Lodi red wines — particularly Zinfandel — have enjoyed immense popularity. After all, the city’s sobriquet is “The Zinfandel Capital of the World.” Two-thirds of Lodi’s winegrapes are red, and that proportion roughly matches wine consumption in general, according to Camron King, executive director of the Lodi Winegrape Commission.
But this preoccupation with reds has perhaps overshadowed the importance of white varieties in Lodi’s wine oeuvre. Now, some growers feel it is high time to let white wine grapes step out from their more rubicund cousins’ shadow.
“White wines have always been grown in Lodi. The No. 2 grape (grown) is Chardonnay,” said Sue Tipton of Acquiesce Winery and Vineyards, Lodi’s only exclusively white (and one rosé) vineyard.
Then there’s the fact that Lodi is California’s leading grower of Chardonnay and Sauvignon blanc. In addition, premium European grape varieties — Spanish Albariño and Portuguese Verdelho, French Rhone varietals like Grenache blanc and Picpoul blanc, German Gewürztraminer and Riesling — are gaining a solid foothold in the Lodi wine market.
The industry is starting to take note as well. Last November, Wine Enthusiast Magazine named LangeTwins’ 2014 Sand Point Sauvignon Blanc No. 29 of the magazine’s “Top 100 Best Buys” of 2015. Concurrently, there is talk that Lodi wine country is not just well-suited for growing white wine grapes, but ideal.
“(British wine writer) Oz Clarke talked about how Lodi should be looking more in that direction,” Tipton said.
What makes Lodi so good for white wines? Let’s start with the climate, which may be more suited to whites than people think.
“One of the unfortunate hang-ups for Lodi is that we’re thought of as the greater Central Valley and the perception of it being hot and not a good climate for white grapes,” said LangeTwins’ David Akiyoshi. “I always cite the Sunset Western Gardening Book, and when you look there, we are classified as a Zone 14 — an inland area with marine influence.”
This Mediterranean-esque climate lends itself well to white grapes. Warm weather with cooler evenings is a big factor for the Lodi wine region.
“With the Delta influence, the appellation is able to produce white wines with a wonderful balance of acidity and intense fruit flavors,” Karen Birmingham, winemaker of the award-winning Sand Point label, wrote in an email.
Specifically, this fruit flavor makes the Lodi whites distinct and palatable, rather than taking on a “minerally” flavor tone or being known as simply a “dry” white wine, according to Tipton.
“It’s all about education. For Chardonnay, you can make it bone dry, or you can make it soft as cream. But people don’t know about that,” said Steve Gomez of Peirano Estates.
One particular favorite of Tipton’s is the Picpoul blanc, which displays an unexpected pineapple characteristic.
“I only meant it to be a blender, but it has a great aroma and is great on the palate,” Tipton said.
That Picpoul is ideal to pair with oysters, mussels and shellfish, Tipton said.
For LangeTwins’ Sauvignon blancs, Birmingham recommends oysters and scallops, along with pesto pasta and tangy, soft cheeses like feta and goat.
In fact, chefs are excited about the emergence of white wines because those vinos have a greater pairing potential with food, according to Tipton. The most memorable wine pairing she remembers is a Moroccan lamb tagine dish coupled with a Viognier.
“A number of white wines in the region are very much food-friendly, and work with a number of dishes throughout the year,” Gomez said. His standby is lemon chicken with Chardonnay.
And when it comes serving whites, the verdict is clear — refrigerated wine is too cold.
“It’s good to wait 15 minutes,” Akiyoshi said. “50 to 55 degrees: Cool, but not cold.”
Overall, more folks are finding that Lodi white wines can work in any situation, even in the Zinfandel Capital of the World.
“As we go into spring and summer, it is the perfect time for not only Zinfandels for barbecues, but crisp, refreshing white wines as the weather warms up as well,” King said.