Wine that favors nuance over sheer power

Lioco co-owners Matt and Sara Licklider (right) sharing wine with friends. (Courtesy photo)

Sometimes the availability of special fruit can lure winemakers out of their comfort zone. Such was the case when Matt and Sara Licklider, co-owners of Lioco were offered grapes from the oldest sauvignon blanc vines in California, a Redwood Valley vineyard planted in 1945.

The result is the crisp, fresh 2015 Lolonis Vineyard Redwood Valley Sauvignon Blanc. Such offerings makes Lioco a welcome addition to the Healdsburg wine tasting experience. The Lickliders are negociants, always searching growers of the best grapes to produce wines that, in their words, “favor nuance over sheer power.”

They believe that the wine is truly made in the vineyard and it’s simply the winemakers role to guide the juice from harvest to bottle. After more than a decade of distributing their wines through direct sales and fine restaurants like The French Laundry, Single Thread and Chez Panisse, Lioco has added a modern tasting room and direct sales shop adjacent to the Healdsburg town square.

The room is designed as a lounge and wines are offered by the glass, the bottle or selected flights. By reservation, Lioco also presents two preferred tasting options, each focusing on four regional or single-vineyard releases. Recently, on a mid-week afternoon, Sara Licklider was nice enough to lead me through a tasting of their current releases.
The 2016 SoCo Sonoma County Chardonnay ($22) was sourced from various vineyards including one near the Laguna de Santa Rosa watershed. Aged on the lees with no batonnage, it has brisk citrus flavors backed by a evident acidity

Two pinot noir releases followed, including a distinctive blend of stock from coastal, redwood forest and inland vineyards within the Sonoma Coast appellation. The 2015 Lioco “Laguna” Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir has earth driven aromas with dark cherry and savory flavors throughout. Before Sonoma County, the Santa Cruz Mountains appellation was once thought to be optimum terroir for pinot noir grapes. Many, like icon Merry Edwards left for the Russian River Valley, others like Bonny Doon’s Randall Grahm became Rhone Rangers, but there are quality pinot noir vines remaining in the Santa Cruz area.

The 2015 Lioco Saveria Vineyard Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir is sourced from a vineyard in Aptos, located at the edge of the fogline, less than five miles from the Pacific Ocean. It is complex and well structured with earth, dark fruit and savory influences. Associated with the Rhone Valley in France, but also known as carignano in Italy and mazuelo throughout Spain, carignan has also become a flagship varietal in France’s growing Languedoc-Roussillon region. Traveling through in 2016, I discovered fine, reasonably priced wines from the Corbières appellation where carignan is commonly used in blends. Although rare today, carignan has a large presence in the history of California wine.

Apparently, many of the remaining vines are located in remote areas of Mendocino County. The grapes for the 2016 Lioco “Sativa” Mendocino Carignan are sourced from 70-year old vines in a small dry-farmed, hillside vineyard above Cloverdale. With more winemakers seeking access to these old vines, carignan has become fashionable once again and the Lioco “Sativa” is often mentioned as one of the best. It is medium-bodied with rich texture and balanced fruit-forward flavors.

Many rose’ wines are created by bleeding off excess juice intended for a standard wine. Staying true to their philosophy of purity, the juice from the carignan grapes used in Lioco’s rose’ release are designated as such throughout the process. The flavors are a major reason that carignan is conducive as a rose’ style wine and the complex 2017 Lioco “Indica” Mendocino County Rose’ of Carignan can be enjoyed by itself or can be paired with multiple foods including spicy Thai. Highly recommended.

There are several tasting options near the Healdsburg town square, but Lioco now conveniently offers a unique style of winemaking and an opportunity to explore lesser known vineyards in Sonoma, Mendocino and Santa Cruz counties. It should be part of any local tasting experience.

Lyle W. Norton is a wine enthusiast and blogger in Santa Rosa who has written a wine column for 15 years. Visit his blog at www.lifebylyle.com or email him at sfewine@gmail.com. He is a guest columnist.

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