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2010 Alta Mesa Verdelho Silvaspoons Vineyards Alta Mesa, Lodi

Pico is a small, volcanic island in the Atlantic ocean, roughly 1,000 miles west of Lisbon, Portugal. One of nine islands making up The Azores, it is a UNESCO World Heritage site. This recognition is not for the impressive Mount Pico, Portugal’s highest peak. It is the island’s vineyards which are protected.

The vineyards on Pico were literally carved from volcanic rock. The original growers chipped out myriad large pockets, each just one or two meters square. This created a stony-walled honeycomb. The cavities were filled with fertile earth and one or two grape vines were planted in each. The vines trained are low and nearly horizontal to protect them from stiff ocean winds.

Verdelho is, by far, the principal variety in Pico. [The Azores and Madeira are the source of true Verdelho. The grape commonly called Verdelho on mainland Portugal is actually Gouveio.] Pico’s grapes are used almost exclusively for Angelica, a mixture of a distilled spirit, often brandy, and unfermented grape juice. You can get dry white wine made from Pico-derived Verdelho, but for that you’ll have to travel all the way to... California.

Ron Silva of Silvaspoons Vineyard in Lodi’s Alta Mesa AVA grows several different Portuguese wine grape varieties. Among his vines are true Verdelho, which appeared at Silvaspoons not long after he and his wife visited Pico on a vacation more than 15 years ago. Silva was the first person to grow Verdelho commercially in California. Cuttings from his vineyard have since been propagated at U.C. Davis and are available from select nurseries as Verdelho Clone 6.

Grape grower and winemaker Ron Silva is also an amusing story teller.

The Silvaspoons Vineyard lies in an area characterized by a shallow (roughly 28”) layer of San Joachin Loam over hardpan sandstone that’s solid as concrete. The hardpan doesn’t allow for water drainage, so the vineyard land was ripped multiple times by a massive tractor which broke up and churned the earth to a depth of seven feet. Now, drainage is brisk. The Alta Mesa AVA climate is well-suited to the Portuguese varieties, being similar to that of Alentejo, though Lodi gets less rain and is a just a touch cooler.

Silva grows upward of 20 varieties, including Trincadeiro, Touriga Nacional, Touriga Francesa, Tinta Cao, Tempranillo, Alvarelhao, Torrontes and Garnacha as well as non-Iberian grapes such as Zinfandel, Petite Sirah and Tannat. He used to sell all of the fruit. Now he also makes his own wine under the Alta Mesa Cellars label.

The 2010 Alta Mesa Verdelho Silverspoons Vineyard offers attractive aromas of just-ripe peach, pear, tropical fruit, white flowers and powdery minerality. The core flavors are mineral with some tropical fruit and lime pith. At less than 13%, the alcohol is much lower than most people would expect from a Lodi wine, yet there is weight to the palate. Verdelho’s signature acidity is mouthwateringly evident from the beginning through to a juicy finish with flavors of steely minerality and belgian endive. This is an excellent food wine, but not one that’s intended for aging. Drink now through 2013. Recommended+.

2010 Alta Mesa Verdelho Silvaspoons Vineyards Alta Mesa, Lodi Alta-Mesa-Verdelho
Rating: Recommended+

Drink: Now through 2013
Closure: Cork
Production: 245 cases
Retail Price: $16.00

Winemaker: Ron Silva
Origin: Silvaspoons Vineyards, Alta Mesa AVA, Lodi
Fermentation: Stainless steel
Alcohol: 12.8%

Service Recommendations
Decanting: Not required
Temperature: 50º - 54º F
Food Pairings: seafood, salads, chicken

The wine above was purchased for review. You can find it at select resellers and restaurants, as well as the Lodi Wine and Visitor Center.

If you’re interested in tasting a wide range of wines made from California-grown Iberian varieties, consider the June 9 TAPAS Grand Tasting in San Francisco. Nearly 50 wineries will be pouring. Alta Mesa Cellars isn’t currently scheduled to attend, but there will be several wineries there offering wines made from Silvaspoons Vineyard fruit. They include Bokisch Vineyards of Lodi, Forlorn Hope of Napa Valley and Fenestra of Livermore Valley.

If you'd like to taste wines actually made in Portugal and are either trade or media, there's a Wines of Portugal tasting in San Francisco on June 4.

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This article is original to Copyright 2012 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.