The Castle creates Joy!
My first taste of Sangiovese from Castello di Amorosa, “The Castle”, was in the form of their Rosato di Sangiovese that they call Gioia (which means Joy in Italian). Although this is considered a dry wine, it leaves the impression of being lightly sweet on the palate (fruity). Unlike most rosés and rosatos I have tried, this one is bursting with intense flavors of ripe strawberries and watermelon. I usually buy a bottle or two with each release. If you are a lover of fruity cocktails by the pool, this is the wine for you. If you want something a little lighter, Gioia makes a fabulous wine spritzer cocktail.
I have been missing out
I did know that the Castle made Sangiovese, but as they have such a huge catalogue of other wines, I never had the opportunity to taste it during my visits. (Or if it was blended in to a wine I tasted, to my shame I didn’t notice). Year after year I just purchased the Gioia and other favorites and left it at that. Wow, have I been missing out!
Exploring “The Castle’s” Sangiovese lineup
When I decided to write this series of articles about the best of California Sangiovese, I immediately planned to include the Gioia, but did not think about the other wines that “The Castle” makes. For some reason their wines were not on my radar for this project. Thankfully, they offered to introduce me to their Sangiovese lineup.
“The Castle” makes many wines using Sangiovese to my utter surprise and chagrin. The Gioia that I have already mentioned, a 2017 Classic Sangiovese from Napa Valley, a 2018 Voyager Vineyard Sangiovese (Limited release, Single Vineyard), a 2015 Il Brigante Red Wine Blend (57% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Merlot, 12% Sangiovese, 4% Primativo, and 5% other red wine), and the 2015 La Castellana Super Tuscan Blend (65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Merlot, 14% Sangiovese, 2% Petite Verdot, 2% Malbec).
Tasting at The Castle
One of the reasons I love “The Castle” is that they make such a wide variety of wines in different styles to satisfy every palate. They even make delicious non-alcoholic grape juices from wine grapes which we wrote about here.
I love taking visitors to “The Castle” as the education portion of the tour really helps people to understand their own palate and choosing wines and styles they enjoy. The educator takes the time to talk to each guest helping them choose wines in the tasting that appeal to them rather than having just one set tasting flight for everyone.
The Rise of Sangiovese in California
If you read my last article The Rise of Sangiovese in California, you will know that the key to this special wine lies in the timing of when its served. Serve it too young, and you get an overly tannic wine with notes of underripe strawberries and lots of spice. (Tannins are the drying sensation you get in the mouth when drinking wine.) Giving it a bit of time in the bottle – just 3-5 years – changes this wine dramatically into something far more refined, less tannic and oh so delicious. What has really impressed me about “The Castle” is that they take this into account and release the wine when it is ready to drink. That means there is no long cellar time needed to get the most out of your bottle. The 2017 vintage is just coming into its own now and is tasting delicious.
Last year’s releases
For this article, we had the opportunity to taste the 2016 release of the Classic Sangiovese and the 2017 Voyager Vineyard which are no longer for sale. We tasted them at the very end of the release which gave the wine another full year in bottle and HOLY SMOKES!! I was floored by both of these beautiful wines. Both were drinking beautifully and I, who loves Sangiovese, was kicking myself that I didn’t have these delicious wines in my life before this point.
Classic “Chianti” style Sangiovese vs. Brunello style
These wines are very different in style. The Classic “Chianti style” Sangiovese is just as described, the medium bodied, full flavored table wine that you’d expect. The Voyager Vineyard Sangiovese is bolder in weight and style – Medium plus bodied (more complex flavors and firmer tannins) reminding me of a fine Brunello. It is a testament to the grape that it can express itself so differently coming from vineyards which are so close together.
The 2017 Classic Sangiovese ($36) is at the beginings of its release but is already tasting great. Notes of cherries, rhubarb, strawberries, cardamom, vanilla, and oak fill the glass. The oak notes do not overwhelm the fruit, which is a common issue with Sangiovese. It has a beautiful balance of acidity, fruit, and tannins for the win. (Acidity is the mouth watering sensation you get from wine.)
This wine is so flexible and food friendly, it can pair with just about any dish. I wouldn’t suggest it with most fish dishes because it will dwarf the delicate flavors of the fish. However, I have had it with cedar plank smoked salmon and that was delicious. Pizza and pastas are no brainer pairings for this wine, but I’d also suggest Mexican cuisine, Mediterranean food, or Barbecue. That being said, I had to laugh looking at “The Castle’s” website to see their pairing suggestion of: Silence of the Lamb Shanks. That is just awesome and appeals to both my sense of taste and humor in so many ways!
2018 Voyager Vineyard (Single Vineyard, Limited Release) Sangiovese ($45). Ripe bing cherries fill the nose, while notes of plums and layers of ginger, cloves, cinnamon, and cardamom dance across the palate. Honestly this one could do with an extra two years in the cellar as it is still a little tight. However, if you have the patience to wait for it, you will be thankful you did so. If you can’t wait, give this beauty a good long decant. I’d suggest opening it up in the morning and leave it decanted for the day until ready to serve. The tannins for now are a bit more pronounced, but wait to see what those do as it ages and opens up.
As for pairings, like the Classic Sangiovese the Voyager Vineyard Sangiovese is very flexible. I kept thinking about Pasta fagioli or Italian meatball soups, risotto, braised beef, or pecan crusted pork chops as perfect pairings. I ended up pairing the wine with a traditional beef and pork ragu over zucchini noodles finished with fresh grated parmesan and basil. It was perfection.
The 2105 Il Brigante Blend (The Theif) Red Wine Blend ($39) is simply a good quality table wine. No big pretentions, just tasty wine. The nose on this one mirrors the palate: Dark forest fruits, (think blackberry, red currant/cassis, raspberries, and staccato cherries), damp earth, wood, and a bit of umami (mushroom/meat/sage) savoriness in the mid palate. It has a lovely lingering finish with lightly drying tannins. This wine is ready to drink right now, but if you are cellaring it, you still have a few years to enjoy. I feel like this is far closer to true Italian wines – less fruit forward, more earth and savoriness.
I noticed on “The Castle’s” website when I was doing my research that they posted a creepy video staring Il Brigante in “The Castle’s” torture chamber. However, that video didn’t talk about why they call it Il Brigante “The Thief”. Since I couldn’t find that backstory to tell, I have decided to make one up! They call it “The Thief” because once you pour yourself a glass, the entire bottle seems to disappear! Here is the video:
The Sophia Loren of wine
The last wine in this article is probably the most impressive – the 2015 La Castellana (The Lady of the Castle) Super Tuscan Blend ($98). I’d describe this as the Sophia Loren of wine. Elegant, supple, classic, voluptuous, interesting, a little cheeky, timeless, and a whole bunch of beautiful. This wine is ready to drink right now, yet still has several years at its peak. I am so in love with this wine, I could wax lyrical about it for days. Seriously, it is that delicious. This poses a serious problem for me. Do I hoard this wine for myself, or share it with a selected few friends and well, David? Only time will tell. Ok, Ok, who am I kidding? I let David have a sip as I was tasting it. I have been generous enough!
The nose on this wine kept revealing its secrets with each glorious sniff. It has the kind of aromas that bring your nose back to the glass again and again. I can’t remember evaluating a wine so deeply on the nose portion of the tasting. Notes of dark fruits, anise, cloves, black pepper, coffee, dark chocolate, and mint were all there. On the palate are flavors of plum, pomegranate, sour cherry, toasted oak, and cassis (red currant). The wine has a gorgeous mouthfeel, silky tannins, with a finish that lingers on the tip of your tongue. Did I mention how much I love this wine yet?
Great Wines being made at “The Castle”
Viewing it as a top Napa Valley tourist attraction, it is easy to forget that Castello di Amorosa is a sophisticated working winery making beautiful wines. The wines reflect the Italian heritage and personality of its owner Dario Sattui. If you can’t visit “The Castle” for yourself, they ship to most states in the US. Just visit their website, order, and they will deliver this deliciousness to your door. How awesome is that?!