My friends who know I’m a wine writer often ask me if I’d like to be a winemaker. My answer is always the same…Are you nuts?
Let me explain. Though winemaking is often perceived as glamorous, I think it’s anything but. It’s hard work that requires long hours, being a slave to Mother Nature, and a commitment to their chosen craft that borders on insanity. And for the best, that commitment includes a relentless pursuit of perfection, and a willingness to experiment and take risks.
It’s that pursuit of excellence, and willingness to experiment that led Castello di Amorosa winemaker Peter Velleno to craft three 2013 Chardonnays: the 2013 Napa Valley Chardonnay from their estate vineyard in Los Carneros, and two Chardonnays from the renown Bien Nacido vineyard in Santa Maria Valley, one of which ( “La Rocca“) was raised exclusively in a concrete egg.
Crafting two Chardonnays from two cool climate vineyards, using identical wine making protocols was an opportunity to showcase the differences in terrroir between Los Carneros, where the San Francisco Bay meets both Napa and Sonoma, and Bien Nacido in Santa Barbara County.
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. – Castello di Amorosa
The 2013 Castello di Amorosa Chardonnays also featured a limited about of a wine called “La Rocca” or “the fortress.”
As explained by Winemaker, Peter Velleno, “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.
The first two wines below showcased the differences between the terroir of Carneros, and Bien Nacido. To my palate, the Bien Nacido bottling had a distinctive tropical fruit character, and a higher level of acidity. On the other hand, the Carneros bottling showed an appealing minerality, and a bit more spice.
My favorite of the three was the La Rocca bottling. To my palate, it was the freshest, and most balanced of the three wines.
My detailed tasting notes follow:
2013 Castello di Amorosa Chardonnay – USA, California, Napa Valley
Pale golden-yellow color with pear, apple, and butterscotch aromas. On the palate it’s lush and with a supple texture and good acidity with apple, peach, honey, lemon meringue, vanilla and bit of very pleasing brown spice and minerality. Long finish. 100 % Barrel fermentation, 50% new French oak barrels, 50 % second use, with roughly 40% undergoing malolactic fermentation, all aged “sur lie” (on the yeast) for 10 months and stirred to re-suspend the yeast, enhancing aromas and adding texture and volume to the mouth. alcohol; SRP – $29. 827.5 cases produced. Pair with Alaskan King Crab Legs and drawn butter (90 pts.)
2013 Castello di Amorosa Chardonnay Bien Nacido Vineyard – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Maria Valley
Pale gold color with alluring orchard fruit, tropical fruit, orange blossom and toasty aromas. On the palate it shows a harmonious character with ample fruit, nicely balance against lively acidity and a lush mouth feel. It shows white peach, pineapple, pear, vanilla, and toasty oak flavors with a bit of butter and spice peeking through, with a very giving finish. 100 % Barrel fermentation, 50% new French oak barrels, 50 % second use, with roughly 40% undergoing malolactic fermentation, all aged “sur lie” (on the yeast) for 10 months and stirred to re-suspend the yeast, enhancing aromas and adding texture and volume to the mouth. Alcohol 14.8% SRP; $38 453 cases produced. Pair with Seared Scallops in Morel Cream Sauce. (91 pts.)
2013 Castello di Amorosa Chardonnay La Rocca – USA, California, Napa Valley
Pale yellow color with expansive apple, pear, pineapple, a hint of citrus marmalade aromas. On the palate it full-bodied, and pure with great texture nicely balanced with lively acidity. It shows enticing apple, pear, lemon curd, pineapple, and a hint of grapefruit flavors with a hint of wet stone minerality peeking through. Long finish. 100% Chardonnay. Fermented and aged in a single concrete egg tank sur lie for 10 months. No malolactic fermentation. Pair with Forty Cloves and A Chicken or Seafood Risotto. SRP -$38 14.8% alcohol 177 cases produced. (92 pts.)
Between the three wines there’s something to love for most Chardonnay fans. If you prefer a lush, riper style of Chardonnay opt for the barrel fermented Napa Valley, or Bien Nacido wines. If you prefer your Chardonnay with more of a pome (apple, pear) fruit character, you’ll enjoy the Napa Valley. If you like a more tropical fruit character go for the Bien Nacido bottling. And if you prefer your Chardonnay with higher acidity, the La Rocca fits the bill quite nicely!
The wines are sold exclusively through Castello di Amorosa directly.
About Castello Di Amorosa
Castello di Amorosa is one of Napa Valley’s top “destination” wineries. What makes it unique is that it’s both an authentic 13th Century castle and a winery. The Castello (Castle in Italian) was the brainchild of Dario Sattui, a fourth generation winemaker.
Armed with his vault of medieval architectural renderings and another passionate dream, Sattui purchased a 171 acre vineyard property in Calistoga in 1993 and began construction of Castello di Amorosa Winery in 1994. Clearly, the success of V. Sattui Winery built the 121,000 square foot, 12th century style, authentic Tuscan castle winery. The Castello opened to the public in 2007(click here for complete history).
And if you’re ever in Napa Valley, a visit to the Castello di Amorosa is a must!
Wines provided as a samples for review. Many thanks to Castello di Amorosa and Julie Ann Kodmur
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