If the most exciting thing that’s happened to you in a motel room this year has been tasting cider with Paul Scotto, welcome to my world.
Nevertheless, I have raved about the family cidery— ‘Cider Brothers’, named for Paul and Michael Scotto—since I first discovered them last year, thanks to an aggressively well-orchestrated promo campaign. Take my praise for what you will, but I assure you that, to the bone, I’m a Michigan boy convinced that we grow the best cider apples this side of Normandy, and yet, thanks to these cidery siblings, I have been forced to revise, if not dismiss, such provincialism:
The Scottos are from Lodi, California—a land I associate with a John Fogerty stuck more than William Tell sticking an apple on his kid’s head.
Still, Cider Brother’s William Tell Cider is sensational; loaded with delicacy and minerality within a refreshing, pure apple package, light on tannins, heavy on purity and depth.
Turn out that the Scotto biography is as complex as the Cider Scion’s cider—the family has been making wine in Lodi since the Sixties, and before that, selling it in crock jugs from a horse drawn pushcart in Brooklyn.
Anthony Dominic (January 13, 1927 – May 1, 2013), the patriarch of the current clan, passed away recently, but not before instilling in the fifth generation of vintners—sons Anthony, Dominic, and Gregory and daughters, Felicia Barbalinardo and Monica Chappell—the essentials of tradition. In fact, the Scottos still produce Villa Armando, the brand that their elders once sold door to door in New York; it’s a ‘rustic red’, which, as you can imagine, means that it comes in gallon jugs that cost less than ten bucks and is not necessarily the bottle you’d bring to the dinner party unless you were dining with the contadinos in the barn.
Not that there is anything wrong with contadinos or their barns, but I probably wouldn’t have written an exemplary column about Scotto wine if that’s all they sent me.
As it happens, they sent me a box of bottles of some really intriguing wines from their Scotto Family Vineyards brand—three luscious, dark, full-bore red wines and their Lodi Chardonnay.
The quality at the price ratio alone make them noteworthy, but beyond that, these wines are exuberant, and like the family itself, powerful without being pretentious. They are are extracted and concentrated, but not in the least out of balance, and probably the best value portfolio that I’ve encountered in ages. A lot of vintners take fruit of this quality and add too many layers of oak—raising the price while making them inaccessible until that fruit, along with the wood tannins, have faded.
I’m aboard, Captain Cork. And yeah, give me a cap and a cart and a t-shirt that says ‘I am not Jehovah’s Witness and I Don’t Have a Warrant’ and absolutely I’ll volunteer to rekindle family tradition and hawk Scotto wines door to door.
Scotto Family Cellars, Chardonnay, Lodi, 213; $13: My least favorite of the bunch, still wonderfully serviceable at the price. Peach, honey and sweet lemon dominate the palate; it’s fairly simple and quick to fade away.
Scotto Family Cellars, Cabernet Sauvignon, Lodi, 2012; $14: The nose is dark red cherry juice and toasty vanilla-oak; a lingering forest-like wildness carries through the palate and offers spice behind an essentially silken body. The wine is long on the palate and the acids and tannins are well integrated; there’s a certain self-indulgent joy to be found in enjoying rich, fruit-centered wines that are neither heavy nor cloying nor masked with layers of oak.
Adding to the fascinating array of flavors here are the blending grapes: 18% Barbera and 4% Petite Verdot
Scotto Family Cellars, Malbec, Lodi, 2012; $15: Lodi seems to condense as much mulberry ink from Malbec as the most sun-ripe Mendoza version; it settles in the grape as a nearly impenetrably dark wine with smoke and baking chocolate on the nose and toasty, show-wine depth. The aromatics are restrained and should develop with age—they’ve all dissolved into the vast mid-palate and the ripe tannins are still massive. A wine to keep for a couple years before opening.
Scotto Family Cellars, Old Vine Zinfandel, Lodi, 2011; $14: A gorgeous slice of mixed-berry pie with dusty chocolate behind the fruit. The bouquet is both creamy and sharp, and multitude of aromatics carry through to the palate, with a blend of blackberry, mocha and sweet tobacco tying the package together with a slightly bitter, but by no means unpleasant tang.