When you visit Napa, you don’t just get a wine experience, you get a Napa Valley experience. Oregon feels more like a community of small wineries that focus on the wine, sometimes infusing art or other special draws for a marketing differentiation. Napa not only has some good wine, but cool activities as well. Rutherford Hill has a cave tour and tasting, Sterling Vineyards has an aerial tram (sometimes called a gondola) and Castello di Amorosa is in a castle!
I visited four wineries; Castello di Amorosa, Beringer, Peju Province Winery and Robert Mondavi Winery, and tasted at two. We skipped Beringer because the tasting fee seemed excessive, and skipped Mondavi because I didn’t think my palate was up for another. If I were to recommend a day trip to Napa Valley, I’d say visit Amorosa, do the general admission for $19 and take yourself on a tour around the castle, then do the tour and tasting at Mondavi for $30.
Castello di Amorosa is stunning from the moment you park your car. The winery, built with imported stones from castles across England, stands tall and proud, with an enchanting layout to explore. The rooms and views vary from dungeon-esque to streaked with bright sunlight.
Some of my favorite places were the dining hall and chapel. The detail and colors must have taken ages!
We decided to do general admission, which allows access to the castle and a wine tasting. I recommend doing this over the guided tour, because we were able to explore at our leisure. The guided tour goes go to some cool places though, such as a private underground tasting room, torture chamber, armory and a cave.
The Fattoria is a cute gift shop that has some great grapeseed oil for sale and tasting.
The castle had a number of places to educate yourself. There is also a “Wine Education” room where you can watch a winemaking movie. It’s where we met Lancelot, the winery cat! We didn’t pay much attention to the movie.
Now, finally, on to the wine!
- 2012 Pinot Grigio: Refreshing, light, grapefruit with a crispness from start to finish. All their whites are fermented in stainless steel.
- 2012 Pinot Bianco: Bright, apple notes, heavier than the Grigio.
- 2012 Gewurztraminer: Goes well paired with sushi and Chinese food. It has a delicious lychee nose and flavor.
- 2012 Gioia, Rose of Sangiovese: Strawberry notes, a little sweet on the end. Would go well with a bruchetta.
- 2012 Pinot Noir, Los Carneros: A very hot wine, full and a bit too bold for my taste. Lots of heavy cherry fruit notes.
- 2011 Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley: A reserve wine that is completely different from the previously mentioned Pinot noir. The earth is apparent right from the bouquet. It has great acidity, a nice minerality that sort of rests on your tongue, and is still bold.
- 2010 Merlot: A reserve wine that was aged for 18 months in French Oak. Great currant fruit, one of my favorites.
- 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon: Composed on 91% Cab Sauv, 8% Merlot and 8% Petit Verdot. This one was too overpowering for me, with a metallic quality that begged for some food to go with it. Maybe lamb?
- 2008 Castellana: A reserve wine composed of 66% Cab Sauv, 18% Merlot and 16% Sangiovese. Although I’m not usually a fan of Sangiovese, I enjoyed this blend. A cellar-worthy wine.
- 2010 Il Barone: 100% Cabernet Sauvignon that had powerful green pepper notes. I thought it was a bit much, but our server mentioned it was considered quite young at that point. It spent 21 months in (mostly new) French Oak, which may have contributed to the slight assault on your tongue once you try a sip.
- Il Raggio del Sole: Sweet but balanced. A muscat canelli wine that smells of pear and tastes like apricots. It’s semi-sparking and would make a wonderful welcome wine for a party.
- 2012 La Fantasia: Red carbonated dessert wine, created to be a sparking wine. Suggested for mixed drinks and sangria, but it was probably my least favorite of the flight, with a cough-syrup-ish aftertaste.
- 2011 Late Harvest Gequrztraminer: Definitely a stand-out in the flight. A dessert wine that isn’t too sweet, is well-balanced and still has a lot of complexity. Stainless steel fermentation produced a refreshing wine meant to be chilled and enjoyed with fruit or dark chocolate (which we were given). It had guava, honeysuckle and almost a hint of peppermint after the chocolate.
We were fortunate enough to be served by Florentine, a lawyer from Champagne who loves wine. We didn’t taste in the general tasting area, located at the center of the gift shop amidst the busy shopping crowds. We were taken to a room with a long black bar and no paraphernalia to buy, allowing us to focus solely on the amazing wine.
The castle is open daily, 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. from March to October & 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. from November to February. Visit them at 4045 North St. Helena Hwy, Calistoga, CA 94515. Questions? Call them at 707-967-6272.