Avignonesi in the Montepulciano appellation of Tuscany, Italy, is owned by trained lawyer Virginie Saverys from Belgium, who purchased the estate in 2009. Her partner, Max de Zarobe, is a French businessman who owns a shipping company. So it’s not surprising with these two in the lead that Avignonesi is not managed like a typical Italian estate.
Under the stewardship of Saverys, Avignonesi has grown from its original 109 hectares to some 170 hectares in the past 10 years. A firm believer in homeopathic medicine, Saverys converted the vineyards to biodynamic, and Avignonesi is now the largest biodynamic wine estate in Italy and the fifth in the world.
Vino Nobile de Montepulciano DOCG only needs a minimum of 70% Sangiovese grapes, but Saverys insists on making her fine Vino Nobile de Montepulciano with 100% Sangiovese. She even takes it a step further to make single-vineyard Vino Nobile de Montepulciano DOCG – the first in Tuscany.
De Zarobe explained that, unlike Cabernet Sauvignon, which prevails over soil, Sangiovese is site specific and expresses the land. The three single-vineyard wines we tasted were all from the 2016 vintage, but they had different vine age, soil, aspect and harvest dates. I found the Caprile 2016 on calcareous soil the most complex with its silky tannin, while La Banditella has a more vibrant character. These wines are only made when they are up to the quality standard, and both of these wines are on their second vintage. Le Badelle was not made in 2015, and its first vintage in 2016 is opulent with an earthy tone. The design of the wine label is simple but elegant, and each features the specific vineyard plot and a compass rose.
There are three DOCG red wines in Tuscany with Sangiovese as the dominant grape, but somehow Vino Nobile di Montepulciano is always the little brother of Brunello di Montalcino DOCG and Chianti Classico DOCG. De Zarobe blames this on the Montepulciano Consorzio, which fails to effectively promote the region. Consumers often confuse Vino Nobile di Montepulciano (the noble of Montepulciano), a wine made with Sangiovese grapes from Tuscany, with Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, a wine made with Montepulciano grapes from Abruzzo (which costs 50% less).
Frustrated, Saverys and De Zarobe took the issue into their own hands and decided to call their Vino Nobile di Montepulciano simply “Nobile” on the front label, while the back label still bears the full name of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, but in a more subtle way. De Zarobe said the US sales of Nobile increased significantly after the change!
Nobile also bears the logo of the Alliance Vinum, a group of six Nobile producers who share the same dedication to Sangiovese. Established in 2017, the group was initiated by Saverys and De Zarobe in order to raise the quality and marketing power of Nobile in a collective way. All members make a single-vineyard Sangiovese every year under the project Poggetto di Sopra, with each wine bearing its own expression of the land. The Avignonesi Nobile Poggetto di Sopra 2016 is elegant, with a similar profile to that of the Caprile 2016.
Uniquely, Avignonesi only uses the botte (large barrel) to age its wine. De Zarobe said that the barrique (225L from Bordeaux) was designed to help the British to ship wine in the early days, not to make wine. A full barrique weighs 500 kilos, so it was easier to calculate the weight of the load. Well, I’m sure some winemakers will disagree, but De Zarobe is from the shipping business, after all!