Blending wines at Castello di Amorosa

14 years to complete

14 years to complete

Castello di Amorosa

The last time we had visited Castello di Amorosa was in May of 2007, shortly after it had opened to visitors. The winery was nearly completed except for a few landscaping details. Tours were fun but there were a few kinks to be worked out. Today all looks good as tourists flock to see this amazing castle and winery owned by Dario Sattui. It is a marvel! We were invited to Castello di Amorosa for a media event on Thursday, November 14. It was an event where each member of the wine blogging community tried our hands at blending five wines into a Super Tuscan wine.

The Great Room prepared for the blending event

The Great Room preparing for blending event

We met in the Great Hall and, as you can see in the photo, the Great Hall features fresco paintings with brilliant images and colors that immediately catch your eye. All the important people were present to lead us through our blending exercise. This included the man himself, Dario Sattui, a very tall man dressed Italian in style. Flanking Dario Sattui was winemaker Brooks Painter, associate winemaker Peter Vellano, consulting wine maker Sebastiano Rosa, CEO Georg Salzner, and VP of Marketing Jim Sullivan. What a treat to be surrounded by all these wine gurus.

image of brooks painter

Winemaker Brooks Painter with Dario Sattui

First we learned what constitutes a Super Tuscan wine. In the 1970’s a group of Tuscan winemakers wanted to produce wines outside of the very detailed restrictions of the Chianti area. They felt they could make better wines by using other varietals along with the Sangiovese grape. They made various blends adding Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot to make their Super Tuscan varietal. Today these wines made in Tuscany have their own official designation, IGT. This designation denotes wine of high quality and characteristically these wines are big and bold, and they command steep prices. The Castello di Amorosa winery makes a Super Tuscan Reserve they call La Castellana. We tasted the 2007, 2008, and 2009. They were all very delightful and elegant wines. They are pricey wines but deservedly so. It takes the best grapes, barrels, and attention to make a distinctive Super Tuscan.

Blending a Super Tuscan wine

It was our task to take five different barrel samples of the 2012 vintage and make our own Super Tuscan wine. We had a Sangiovese, two different Merlot samples, and two different Cabernet Sauvignon samples. This was my first taste of red wines from the fabulous 2012 harvest. Folks are raving about this harvest as being one of the best in many years. I must say that the barrel samples we tasted were quite delicious and in particular the Sangiovese. I can’t wait to try this wine. This Sangiovese juice will be bottled in June and perhaps released in 2014.

Because I liked the Sangiovese so much I decided to make it the prominent portion of my blending experiments. In the first try I used 50% Sangiovese and equal parts of Merlot (Carneros) and Cabernet (Rutherford). I made a second blend but this time, 70% Sangiovese and 30% Cabernet from the Rutherford AVA. This one was my favorite and quite excellent in my humble opinion. One thing the blending exercise emphasized to me was that winemaking to a large extent is part art. It is a creative activity requiring expertise in taste, experience, and imagination. All in all, the blending exercise was a great educational experience.

The blending session was followed by a gourmet lunch and the chance to continue tasting the fine wines produced by the Castello. As we concluded, each wine blogger was presented with a lovely bottle of the 2010 Sangiovese to enjoy at home.

I was amazed to learn that all the Castello di Amorosa wine is sold online, at the winery, or to the wine club members. That means you will not find the Castello di Amorosa wines in any wine shop. If you want to sample the wines, mostly Italian style of wines, you must visit the winery to get started. The winery at this time of the year is looking spectacular. The fall colors of the vines make the castle look even more brilliant. General admission is $19 per person, free for wine club members, and includes a tasting of five premium wines. Tours are $34 per person, followed by a tasting of five premium wines. The winery is open daily and reservations are recommended. Check the Castello Website for more information.

Brilliant fall colors at the Castle

Brilliant fall colors at the Castle

Mike Chelini is Longest tenured winemaker in the Napa Valley at Stony Hill Vineyard

Last week we toured three completely different Napa Valley mountain wineries. We visited Stony Hill Vineyard on Spring Mountain, Ladera Winery on Howell Mountain, and Nichelini Winery at the summit of Sage Canyon Road. This will be the first of three posts comparing these Napa Valley mountain wineries.

Stony Hill Vineyard on Spring Mountain is one of the oldest wineries in the Napa Valley and one steeped in tradition. Fred and Eleanor McCrea purchased the land in 1943 and released their first vintage in 1952. In 1972, young Mike Chelini began his stint as winemaker at Stony Hill and he continues in that position to this day. He loves his work, the land, and the owners. As he says “Life is good here at Stony Hill Vineyard.” When we asked Mike Chelini if he is the Valley’s longest-running winemaker, he says: “I think I am tied with Bill Sorenson over at Burgess.” Bill Sorenson began his stint at Burgess in 1972, so who knows who started first. Nevertheless, these are impressive careers for both these winemakers.

Winemaker Mike Chelini Stony Hill Vineyard

Winemaker Mike Chelini

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Closures again

I was watching CNBC News yesterday and they ran a short but informative segment on Portugal’s campaign to revitalize their cork industry. We know Portugal is in dire economic straits and needs a boost in their economy, and perhaps using their corks on bottles of wine will help. The TV segment prompted me to write this post. I’m very old fashioned when it comes to wine closures. Most of my 40-year career of wine drinking has involved opening wines with a real cork. I get a thrill each time I use my waiter’s corkscrew to open my wine. There is nothing like that popping sound when I pull the cork from the bottle. That sound has come to mean something very special to me, one that signifies I am about to embark on very pleasurable adventure. [Read more...]

First Impressions of Virginia Wine – Wine Bloggers Conference

When the venue for the 4th Annual Wine Bloggers Conference was announced, many in the audience gasped. Virginia was chosen over Paso Robles and the Finger Lakes region of New York. How could that be, many cried? I heard one blogger shout out “Virginia wine is not that good.” We attended the wine bloggers pre-conference on Wednesday and Thursday of this week and had the opportunity to visit four wineries in the Loudoun County in Northern Virginia. I have to conclude that after tasting wines at these four wineries, the wine is very good in this part of Virginia, and a few of their varietals are stellar. I’m not about to suggest the wines are overall as good as California wines or those of the Napa Valley, but several I tried certainly measure up to our standards. I know these wineries were hand picked by the local tourist office, but this did gives us an eye opener into the quality and potential for Virginia wines.

We visited Tarara Winery, Breaux Vineyards, Chrysalis Winery, and Boxwood Winery. At each winery the winemaker and owner presented their wines, and much like at any winery in California spoke glowingly about their wines.

We loved all the Viognier we tried, and we can easily see why this wine is so popular in Virginia. I wish I’d had some California Viognier on the spot for comparison. These Viognier wines have excellent floral and tropical characteristics and a great mouth feel. I was less impressed with the Chardonnay wines and maybe that is because I just don’t drink that much Chardonnay to begin with. At Breaux Vineyards I rated their Meritage and the Nebbiolo at 90 points. I had not tasted as delicious a Nebbiolo in some time. [Read more...]

American Sommelier Association – 6 Day Training in Napa Valley

I received this information from the American Sommelier Association and thought I would pass this on to our readers. In these economic times there are many out of work or in transition wanting to shift careers. Perhaps this intensive course may pave the way for a future career in the wine business. It appears that there are some scholarship funds that can reduce the cost of the training course by 50%.

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Tasting Room Time in the Napa Valley

It’s that time of year again. Bud Break is all around and the vines are beginning a new growing year in the wine country. That dreary, cold, and rainy period is over and tourists can now flock to the tasting rooms again. Wineries are ready to receive and pamper all tourists.

This is the when the wineries make big bucks selling their wines to tourists eager to bring home the bounty of the Napa Valley. Be a wise consumer when you visit the tasting room; you certainly don’t want “buyer’s remorse” when you return home with a trunk full of wine purchased on impulse. Here are some consumer tips for your tasting room excursions. [Read more...]

Zinfandel Tasting at Fort Mason in San Francisco: Win Tickets

There will be a large number of Napa Valley wineries participating in this year’s Zinfandel Festival that runs from January 27 – 29 in San Francisco. I have six tickets to give away, two each to three lucky winners to the culminating event of this festival, the Grand Zinfandel Tasting at Fort Mason on Saturday, January 29. Over 250 wineries will be pouring Zinfandel wines between 2 pm and 5 pm at the Herbst and Festival Pavillions at Fort Mason. These tickets have a value of $70 each and here is how you can win a set of two tickets. [Read more...]

If you like Napa you will love Champagne

We just returned from a fascinating and wonderful three-week trip to France. Our last week was spent in the Champagne Region. If you like visiting Napa, you will love visiting the Champagne region. In spending just one week in Champagne we barely scratched the surface exploring this historic wine region. There are some 300 villages in the Champagne wine region and more than 3000 Champagne producers.

Only three varieties of grapes are grown here, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay. These are the grapes used in blending Champagne. The majority of the soil is limestone The vines are grown in rows about one meter apart and are allowed to grow just over a meter in height. The vines are kept short and are constantly pruned. The idea is to keep the density high so the grape production is lower and the vines must compete for the needed ingredients. The vines grow deep into the chalky limestone soil. No irrigation is needed because there is enough rain and the chalky soil acts like a sponge to absorb the water. The limestone soil gives the Champagne that unique character that is found in no other bubbly around the world. [Read more...]

Why You Should Spit Wine

If you are serious about learning about wine and discovering delicious wines, you should spit wine when visiting the tasting rooms of the Napa Valley or any other wine country. There is no way you can visit three to five wineries in one day, tasting five or more samples of wine at each winery, and remain sober. You palate will be gone in short order.
Needless to say, if you are the driver, your only choices are to spit or just roam around the tasting room while the others are having a grand old time.

spit-cups [Read more...]

Rutherford Dust Adventures — Tasting the 2007 Vintage

What a terrific day for us on Wednesday of this past week! We were among twenty-five wine writers and wine bloggers present at the annual Rutherford Dust Society’s “A Day in the Dust.” The venue was the historic Rubicon Estates Chateau and the setting dramatic as we entered the room to view the tables with sets of wine glasses numbered and prepared for the tasting. First we heard from present-day wine legends like Andy Beckstoffer, Joel Aiken, Peter Granoff, Larry Stone and others. Then it was down to work, or should I say pleasure, and the tasting of the wines.


The wines we tasted were from 23 different vintners in the Rutherford AVA, all 2007 vintage, Cabernet Sauvignon or blends made predominantly with Cabernet Sauvignon. Andy Beckstoffer explained to us that the 2007 growing season had been one of the best in memory. The season started with early heat, followed by cooler weather than normal. August warmed but there were no heat spikes. Usually the Napa Valley experiences five or six heat spikes that are in the high nineties or above the 100 mark, none of which are good for grapes. September was cooler than usual and the grapes gently matured to their ideal sugar levels. Peter Granoff told us that with the 2007 vintage there had been a shift from long hang time and high alcoholic wines to wines that were more elegant, balanced wines with a soft finish. Peter stated, “We have gone full circle and now we are looking for elegance.” [Read more...]