Castello di Ama has quietly existed in the medieval hamlet of Ama since the 60s; their immaculately kept vineyards consistently turn out world class wines but they haven’t quite reached the notoriety of some of the big Supertuscan names. Why should this be? The setting is magical. The fifteenth century hamlet is something out of a storybook (or an American tourist guide to Tuscany). The vineyards, in Gaiole-in-Chianti, are perfect – a relatively high 500 metres altitude giving a cool microclimate, south facing with plenty of sun, stony soils. The cellar, ideal – ancient and naturally cool, with a year round temperature of 10 degrees. The critics adore the wines, the scores are high… so why, do we not see the wines frequently traded like some of the cult Italian names?
"The fifteenth century hamlet is something out of a storybook."
It is, sadly, perhaps their very namesake which holds them back. Chianti is something of a poor relation in Tuscany. Lacking the sex appeal of some of the other wines in the appellation – the glitz of Bolgheri’s Supertuscans, the small-scale majesty of Brunello di Montalcino (although Castello di Ama’s pure Merlot cuvee l’Apparita, devoid of the Chianti Classico name, oozes sex appeal enough for the whole production) – Chianti is something we associate with straw flasks and rustic meals. Don’t get me wrong, we love the stuff. We just don’t necessarily want to invest in it the same way we would Bordeaux, or Burgundy, or Barolo, or Brunello, or Bolgheri (perhaps because it doesn’t start with ‘B’??).
But now, trussed up with a shiny new ‘Gran Selezione’ ornamentation and a few glittering 97/98 point scores, it’s time for this debutante to go to the ball. These are serious wines worth serious attention. The San Lorenzo offers stunning value, having been one of the Wine Spectator’s Top 100 wines of the year last year and with 95+ point scores for the current vintage, and coming in at just over £20 per bottle. The top wines don’t come cheap, but gosh are they special. Three single vineyard crus, only made in the best years, each with their own personality. The Bellavista, on pebbly clay soils, is masculine and brooding but with typical elegance and harmony. The Casuccia, the 2011 of which was proclaimed by James Suckling as ‘the greatest Chianti ever made’, is on calcareous clay soils with a proportion of Merlot; it is fragrant and exuberant with savoury elements and a delicate beauty. Then there is the l’Apparita, the only one which doesn’t bear the Chianti name and the only one which has started to widely gain notoriety internationally. Sitting at the top of the Bellavista vineyard and overlooking Siena, this pure Merlot is pure seduction, and with a pure freshness that belies its varietal. You can drink them, you can age them, but whatever you do just try them. And if you can, visit the estate – its natural and historic beauty is greatly enhanced by a collection of exclusive art installations, commissioned each year by owner and winemaker Marco Pallanti, completing the unique sensory experience that is Castello di Ama.