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Tasting Two Anderson Valley Gewurtztraminer from Castello di Amorosa

Castello di Amorosa is a popular destination for travelers to Napa Valley. Large castles overlooking vineyards get their share of attention even in Europe where they aren’t entirely unusual. In California there is only one authentically-constructed, full-scale wine country castle. A unicorn bounding across Highway 29 wouldn’t surprise unsuspecting tourists much more than Dario Sattui’s homage to medieval Tuscany.

A view from the vineyard of some towers and ramparts at Castello di Amorosa. Photo by Jim Sullivan.

Sattui, founder of the famous and lucrative V. Sattui Winery (and deli) on Highway 29, has been interested in architecture of the Middle Ages since childhood. Interest gradually developed into obsession. It led him to buy a small castle (since sold), a monastery, and a palace, all in Italy, and, eventually, to commission a castle of his own design near Calistoga. He spent more than 10 years and more than his entire fortune having it built. Medieval construction techniques were used and all of the materials were either imported from European ruins or handmade using historical methods. [Dario Sattui tells the full story in three parts at the winery’s website. It’s interesting reading.]

Tourists would make pilgrimages to such a place even if it didn’t offer wine tasting. But it does. Castello di Amoroso is a full-on winery. Many of its underground chambers were designed specifically for barrel-aging wine. In keeping with the Italianate castle design, its wines are made from grape varieties found in Italy. Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino vineyards, some estate-owned, provide the fruit.

Not too long ago, I received samples of three 2011 Castello di Amoroso Gewurtztraminer of different sweetness levels. So far, I’ve tried the off-dry and late harvest wines.

Tasting Notes

The 2011 Castello di Amorosa Gewurtztraminer is an off-dry wine that captures the floral, spicy essence of its variety without going overboard. I’ve had a few Gewurtztraminer, some from Anderson Valley, with rose petal aromatics so strong that they were too reminiscent of my grandmother’s fancy little bath soaps to be an enjoyable drink. Not so this wine from Castello di Amorosa. It’s aromas are pronounced, but balanced. Rose is first to be noticed, but is followed immediately by chai spice, ripe pear and stone fruit, lychee and even a trace of minerality. It’s a pretty and complex wine that I could be happy just sniffing.

Eventually you want to taste it though. Then the wine reveals medium to medium-plus body and generous flavors that match the nose but also include a drop of lemon oil. There is easily perceptible sweetness, but this is still a legitimate table wine. The sweetness and the concentration of flavor will stand up to exotically-spiced foods and also result in a lingering finish. Even more acidity, minerality or subtlety would garner a higher score, but it’s a very solid recommendation as is. Recommended.

2011 Castello di Amorosa Gewurtztraminer, Anderson Valley
Rating: Recommended
Drink: now - 2013
Closure: Cork
Production: 1,100 cases
Retail Price: $23.00

Winemaker: Brooks Painter
Blend: 100% Gewurtztraminer
Origin: Castello di Amorosa estate vineyard, Anderson Valley AVA, Mendocino County
Fermentation: Whole cluster press, cold fermentation in stainless steel with selected yeasts
Aging: Stainless steel
Residual Sugar: 3.9 g/l
Alcohol: 13.5%

Service Recommendations
Decanting: Not recommended
Temperature: 52º - 54º F
Food Pairings: Chicken Koorma, Zereshk Polo


Most vintners do everything they can to avoid rot amongst their grapes, noble or otherwise. The exception is makers of late harvest dessert wines who treasure the complexity, concentration and added sweetness that botrytis cinerea brings. 2011 yielded bumper crops of botrytis-affected grapes in Northern California. It left many growers of Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, etc. with no usable fruit whatsoever. But it was a boon for dessert wine specialists. Castello di Amorosa reports that, whereas they normally get botrytized bunches in no more than 35% of their Gewurtztraminer vineyard, 2011 yielded 80%.


The 2011 Castello di Amorosa Late Harvest Gewurtztraminer is dessert in a glass with pronounced yet lovely aromas of rose petal, white flowers, botrytis, peach and grapefruit. The palate is full-bodied and lusciously sweet with a merciful quantity of acidity to lend balance. Flavors of rose petal and white flowers are joined by honey, herb and apricot. They all seemed to last forever in the mouth. Ugly weather spawned a beautiful wine. Highly Recommended.

2011 Castello di Amorosa Late Harvest Gewurtztraminer, Anderson Valley
Rating: Highly Recommended
Drink: now - 2015
Closure: Cork
Production: 2,964 cases
Retail Price: $35.00 per 325ml bottle

Winemaker: Brooks Painter
Blend: 100% Gewurtztraminer, botrytized
Origin: Castello di Amorosa estate vineyard, Anderson Valley AVA, Mendocino County
Fermentation: Whole cluster press, cold fermentation in stainless steel with selected yeasts
Aging: Stainless steel
Residual Sugar: 173 g/l
Alcohol: 11.2%

Service Recommendations
Decanting: Not recommended
Temperature: 52º - 54º F
Food Pairings: This wine stands on its own as a dessert, but will go well with tarte tatin, chocolate desserts, creme brulée or blue cheese.

The wines above were received as review samples.

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This article is original to Copyright 2012 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.

Tasted: 5 New Releases from Hirsch Vineyards

Hirsch Vineyards is a grower-producer of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay located in the western part of the Sonoma Coast AVA. Their vineyards are high in the coastal hills, just three miles from the Pacific Ocean. Since 1980, when the first vines were planted, Hirsch has been experimenting with different rootstocks, clones, vine spacing, trellising, etc. to find the best way to ensure the unique terroir of their vineyards can be fully expressed in the wine.

Large bodies of water are accurately said to be moderating influences on climate, both within and between seasons. The Pacific does prevent extremes of temperature at Hirsch and there is a general trend of dry summers bookended by substantial rain. However, there are greater differences in weather from one vintage to the next than in vineyards separated from the ocean by a mountain range (ex. Santa Lucia Highlands, Russian River Valley). Likewise, Hirsch’s soils are a geological jumble and its hilly topography results in a myriad of facings and microclimates. These variables, coupled with Hirsch’s elegant winemaking, result in wines that reflect both time and place.

I recently tasted Hirsch’s new releases, all from the 2009 vintage. The year was literally a breath of fresh air after the devastation caused in 2008 by horrendous wildfires in both Sonoma and Mendocino Counties. The weather in 2009 was good to the Sonoma Coast and to Hirsch. It gave vineyards the opportunity to shine and winemakers the opportunity to let them. All of the 2009 Hirsch Vineyards wines are, at a minimum, very good. Of course, the wines that speak most uniquely are the vineyard designates. Hirsch winemaker Ross Cobb is formerly of Williams-Selyem and Flowers.

New Hirsch Releases fromt the 2009 Vintage

2009 Hirsch Vineyards Chardonnay, $50
Medium-minus lemon in color with a generous and attractive nose of lemon, green apple flesh and skin with an undercurrent of fresh sourdough bread. The body is on the plus side of medium and textured with flavors of green apple, tart peach and lemon. Despite 100% malolactic fermentation, the wine feels both restrained and extremely juicy. Production quantities are very low because there are only four acres of Chardonnay planted. Drink now through at least 2014. Highly Recommended.


2009 Hirsch Vineyards Pinot Noir “Bohan Dillon,” $30
Bohan Dillon is a Sonoma Coast blend not confined to estate fruit. This wine is always intended to be enjoyed within one-to-two years of release. The 2009 is pale ruby with engaging aromas of cranberry, cherry, herb and Dr. Pepper. It’s medium-bodied with medium, well-integrated tannins and flavors of cranberry, tangerine peel, tart raspberry and wood. Ample acidity makes this a very good wine for the dinner table. Drink now through 2013. Recommended.

2009 Hirsch Vineyards Pinot Noir “San Andreas Fault,” $60
The San Andreas is 100% estate fruit and Hirsch says that it is intended to be “a snapshot of the vineyard in drinkable form.” The wine is pale ruby in color but the nose is bold — full of vanilla, cinnamon, spice, oak and cherry. Medium-plus body, lively acidity and restrained tannins complement tastes of cherry, raspberry, vanilla and wood that linger at length. It’s very juicy but there’s no shortage of oak influence. The fruit has strength, but is not over-the-top. This is a very good wine that will come into it’s prime three-to-five years from now. Drink now through 2018. Highly Recommended.


2009 Hirsch Vineyards Pinot Noir West Ridge Vineyard, $85
I don’t know how far the West Ridge Vineyard is from the East Ridge, but the wines are world’s apart. You could say that this wine takes it’s cue from the Old World and East Ridge from the New. The 2008 Hirsch Pinot Noir West Ridge Vineyard is pale ruby with attention-grabbing aromas of cranberry, orange, sandalwood and potpourri. It is delicate in weight, largely due to startlingly low alcohol for a California Pinot Noir (12.9%). The refined tannins are medium-minus but there is a strong core of fruit and acidity. It tastes of tart raspberry, cherry, vanilla, fall leaves and wood pencil. The finish is very long as will be the wine’s life. Drink it now with wild mushrooms or quail if you like. I would let it develop further in bottle for several years. Drink now through 2018+. Very Highly Recommended.

2009 Hirsch Vineyards Pinot Noir East Ridge Vineyard, $85
While the West Ridge Pinot was my personal favorite of the new releases due in large part to it’s distinctive light-footedness, many people I talked to preferred the equally delicious but more viscous East Ridge. Medium-minus ruby color and fragrances of raspberry, cherry, cranberry and tangerine zest preface a palate that leans toward medium-plus body and smooth tannins. Silk shantung texture, plentiful acidity and long-lasting flavors of tart cherry, raspberry, vanilla and cedar make it a delight in the mouth. The wine is soft edged yet well-balanced and agile at just 13.8% alcohol. Drink now through 2019. Very Highly Recommended.

I sampled these wines at a small private tasting for club members, trade and media.

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check out our comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to Copyright 2011 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.

A Taste Test of Tiny Trefethen Wine Samplers

Back in April, I wrote an article after having received some 50ml bottles of wine as tasting samples from Trefethen Family Vineyards. Trefethen is one of many wineries trying out Lilliputian bottles as samplers in order to increase the number of people they send samples to while keeping costs in check.

At the time I received the samples, I didn’t have any of the same wine in standard bottles. Since the small bottles said “Best Enjoyed before September 2010,” I elected to leave them unopened until I could compare them head to head against 750ml samples. Happily, I recently received some full-sized bottles from Trefethen.

For this test, my intent was not to evaluate the Trefethen Double T Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon against other similar wines as I normally would. (I’ll do that as well, but for subsequent articles.) Rather, I simply wanted to determine how similar the wine in the small bottles was to that in the standard bottles. That is really the key factor in determining whether or not the small bottles can succeed as samplers.

The Tasting Room, Inc. "T.A.S.T.E. technology" sample packaging process for Trefethen involves opening 3 liter bottles supplied by the winery and moving the wine from those bottles into the tiny ones which are then sealed. All of this is done in an environment which is intended to be anaerobic. There is always some oxygen in the neck of a regular wine bottle, but the T.A.S.T.E. process is supposed to prevent any additional oxygen from affecting the wine.

Still, there are variables that could lead to differences between the samples. First, there is the process itself. Does it work as advertised? Second, there is the difference in closures. The standard bottles I tested have been sealed with cork since their initial bottling whereas the small sampler wine started under cork but have been sealed with screwcap since February. Next is the size of the bottles themselves. It has been proved scientifically that wine ages more slowly in larger bottles. This is primarily because the ratio of air to wine within the bottles increases as bottle size decreases. Therefore, the affect of that captured air on the wine is greater in small bottles. The effect is more pronounced if the small bottles are sealed with something that is not entirely air-tight, such as cork. The T.A.S.T.E. samples from Trefethen use screwcap. They are also glass bottles, so there’s no concern about the premature aging that would occur with plastic bottles.

The final variable is that the sampler wine came from 3 liter bottles, rather than 750ml. The 2008 Trefethen Double T Chardonnay was bottled in August 2009 and the samplers were made in February 2010. So, the sampler wine spent roughly 7 months in double magnum then about 4 months in the small bottle. The 2007 Trefethen Cabernet Sauvignon Double T was bottled in April, 2009 and the samplers created in February 2010.

For my test, I had the wines poured for me so that I could taste them blind. The entire contents of the small bottles were poured into glasses. Then, an equal amount of the wine from regular bottles was poured, ensuring that the fill level looked identical in all of the glasses. I took standard tasting notes for each glass and then revisited each wine as needed to review any differences I might have perceived. I also had a second taster on hand to take some quick sniffs and tastes. And, since I had two T.A.S.T.E. samplers of each wine, I was able to conduct the whole test twice.


Trefethen refers to their 2008 Double T Chardonnay as “casual and lively.” It is 100% Chardonnay with all of the fruit taken from the estate vineyard. It spent four months in French oak and sells for $17. When initially opened, the color of the wines was virtually the same, though the small bottle sample was a tiny bit more pale. I found a bigger difference on the nose though.

The small bottle sample was both more intensely aromatic and much more tropical. Pineapple was particularly prominent. As the wine sat in the glass over a period of ten to fifteen minutes, the pineapple receded and the fruit flavors became lighter and rounder. Eventually it’s aromas of fresh and canned stone fruit matched those of the wine from the standard bottle. Both wines showed moderate amounts of oak influence with aromas and flavors of vanilla, spice and oak. The oak-derived flavors were identical in both wines from the outset, though the early pineapple in the T.A.S.T.E. sample dominated the oak rather than sharing the limelight as did the stonefruit. My findings on this wine were consistent when I re-tested with the second small bottle.

To me, the differences I experienced between the small samplers and the 750ml bottle say more about the rate of development of white wine when exposed to small amounts of oxygen than it does about the T.A.S.T.E. process specifically. White wines sealed with screw cap have consistently been found to retain the youthful fruitiness longer than those under cork. The time the sampler Chardonnay spent in double magnum could be considered to have been closer to screwcap storage than 750ml with cork storage, since the air to wine ratio was so low. The rapid effect of oxygen on the wine was also demonstrated by how quickly the fresh tropical aromas disappeared once the wine was in the glass. [In the same vein, I recorked the 750ml bottle, without vacuum or gas, and let it sit on the counter overnight. The next morning, it was very obviously darker due to oxidation.] Personally, I found the fresh tropical version of the wine engaging and would love to see the Double T Chardonnay bottled under screwcap.

The 2007 Trefethen Cabernet Sauvignon Double T is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot all from the Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley. The wine spent fourteen months in a combination of French and American oak barrels. The retail price is $25. The wine from the two different bottles looked identical in my glass. The were bright ruby leaning toward violet purple with a dark core that faded gradually to the rim.

The nose, flavors and texture of the two wines were virtually identical. Berries, black cherry and plum fruit were complimented by vanilla, chocolate, spice and oak. The first T.A.S.T.E. sample exhibited a trace of spiced deli meat and smoke on the nose that was not present in the 750ml sample. However, the second T.A.S.T.E. sample did not and was identical to the 750.

While my tests were not exhaustive, they do give me a good degree of confidence that the T.A.S.T.E. samplers can provide wine that is very nearly identical to the red wines sold in regular bottles.. For whites, that isn’t necessarily the case upon initial opening. In my view, consumers (or reviewers) need to determine whether or not the retail wine is under cork or screwcap and how long the wine is aged in bottle at the winery. If the wine is sold under screwcap, open the sampler and taste right away. If under cork, pour the wine and pay close attention to how it changes over time. Unfortunately, it will be difficult for consumers to know the size of the bottle from which the samplers were filled and that can be a considerable source of variation. I would encourage wineries to fill samplers of white wine from 750ml bottle to eliminate this issue.

The wines reviewed in this article were provided by the winery at no cost to me.

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Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check outour comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to Copyright 2010 NorCal Wine. The vineyard panorama photograph was provided by Trefethen Family Vineyards. All rights reserved.

Five Great Rogue Valley Wines and More

It could happen to anyone. You’re driving along on Interstate 5 enjoying the beautiful far northern California scenery. You’ve got mp3’s blasting, your sweetie next to you and a fast food burger dripping on your shirt. The perfect day. When you suddenly realize you’ve just crossed into Oregon by accident.

Horrors! Oregon? That’s SO not California. And it’s so not Portland or Willamette Valley either. This is southern Oregon. The land of... pears. You now have two choices. You could dart off the freeway at the next exit and head back south, breathing a panicky sigh of relief. That would be a safe choice.

But don’t. The best choice is to continue on and have a great time in southern Oregon wine country as if you’d planned it. After reading this article you might even want to purposely accidentally wind up there. I did and don’t regret a moment of it.

New Pinot Noir and Cabernet Releases from Sojourn Cellars

Sojourn Cellars consistently produces top-quality Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon wines from North Coast sites. Most of the releases are vineyard-designates, but there are some fine appellation blends as well. Winemaker Erich Bradley delivers a style that’s rich and deeply flavorful, yet well-balanced and pretty rather than bruising. The grapes for the wines below were 100% de-stemmed, then fermented with native yeast in open-top tanks. I tasted the unfined, unfiltered wines blind in flights including other producers.

2011 Sojourn Cellars Pinot Noir Campbell Ranch Vineyard Sonoma Coast, 175 cases - $59
This is the first release from Campbell Ranch for Sojourn. The vineyard is located in the near Annapolis (in the coastal mountains northeast of Sea Ranch) on the northern Sonoma coast. The clone 115 and 777 grapes came from blocks worked by star vineyard-manager Ulises Valdez.

Uniquely attractive aromas and flavors of wild raspberry and blueberry are dusted with forest spice which reflects both the “true Sonoma Coast” site, nestled amongst redwoods, and the cool 2011 vintage. The medium+ body and moderate tannins of fine grain and chalk are just right and the wine is ready-to-drink now but will easily age for seven years or so. 13.8% alcohol. Highly Recommended

2011 Sojourn Cellars Pinot Noir Wohler Vineyard Russian River Valley, 525 cases - $48
Wohler's youthful vines—re-planted on Goldridge loam near Forestville less than 10 years ago—have delivered bold aromas and flavors of wild cherry, dark berries and spice which are consistent from first sniff all the way through the lengthy finish. Moderate tannins of talc frame this medium+ body wine. Delicious now but best 2015 - 2020. 14.2% alcohol. Highly Recommended

PINOT Ridgetop 112011 Sojourn Cellars Pinot Noir Ridgetop Vineyard Sonoma Coast, 275 cases - $59
The Ridgetop Vineyard is sited similarly to Campbell Ranch—in the mountains near Annapolis, surrounded by redwoods—and is also managed by Ulises Valdez. Ridgetop is higher though, approximately 1,110 feet vs. 750, and features a jumble of soils.

Sojourn’s Ridgetop Vineyard bottling of 115, 667, and 777 clone Pinot Noir is dark ruby in the glass with bold aromas of ripe red cherry, brown spice and supporting notes of flowers and forest spice. The full-bodied palate holds beautiful and intense tangy red fruit flavors framed by slightly drying, fine-grained and chalky tannins. Powerful, pretty, balanced and long. Drink now through 2023. Very Highly Recommended

2010 Sojourn Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Proprietary Cuvee Napa Valley, 150 cases - $95
Sojourn’s Proprietary Cuvee is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon but includes fruit from three different vineyards, including Beckstoffer George III in Rutherford. The wine was aged in French oak, 75% new, for about 18 months.

The nose of this opaque, full-bodied wine bursts with black currant jam, currant leaf and licorice with side notes of pine. Loads of chalky tannins balance notable acidity and persistent, mouth-filling flavors of mocha, black cherry and dark spice (especially clove and allspice). Very Highly Recommended

Sojourn Cellars is located in a small, re-purposed house just off the square in downtown Sonoma. They are on my short list of must-visit tasting rooms in the area. The hourly tastings are by appointment and limited to 10 people. Sojourn wines are sold primarily direct to consumer via a mailing list.

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Disclosures: The FTC has tightened its guidelines with respect to online ads, reviews, blogs, etc. in response to people who are passing paid ads off as personal recommendations or who accept samples of expensive hard goods in exchange for reviews. My lengthy disclosure here is meant to address those guidelines.

The review above reflects my personal experience with the product. It is not a paid ad, nor do I accept ads or compensation for reviews from wine producers. Reviews may cover products that I have purchased, received as samples, or tried under other circumstances I consider to be good tasting conditions. Receiving a product as a sample does not obligate me to review it positively (or at all) and I do not consider samples to be compensation or “free wine.” I have purchased plenty of wine over the years and have more of that than I can drink. Samples are opened for review purposes, not added to my personal cellar or taken to restaurants.

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on Facebook.

This article is original to Copyright 2013 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.