Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Avignonesi of Montepulciano

Thursday was a major wine tasting day in Tuscany – Vino Girl had scheduled two wineries in Montepulciano and two in Montalcino successively. Since there was to be so much driving involved, we decided it was best to spare ourselves the agony of two designated drivers and get someone to cart our buzzed up bodies around the precarious Tuscan roads. We belted ourselves into an 8-seater van and entrusted our lives for the day to Sebastian, our suave Italian driver.

Our first stop was Avignonesi winery in Montepulciano, almost directly south of our villa in Gaiole in Chianti. Avignonesi consists of four wine-producing estates: Le Capezzine, I Poggetti, La Selva and La Lombarda and we arrived at Le Capezzine a smidge late due to our cappuccino and bombolino (Italian donut) run with Sebastian. All worth it to wake us up and get some food in
our stomachs.

Lorenza, our guide, was waiting for us at the gate with the other folks in our group rearing to go. She was very serious about wine — in a charming way of course — and showed us around the beautiful vineyards and explained Avignonesi’s philosophy and techniques in vivid detail. The most fortuitous feature of the tour was that we showed up at the exact time the grapes for the famed Vin Santo were laying to dry on straw mats in the drying room. This was a beautiful and rare site to behold.

Avignonesi is one of the most highly lauded makers of Vin Santo in all of Tuscany and they take the business of making this sweet “holy wine” very seriously. There was a lot of solemn talk about ‘The Mother’ which is the precious sediment that contains the yeasts that make Avignonesi Vin Santo possible. Avignonesi is one of the few estates to make a red as well as a white Vin Santo. Sadly, we were unable to taste either as both are very expensive and very rare. Even Lorenza fessed up to only ever having a very small taste of the traditional and beloved Vin Santo.

After the tour, we sat down for a tasting of Avignonesi wines including: 2006 Cortona Sauvignon Blanc ($11), 2004 Rosso di Montepulciano ($14), 2003 Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Grandi Annate Riserva ($55), and 2000 50/50 ($95).

The white was a big hit and we bought some to sip pool side at the Villa later in the week. The Rosso was basic but a good everyday drinking red (isn’t that was Rosso should be?) and the Vino Nobile Grandi Annate was something special. The 2003 needs some time but already displays the earthiness and minerality that we found to be a signature of Sangiovese from Montepulciano (AKA Sangiovese Grosso or Prugnolo Gentile) in comparison to Sangiovese from the Chianti region. The 50/50 is an IGT Tuscan which is a collaboration between Avignonesi and the Capannelle estate in Chianti. Avignonesi provides the Merlot and Capannelle the Sangiovese for the 50/50 blend. The wine is rounder and more forward than the Vino Nobile but smooth and silky with intriguing fruit and spice.

At the end of our tasting we found ourselves in high spirits but, naturally, late for our next appointment. Back to the van! “Veloce!” says Sebastian, and off we go. Word to The Mother.

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