There are lots of wine estates that boast world-class art collections. But there aren’t many with a cache quite as exciting as Chianti Classico’s Castello di Ama. Dotted all around the grounds of this 18th- century Etruscan villa, site-specific installations by great names wait to be discovered: an Anish Kapoor glows, furnace-like, in a tiny chapel; in the gloom of a stone rainwater basin a grille in the floor affords a haunting glimpse of a marble figure by Louise Bourgeois. You can spy on angels through a telescope, and read the mischievous doodles of Nedko Solakov on the tasting room walls. Every year an artist is invited to create a new work. Yet, amazingly, no money ever changes hands, such is the lure of this magical estate.
Art isn’t the only thing that Castello di Ama’s owners Lorenza Sebasti and Marco Pallanti do differently. For more than 30 years, this maverick couple have been breaking the rules of winemaking too. They were the first to plant Merlot in Tuscany, resulting in their now-famous single-vineyard wine L’Apparita, a succulent, 100 per cent Merlot produced only in the best years.
At around 500m above sea level, Castello di Ama’s vineyards are higher than Chianti’s signature grape, Sangiovese, usually likes. But Pallanti believes that this, in combination with the chalky soil, is key to creating the fresh acidity and soft tannins that distinguish his wines.
“My job is to communicate the sensibility of the region,” he says to me, as we settle down to taste beside a crackling fire. “What we do at Castello di Ama is to put the artist in the same condition as the winemakers.”
The flagship wine is the San Lorenzo, a Chianti Classico made with fruit from old vines. The ruby-red 2013 still had some way to go, but already billowed with an abundant perfume: leather, fig leaves, violets, truffle. “I always say: my wines, you drink with the nose,” says Pallanti with a broad smile.
Castello di Ama broke with traditional white winemaking too, planting Burgundy clones of Chardonnay to create Al Poggio, a summery white we sipped with shards of toasted bread drizzled with the estate’s delicious olive oil.
Later, in the flagstone dining room, we drank tannic Rosato with a mound of cacio e pepe, and a bottle of the 2009 Riserva, a Chianti Classico with an appetising, HP Sauce-like richness that paired sumptuously with a plate of beef cheek and greens. As conversation skipped from art fairs to table-thumping politics, Pallanti called for a bottle of the acclaimed Vigneto La Casuccia 2007. Opulent and spicy with a luxuriant velvety finish, it reduced us to a state of quiet contemplation. Like the estate from whence they came, these are wines that make you think.