One of the Great Names of Chianti Producing Some Very Impressive Wines – Tasting with Francesco Ricasoli…

Having just returned from Tuscany and Campania, it was lovely to have Francesco Ricasoli pop in and show me his new vintages. The Ricasoli family has been linked with winemaking since 1141, with the original “blending recipe” for making wines in the Chianti region invented by Baron Bettino Ricasoli or the Iron Baron.

From the estate’s 5 main soil types, grapes are harvested for 230 micro-vinifications, with my favourite often being the Colledilà. Together with their own vineyard yeasts which they have just had isolated and cultured, Ricasoli is making some very expressive wines from around Gaiole.

Castello di Brolio Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Colledilà 2015, Tuscany, 14 Abv.

After the excellent 2013 from Baron Ricasoli, the Colledilà 2015 ups the intensity somewhat being even more exciting and impressive. The fruit from this 7.5 hectare vineyard plot was not bottled into Colledilà in 2012 or 2014. On the nose, the 2015 shows a wonderful exotic perfume of cranberry cordial, red crystallised maraschino cherries, lavender, parma violets and a delicate pink musk fragrance. Thoroughly seductive and alluring. The palate expresses a brisk steely linearity and precision, revealing the true characteristics of the vineyard’s marl limestone soils, bringing extra brightness, fresh acidity and an intense minerality. The texture is ultra sleek and harmonious, pin point and taut with delicious red cherry and black currant fruit nuances, aniseed root, fennel seeds and a pronounced piquant graphite spice on the finish. Superbly balanced and focused in the mouth, this wine shows class with power, intensity and purity. Already drinking so beautifully, a few more years in bottle will bring added tertiary complexity and allow this pure Sangiovese to unwind a little.

(Wine Safari Score: 95/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Returning to Authenticity – Tasting the New Era of Biodynamic Wines from Avignonesi…

Unravelling the conundrum that is Vino Nobile di Montepulciano has been a long term goal of mine. As someone who lives and breathes Italian wines, I have never quite understood the true appeal of Sangiovese wines from Vino Nobile primarily because so much rustic fare has been produced over the years, wines with hard angular tannins, tart acidity and thin fruit.

Exit stage door left, enter Max de Zarobe and Virginie Saverys, the philanthropic-styled current owners of Avignonesi. It’s been a long time since I’ve met such candid, honest talking winery owners such as Max and Virginie, which is thoroughly refreshing in a wine world filled with plenty of smoke and mirrors.

Tasting with winemaker Matteo Giustianini and owner Virginie.

After two days of multiple vineyard visits, winery exploration and wine tastings, it quickly became apparent the amount of passion, knowhow (and money), Max and Virginie have committed to their Avignonesi winery project which they took full ownership of in 2009.

Rejuvenated 42 year old Sangiovese vines in the Avignonesi vineyards.

As successful ship owners in Antwerp, Max and Virginie are quick to point out that turning Avignonesi around from a volume orientated commercial beast into one of Europe’s largest quality focused, organic, biodynamic wineries has been akin to turning a super tanker around, a seemingly ‘simple’ task that takes an astonishing half a day… and perhaps a decade for the winery.

Tasting through the full range of wines from Avignonesi, located near Montepulciano in southern Tuscany, it becomes clear some very impressive wines have been produced in a region that has struggled to replicate the success of Chianti Classico, Brunello di Montalcino and more latterly, the Maremma.

Winemaker Matteo Giustianini and viticulturalist Alesio Gorini expertly oversee the 179 hectares of vines, planted over 9 sites, with 102 hectares of Sangiovese and some historic Merlot planted on what are effectively very recent, young geological soils. The results are indeed positive and confirm the region’s innate ability to produce truly great red wines once the right amount of application, investment and attention to detail are applied.

Avignonesi Ventisei Rosso 2017, IGT Toscana Rosso Organic, 13 Abv.

Bright and lifted, the aromatics are lush and fruity, brimming with strawberry confit, strawberry pips, sappy red bramble berries and plum sauce. The palate is equally rich and expressive with an overt illusion of sweetness, layered with strawberry coulis, red cherry and sweet red plums. Full bodied, mouth-filling but deliciously fresh and thoroughly unpretentious.

(Wine Safari Score: 88+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Avignonesi Ventisei Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG 2015, 14 Abv.

A blend of 90% Sangiovese plumped out with 10% Merlot, the nose shows complex hits of botanical herbs, black berries and pithy black cherry with a subtle hint of cinnamon and oak spice. The palate is very elegant, sleek and polished, revealing layers of black currant, mulberry confit, balsamic and sweet, pithy, vanilla pod spice. Fine balanced with lovely approachability and very sleek, tamed tannins.

(Wine Safari Score: 89/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Avignonesi Cantaloro IGT Toscana 2015, 13.5 Abv.

A blend of 38.5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 36% Merlot, and 25.5% Sangiovese. The aromatics are bright and exotic with notes of sour plum, red cherry, mango skins and blood oranges. There is a lovely texture and elegance, sleek fine creamy tannins with hints of black cherry, baking herbs, vanilla pod spice and a long, cool, menthol tinged black currant finish. Seamless, cool, classy blend.

(Wine Safari Score: 92/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Avignonesi Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2014, 13.5 Abv.

100% Sangiovese from a more challenging vintage, the 2014 shows lush opulent notes of freshly cut hedge row, bramble berries, violets, forest floor, truffle oil and strawberries drizzled with balsamic reduction. There is plenty of ripe savoury fruit on the palate which shows a gentle touch of extraction, a fleshy soft red berry core and a long, red cherry and pink rock candy finish. Delicious approachability and drinkability already.

(Wine Safari Score: 91+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Avignonesi Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2015, 14Abv.

100% Sangiovese, this nose is jam packed full of perfume, fruit and opulence. This great vintage delivers ripe lifted notes of sweet strawberry, red berry, red plum and pithy, resinous sappy notes. Deliciously exotic on the palate, the tannins are sweet and ripe, powdery and silky soft, melting into the sweet red cherry and strawberry fruit melange. The finish is more structured, revealing power and intensity with an impressively long length. Big impressive vintage for sure.

(Wine Safari Score: 93+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Avignonesi Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG Grandi Annate 2013, 14 Abv.

Only produced in the best years, this 2013 is a deliciously crafted wine with a complex, more tertiary nose of bramble berry fruits, botanical herbs, summer flowers, sweet red cherries and subtle rosemary and nutmeg hints. Palate is sleek and deep, earthy and savoury with delicious wood spice and cinnamon notes, graphite minerality and soft polished tannins on a classy, noble, classical finish. Fine poise and power. A wine not to be underestimated.

(Wine Safari Score: 93/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Avignonesi Grifi 2012, IGT Toscana, 14.5 Abv.

Made from Sangiovese sourced from old vines in Montepulciano and Cabernet Sauvignon from Cortona, the 2012 was a hot, dry vintage and is evidenced in the glass with a deep, dark colour and an overtly opulent nose of sweet black cherry confit, cherry liquor, black plums, vanilla pod spice and roasted herbs. The palate shows power and depth, savoury black plum fruit, tannery leather, tobacco, chalky tannins and an opulent, earthy, foresty finish. An expressive, powerful wine.

(Wine Safari Score: 90/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Avignonesi Merlot Desiderio 2015, IGT Toscana Organic, 14.5 Abv.

Made from 100% Merlot sourced mostly from a vineyard near Cortona and a vineyard near Montepulciano called Le Badelle. There is a more international aromatic profile to this wine, with a lifted, opulent nose of black plum, sweet cherry kirsch liquor, grilled herbs, hoisin sauce and vanilla pod spice. The palate is generous and ripe, sweetly fruited and plushly textured with hints of black currant pastille, black cherry and blueberry crumble. Well proportioned, finely polished graphite tannins and a long, dense finish with a tantalising saline kiss of liquorice. Modern and intense, but beautiful execution.

(Wine Safari Score: 94+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

50/50 2013 IGT Toscana, 13.5 Abv

This 50% / 50% Blend of Sangiovese from Gaiole in Chianti and Merlot was first produced in 1988 in a joint venture between Avignonesi and Capannelle in Chianti Classico. The Merlot is produced by Avignonesi from the Lodola estate located in Valiano and shows a richly embroidered aromatic display of sweet black cherry, black plums, kirsch liquor, blueberry muffins and sweet mint sauce. The palate is bold and fleshy but also very supple, finely balanced and elegant with the Sangiovese sap and spice marrying harmoniously with the overt, blueberry and vanilla pod creaminess of the Merlot. A big, bold, adventurous red expression, this wine delivers pleasure on so many levels, always remaining fresh, elegantly balanced and finely poised, making it eminently drinkable now or cellar-worthy for 10 to 15 years.

(Wine Safari Score: 95+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

The amazing Vin Santo storage building, where wines are aged for up to 10 years in small oak barrels.

An Attractive Brunello di Montalcino Made Using Biodynamic Principles – Tasting Piombaia 2013…

It is always a pleasure to visit Montalcino, especially when the region is riding high in popularity. This trip, I was fortunate to visit Francesco Cantini, the winemaker at Piombaia winery.

Created out of the union of the Rossi and Cantini families, the estate has always been run in a sympathetic way but it was only in 2009, after decades of ‘Lutte raisonnees’ that the winery turned to organic and biodynamic principles.

Francesco Cantini discussing biodynamics

The terrain of Piombaia Estate covers an area of about 210 hectares at an altitude of between 400 and 600 metres, with the 12 hectares of vineyard plantings divided into 12 separate 1 hectare plots, ensuring the best quality grapes can be managed and harvested separately.

From a cooler, more classical vintage, the weather was perfect until August with just a little refreshing rain in June and July, before the weather became noticeably cooler. Harvesting started on the 10th October and the natural yeast +-10 day non-temperature controlled alcoholic fermentation commenced with an additional 28 days skin maceration post fermentation before ageing 3 years in 70% Slovenian oak, 25% large French oak and 5% in large tonneau.

Rossi.Cantini Soc. Agricola Piombaia Brunello di Montalcino DOCG 2013, 13.5 Abv.

The nose is precise and intense with attractive aromatics of cherry blossom, red cherry skins, red apple and sour red plums. The oak is beautifully integrated lending the most subtle earthy, savoury, foresty wood spice notes and is almost imperceptible on the palate which is dominated by bruised sour plums, chalky pithy red cherry and vibrant fresh acids. So delicious, cool, harmonious and elegant, with a really classical mineral graphite slant and a piquant, saline, crisp energetic finish. An impressive and slightly alternative expression of Brunello. Drink now or cellar for 10+ years.

(Wine Safari Score: 93/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

A Dynamic South African Winemaker Moving An Historic Tuscan Icon Winery to New Heights…

Wonderful visit and tasting today with a winemaker I feel is changing, albeit slowly, the established Tuscan landscape. Asserting his influence at Querciabella since 2010, it is indisputable that the wines have jumped in quality and character since Manfred Ing took over as head of winemaking at Querciabella.


A 100% Sangiovese Cuvee, the grapes used have been biodynamic since 2000 and organic since 1988. Averaged yields are approaching 35 hl/ha and the oak use is 100% French, 5% new with the remainder consisting of 2nd and 3rd fill barrels.


Tasting through the whole estate range, it crystallises how Manfred is imposing his quality philosophy on the Querciabella character and style. With a bit of South African sweat, these are now some of the most intense, focused, biodynamic wines made in Tuscany today! And if you get bored drinking his iconic Chardonnay – Pinot Blanc Batar white Blend, there is always his own Ansonica white from the Isle of Giglio you can indulge in (and which is already reviewed in this site!)


Agricola Querciabella Chianti Classico DOCG 2014, Tuscany, 14 Abv. 

This is a deep, dark, broody wine that reveals complex aromatics of raspberry cordial, cherry liquor, cranberry zest, and sweet candied cherry sherbet fruit intensity. So seductive, very alluring, the palate is equally so mouth watering with layers of saline cassis, black berry spice, sweet cherry tobacco and buttered brown toast. Texturally the wines of Manfred are incomparable with previous expressions from the past, with his ability to elevate the concentration, fruit and acidity balance to new levels his real talent. Underlying it all is his leveraging of fruit quality and fruit purity. It resonates across the palate and reawakens your taste buds. Bravo Manfred! 

(Wine Safari Score: 93+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Prepping For “Montalcino March” with Some Gaja Pieve Santa Restituta Brunello di Montalcino 2011…

Burgundy En-primeur has taken ownership of months January and February, Bordeaux April and May. So the gap in between had to be filled by Montalcino March. This region’s new releases now command more interest with drinkers than almost any other Italian releases including Bolgheri, Barolo and Barbaresco. Their quality, wine style and importantly, release prices, have struck a cord so loud and true that demand continues to grow year on year and demand is now outstripping supply. 


With our own Brunello EP tastings in London just days away, I thought I would start getting into the mood properly with a sexy bottle of last years Gaja Brunello di Montalcino 2011 release. Here’s my Wine Safari verdict…


Tasting Note: The Brunello di Montalcino 2011 is made from a blend of fruit from different vineyard parcels in the north west of Montalcino. The sites have more cooler northerly exposures than those of the Cru vineyards Rennina and Sugarille located further south around the winery, where warmer south and south easterly exposures dominate. The aromatics are dark, broody and spicy with a melange of dried herbs, tobacco, oregano and thyme and an overtone of aniseed root, raisined cherries, blood oranges and vermouth spices. You can taste the slightly cooler, spicier taughtness of the northerly sites which are crisper, fresher and more linear and angular on the palate. There are no over ripe fruit notes despite the 15 Abv, with the crisp fresh acids keeping the palate taught and slightly fours-square. The mid palate fruit is beautifully seductive and silky, spreading out across the palate to leave a long, pithy, graphite laden black cherry and aniseed finish. There is more frame, more angles, more spice than riper southern Montalcino wines. This wine is unashamedly youthful and minerally grippy but also vibrantly fresh. It does not possess the depth and power of the epic 2010, nor the sweet opulent generosity of the 2012, but it’s a thoroughly pleasing wine to swirl and savour. Start drinking in 3 to 5 years time.

(Wine Safari Score: 93+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Tasting the Superb Limited Release Val di Toro T3 Special Reserve 2010 Maremma Toscana IGT…

Today one of my favourite Italian producers popped in for a tasting of their new vintages. Hugh Maxwell and his wife Anna have been producing beautiful wines in the Maremma at Val di Toro since 2006. If my memory serves me correctly, I was the first wine merchant to buy their wines in the UK.


But today I was in for a big treat as Hugh brought along a very special bottle to taste. Having bought and sold a lot of Val di Toro’s 2010 estate wine, what a surprise to be given a bottle of the T3 2010! Standing for Tonneau No.3, this batch was identified at the time of production as possessing extra special qualities and so it was decided to separate out this tonneau and age and bottle it separately.


A blend of 80% Sangiovese and 20% Montepulciano, this wine would require at least 85% Sangiovese to qualify as Morellino di Scansano DOC, however that was never Hugh and Anna’s intention, hence the Maremma IGT classification. Here is my verdict…

The site of Val di Toro, near Grosseto

Tasting Note: As you raise the glass to your nose, it becomes evidently clear this is a special wine. Brimming with lifted perfume and aromatic complexity, this wine seduces from the outset. Lashing of caramelised cherry, kirsch liquor, raisined cranberries, vanilla pod and clove spice flow out of the glass. It’s hard to move past the opulence and extrovert character of the nose. Another swirl and yet more aromas waft out the glass… sweet tobacco leaves, cedar wood spice and aniseed root.


The palate certainly does not disappoint either. Richly textured, the layers of liquorice, sweet caramelised cherries, vanilla pod spice, sour plums and salty black currant are tightly woven together with just a hint of volatile acidity adding a mouth watering vibrancy. The finish is long, pithy and super intense, with sweet creamy tannins and lingering notes of plump sweet blood oranges, tart maraschino cherries and liquorice stick. Wow! This wine really reminds me of a top notch Brunello di Montalcino from a ripe vintage with extra complexity from a few years in bottle. This is indeed a profound wine that unfurls over the hours and builds to an epic crescendo. I don’t know who’s decision it was to separate out this single tonneau, but congratulations. You raised an Adonis of a wine! 

(Wine Safari Score: 94/100 Greg Sherwood MW)