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Stuck in Lodi again

Old vine zinfandel: Joel Peterson, the “godfather of zin”, with chef Rob Rainford

Back in 1970 I used to crank up my stereo and listen to Creedence Clearwater Revival sing Stuck in Lodi Again.

What a great song, but I did not have the faintest idea what or where Lodi was and certainly had no knowledge of a vine called zinfandel, or that some of them surrounding this town were at least 101 years old. Original plantings go back to 1850.

Fast forward to the late Seventies and I have left the structured business world of IBM and find myself and my lovely new companion in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco.

It is one of the first of our many wine journeys together and we are staying in Spreckles, an old mansion that Graham Nash of Crosby, Stills and Nash converted to a bed-and-breakfast; I have a memory of them driving up in their very large Rolls-Royce.

We were only 84 miles west of Lodi and by now I was understanding the joys of zinfandel.

The Hope family has this to say about their Candor Zinfandel Lot 7: “Wine is so good that is it doesn’t need a frilly umbrella or a fancy cherry. Wine speaks for itself and stands on its own. It’s with this in mind that we bring you Candor, a zinfandel of reliable character and exceptional quality.

“It takes courage to break the rules and do what you know to be right; courage to buck the trends and venture out on your own. Candour Zinfandel does just that by sourcing old vine Lodi fruit to produce a complex wine with a strong backbone and a youthful vibrancy.

“The Candor grapes come from a fourth generation family vineyard in Lodi, California, one of the most highly regarded regions for zinfandel in the state.”

Two rivers have deposited soils rich in minerals that add distinctive flavours to the wines of Lodi. It sits directly in the path of the cool coastal breeze influence which imparts excellent colour and intense fruit flavours in the finished wines.

Candour is made in “lots” as the family feels that they produce a wine more consistent and more to their style by using fruit from various years (rather like the champagne producers).

As the definition of candour is frankness, openness and honesty I feel compelled to share something with you. This is a lovely wine, just perfect for outdoor cookouts, but we have rather more than we would like in stock. We have therefore lowered the price from $25.80 to just $18.90 a bottle.

Of course, “the godfather of Zin”, Joel Peterson of Ravenswood Winery, would have to offer at least one of his creations from Lodi and we have his 2015 Lodi Old Vine Zinfandel. The sandy soils force the vine’s roots to push deep to find water and nutrients, and the warm days and early ripening lead to a soft and very fruit-driven wine.

Dark magenta, brilliant and deep, full aromas of blueberries, black plums, vanilla and cocoa with a hint of Lodi tarragon and, according to the winemaker, “acidity so balanced that it could walk a tightrope”. The blend is 79 per cent zinfandel, 20 per cent petit sirah and 1 per cent alicante bouchet. $20.95.

I would like to leave Lodi and head north to Sonoma for our last zinfandel as it is from the winery that originally taught me about the sheer enjoyment of fine zinfandel. In fact, it was only last week that I was tempted to open one of my last bottles of Dry Creek from the 1970s — but it will sit at a comfortable 60 degrees for a little longer.

Dry Creek Vineyard 2015 Heritage Vines Sonoma County Zinfandel is a result of an experimental project initiated in 1982 to preserve the tradition and “heritage” of old zinfandel vineyards.

Cuttings from a pre-Prohibition Era vineyard were provided for grafting onto phylloxera-resistant rootstock. Then, for several years, the Dry Creek team worked diligently to screen and propagate virus-free vines that would ultimately produce a crop.

Finally, in 1997, the process concluded with a “young vine” wine with “old vine” zinfandel characteristics, reminiscent of turn of the century heirloom vines. Today, Heritage Vines Zinfandel represents the standard for delicious, well-balanced zinfandel from Sonoma.

Heritage Old Vines 2015 is a blend of 79 per cent zinfandel, 20 per cent petite sirah and 1 per cent carignane.

The vintage presents enticing aromatics of raspberries, cherry and a hint of toast and black pepper. On the palate, brambly flavours of ripe boysenberry and spicy dark chocolate come forward.

The wine is complex, with bright acidity complemented by notes of berry syrup and mocha. The tannins are silky and smooth to lend a round, rich mouthfeel.

From start to finish, this remarkable wine offers refreshing acidity paired with excellent structure. The Wine Spectator rates it 92/100 and feels that it is ready to drink now but will be enjoyable until 2026. $25.60.

Whether you call it primitivo (Italy), crlijenak kastelanski (Hungary) or — as the Americans have called it — zinfandel, please enjoy this scrumptious wine.

This column is an advertorial for Burrows Lightbourn Ltd. E-mail mrobinson@bll.bm or 295-0176. Burrows Lightbourn has stores in Hamilton (Front Street East, 295-1554), Paget (Harbour Road, 236-0355) and St George’s (York Street, 297-0409). Visit www.wineonline.bm.