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Uncorked: Winemaker embraces return to fickle varietal

The opportunity to embrace a troublemaker from a historic region was all Virginie Saverys needed.

The owner of Avignonesi assumed control of the estate located in Italy’s Tuscan Appellation and has embraced both a return to natural winemaking and Sangiovese. While Sangiovese is Italy’s oldest quality assurance labeled red wine, it is a varietal that both causes headaches and can yield fantastic rewards when the right touch is employed.

Winemaker spotlight 

Sangiovese is like a child. 

It needs constant attention and nurturing to reach its ultimate potential. 

“When it comes to having kids you wouldn’t want to have incredibly good-looking kids that have no common sense,” said Saverys in a Skpye interview from Montepulciano, Italy. “I’m fortunate my kids are smart, funny and good looking. But yet (they) were a bit of a challenge. They acted like kids from time to time and made childish mistakes. That’s what parenting is all about. 

“Sangiovese offers that difficult task. Growing Merlot is a piece of cake, there is no challenge. The easiest path though is not always the most interesting. Just like people, vineyards can get better when they have obstacles to overcome. I like Sangiovese because it is fickle. It provides a challenge I like.” 

Saverys went all the way with her commitment to Avignonesi. Vineyards are farmed 100 percent biodynamic and organic. While regulations require only 70 percent of a wine be Sangiovese, Saverys changed Avignonesi to 100 percent. 

The elimination of pesticides and fertilizers was drasitc. Saverys needed to only look at neighboring vineyards for proof. 

“I was skeptical at first,” Saverys said. “But the soil rewarded us with the change. It really came back to life. There were ladybugs and butterflies everywhere. If you put a spade in the soil so much life comes out. The vineyards that still use chemical sprays look like a lunar landscape. That’s not how nature is supposed to be.”

For confirmation the organic and biodynamic transition was effective, Saverys left a small portion treated by chemicals. The vineyard manager instantly knew which block had not been converted because of the lack of life present. 

The results are stunning. The task has required more work, but like a well-raised child Avignonesi has shown the rewards to be worthwhile.

What to buy

Rosso di Montepulciano, 2011, ($17): This is a smooth, easy wine with bright red fruit notes and a vibrant acidity. It is a nice introduction to wines from Montepulciano. 

Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, ($29.99): Beautiful cherry notes and herb spices of thyme and lavender highlight an elegant wine with smooth tannins. Nice acidity and balance allow for it to be enjoyed with a variety of dishes. This is the perfect example of what Sangiovese has to offer. 

• James Nokes writes a bi-weekly wine column for the Daily Chronicle. He’s been tasting, touring and collecting in the wine world for several years. Contact him at

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