While most of us have a go-to favorite wine taking permanent tenancy in the ‘most preferred’ zone, often we explore other varietals-- particularly when entertaining or in my case, looking for the just-right pairing. Entertaining and pleasing guests with diverse palates, seasonal influences, even extreme weather can bring wine-drinking-enjoying challenges. When it is 100 degrees and the mercury is soaring it can be a test to feign enthusiasm about a glass of inky rich Cabernet for the thick Porterhouse grilling on the ‘cue. Likewise, when you spy frost on the pavement and the windshield is icy, a chilled crisp white wine may be less than heart-warming. What to do when some of the satisfying hearty wintertime favorites are rich and creamy and just screaming for…. well….not a red wine.
My winter white is chardonnay. Specifically, Castello di Amorosa Bien Nacido Vineyards Chardonnay. This is not the ‘Castello sommelier’ pontificating on the many virtues of this award winning chardonnay, this is me, the ‘wine drinker’ who is generally not excited about most California chard.
Castello's Bien Nacido Chardonnay is different—this fruit is exceptional. The vineyard is located on the central coast of California and exposed to the Pacific. The coastal morning fog provides cool temperatures early in the day but warm late afternoons drenched in the Pacific sun. This gives the slow ripening grapes longer hang time on the vines while enjoying the real estate and the luxurious coastal influence. The juice shows its mettle when barrel fermented but not over manipulated so the gorgeous bright backbone of zippy acidity shines through. This balanced chard displays a soft nuttiness with fruit and focus. Juicy Comice pear, white peach and light vanilla flavors; full bodied and rounded--perfect for the rich creamy cold-weather foods we crave.
While winter white may not conjure up warm cozy images outside--
when you are inside, winter white can be an absolute delight!
Quick and Easy Chicken Fettuccine Alfredo
½ lb. fettuccine, uncooked
1lb. boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into strips
1-1/4cups chicken broth
4oz. Mascarpone ( sub cream cheese)
1/2 cup Grated Parm, divided
¼ tsp. garlic powder
1/4tsp. white pepper
Cook pasta to slightly firm. Sautee chicken in large nonstick skillet on medium-high heat 5 to 7 min. or until done, stirring occasionally. Remove from skillet. Mix flour and broth in same skillet with whisk. Stir in Mascarpone, 2 Tbsp. Parm, garlic powder and pepper; cook 2 min. or until mixture boils and thickens, stirring constantly. Stir in chicken. Drain pasta; place in large bowl. Add chicken mixture; toss to coat. Sprinkle with remaining Parm.
This is an extremely busy time of the year and I don’t see a clear window of nothing-much-going-on until 2015 (yikes)! Aside from standard work activity along with not so standard work activity (see link below), November brought birthdays (including mine!), weddings, anniversaries, and, of course, the big one--Thanksgiving. Factor in necessary travel and shopping for these celebrations and it adds up to ‘I don’t have time to insert activity here'.
This is also the season for parties and entertaining; from the office to the dining room holiday festivities are everywhere. Some of this merrymaking is planned but others are more…well… impromptu. While pop-up happenings are intended in the spirit of cheerful tidings these bombshells… er, I mean pleasant surprises.. can be stressful and hectic. To facilitate the fun and merriment while reducing the stress, keeping just a few indispensible items in the fridge and pantry make last minute entertaining truly entertaining. I keep an arsenal of all ‘the fixings’ on hand throughout the holiday season. When these easy apps are paired with the right wine you are transformed into an accomplished and relaxed holiday-entertaining pro.
I call these go-to bite-sized nibbles ‘Five Easy Pieces’.
Check out the provided link for a 30 minute interview about the Castello and the food and wine program; ‘The Royal Pairing’. This was a fun radio segment on CRN Digital talk radio.
The ammo; hummus, pesto, mascarpone, goat cheese, mushrooms, ground sausage, dried fruit and nuts, deli roast, sliced chorizo, baguette, crackers, creamy horseradish sauce. These items have a long shelf life and perfect to keep on hand.
Serve roasted red pepper hummus with a chilled glass of Castello’s Rosato de Sangiovese, Gioia.
Now that is what I call a joyful tiding!
As long as the Gioia is chilled serve a sliced baguette with a light spread of mascarpone topped with chorizo. A spicy bite for sure but so delicious with this bright and sassy rosé.
For this topper I browned sausage and then added sauteed finely chopped mushrooms sauteed in butter. To the final mixture add a couple generous tablespoons of chopped nuts and cranberries and brown a bit more. Served on crostini this tasty bite almost mimics a deconstructed holiday stuffing.
This is a crowd pleaser, even if it is a small crowd! I rolled deli roast beef around a sprinkle of shredded mozzarella and a generous smear of creamy horseradish. Heat in the oven until the cheese is melted. Delish with a full-bodied red blend like the 2010 Il Brigante.
If you have ever tasted with me at the Castello on the Royal Food and Wine Pairing you know how delicious a cracker with pesto and goat cheese can be. The Castello 2013 Pinot Grigio is bright, succulent and juicy; a perfect yet simple mouth-watering duo.
Summer is a beautiful time to visit Napa Valley. Well let’s face it, with our mild, Mediterranean climate pretty much any time of year is great to visit, but soaking up the sunshine while surrounded by vibrant green vineyards, rolling hills, and a glass of wine in hand is a fantastic way to spend an afternoon in the warm summer months. Here are a few ways to maximize your fun in the Napa Valley sun in the summertime:
♦ Pick 1-2 "can't miss" wineries, and fill in the gaps with others as your day progresses. Keep in mind that each winery will pour you roughly the equivalent of one glass (5 oz) of wine, so it’s good to limit yourself to 3-4 wineries per day. Trying to plan tastings at more than 3 wineries for one day can leave you feeling rushed, and wine country is all about relaxing. You’re on vacation, after all!
♦ Plan on spending 1-2 hours at each winery. This goes along with the “choose 3-4 max” rule of wineries per day (especially if you’re planning for winery tours). Most wineries in Napa Valley open around 9:30am and close around 6:00pm in the summer, so figuring out how early you want your day to start/ where you’re travelling to can be a big factor of how much time you have to actually taste. Pace out your day and take the time to enjoy each winery you visit without feeling you need to jump to the next.
♦ Look for specialty tours. Many wineries throughout the valley offer experiences beyond the standard tasting, and these are a great option to take advantage of, especially with the larger wineries as it allows for a less crowded and more personal experience. Cheese pairings, food and wine pairings, and guided tours are a fantastic way to learn more about what goes into each winery's philosophy and connect you even more with the delicious vintages being poured for you!
♦ Have a designated driver. If nobody wants to take the keys, it might be a good idea to look into hiring a driver for the day. Napa Valley has many car and limo services that cater to the thirsty traveler (and even a Wine Train!), and if you’re staying in Calistoga, their shuttle is a great option for getting around the northern end of the Valley!
♦ Bring a water bottle/ snacks. Hydration is important! You’ll want to drink roughly one 8 oz glass of water for each tasting if you’re looking to avoid feeling too groggy by the end of your day, and it’s never a good idea to taste on an empty stomach! Keep in mind that most Napa Valley wineries cannot offer picnic facilities per county ordinance, so plan on snacking in the car or finding a park if you wanted to have a full picnic (our sister winery V. Sattui is one of the few wineries to offer picnic facilities, located just south of St. Helena).
♦ Start your day at the winery farthest away from your hotel/ dinner location and work your way back towards it. This helps to insure that you’re not stuck with a long drive when you’re all tired out from a full day of exploring the valley.
♦ Wear comfortable shoes (LADIES I’m talking to you here). Girls, I know you love those three inch heels, but I promise you will not be loving them after a day of walking on uneven surfaces/ in vineyards/ touring wineries/ standing at tasting bars. You don’t want to be the one drinking just to get to that point where you can’t feel your feet anymore.
♦ Bring a light jacket. Daytime temps in Napa Valley tend to range from mid-70s all the way to low 100s, but it does drop down to the 50s in the evenings here, which can be a bit of a shock if you’re out in shorts and flip flops. Also keep in mind that most caves/ tasting rooms are around 50°-60°F (10°-15°C) to help keep the wines cool for aging (and pouring). Wine only helps to warm you up so much!
♦ Make reservations whenever possible. Whether for restaurants or winery tours, it never hurts to call ahead (especially if you are a big group!!). Summer is the busiest time of year in Napa Valley, and many winery tours/ restaurants book up quickly!
♦ Expect some traffic. I’m not talking full-blown rush hour madness, but don’t expect to be cruising down the highway at 80mph between wineries in the middle of the day. There are only two main roads to get through the valley (Hwy 29 on the west and Silverado Trail on the east), and since both are mostly 2 lane roads, you can imagine how easy it would be for either to back up quickly due to congestion, construction, accidents, or that person who slammed on their breaks because they almost missed their winery (on that note: please don’t be that person. Make a U-turn!!). If your winery or restaurant reservation is at 2:00, plan to be there 15 minutes early to check in. You won’t want to miss a thing!
♦ See if any events are happening while you're here. Wineries throughout the Valley love to host special events year-round, and it's always a great idea to check out what's going on while you're visiting! From concerts in the park to winemaker dinners or themed parties like the Castello's Midsummer Medieval Festival or Hot Havana Nights, summer evenings are packed full of great opportunities to sip, swirl, & savor after the tasting rooms close!
And most importantly…
♦ Remember: it’s a wine TASTING, not wine DRINKING. Pace yourself! Relax, and enjoy your visit to this world-famous wine growing region. With beautiful wines and incredible views all around you, you’ll be mapping out your next visit before you leave!
Adventure (and wine) is out there!
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!
A great perk of living/ working in wine country is the opportunity to be exposed to a wide variety of wines and winemaking styles. One of the obvious ways to expand one’s palate in this area is going out and exploring the myriad of tasting rooms and wineries available (and with over 375 in Sonoma County and 400+ in Napa Valley, there are many important decisions to make!). Basically, we in the wine world lead a rough life of roaming around beautiful rolling hillsides and valleys covered in leafy green and gold beauty searching for whatever our taste buds desire.
Just another day at the office...
Like I said, life’s hard sometimes.
But what about experiencing wine after hours? Or what if you don’t have the ability to drive 20 mins to an hour to get to the nearest winery? Well there are plenty of opportunities to explore new vintages and varieties from the comfort of your own home. Why not try hosting a wine tasting party?
A group of us at the Castello get together on a regular basis for wine tastings, and it always ends up to be an enlightening, delicious, and fun way to try new wines and hear impressions from everyone. We’ve had evenings dedicated to a specific varietal (such as Pinot Noir), winemaking styles (Old World vs New) and wine regions around the globe. Our most recent tasting focused on the wines of Spain. We sampled Riojas, Priorats, and Tempranillos with Spanish cheeses and Tortilla de Patata, a classic Spanish egg and potato appetizer made by our very own resident Spaniard, Maria!
Spanish wine tasting night with the Castello crew (and friends!)
Throwing a wine tasting party can be fun and easy, and is a great way to connect with friends over a few bottles of delicious vino! Here are a few tips for planning your own wine tasting night:
What you need:
♦ Wines (obviously) – Make sure to have enough wines for your party to taste! It’s generally a good idea to keep these get-togethers between 6-12 people so everyone has a chance to sit around the table and share their thoughts and stories about the wines being poured, and it’s a good plan to allot about a half bottle’s worth of wine per person at the tasting, though having an extra bottle or two on hand never hurts “just in case”! Keep the pours around 2 ounces for each wine, especially if you have a wider selection to taste through.
♦ Glasses – Always make sure to have enough glasses for all guests present. It’s usually nice to have at least 2 glasses per guest, especially if you want to evaluate your wines side-by-side. It’s fine to reuse the glass for multiple wines, as long as you’re not going from a red to a white or sweet (you don’t want to make your own “rose”)
♦ Dump Bucket – Have a vase or pitcher off to the side for people to dump any wine they don’t want to finish (remember, the more wines you consume, the less you’ll be able to taste!)
♦ Water – Place a water pitcher on the table with glasses for guests to sip from between tastings. Sparkling water is even more helpful in warding off the dreaded "palate fatigue"
♦ Snacks – Small bites make a delicious centerpiece at the table. Try to find foods that pair with the wines you’ll be trying; cheeses and charcuteries with a fresh baguette are always a good idea, and you can even ask your guests to bring an appetizer they think would complement the wines.
♦ Wine charms/ glass markers – These are helpful to keep track of which wine is in which glass. If you’re on the third round of tastings and trying a California Cabernet next to a French Bordeaux, it definitely doesn’t hurt to have a little reminder to keep you focused on what’s in front of you. If you don’t have wine charms, dry erase markers or even stickers work well (as long as they peel off easily)
♦ Notepads/ pens – These are especially useful for guests who want to remember which wines were tasted and which were their favorites. Great to hang on to for the next time you’re trying to remember a delicious wine you had to pair with dinner!
You can even segment notes to help guide your guests through their tasting with categories like Color, Nose, Taste, and Finish
Things to avoid:
♦ Perfume/ cologne – Remind your guests to refrain from wearing any strong scents, as this can detract from the overall tasting experience (as nice as your Chanel No 5 may smell, nobody wants to be drinking it)
♦ Scented candles/ flowers – Same reasons as above (nobody wants to be picking up "essence of Pumpkin Spice" in their Pinot Bianco)
Who needs candles when you can make your own centerpiece from corks and Champagne cages?
There are plenty of great themes you can have with a tasting party. Here are a few to start you off with:
♦ Varietal tasting – Pick a grape and see how the results differ based on where it’s produced and who is making it. Examples: Try Pinot Noirs from Burgundy, Sonoma, Carneros, and Oregon to see how terroir affects the outcome
♦ Old World vs New World – Choose wines from a specific “Old World” region (think Europe) and compare them with their “New World” counterparts. Examples: Italian varietals (Sangiovese, Barbera, Pinot Grigio) vs. their California counterparts
♦ Vintages – Pick a specific wine from your favorite winery and see how that wine changes with each year. Examples: A vertical tasting of Castello di Amorosa Cabernet Sauvignon from 2008 – 2010
♦ Blind Tasting – Break out the brown paper bags and test your senses! See if you can spot the difference between a Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, or a Riesling vs Moscato. The sky’s the limit!
And finally, the most important part of a wine tasting party: Have fun!! Whichever wines you choose, you'll be sipping, swirling, and savoring a great evening with good friends!
So many glasses, so little time…
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
While enjoying a 'Royal Pairing' at the Castello, it happened. Once again, the stage was perfectly set. The winter wind was blowing and the unending sunshine had temporarily given way to much-needed rainfall. Through looming clouds the late afternoon sun peeked out just enough to splash a bright ray of light dazzling the Vaca Mountains. During this tasting experience….it happened…we fully experienced the tasting and the afternoon was thoroughly enjoyed by all.
Is a wine tasting experience simply a contemplation of taste? To savor or enjoy on our palate? Or, is how we taste influenced by all of our senses and emotions subject to and affected by our surroundings? Wine tasting is defined as the “palate’s examination and evaluation of taste”. I can’t find fault with this scientific and clinical definition, but, it does seem sterile. When tasting wine our sensations of taste and smell are fundamental, however, by setting the stage we can taste not just what is in the glass, but, we can savor the entire experience; experience taste.
A wine tasting experience is visual- demonstrated by Castello president Georg Salzner and Dario Sattui
Not only by examining the content of the glass....
a beautiful environment impacts our enjoyment of an experience.
The room was picture-perfect, warm and inviting. The glasses were glistening and the candles were glowing.
Many chefs are fond of the saying, “we eat with our eyes first”, and there is research to support this. Studies have shown when we find food visually appealing, not only do we enjoy it more, we also absorb more nutrients from it.
What we hear also has impact. Music evokes emotions and feelings and can be far more powerful than spoken language. Andrea Bocelli gets me every time...
The most important element is to surround yourself with friends and people you love. Create a tasting experience whenever you want and wherever you are and you will truly experience taste.
Castello team members Alison, Jason, Kylee and Melissa sharing laughs and great vino!
My husband and I sharing a moment....salud!
Recently, Jeff of "Stay Rad Wine Blog" came "back to the Castle" to review our 2012 Mendocino County Pinot Grigio, pairing it with a scrumptious looking Mac n' Cheese. Here's what he had to say:
"Color: Very pale yellow. Think of the color of hay.
"Nose: Massive amounts of honeysuckle (maybe due to the 3.8 g/L of residual sugar) create a nice backdrop for the green apple and honeydew fruits. The nose isn’t overly sweet. There are plenty of wet rocks to balance everything out.
"Taste: There is a surprisingly nice petrol note to this wine which provides for a very fun, viscous mouthfeel. As with most Pinot Grigios, there is a brightly acidic backbone to this wine that delivers a variety of citrus fruit flavors of lemon and lime zest. There is a nice combination of honey and minerality at play here too.
"Score: I get it. Castello di Amorosa makes wines consisting of mainly Italian varieties of grapes, and no self-respecting “Italian” winery would ever label a bottle as “Pinot Gris”, but… This is not one of those ordinary, 20-dollar, flat-lemon-lime-soda-tasting, Italian Pinot Grigios that have been taking over your local super market in recent years. This drinks like one of those rich, subtle, and intriguing Oregonian Pinot Gris that I have been grooving on in recent months. Stylistically, these guys have done everything right with the grape they call the “Grey Pine”. At 87+ points, you may want to introduce this Pinot Grigio to your favorite housewife."
Check out the rest of his review on his blog here, and be sure to scroll down to see his fantastic comments about our 2011 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir as well!
Our thanks to SipSwirlSavor for reviewing our Sangiovese:
A sensible Sangiovese from the Napa Valley
Italian grape varieties are fairly uncommon in the Napa Valley. That being said, the few Napa Sangioveses I've had in the past have tasted less like their Italian counterpart and more like a Napa Cabernet. Which made me wonder why a Napa winery would even bother making anything besides Cab. And yet, Castello di Amorosa has committed itself to producing Italian-style wines from Napa-grown grapes.
Charmed by the architecture and the chickens roaming the landscape, I felt transported to Tuscany when I visited the Castle in Calistoga for a brief tasting in 2010. Since then, the winery has hired a new consulting winemaker and the vineyards have matured in ways that do the Tuscan varieties justice.
I recently opened a bottle of the 2009 Castello di Amorosa Napa Valley Sangiovese. Upon my initial quaff, the wine was tight and restrained. I poured a little more through a WineSoiree and swirled it around in the glass while my eggplant parmesan warmed up in the oven. It wasn't long before this wine started singing a beautiful tune.
The perfume of rose petal, dried herbs and red cherry hits a very similar note to that of Chianti Classico. On the palate, notes of cranberry and currant shine alongside excellent acidity and dusty tannins. Despite it's Calistoga birthright, this wine definitely has an Old World sensibility.
The wine’s high acid was the perfect match for the tomato sauce with my eggplant parmesan. It was a delightful pairing that continued to get better as the wine continued to flourish. By the end of my meal (and my second glass of wine), sweet aromas of black cherry and ripe plum dominated the nose of this medium-bodied Sangio. Rhubarb and cocoa became more pronounced on the palate, and the finish lingered with juicy cherry and spicy vanilla.
The first time I saw the man who would eventually become my husband I was dumb-struck (quite a confession those who know me will attest). Just my type; tall, dark (it was summer), and handsome. After a chat over a glass of vino (what else?), I made the fatal mistake of telling him I thought he was smarter than I was. I say fatal mistake as it is now 24 years later and he won’t let me forget that statement.
Our friends often tell us they have never met 2 people more suited for each other, meant to be together. Better together as 1 than separate as 2. Like peanut butter and jelly, milk and cookies, peas and carrots……it just works.
Perfect pairings certainly enhance and intensify and one thing which is singularly good, but with food and wine, perfect pairings take on a new meaning. If you have ever been on the Royal Pairing Tour at Castello di Amorosa you may have experienced a few of these perfect pairings. A rich pate’ with Castello’s award winning Il Passito comes to mind. Sommeliers agree this match is perfection. Popular wine writer Karen Macneil says “this luxurious pairing comes perilously close to maxing out the human tolerance for pleasure”. An endorsement like that certainly piques the imagination. But, must perfect pairings always be so lofty, and quite candidly, so costly to be perfect? Does perfection have a price? A rule of thumb, pair rich with rich and humble with humble. One of my affordable favorites, a simple roast chicken (any grocery store’s rotisserie is fine), and a bottle of Pinot Noir. The rustic flavors of a simple roast chicken, a loaf of crusty bread and the earthy tones of Pinot Noir are magical together. When selecting your pinot go for light and fruity bottlings from Sonoma. For my dollar Castello’s Los Carneros Pinot Noir is the perfect choice with a hit of clove balanced with bright fruit. This Valentine’s Day, a day dedicated to perfect pairings, celebrate this dynamic duo with your honey. Light a couple of candles, put in your favorite music, pour a couple glasses of vino and relax.
Throughout the year, connect with your inner match-maker; go forth and discover new and exciting pairings.
And remember, perfection is in the eyes of the beholder……
Cheers and Happy Valentine’s Day
Mary Davidek C.S., C.S. W