Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Wine and Chocolate Lovers welcomed in Downtown Lodi

With Valentine’s Day coming up this week, the Lodi Wine Country invited Wine and Chocolate lovers to visit Lodi this past weekend of February 9-10 to sample some great wine and chocolate. And the wineries were very creative in the wines and the chocolates, including chocolate bread pudding, chocolate chili, deep fried chocolate bars, dark chocolate gravy, chocolate pizza and more in addition to plenty of brownies and candy. But the primary reason to attend was to sample the delicious full body wines that are abundant in Lodi. Zinfandels, Cabs, Tempranillo, Syrah, Ports, Italian blends and more were there to pair with these chocolates.

Lodi is a great place to visit for wine lovers. Many of the winemakers are from generations of farmers and truly know the influence of the terroir in producing grapes that succeed in making fine wines. This love of the land shines through in the great variety of wines that come from this region. Here you will find Zinfandel grapes growing on vines that are over 100 years old and younger vines of Cabernet, Chardonnay, and a wide range of Spanish and Italian varietals. The location is ideal for wine grapes with plenty of sun and the cooling influences of the delta.

While there are many wineries spread around this vast agricultural area, there are now a growing number of wineries that have established tasting rooms in delightful Downtown Lodi. This downtown appears to still be a vibrant business core with a mixture of restaurants, tasting rooms, consignment stores, theaters and plenty of free parking. Early in the morning you feel the area waking up with shopkeepers opening stores, sweeping the sidewalks and getting ready for the customers for the day.

The Dancing Fox Winery, Bakery and Eatery is a great place to start the morning. Located in a century old brick building you definitely feel you have stepped out of the real world as you enter the doors to this restaurant. Antique furniture, murals and a broad bakery display greet you as you enter. Try their delicious French toast made with their homemade cinnamon bread. Behind the Bakery and Eatery you will find their tasting room. The Lewis Family started as winemakers and added the bakery and eatery to broaden their offerings to their customers. For the Wine & Chocolate Weekend they were offering their 2009 Red Zorro, a red blend, and the 2009 Syrah.

Just beyond the Post Office is the newest tasting room in downtown Lodi, Vinedos Aurora. The Wine & Chocolate Weekend was providing an early review of their new tasting room, Pamplona Tapas, which will open up next door to Chef Larrazolo’s Alebrijes Mexican Bistro. Pamplona Tapas will not only a wine tasting room but a Tapas bar where you will be able to sample Spanish varietal wines with poco plates. This reporter can’t wait to get back to this new downtown food/wine adventure. Vinedos Aurora winemaker, Gerardo Espinosa Jr., is originally from the Michoacán area of Mexico but he and his family have been traveling back and forth from work in the San Joaquin Valley and Mexico for years. He finally moved to Lodi as a teen and went on to attain his architectural degree and is currently an architect in Stockton. He and his brothers purchased a vineyard in the late 90’s and Gerardo started making wine recently.

At the Wine & Chocolate event Gerardo was showing off his latest releases. His 2011 Albarino (second vintage of this wine) that was filled with tropical flavors and citrus that was wonderful. The 2010 Sintesis, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo and Merlot was pure delight in a glass, with abundant red fruits, the spiciness of the Tempranillo and the body of a Cab. His 2010 Petite Sirah is rich in flavors of blackberries, dark cherry and raspberry with great floral notes. The red wines were paired with a delicious Oaxacan cacao sample prepared by Chef Ruben Larrazolo.

Riaza Wines also have a new tasting room in downtown Lodi and they were drawing in many wine lovers to sample three of their latest releases of Spanish varietal wines including a 2011 Torrontes that was beautiful with flavors and aromas of apricot, honeysuckle and floral notes. It has a great body for a Torrontes. They also had the 2010 Tempranillo from Clarksburg, full of red fruit flavors, spics and tobacco. And finally they served a 2010 Tempranillo from Amador County that had a darker fruit character that was rich and full, a really luxurious Tempranillo. They were pairing them with a very tasty chorizo and chocolate stuffed dates wrapped in bacon and served with an Oaxacan sauce. Really went well with their Spanish varietal wines.

Jessie’s Grove Winery introduced their new Downtown Lodi tasting room located in the historic Ice House (which is also their barrel room). So while this is a new tasting room, it is for one of the oldest wineries in Lodi. Jessie’s Grove has been producing wines in Lodi for over 125 years but this new tasting room showed that they are up to date with wine lovers. After going through a full flight of Jessie’s Grove wines in the tasting room (including their bright 2010 Jessence Blanc Viognier-Roussanne blend, 2010 Earth Zin & Fire Zinfandel and the 2006 Westwind Old Vine Zin), we moved on to the barrel room for some barrel samples and port tasting. They served us the 2007 Sweet Indulgence (Viognier-Roussanne sweet blend with orange blossom and honeysuckle) and the Sweet Perfection Zinfandel Port Blend (dark chocolate and jam flavors).

Toasted Toad Cellars put on an excellent presentation for their visitors. Guests dropped off their Wine & Chocolate glasses and picked up large Toasted Toad Cellars glasses to work through a flight of five wines excellently paired with various foods that brought out more flavors in their wines. The 2011 Viognier Frizzante has a slight sparkling quality and excellent acidity and fruit flavors. The 2010 Viognier is a crisp wine with tropical fruit and grapefruit flavors that would be wonderful with spicy food. The Sapo Dourado is a limited release white port blended from Viognier, Verdelho and Muscat and is heavenly. Sapo Dourado is Portuguese for Golden Toad. The 2010 Zinfandel was loaded with cherry and black raspberry flavors. And the 2009 Merlot delivered red and black fruit flavors and spices with a good balance of tannins.

Other downtown Lodi wineries that should not be missed are:
  • Fields Family Wines – a small boutique winery with a great selection of wines
  • Cellar Door – wine tasting room featuring Bokisch Vineyards, Van Ruiten Family Vineyards and Michael-David Winery
  • Jeremy Wine Company – a boutique winery owned by Jeremy and Choral Trettevik
  • Lodi Wine Cellars – this wine tasting room features wines from Benson Ferry Vineyards, Vicarmont Vineyards, Heritage Oak and McCay Cellars
  • Estate Crush – a custom crush facility specializing in hand-crafted wines
  • H-G Vineyards – also known as Hansen Garbarino Vineyards features a wide range of wines
Be sure to check out Downtown Lodi during your next visit to Lodi and enjoy these many welcoming wineries in a compact area.

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