Piecing together the puzzle at Castello di Ama

We have long championed the wines of Castello di Ama – an estate that crafts some of Chianti, and Tuscany’s, best wines. We visited the property to dive into their special terroir; here we walk you through their patchwork of vineyards
Piecing together the puzzle at Castello di Ama

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The four-wheel drive pulls up and we pile out – Marco Pallanti’s two Jack Russells (Bach and Masetto) leading the charge as they tumble down and into the vineyard in front of us. The vines stretch down a steep slope, three triangular slithers slanting severely to a point, forming a natural amphitheatre, and Siena’s iconic tower just visible on the horizon, 20km to the south. CEO Lorenza Sebasti, her and Pallanti’s son Arturo, our Buying Director Corentin Margier and I are standing in Castello di Ama’s Montebuoni vineyard, which gives its name to their Riserva bottling. It’s the final stop in our tour of the various sites that make up the property’s 75 hectares of vines. 

Just tasting Castello di Ama’s wines tells you that this is a special place, but of course there is no substitute for getting your feet on the ground, walking the vines and seeing the site yourself. Since four Roman families re-discovered this hilltop site in the 1970s, it has been lovingly restored, with significant investment in the vineyards and winery – and the original 55-hectare estate has grown to 115 hectares today (with 75 hectares of vines and 40 of olive groves), not to mention the extensive art collection that dots the property. 

A map of Castello di Ama's vineyards, with the northernmost La Casuccia on the right and southernmost Montebuoni on the left

The vineyards are spread across four valleys, with each site within a 1.5-kilometre radius of the winery in Gaiole-in-Chianti. For winemaker Pallanti, this proximity is one of the keys to quality, not only allowing them to really understand each site, but also ensuring there is minimal time between picking fruit and getting it into the winery. For each parcel, they aim to have the fruit in the tank in under two hours. The property all sits between 420 and 530 metres above sea-level, on the higher side for the region and another defining element for Castello di Ama, lending their wines great freshness and finesse. 

The northern flank of the estate is the 16.1-hectare La Casuccia, dominated by stony clay soils and surrounded by stone walls. Here the “rich, fat soil” (as described by Arturo Pallanti) is home to largely Sangiovese, with one historical parcel of Merlot. The tenderloin of the property, it produces opulent and expressive wines, and a single-vineyard Gran Selezione is made in only top vintages (as for Bellavista). 

The harvest underway in L'Apparita, the estate's special plot of Merlot

Moving south you come to San Lorenzo which forms the foundation of the eponymous Gran Selezione, a wine made every vintage. While the vintages from 1982 to 1990 were made exclusively with fruit from this vineyard, it has evolved to become a blend of plots – including fruit from Bellavista and La Casuccia in particular in the years they aren’t made. The soils here are chalky yet with plenty of clay-rich schist – a site that doesn’t have the extremes of Montebuoni, Bellavista or La Casuccia, but brings together some of the best characters of them all in its 16.5 hectares. 

Sandwiched between San Lorenzo and Bellavista lies L’Apparita, the special three-hectare plot of Merlot that is behind Tuscany’s first – and one of its most iconic – Merlot wines. Clay, chalk and the altitude (500 metres) create a wine that has both power and freshness. The neighbouring Bellavista produces some of Castello di Ama’s most powerful, yet fine and floral, wines – and is home to their oldest vines. South/southwest-facing, its 22.5 hectares of vines (around 80% Sangiovese, with the remainder Malvasia Nera) bask in the sunshine, sitting in stony, clay-chalk soils. In top vintages, they produce a single-site Gran Selezione from Bellavista (first made in 1978) – an impressive and age-worthy wine. 

The steep slope of the Montebuoni vineyard at sunset

The final piece of the puzzle is Montebuoni – where we’re standing. Pallanti and Sebasti purchased this 14.7-hectare slice of vineyard in 1997, naming it after the village opposite. Arturo tells us how as a child he once tried to ride his bike up the slope – a mistake he never made again. The gradient here is so drastic that even driving down it in a pick-up frays the nerves, working from the chalky scree that feels destined to leave the wheels skidding, down to the more clay-rich foot of the vineyard. The vines here are divided between Sangiovese (around half the site), with Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Malvasia Nera – and the wines reflect the site’s angular slopes, pointed and driven with a backbone of bright acidity. 

It’s been over 40 years since Pallanti arrived at the estate, and over 30 since Sebasti took over as CEO. Together they have nurtured this remarkable property, weaving together the threads of these special vineyards to craft wines that set the benchmark for the region. Neither are set to retire any time soon, but now Arturo has returned to join the family business – adding to the complex patchwork that defines this soulful estate. 

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Sophie Thorpe
Sophie Thorpe
Sophie Thorpe joined FINE+RARE in 2020. An MW student, she’s been short-listed for the Louis Roederer Emerging Wine Writer Award twice, featured on jancisrobinson.com and won the 2021 Guild of Food Writers Drinks Writing Award.