From the 1950s to the late 1970s the entire hilltop hamlet of Ama in Chianti Classico was left deserted, only to be rediscovered and restored by four families who saw the potential of the 70-hectare property that became Castello di Ama.
Most of the estate (40 hectares) was dedicated to olive groves, but when they found out that much of the property was over galestro rock soils, they identified its potential for fine wine production. The group had ambitious plans and, spurred by their love of Bordeaux, they set out to produce an Italian fine wine of equal measure to the Right Bank wines of Pomerol and Saint-Emilion.
In 1979 they built a winery, investing in state-of-the-art temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks of various sizes and dimensions to allow for the vinification of individual plots. Such investment was unheard of, even by the standards of the more wealthy and established wineries in Bordeaux. It all paid off when, in 2003, winemaker Marco Pallanti was named "Winemaker of the Year" in Italy’s most authoritative wine guide, Gambero Rosso.
Pallanti served two terms as the president of the Consorzio del Chianti Classico, between 2006 and 2012. His experience making wine for over 30 years and his involvement in the protection of the Chianti Classico designation has made him one of the region’s leading authorities, and a key player in Chianti’s renaissance.
The estate’s top cuvées are their three Chianti Classico Gran Selezione (San Lorenzo, Bellavista and Casuccia), Haiku (their Sangiovese, Cabernet Franc and Merlot blend) and their much-lauded L’Apparita (the first pure Merlot wine made in the Chianti Classico region).
The Castello di Ama vineyards are at the southern edge of the Chianti Classico region, between 390 and 530 metres’ altitude, making them the highest in the region. This height, combined with the galestro rock and calcareous soils, gives the wines a distinct minerality and freshness.
The Castello di Ama vineyards are in four separate valleys that drop down from the hilltop hamlet. Each of these four valleys is home to Castello di Ama’s most favoured vineyard sites of Bellavista, Casuccia, San Lorenzo and Montebuoni. Right next to the winery, at an altitude of 490 metres, the L’Apparita vineyard is the estate’s highest. At this altitude it was largely seen to be too high to sufficiently ripen Sangiovese, but its southwest aspect and rich clay soil turned out to be the perfect place to grow Merlot.
No expense was spared when Pallanti decided to train the vines using the open lyre system. This more expensive trellising naturally reduces the vigour in the vines, while at the same time exposing the grapes to twice as much sunlight compared to more traditional guyot systems, helping to promote ripening on this high-altitude site.
Deciding from the outset that elegance was key to Castello di Ama’s philosophy and inspired by their love of Bordeaux, the estate decided to only age the wine in oak barriques rather than the traditional large Slavonian oak botti. For Castello di Ama, the large barrels made the wines too rustic and, in their view, élevage in older barrels would not ensure absolute cleanliness. They also employed Patrick Leon, the winemaker at Château Mouton Rothschild, as a consultant throughout the 1980s.
Castello di Ama produces three separate Chianti Classico Gran Selezione cuvées: Bellavista, La Casuccia and San Lorenzo. The San Lorenzo cuvée is made every year, while Bellavista and La Casuccia are only made as single-site wines in certain years, with the fruit otherwise going into the San Lorenzo cuvée.
Marco Pallanti is not afraid to experiment, producing several unusual wines, including Il Chiusa, a Pinot Noir and Sangiovese blend.