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Building a Castle of Love

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Castello di Amorosa

Medieval castles don’t exactly dot the landscape in Napa Valley, so when you see one, it tends to pull your focus.  Meet Castello di Amorosa (aka, the Castle of Love).  And just so we’re clear, this isn’t a tasting room that someone glued a tower onto so it might look like a castle if you squint your eyes.  This is a full-scale, historically accurate, actual, medieval Tuscan castle.

Just look at this place . . . it could be on the cover of Beautiful Italian Castles You Must See Before You Die.

Except it’s not in Italy.  It’s in Napa Valley, USA.

Castello di Amorosa is the brainchild and obsession of owner and winemaker, Dario Sattui.  Mr. Sattui is the great-grandson of California pioneer, Vittorio Sattui, who founded V.Sattui Vineyards (in San Francisco) in 1885.  After Prohibition, the winery was closed for 50 years.  In 1975, Dario Sattui resurrected the winery and moved it to Napa Valley, where it remains a fixture today.

Sidebar:  The entire time I’ve been writing this post, I’ve had Stevie Wonder’s song,  Overjoyed, stuck in my head.  Over time . . . I’ve been building my castle of love.  And now, you have the earworm, too.  You’re welcome.

Mr. Sattui purchased the 171 acre property that would become Castello di Amorosa in 1994.  A life-long fascination with medieval architecture inspired him to spend the next 15 years (!!!) and 40 million dollars (!!!!) building his Castle of Love.

That’s equal parts brave and crazy.

The Castle of Love boasts 107 rooms (which is almost as big as my castle 😉), with four levels above ground, and four levels of wine caves and cellars below ground.  There are five defensive towers, a drawbridge, moat, tunnels, secret rooms, a great hall, a prison and torture chamber.  Because what’s a medieval castle without a torture chamber?

But it wasn’t enough just to design and build a 107-room medieval castle in Napa Valley.  Mr. Sattui used authentic, historically accurate building materials (i.e., grout made of lime, sand and water instead of cement — because they didn’t have cement in the Middle Ages).  All the castle stones were chipped squared by hand.  All the timbers were hand hewn.  The doors were made with hand-forged iron nails.  The roof tiles came from Italy.

This is serious commitment to historical accuracy.

One departure from historical accuracy?  Flush toilets.  The restrooms at Castello di Amorosa have faucets that look like castle gargoyles.  Do not tell the Mr. Armchair Sommelier, or I will end up with gargoyles in my bathroom.  (I already have gargoyles on my downspouts and grotesques living in my backyard.  The Mr. Armchair Sommelier loves the little guys.)

So . . . we’ve got a Castle of Love, a Stevie Wonder earworm song, and gargoyle faucets. Historical Sidebar:  The word gargoyle comes from the old French gargouille, meaning throat.  The practical purpose of gargoyles was to provide drainage for a church or castle.  The secondary purpose was to scare the bejeezus out of people.  Fun fact:  A gargoyle can only be a gargoyle if it’s serving as a water spout.  Otherwise, it’s a grotesque, which can be used solely for decoration.

But, is the wine any good?

I recently had the opportunity to taste three Castello di Amorosa wines with my family.  Sangiovese and tomato sauce are BFFs, so I made homemade lasagna (my own labor of love) to pair with the wines.

California has flirted with Sangiovese for years, but it’s never really found a footing.  There are over 500 wineries in Napa Valley, and according to Napa Valley Vintners, only 34 of them make a Sangiovese.  Sangiovese is a difficult grape to grow.  It’s thin-skinned, early to bud, slow to ripen, doesn’t ripen evenly, susceptible to rot, and tends to overproduce on the vine.  The potential for thin, uninteresting plonk is very real.  So why bother?

With careful growing and clever winemaking, Sangiovese can be bliss.  It’s often blended with other dance partners (hello, Super Tuscans), but Sangiovese can also sing on its own.  Skeptical?  Grab a bottle of Brunello (which must be 100% Sangiovese) and prepare for your epiphany moment.  You can recover from the hit to your wallet later.

That, and if your winery is a full-scale, historically accurate, actual, medieval Italian castle, it would seem an oversight not to grow and make Sangiovese.

gioia2015 Gioia Rosato di Sangiovese  
The name Gioia means Joy, an apropos moniker.  A deliciously dry Rosé made from 100% Sangiovese sourced from the Diamond Mountain District of Napa Valley.  Aged 4 months in stainless steel.  A deep salmon color in the glass.  Super engaging nose of strawberry, raspberry, watermelon, cranberry and rose petals.  Nicely balanced and refreshing, with flavors of sour strawberry, rhubarb and cranberry.  Perfect for a warm fall day.  14.2% ABV.  Retail = $26.

castello-22012 Napa Valley Sangiovese  🍷🍷🍷/89
95% Sangiovese and 5% Merlot, sourced primarily from the Sangiovese vineyard surrounding the Castello in the Diamond Mountain District, along with fruit from Mount Veeder and Atlas Peak.  Aged for 22 months in French oak.  Medium garnet color.  There’s so much going on in this glass!  The nose is cranberry, black pepper, sour cherry, smoke, vanilla, toast, nutmeg.  Dry and drenched in bright acidity, with flavors of cranberry, cola, smoke, black pepper and tobacco.  There’s a rustic, terra-cotta quality to this wine that kept me coming back for more.  An absolutely killer pairing with the homemade lasagna, too!  14.8% ABV.  Retail = $30.

I’m trying to resist a comparison to Chianti with this wine (because Italy is Italy and Napa is Napa), but if I close my eyes, I do feel a little Under the Tuscan Sun.

castello-12012 La Castellana  🍷🍷🍷🍷/92
A “Super Tuscan” blend of 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Sangiovese and 9% Merlot.  La Castellana means “Lady of the Castle”.  Aged for 20 months in French oak.  Medium garnet color.  Highly expressive nose of sour cherry, smoke, tobacco, toast and vanilla.  Dry, with more assertive tannins than the 95% Sangiovese, but acutely balanced.  Complex and intense with flavors of red currant, tobacco, cedar, toast and graphite.  I really hated to see the end of this bottle.  I suspect this will only get better with a little cellar dust and time.  Outstanding.  14.8% ABV.  Retail = $98.

The next time I’m in Napa Valley, I’ve got a castle to storm.  Salud!

Disclaimer:  I received these wines as media samples from Castello di Amorosa

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