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Californian Stars, Italian Flair

January 10, 2022 1 comment

Californian stars.

Of course, we are talking about wines and grapes. What would those be?

I recently called California Cabernet Sauvignon a king. We can safely designate Chardonnay as a queen. But who would you call a prince? Capricious, spiky, moody royalty? Whatever grape you think of, the correct answer is Pinot Noir, because this is the grape I mostly would like to talk about today. And tell me if you think Pinot Noir is not qualified for the role of the royal prince – finicky, demanding, and unpredictable.

Okay, we got our stars for the day. Now, the Italian flair. How would you add the Italian flair to the Californian grapes?

There are a few options. For example, you can call your sparkling wine a Spumante. Or you can call your winery Castello, and build it in the form of a medieval Italian castle. You can also make wines out of Sangiovese – but this we will discuss later. Anyway, as you can see, you got options.

Vittorio Sattui, an Italian immigrant, founded St. Helena Wine Cellars in 1885. The business had to be closed due to the prohibition in 1920, but the Sattui family continued living at the winery. In 1975, Dario Sattui, great-grandson of Vittorio, restarted the family business by opening V. Sattui winery in St. Helena.

After finishing college, Dario traveled around Europe and became obsessed with medieval castles, monasteries, farmhouses. In 1993, Dario found the next home for his future winery – 171 acres parcel near Calistoga. In 1994, the construction began initially for the 8,500 sq. ft building without cellars. That slowly morphed into a 121,000 sq. ft. 13th-century Tuscan castle with 107 rooms, drawbridge, five towers, high defensive ramparts, courtyards and loggias, a chapel, stables, an armory, and even a torture chamber. Lots of bricks and artifacts were delivered directly from Europe to ensure the full authenticity of the castle. Castello de Amorosa (Castle of Love) opened its doors to visitors in 2007 after 15 years of construction.

I was fortunate enough to visit the Castello di Amorosa in 2017 as part of the Wine Bloggers Conference 2017 in Santa Rosa, so I can share (inundate is a better word, of course) my first-hand impressions:

 

 

Thinking about misbehaving? Might not be recommended:

Touring the cellars:

The ceiling of the room where we had our tasting in 2017:

A bit of education – Napa Valley Regions:

Castello di Amorosa works with 14 vineyards, most of them in Napa and Sonoma, out of which 6 are estate vineyards. The focus of winemaking is on showcasing each individual terroir and on the small-batch production.

I had an opportunity to taste a range of Pinot Noir expressions from Castello di Amorosa, and I have to honestly say that I was very much impressed with what I found in my glass.

First, two sparkling wines, both produced using the classic method.

2017 Castello di Amorosa Spumante del Castello Brut Napa Valley (12.5% ABV, $39, 73% Chardonnay, 27% Pinot Noir)
Light Golden, fine bubbles
Toasted bread, apples, gunflint
Toasted bread, Granny Smith apples, more gunflint, great minerality, a touch of sweetness, bigger body than typical champagne.
8, excellent,

2017 Castello di Amorosa Spumante del Castello Brut Rosé Napa Valley (12.5% ABV, $49, 100% Pinot Noir)
Salmon pink, fine mousse
Steely strawberries, a hint of toast
Dry, crisp, strawberries, clean acidity, good minerality
8, excellent

Next up, Rosé. The grapes for this wine come from the Green Valley area in the Russian River Valley AVA, and the wine is partially aged in concrete egg. I had an opportunity to taste both 2019 and 2020 vintages over a few months timeframe, and you can see that my tasting notes are almost identical for both wines. Somehow I missed including this wine into my 2021 top wines list, which makes me upset – this was one of the best Rosé wines and wines overall that I tasted during 2021.

2019 Castello di Amorosa Rosato Cresta d’Oro Vineyard Green Valley of Russian River Valley (13.6% ABV, $39, 100% Pinot Noir)
Light bright pink
Fresh ripe sweet strawberries, good intensity, inviting
Beautiful ripe strawberries, a touch of lemon, clean acidity, impeccable balance. Wow.
9-/9, one of the best Rosé I ever had. Just wow.

2020 Castello di Amorosa Rosato Cresta d’Oro Vineyard Green Valley of Russian River Valley (12.5% ABV, $39, 100% Pinot Noir)
Light bright pink
Fresh strawberries, a touch of herbs, crisp, inviting, and invigorating
Beautiful ripe strawberries, a touch of lemon, clean acidity, impeccable balance. Wow.
9, one of the best Rosé I ever had. Just wow. Superb.

Last up – Pinot Noir from Morning Dew Ranch in Anderson Valley. This vineyard was purchased in 2015 from Burt Williams, founder of the iconic William Selyem Winery. The 12-acre vineyard is in a very cool microclimate and divided into 9 blocks of Pinot Noir planted with DRC, 115, 777, Rochioli, 23, and 828 clones. All the blocks and clones give quite a bit of room to experiment to the winemaking team.

2018 Castello di Amorosa Morning Dew Ranch Pinot Noir Anderson Valley (13.1% ABV, $75, 11 months in Burgundian oak barrels)
Dark ruby
Somewhat unexpressive on the first day, a hint of fruit
Closed up, concentrated, dark fruit, not amazing
Classic Pinot on the second day – iodine, violets, underbrush
Beautifully elegant on the palate – good acidity, smoke, tobacco, fresh berries, cherries, firm structure combined with medium body, medium-long finish.
8+ second day, super-enjoyable.

Here you go, my friends – a little Italian oasis – scratch that – a large Italian Castle in the middle of Napa Valley, producing magnificent California wines. Castello di Amorosa is definitely a unique travel destination and a must-visit if you are ever in the area.

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