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…
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 sprintime 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!
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!
“Our vision is to build community around the art of visual story-telling, with the viewing of films and discussions with filmmakers fueling lively conversation amongst old and new friends … and those conversations being enriched with the world-class food and wine of legendary Napa Valley.”
We at the Castello always look forward to the festival, and this year we were able to participate as a shooting location for one of the short films in the SONY 4K FILM CHALLENGE! Five teams given the latest SONY tech were given a 60-hour challenge to create a short film based on randomly-assigned topics. Director Paul Martin chose Castello di Amorosa as one of the settings for his short film, “Valentimes Day.”
We had a blast with Paul and his crew filming scenes in the Great Hall and our Torture Chamber! Check out some of our behind-the-scenes photos from their shoot:
Actress Kai getting used to wearing one of our knights’ helmets
Paul showing her how it’s done!
Paul showing his crew around the very latest Sony 4K technology
Actor Cameron Mark Lewis on the rack! Don’t try this at home!!
The next day of filming was on the Napa Valley Wine Train. We tagged along for the ride and got to capture more of the action!
Filming in the Wine Train’s beautiful Gourmet Car
Our 2010 Sangiovese was featured in the film!
You can view the entire short film below:
Thank you again to Paul and team for letting us be a part of your fantastic production!
WEEK TWENTY-SIX WINNER
We've reached our final week of our "Create the Castle" Instagram contest, and we are thrilled with how many fantastic photos we have received from all of our fans! Thank you for sharing your wonderful photos of your times here at the Castello and enjoying our wines with your friends and family at home. Keep on sharing your great shots with us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter by tagging us with #castellodiamorosa; we love sharing them with our fans on social media!
Our Week 26 winner is @jaymessong, who captured the beautiful fall colors around the Castello from our South Tower. Congratulations, and thank you for visiting and sharing such a great photo with us!
Check out our fantastic runners up from this past week! Thank you again for sharing your great photos with us, and cheers from all of us at the Castello! #castellodiamorosa
WEEK TWENTY-FIVE WINNER
We're in the home stretch of our "Create the Castle" Instagram contest! We've received over 8,000 photos tagged with #castellodiamorosa, and we've been loving the creative ways you show how much you love the Castello and our wines! This week's winning photo is from @jed_pilgrim128, who captured the gorgeous clouds above the Castello this past week. Congratulations, and thank you for sharing such a beautiful photo!
We may just have one week left in the contest, but we still can't get enough of your fantsatic photos! Thank you for tagging us at #castellodiamorosa and for sharing your photos on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter! Here are a few more favorites from this past week!
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.
We hosted our annual Midsummer Medieval Festival on June 22 this year, and our guests (and staff) had a fantastic evening filled with wine, food, and a whole array of medieval games and entertainments. Please enjoy a few of our favorite moments from the event below, and we're looking forward to next year's festival already!
It was a perfect June day in the Napa Valley as our guests arrived for a glass of wine on our Il Passito patio before the Joust
Our president, Georg Salzner, graciously welcomed our wine club members and their guests to the festivities (and even found a fair maiden whose costume matched his!)
A few of our guests in their medieval finery welcoming the knights to the Joust!
Sir William and his companions, our noble knights of the Joust
Everyone eagerly awaiting the start of the Tournament
A fair guest was invited to challenge one of the knights, whom she soundly defeated in battle
He graciously gave her a rose in thanks for not being too rough on him
The knights displayed their skill on horseback in a number of Tournament events
The highlight of the evening: the Joust!
Noble Lords and Ladies of the Tournament
Our guests were enjoying the chance to be noble (and not-so-noble)
A taltented troupe of singers entertained as our guests learned the "latest" dance steps
Fire Dancers mesmerized the audience with a spectacular evening finale in the Courtyard
Even the Supermoon made an appearance above the Castello as the festivities drew to a close.
Want to see even more pictures from this great event?
"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!
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!
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!