See our expert Aldo Fiordelli's favourite L'Apparita wines from an anniversary vertical tasting, read a profile of the Tuscan estate and hear about its 'Judgement of Paris' moment.
Castello di Ama, the leading Chianti estate, is so full of works of art that when you arrive there’s a high risk of tripping over. ‘Le Chemin du Bonheur,’ the work of Pascale Marthine Tayou, lines the ancient stone street of Ama, enlivening the 18th century hamlet with colour.
The contemporary art on the hill overlooking the estate is a tribute to what owners Lorenza Sebasti and Marco Pallanti call in latin “genius loci”: a spirit-like sense of place.
On 10 December at the Four Seasons Hotel in Florence, genius loci was celebrated in a vertical tasting of L’Apparita, the 100% Merlot wine made in heart of Chianti Classico for which the estate became known.
Ama had a ‘Judgement of Paris’ moment on 8 February 1992 when the L’Apparita 1987 vintage beat Pétrus 1988, Le Pin and 16 other world-class Merlot wines at a tasting hosted by the Académie du Vin in Switzerland, with a jury comprised of renowned winemaking consultant Michel Rolland.
Read more about the estate below the wine reviews
Castello di Ama lies in Gaiole, one of the sub regions of Chianti. Established in 1972, Ama comprises more than 230 hectares, 80 of which are dedicated to vineyards with a total production – reigning exclusively from estate vineyards – of 300,000 bottles per year.
L’Apparita, of which there is usually 7-8,000 bottles per year, comes from 2.8 hectares of precious parcels with a southern exposition at the very top of the Bellavista vineyard – an altitude of 490 metres above sea level – from which you can see (as they say in Tuscany ‘appare’) Siena.
The soil is mainly from sedimentary rock from the Eocene Era; fine grainy calcareous marl containing 30% clay. The impressive altitude of the vineyard exceeds the conventional limit for the perfect ripening of Sangiovese, considered at 400 metres, thus becoming one of the most intriguing and influential factors in the style of this so-called Super Tuscan.
The vineyard was planted in 1975 with Malvasia and Trebbiano on a 5 BB rootstock over which Pallanti grafted clone 342 of Merlot between 1983-1984.
He chose to train the vines with the Lyra system, a rare technique in Italy largely due to its expensive cost: ‘Because everything is doubled, but it is useful to counteract the high vigor of the rootstock I found there,’ Pallanti says.
When the first L’Apparita bottling saw the light in 1985 the vines were already 10 years old. The Merlot is vinified in stainless steel tanks for 25 days at a relatively high 32-33°C degrees, and extracted mainly with remontage.
Malolactic fermentation takes place in oak, aided by an intentional warming of the winery. The wine is then aged in 40 to 60% new french oak – fine grain with medium toast – for 14 to 16 months, never more.
Overall, L’Apparita maintains a Bordeaux style but, as with Ama’s artwork, this wine is never trampled over and maintains striking individuality: a wise drinker should taste it with a different perspective than a right-bank Merlot.
Crediting the altitude, along with the soil and the climate, the style differs from Bordeaux or Bolgheri with fresh fruit, pleasant acidity and a leaner body, more elegance than power and without the slight herbaceousness typical of Merlot except for in warmer vintages.
It is a wine remarkably sensitive to different vintages, the best of which are 1990 and 2006. The understated winemaking stands behind the viticulture, aiming solely to express the genius loci. As of recently, Ama welcomes Antinori as a new neighbour, having bought San Sano Castle in 2014. The new heat is on.
Editing by Harry Fawkes and Chris Mercer