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Posted: Tuesday, January 18, 2011 1:35 pm

One of Lodi's newest wineries, McCay Cellars, has popped up on wine radar screens seemingly overnight.

Within a year of starting up his bonded winery, winemaker/grower Mike McCay landed the distinction of having made Lodi's highest-achieving Zinfandel of the 2011 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, winning Double Gold for his 2007 Truluck's Zin ($28).

Only weeks earlier, the McCay 2007 Jupiter Zin ($24), bottled from a vineyard off Locust Tree Road, became so popular as a result of being named to the Chronicle's Top 100 Wines, that what little he has left is saved for by-the-glass purchases.

The Chronicle's Jon Bonné wrote, "This newly established Lodi winery is off to a strong start. The Jupiter is a reminder that Lodi Zin can offer remarkable elegance and style when it's handled with care."

Mike calls Jupiter his "Frank Sinatra wine" referring to the Zin's cigar aromas and elegant smoothness. As for the name, he says, "Why go to the moon when you can go to Jupiter?"

I finally had the opportunity to taste Mike's wines after 12 months of moving his inventory spreadsheets through the red tape of government forms.

As he popped corks, Mike explained, "Lodi is the best place in the world to grow Zin. Lodi is not, ‘flat and hot and that's all we got.' We can produce elegant wines. I like the old world style. I like the grapes to speak for themselves."

Though he is new to the ranks of professional winemakers, Mike has enjoyed tinkering with a multitude of yeasts since 1994, when he got together with father and son Richard and Keith Watts for home winemaking.

"I started out wanting to be a marine biologist at U.C. Santa Barbara, but taking plankton samples in the middle of the night wasn't exactly Tahiti."

As owner of Beckman Investments a short 3 blocks away from where his wines are poured at Lodi Wine Cellars at 112 West Pine Street, Mike is the only winemaker I know who wears a tie. And though investing is a far cry from biology, nurturing 16-20 Macro bins full of foaming yeasts has finally justified his college organic chemistry classes.

Both of his Zins were selected for Sacramento's highly-regarded restaurant The Kitchen, though according to Mike, the owner told him, "I don't like Zin, but I like yours."

Mike's favorite - which has also become one of my favorite Lodi Zins - is his Truluck's, from a collection of 40 and 80-year-old head-trained tree-like vines south of Hwy. 12, west of Van Ruiten.

Not willing to be contained in a glass, Truluck's aromas of very distinctive and exciting rustic earth, lead pencil and tangerine peel envelop the nose. However this isn't an over-the-top jam pie, but rather a well-balanced unedited experience of velvety-smooth berries, leaves, cloves and cinnamon spices that take over your existence for minutes.

"Truluck's has the ability to stand up to a quick and easy barbequed Rosemary Garlic Rack of Lamb: 2 racks marinated all day in a Ziplock freezer bag with 2 cups Worcestershire sauce, half a jar of chopped garlic, fresh rosemary and a couple tablespoons of olive oil and Dijon mustard," per Mike.

If you don't feel like cooking, the insider's way to experience McCay would be in the secluded patio behind Lodi Wine Cellars, La Fuente Mexican Restaurant and Hotel Lodi. I've heard it is common practice to enter through La Fuente, order up beef enchiladas, stake out a nice patio table, then head on through Lodi Wine Cellars' back door for a glass or two.

In addition to his Zins, you may try his limited-production Petite Sirah and his Paisley blend at Lodi Wine Cellars, or buy the wines directly from McCayCellars.com before they sell out.