“Have Fun Storming The Castle”

For all of you 80’s movie buffs, you know exactly what scene that line is from and how wonderful the now iconic movie is.Castello di Amorosa, Napa Valley

It’s one of my all-time favorites. I even own this one—and nope, not afraid to admit it either. Bet this is secretly one of your favorites too. Great, so we’re in good company then. Watching it once or twice a year still makes me giggle, laugh out loud, tear-up, and well, what can I say…. it’s just a plain old good time getting reacquainted with each of the characters we’ve come to love so much. I never seem to tire of the infamous quotes & one-liners this movie created. Not sure which movie I’m referring to? Keep reading. But if you get stuck–spoiler alert–movie title at bottom of post.

Well, last week I got my Buttercup on and had a blast storming this castle over in Napa Valley. Okay, “storming” may be a wee bit of an exaggeration perhaps. There were no Cliffs of Insanity to scale, no Pit Of Despair to escape from— just a gorgeous drive on a spring day through the back roads of Sonoma County, over Calistoga Summit dropping down into the northern end of Napa Valley.  All the vineyards throughout the valley are in full-leaf right now, making it the perfect day for a special VIP / behind-the-scenes access to one of wine country’s most well-known landmarks– Castello di Amorosa Winery in Calistoga. Castello di Amorosa, Napa Valley

Moat at Castello di Amorosa, Napa Valley

Castello di Amarosa, Napa Valley
I lucked out on this exclusive, private tour through a chance meeting with Patrick (formerly of Castello, now with its sister winery V. Sattui), at a recent wine industry event. Patrick had been with “The Castle” (as the locals refer to it) since it opened in 2007 and he graciously invited my dear friend, Miss LJ, and I up for a visit. Since both of us are in the wine biz and have only heard tell of this amazing place–we were very excited to finally see the winery in person. Patrick knows every square inch of this place inside and out. He shared with us all the mind-boggling details of how a piece of Italy was reproduced, stone by stone, here in California wine country. It was 14 years in the making and no matter what other winery folks tell you– it’s definitely well-worth a visit. Do yourself some favors though and 1) get there early to beat the crowds (opens at 9:30am daily), 2) book the tour and the tasting ($35/pp) otherwise you’ll miss out on most of the castle if you only do the self-guided tour and 3) wear comfortable shoes. It’s a real castle people. And it’s huge! There are heaps of stone stairs, narrow cobblestone walkways, sloping pathways into four levels of dark cellars….you get the idea. So much fun! Oh, and bring your camera too. The views of the valley from the turrets are stunning.
Castello di Amorosa, Napa Valley
Castello di Amorosa, Napa ValleyDSC_0084-2
Castello di Amorosa, Napa Valley
Castello di Amorosa, Napa Valley
Where to begin- there is so much to share. I’ll give you the highlights and then you’ll just have to hop on a plane to experience the rest of this majestic place for yourself. The Castello was built to period with a combination of 13-14th and 16th century castle architecture. There’s not one specific castle in Italy it was modeled after,  rather a collection of Tuscan villas, castles and alike that owner Dario Sattui found inspiration from. There are eight levels (four above-ground, four underground) with 107 rooms. In total, 121,000 square feet of medieval artistry. He has recreated every detail with incredible accuracy and (needless to say), expense. All the iron work for the doors, walls, hinges, light fixtures was hand-forged by Italian artisans. The mural in the Great Hall is a replica from a fresco in Siena; hand-painted by artists he flew in from Umbria. The centuries-old salvaged cobblestones near the draw bridge (yep, told you it was a real castle) were shipped over in hundreds of containers from Italy. The upper courtyard (the bailey) has beautiful natural Carrara marble walls and bar-tops. The rectangular gaps (crenels) in the walls were engineered to the exact angle a guardsmen of the day would have needed to deftly launch his deadly arrow through to kill an enemy, yet protect himself from return fire.
Castello di Amorosa, Napa Valley
Castello di Amorosa, Napa Valley
We walked through a myriad of wine cellars, the Armory, the Torture Chamber, Member-Only tasting room, fermentation and barrel aging rooms. In all—four levels down from the main courtyard, about 70-80 feet beneath the earth. We even got to meet Lancelot (the cat). His sister Guinevere was off sunning herself on one of the outer walls. The entire property is in keeping with a real working-castle of the day with their stable of animals– chickens running in & out of vineyard rows, sheep, goats, pigs, ducks and geese in the moat, and a stately peacock near the entrance to greet you.

Private Tasting Cellar- Castello di Amorosa, Napa Valley
Castello di Amorosa, Napa Valley
Castello di Amorosa, Napa Valley
After a 1.5-hour journey underground, we finished up in the large main tasting area for a sip or two (or three!) of their signature releases. Patrick offered his suggestions from their expansive collection of wines- ranging from sweet whites and reds to dry, aromatic white blends to several well-made reds and a few tasty dessert wines. There is a wine here for the novice drinker up to the expert. My favorites were:
2014 Castello di Amorosa Gewürztraminer, Mendocino County– amazing spice and rose petal on the nose. Dry, mineral-laced and bright stone fruit on the palate. Vinified in an Alsacian-style. A nice drop. $25.00

2014 Castello di Amorosa Pinot Bianco, Sonoma County-you don’t see too much of this varietal produced around here. Light, crisp, tropical fruit but not heavy-handed. Would be ideal for a brunch or just for sipping on a lazy summer day. $26.00

2011 Castello di Amorosa Sangiovese, Napa Valley– all the bright acidity you’d expect from a Sangiovese. Loaded with cherries, dark berries, mocha, bit of earthiness too. Perfect with an antipasti plate. $29.00
Family Tasting Area- Castello di Amorosa, Napa Valley
Patrick & Miss LJ at Castello di Amorosa, Napa Valley

Many thanks to Patrick for the expert tour and his wealth of knowledge. We now have a deep appreciation for the talents and hard work contributed by the hundreds of skilled artisans that constructed this jaw-dropping and unique winery. In admiration of their work, all we could say was “inconceivable!”.

What’s your favorite line from the movie? ;>)

To visit:
Castello di Amorosa
4045 St Helena Hwy, Calistoga, CA 94515 |  (707) 967-6272
Several tour, tasting, food pairing options available. Tour & tasting information
Open daily 9:30am-6:00pm March-Oct | 9:30am-5:00pm Nov-Feb
Email: tours@castellodiamorosa.com

-Movie title= The Princess Bride (1987)
-Header Tag Line= scene with Miracle Max (Billy Crystal) and his wife Valerie (Carol Kane) wishing Westley good luck as he embarks on a journey to save Buttercup from Prince Humperdink.
-Plan to spend at least 2 – 2.5 hours here. You will need every minute of that if you are doing the tour & tasting, plus you’ll want time to wander the grounds.
-Scenes from Adam Sandler’s movie Bedtime Stories (2008) were filmed here. Their production crew scouted 19 sites world-wide before discovering Castello.

Wild Mushroom Risotto

DSC_0487-1 I can hear the collective sigh as you all say “not another Mushroom Risotto!”….but wait…this one is different,  I promise you. Read on.

There are two keys to a good, no REALLY good Risotto: the rice and the stock.
Of course the final dish does depend on all the accoutrements such as the vegetables used, quality of cheese and butter and the correct wine to add base flavors. But if you start with the best rice you can get,  and the best stock (homemade of course), you’re more than half way there to an outstanding meal sure to please everyone.

I think Risotto gets a bad wrap for being labour intensive and “too much work”.  I disagree; it’s really quite simple (not too many ingredients) and can be made in about 20-25 minutes. If you follow the sequence outlined in the recipe below, the texture and flavors will be phenomenal every time.

So, for the star of the show—the rice.

caranoli riceI like to use Carnaroli rice. And in particular the Campanini brand. Watch this video to learn more about the company (don’t worry, I don’t understand Italian either, but gives you an idea of how it’s milled). According to the experts, Carnaroli rice is the Rolls Royce of rices. It has a longer grain than other rices with more starch, making it firmer and better for slower cooking. True to their word, it does hold up in texture (makes a perfect al dente) and is creamier than Arborio. Yes, it’s a bit tricky to find,  but if you’re going to the effort to make Risotto do try this. I buy mine at Sur La Table (it’s more reasonably priced there than some on-line stores) or if you have a good Italian grocer near you, see if they stock it or can order it for you.

Next the stock.
I prefer chicken stock and it’s so easy (and inexpensive to make). Once you taste homemade stock, trust me you will never buy cans, dry cubes or packets again. Make a big batch to freeze in quart-size containers and ice cube trays (those are handy for a quick addition to sauces or soups!). Get Chicken Stock Recipe

Now, for the Wild Mushroom Risotto:
4 cups best quality chicken stock
1 large shallot, finely sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 tablespoons butter
1 cup carnaroli rice
1/3 cup dry white wine.  (see note below on wine)
1/4 pound baby crimini mushrooms, sliced
1/4 pound dried fresh shiitake, chanterelle, or trumpet mushrooms, sliced
2-3 sprigs fresh thyme
1/2 cup parmesano reggiano, freshly grated
sea salt & pepper to taste

DSC_0052Heat chicken stock in a saucepan. Keep on low heat on a back burner. Heat braiser over medium heat and add shallot, olive oil and 2 tablespoons of the butter. Cook only until translucent, do not brown.

Add in rice and stir to coat grains. It will pop in the pan at first but as the rice becomes coated with the oil and butter, it will stop popping. Careful not to brown  the rice. Add wine and stir until all the liquid is absorbed.

Add all mushrooms and thyme sprigs. Stir to combine with rice and cook for 5 minutes or until mushrooms begin to release their liquid.

Add the chicken stock, 2 ladle spoons full at a time. Stir rice gently and continue to add stock until all stock is used. *Make sure the liquid is completely absorbed each time before adding more. DSC_0214Once all liquid has been used, remove braiser from heat and add in remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and cheese. Stir gently to incorporate and until Risotto has a creamy consistency. Add salt and pepper to taste. Let Risotto sit off the heat COVERED for 10 minutes. Stir again and garnish with more grated parmesano. Serves 6.


le creuset braiser 1.5 qUse a Risotto dish (if you’re lucky enough to own one) but any shallow braiser will work. I love Risotto and make it frequently, so I invested in a Le Creuset 1.5 Quart Braiser. It’s the perfect size for this recipe and the more shallow design allows the maximum rice-to-liquid ratio during cooking.

Do not add the salt until noted in the recipe. For some reason, for which I cannot explain, it will hamper the even cooking of the rice if you add it earlier. Plus, you run the risk of over-salting if you add it before the parmesano is added.

The wine used will have a big impact on the final flavors. ONLY use a wine you would drink. I recommend a dry Gewürztraminer as I like the spice notes and floral aromatics from this varietal. Also good are an Italian Pinot Grigio or Vernaccia. Really any dry, higher acidity white will work. Just don’t use Chardonnay– it doesn’t have enough acidity and the oak flavors will over-power the delicateness of the dish.