Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Italian Merlots: Castello di Ama's L'Apparita (Chianti Classico, Tuscany)

Our pursuit of Italian Merlots began at the coastal vineyards of Suvereto and Bolgheri in the Province of Livorno and from there we progress to the heartland of the Tuscan region and the vineyards of  Castello di Ama and San Giusto a Rentennano in Chianti Classico and Petrolo in the Chianti Colli Aretini sub-zone of Chianti. Today's post covers Castello di Ama and its monovarietal Merlot, L'Apparita.

Ama is a small hamlet which sits at 500 meters (1500 feet) elevation in Gaiole in Chianti in the Province of Siena.  During the 1970s, the Roman families Sebasti, Cavanna, Carini, and Tradico formed a partnership and bought property in the hamlet with the express purpose of producing world-class wines. The property they acquired was a rounded hilltop -- with primarily southern exposure and a clayey calcareous soil -- 240 ha in size, 90 ha of which is, today, devoted to grape-growing and 40 to olive groves.


Location of Castelo di Ama (Source:www.casadonatello.com)
According to Sergei Gusovski (Wine, etc., pantagruel.com.ua ), winery management began "experiments with new clones of Sangiovese, differrent variants of vine training, and with four elite vineyards ... " in the mid-1970s and their success attracted the attention of "experts and connesieurs." The winery went to a next level, however (again, according to pantagruel.com.ua), when 23-year-old Lorenza Sebasti, scion of one of the founding families, left Rome and went to Ama to manage the property as a life calling.

To advance their aim of producing world-class wines, the owners hired the young Marco Pallenti as winemaker in 1982. After he was hired, Pallenti went to study in Bordeaux and, upon his return, embarked on a 10-year project to define the site's viticultural characteristics in order to marry the best grapes with the best soils and, in so doing, produce the best Sangiovese in the region. The result of this effort was the division of the property into blocks, based on soil characteristics and exposure.  The property is divided into five vineyards -- San Lorenzo, Bellavista, La Casuccia, Bertinga, and Montebisoni -- with each vineyard  further sub-divided into parcels.

Pallanti's efforts were not limited to the mapping of site viticultural characteristics. Between 1982 and 1987 he managed the re-trellising of 50,000 vines to the open lyre system ("The lyre vine training system uses wide rows, an open canopy, and shoot positioning to increase grape maturity and quality while maintaining production levels" --  Dr. Alain Carbonneau of the National Institute of Agronomic Research in Bordeaux, The Lyre Trellis for Viticulture Bulletin 4242. Castello di Ama sees the increase in fruit quality and maturity as resulting from presenting a larger canopy surface area for capture of sunlight with knock-on benefits for grape ripening.) and grafted new clones onto existing rootstocks to "take advantage of the the geology and topography" of the property.

Marco was named Oenologist of the year in 2003 by the magazine Vini d'Italia. Ownership of the estate was passed on to Lorenza Sebasti in the late 1980s and she married Marco in the 1990s.

The wine L'Apparita is a 100% Merlot which is made from grapes grown on 3.844 ha (9.495 acres) of land constituting parcels 23 to 25 of the Bellavista vineyard. These parcels were initially planted to Canaiola and Malvasia Blanca but were regrafted to Merlot clone 342 between 1982 and 1985. The soil is clay rich and the vine training method is open lyre.

At harvesting, berry bunches are inspected for quality with the accepted grapes harvested by hand and placed into small boxes for transportation to the winery. Once in the winery, the clusters are placed on sorting tables for a second level of inspection. The grapes which pass this level are destemmed and gently pressed and the resulting juice is routed to stainless steel tanks for fermentation. The must was kept in contact with the cap by pumping over in earlier vintages but the practice is currently to punch down the cap. The must macerates for 30 days after which it is placed into 50% new French oak barriques for malolactic fermentation.  Upon completion of malolactic fermentation, the wine is racked off the lees, assembled, and then placed back into barriques for 18 months of aging. Production of the 2008 vintage was 6750 Bordeaux bottles, 700 magnums, and 100 double magnums.


In its review of the 2006 edition of this wine, Wine Enthusiast glowed "L'Apparita is a divine and delicate expression of Merlot with rich layers of black cherry, blackberry, spice, mocha, cedar, exotic spice and polished stone that are seamlessly woven together." Closer to home, Gambero Rosso has awarded the wine numerous Tre Bichieris (acknowledgement of the best wines in Italy in a given year) beginning with the 1990 vintage and continuing through 1992 and, more recently, the 2000, 2001, and 2004 vintages.

This label is a stalwart in the pantheon of Italian Merlots.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

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