A great perk of living/ working in wine country is the opportunity to be exposed to a wide variety of wine varieties 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…
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!
"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