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Pairing Food and Craft Cider with Scotto’s Wine and Cider

By Martin Redmond, LODI California Behind the Wines

Piggybacking on the burgeoning craft beer and foodie trends, hard cider has been the fastest growing adult beverage in U.S. over the last decade or so.
Scotto’s Wine and Cider, which recently opened a tasting room in downtown Lodi, is poised to capitalize on the trend.  And like many things involving this innovative Lodi based family company, their tasting room offers something unique - in addition to their award winning wines, they also pour their very own, craft ciders.
I recently had a chance to taste their ciders at a Scotto's Cider dinner held at Fish and Farm in San Francisco.
There, I met Paul Scotto, whose “day job” is Director of Winemaking for Scotto Cellars.  He, along with his brother Michael, run the family’s Cider Brothers company.   Michael, who told me he makes “wine by blood and cider by choice” is passionate about making refreshing, substantial ciders that pair well with a variety of food.
Their experience as 5th generation vintners enables them to take a winemakers approach to producing small batches of handcrafted hard apple ciders.
Just as with wine, true craft cider starts with quality fruit.  Their ciders, sold under the William Tell and Pacific Coast brands, are crafted using five fresh apple varieties sourced from the Walla Walla Valley in the Washington state: Golden Russet, Granny Smith, Gala, Fuji and Red Delicious.  What also makes their ciders unique and more compelling is the use of wine in some of their cider flavors.
Over the course of the evening we enjoyed five William Tell ciders – Bone Dry, Apple Pinot Grigio, Apple Wild Cherry, Blueberry Zin, and Apple Mango Muscat with variety of delectable food.
The Bone Dry was very dry and fresh with a yeasty, mixed green and golden delicious apple character.  It paired well with both raw oyster appetizer and my entree of Pan Roasted Rock Cod with Zucchini, Tomato & Mango Sauce.
The Apple Pinot Grigio, made with 85% Hard Apple Cider, and 15% Pinot Grigio was my favorite.  The wine adds complexity to the cider and enhances both the aromatics and mouthfeel of the cider.  It’s very aromatic and lightly carbonated with a fresh, low-key yeast, candied apple, lime character with a hint of summer herbs character.  Likewise, it paired well with oyster, crab cakes, and my entrée.
The Apple Wild Cherry, which was aged in a bit of French Oak is dry, lightly carbonated and fresh with a tart cherry apple, and baking spice character.
The Blueberry Zin cider, which includes 6% Zinfandel, is a pretty ruby color and lightly carbonated.   It’s between dry and off-dry with an enchanting black cherry and spice character with an appealing hint of tannins. 
The Apple Mango Muscat is a blend of apples, mango juice, and muscat wine. It was the sweetest of the ciders.  It’s lightly effervescent with sweet mango and floral muscat aromas that lead to mostly ripe apple flavors with a hint of mango on the palate.  Pair one served cold with some spicy treats on a hot day!
The ciders were a revelation.  My previous experience with mass-produced hard ciders was that they were overly sweet and cloying. These ciders which ranged from dry to sweet were clean, refreshing, delicious, well-balanced and food-friendly.  Have some, I know I will!

Most Memorable Wines from the 2016 Wine Bloggers Conference

By TheGourmez.com

This was my third year attending the Wines Bloggers Conference (WBC), and I feel like I’m getting the hang of the endless wine sampling challenge that it is — three to four days full of it, if you add an excursion! I’m still forgetting hair ties to assist with the spitting, though. Maybe I need to chop it all off again?
That’s about as short as my hair gets.

With so many wines to consider in so little time, a lot of them blend together. It takes a special bottle to leave an impression. Two weeks later, I know these wines are unique if I’m still thinking about them! That doesn’t mean they were the best wines I had over the Wine Bloggers Conference weekend, but they are the ones I’m most likely to remember in the future. Give them a try and let me know if they take up permanent residence in your memory, too!

Palate Cleanser:  Pacific Coast Dry Apple Cider with Pinot Grigio
I enjoyed getting to see the new Scotto Cellars tasting room in downtown Lodi during one of the after parties, and while it was fun to try the Masthead wine blended by my fellow WBC bloggers (Cindy of Grape Experiences, Melanie of Dallas Wine Chick, and Nancy and Peter of Pull That Cork), what I enjoyed most that evening was the Cider Brothers’ Dry Apple Cider with Pinot Grigio. It awakened my palate just when I’d given up hope on my poor little taste buds. The bubbles explode over the tongue, and the sharp apple taste and appealing acidity combine with pinot grigio’s sweetness to make a stellar refresher.
Seeing my excitement over the cider, Michael Scotto quickly set me up with a flight of their new William Tell selections. The Apple Mango Muscat, Strawberry, and Wild Cherry were all fun to taste, with the mango option surprisingly appealing (I have a history with muscat…a dark one)—
—but that pinot grigio cider is the one that gets the credit for bringing my senses back to life and the one I’ll be seeking out soon.

Sunday Baking: A Luscious Lodi Zin & Pumpkin Snickerdoodles

By A Glass After Work

In 10 days, I’m heading to Lodi, California for the 2016 Wine Bloggers’ Conference (WBC16).   The conference location was announced last August at the close of the 2015 conference in the Finger Lakes, and since then, I’ve been peppering my wine choices with options from Lodi. Admittedly, I’ve been slow to blog about those wines, but, as I start to think about WBC16, I’ve gone back through my tasting notes, and now, it’s time to share.
2011 Scotto Cellars Old Vine Zinfandel -- At $15, this full body red wine from Lodi, California has a great quality-price ratio. It’s food-friendly and luscious, making it easy to drink any time of year. Ratings 3.5 out of 5 | AGlassAfterWork.com

2011 Scotto Family Cellars Old Vine Zinfandel

First up, the 2011 Scotto Cellars Old Vine Zinfandel. I opened this wine on a Sunday evening (November 1, 2015) while baking Pumpkin Snickerdoodles inspired by Sally’s Baking Addiction.

The 2011 Scotto Family Cellars Old Vine Zinfandel (winery, snooth) is from Lodi, California. The wine was a dark, ruby red. Both on the nose and in the mouth, there were blackberries, cherries, and vanilla mixed with hints of baking spice. The wine was full-bodied with soft tannins and medium acidity.

Is this worth a glass after work? It’s worth more than one!  What are you waiting for? At an SRP of $15, the excellent quality-price ratio of this wine is undeniable. It’s a wine that pairs well with all types of food regardless of the time of year—think grilled Portobello mushrooms or a juicy steak in the summer and slow cooker braised short ribs and mashed potatoes or lamb stew in the winter. Not to mention that this easy-to-drink wine is perfect for just sipping while talking with friends and snacking on a cheese and charcuterie board.

Pumpkin Snickerdoodle Bite

As for the cookies, they’re still a work in progress. I essentially melded my Snickerdoodle recipe with Sally’s Baking Addiction’s Pumpkin Snickerdoodles. They were definitely tasty, but I would like for them to be a little more pumpkin-y and a little less pumpkin spice flavored. I also know that adding more pumpkin can mess with the texture, so that’s why it’s still a work in progress. They’re still worth making even without tweaks to the recipe.

Overall, these cookies are a seasonal favorite both at home and at my office, and they made for a delicious match with this dark berry and baking spice-filled Zin.

Leaving Las Lodi: Final Chapter

By Chris Kassel's Intoxicology Report

Lodi_front_coverI must say, last week in Lodi I finally discovered the secret of a successful, personally-gratifying book signing, where dozens of friendly faces were delighted to have me scrawl my illegible signature and indecipherable dedication in the frontspiece of ‘Starstruck in Lodi Again’:

The secret, fellow authors? Give the books away for free.

Of course, that was due to the largesse of Anthony Scotto, patriarch of Scotto Cellars, who purchased enough copies that every single attendee at the Wine Blogger’s Conference could get a free one in their swag bag.  If, in fact, you were one of those who didn’t get your copy, fret not.  Stop by the spanking new Scotto Cellars tasting room in downtown Lodi (on School Street) to get one, or message me with your address and I’ll send you one myself.
Chef Warren Ito

Chef Warren Ito

Meanwhile, on the night of the WBC’s opening ceremony, the extended Scotto family—Anthony, his wife Graciela, wine-wise kids Anthony, Paul, Natalie and Michael, who are the real muscle behind the brand—threw a welcoming shindig for the bloggers inside said tasting room. They brought in celebrated Stockton Chef Warren Ito to cater a four course dinner with a theme they called Mexital; fusion cuisine borrowing elements from both traditional Mexican and Italian cooking.  This makes sense once you understand that Anthony Scotto is of Italian decent and his wife Gracie is of Mexican decent, so the family-run winery is eager to celebrate both branches of the family tree.

The meal was sensational, too, with the proper balance of guido, gringo and guapo; Chef Warren, who blew away the group, somehow managed to do everything without access to a formal kitchen.

masthead-labelThe wines poured were from Scotto Cellars, of course, but the featured wine was a new concept wine, the collaborative work of Scotto PR man Bradley Gray, winemakers Paul Scotto and Napa legend Mitch Cosentino and… wait for it… four bloggers, who slurped and suckled and swirled through three hours of barrel samples from eleven lots of selected Lodi-designated wine.  Afterward, they conferred and compared notes, finally coming up with a blend they all agreed upon.

This has now been released as ‘Masthead’, the first commercial wine ever blended entirely by that lowliest species of journalist, the blogger.

Why yours truly, the lowliest of the lowly among wine bloggers, was not asked to participate? That remains unknown, but the fact that I wasn’t may explain why I have to give away books at wine conferences.

Anyway, other than Pete Best, who wants to be the fifth Beatle?  The four consulting bloggers in the Masthead project did just fine without me, of course. They were Nancy Brazil and Peter Bourget from www.pullthatcork.com, Melanie Ofenloch of Dallas Wine Chick of http://www.dallaswinechick.com and Cindy Rynning of www.Grape-Experiences.com.
Mitch Cosentino

Mitch Cosentino

In fact, in Chef Warren style, they outdid themselves.  The wine is killer; the ultimate, mutually-agreed-upon blend is not a varietal blend at all, but 100% Sangiovese from the Mohr-Fry Ranch, aged partially in Hungarian oak, partially in American oak. They made these decisions without input from the winemakers, but a nod afterward indicated that Mitch Cosentino thought they’d gone down the correct path.  His praise for the single variety choice is a testimonial still more remarkable when you consider that among other accomplishments, Cosentino is one of the founding fathers of America’s most well-known blend, Meritage.
Masthead's Staff Directory

Masthead’s Staff Directory

I agree with him, and with the bloggers.  Both in character and pedigree, the wine is pure Sangiovese; it is rich, fruited with luscious cherry and warm strawberry compote, but—as in a Brunello—wrapped in a package of earthy, leathery sophistication  The palate length, now brief, will almost certainly improve with a little age—there may have been a touch of bottle shock, soon to be settled out of it.

‘Masthead’—a name reflective of the journalistic ju-ju of the quartet who created it—will sell for around $30. 50 cases were made, and I suspect it will be a hit among bloggers and bloggees alike.

DSC_0015It was wonderful to be back in Lodi near harvest time—what a difference a few months made.  The scraggly, diabolical-looking zinfandel vines that I saw mid-winter had enjoyed heavenly repatriation, now thick with green foliage and heavy with grape bunches.  The temperatures, hovering in the low hundreds, were about what I’d expect in Satan’s vineyards, but the good folks of Lodi—the Scottos especially—remain unchanged: The portrait of wine country hospitality.

Part 3 of The Masthead Project: Blending Wine from a Wine Blogger’s Point of View

Written by Nancy (CSW) on July 29, 2016

In Part 1 of the Masthead Project we shared with our readers the invitation we received to participate in a unique wine blending project, expanded on the idea and took them along as our group of wine bloggers got to know each other while touring downtown Lodi. Part 2 of our post provided background on Scotto Cellars, the winery sponsoring the blending project, took our readers along on a cider-making tour and a visit to Mohr-Fry Ranch in the Mokelumne River sub-AVA of the Lodi appellation. In this, our final post, we take you along as we sit down with winemaker Mitch Cosentino to create a blended wine.

Sitting Down to Blend a Wine

We all gathered at Suite C , located above the Scotto Cellars’ tasting room in downtown Lodi after a satisfying lunch at the School Street Bistro. Mitch Cosentino sat at the head of the table. The four of us (wine bloggers Cindy Rynning, Melanie Ofenloch, Pete and I) gathered around the table. Set before us was an array of wine glasses, graduated cylinders and pipettes. Mitch bought his own crackers, as he always does when he’s judging wine, and encouraged us to use them throughout the blending process to clear our palates.
Along with all of the glassware and laboratory equipment was an overwhelming 11 potential blending samples. We would need to taste every wine while still reserving enough for multiple blends and tastings. And we would need to keep track of it all. It was a bit hectic at times, but we powered through.
The four most important bottles were labeled 2014 Sangiovese F, H, A and V respectively. The blend would be based on Sangiovese, probably, unless we liked one of the other potential blending partners better (we didn’t). The first task Mitch gave us was to taste each Sangiovese and determine our favorites. We tasted, took notes and discussed. There was no early consensus. We continued to sniff, taste, talk.  A blend of our two favorite samples was a possibility. Ultimately we decided to use F as a base, but H and A had possibilities too. We decided not to include V in the blend.

The four bottles of Sangiovese represent samples from four barrels of 2014 Sangiovese from Mohr-Fry Ranch, the vineyard we visited earlier in the day. All were aged in mostly neutral oak: F = French oak, H= Hungarian oak, A = American oak. The sample labeled V was included because it contained significant volatile acidity. We tasted and made our decisions without knowing what each letter meant on the samples so we could be as objective as possible.

Next, Mitch moved our attention to the other varieties that were potential blending partners; there were seven in all. We tasted them one-by-one, made notes, discussed each wine’s potential as a blending partner to the Sangiovese. Among our choices: Syrah, Barbera, Zinfandel, Petit Verdot and Petite Sirah from three locations. We decided the Zinfandel, Barbera, Petit Verdot and one Petite Sirah had the most potential.

Mitch was delighted (and I think entertained) that Zinfandel was among the varieties we considered as a potential blending partner. It was the first variety we tasted with the Sangiovese to determine if it passed the compatibility test. It was unanimous. No! The Zinfandel trampled all over the Sangiovese and the flavors just didn’t taste good together. Mitch, of course, knew this would be the case. I felt very relieved we came to the correct conclusion. Mitch probably did as well!

We moved on to Barbera blended with Sangiovese and decided unanimously that the blend was too sweet. With two potential blending varieties excluded, we circled back to confirm our choice of the base blend before tasting the two final potential blending partners. After re-tasting, we confirmed our favorite base combination was a blend of equal parts Sangiovese aged in French oak and Hungarian oak.

Next, we moved on to tasting two blends of the French/Hungarian Sangiovese base wine — one with 5% Petite Sirah and the other 5% Petit Verdot. The consensus: neither added significantly to the base blend which we all liked very much.
Because we all liked the 50/50 blend of French and Hungarian oak-aged Sangiovese so much we went back to re-taste it. We all loved it for its perfumed aromas and depth of flavor. Did we really need to add anything to this blend? Ultimately we decided no. Our Masthead Sangiovese would be a blend of equal parts Sangiovese aged in French oak and Hungarian oak. The Sangiovese would stand alone! Once we came to this conclusion, Mitch confirmed that this was his choice as well.

I took us nearly three hours to arrive at our decision, but in the end we were all pleased and certain of our choice. Early in the blending process Paul Scotto joined us. He listened to our comments and opinions, tasted the blends, but did not try to influence our decisions.
It was interesting to taste the Sangiovese over an extended period of time as it gained complexity in the glass and the flavors changed. Also of interest to me was that between the Petit Verdot and Petite Sirah I preferred the Petite Sirah when I tasted on its own. But, when blended with our favorite base Sangiovese blend I preferred the Petit Verdot. At first I was certain I had the two blends reversed, but that was not the case. It was a good reminder for me to always taste the wine in front of you without trying to second-guess what is in the glass.

Our Work Continued After Blending

Throughout the rest of June and through mid-July there was much to accomplish. We were all asked to contribute to the design and content of the Masthead wine bottle label. We assisted in writing the brochure that will accompany our Masthead Sangiovese.
We chewed our fingernails along with Brad and Robert at Scotto Cellars as we waited for the wine bottle label approval from the TTB. We felt nervous and dejected when the first submission was rejected over details regarding the Lodi Rules™ certificate. Everyone was concerned we might not be able to complete the project before the Wine Bloggers Conference in August. We were elated when the label was approved just a few days later.
The wine bottle label went to the printer. The brochure to accompany our Masthead Sangiovese underwent the final edit and was sent to the printer. This was really happening! And just in time!

Final Thoughts and Thanks

This blending experience was amazing for both of us. We learned so much about the compatibility of grape varieties in blending wine and just how much work blending wine really is (at least it is from a novice’s point of view). And there is all of the work involved with label design and approval for which we had no prior appreciation.
To Bradley and Robert we say thanks for coming up with the Masthead idea and thanks to Anthony Scotto III for approving the project. I know this project has been a lot of work on your end and we are both happy to have been included. I’m pretty sure this is the first wine bottled by Scotto Cellars that bears the Lodi Rules™ designation and that’s great. It is a reflection of  the ideas of trying new things and keeping an open mind about wine that Anthony expressed to us.
We thank Mitch Cosentino and Paul Scotto for sharing their wine blending knowledge with us. And for your patience.
Cindy and Melanie, you were wonderful to work with. I started this blending experience feeling somewhat tentative, but our group worked so well together that I quickly felt at ease. We managed to have a good time while still focusing on the task at hand. Then there was the constant dry wit of my amusing husband. What a group.
Below are links to the posts written by Melanie and Cindy about the Masthead project. We hope you will take time to read them.

Operation Masthead: Four Bloggers Quest to Secretly Make A Wine (and Wait to Tell the Tale) by Melanie on DallasWineChick.com

Scotto Cellars Masthead: A Lodi Wine Blended by Wine Bloggers by Cindy on Grape Experiences
Now, on to the Wine Bloggers Conference!

Photo Credits: Some photos were taken by Bradley Gray, some by PullThatCork.


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