Before we travelled to Italy, I had planned a casual visit to the Avignonesi Winery, imagining I’d simply enjoy some Vino Nobile di Montepulciano on the patio enroute from Perugia to Greve. I had enjoyed their wine before in Canada, and was curious to drop in and see the property.
But then we arrived at this magical place – Italy’s largest biodynamic winery, nestled into the beautiful Tuscan countryside – and I was captivated. Manager Yelena and sommelier Almudena were gracious and welcoming – and before I knew it, I was immersed in a tasting.
Their Il Marzocco Chardonnay IGT, 2020 was a complete surprise. I hadn’t flown all that way to drink Chardonnay – but then I did. What an unexpected delight. Pale lemon with verbena, pineapple, white flower, and a surprising backbone that could carry it through a meal, its delicate lees offered a creamy contrast to the excellent acidity.
Since I had written about their Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, 2014, Almudena offered me the 2018 version. Translucent ruby with roses, light prune and basalmic, this wine is a true Nobile classic.
The single vineyard Oceano, was an ethereal beauty. A 100% Sangiovese, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, 2017, the Oceano vineyard has blue clay soil which grows structured grapes. Translucent ruby with delicate tannins, its nose and palate are intense with rose water, sour cherry, dried rose, potpourri, thyme, and rosemary. It’s an emotional wine – with a very long and deep finish.
However, the Vin Santo was the one that has ruined me for all future versions. This one spoiled me.
This Vin Santo, or ‘holy wine’, is made from 100% Sangiovese grapes that are dried post-harvest on bamboo mats in the hall beside the tasting room from September until January (see picture). Once dried, they have very high sugar content and are then pressed. While it takes about one kg of grapes to make a 750ml bottle of wine, about 7kg are needed for each small 375ml bottle of Vin Santo.
Fifty litre barrels are used for aging the wine for 10 years with the ‘madre’ or starter wine, plus room for air to ensure oxidation. The wine rests in bottle for at least a year after the decade in barrel.
The Occhio di Pernice Vin Santo (Eye of the Pheasant) is a masterpiece. Deep, tawny brown with extremely viscous and heavy legs, it teases with a nose and palate of maple syrup, brown and burnt sugar, light molasses, and burnt caramel. Just-baked gingerbread and spice cake leap from the glass, along with clove and a shaving of chocolate truffle. Remarkably fresh, there’s no coating of the mouth because of the very high acidity. The finish goes for miles.
I brought some of this potion home with me. Thankfully it was available in 100ml bottles, so I didn’t need to risk any airline losing my wine and causing tears. My Eye of the Pheasant is safely ensconced now in the cellar. For how long, nobody knows.