Fires in Wine Country

Last week has been devastating for many in Sonoma, Napa, Lake and Mendocino counties. The fires are ongoing and are in various stages of containment. This is a fluid situation and work is being done around the clock by brave fire crews and first responders to control the fires. This was a picture of the Pocket Fire with air support dropping fire retardant, taken October 12, not far from Mastro Scheidt Family Cellars crushpad location just north of Geyserville, in Alexander Valley.

Photo courtesy of local resident and friend, Jessica Brazil.

Photo courtesy of local resident and friend, Jessica Brazil.

Here's a link for daily updates on the wine country fires 

A growing number of friends and colleagues have had their property destroyed by fire. I mourn their loss. Many of you have asked how you can help victims of the fire. Please support your charity of choice. There will be many months of rebuilding and your support is critical to those efforts today.

Mastro Scheidt Family Cellars has been extremely lucky in that the winery facility located just north of Geyserville and to the west, is undamaged and currently out of danger. No vineyards that I purchase from have been affected by fire. Our cased goods facility located near the Santa Rosa Airport, is currently unaffected. Additionally, the entirety of the 2017 harvest was either in barrel or in tank as the fires started. There is no risk of “smoke taint” from Mastro Scheidt wines from the 2017 harvest. I am thankful for each and every one of you who have emailed, texted, called, and messaged me personally to ask about my safety.

The wine country is a strong community and will be rebuilt. #sonomacountystrong

David Scheidt | Owner and Winemaker

New Vintage, New Closure

Like many wine makers and wine drinkers, the belief that “cork is best” for all wines is a conceit. As I’ve grown in both experience and case production over the last ten years, natural cork is not the only wine closure in the marketplace.

I made the jump to screw caps several years ago upon the introduction of my Jug program. No one seemed to mind that I used a screw cap for a growler of wine. In fact, the screw cap fit the image of the wine and the growler package.

The next use of screw caps were for more traditionally bottled wines, the classic Bordeaux styled 750ml bottle that has had wide success in restaurants, delis, and grocery stores. The wines are typically served by-the-glass and easy to open and close in restaurant settings or purchased for nightly home consumption with a wide array of foods. I’ve increased production in the screw cap category, so I don’t see that screw caps have been perceived negatively by consumers.

Natural cork and the Diam technical cork

Natural cork and the Diam technical cork

The most recent evolution in packaging is the technical cork. Nearly 100% natural cork, the closure is guaranteed to be free of “cork taint”; whereas traditional cork cannot make the same claim. Secondly, technical corks have been engineered to allow oxygen through the closure over time, similar to traditional cork, which allows for micro-oxidation of the wine, a beneficial characteristic for age worthy wines like Cabernet Sauvignon. Thirdly, you pull the technical cork with the same traditional corkscrew; no special equipment needed.

What crystalized my decision to move to technical corks was an experience I had with a restaurant customer of mine.  I was pouring a flight of wines for spring and summer at a restaurant in Fresno. When the owner and I got to the second wine, we both knew instantly the wine was corked. Not good. I’m embarrassed and the wine, even if he wanted to pour it in the restaurant, couldn’t be evaluated properly and therefore wasn’t chosen as a finalist.

As I’m looking to innovate where I can, I made a partial transition to technical corks with some of my 2015 wines. The main reason for me transitioning to technical corks was zero cork taint. Imagine buying one of my wines for $50 only to open the bottle and find the smell of wet cardboard. Disappointing. With technical cork, having a wine damaged by cork taint is not a possibility. With my 2016 vintage, I should be 100% screw cap and technical taint free cork.

It was a big decision to move away from traditional cork. I like the history, tradition and nostalgia of traditional cork. But from a customer viewpoint, the remote possibility of having a flawed bottle of wine because of cork taint in the 21st century isn’t nostalgic, it’s unacceptable.

Look for the new corks in my 2015 RWSC label, Superstrada 2015, and Cabernet Franc 2015.

Harvest 2017, Mid Season Report

Every indication, leading up to harvest in 2017, showed a gradual ripening schedule, perhaps 7-10 days behind 2016. Fruit quality looked good, with some vineyard concerns of powdery mildew. Canopy growth was vigorous, fruit set was good. Yields in some vineyards were lower than expected, but healthy vines from all the rainfall.

Personally, I’m happy to have high quality, low yield, if there has to be some trade-off.

Lencioni Vineyard Dry Farmed Cabernet Sauvignon

Lencioni Vineyard Dry Farmed Cabernet Sauvignon

The gradual and stable weather gave way to hot temperatures beginning the end of August and came in a couple waves. 100+degrees in Healdsburg on 8/26, 27, 28 with an overnight low on the 28th at 56 (which helps); as Dry Creek Valley behaves differently than Alexander Valley, the fog lingered a little longer in Dry Creek Valley.

Dry_farmed_Cabernet_Mastro.jpg

Then the real heat came and the morning fog disappeared.

August 31 through September 2 saw 110 degree temps in Dry Creek Valley with the crushpad up in Alexander Valley at 119. Overnight lows were in the high 60's. We “cooled” down  to 104 on Sept 3 and 90 degrees on Sept 4 with a bit of humidity and a thick haze throughout Alexander and Dry Creek Valley.

So what did all this wild weather mean to Mastro Scheidt Cellars?

All hands on deck at Mastro Scheidt...it was 110 degrees that day

All hands on deck at Mastro Scheidt...it was 110 degrees that day

It meant all hands on deck to pull my dry farmed feral Lencioni vineyard grapes off as soon as possible! 100% hand picked and sorted means you don’t take raisins. Hand-picked also means you start early and finish early because it’s hot, real hot and you don’t want the fruit fermenting in the vineyard if you can help it. 

1TL_morning_mastro_scheidt.jpg

And then, strangely enough, on 9/7 there was precipitation early morning and up through 11am. Not a light rain, but real rain. On 9/13 the rain came again and dumped pretty good in the morning and the sun never came out, maybe a high of 70 at the crushpad.

Cabernet and TL can handle the rain. They're both tough

Cabernet and TL can handle the rain. They're both tough

There are still a few things to bring in before the season is complete and the steady weather pattern is back in effect. But who knows, the sooner I'm off the vine the better.

The Hunter, 2016 White Wine

Mastro Scheidt releases The Hunter, 2016 White Wine

Hunter_2016_mastro_scheidt

While technically not a drought year, 2016 offered abundant sunshine and warmth through the growing season. Yields were up over 2015 and about on par with 2014. Setting pick dates, we saw no complications. Several vineyards were used in the creation of this wine throughoutSonoma County.

The 2016 Hunter is a classic Bordeaux inspired white blend. The backbone is all Sauvignon Blanc adding acidity and notes of lemon cream and melon to the blend, without any unripe flavors. I'm personally not a fan of grassy Sav Blanc. The addition of Semillon and barrel fermentation in neutral French oak adds complexity and roundness to the finished wine.

I hope you enjoy this wine all Summer long. I will.

For those that want the technical specs, find them HERE.

Rose of Sangiovese 2016

Rose of Sangiovese 2016 aka The First Rose I've Ever Made!

rose_mastro_scheidt_2016

Rosé of Sangiovese is a wine I’ve always wanted to create, as I’ve produced various Sangiovese red wines over the last several years. The wine was created using the saignée method, a technique whereby I drain off juice from the main body of the Sangiovese crop, which has had skin contact for a 24 hour period. The resulting juice for this Rose is light pink in color.

The juice was placed in last year’s Sangiovese barrels for primary fermentation for 14 days and stirred twice on the gross lees. The wine was then racked off the gross lees and returned to barrel, where it was stirred again twice, or bâtonnage, adding texture to the wine. The wine was not allowed to go through secondary fermentation.

The result is pale pink in color, with a bit more depth on the palate. The wine was fermented dry, without residual sugar.

For those that want all the technical specs you can find it HERE.

Pescheria, Lecce, Puglia

Pescheria

For my Fresno readers, if “Bulldog Grill and Pismo’s” had a love child in Italy they would have named it Pescheria. Pescheria is a restaurant where you order at the counter and have food delivered to the table; in this case, the counter is an open fish counter full of fresh fish. More Pismo's prices than Bulldog Grill prices.

rosato_lecce_wine_puglia_scheidt

The ‘order at the counter’ model might work for apertivo, gelato, and panini. This concept is probably a stretch for many Italians, as prices are that of a sit down restaurant. My gut says the concept was created to cut costs on staff, so higher level of product, fresh seafood, can be served.

Squid “noodles” tossed with celery, hazelnuts and olive oil, crudo style. Raw squid body, sliced into ribbons, just like a pasta and tossed with raw celery of similar thickness along with some salt and olive oil. Garnished with some crushed hazelnuts and presto, squid crudo. Unlike Pismo’s, this calamari was not deep fried, breaded, or sautéed, it was raw. This might be a stretch for some people. I happened to enjoy it.

squid_noodles_lecce_scheidt

Pachierri (oversized rigatoni) stuffed with bacala (salt cod) in a red sauce. Straight up, classic Pugliese style cuisine. A couple ingredients, some red sauce, salted fish; it doesn’t get any more traditional. Plenty of ways to cook salt cod in Italy and it seems popular in the winter. Several restaurants incorporate some form of bacala on the menu, I’ve already forgotten how many times I’ve had it.

stuffed_pasta_lecce_scheidt

I thought the food quality was high and the execution solid. Most Italian restaurants I’ve been to generally don’t have lots of staff to begin with, one person can generally work the entire front of house even in a busy restaurant, so I didn’t feel like I had a lack of attention, but I’m not a native Italian either, just a traveler making an observation.

Mamma Elvira Double Down, Lecce, Puglia

I enjoyed both Mamma Elvira Cucina and Enoteca. The Cucina provides a more classic sit-down restaurant experience and full menu of Puglian specialties. The Enoteca also has an indoor area to eat, but the real action is on the patio (even in Winter). And when I say 'patio' I mean to say the dozen or so tables that are positioned on an active street in Lecce. Let me reiterate, an active street in Lecce. Several other adjacent restaurants and wine bars do exactly the same thing, perfectly Italian and wonderfully busy.

Mamma Elvira Cucina

Mamma Elvira Cucina is a full service restaurant, a newer place in Lecce, spun off from their wine bar (which I dined at on night one) in the center of town. They helped me find some of the Cantine Imperatore I liked so much.

I was offered an amuse of fried blooming onion without the heavy breading. A local tiny onion that was not harsh, however a hint bitter, similar to the braised onion I had at Elvira Cantina. The onion was well fried, not heavy on the seasoning; likely this dish is for an apertivo to be eaten with Aperol or Campari based cocktails. Not the best pairing with my wine, so I drank sparkling water.

Elvira_lecce_onion

Baccala fritters. Solid. This is basically the Puglian version of fish and chips, without the chips. If you're hungry, need protein and gluten in your life and some deep fat fryer grease, this is Nirvana. It's filling and I probably shouldn't have ordered it at 9pm, but I did, because I haven't had this version on my trip and it sat like a brick with me through my night terrors 5 hours later. And yes, I would order it again.

sald_cod_elvira_lecce

Pasta was straight forward Puglian frutta di mare. Octopus was tender and the sauce was a simple pan sauce, fresh. Notice the seeds and connections were removed from the tomato; I love that attention to detail down here. Pasta was buckwheat, traditional for the area. This pasta to me is a Wednesday night, home cooked meal. It's served without pretense but beautiful. 

elvira_lecce_seafood_pasta

Dessert was a tiramisu type of dessert, but richer in flavor. Could have been a yogurt base or some type of thicker cream. Dried fruit is a staple in Puglia and provides some texture to the dessert experience.

dessert_elvira_lecce

Mamma Elvira Enoteca

On my first night in Lecce, Marco showed me around town and suggested Mamma Elvira as one of his spots to eat. So I did.

Meatball 1: Bombette di Martina Franca, pork meatball filled w scamorzza cheese and sautéed more like a pork involtini as it's a pork cutlet rolled up and sautéed. It did not seemed like a braised piece of pork. The only sauce was a quick deglaze of the sauté pan with caramelized onions and probably a splash of wine.

pork_meatball_elvira_lecce

Meatball 2: A flattened meatball, quickly sautéed and finished with a red wine reduction and braised little local pearl onion. The beef didn’t seem to have the heavy seasoning of a sausage patty, more as billed, a flat meatball. The onion is a hint bitter, like bitter greens. Dark flavors here, braised meat flavors that actually make wine #2 a lot better.

I'd go back to both restaurants upon my return to Lecce, great wine lists at both.

beef_meatball_elvira_lecce

00 Doppiozero, Lecce, Puglia

00 Doppiozero

Another restaurant recommended by Marco, 00 Doppiozero was another favorite in Lecce. Easy to pop in for an espresso, pastry, amaro, or light lunch. Here's the highlights.

Lunch of some of the best selection of breads I've had to date, followed up by an oversized bruschetta of a light, creamy blue cheese with bitter greens, tomato and anchovies with olive oil and some red wine of local flavor. Easy and tasty.

lecce_00_puglia_scheidt

My Jedi Restaurant senses tell me this is a new model for Italian bar/restaurant/cantina in Puglia. It's open all day starting at about 730am, they do not close until midnight or 1am. You can buy a bottle of wine to take home at a discount to the dine-in cost. You can grab a espresso. You can buy bread. You can buy cured meats to take home. You can order at the counter or order at the table. You can have a full, sit down lunch or dinner (at 12 noon or 6pm), or you can do the Italian thing and have apertivo and sip Spritz and nosh on goodies.

pastry_00_lecce_puglia

I've popped in for an Amaro, a coffee, a pastry on different days at different times. I like the access and the quality. I was even greeted by a regular after the third visit. The breakfast croissant filled with pastry cream is outstanding. I could have eaten one each day.

When nearly everything is closed at 3pm, "00" in Lecce is open. They are open on Sunday. I want them to be open when I return here. They do close at about 3pm on Monday though, otherwise open.

doppiozer0_lecce_puglia_mastro_scheidt

Introduction to Lecce, Puglia

Lecce in southern Italy has long been called the Florence of the South. It's a trek to get down this far from Tuscany (Puglia is the heel of the boot), I won't lie about that. From Bologna by train, it's about an 8-10  hour trip depending upon the train you take and the delay factor. The nearest airport is Brindisi, about 30 minutes away by car. 

I hadn't been to Puglia since my 2009 trip. I only spent a few hours in Lecce back in 09 before moving further south to the town of Ugento. I promised myself back then to return to Lecce and give the town its due. I'm very happy that I returned for Tour d'Italia 2017.

Plenty of dining options in Lecce, from fast casual to full-blown multi-course formal. I'll detail my dining experiences in the next several posts, this post represents the overview.

Art on the streets of Lecce, Puglia

Art on the streets of Lecce, Puglia

Lots of pizza and good bread (00 Doppiozero) being consumed in this town. The pizza places aren't large dining establishments for sitting down, street dining is the thing around here, so an entire family will be huddled around a small table eating pizza together outside. Pizza is social, it's family, it's friends, it's take-away. It's also creative. Everyday I walked by Il Pizzicotto, Pizza al Taglio (my preferred place, thanks Marco), there was another version of pizza being displayed. I love the variety. Sure, I'm a sucker for pepperoni and cheese in the States, but it's hard to beat a truffle cheese pizza with mushrooms on a Sunday night. A word of note, Il Pizzicotto charges for its pizza by weight, as each individual piece is cut for the customer.

Il Pizzicotto, Pizza al Taglio , Lecce

Il Pizzicotto, Pizza al Taglio , Lecce

00 Doppiozero bread selection, the BEST

00 Doppiozero bread selection, the BEST

The town of Lecce is easy to navigate within the old city. Plenty of landmarks and churches to explore. Train station is a 5 minute walk to the center of town.

lecce_dome_puglia

Sunday's are busy in Lecce, unlike some towns in Tuscany which can be nearly shut down except for the most touristy towns. Friday, Saturday and Sunday in Lecce the streets are packed with people and nearly every bar and restaurant open. The main restaurants don't open until about 730pm, sometimes 830pm. Pizza is served in some places as early as 6pm.

Lecce_scooter_puglia

Monday’s in Lecce might lead you to believe that zombies attacked the town right after you walked safely back to your apartment on Sunday night. The streets are empty. Businesses are closed and you wonder where everyone is. I've never seen anything like it in a major town in Italy, there's always someone out. Not here. So remember to stock up on food for the day, because your options are limited.

This is one of two main squares in Lecce on a Monday morning.

This is one of two main squares in Lecce on a Monday morning.

I look forward to returning to Puglia. I would base my journey in Lecce but would rent a car to re-explore the towns around the region. 

Osteria dal Manzo, Lucca

Osteria dal Manzo in Lucca, Italy

I missed this restaurant on my 2016 trip to Lucca, they may have been closed for part of the winter. I’m pleased to say they were open for Tour D'Italia 2017.

Manzo Night 1

To start, artichoke confit and finished in bacon fat, additionally there were bacon crumbles and a small piece of bacon as garnish. A Parmigiano fonduta was at the bottom of the plate as an anchor and provided a textural contrast to the al dente nature of the artichoke. While looking back on the entire trip and the number of artichoke dishes I consumed, this rates highly on the list.

Artichoke_manzo_lucca_scheidt

Pappardelle anatra, was a simple dish of ground duck, long cooked in broth (something I've recreated at home). While I couldn't detect any pieces of onion, carrot or celery, there was a whole bay leaf as garnish. This is no nonsense Italian food, part of the reason I love pasta so much, minimal and traditional. Pasta was silky and a bit more thin than the previous two days. A shout out to my friend Hillary in Vincenza, her dish was better. Pasta was thicker and al dente.

anatra_manzo_lucca_scheidt

The tordolli in meat sauce was outstanding and I think, better than any other I'd tasted in Lucca by a wide margin. There was substance to the pasta, real depth. The noodle was al dente and a hint thicker than most American style stuffed pasta. Tordolli is a round ravioli to translate into easy to use American. Of the generic, ubiquitous tordolli in meat sauce, I found the pasta at Manzo to be a highlight.

tordolli_manzo_lucca_scheidt

As a second course, the classic grilled steak over greens with some lightly marinated artichoke pieces. The artichoke wasn't dressed heavily, if anything a bit more acid than oil, which was purposeful as you want acid with the steak. No off artichoke flavors when consumed with the wine. Steak was a spot on mid-rare, tender and simply seasoned. No mistakes, just wonderfully complete.

steak_manzo_lucca_scheidt

Brownie with cream. As billed by the server, dessert was an American style brownie not made from a box you picked up at Costco. Moist and chocolatey.

As an addition, Antonio, the proprietor came to the table to talk. Great guy. We spoke about all things wine, politics, food, tourism and agriculture. 

Manzo Night 2

To start, Fegatini over creamed spinach with Mandarin orange. This could be one of the finest examples of wonderfully cooked chicken livers I’ve experienced. These chickens were raised right, I didn’t get a single piece of connective tissue or fiberous material in a single bite. Texture and flavor were the best in memory. The play to use a creamed spinach (I’m a sucker for creamed spinach) paired well. The addition of citrus brought the whole dish together. Great preparation on a classic dish.

fegatini_manzo_lucca_scheidt

Ravioli with bacon and peanuts in a light cheese fonduta. I don’t recall ever having peanuts with Italian food. Usually it’s hazelnuts or pistachio nuts with the Italians. The peanuts weren’t a focus of the dish, but rather a texture element. The ravioli were of a size and texture similar to what I grew up on, small and densely packed with filling. The bacon added both crunchy texture and salt to the dish. Overall, wonderful and I would like to recreate this dish at home.

ravioli_manzo_lucca_scheidt

Grilled pork with crispy potato (the potatoes were best I’ve had this trip, they were actually crispy, not sitting in a steamer tray). I’m leading off with the potatoes because I’ve had roasted potatoes several times and each time they seemed to be pre-cooked and holding somewhere in a steam tray. Manzo was making these potatoes fresh, as there was only crispy golden goodness and not an once of moisture on any potato.

pork_manzo_lucca_scheidt

Manzo Night 3

Beef Tartare. Yes, I know, I’m pushing my luck like I did last year. Italian beef tartare can be boring. Light in flavor and salt and no egg yolk. Manzo’s preparation was with balsamic vinegar, which helps bring out flavor. Add the base of artichokes and a little horseradish cream on the side and this dish is a good play on tartare.

tartare_manzo_lucca_scheidt

Spaghetti with a creamed spinach and nuts, not a pesto sauce, there was also some anchovy in the base of the sauce. Using what seemed to be the creamed spinach base from my chicken liver dish, it coated the pasta completely and beautifully. I was preparing something close to this spinach style sauce with arugula, walnuts and cheese back in Mammoth last year. Using the anchovy changes the sauce into something more mouth-coating and full palate than using greens alone. Also, I didn’t taste any heavy or even moderate garlic flavors as you would in pesto. It's powerful flavor would work with bretty wines, acidic white wines, and fruity reds.

spaghetti_manzo_lucca_scheidt

Duo of fried rabbit and chicken. Each breading was different, the rabbit used rosemary and the chicken used garlic. The chicken was fried a bit longer. I liked the rabbit best. Tender, juicy white meat and the hint of rosemary. I could have eaten three more pieces. I’m not complaining about the chicken, it was just an easy second place for me, albeit, well fried and well salted. 

rabbit_manzo_lucca_scheidt

Dessert was a no cook cheesecake, with what tasted like a mix of creme fraiche and cream cheese, maybe some mascarpone. Great crust and I think an easy dish to recreate and serve for people at a dinner party.

cheesecake_manzo_lucca_scheidt

Wine was Bordocheo house wine, which was a bit high in acid for me this season. Certainly, the best pairing was with the duo of fried food.

amaro_manzo_lucca_scheidt

Finished with Amaro with pine nuts in it.

I'm incredibly happy to have eaten at Manzo three times and look forward to my return. Thanks to Antonio and the whole crew that took care of me each night.