On the Road with the Grape Guy

On the Road with the Grape Guy is a on-going feature that follows me from event to event ... I post my thoughts, feelings and reviews of what happened and what I tasted ... basically it is here that I review the events I attend and the things that thrilled me.

Avignonesi Tasting (in Italy)

16 May 2020

(February 2020) ... The winery was established in 1974 and is a proud supporter of the Montepulciano region and a staunch believer in its uniqueness … they are also great ambassadors for Italy’s first, and oldest, DOCG – before they even start to talk about Avignonesi, first they start at the beginning, the region itself.

The Region: Montepulciano …

Montepulciano is just 1200 hectares; the vineyards lie between 210 and 500 meters above sea level with the average being about 300m. There is a move afoot to call the wines “Nobile” to avoid the confusion with the Montepulciano grape (which is Italy’s second most widely planted red grape, next to Sangiovese).

The Winery Make Up … Avignonessi Sign

At Avignonesi they grow mainly Sangiovese (80%) along with Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Canaiolo … and while Canaiolo is disease prone and tough to keep in the vineyard what it adds to the wine (soft tannins / deep colour) is worth keeping it around … it is similar to Merlot but it brings with it a sense of place and Italian origins.

Their production is about 600,000 bottles: 400,00 of Vino Nobile and 200,00 IGT wines. The property is 300 hectares in total … made up of 15 hectares of grain/corn and woods; 175 hectares of grapes, spread out between Nobile (100 hec) and Cortona (75 hec) plus 200 olive trees.

In 2015 Avignonesi started a single vineyard project with 5 different vineyards making 100% Sangiovese wines, 4000 bottles of each wine and comparing them to each vineyard … a true terroir driven experiment:

The Vineyard Project – vineyard characteristics …

Sopra – 40-year-old vines, clay-limestone and sandy soils, 380m above sea level, located in the Poggetti area.
Oceano – 20-year-old vines, 380m above sea level, high density planting, different vine shapes with less bunches per vine, clay-limestone-sandy soils, also in the Pogetti area.
La Stella – 20 years old vines, high density plantings, 250m above sea level, mainly clay and sandy soils, but also has an element of saltiness.
La Banditella – north facing southern vineyard with mainly clay soils and vigorous vines, 300m above sea level, and average vine age of about 25 years old.
La Badella – most southerly vineyard of Montepulciano, 15-year-old vines located at 300m above sea level and clay dominated soils.

The Project Wines Tasted (samples from the 2017 vintage) …

Sopra … ripe fruit with good acidity and structure, there is quite a bit of power on the palate in the form of tannins and fruit.
Oceano … delicate red fruits, soft and supple with an easy drinkability, delicate tannin structure, good acidity and a chalky-mineral note to the finish.
La Stella … a saline-like note is the backbone of this wine, there’s also a softness here, almost to the point of thinness, but there is some nice red fruit character that pulls the wine back from the abyss of being watery.
La Baditella … red fruit dominates, supple and elegant with nice acidity and good balance of fruit – very quaffable.
La Badella … hard tannins, ballsy dark fruit notes with a rawness and harshness that screams of cedar and high acidity clashing.

Cloud the DogFinished Wines …

2016 Nobile
100% Sangiovese, 24 months in barrel / 6 months in bottle. Big tannins and acidity with floral, red currants, subtle cherry and gentle oak nuances.  (*** ½+)

2015 Nobile “Poggetto di Sopra”
Fruit taken from 40 year old vines; aged 24 months in big barrels and tonneau – then 6 months in bottle before release: slight VA note, rich and robust and fairly harsh; needs time to round out.  (*** ½)

2016 Nobile “Poggetto di Sopra”
See above for age of vines and barrel aging: elegant and fruit driven with good acidity, smoky nature with good tannin structure – hints of anise, herbal and spice help to round this wine out … a true delight.  (****+)



Biondi-Santi Tasting ... Feb 2020

27 Apr 2020


Talk about a place in history – Biondi Santi is the original Brunello producer; they have records dating back to 1888 – which proves they were the first makers of what is now called Brunello. Biondi Drive

Today they are a 32 hectares property, having added a few extra hectares with the recent acquisition of a neighbouring property. They currently produce about 90,000 bottles annually and take the “Riserva” in their line-up exceptionally seriously: where many will put out a reserve wine every year, Bondi Santi has released a Riserva only 39 times in their long history (2012 being their latest offering).

Biondi InviteesThey also take their mainstay grape (Sangiovese) very seriously, breaking their vineyard down into 12 sub plots and tasting and watching how the wines from these different aspects of terroir react to their winemaking practices. The oldest planting on the property goes back to 1936 and they use clone BBS11 – you can probably figure out what the “BS” stands for (seems like a double-entendre, but it is not meant to be) … Brunello Biondi Santi 11 – and is a clone of Sangiovese Grosso.  The whole property is 150 hectares with olive trees dotting the landscape.

It is interesting to note that while the first official wine called “Brunello” was in 1888, the first mention of the word / wine was some 19 years earlier in 1869.


The Wines …

Biondi Table in Barrel Cellar2016 Rosso di Montalcino
From the powerhouse 2016 vintage this wine is a deliciously juicy and fruit forward version of Montalcino Rosso: sour cherry, tobacco and slightly herbaceous on the nose, while the palate has driving acidity, delicious red fruit and a good tannin backbone with subtle cigar box and tobacco on the finish – elegant and fruity.  (****+)

2011 Brunello di Montalcino
Riserva’s are sacred at Biondi and 2011 was considered a Riserva year … but this is not that – therefore only the usual grapes go into it. Plenty of intrigue in the bottle with dried cherry, herbal-tobacco notes on the nose with subtle oxidative notes; but when the palate kicks in there is earthy and sour cherry while the acidity and tannins keep everything in balance. The finish lingers with smoke, sour cherry and red currants.  (****)

2009 Brunello di Montalcino
This was a year when no Riserva wines were made so even the oldest of their vines appear in this wine. This one has a real earthiness about it with a pronounced oxidative note, but also sour and black cherry, anise and tobacco on the nose. Palate is a little chalky with earthy and cherry flavour – the tannins come across quite aggressive while the finish does not push fruit forward but instead it hangs out in the background.  (*** ½)

2012 Brunello di Montalcino Riserva Biondi Riserva 2012
This is Franco Biondi Santi’s 24th and final Riserva under his winemaking reign, therefore it is dedicated in his honour … still just a baby but with a nose of tobacco and dark fruit – the aromatics are deep and will need time to release … palate is layered with tobacco, balsamic, earthy, black currant and spice, the acid / tannin backbone proves powerful with notes of sour red fruits on the finish … it’s definitely a ballsy wine with age-ability – be nice to see it at both the 10 and 20 year mark.  (****+)

1998 Brunello di Montalcino Riserva “La Storica”
The grapes come from the oldest vines on the property (at that time 25 years of age) … The “Storica” label means it has been in the Biondi-Santi historical cellar and this wine is receiving a re-release sometime in 2020. The aromas are violets, sour cherry, cranberry and currants while the flavours are dried and dense with dark fruit, tobacco, cigar-box, balsamic and a long mouth-drying finish.  (****)


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