Lost in Lodi or looking for treasure on… Treasure Island 6 min read

Not many events inspire a question – “What would a Blue Angel drink?”


I have a dream… to design a wine list for Blue Angels Cabin Service.


Standing in the middle of the San Francisco Treasure Island, amidst breathtaking views, with a pour of Old Ghost Zinfandel (more on that later) I hit a case of envy.  I envied myself at that moment in time.


I was on Treasure Island, at a great event hosted by Lodi Winegrape Association, featuring 45 producers from Lodi. It was one of those glorious fall afternoons; the weather was simply perfect, not a cloud in the sky. The San Francisco Bay was dotted with perky sailboats, gliding about. All was right with the world for that blissful moment.  This idyllic surrounding was suddenly disrupted with the sort of sound that made an entire tent full of cheerful wine drinkers jump in unison, (one winemaker described it as “I nearly soiled my pants”).  I lost a couple of pounds myself, (which I promptly re-gained when I went back to the wine event and comforted myself with some delicious pasta.)


Blue-Angels-Dyn-300x199This thunderous awakening was a result of a F18 Super Hornet flying over whilst it broke the sound barrier. Twice.


Besides being completely and utterly awestruck by the Navy Pilots – “Blue Angels” level of skill and precision (these guys fly as close as 18 INCHES, I couldn’t even drive that close to someone!), I was further inspired by the crowd’s energy and outpouring of goodwill. Between lots of good wine and a great show the attendees were practically giddy (and I mean grown men) and euphoric for hours. One beaming wine-goer suggested that if there was a boat full of nude women floating on the Bay his world just couldn’t get any better.


I had to interrupt the Nirvana and go back to “work”, (if anyone can call wine tasting “work” with a straight face.)


The day started off on a high note. After tasting a few “whites” with exotic names such as Albarinho and Verdelho I headed to a seminar led by Randy Caparoso, an animated recovering restaurateur, sommelier and a journalist currently writing for Lodi Wine Association. He certainly could not be accused of using redundant winespeak, terms like “gusher”, referring to fruit, of course, were tossed around like grapes on a conveyor belt. Featured wines were:


  • Uvaggio, Vermentino
  • Ripken Winery, Primitivo
  • Grands Amis Winery, Barbera
  • Jessie’s Grove, Ancient Vines Carignane
  • St. Jorge Winery, Alicante Bouschet


Some impressions of the reds: I was struck by the lovely fruit aromatics on the nose, on the palate – surprising amount of spice, tobacco and herbal notes… They were very interesting wines that really delivered the proverbial ”bang for the buck.”


I can definitely say that Zin is still King but the Queens, Bishops and Rooks, are fully in play and are becoming just as important in Lodi. Given the fact that Lodi is rich with 100+ yr old vineyards, Zin has and should occupy a prominent throne.  What is fascinating is this region’s drive (and apparent success) at experimenting with Portuguese and Spanish varieties that seem to thrive in the “Mediterranean” soil of Lodi. In that vein I took in another seminar appropriately titled “Lodi-beria: The Spanish Varietals of Lodi.”


The event was moderated by Mark Chandler, Certified Wine Specialist and Executive Director of the Lodi Winegrape Commission, he spoke passionately of wines made utilizing Spanish and Portuguese varieties.
Featured wines were:


  • Harney Lane Winery, Albariño
  • Cosentino Winery, The Temp Tempranillo
  • Bokisch Vineyards, Garnacha + Graciano


Tasting Standouts:

  • Harney Lane 2009 Albarino – Crisp and precise – it piloted its way into my palate. The winemaker described it as “putting a smile” on his customer’s faces and I thought he hit a perfect note. I know I was smiling.
  • Cosentino 2007 Zinfandel – Bombastic, rich, gargantuan black fruit, basically everything you want from a Zin.
  • Klinker Blink 2008 Old Ghost Zinfandel – comes complete with its own coffin, should you opt to befriend your Ghost in a large format. Channel your inner Bela Lugosi, and have one class act Halloween Party!

It is worth noting that even though the wine is distributed in 40 states it sells out very quickly, an achievement onto itself.  The wine is comprised of the very best lots hand-picked from specific blocks of 90+year old vineyards that yield miniscule amounts of super intense grapes. It is a powerful wine that offers depth of fruit flavor combined with the elegance and subtlety of the toasty wood. It is a bit of a hermaphrodite (perhaps that is why it is also Ghostlike, in its elusive gender), a feminine characteristic overlaps with the masculine ones yet they coexist in perfect harmony. It is a plush, massive, powerful wine with surprisingly silky, supple tannins.  I was impressed.


It was a stimulating experience; which validated some core beliefs, offered some “food for thought,” but most importantly, felt great.  If I ever were in doubt that the atmosphere of a given wine experience greatly influences the experience itself, this was proof on steroids. The spirit of camaraderie, approachable nature of most wines poured, the brilliance of the day all contributed to one of the most pleasurable afternoons I have had in a while.


On to the most important part.  My fantasy.


I should state that as far as groupies go, I never understood the whole “panty drop” phenomenon with its emaciated matted hair rockers and aging celebrities who, for the most part, don’t look (or sound) nearly as good in real life as they do on screen.


I would think Navy Pilots would be perhaps harder, however far cooler to follow, these guys and gals are wicked sexy!!!  In that same vein, should I choose to channel my inner airline wine consultant and be called to serve these Skywalkers I would propose the following wine tasting menu to complement the following maneuvers:


(Warning: Do try the wine at home, NOT the maneuvers)


Opposing Solos: This one is a white knuckled roller-coaster riddled with high and slow speed passes, fast and slow rolls and Kamikaze turns, as tight as… you know what I mean.  Perfect Wine: Sauvignon Blanc. Relaxed yet with great acidic concentration and laser like focus.
Diamond Maneuver: Nice Stainless Steel fermented Viognier, fragrant, crisp, clean, ready to deliver.
Vertical Climb: A versatile variety that is known for its depth but also great transitions, and impeccable timing – Pinot Noir.
Nosedive: Balls to the Wall, Take No Prisoners, Teeth Staining, Chewy Bombastic   “Gushing” (thank you Randy, great word!) with all sorts of black and red fruit Old Vines Zinfandel.
Mirror Formation: What strikes me as perhaps the most narcissistic grape variety, Chardonnay, which can be a bit self-indulgent for those of us (your humble author emphatically excluded) that have high hopes for food pairings. That is not to say yours truly doesn’t appreciate a fat, opulent, lush Chardonnay… I am purring at the thought.
Delta Formation: The wine that tends to fan out on the palate, so my choice is Syrah that often provides broad dimension and generous palatal characteristics.
Fleur-de-Lis: Signature Maneuver that deserves the wine with a fitting finish, long, and satisfying and has to go to a Cab.


I could think of a few producers today that would make my Fantasy Wine List.


Find out for yourself at www.lodiwine.com

Ilona Thompson

Ilona Thompson is Editor-in-Chief at PalateXposure, a destination site for oenophiles, gourmands and luxury travelers. She also recently launched #Wine, a site dedicated to wines and spirits reviews, and #Photography, a site devoted to high-quality wine, food, and travel related photography.

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