Monday, November 23, 2015

Lodi Wines: Outside The Box For Thanksgiving

Pairing wine and food is easy, but many people feel they don’t have adequate skills to select the perfect wine for a holiday feast. It can be as simple as “drink what you like,” or as difficult as you care to make it. Wine is an expansive topic, and it will take up all your extra time if you let research get just a little bit out of control.

For those who don’t have the time - or inclination - to become heavily invested in wine and food pairing minutiae for the holidays, the nice folks at the  Lodi Winegrape Commission put together a virtual tasting experience which examined a few “outside the box” wines for Thanksgiving. The social media event took place on the BrandLive platform, and I was invited to participate.

The tasting session was hosted by Stuart Spencer, owner and winemaker at St. Amant Winery and Program Manager at the Lodi Winegrape Commission, and featured Layne Montgomery, winemaker at m2 Wines,  Susan Tipton, owner and winemaker at Acquiesce Winery & Vineyards and Adam Mettler, general manager/winemaker at Michael David Winery.

The wines tasted were:

Acquiesce Winery & Vineyards Viognier 2014
Michael David Winery Symphony 2014
m2 Wines Alicante Bouschet 2013
Mettler Family Vineyards Petite Sirah 2013

These wines are available from the respective wineries, and also as a set from the Lodi Winegrape Commission’s online store. There is a special price of $80 for all four wines when purchased from LodiWine. The recipes for the pairing suggestions are also available there.



Acquiesce Winery & Vineyards Viognier 2014, paired with Roasted Butternut Squash Bisque

Susan Tipton fell in love a white Châteauneuf-du-Pape, and from that point on, she was a white wine fan. Her Acquiesce Winery produces only white wines and rosés of the Mokelumne River appellation.  Her wines are all about the grapes - handpicked and whole-cluster pressed - with no influence of oak to alter what nature has given.  The '14 Acquiesce Viognier retails for $23, carries an alcohol number of 13.5% abv and comes bottled under cork. The cuttings from which her vines started are from Tablas Creek, which originated in the vineyards of Château de Beaucastel, in the Rhône Valley. By the way, you may find it hard to throw away or recycle Tipton's pretty, French bottles.

During the virtual tasting event, @MsPullThatCork referenced the soup recipe which was paired with this wine. "We made the bisque," she tweeted. "Great roasted squash, spice, creamy flavors and texture." @Fiery01Red loved the "surprisingly vibrant acidity w/a grape that tends to be low in acidity. Very nice Viognier!" @ThisMyHappiness summed it up with, "Elegant #wine!" Couldn’t agree more.

The Acquiesce ‘14 is one nice Viognier. This is Susan Tipton's calling card. Mellow yellow gold in the glass, the wine gives a beautiful nose of apples and lemons with a floral accent. The palate is as refreshing as you would want a wine to be. Citrus-y apples, a nice savory streak and a strident acidity are a complete joy.

The roasted butternut squash bisque recommended by Lodi Winegrowers is a great match, and so is my wife’s rustic potato, carrot and cabbage soup. Peel and eat shrimp would be fantastic, as would a Cobb salad.




Michael David Winery Symphony 2014, paired with Peach Cobbler and French Vanilla Ice Cream

A true California grape, Symphony was created by UC Davis viticulturist Dr. Harold Olmo. He began the 35-year process of crossing Muscat of Alexandria and Grenache Gris in 1948. The grape was made available commercially in 1981, patented in '83. It registers a low 11% abv on the alcohol scale - Mettler says it is closer to 10% - and carries a retail sticker price of $15.

The '14 Michael David Symphony is frizzante in the glass, showing some fine bubbles around the rim. The golden color looks nice, while the nose gives up some muted apricot and lanolin notes. There is a savory aroma that cuts right down the middle. On the palate, things get kinda sweet, with apples and lemons - but the acidity is fresh and zippy. The finish brings to mind a margarita, go figure. Layne Montgomery quipped during the event that the wine "smells like Thanksgiving in a glass."

You can pair this with spicy dishes - maybe chicken enchiladas or pork in a chipotle sauce. Thai and Chinese food will also serve it well. I would like it with an anchovy Caesar salad. LodiWine likes it with peach cobbler and French vanilla ice cream.



m2 Wines Alicante Bouschet St. Jenise’s Vineyard, 2013, paired with Marinated and Smoked Paprika Grilled Pork Tenderloin

With its roots in France, the Alicante Bouschet grape was widely planted in California in the early 20th century. Winemakers loved the deep pigmentation and used it to add color to wines that appeared too thin. After Prohibition fell, the grape became less popular and it is now a novelty item in just a few California vineyards. Varietal examples that do not limit Alicante Bouschet to the status of a blending grape are pretty rare.

Montgomery explained that "the vines are only six to eight years old, but the wine drinks a lot older." On social media, @camron94 gushed, "Alicante is truly a beautiful and interesting wine that is underutilized as a stand alone varietal." Couldn’t have said it better myself. On the panel, Tipton likened the wine to "a Pinot Noir on steroids." It also reminds her of Sangiovese.

The back label indicates, "this is not a wine for the faint of heart." Robust and meaty, the wine shows only moderate alcohol, 13.7% abv and sells for $26. When asked what he tells his customers to pair with this wine, Montgomery showed his entertainer roots with a fast comeback, "Another bottle!" That’s a pretty good suggestion, too.

The '13 m2 Alicante Bouschet St. Jenise's Vineyard is as dark as dark gets. The inky indigo color does, indeed, look like it means business. On the nose, you get aromas of cassis and a fistful of spice - clove, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom and anise play into the profile. The palate shows monstrous black fruit - blackberry and plum - with plenty of spices getting plenty of play. The spicy character lasts into the finish and stays awhile.

If a rib roast is on your holiday table, this should be, too. It will pair with lamb just as nicely. The Lodi Wine folk say they like it with a smoked paprika pork chop, and now I want some of that.



Mettler Family Vineyards Petite Sirah 2013, paired with Slow Braised Beef Short Ribs on Creamy Yukon Gold Parsnip Potatoes

Back in the 19th century, French botanist François Durif had a home nursery of different grape varieties, including Peloursin and Syrah. Those two vines cross-pollinated, resulting in a grape that was named Durif, which we know today as Petite Sirah. The US government recognizes the two names as synonymous, although the grapes are technically different. In fact, it is noted that the majority of Petite Sirah plantings in California are actually Durif. It was revealed during the tasting session that the Lodi appellation is the number one producer of Petite Sirah in California.

On Twitter, @wineandgoodfood chirped, "The @MettlerWines Petite Sirah is super rich and ripe," while Montgomery threw out another one-liner:  "If purple had a flavor. this would be it." @winebratsf got all eclectic on us: "It tastes like an AC/DC velvet blanket wall hanging." Kudos, by the way, for the descriptor of the evening.

Six generations of Lodi winegrowers can all be proud of this varietal wine. The ‘13 Mettler Petite Sirah shows very dark color and very dark aromas. Black and blue fruit gets help from a savory streak full of leather, tobacco and black olives. That savory feel carries over onto the palate, which is as dark as the color and smells have advertised. This is a beautiful and complex example of Petite Sirah, sometimes fancy, sometimes rustic. It’s an elegant wine masquerading as a roughneck. It hits 15.5% abv and retails for $25.

This wine will pair well with the short ribs suggested, as it will with any type of beef dish. I would love it with a beef stew on a wintry day.



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