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What our expert thought of Castello di Ama, Rosato

about this wine About this wine
For the first time at Decanting Club, I get to introduce you to a personal favourite of mine that I've been buying for years.  Castello di Ama is one of the top names in Chianti Classico.  Their ‘basic’ Chianti Classico, called Ama, sells for well over £20, the Riserva for £30-ish, and the single vineyard versions reach into three figures.  This Rosato is the most affordable wine they make, yet it’s made from exactly the same vines, and even the same grapes, as their prestigious reds.
So how can you make a red and a rosé from the same vine?  It’s all down to the winemaking process you use.  There are two main techniques for making quality rosé.
The first, whole-cluster pressing, is the method you use when all you want to make is a rosé. Once picked, the grape clusters are not de-stemmed, but are pressed whole.  The stalks act as a filter and a cushion to prevent damage to the pips, which are very bitter.  The juice is left in contact with the skins for a few hours to pick up a little colour, then is run off and fermented like a white wine.  Such rosés are usually very pale, as could be seen in our previous two pinks, Channing and Force Majeure, which were made this way.
The other technique is the saignée method.  Here you start as if you’re making a red – which in fact you are.  The clusters are de-stemmed and crushed (not pressed) to break the skins.  Then the crushed grapes and their juice are all dumped into the fermentation vat.  After between 6 and 48 hours (typically, just one night) when fermentation has barely got underway, a portion of the now-pink juice is bled off into a separate vat.  There it continues to ferment, usually at the low temperature appropriate for a white wine.
Meanwhile, back in the main vat, red wine fermentation continues at a higher temperature, with all the usual techniques for extracting colour and flavour from the skins which naturally rise to the surface to form a cap: punching the cap down, pumping juice over it or, in the old days, stripping off, climbing in and trampling on it.  But there’s less juice left after the bleeding, so the ratio of skins to juice is higher and the resulting wine is darker, more tannic and more concentrated.
Saignée rosés are usually deeper in colour and, because the grapes are picked at a ripeness appropriate for red wines, they’re higher in alcohol and lower in acidity.  While whole-cluster-pressed rosés resemble whites with a tinge of pink, saignée ones are closer to very pale reds.
Castello di Ama have been making this saignée-method Rosato since the early Eighties.  It’s always a blend of Sangiovese and Merlot but the proportions vary each year: 2015 is heavy on the Sangiovese with only 8% Merlot.  The grapes were hand-picked and transported to the winery in small 10kg crates to minimise damage, followed by meticulous manual sorting before crushing.  After 12 hours on the skins the saignée was performed and the rest of the fermentation took place in stainless steel at 16°C to 18°C, like a white wine.
The wine was fermented out to full dryness, resulting in a highish 13.47% alcohol level.  The label says 13% but EU labels are always in half-percent increments and wines are allowed to be up to half a percent out.
A proportion of the wine then underwent malolactic fermentation, which transforms the sharp malic acid (the sort found in apples) into softer lactic acid (found in milk).  As well as softening acidity it adds body and texture to the wine.  It’s always perfomed for reds but is often avoided for whites.  In cool 2014 half of the Rosato underwent MLF, but in warm 2015 the proportion was rather less – around 40%.  The wine was then bottled in early 2016.
the tasting The Tasting
As expected of a saignée rosé, this isn’t pale.  It’s a medium cherry-pink.
The nose is fresh and penetrating, with a definite stoniness and the citrus scent of grapefruit.  Yet it also smells ripe and summery: of lilac flowers, red cherries and wild strawberries.  Despite that ripeness it’s savoury rather than sweet, with some of the tea leaf quality often found in Sangiovese.
Dry, savoury, and quite full-bodied, this comes across more like a red wine than a conventional rosé.  At first there are earthy cherry and tangerine flavours, then something deeper and darker joins in as it warms in the mouth – plums.  Tangy acidity keeps things fresh and juicy.
The finish features sweet spices that weren’t apparent on the palate, and the length is extraordinary, finally ending on a little herbal note.
Evan though this wine is an old favourite of mine, it still managed to surprise me.  It does vary quite a lot between vintages, and this 2015 is the best yet.  I could lose myself in that nose, which brilliantly balances stony freshness with ripe summer scents.  It also evolves and improves with with air, as do the flavours.  This is that unusual beast: a rosé that would age well.
The complexity of the palate is astonishing.  I had to prune my tasting notes ruthlessly because I could persuade myself to find almost anything in there: cream on the nose, lilies as well as lilac, peaches and apricots, pink grapefruit… it just got silly.  This wine is so well balanced that it doesn’t seem to be high in anything; no single characteristic dominates.  And that almost endless finish, with new flavours in it!
If rosé is supposed to be simple, pale, frivolous and sweet, for sipping in the sunshine or quaffing at parties, then this wine is an abject failure.  Dry, serious, amazingly complex and food-friendly, this is a truly great wine that just happens to be pink. 

Tasting notes

clear medium cherry-pink, with reddish hints

Intensity medium

Aromas stony citrus (grapefruit), red fruit (cherries, wild strawberry), floral (lilac), herbal (tea leaf)

Development youthful

Sweetness dry

Acidity medium+, just

Body medium+, big for a rosé

Intensity medium+

Flavours earthy red fruit (cherry), sweet citrus (tangarine), then darker red fruit (plum). Tastes more like a red.

Length very long

Flavours as palate, also sweet Xmas spice, ends on herbal note
Other notes
Evolves & improves with air. Fabulous complexity and balance. Best pink ever?

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