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
Recently, Joe and Matt of Thumbs Up Wine paid a visit to the Castello, and had a blast making this fantastic video. It's THE CASTLE!
Matt and Joe from Thumbs Up Wine
"If you're coming to the Napa Valley either for a day or for a week, there are certain things you have to see. We call them the Seven Wonders of the World, and this is one of them: THE CASTLE!" - Joe, Thumbs Up Wine
Toasting our Il Barone with Dario
The Thumbs Up Crew with Dario
Thank you Matt and Joe for such a great review of the Castello! We're looking forward to your next visit!
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.
On April 30, 2013, The New York Times wrote about the trend where wineries are hosting retreats for corporate team building. Here’s an excerpt:
IT seems counterintuitive for companies to take their employees somewhere where the alcohol begins to flow even before lunch is served. But wineries around the world are increasingly accommodating businesses asking for meeting space, catering and even wine-making lessons for their workers. In the Napa Valley, the vineyards producing the region’s famous cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay have long welcomed tourists and about 10 percent of them are traveling on business, according to the Napa Valley Conference and Visitors Bureau, so it is no wonder that many of the valley’s wineries encourage corporate gatherings.….Castello di Amorosa, a castle and wine estate inspired by 13th-century Tuscany, where Mary Pham, digital marketing manager for Toyota, recently held an event for auto dealers. Other businesses that come for work-related meetings might want to advise their employees to dress down, because team-building activities here could mean stomping grapes.
Read the full article here
The Castello Team
On Saturday, April 20th, New Orleans came to the Castello for our Ragin' Cajun party. As the sun went down, the beads and beats came out, and the Castello was transformed into a sizzling scene full of live music, tarot readings, and hot and spicy Cajun foods paired with our Castello wines!
The main event featured Gator Beat, a high-energy Zydeco and New Orleans R&B band based out of Sonoma. They kept the Cajun beats going throughout the evening out in our courtyard, where guests dressed in their best Creole "style" danced the night away.
In all I'd say it was a "ragin'" success, but you can see for yourself in the photos below!
You know it's going to be a great night when Fantasia is flowing!
Gator Beat getting the party started out in the courtyard.
A few of our favorite Wine Club members with the Voodoo King.
Guests enjoying some of the delicious Cajun cuisine (and Castello wines!) in our Great Hall.
So many good things in one pot!
All of the delicious Creole cuisine at the party was provided for our guests by Oak Avenue Catering. Ca c'est bon!
Way to rock that New Orleans style!
The featured cocktail of the evening was the "Hurricane di Amorosa," a tantalizingly effervescent mix of our Fantasia with orange sorbet. Santé!
Who wants to hear their future? Tarot card readings in the chapel.
Feelin' the love!
Ragin' Cajun Ladies
Willard Blackwell on washboard keeping the Zydeco beats bumping through the night.
Out on the dance floor. Laissez les bon temps roulet!
Il Barone himself, Dario Sattui, made an appearance later on in the evening.
Our wonderful events team celebrating the fruits of their labors. Merci boucoups for throwing such a great party!
Another fantastic Wine Club event at the Castello. We're looking forward to next year already!
Wine of the Week: Castello di Amorosa 2011 Napa Valley Chardonnay
This is a crowd-pleaser of a chardonnay. It has nice aromas of vanilla and toffee along with flavors of red apple, pear and spice, which will appeal to lovers of oak-influenced chardonnays. Yet the wine is not over-oaked. It is balanced with a freshness that allows fans of crisper white wines to appreciate it as well. With this chardonnay ($28), you won’t need to stress over which style to choose for your next dinner party.
Not only does Castello di Amorosa’s winemaker, Brooks Painter, continue to roll out beautiful wines, but the winery’s schedule is jam-packed with fun events. Next weekend there is the Ragin’ Cajun Party followed by a Midsummer Medieval Festival, and then Hot Havana Nights — among many others. It is likely you will find something intriguing!
You can read the full article in the Napa Valley Register here
Enofylz came to visit and chose the 2009 Sangiovese as Wine of the Week. With our thanks…here’s an excerpt of the review, with more at the link below:
The fruit for this wine is primarily from the Castello di Amorosa estate. In addition to Sangiovese, this wine also includes a bit of Merlot. Carmine color with cherry, mushroom. and dried rose petal aromas. On the palate, it’s medium-bodied, and fresh with a smooth texture and sour cherry, strawberry, vanilla flavors with a savory undertone and a lengthy finish.
Rating: A- (90pts): I really enjoyed this wine. It has a nice balance of fruit, oak and earthiness.
Pair with: I enjoyed this wine with lasagna (if it grows together, it goes together after all;-), but don’t limit your pairings to pizza and red-sauced pasta. Pair with caprese salad with fresh basil, Italian bread soup, wild mushroom risotto, rustic paella, grilled fare, and a variety of cheeses. For example consider pairing with mild blue-veined cheeses like Gorgonzola or Cambozola.
You can read the full review by Enofylz here
With our thanks to Terroirist for reviewing the 2008 La Castellana:
91 points: Intoxicating aromas of wild raspberries, sweet plums, some violets, fig paste and cedar. Fresh red and black fruits start off the palate, raspberry, plum, fig, even some notes of dried apricot. Flavors of soil, coffee, cedar and hazelnut add complexity. The tannins have smooth edges, making this easy to drink now, although I think it could be cellared for five years easily. The acid lingers onto the finish along subtle notes of vanilla bean and toast. A fruit-forward yet elegant blend of 66% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Merlot and 16% Sangiovese. Simply delicious
See the Blog here
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.