Rain rain go away; come again another day. As we began our 2 hour trek from Rome to Montepulciano it was raining, hard. Driving an unfamiliar car in an unfamiliar land can be challenging enough, add rain to the mix and who knows what it going to happen. Well what happened is we made our way quite uneventfully to our first stop in a two day southern Tuscany wine excursion and as we approached our destination the sun emerged.
Avignonesi Winery is named after the founders of the original estate. In 2009 Virginia Saverys purchased Avignonesi after retiring from a successful legal career and moving to Tuscany. Avignonesi has been known for years for its innovation in research and development aimed at “expressing the true character of Montepulciano terror;” thus earning Avignonesi a place among the flagship wineries of Montepulciano.
Virginia Saverys has a strong belief in organic and biodynamic practices resulting in Avignonesi converting to an organic and biodynamic winery. Virginia’s aim is to “produce wines which do not only mirror the distinct identity of the terroir of Montepulciano, but wines which are healthier for her customers, healthier for the land and therefore for future generations.” Avignonesi uses sustainable practices in all of their 200 hectares of total vineyards: 8 vineyards in Montepulciano and 8 vineyards in Cortona. To uphold their organic, sustainable and biodynamic commitments Avignonesi uses no chemical herbicides, pesticides and fertilizers as well as working the soil year round and using cover crops to restore and maintain the flora and fauna above and below the ground. One of the practices used by Avignonesi we were most fascinated with involves what we loving called “designer dung.” Avignonesi works the soil in rhythm with the biodynamic calendar. Each fall after harvest the soil is plowed to loosen it, then a biodynamic preparation called 500P, cow manure matured in cow horns, is buried in the ground amongst the vines over the winter. In the summer biodynamic preparation 501, horn silica in cow horns, is buried in the soil to absorb heat and sunlight. The reason we joked about these processes being “designer dung” is because the manure, silica and horns come from Chianina Bulls owned by famed Italian fashion designer Ferragamo! There is much more to Avignonesi’s organic practices, I encourage you to visit their web site to learn more.
We had the great pleasure of touring, learning and tasting Avignonesi with marketing manager Lene Bucelli. Lene was so gracious with her time and really explained the nuances of Avignonesi. Before we even tasted any wines we were very impressed with this first class winery! Before heading to Avignonesi I was told by several people, the first being John Fodera of Tuscan Vines, that I must try Avignonesi’s famed Vin Santo. Before tasting the wine Lene showed us the “appassitoio,” room were the grapes are dried on straw mats for 6 months in a similar fashion to Amarone, and the room filled with rows and rows of “caratelli” where the Vin Santos rest patiently for 10 years. To our surprise the “barrel” room was not in a dark cellar underground like the barrels for the rest of Avignonesi’s wines; rather, it was in a second story room filled with open windows where the sunlight danced across the barrels. Similar in style to port and Madeira, vin santo is made through oxidation, once it ready to bottle and sell it is fully aged and will last quite some time upon opening!
Another point to highlight, Montepulciano is the region for Vino Nobile. Vino Nobile is crafted of 100% Sangiovese. This tends to be a point of confusion for many wine consumers. Montepulciano d’Abruzzo is a wine from the Abruzzo region that is crafted of the grape Montepulciano. Abruzzo is located on the eastern coast of Italy. The only thing these two wines have in common is that they are both Italian. So when you plan your trip to visit Montepulciano know you will be enjoying Vino Nobile, Rosso di Montepulciano, IGT’s and Vin Santo! Here is a breakdown of the Avignonesi wines we tasted:
Rosso Di Montepulciano DOC 2013: soft ruby; bright red fruit of cherries and currants, touch of violets, soft spice notes ending with savory herbs; soft and smooth on the palate with great structure of rounded acidity and well integrated tannins; medium body, lingering finish; aged 5 months in oak and 3 months in bottle, 13.5% alcohol; 100% Sangiovese $19
Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano DOCG 2012: deep garnet: deep red and black fruits of cherries, black berries and plums, earthy notes of savory herbs, mushrooms, licorice and black pepper; round acidity and persistent tannins, rich medium body with a silky long finish; aged 12 months in French barriques and 6 months in large Slovenian oak casks, followed by a minimum of 6 months in bottle; 14% alcohol; 100% Sangiovese$29
Grandi Annate Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano DOCG 2012: this wine is Avignonesis’ finest expression of Vino Nobile and is only produced in the very best years when optimum climate conditions allow the grapes the fullest expression of the complexity of the terroir; deep garnet; black cherries, plums, currants, blackberries, dried floral notes of roses and violets, spice notes of nutmeg and cloves, licorice and a mineral spice; full body, perfectly balanced with rich acidity and tannins, fantastic aging potential; aged 18 months in French barriques and tonneaux, 20% new oak and 80% second and third usage; refined 18 months in the bottle; 14.5% alcohol; 100% Sangiovese $75
Grifi Toscana IGT 2011: deep ruby; cherries, raspberries, plums, spice notes, licorice and a touch of vanilla resting comfortably on a mineral foundation; deep and rich with a velvet mouth-feel, great structure, round acidity, integrating tannins, long pleasing finish; 50% Sangiovese and 50% Cabernet Sauvignon fermented separately in stainless steel tanks with indigenous yeast; aged 16 months in French barriques, new oak for the Cabernet Sauvignon and 2nd -3rd use for Sangiovese with 6 months of bottle refinement; 15% alcohol $50
Desidero Merlot Toscana IGT 2012: deep ruby; black berries, black raspberries, black currants, spice notes, dry dirt, licorice and minerality; rich and round on the palate with well-structured acidity and pronounced tannins; full body with a lingering, smooth finish, great aging potential; aged 18 months in French barriques ¼ new oak and ¾ 2nd to 4th use with 6 months refinement in the bottle; 14.5% alcohol; 85% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon $57
Occhio Di Pernice Vin Santo Di Montepulciano 2000: crafted of 100% Sangiovese, color of dried fig with rich, syrupy viscosity; fruit cake, anise, molasses, hazelnut and a touch of orange zest taking center stage in pure decadence; grapes are laid out for 6 months on straw mats in a drying room, the grapes are then pressed and the must is transferred to “catarellis,” small 25 liter oak casks, where Avignonesi’s indigenous yeast, “madre,” is introduced, where the wine is aged 10 years; very small production of 1000 375ml and 1500 100ml bottles; this wine is a decadent out of body experience that is fully worth its $280 SRP! Serve in brandy snifters for full enjoyment; excellent to enjoy on its own or with savory herbal cheese, goat cheese, citrus, a dry hazelnut biscotti, dried fig gelato, bitter dark chocolate or as a “syrup” topper for ice cream. Pure heaven!
Vin Santo Di Montepulciano 2000: this wine was crafted from blend of Trebbiano and Malvasia Toscano; pourfed a deep amber into the glass, aromas and flavors of dried fig, orange blossom and honey dazzle while the viscous wine coats the mouth in a delicate, well-structured, delight; grapes are laid out for 6 months on straw mats in a drying room, the grapes are then pressed and the must is transferred to “catarellis,” small 25 liter oak casks, where Avignonesi’s indigenous yeast, “madre,” is introduced, where the wine is aged 10 years; very small production of 1000 375ml and 1500 100ml bottles; this wine is a decadent out of body experience that is fully worth its $200 SRP! Serve in brandy snifters for full enjoyment; excellent to enjoy on its own or with savory herbal cheese, goat cheese, citrus, a dry hazelnut biscotti, dried fig gelato, bitter dark chocolate or as a “syrup” topper for ice cream. Unique and amazing in every way.
Italians sure know how to make the best out of wine tasting! After an amazing and educational tour and a delicious wine tasting we enjoyed an outstanding lunch at Avignonesi’s restaurant. The lunch was comprised of four courses, each course paired with Avignonesi wine. It was truly delicious! I will briefly take you through the courses and wine pairings I enjoyed. Sadly my phone battery died by lunchtime and I missed some important pictures while it was recharging.
Chef welcome with Il Marzocco Toscana IGT (90% Chardonnay, 10% Grechetto; citrus, tropical fruit, fresh and clean with round acidity; lovely; SRP $40) with soup.
Avignonesi Grifi Toscana 2011 with Gigli pasta with a seasoned vegetable salsa and saffron from the Val d’Orcia.
50&50 Toscana IGT 2011 (Sangiovese and Merlot, deep fruit notes of black berries, cherries, plums and currants, spice notes, licorice, delicious acidity and well integrated tannins –WOW; SRP $150) with free range chicken leg cooked on a low heat and seasoned with herbs from Avignonesi garden, served with potato chips and braised cabbage.
Vin Santo Di Montepulciano 2000 with pairings selected especially by the chef to pair with this luxurious wine. So decadent!
From the Avignonesi web site:
We believe that the life force of the earth and the uniqueness of our terroir are at the heart of our brand. Avignonesi is reborn from the soil of our vineyards with each vintage in wines that mirror the subtle flavours of the site and the special traits of each year. Our wines express the richness and beauty of the Montepulciano territory. We respect the heritage of Montepulciano, where Sangiovese wines have been produced for centuries, and we wish to contribute to its future by being the finest representative of its heritage that we can be.
We respect the innate character of each wine and seek to follow its natural evolutionary path from the soil to the cellar and – finally – to the bottle.
One thing I want to mention that I will repeat in each of my articles on the Tuscan wineries we visited. Friends you will save yourself money if you order these wines DIRECT from the winery. Avignonesi imports to the US and their wines are available throughout the country and at US online retailers. However, with the importing fees, distributor fees and taxes you will pay LESS if you order direct from their web site and have it shipped to your house. Surprising but true! Shipping from Italy to you is surprisingly not any more expensive than shipping FedEx or UPS within the US and the winery prices are MUCH less expensive than you will find at US retaileres. Avignonesi does the majority of their US sales direct to their huge list of US customers. Step outside your box. Its 2015, we live in a global economy do yourself a favor and get yourself a selection of Avignonesi wines and save yourself a significant amount of money by ordering direct! Here is the link you need to contact Avignonesi directly.
I hope you find yourself in Tuscany someday soon. While there you simply must stop at Avignonesi for great wine and of course lunch!
My Song Selection: Avignonesi’s wines were smooth, classy and full of flavor; really high quality wines. And it was our first stop as we journeyed through Tuscan wine country. Therefore, I am pairing these wines, lunch and education tour with Herbie Hancock’s Maiden Voyage.
Get your own bottles of Avignonesi, preferably direct from the winery, and let me know what song you pair with them. Cheers!