For Centuries, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano has been produced in the lovely hill town of Montepulciano in Southeastern Tuscany.  Promoted to DOCG status in 1980, the Noble Wine of Montepulciano is made primarily from Prugnolo Gentile,  the local clone of Sangiovese.  Under current disciplinary regulations from the Consorzio, blends can vary greatly which makes it difficult for consumers and writers alike to “define” a benchmark Vino Nobile.  Bottled wines must contain at least 70% Sangiovese with the balance permitted to be any other red grapes approved for growing in Tuscany.  A wide parameter indeed.  That being said, most producers rely heavily on Sangiovese and in my experience, the best examples of Vino Nobile are close to 100% Sangiovese.

Since 1974,  Avignonesi has been an iconic producer from this charming hill town.  Named after a member of the founding family, the estate was purchased in 2009 by the Belgian born Virginie Saverys, after two years as a silent, minority owner.  Since taking over at Avignonesi, Saverys has worked tirelessly to transform the estate based on her vision.  Vineyard sites have been expanded and the estate is now certified biodynamic and organic.  Saverys is adamant about leaving the vines and soil in better condition for the benefit of future generations.  In fact, she considers it her duty.

~ Early morning sun over Avignonesi’s vineyards ~

Back in 2015, I wrote an extensive feature on Avignonesi and its rebirth under the new direction of owner Virginie Saverys which included a sit down chat with her.  Look what she told me then about Grandi Annate:

“Grandi Annate is not produced every year per definition, as we only do it when the vintage is good enough. 2008 and 2009 didn’t meet Grandi Annate standards. In fact, in 2009 we didn’t even produce the regular Vino Nobile, so when we were ready for the 2010 vintage, we decided to use all our Sangiovese for the regular Vino Nobile, as the market had been without wine for a year. This also gave us a chance to re-define our idea of Grandi Annate, as there has obviously been quite a change from the 2007 vintage (which was a blend of Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon) and the 2011 vintage, which is pure Sangiovese.”

These comments are shockingly noteworthy.  To sum up, the last vintage of Grandi Annate to be produced as a blend was 2007.  It was then absent from the market until it was reintroduced in 2011 as a pure Sangiovese.  Not only were the blends changed; but the entire winemaking philosophy and style was turned on its head.  Comparing the new Grandi Annate to older vintages is almost impossible. They are black and white.  In the article linked above, I discuss the stark differences in those styles and my significant preference for the 2011 which I rated 97 points at the time.  Keep that in mind while reading the review of today’s wine.

The 2006 Avignonesi Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Grandi Annate Riserva is a blend of 80% Sangiovese and 20% Cabernet though one would be hard pressed to tell that this beverage was made from grapes at all.

In the glass, the wine is a dark purple color through and through, even at 12 years of age.  It’s a lovely color but clearly dominated by the Cabernet in the blend.  On the nose, the wine smells of two things and two things only:  Milk Chocolate and Cherry Liquer – a liquid like aroma found inside Russell Stover chocolate covered cherry candies.  The aroma is sweet, verging on sickeningly so and is difficult to inhale deeply.  Its candied nature portrays itself artificially.  Have you ever smelled grapes like this? Have you ever experienced such a terroir that produces chocolate covered grapes?  I haven’t. This seems manufactured not crafted. It seems invented.  It is fake.

On the palate, I’m sorry to report that the flavors echo the aromas.  How this could be held out as a flagship for a winery is a disgrace.  The cherry fruit is sweet to the taste, almost cloyingly so.  2006 was a full bodied, structured and masculine vintage.  None of that character is present in this wine.  It lacks structure.  It lacks body. It has no acidity.  It doesn’t have a tannin in sight.  It is cloying, flabby and candied tasting.  The flavors are monolithic and overdone with a long, sweet chocolate after taste.  It’s impossible to drink this with a meal.  It’s a cocktail and not a very good one.

Even as I write this I wonder what the hell the winemakers were thinking when they produced this.  Who tasted this from barrel and said “Man, that’s great”?   Who ruined this fruit and why?  The Napa Cult Cabernet craze was in full bloom at the time this wine was produced.  Certain Wine Critics proclaiming a love for “opulent, decadent, opaque” wines were at their apex.  I suspect this was a misguided attempt to impress those palates for the sake of obtaining a huge rating but this wine label should have come with a warning:  “Any resemblance this bottled beverage may have to Vino Nobile di Montepulciano is purely coincidental”.

This is the perhaps the worst “premium” Italian wine I have ever tasted.  Do yourself a favor and don’t follow my example of stupidity that put this wine in my cellar. It’s terrible. And it’s a terrible value.  68 very generous points. About $75.   Read on below…….

~ An utterly disappointing wine that frankly does not deserve to boast the Avignonesi name ~

Thank God for Virginie Saverys.  The motto that she instilled at Avignonesi after her arrival was: “Terroir Speaks, We Listen”.   Do you think she saw the need for betterment at this time honored winery?  She changed the blend and style of todays subject wine.  Do you think this was on a whim?  As mentioned above, beginning with 2011, the Grandi Annate is 100% Sangiovese.  Look at the note I wrote about that vintage back in 2015.

“The 2011 Vino Nobile di Montepulciano “Grandi Annate” is a deep vibrant ruby in the glass.  We decanted the wine for almost two full hours at the urging of the winery.  From the glass this is wonderfully perfumed.  Fresh flowers, sandalwood, crushed berries and spices leap from the glass. This evolves seemingly with each swirl.

On the palate, the wine is round and elegant with a large core of crushed wild cherry fruit that is accented by pipe tobacco, cedar, turned earth and powdery, dusty Tuscan minerals.  The flavors sit firmly on the mid-palate and roll to a classy, almost feminine finish.  An absolutely outstanding wine and re-establishes itself among the flag bearers of Montepulciano.  97 points.”

BLACK and WHITE.  Night and Day. Manufactured and Not.  Styled versus crafted.

Salute e Happy Halloween.

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