Castello di Ama tasting with owner Lorenza Sebasti Pallanti: Chianti, Merlot, Vin Santo
Can Chianti be elegant and sophisticated? And if so, is there a market for Chianti priced at over $150 a bottle? After tasting the basic and single vineyard Chiantis from Castello di Ama, I can enthusiastically answer yes to the first question. I’m very doubtful about there being much of a market for single vineyard Chiantis at this price, however, at least outside of Italy. (The basic Chianti retails for a very reasonable $40.)
Castello di Ama was started in 1972 and now amounts to 90 hectares of vines. It won Gambero Rosso’s Guida Vini d’Italia Winery of the Year award in 2005. Owner Lorenza Sebasti Pallanti, wife of winemaker Marco Pallanti (who was Gambero Rosso’s Guida Vini d’Italia Oenologist of the Year in 2003, and who has served as President of the Consorzio Vino Chianti Classico since 2006), recently visited the Bay Area, and shared the current lineup with us. In addition to their Chiantis, Castello di Ama makes a rosato (a saignee of Sangiovese, which we did not get to sample in this tasting), a delicious white blend, an unusual old vine Pinot/Sangiovese blend, an impressive 100% Merlot, and a very tasty Vin Santo.
Below are two video clips of Lorenza. In the first, she gives the background on the winery; in the second, she describes the wines in our lineup.
Castello di Ama’s lone white wine is a blend of Chardonnay, originally planted in the early ’80s, and Pinot Grigio. Forty percent of the grapes were fermented in oak, 50% of which was new and 50% one-year-old; the rest was fermented in stainless steel tanks. After fermentation, 45% of the wine underwent malolactic fermentation. The result is a bright Italian white with a lightly oily texture and very good balance.
- 2009 Castello di Ama Al Poggio Toscana IGT – Italy, Tuscany, Toscana IGT
Light lemon yellow color; nice apple, light peach nose; tasty, lightly oily textured, bright, tart lemon, tart apple, very tart peach palate with juice and very good balance; medium finish 91+ points (91 pts.)
This is a fascinating, and very unusual, blend of older vine Pinot Noir and Sangiovese. The Pinot was planted in 1984 on 4.15 hectares to Dijon clones 111, 114, and 115. I tasted a lot more Pinot on the palate than Sangiovese, even though the blend is 50/50. This has the acid and structure to be ageworthy as well. At about $22 a bottle, this is a very good buy.
- 2009 Castello di Ama Vigna Il Chiuso Toscana IGT – Italy, Tuscany, Toscana IGT
Medium dark cherry red color with pale meniscus; nice ripe cherry, roses, raspberry nose with poise; tasty, poised, balanced, tart cherry, tart raspberry palate with elegance; medium-plus finish (50% Pinot Noir planted in 1984, 50% Sangiovese) (92 pts.)
We got to taste two vintages of the basic Chianti, and both 2007 editions of the single vineyard Chiantis, La Casuccia and Bellavista. The basic Chianti Classico is quite good, especially the ’07, although it needs a few years bottle age to show everything that’s there. The two single vineyard wines are quite tasty and elegant, especially the Bellavista. Over $150 for a single vineyard Chianti, however, seems like a very tough sell, even with 96 point ratings from the Wine Advocate’s Antonio Galloni (ratings that seem inflated to me). Both of the single vineyard Chiantis are quite tight, and would benefit from several years of bottle age.
Lorenza describing the vinification of Castello di Ama’s Chiantis:
- 2007 Castello di Ama Chianti Classico – Italy, Tuscany, Chianti, Chianti Classico
Dark red violet color; nice ripe berry, blackberry nose with depth; tight but tasty berry, black raspberry, tart raspberry, tart black fruit palate with medium acidity, depth and grip, needs 3-plus years; medium-plus finish 91+ points (25-30% new oak) (91 pts.)
- 2006 Castello di Ama Chianti Classico – Italy, Tuscany, Chianti, Chianti Classico
Medium dark red color; dried cherry, tangy, tart plum nose; tight, tart plum, tart red fruit palate with medium-plus acidity, needs 2-plus years; medium-plus finish (91 pts.)
- 2007 Castello di Ama Chianti Classico Vigneto La Casuccia – Italy, Tuscany, Chianti, Chianti Classico
Very dark red violet color; subtle berry, black raspberry, baked berry nose; tasty, tight, concentrated, intense tart plum palate with good balance, needs 4-plus years; medium-plus finish (40-50% new oak) (92 pts.)
- 2007 Castello di Ama Chianti Classico Vigneto Bellavista – Italy, Tuscany, Chianti, Chianti Classico
Opaque purple red violet color; nice ripe plum, raspberry nose; tasty, poised, concentrated, tart plum, raspberry, tart berry palate with a touch of charcoal, needs 5-plus years; medium-plus finish (93 pts.)
The 100% Merlot was quite good. It’s not as big or lush as a Masseto or Redigaffi, but it’s better than many Italian Merlots I’ve tried in recent years. It is also, however, priced at over $150, which seems way more than the market will bear for most Super Tuscans these days.
- 2007 Castello di Ama Vigna l’Apparita Toscana IGT – Italy, Tuscany, Toscana IGT
Opaque purple red violet color; tart plum, herbal, thyme nose; plush, a little tight, tart plum, raspberry, thyme palate with medium acidity and grip; medium-plus finish (100% Merlot) (92 pts.)
In the short video clip below, Lorenza describes the process by which the domaine’s Vin Santo is made, including the racking after year-long fermentation that helps to avoid a lot of the oxidation that is present in other Vin Santos. This is a very tasty Vin Santo for under $40 a half bottle.
- 2004 Castello di Ama Vin Santo del Chianti Classico – Italy, Tuscany, Chianti, Vin Santo del Chianti Classico
Light medium golden color; rich, baked apricot, brown sugar, baked orange, golden raisin nose; tasty, rich, concentrated, golden raisin, baked apricot, orange palate with good acidity; long finish 93+ points (93 pts.)