Castello di Amorosa is one of those Napa Valley wine country excursion places that’s so attractive to tourists that it doesn’t even matter whether or not you enjoy wine. We went with my folks on their recent visit to San Francisco from Virginia. My dad likes wine tasting but mom’s not too into it. That’s perfect here, since the place is completely enchanting either way. This is an honest-to-goodness CASTLE. So strange to be writing that word in the context of American winemaking. Just look at our pictures. Incredible. What’s not to love?
Designed in the style of 13th to 14th century Tuscan castles, no expense was spared. Henriette, our marvelous tour guide for the Castle of Love experience, says that an estimated $30 million was spent to build the property. Aside from the ultra modern winemaking equipment and caves, there’s a moat with drawbridge, watchtowers, a grand room, a consecrated chapel, some rustic buildings housing sheep and chickens, and even a torture chamber. I suppose if Napa Valley were ever invaded by a marauding hoard of beer-drinkers, this would be the place to hide, though I wonder about all that brick and stonework in case of a severe earthquake?
Well anyway, European artisans were hired to design and build the arched ceilings, and paint the glowing frescos. Even the bricks are antiques shipped over from the Old World. We were there the day after their annual Halloween party, so the place was decked out in ghosts, severed limbs, etc. which really added to the medieval vibe.
Hegui and I’d been once before. They had just opened to the public then, so the vines surrounding the castle and the various gardens weren’t especially established. Neither were the wines, which at the time we found thin and rather uninteresting. Well, things have changed. Apparently there’s a new winemaker now and the vines themselves have matured a bit. The quality of the wine was outstanding. Our guide remarked cutely that a “Mr. Robert Parker” keeps giving them high scores. Certainly we can see why.
Following the hour long walking tour, we headed to the private tasting with the other members of our little group. Held in a dungeon-like space at a long bar, we felt that we got personal attention as we sipped our way through the regular and the reserve reds. My one little quibble, if that is the right word, is that the tiny wine order sheets failed to list the vintages of the different wines for sale. I noticed it then so tried to keep track, but by the end I nearly forgot to write what year our delicious Il Barone came from and I only have the date of the delightful La Castellana because my mother bought us a bottle.
2009 Pinot Nero, Santa Lucia Highlands: This wine had a subtitle on the label, “pinot noir” just in case you didn’t recognize the name, I suppose. A cherry red color with lots of strawberries and hints of pepper, it was medium to full bodied. Pleasant.
2008 Sangiovese, Napa: Plum red with flecks of rust colors, this was earthy, rich with cherry fruit, medium body with soft tannins. Frankly this is one of the first California sangioveses that I’ve ever drunk that tasted anything remotely like Chianti Classico. Delish. I bought a bottle for later.
2009 Zingaro, Russian River Valley: “Zingaro” means “Gipsy.” This cool-climate zinfandel primitivo blend was quite a surprise if you’re accustomed to those ultra extracted, peppery fruit bomb zins that California has made famous (or infamous, depending on your perspective.) We liked it a lot though since it defies preconceptions, it might not be for everyone. Purple in color with a caramel, almost briny nose, it had ample red and blue stone fruit highlights with some chalky tannins and pepper with a delicate and quite enjoyable structure.
2008 Merlot, Napa: We always joke in wine tasting rooms about merlot. That movie, Sideways, really did something to it in California: improved them. This one was really pleasant. Opaque purple, Hegui found nail polish and petrol notes on the nose, which doesn’t sound that appetizing, but is. This was a luscious full-bodied red with red stone fruit and a lovely finish.
2007 Il Brigante, “The Thief:” This cabernet, sangiovese, merlot blend is one of Castello di Amorosa’s “super-Tuscans.” This had a powerful cab aroma of forest floor with smooth red fruit, some mineral notes and a long finish.
2006 La Castellana “The Lady of the Castle:” Another “super-Tuscan” this one had 74% cabernet sauvignon. Reddish purple with a nose of tomato and paraffin, this was much fuller, structured and smoother than the admittedly yummy Il Brigante. Full of red fruit and some pepper, we loved it.
2006 Il Barone: This reserve cabernet sauvignon reserve is the top wine of Castello di Amorosa. We loved it. 100% cab, it had a purple red color, with a leathery fruity nose. It was rich and full bodied with lots of red fruit, supple tannins and a long, long finish. This was young and really needs more cellar time, but already it was quite good.