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-
As the western United States wades through another year of drought and record- breaking almost non-existent rainfall totals (so far!), old man winter has tackled the mid-west and sucker-punched much of the nation with record-breaking cold temps. Another event is approaching to further benchmark winter 2014. On February 06 the 22nd Winter Olympic Games begin in Sochi Russia—and the opening ceremonies televised on February 07 are sure-to-be epic.
The first celebration of the Winter Olympic Games was held in Chamonix, France in 1924 and have now been hosted on three continents. Twelve countries have attended every Winter Olympic games and six of those (Austria, Canada, Finland, Norway, Sweden and the United States) have earned medals at every Winter Olympic Games. However, only one - the United States - has earned gold at each Olympic Games.
In wine country, January ushers in one more iconic winter event, The San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. This competition began in 1983 as the Cloverdale Citrus Fair Wine Competition. Today, it is known as the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition and holds the title of the largest competition of American Wines in the World….a wine Olympics. On the subject of olympics and medals and earning gold (in wine competitions there is a double gold and the coveted Best of Class!), I could turn this into an all-around high-five big kudos to Castello di Amorosa’s amazing wine making team with the recent Gold Medal performances but instead, I am getting ready for a sure-to-be-epic opening ceremony of my own, time for a glass of gold medal winning Cabernet Sauvignon.
Beyond Double Gold—Best of Class
Best of Class and tonight, best in the glass
2009 Castello di Amorosa Cabernet Sauvignon is one of my favorite Cabernets. It exhibits depth and strength but exudes finesse and elegance. Exactly what every gold medalist needs—power and grace!
Opening Ceremony Night Dinner --Because timing is important too!
Salisbury Steak with Fingerling Potato Hash
Make this revised classic in 30 minutes!
For the Salisbury Steaks combine:
1.5 pound lean ground beef
1 tsp. coarse ground pepper
½ sweet onion finely chopped
½ package onion soup mix
1 tsp. mustard
1 tsp. ketchup
2 tsps. Worcestershire
Form into 4-6 oval patties and brown in large sauté pan, approximately 2-3 minutes each side. Remove and place in shallow backing dish and finish in 350 degree oven for 10-15 minutes.
Dice potatoes, mushrooms, and remaining ½ sweet onion. Brown onion in 3 Tbsp. butter. Add mushrooms and potatoes after onions have begun to sweat. Add beef stock/broth, salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a slow simmer adding broth as needed approx.15 minutes.
Remove Salisbury Steaks from oven and serve with hash
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!
According to research conducted by the University Of Scranton Journal Of Clinical Psychology, although the majority of Americans make annual proclamations and set yearly goals with good intentions, less than 8% of us actually achieve success in keeping New Year’s resolutions. Here is a list of the top 10 yearly resolutions:
Enjoy life to the fullest
Get fit and healthy
Learn something exciting
Help others with their dreams
Fall in love
Spend more time with family
The sure way to improve on this dismal statistic? Set obtainable goals. Unrealistic resolutions are destined for failure so I’ve created a list of 10 highly achievable food and wine resolutions to put myself on task over the next 12 months. Even if I don’t strike the entire 10, I am bound to have a great time trying! In 2014 I resolve to...
Make a cheese soufflé A masterpiece of a thickened white sauce paired with flavorful cheese. The inside is delicate and warm and the bottom and sides are crusted together forming a heavenly thick cheese layer. Nirvana!
Eat more fish Seafood is healthy, light and the perfect canvas for many amazing spices and preparations. My good friends Tim and Carol Berg at www.great-alaska-seafood.com have spoiled me rotten with the freshest seafood available and this feast was no exception. Scallops with Pappardelle pasta in a Tarragon cream sauce. Decadent!
Pair more sweet wine with savory foods On the Royal Pairing tour at the Castello, sweet and savory is a palate pleaser and always promises alluring and exotic pairing possibilities. Castello di Amorosa Dolcino Gewurztraminer and Moroccan spiced pork loin looming on the horizon.
Try one new restaurant a month Even here in the promised land of epicurean delights --I get in a rut. The same four restaurants seem to be on my go-to list not because I don’t have seemingly infinite choices but because…well… the choices can seem infinite! January is a great time to start as it is Napa Valley Restaurant Month and a perfect opportunity for new restaurant adventures.
Visit one new winery a month With 450+ wineries just in Napa Valley and 1600+ in a 150 mile radius! How many days in a year?
Eat vegetarian for 30 days I love vegetables of all kinds and welcome this 30 day meat free stint.
Take a class I aspire to become more educated on the vine to wine process— after nearly 20 years on this side of the glass, I am still amazed at the sheer scientific/artistic process in which we finally arrive at this crazy delicious fermented grape juice. As much as I read and learn I realize how much there is yet to discover. Hence, the love of this elixir!
Buy more magnums Magnums, or 1.5 L is equal to 2 standard 750 ml bottles. Magnums not only have a ‘wow’ factor but wines from a mag show better with more fruit and an intangible zip. When one bottle isn’t quite enough, one bottle of 1.5L often is just enough.
Take more culinary risks I am reluctant to try new techniques (see resolution #1) as I fear failure. The catastrophic kind of kitchen failure. I have heard from some professional chefs that the reason there are more males than females in the culinary industry is because men are not afraid to make mistakes. If something isn’t right, most men will simply toss it and have another go at it. Women become attached; we want to ‘save’ it and ‘fix’ it. By the way, I am referring to culinary attempts here but it seems this theory has many applications. =)
Travel! I want to spend an entire month in Italy. Not a rushed jaunt or a hurried two week trek! I want to go for a month with time to explore and savor—maybe take an Italian cooking class in Tuscany. I want to drink local wine, aimlessly roam the streets, drink in the art and feast on authentic cuisine. For a month I will absorb everything Castello di Amorosa summons in my heart and in my mind. Hear that Castello? Consider this my official vacation request; January 2015 will be blogged from fair Firenze!
2013 has been an incredible year for the vineyards of the Napa Valley, with the Napa Valley Vintners calling this year's growing season "early, even, and excellent." The 31 acres we have planted around the Castello with Sangiovese, Merlot, Primitivo, and Cabernet Sauvignon developed beautifully over the course of the year, and we loved tracking the beauty each season brought to the vines. Now that another record year in the valley is coming to a close and the vineyards again lay dormant, we're looking back on the fruits of this year's labors. Here are a few of our favorite vinyeard photos from this past year:
Sir Lancelot enjoyed playing beneath the dormant Primitivo vines in front of the Castello
The Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards above the Castello, pruned back to allow healthy new buds to begin forming
The vines began "weeping" in preparation for the arrival of new buds
Bud break arrived at the Castello in early April, and the vineyards quickly brightened with springtime colors
The warm, dry spring we had throughout the valley allowed for earlier bud break and perfect conditions for flowering
June saw the arrival of berries on the vines.
The vines saw a bit of rain in a summer shower
The warm summer months allowed for an even ripening of the berries. Here a cool glass of Charonnday rests among the Primitivo vines.
The end of August saw verasion in the vineyards, as the berries began to ripen and change color.
Primitivo vines and berries in front of the Castello
The Merlot vineyards almost ready for harvest!
Cheers to the end of another fantastic year in the Napa Valley! We're looking forward to 2014!
I am a cooking and food magazine junkie. It all started with my Mom and a ritual that took place during our visit to the ‘beauty parlor’ (not a salon, but the beauty parlor!) for Mom’s weekly scheduled shampoo and set. Here she regularly scoured through the latest edition of ‘Family Circle’, ‘Good Housekeeping’ and ‘Sunset’ magazines and recited recipes in a much too loud voice so I (and everyone in a 20 yard radius) could hear her over the constant noise generated by the mission control-like dryer chair. I would nod with dutiful approval dotted with an intermittent ‘yep, sounds good’ which were typically enough to satiate her. To add to her enjoyment and proof I really was listening, I even managed to insert a question or two; “what is braising?” or “why does it have to be sifted?” This launched her into an explanation that today seems worthy of ‘Food Network’. However, one particular phrase seemed to arise on nearly every recipe and always required definition and clarification — “season to taste”.
Mom explained the following:
Add salt until it you taste it. If it seems bland- it probably is. Increase by a ¼ tsp. and taste after each addition.
Add seasoning and spices (pepper, fresh herbs, dried seasoning) until the taste is in balance with the rest of the flavors. Make sure spices and seasonings cook along with the dish. However, additional fresh herbs added at the end can make a big difference.
Add acid (Tabasco, lemon juice, or vinegar) if it tastes flat or one-dimensional. Hot sauce works in creamy dishes because the acid from the vinegar and the heat from the peppers boost the flavors. Keep a light hand; if the dish isn't supposed to be "spicy hot" add just a splash of hot sauce then use vinegar or lemon juice.
Add sugar; the tried and true fix if you overdo it. Sugar balances both salty and bitter flavors. Adding a touch of sugar makes too salty taste less salty and too bitter or sour taste less bitter without actually decreasing the amount of salt or acid in the recipe.
The thing is, Mom’s beauty shop narrations were not idle or forgotten ideas of an affordable casserole or a quick and easy dessert, they were her inspiration for future meals and goodies that made it to the family table and eventually led to my life-long pursuit of ‘tasting’.
Here is one of my cold-weather favorites. It is hearty, spicy, savory and comforting; ideal to keep in the fridge and warm up after a day of visiting with friends and family or after hours of wrapping followed by seconds of unwrapping. Remember always adjust the spices as you progress and as in all recipes—season to taste!
I wish you perfectly seasoned greetings--
4 Cups Beef Broth
4 Cups Chicken Broth
2 large cans crushed tomatoes (28 oz.)
2 large cans diced tomatoes
1 lb. ground beef
1 lb. spicy sausage
2 heads of cabbage, cored and diced
1 small bag frozen white corn
4-6 carrots thinly sliced
4-6 stalks diced celery
4 large cloves minced garlic
1 bunch of chopped cilantro (set some aside for garnish)
1 large diced brown onion
Season to taste =)
Brown ground meat and/or sausage. Add to a large pot with all other ingredients. Cook over medium low heat until vegetables are to desired softness. To accelerate the cooking process, give the veggies a quick sauté before adding to the pot. Stir and taste often and, as always, add seasoning as needed.
My current library. The Better Homes and Garden cook book was a wedding gift from who else; my Mom. Held together by a rubber band, for 24 years I have referred to this book filled with hand written notes and recipes.
‘Deconstructed’ is contemporary food lingo but Mom would have just said this was quicker and easier than making and cooking meatballs! This is tasty and easy to reheat during the upcoming week of merriment or freeze leftovers in containers for up to 6 months.
Dry, crisp and almost exotic; Castello di Amorosa’s Anderson Valley Gewurztraminer balances the spice and works with the richness of the ground meat and sausage. Perfect for a first course or as a hearty meal served with fresh bread or warm tortillas.
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 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!
The turn of the twentieth century was indeed a dark (and dry) time in American history. Organizations like The Women’s Christian Temperance Union, which promoted Prohibition, believed alcohol to be the cause of most social ills. On January 16th, 1919, Congress passed the 18th Amendment, outlawing alcohol thereby putting an end to drunkenness, crime, mental illness, and poverty. (Ahem!)
Ironically, during Prohibition, America's thirst increased. Organized crime rose to replace formerly legal methods of alcohol production and distribution. Ultimately, respect for the law diminished and drunkenness, crime and resentment of the federal government prevailed. Over the course of the next thirteen years, support for Prohibition waned as the nation awoke to the widespread problems Prohibition caused. The number of repeal organizations increased, and in 1932 Franklin D. Roosevelt ran for President on a platform that included the repeal of Prohibition. He won that race and on December 5th, 1933, Pennsylvania and Utah, the final states needed for a three quarters majority, ratified the 21st Amendment, repealing Prohibition and restoring our right to a celebratory drink. The 18th amendment remains the only amendment to our Constitution to ever be repealed.
On December 5th we celebrate Repeal because it marks a return to the rich traditions and enjoyment of alcohol as a sacred and protected social custom. Conveniently located between Thanksgiving and Christmas, Repeal presents the perfect occasion to gather with friends and celebrate! Unlike St. Patrick's Day or Halloween Repeal is a day we can all share in observing; it's written in our Constitution.There are no outfits to buy, costumes to rent, or gifts to wrap. Simply celebrate the day by sharing a glass of wine with a loved one.
Raise a glass!
The 18th Amendment
Ratified January 16, 1919
Section 1. After one year from the ratification of this article the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes is hereby prohibited.
Section 2. The Congress and the several States shall have concurrent power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
Section 3. This article shall be inoperative unless it shall have been ratified as an amendment to the Constitution by the legislatures of the several States, as provided in the Constitution, within seven years from the date of the submission hereof to the States by the Congress.
The 21st Amendment
Ratified December 5, 1933
Section 1. The eighteenth article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States is hereby repealed.
The suggested pairing for your celebration!