Winery/Vineyard: Mount Palomar Winery
Product/Varietal: 100% Cortese
AVA on Bottle: Temecula Valley
Winemaker: James Rutherford
3.9 out of 5 stars on Vivino (all vintages).
How They Describe It
Cortese is the most celebrated white grape varietal of northern Italy. Its unique fruit flavor is optimized by our winemaking methods and the climate and soils of our Temecula, California vineyards.
The Castelletto title and crest were bestowed upon the brothers Antonio and Sebastiano de Reya in 1735. This wine was crafted in their honor. Enjoy!
How I Describe It
The Castelletto 2017 Cortese comes across clear, pale yellow. It’s similar in appearance to Vermentino, Pinot Grigio, and some unoaked Viogniers.
Aromas of peach and pear jump from the glass immediately. Lemon zest and pineapple follow closely. Cantaloupe melon and Granny Smith apple are more subtle, but still very detectable. Hints of elderflower and almond complement the fruit bouquet.
The Castelletto 2017 Cortese features dominant flavors of grapefruit, cantaloupe, nectarine, and pineapple. Bread dough melds with a moderately buttery mouthfeel, alluding to malolactic fermentation (MLF) during the winemaking process.
This is a dry wine with detectably high alcohol (14.2% ABV) and medium-plus acid, even with the tartness-moderating MLF. The alcohol and MLF juxtaposed with the higher acid gives the Castelletto 2017 Cortese a fairly fully body while maintaining crispness. Flavors are pronounced and finish is medium.
Why is This Wine Special?
Other than from Mount Palomar Winery, you will never taste a wine like the Castelletto 2017 Cortese, anywhere else in the world, ever.
Cortese is a grape varietal from Italy’s high-altitude Piedmont region. However, the Old World version of this varietal is known for its aggressive acidity, likely making it somewhat sour for American tastes. As a result, Cortese has stayed relatively obscure in North America for all but the most intrepid wine explorers.
There are only six or seven wineries in all of the United States which produce Cortese. Mount Palomar Winery was the first. In fact, Mount Palomar’s Cortese clone is unique to their vineyards. In other words, even Italy’s Cortese is slightly different genetically and in taste to some degree.
On top of the uniqueness in the vineyard, Mount Palomar Winery’s winemaker, James Rutherford, uses malolactic fermentation (MLF) to balance out the acidity and give the wine a pleasantly buttery mouthfeel. The wine’s tartness which remains even with full MLF goes to show just how acidic this grape is. Rutherford prepared the 2017 Cortese exclusively in steel tanks, instead of oak, preserving the wine’s fruitiness. The 2017 vintage spent a year in stainless steel, and another two mellowing in bottles before making its debut in Mount Palomar’s May 2020 wine club release.
To clarify, Castelletto is one of Mount Palomar Winery’s two portfolio brands (the second being the winery’s namesake). Indeed, the name is linked to the wife of owner John Poole, whose maiden name is de Reya (see How They Describe It).
To sum up, the Castelletto 2017 Cortese has features similar to wines we know and love. Its buttery mouthfeel and tropical-citrus fruit combination is similar to California Chardonnays and Gewürztraminer. Its stone fruit and alcohol content is similar to Viognier. And the melon notes bear similarity to some Sauvignon Blancs and rosés. But despite what makes it familiar, there is nothing else quite like this wine — not in Temecula, not in California, not anywhere else in the world.
When & How I Would Drink It
My impression is the Castelletto 2017 Cortese is an exemplary brunch wine.
Because of the high acidity and lack of oak exposure, it’s an outstanding accompaniment to seafood and shellfish. For example, a chilled bottle next to lox (smoked salmon) and bagels, raw oysters, or lobster mac and cheese would go a long way.
The 2017 Cortese would also do well with sauteéd vegetables or mushrooms, especially ones with a fair amount of umami flavors.
How to Get It
Order Online: https://www.mountpalomarwinery.com/Wine-Store/White-Wines (as of 6/30/2020, the 2017 vintage has not been released online yet)
Bottle Price: $35 (discounts for wine club members)
Cases Produced: 110 cases
Have you tried the Castelletto 2017 Cortese? How did the tasting notes compare with your experience? Leave a comment below.