Last month, a panel of 58 judges gathered at the Nikko Hotel in downtown San Francisco to taste their way through a record 4,570 wines from 26 states and 31 countries at the San Francisco International Wine Competition. This was the first year we have entered our wines into this prestigious competition (at which our Director of Winemaking, Brooks Painter, won Winemaker of the Year for our sister winery, V. Sattui last year), and our wines were very well received by the judges. Overall, we received a Best of Class, Double Gold, 4 Gold, 7 Silver, and 3 Bronze medals!
2013 Dry Gewurztraminer - BEST OF CLASS
2010 Il Passito Late Harvest Semillon/ Sauvignon Blanc - DOUBLE GOLD MEDAL
2010 Il Barone Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon - GOLD MEDAL
2010 Napa Valley Sangiovese - GOLD MEDAL
2011 Zingaro - GOLD MEDAL
2013 La Fantasia - GOLD MEDAL
Cheers to our fantastic winemaking team!
“There is no ‘there’ there”. Gertrude Stein’s often quoted prose is commonly used to describe something that lacks soul, culture, life, or identity. While Ms. Stein was referring to the faceless existence of city-life, some critics have proclaimed this lament when speaking of grapes grown in and the wine making efforts of America.
The French speak of ‘terroir’ when referring to winemaking and the wines of France which is to say grapes are a reflection of the region in which they are grown; the soil, the climate, the aspect of a hillside, the amount of rain, the surrounding vegetation, etc. The United States’ AVA system has been criticized as nothing more than a weak effort to create a false sense of place in the wines prodced -- an illusion-- as they state, there is nothing ‘there’.
I decided to look beyond Cabernet Sauvignon, the reigning king of grapes for my initial attempt at disproving this theory and thus directed my attention to a varietal that, in my humble opinion, is ‘place’ personified. Pinot Noir, the thin skinned red wine grape of the Burgundy region of France has become increasingly popular with wine-buying wine-drinking Americans. It is a classic, elegant, food friendly wine—its enigmatic character and appeal as elusive as it is obvious.
Pinot Noir grapes are grown around the world but they flourish in cooler growing regions. In Oregon, the Willamette Valley is nearly the same latitude as the famed Burgundy region of France and has become synonymous with world class Pinot Noir. Oregon producers have found their sense of place as the Pinot fruit embodies the sophistication and finesse of a great Burgundy yet displays layered earth and bright red fruit summoning unrestrained California productions.
The rolling green hills of temperate Willamette Valley provide the perfect place for cool-climate loving Pinot Noir
California Pinot Noir is more mercurial stylistically without any one style from this large and geographically diverse growing area. From Santa Barbara and the Central Coast to the south and Sonoma County and Anderson Valley in the northern half of the state, diverse topography and weather patterns separate this region of more than 450 miles. From Santa Barbara and the Central Coast we find opulent wines with definitive Pinot Noir fruit that reflects its warmer and more southern roots with a controlled strength. Cooled by the San Pablo Bay, the Carneros region straddles both Napa and Sonoma Valley and shows hints of spice and brightness unique to these cooler vineyard sites of this sun-drenched area. North of Carneros we find the Sonoma Coast where Pinot shows depth and earthy complexity with some of California’s most acclaimed Pinot Noir producers firmly planted in this lush pacific expanse. Further north of Sonoma we find California’s newest Burgundy-like super star in the highly praised and sought after Anderson Valley of Mendocino County. Here the ocean cooled valley floor rarely sees summer temps above 85 degrees….even in the height of the season. Pacific marine influence floods the valley floor with morning coastal fog providing slow even ripening. Enthusiasts agree this temperate region yields fruit of subtle distinction.
A Pinot Noir trio from Castello di Amorosa; Los Carneros, Anderson Valley and the highly acclaimed King Ridge of Sonoma Coast. Each with expressive fruit and character from unique vineyard locations.
As far as American winemaking efforts, maybe we have not come up with anything quite as mysterious as ‘terroir’ to encapsulate the distinctive place of our wines….maybe we never will. But, as the saying goes, sometimes the best part of the journey is getting there.
Dungeness Crabcakes with Rainier Cherry Pinot Noir Reduction
For the reduction-
10-15 ripe cherries, pitted and chopped
10 ounces Pinot Noir
1 Tbsp Seasoned Rice Vinegar
Pink peppercorn to taste
Add all ingredients to sauce pan. Slowly reduce over medium heat.
You may suspect a read detailing the work of Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo or Botticelli as Tuscany is known for its artistic contributions. Florence, the heart of Tuscany, is considered to be the birthplace of the Renaissance and is one of the most important cities in the world for art lovers and historians. Tuscany boasts some of the world’s most prized works of art in the numerous museums and art galleries, the Uffizzi, the Pitti Palace, and the Bargello, just to name a few.
The Uffizzi Gallery (left) and the Palazzo Pitti (right) are home to some of Tuscany's most valuable works of art.
Aside from its artistic legacy, the cultivation and appreciation of wine is also deeply steeped in the history of Tuscany. Italy is one of the oldest wine-producing regions of the world and is still the largest wine producer by volume. There are over 350 different wine grapes commonly cultivated in Italy and many of these are indigenous to Tuscany. In Tuscany you can find everything from unpretentious local village wines to more sought after and prestigious wines like Brunello de Montalcino, Chianti Classico or Super Tuscans.
The ‘super’ heroes of Italian wine
In the early 1980’s prominent Tuscan wine producers believed the legal rules of the DoC and DoCG (Italian wine law) governing the production of Chianti were too restrictive. For example, they required the use of some white grapes and they prohibited blending non-indigenous grapes i.e. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or Syrah. In an effort to produce the best wines and embrace artistry in their craft they continued to use these less traditional grape varietals. Although not legally defined or regulated, the term “Super Tuscan” was coined to distinguish these artistically expressive wines from the inexpensive, lower quality wines that were typically associated with the term vino da tavola, or ‘table wine’.
Today, super Tuscans use the legal labeling of IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica), which gives producers more flexibility, or artistic license, and certainly has more cachet than vino da tavola. Super Tuscans now represent some of the most luxurious wines of Italy and tend to be modern, big and rich—and often carry a price tag exceeding $100- $200 a bottle.
Some super Tuscans contain Sangiovese but others are made solely from Merlot (like the famous Tenuta dell’Ornellaia Toscana Masseto), or from a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah (Riccardo Baracchi Toscana Ardito), or from even less traditional varietals, like a combination of Petit Verdot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Merlot (Argiano Toscana Solengo).
Castello di Amorosa’s 2009 La Castellana is 70% Cabernet, 15% Sangiovese and 15% Merlot. Exotic dried plum and tinder box on the nose and a refined palate of brooding dark cherry and dusty cocoa.
La Castellana...she looks right at home in the Great Hall of the Castello.
Our 2010 vintage, the first blended by Sebastiano Rosa of Italy's famed Sassicaia has garnered a whopping 92 points from James Laube of Wine Spectator.
Sebastiano may be Castello di Amorosa's Super-hero Tuscan!
American Idol, Miss USA, The Olympics, elections, books, dancing, movies, food, wine. From singing competitions to the food we eat and the wine we drink, it is compared and calibrated by a score. What are the parameters used to grant a number or a rating and how reliable are ratings when so much of what we find pleasing, appealing or excellent is purely subjective. For instance, can we look to a score on a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon to gauge a wine’s potential for enjoyment when individual tastes vary so widely? Wine is scrutinized, gauged and rated not by peers or consumers but, by 'professionals' who ascribe these ratings as a score intended for submission to the public via magazines, websites, social media etc.
Let’s dissect and analyze a wine score. What goes into a wine rating?
A wine rating is a score assigned by one or more wine critics for a wine tasted as a summary of that critic's evaluation of that wine. A wine rating is therefore a subjective quality score, typically numerical. Over the last couple of decades, the 50-100 scale introduced by Robert M Parker Jr. has become the standard. This scale is now used by ‘the big 3’, Wine Enthusiast, Wine Spectator, and Wine Advocate.
95-100 Classic: a great wine
90-94 Outstanding: a wine of superior character and style
85-89 Very good: a wine with special qualities
80-84 Good: a solid, well-made wine
75-79 Mediocre: a drinkable wine that may have minor flaws
50-74 Not recommended
In addition to a simple numerical score most wine ratings are meant to be a supplement to the wine tasting notes, which are brief descriptions of the critic's impression of the wine, including aromatics, flavor qualities, and ageing potential or drinking window. However, the emphasis is more often on the score applied by a critic rather than on the actual tasting notes.
Castello di Amorosa wines have been well received by ‘The Big 3’. Parker’s accolades for Il Barone and La Castellana were a huge boon for Castello di Amorosa as one of our first published big ratings. Wine Enthusiast’s critical acclaim for Castello's wines is a source of great pride and most recently, Wine Spectator has granted some very big numbers indeed.
2010 La Castellana: James Laube, Wine Spectator (92 Points) – Intense, with firm, ripe, vibrant cedar, red and dark berry, anise and loamy earth flavors, framed by chewy tannins and ending with a long finish laced with notes of black licorice. Drink now through 2024.
2010 Don Thomas: James Laube, Wine Spectator (94 Points) – Amazingly complex and refined, tuned to a mix of red and dark berry that’s elegant and graceful without sacrificing Cabernet’s power and torque. Ends with classic Bourdeaux-like cedar and cigar box touches, gliding along with fine-grained tannins. Drink now through 2028.
In an effort to remain unbiased, educated and in-touch with the amazing wines of Napa Valley we conduct blind tastings throughout the year for our Castello staff to participate in.
A great tasting needs a great room!
We tasted 27 different Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon in the Great Hall of Castello di Amorosa--
Here is the line-up....
The bottles were placed in a brown bag and numbered by a non-tasting non-voting participant....
....which guarantees an unbiased result.
Castello Pres Georg Salzner and Vice President Jim Sullivan enter the results.
The room cheered when the winner was revealed!
Check out more great scores for Castello di Amorosa's wines-
Results are in from the 2014 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, and once again Castello di Amorosa’s wines shone brightly among the competition!
This year’s competition included a record number of 5,825 wines entered from over 1,500 wineries from over 25 states, making this the largest competition of wines in America.
We are proud to announce that this year three of our wines received the Best of Class distinction, and we received one Double Gold Medal, six Gold Medals, four Silver Medals, and one Bronze Medal! Here are our winning wines:
2012 Pinot Bianco – BEST OF CLASS
2012 Dry Gewurztraminer – BEST OF CLASS
2009 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon – BEST OF CLASS
2010 Napa Valley Merlot – DOUBLE GOLD MEDAL
2010 “Il Barone” Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon – GOLD MEDAL
2009 “La Castellana” Reserve Super Tuscan – GOLD MEDAL
2012 Bien Nacido Vineyards Reserve Chardonnay – GOLD MEDAL
2012 Napa Valley Chardonnay – GOLD MEDAL
2011 “Zingaro” Zinfandel – GOLD MEDAL
2010 Napa Valley Sangiovese – GOLD MEDAL
2012 Anderson Valley Reserve Pinot Noir – SILVER MEDAL
2011 King Ridge Vineyard Pinot Noir – SILVER MEDAL
2012 Los Carneros Pinot Noir – SILVER MEDAL
2009 “Il Brigante” Red Blend – SILVER MEDAL
2012 Late Harvest Gewurztraminer – BRONZE MEDAL
You can attend the public tasting event taking place in San Francisco at Fort Mason on Saturday, February 15th, where over 800 wineries will be pouring from 1:30 – 5:00pm. Be sure to find us among the crowd to taste our award winners!
You can check out ticket information and view the full list of winners at www.winejudging.com
If you have been lucky enough to explore our Grand Barrel Room on a tour and tasting recently at the Castello, you may have noticed a few new additions to the stunning 12,000 square foot room. Right next to where our guests have the chance to taste wine straight from the barrel, there sit several large, concrete, egg-shaped containers. These are fermentation tanks, and they are used to ferment a special selection of the Castello’s award-winning wines.
Concrete? You might ask. What can concrete do for wine? Well as it turns out, concrete is a fantastic alternative to oak or stainless steel in winemaking. Without the “oaky” impact on a wine from barrel aging, the concrete allows the wine to retain its fruity characteristics and the inherent characteristics of the grapes are allowed to shine, making it an especially useful fermentation method for showcasing the terroir of single vineyard wines.
Concrete eggs are an interesting mix of ancient and ultra-modern winemaking techniques, since the first wines were actually fermented in pottery jars called amphorae. The egg shape is a newer modification, which allows the wines inside to have a natural convection current as the carbon dioxide released during fermentation helps to naturally stir the wine and mix in the sediment, or lees.
“Graeco-Italic” Wine Amphora, 2nd century B.C.
We originally had two concrete eggs in our Grand Barrel Room, and focused on several single vineyard wines, including our Ferrington Vineyard Dry Gewürztraminer and Tyla’s Point Pinot Bianco. These aromatic varietals work especially well with this fermentation method, because the concrete enhances the floral aromas and even increases the mineral characteristics in these wines. The elegant complexity of these wines from their fermentation in the eggs has led to them both winning high praise from tasting panels and our guests.
Our 2011 Ferrington Dry Gewurztraminer
This past year we have also produced a limited amount of Chardonnay, called “La Rocca” or “the fortress.” Our Associate Winemaker, Peter Velleno, explains that “the reason for the Chardonnay is that the use of concrete (or more specifically the lack of oak barrels) allows the flavor of the vineyard to be the star. Chardonnay needs to have a rich mouthfeel, so it makes sense to try it in concrete, where there will be no oak flavors or aroma, but still the benefits of aging on the lees.” Aging wine on the lees, or the yeast and sediment that settles to the bottom of the barrel during fermentation, imparts a creaminess and complexity that can’t be found in stainless steel. This year we are excited to be fermenting some of the Chardonnay fruit from the Bien Nacido vineyard in one of our eggs.
So keep an eye out the next time you visit the Castello, and if you take a tour down into the Grand Barrel Room you’ll be able to check out this unique fermentation technique that helps to make our Italian-style wines even more incredible!
During the Harvest season, there are always exciting things going on around the Castello, and today on the Crush Pad was no exception. Today, for the first time at the Castello, our winemaking team reserved a small lot of our Don Thomas Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon for fermentation directly in French Oak Barrels.
Traditionally, the fermentation process takes place in stainless steel tanks, where the must (skins and seeds of the grapes) are cold soaked with the juice before yeast is added. The cap, or layer of skins and seeds that get pushed to the top of the tanks from the activity taking place during fermentation, is broken up by either the punch-down or pump-over method, both of which ensure an even distribution of the color and flavors we wish to impart into our red wines. After five to eight days in these fermentation tanks, the juice is pressed from the skins and seeds and pumped into French Oak barrels for aging in the Castello’s extensive underground cave and cellar system.
Barrel fermentation means that the freshly destemmed grapes and their juices are pumped directly into French Oak barrels whose heads have been removed. Dry ice is added to cool the berries before the barrel heads are secured to seal in the must. The barrels are then laid on a rack that allows them to be rolled back and forth daily to ensure the cap stays moist and the oak is evenly introduced to the fermenting must and juice. Typically, two full barrels of must and juice will amount to one barrel of wine. The process of fermenting the juice in oak barrels helps to impart an added silkiness to the tannins and a rounder, more lush mouthfeel, especially to Bordeaux varietals. This extremely labor-intensive method of fermentation is typically reserved for only the most exclusive of wines, and the highly-acclaimed Cabernet Sauvignon from the Don Thomas Vineyard is an exceptional example of the quality of grapes deserving of such treatment.
The Don Thomas Cabernet Sauvinon clusters are conveyed into the berry sorter/ destemmer as a lucky tour group watches
The new French Oak barrels are filled directly from the destemmer
Our Cellar Supervisor, Chema, overseeing the juice and must being pumped into a special French Oak barrel that has a door in place to make filling and emptying easier
The deconstructed barrel waiting to be resealed with the juice and must inside
Dry ice is added to the must before the barrels are resealed to help cool off the berries
Resealing the barrel heads before they are sent into the cellars to begin the fermentation process
The barrels are stored in a special temperature-controlled room in the Castello's cellars during the fermentation process.
The night of our 2010 Castello Holiday Party I was seated at a table with executive winemaker Brooks Painter. As dessert was served, a decadent Bouche Noelle, we were contemplating our next pour. No small task! Lovers of the sweet anxiously awaited the succulent Late Harvest Gewurztraminer. Tempting. However, in the corner of the rooms I saw a bottle of something red. To my delight it was the highly anticipated 2006 Castello di Amorosa Merlot. Rich chocolate goodness with Merlot? Brooks and I agreed; Yes, please! We toasted another great year and then…..Silence as we took a moment to contemplate the wine. This Merlot was stellar. Heavy intoxicating aromatics with a smooth velvety palate of bittersweet cocoa and blackberries. I asked Brooks where the fruit was sourced from as it differed from the past fruit-driven Merlots of Castello. For the 2006 Merlot Brooks brought in fruit from vineyards near the south end of the Napa Valley, closer to the San Pablo Bay and the fog that rolls in off the Pacific. Made sense. Cooler vineyard sites allow the fruit to mature slowly while maintaining structure and natural acidity. Our admiration was well-deserved as the 2006 Castello di Amorosa release was voted one of the best Napa Valley Merlots of the vintage.
Merlot: typically more approachable than Cabernet Sauvignon, more versatile with food – what’s with all the bad press? (pun intended) Some of my most memorable 'wine dinners’ have prominently featured this viticultural also-ran. Later that night my thoughts turned to past Merlot Super Moments. This trip down memory lane required a bit of travel.
First stop: Italy. Although not specifically known for great Merlot, a few standouts are indeed vino Italiano. Tuscany’s Galatrona Petrolo and Masseto by Ornellaia are two of the finest expressions of Merlot I’ve had. Unfortunately price and availability can be prohibitive. For lovely lush Italian Merlot that won’t break the bank, travel north to the Friuli-Venezia region. Livio Felluga produces Merlot that never disappoints. For approximately $20 this luxurious red is perfect with slow braised fork-tender short ribs and mushroom risotto…..listen closely…..those are angels singing.
Now, across the globe to South America. Chile is now the 4th largest exporter of wine to the U.S. and has 33,000 acres planted to Merlot. (2nd most planted varietal to Cabernet Sauvignon of course). I went to a BBQ last summer and brought a few bottles of one of my favorites from this exciting region; Santa Ema. This $10 Merlot has and edge and is always met with approval. Turns out this southern hemisphere bottling works great with spice rubbed grilled chicken quarters.
And back to where it all began: France. Not only is Merlot the most planted varietal in the country, in the Bordeaux region Merlot accounts for 172,000 acres planted compared to Cabernet Sauvignon’s 72,000. In St. Emilion, 70% of all planted grapes are Merlot. Wines from this region, although Merlot dominant, are primarily blends; they embody elegance and restraint. Be adventurous….pick up a few right-bank’ers in the $30-$40 range and enjoy with roast leg of lamb or grilled duck breast. Two of my favorites: Chateau Monbousquet and Chateau Tertre Roteboeuf, my favorite prime roast beef wine.
I applaud and encourage all global explorations of this soft maligned varietal. In Napa Valley, where Merlot excels at higher elevations and cooler vineyard sites, this once exploited grape is being produced with new vigor and excitement.
Be adventurous and in your endeavors may you find out why Merlot is said to be the “flesh on the Cabernet Sauvignon’s bones.”
Mary Davidek C.S, C.S.W
Castello di Amorosa's 2008 La Castellana Super Tuscan Blend
93 points, The Wine Enthusiast, May 2013
Made from Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, with a splash of Sangiovese, this super Tuscan-style blend is powerful in every respect. It shows massively concentrated blackberry and crème de cassis flavors, with notes of dark chocolate and spices. The oak is rich and toasty, the tannins thick but as soft as silk, and the acidity lively enough to give all this richness a racy hit. Best enjoyed now and over the next 2–3 years for sheer Napa exuberance.
View Wine Enthusiast's review in their Buying Guide here
I have always rooted for the underdog, drawn to the dark horse; sure things and odds on favorites need not apply…..My Dad would have said being a Dodger fan has taken its toll. And so it goes; when it comes to wines my preference also leans to the runner-up. I often pass on the popular choice and instead, opt for its viticulture next of kin. When Cabernet Sauvignon is what’s for dinner, trust I will be sipping Merlot.
Not to say dark brooding Cabernet isn’t tempting with its flirtatious undertones of blackberry, cassis, dark cherry and chocolate…..wait…..am I describing Merlot? Yes. In fact, on a palate chart Cabernet and Merlot are kissing cousins and easily confused. If you want to have some fun, (admittedly wine-geeky fun) invite a few friends for a blind-tasting featuring Cabernet and Merlot. Make certain the wines are of similar pedigree, bottles in the $25 to $45 price range offer worthy contenders. Castello di Amorosa’s 2006 and 2008 Merlot are two of my favorite wines produced by Brooks Painter and his Castello team. Put these beauties in the lineup and even in the presence of well-seasoned palates, I predict a dead heat; a 50/50 split. In tasting panels Merlot is said to possess a softness or a roundness not typically associated with Cabernet. Why then the ridicule for this benevolent cultivar, which is, in fact, the most widely planted grape in all of France!? (Sacre bleu). Truth be told, Merlot is prolific in many regions and quite possibly this is at the root of its undoing.
Merlot could wear the banner "Just Because You Can Grow Something Doesn’t Mean You Should" but we’ll cover geography in Part 2. This over-abundance and plenitude eventually lead to Merlot becoming the marketing darling of the 90’s. Finally a wine our thick American tongues could pronounce. (I wonder how many “peanut noyas” were ordered?) Restaurants eagerly filled their wine lockers with this fashionable red. However, this trend ran its course as the over-planted Merlot often bordered on insipid rather than inspiring and earned a “sideways” glance.
Seemingly overnight Merlot became ‘persona non grata’ in tasting rooms as an often quoted movie line rang through the wine country. Out went Merlot and in came the next grape of favor. (shh, don’t tell me chateau Petrus!)
Well, fear not Merlot loving readers! Merlot is back with a vengeance and it’s better than ever. Next I’ll cover a few regions that are cultivating this classic with new vigor and excitement.
Until then, go drink some Merlot!
Mary Davidek C. S., S.W.