Winemaker Marco Pallanti feels that the 2004s are the best wines he has made in some time, though fans of this estate know that Castello di Ama shows an uncanny and widely recognized Latour-like ability to excel in difficult vintages. Marco himself isn't sure of why this might be, though ruthless selection and high quality standards tell part of the story: 200,000 bottles of Chianti were made in '04 but only 70,000 in '03. The Apparita '03 is right up there with the best merlots Italy has ever produced.

2004 Castello di Ama Chianti Classico

($50) Medium-deep ruby. Redcurrant, dark plum and herbal aromas, with a touch of uncharacteristic overripe fruit as well. Suave and sweet on entry, then juicy and brisk, with cassis, milk chocolate and spicy plum flavors. The fruity/herbal finish offers a fine-grained texture. In style, this resembles the '01 made here.

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2003 Castello di Ama Chianti Classico

($50) Bright medium-dark red. Fresh red berries, menthol and woodsy underbrush on the nose, with lively nuances of violet and cured tobacco. Pure, lively and fruit-driven, with nicely delineated flavors of ripe raspberries and mint. This juicy, intense wine boasts attractive sweetness and plenty of sangiovese character. A deft use of oak nicely frames the flavors, and the lingering finish shows an attractive floral character. One of the best Chiantis in '03.

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2004 Castello di Ama Chianti Classico Vigneto La Casuccia

(a sangiovese/merlot blend) Dark, saturated ruby. Overripe red and black cherry fruit aromas with hints of game and tar are complicated by minty blackberry jam. Fat, supple and full, with impressive mid-palate breadth, this boasts substantial ripe dark cherry, mocha and coffee liqueur flavors, with licorice and spice notes adding considerable complexity. This rather big-boned wine offers surprising mid-palate flavor delineation for its outsized ripeness. Much more persistent on the back end than the '04 base bottling, but this needs time.

2003 Castello di Ama Chianti Classico Vigneto La Casuccia

(($200) Deep ruby. Rich, perfumed aromas of blueberry, Bing cherry, leather and spice, with a pretty mineral, tarry underpinning. Another fat and densely packed La Casuccia (the small merlot addition is always immediately discernible), with rich, layered flavors of mocha, black cherry, underbrush and mushroom, along with a hint of black truffle. Comes across as very ripe but highly concentrated; creamy yet firm, with substantial tannins.

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2001 Castello di Ama Chianti Classico Vigneto Bellavista

Medium bright ruby. Pretty violet, milk chocolate and mineral nose shows lovely definition. Begins herbal and leathery, almost muscular, then turns sweeter and creamy in the middle, with deep raspberry and meaty flavors. This displays terrific energy, density and soil character. Finishes long and ripely tannic.

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2004 Castello di Ama L'Apparita Toscana Rosso

Black-ruby color. High-toned, almost porty aromas of blackberry and dark chocolate. Extremely dense and concentrated, with impressive mid-palate breadth to the rich flavors of spicy plum, smoky espresso liqueur and blackberry syrup. Finishes long and sweet, with suave tannins but also powerful grip, and a note of smoked meat.

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2003 Castello di Ama L'Apparita Toscana Rosso

($200) Deep ruby with blackish highlights. Very refined nose offers cooler notes of redcurrant, ripe red cherry and fresh raspberry, with pretty mineral and mocha nuances adding complexity. Like liquid silk in the mouth, but with surprising acidity giving shape to the rich, elegant flavors of raspberry and strawberry. Conveys a light, deft touch, and finishes with fine-grained tannins and notes of mocha and delicate roasted herbs. Another mesmerizing wine in an off-year, very much in the vein of the great '87 and '92 made here. (The Sorting Table, Napa, CA)

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