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.

Full Ornellaia Immersion at the Vendemia d’Artista Charity Auction in London with South African Icon Artist William Kentridge…

In 2018, Ornellaia’s Vendemia d’Artista charity auction returned to the UK with a wonderfully lavish dinner at the Victoria & Albert museum. For me personally, the black tie event held added interest and excitement not only because they were pouring the excellent new release Ornellaia 2015, but especially because the chosen artist for the 2015 art labels was none other than South Africa’s greatest living artist, William Kentridge.

William Kentridge was invited to design 10 unique labels to adorn the Ornellaia Vendemia d’Artista labels, with profits raised at the evening’s charity auction going to the V&A museum this year.

William Kentridge on stage explaining his inspiration for the series of 10 works of art designed for Ornellaia 2015 Vendemia d’Artista.

Some of the William Kentridge works of art.

Ornellaia Winemaker Axel Heinz with Steven Spurrier.

Tenuta dell Ornellaia 2005, Bolgheri Superiore, Toscana, 14 Abv.

Deliciously expressive wine, complex, nuanced nose, so multi-faceted that it seems initially quite hard to describe all the multiple layers. A bit of coaxing yields sweet red cherry kirsch liquor, fennel, sweet black plum and hints of sweet tobacco and cedar spice. The palate is a plush, bright and very approachable style with great fleshy accessibility, opulence and harmonious pleasure. A very pretty expression that is certainly a true beauty and a lovely expression of Axel’s first vintage at Ornellaia.

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

Tenuta dell Ornellaia 2015, Bolgheri Superiore, Toscana, 14 Abv.

Intense broody dark fruited nose brimming with black cherry, crushed gravel and graphite spice. But the minerality of this superb, glamorous, opulent vintage does not outweigh or over power the incredibly intense perfume of lavender, violets and cherry blossom. The underlying note on the palate is dark fruited, powerful and structured with vibrant black tart cherry acidity, suave fleshy textural concentration and the most seductive, complex finish of pithy black cherry, liquorice stick, graphite and chalky tannin spice. A very serious effort, showing great generosity, power, intensity and gravitas. This has the credentials to age for 2 to 3 decades, and the potential to be a future Bolgheri Ornellaia legend.

(Wine Safari Score: 97/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

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)

Sassicaia 2015 – An Outstanding Vintage Release to Rival the Great 1985 from Tenuta San Guido in Bolgheri…

2015 was another wonderful year all across European winelands, producing some truly exceptional wines in Bordeaux, Burgundy, Spain, Germany, and of course Italy. While longer aged Brunello’s and Barolo’s are still some way off being released, 2018 is the year for a whole long awaited tranche of 2015 Tuscan gems from Sassicaia to Ornellaia, Tignanello to Solaia.

The release of the 2015 vintage of Sassicaia from Tenuta San Guido captures the essence of this truly unique vine growing terroir, showcasing generous, refined black fruit aromas, power and balance, together with beautiful freshness and elegance.

There has been much excitement about 2015 in Tuscany which the estate of Tenuta San Guido confidently compares to the very famous 1985 vintage. Both shared similar climatic conditions – a mild winter that was followed by heavy rains in the spring and a hot summer, with higher than average temperatures in June and July, resulting in very healthy vineyards and excellent ripening across all varietals.

Tenuta San Guido has created what James Suckling calls “potentially one of the best Sassicaia’s in decades”, awarding it 98/100 points in his most recent tasting report. Antonio Galloni’s early Bolgheri reports for Vinous, confirms that the “warm, dry growing season produced generous, highly expressive wines.” Collectors and connoisseurs of Italian Super Tuscan blends are in for a very big treat this vintage.

The Wines

Tenuta San Guido Le Difese 2016, IGT Toscana, 13.5% Abv.

Made up of its usual blend of 30% Sangiovese and 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, this is Sassicaia’s answer to an earlier drinking wine. Deliciously bright and inviting, the nose is intensely aromatic with spring violets, cherry blossom, dried rose petals and a wonderful melange of raspberry, crushed red cherries and salty red liquorice. Crunchy and crystalline, the palate shows velvety soft chalky tannins, mouth wateringly fresh acids, beautiful purity and a corresponding amount of verve and vigour. One wonders what else you could possible hope for from a classy little wine like this. Drink from release and for 10+ years if well cellared.

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

Tenuta San Guido Guidalberto 2016, IGT Toscana, 14% Abv.

Officially the second wine of Sassicaia created in 2000, this 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot blend is always one of the wineries most sought after wines due to its exceptionally high quality, outstanding value for money on release and its impressive ability to age. The aromatics tip their hat to big brother Sassicaia, with a dense core of Cabernet Sauvignon cedar spice, violets, cassis, earthy black berries and subtle mineral graphite notes. There is an abundance of opulence, expressive plummy flesh, leafy black currant spice and the most seamless, polished mineral tannins imaginable. A structural reprise on the finish reveals juicy tart red berry and cranberry fruit notes which combine with chalky grippy tannins, ensuring a long, distinguished finish brimming with power, elegance and superb textural balance. Drink from 2020 until 2035+

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

Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia 2015, DOC Bolgheri Sassicaia, Toscana, 14% Abv.

Always exciting to taste this icon wine on release, none more so than in block buster quality years like 2015. First bottled commercially in 1968, this 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Cabernet Franc blend comes from vineyards at 100 to 400 metres altitude, planted in soils rich in limestone and clay. The aromatics are instantly noticeable for their deeper, darker, riper, broodier fruit profile. Fairly closed and tight on opening, the perfume is a little shy but you can sense the depth and complexity waiting to emerge from beneath. So many notes of pithy black cherries, black currant, leafy black plum and a sappy, resinous fragrance from the Cabernet Franc component. The oaking is almost imperceptible, allowing the fruit and mineral terroir notes to take centre stage. The palate shows beautiful poise, elegance and harmonious balance, framing the red and black berry fruits with incredibly dense, creamy, velvety tannins. The acids are fresh and vibrant, embroidering the palate and keeping it crystalline and vital. Beautifully complex at this youthful stage, it remains imposing yet light on its feet, concentrated but energetic and pure. With such depth of fruit, intense structure and graphite minerality, this vintage looks set for a very long and distinguished road of evolution. A really outstanding effort. Drink from 2022 to 2045+

(Wine Safari Score: 97+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Ornellaia 2014 ~ Exceeding All Quality Expectations For the Vintage…

I recently had an incredibly interesting tasting Masterclass with Ornellaia winemaker Axel Heinz as he launched the new bottled release of their Bolgheri red blend 2014 in the UK. The tasting took the format of a deconstruction component tasting Masterclass for barrel samples from the upcoming 2015 vintage.


The point of the tasting was not specifically to explain the 2014 vintage per se, but to illustrate the analysis, tasting, micro-vinifications, and terroir analysis that goes into the construction of the Ornellaia flagship blend every year. We tasted nine Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot single varietal vinifications that illustrate the jigsaw of terroirs that are analysed to create the perfect completed wine jigsaw within any given vintage. Fascinating.



2014 was considered a very challenging vintage with a warm and wet winter followed by a mild and dry spring, allowing for normal vegetative growth with punctual and regular flowering. Perfect July weather was followed by a cold and rainy August, creating very difficult conditions for ripening and greatly increasing the risk of vineyard diseases.


Meticulous work in the vineyards was required to keep the canopy and fruit healthy. But this work was rewarded with two successive months of mostly dry, sunny weather creating excellent conditions for ripening. It was at harvest time that the intricate analysis of various plots really came into its own. The result was one of the longest, most delayed harvests on record ending on the 22nd October.


Tasting Note: 

Ornellaia 2014 Bolgheri DOC Rosso Superiore, Italy

Having already tasted and scored most of the Bolgheri 2014s, it was with great anticipation that I finally got to taste both the Ornellaia 2014 and the Le Serre Nuove 2014. This is a very impressive expression of Ornellaia, blended from 34% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32% Merlot, 14% Cabernet Franc, 20% Petit Verdot. Born out of a very difficult vintage, winemaker Axel Heinz has exceeded expectations producing a rich, opulent, yet classically proportioned wine that overflows with black berry fruits, cherry, liquorice stick, damson plums, bramble fruits and dusty graphite notes. The palate is bright and pure with a real sense of textural precision. There is wonderful cut and freshness, but also superb black and blue berry fruit intensity and linear, mineral definition. This wine is the ultimate surprise package. With 20% (instead of the usual 4-5%) of late ripening Petit Verdot in the blend, you’d expect this vintage to feel a little different. It is a true testament to the obsessive commitment winemaker Axel Heinz has committed to this challenging vintage. Drink from 2020 to 2040.

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


“This year represents the heart of the estate, Ornellaia’s ‘Essence’: its natural style, the exceptional quality of its terroir, and the competence of those who work in the vineyards and the cellar.” ~ Axel Heinz, Winemaker, Ornellaia

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)