How To Find The Best Lodi Wines: My Top Recommendations!

When it comes to winemaking expertise as well as wine grape diversity, it is quite difficult to beat Lodi. Thanks to both the winemakers and growers who have willingly embraced everything the region has to offer, Lodi has been a dominant force in the wine world for years.

Lodi Wine Country is situated 30 miles south of Sacramento and positioned between highways 5 and 99. It is best known for its full-bodied and remarkable Old Vine Zinfandel wines. The most diverse wine-growing region in California Lodi is also the prominent leader and far surpasses every other wine district in the state when it comes to the production of Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, and Viognier.

This area also enjoys the Mediterranean climate with cool, moist winters as well as warm, dry summers. There are five prominent wineries in Lodi and over 70 boutique wineries that are specialists in the production of small lot, handmade wines.

Despite the fact that Zinfandel remains king, several hundreds of other wine grape varieties are cultivated on more than 100,000 acres located in the Lodi American Viticultural Area with its sandy loam soils and Mediterranean climate. The soil – unlike several other appellations – varies within the American Viticultural Area as some places are covered with large rocks – which is similar to Chateauneuf du Papa, a region in France – while others are deep loam.

Are you looking for Spanish or Italian wines? Lodi makes them as well as wines produced in South Africa, France, Australia, Germany, Argentina, Portugal, and Austria.

Lodi Wines: A Brief History

Lodi AVA is an American Viticultural Area that is situated in the Central Valley of California, right at the northern edge of the San Joaquin Valley which is on the east side of San Francisco Bay. The American Viticultural Area gained approval as a designated wine-growing region back in 1986. This includes 223,000 hectares, i.e. 551,000 acres, of which 42,000 hectares, i.e. 103,000 acres, are presently planted with wine-producing grapes.

The area that was part of the AVA boundaries was later expanded by 37,800 hectares, i.e. 93,500 acres along the western and southern portions of the first AVA boundaries in San Joaquin County. Of these, 4,390 ha, i.e. 10840 acres have been planted. All of these occurred in 2002.

The designation also includes land in the southern San Joaquin County as well as in northern Sacramento County. It is bounded on the east by the political borders which are adjacent to El Dorado, Calaveras, and Amador Counties and on the west by Interstate Highway 5.

Now, the Lodi AVA has up to seven sub-AVAs, of which the most important of them all is Mokelumne River. Mokelumne is a domain or region surrounding the city of Lodi and is known (historically) to be the home to the oldest vineyards in the area. The soil in this region is so sandy that it reflects in the texture of Lodi wines by increasing their aromatic intensity, even though it also slightly reduces both color and body. Wines from this particular region – i.e. Mokelumne – still retain their boldness, but are more floral in a haunting manner.

When you travel beyond the Mokelumne River, you will come across the somewhat hilly or craggy regions of Borden Ranch, Clement Hills, and Sloughhouse. This particular area is right at the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains. Although the planting in these areas is relatively sparse, they show a lot of potential for bold, red wines. Who knows what will happen in the next few years when these sub-AVAs develop? One can only wait and see.

Sadly, the majority of the wines produced along the Mokelumne River are small productions, i.e. they are less than 100 cases. However, these 100 cases of Lodi wines are refreshingly new and incredibly different wines

According to history, the residents of Lodi have been cultivating grapes since the 1850s. This was when wild grapes were allowed to grow down from the trees that flanked the edge of the rivers in the region. One of the most prominent rivers in the area is the Calaveras River, and since it ran through the southern portion of the sea, some trappers christened the river “Wine Creek.”

Lodi is a city that is in the San Joaquin County, California and the esteemed “Zinfandel Capital of the World.” However, the vintages from this city have become somewhat less prestigious than those found in the Napa and Sonoma counties.

In the recent past, the Lodi Appellation has started to gain a lot of respect for not only its Zinfandel varietals but also other eclectic wine varietals as well as its profound sustainability under the Lodi Rules program.

Soon enough, Lodi became recognized nationally, thanks party to the Credence Clearwater Revival song “Lodi” as well as the award – i.e. “2015 Wine Region of the Year” – which was given to Lodi by Wine Enthusiast Magazine.

Lodi Wines: A Taste of its Historical Vineyards

Lodi is one of the leaders in California that is blessed with 18 historic vineyards, all of which have been listed with the Historic Vineyard Society (HVS). Seven of these vineyards have been formalized and duly registered with the Historic Vineyard Society. The validated vineyards are:

  • ZinStar
  • Katusha Vineyard
  • Stampede Vineyard
  • Mohr-Fry
  • Marian’s
  • Rous. Schmiedt

HVS, i.e. Historic Vineyard Society is a nonprofit organization that is dedicated to the preservation of distinguished ole-vine vineyards in Lodi as well as any other place in California.

For a vineyard to qualify for categorization as a “historic,” it is expected to meet the following standards:

  1. It must be a currently-producing wine vineyard in California
  2. Its original planting date must not be later than 1960
  3. At least 1/3 of existing wine-producing vines can be traced back to the initial or original planting date

So, how does this affect the average wine consumer? The thing is that some of the most exciting wines out there that are produced in California have been crafted from the grapes obtained from these historic vineyards. And this is because these gnarly, twisted vines produce low yields of grapes naturally with an intensely flavorful and concentrated character.

The following are four distinct examples of some of Lodi’s finest and oldest single-vineyard bottlings which have been crafted from “old-vine” vineyards:

  1. 2014 M2 Wines Zinfandel Old Vine Soucie Vineyard
  2. 2014 St. Amant Winery Zinfandel Old Vines Marian’s Vineyard
  3. 2015 Macchia Winery Zinfandel Generous Mohr-Fry Ranch Vineyard
  4. 2015 Fields Family Wines Cinsault, Bechthold Vineyard

You can also check out the latest Lodi Native Project Wines since many of them were produced by historic old-vine vineyards as well.

Lodi Wine Guide

The first time you drive past Lodi, the city may not look all that special to you. Of course, big brands such as Rex-Goliath Sutter Home, Woodbridge, Bronco Wine Co., etc. which make use of Lodi grapefruits in their unstimulating wines – which consist of Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, and Merlot – make Lodi their home.

However, as pointed out in the previous section, Lodi is a treasure trove of forgotten wine varieties as well as old vines. This land of aromatic, smoky red wines will greatly surprise you as modest, all-American farmers produce these alcoholic beverages!

The Wines of Lodi

One grape variety – which has been mentioned somewhat consistently in this article – that has greatly defined Lodi wine is Zinfandel. Zinfandel is not only the most widely planted non-citrus fruit in the region, but it is also primarily responsible for placing Lodi on the world map today. This means that without the exceptional thriving of Zinfandel in Lodi, perhaps it would have remained unknown till the end of time.

In the year 2000, brands like 7 Deadly Sins – owned by Michael David Winery – as well as Klinker Brick released wines that carried the Lodi AVA appellation on the label. The wines were fruity, sweet, vibrant, and relatively smoky. Wine enthusiasts fell head over heels in love with them for their bold fruit even though the winemakers did not take themselves too seriously.

Apart from zinfandel being the #1 wine in Lodi, there are myriads of other wines in the region as well. The vineyards may appear to be dominated primarily by famous wines like Pinot Gris and Chardonnay, but in reality, these are not even Lodi’s best productions.

The entire Lodi region is virtually a melting port of exceptional grape varieties. There are several scattered plantings of more than 120 different grape varieties in Lodi, and this includes very rare finds such as:

  • Picpoul Blanc
  • Aglianico
  • Nebbiolo
  • Vermentino
  • Tannat

The following are some of Lodi’s wine varieties which have shown – and continue to show – the great potential in Lodi’s warm climate and sand-dominant soils:

Red wines of Lodi

  • Garnacha
  • Graciano
  • Aglianico
  • Alicante Bouschet
  • Montepulciano
  • Nebbiolo
  • Cinsault
  • Carignan
  • Petite Sirah
  • Tannat
  • Bastardo (Trousseau)
  • Charbono (aka Bonarda)
  • Mourvèdre
  • Touriga Nacional
  • Mencía
  • Zinfandel
  • Dolcetto

White Wines of Lodi

  • Clairette
  • Kerner
  • Marsanne
  • Picpoul
  • Torrontés
  • Verdelho
  • Roussanne
  • Silvaner
  • Gutedel
  • Vermentino
  • Chenin Blanc

Do not be flustered if you do not recognize some or any of the varieties listed above. This is because the majority of Lodi’s most gratifying finds are exceedingly rare, and this is what makes the region even more fascinating.

Zinfandel’s Heroic Saving of Lodi’s Old Vines

Historians and wine lovers have attested to the fact that zinfandel heroically saved Lodi. This is how it happened:

Many of Lodi’s vineyards which were planted more than one hundred years ago, were being ripped apart in favor of the younger – and far more commercially-viable – grape varieties.

But Lodi zinfandel producers arose before it was too late and advocated wines produced from old, head-trained wines, and this uprising caught the attention of wine consumers. This was how this marketing angle saved several hundreds of old vineyards from re-planting, including the renowned, world’s oldest Cinsault.

Tasting Lodi Wines

So, what do Lodi wines taste like? Perhaps, that is what you have been wondering even before you got to this part. But a warning first: Lodi wines portray a bold fruit-forward style, and despite the fact that some of them may look pale, the aromas of Lodi wines punch full-force at your nose. Even the flavors will dance around on your palate. But all in all, it will be a pleasant experience.

Do you love Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Aussie Shiraz, Spanish Garnacha, Walla Walla Syrah, and Amarone? Perhaps you are someone that loves smokiness, fruits, bow-hunted, homemade jerky, loud concerts, etc. then Lodi wine is for you.

But then, the region is experiencing some changes these days, thanks to the innovative wine producers in Lodi. Many wine producers in the area have started experimenting with less oak and native yeast fermentations with the hope of producing more robust wines. The native ferment wines not only exhibit less oak but also give off something akin to bread and butter pickle-like aromas.

Nevertheless, these native ferment wines still retain the bold fruit that central California is known for, even if they have something else!

Alt-wine lovers will surprisingly come across these new versions of Lodi wines, and a few examples include Markus Wine Co., the Lodi Native project, Fields Family, and McCay Cellars.

Diverse Varietals from Around the World

Lodi is a red winegrowing region with about two-thirds of the land area dedicated exclusively to red varieties. Lodi is also home to every one of California’s leading varieties and has been California’s best-kept secret – as well as the leading producer – of Merlot, Zinfandel, Sauvignon Blanc, and Chardonnay. With more than one hundred varieties presently in production, Lodi offers an incredibly vast portfolio of interesting and diverse wines.

Portuguese Varieties

It is widely known that Lodi has led California in the planting of Spanish varieties – as you will soon find out later in this section – but what many don’t know is that the city is also the #1 source of Portuguese varieties for many of California’s innovative vintners.

Varieties that are deemed relatively obscure – such as Souzão, Tricadeira, Tinta Cão, Verdelho, and Touriga Nacional have found a second, natural home in the sun-drenched vineyards developed in Lodi.

The wines that these vineyards produce are incredibly delicious, each one portraying intriguing vibrant, and highly refreshing flavors which make these varietal wines worth seeking out, any time, any day.

Italian Varieties

Many Italian immigrants have not only settled in the ancient city of Lodi but have also flourished exceptionally well by establishing farms in the city. It shouldn’t come as a surprise to discover a diverse range of Italian varieties – which are well-suited for Lodi’s unique Mediterranean climate – thriving here in the vineyards.

Vermentino, Barbera, Aglianco, Teroldego, and Sangiovese are some of the varieties you will come across and taste as you journey from one Lodi winery to another. All of these wines are delicious, food-friendly wines which perfectly complement family dinners and special occasions celebrations as well.

Spanish Varieties

Graciano, Garnacha, Verdejo, Tempranillo, and Albariño are some of the highly interesting and delicious Spanish varieties that you will find growing in the Lodi region. Local winemakers have been experimenting a lot with – and even leading California viticulture – in the planting of these tasty Spanish varieties.

Today, these Spanish varietal wines are attracting critical attention from top wine critics, writers, as well as the hearts of every wine enthusiast from around the country.

German Varieties

The diverse collection of German varieties which are cultivated by Bob and Mary Lou Koth right along the lush banks of the Mokelumne River is one of Lodi’s numerous hidden secrets. That German vineyard is a perfect example and a living reminder that it takes just one man to make a difference. This is attributed to the steadfast dedication of Bob Koth and his commitment to search out and plant almost fifty obscure and unique German varieties.

This action ended up capturing the attention and interest of many vintners from Lodi as well as the surrounding wine regions. Riesling, Zweigelt, Bacchus, Dornfelder, Kerner, and Gewürztraminer are just a few of the German varieties that you will find thriving exceptionally well in Lodi.

Southern Rhone

Lodi’s relatively hot days and cool evenings are an excellent and natural match to grape varieties that originated in the Rhône region of Southern France. Viognier, Cinsault, Picpoul Blanc, Tannat, Syrah, and many others have made Lodi a home away from home, thanks to the inviting soils in the region.

These vineyards are rapidly providing the local winemakers with an overabundance of variety, thereby giving them the opportunity to craft a wide range of exciting and delicious varietal wines.

Lodi Wines: Sustainability

As a region that produces some of the best and high-valued wines in the world today, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to learn about Lodi Rules – i.e. Lodi’s sustainability initiative – which is one of the most comprehensive and all-inclusive wine sustainability certifications the nation – or the world – has seen. It is so impressive that lots of wineries operating outside of Lodi have adopted these standards themselves.

The Lodi Winegrape Commission

Lodi wines, as mentioned earlier, has started getting lots of credit, though this is not a fluke. The Lodi Winegrape Commission, which is the region’s trade group, has been advocating the gospel of Lodi wine for almost a quarter of a century now.

Nevertheless, they have moved it up a few notches in recent years using their $1.8 million budget. They have been able to organize trade events and tastings to showcase the 750 growers they represent.

And small producers – such as Fields Family, Macchia, Borra, m2, St. Amant, and McCay Cellars – have succeeded in turning this remarkable region’s diverse grape varieties and rich history into a persuasive case that Lodi wines can stand side by side with the bestselling and great wines out there.

The Lodi Native, for instance, is a cooperative project which brings half a dozen of the regions best wine producers together to rein in the real treasure of this wine region: gnarled ancient wine zinfandel. These wines are made using native yeasts and no oak at all, thereby giving room for the terroir of the old vineyards – some of which are almost a century old – to shine through effortlessly and gloriously.

Lodi Wines to Check Out

Lodi wines are restrained and gentle, most of which come with much earthiness, spice as well as other non-fruit qualities, which is highly unusual for California wine.

Therefore, here are some of the most exciting wines in Lodi:

2016 Paskett, Silvaspoons Vineyard Lodi Verdelho

There is no mistaking the fact that Lodi is the perfect environment for Verdelho. This varietal – of Portuguese origin – is the heart and soul of contemporary style white wine: steely, super-sleek, etc.

You will also perceive live-wire natural acidity, vivid perfumes – like citrus flowers, lime, and lemon balm – along with a sukoshi touch of silkiness in its texture. There are no clumsy tannins to deal with as it is 100 percent oak-free, and the airy, light feel of restrained alcohol allows the lime/lemon sensations to glide without effort across the palate.

2016 Peltier Winery, Lodi Sauvignon Blanc

When grapefruit is picked at an early stage or early enough, you will get a bone-dry Lodi white with crisp natural acidity and moderate alcohol. The winemaker – i.e. Susana Vasquez – also artfully utilizes partial skin fermentation to extract all the aromatic complexities that are intrinsic to the grapefruit.

You will discover that this Lodi white exhibits a herby-green, citrusy fruit which is highlighted exclusively by floral tropical notes. On the palate, the wine imparts a razor-sharp acid balance along with an underlying lemony crisp, silken sensations with the accuracy of a Japanese steel knife. Nevertheless, its taste is as light as Lodi-fresh air.

This wine is the perfect epitome of why many alcoholic beverage hunters and wine enthusiasts are coming around to the simple fact that Lodi’s sandy loam soils may be much more conducive to white grapes than their red counterparts.

2016 PRIE, Mokelumne Glen Vineyards Lodi Dornfelder

Most wine enthusiasts in America are not familiar with the German crossing known as “Dornfelder” which produces interestingly deep and utterly delicious, deep flavored red wines. But then, it doesn’t really make any sense to import red wines from Germany when there is so much to be enjoyed by other parts of the world?

However, all you need is one taste of PRIE’s opaque, purplish/inky-black and vivid Dornfelder – which is cultivated at Mokelumne Glen Vineyards that belongs to the Koth Family – and you will start wondering why Dornfelder is not more widely planted in various parts of the world other than Lodi.

Nonetheless, the concentrated red wine is authentically deep; it is compassionately free of oaky obstructions and highly suggestive of roasting coffee spices and blackberry jam.

Dornfelder also has a zesty, densely packed flavors carried in a medium-bodied structure, i.e. 12.7 percent ABV.

2015 Bokisch Vineyards, Terra Alta Vineyard Clements Hills – Lodi Garnacha

It is believed that Lodi’s moderate brand of Mediterranean climate openly impacts the Grenache grape, making it more conducive in the area. The Bokisch Vineyards named their wine “Garnacha” to portray the use of the clonal material which is sourced directly from Spain.

Search anywhere along the West Coast; you will not come across a more delicate, more spice pronounced, and prettier style of this particular varietal red. The exuberant nose with cherry or strawberry is tinged somewhat with cracked black pepper while restraining sweet oak lending clove/anise nuances along with the penetrating spice.

Lively, mouth-watering sensations are held up by finely rounded tannin, which allows the spiced red fruit to evolve interestingly into pomegranate-like freshness and zest.

2014 Klinker Brick, Lodi Carignane

There was a time in the ‘60s and ‘70s when the spur pruned, free-standing, and head trained Carignan enjoyed enormous productivity and prosperity. At the time, it was nearly the most widely planted wine grape in any wine-producing region across the states.

But by the time the ‘80s rolled by, Lodi growers had started pulling out Carignan land area by the hundreds, no thanks to the market demand which brought about the shift to Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc as well as other premium varieties.

But then, do you know that there was a particular reason why Carignan was cultivated in the Lodi in the first place? It was due to the fact it makes well-aromatic red wines that are beautifully balanced with a penchant for more natural acidity when compared with other grapes, but except Barbera.

This is the remarkable beauty of this particular bottling by Klinker Brick which is sourced exclusively from the east side of the Mokelumne River-Lodi block that was originally planted in 1906.

The alcoholic beverage portrays pure cherry pie-like varietal aroma as well as a strong emphasis on ravishing, strictly neutral oak. The round, fleshy, seamless fruit qualities gloss over the palate in velvet layers, thus finishing with bright, balanced, and bouncy sensations.

Without any doubt, this is what “ancient vine” or “old vine” winemaking is all about, and one of the reasons why Lodi remains exceptional in the hearts of genuine wine enthusiasts around the world.

2012 Fenestra Winery, Silvaspoons Vineyards Lodi Touriga

Even though Fenestra Winery primarily located in Livermore Valley, this winery has been assembling an extraordinary portfolio of Lodi appellation wines – over the past 15 years – crafted from the Portuguese grapes that were cultivated by Sivaspoons Vineyard’s Ron Silva. This is on top of Spanish-inspired wines which were developed by Lodi’s Bokisch Ranches.

The 2012 edition from this winery consists of – more or less – equal proportions of the uncommon, perfumey Touriga Francesca as well as legendary, potent Touriga Nacional grapes. Both were combined to produce a gloriously scented nose of flowery notes suggesting dried hibiscus, edible marigolds underscored by plummy black fruit, black pepper spice, and whiffs of tobacco.

It also portrays a robust and meaty feel which is somewhat zesty with natural acid; appealingly pliant and svelte in spite of a core or muscular tannin.

Make Lodi Your Next California Wine Adventure

In 2015, Lodi was named the “Wine Enthusiast’s Wine Region of the Year,” and for a good reason, because it has been a champion of Lodi wine for a long time now.

Vineyards have flourished in Lodi as far back as the mid-19th century, but by 1990, there are only 8 functional wineries in the Californian settlement. Wineries grew the lush grapefruits that are cultivated in Lodi in Sonoma and Napa.

However, according to a third generation viticulturalist, many growers have become wineries in a small way. They do this by creating tasting rooms on their private property. At this moment, more than 80+ wineries are flourishing brilliantly in Lodi.

So, why not make Lodi your next California adventure? Many adventurous wine enthusiasts and beverage buyers have visited this glorious land with many of them returning the following year. This was due to the fact that there was – and still is – so much to explore here: small wine producers, old vines, funky blends unbelievably varied grape varieties, natural or organic stuff, etc.

If you are still unconvinced, here are three reasons why you should add Lodi to your travel plans and places to visit this year:

1.    Lodi and Great Wine are synonymous

Do you love big red wines? Lodi is loaded with many of them. More than 30 percent of premium Zinfandel is cultivated in Lodi, California. The widely known and esteemed Old Vine Zinfandel acquires its jammy goodness from aging vines, some of which have been planted as far back as 1888.

As vines begin to age, they cannot produce as much fruit as they used to do. This is a natural process, and the result is less fruit with less concentration of flavor.

Lodi is also renowned for its incredible Cabernets, most of which are well priced compared to what you will find with Napa Cabernets. The warm days and cool nights make this varietal the perfect companion for you.

What about white wine? Do you prefer whites to reds? Lodi has got you covered as this is the home of first-class Chardonnay. So, make no mistake about it; this is the place where you can explore your palate.

There are more than 100+ wine grapes in production, and this includes Portuguese, German, and Spanish varietals. The Lodi Wine Commission is a collection of professional growers who oversee and drive the push for high quality as well as single-vineyard bottlings.

2.    Friendly Wineries

One thing that rules both day and night in Lodi is the warm hospitality and big smiles everywhere. You can visit some wineries such as Dancing Coyote wines, Peltier Winery & Vineyards, etc. though some of them may require that you fix an appointment with them before you show up on their premises.

3.    Great Hotels

If you want to be pampered silly at Lodi, especially after a planned day of wine touring, then you need to get a room at Wine & Rose Hotel. Every guest room is large, and you will have access to a luxurious onsite spa as well as Towne House Restaurant that offers regionally sourced and seasonal meals, making your stay in Lodi even more memorable.

The hotel grounds are beautiful, serene, and invite strolling, especially in the cool of the evening. You can even be entertained by talkative parrots, and a visit to The Lodi Wine & Visitor Center – complete with demonstration vineyard and tasting room – will really make your day.

4. Taste of Lodi

Taste of Lodi is a food and wine event that encourages tourism in local communities. The event usually features more than 40 Lodi wineries along with diverse food selections from some of the caterers and restaurant in the area.

The food and wine event also features chef’s demonstrations, wine seminars, live music as well as a Cigar, Port, and Chocolate Pavilion.

5. Wine and Chocolate Weekend

Wine and Chocolate Weekend is an annual event that was launched in 1997 and held every February. Wineries of the Lodi Appellation take part in this event as each of the over fifty wineries host special activities.

Tickets to the event also include a chocolate treat, a wine glass, two days of wine tasting as well as a chance to win some prizes.

6. Zinefest

Zinefest is a wine event that was conceptualized in 2005 by the Lodi Winegrape Commission. The special occasion is held at Lodi Lake and features the finest Zinfandel wines in Lodi. The event is usually held on the third week of the fifth month of every year, i.e. May, and also includes “Vintner’s Grille”, a Friday-night dinner.

Conclusion

A sense of history distinguishes Lodi from other wine regions as well as the fact that they have several winegrowing families residing in the city, each of which has a connection to the land as far back as four or five generations.

These winegrowers have taken it upon themselves to make excellent decisions for future generations, looking ahead to the next one hundred years, having gained inspiration from several old vine vineyards in the city of Lodi that has weathered a lot but still produce incredibly-tasting wine even today.

Lodi has morphed into a producer of premium wines, and even though the winescape is changing somewhat rapidly, you can still enjoy high-quality wines at amazing prices. Lodi, indeed, is a wine enthusiast’s dream come true.

Ben Holt

Ben practiced as a "Wine connoisseur" in the restaurant industry for over 2 years. He suggested, tested and educated diners on which wine would best fit their meal. Ben is also a freelance writer with over 4 years of experience. He now shares his insights on wine and wine accessories for those looking to take their love of this amazing beverage to the next level!

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