. This also has a beautiful acidity and some interesting herbal notes.
Lioco's '08 Pinot Noir smells of rose petals and has a meaty, almost gamey flavor that is quite complex. The '07 version of Indica again features mostly old-vine Carignan (the amount changes from vintage to vintage), with some Grenache and Mourvedre in the mix. O'Connor calls this his "fun wine," and I have to agree. Big blueberry and cherry flavors are abetted by a wonderfully dark minerality.