We were holidaying in Tuscany near the hill top village of Montepulciano surrounded by vineyards. So we wanted to find an elegant wine tour and a lunch with wine pairing. We booked the Avignonesi wine tour and lunch for my husbands 50th birthday celebration. As wineries in Italy go this is a fabulous one, so if you are looking for things to do in Tuscany for foodies, read on!
As our kids are fully fledged adults we went a step further and hired 3 old Alpha Romeos and had a stylish drive to the vineyard. We headed off to the winery near Montepulciano with the sun on our faces and the wind in our hair…
PIN for later!
The cars were both exhilarating and exhausting as we wound through the rolling hills on the dirt tracks. I found myself woohoo-ing despite myself and settled with the fact that this old gent was a bit special. My Hubby isn’t so bad either…
Arriving just in time we parked easily amongst the roses and under a little relieving shade given by the trees. This may just be the prettiest car park we’ve ever seen.
We were warmly welcomed and shown to the bar to await the start of our tour, starting in ten minutes. Plenty of time for a cool Prosecco.
Inside we entered a surprisingly modern space. We had been told this winery started life as a farm many moons ago, but there was few signs of that in this cool and bright bar.
We were all in a celebratory mood and soon settled in.
Our tour guide was wonderful. She explained things so clearly that even I, hopelessly ignorant of all things fermented, could enjoy and understand. She spoke English clearly and was happy to answer questions.
The iconic ‘Vigna Tonda’ or round vineyard was a way of experimenting on the ideal distances between each vine. At what distance they yield the best fruit and maintain the healthiest plants…
You can buy bottles of wine from the round vineyard. It is easy to spot because they have a picture of the ‘Vigna Tonda’ on the label.
We moved to another vineyard ‘La Stella’ where they have planted vines the ideal distance apart, proven by the round vineyard. So it is a relatively young field. They stand individually, so if one becomes ill they can just pluck that individual out and replace it. The plants are also becoming healthier as it becomes a battle of the fittest. The roots are forced to grow deeper making them stronger.
You learn over the tour that the Avignonesi winery focuses on the health of the soil, the integration of local flora and fauna, and biodiversity.
The first sign of that is the presence of various plants allowed to grow among the vines.
Following a biodynamic calendar means a constant labour of love and I started to understand that the price of these quality wines are reflected by the principles of these honourable farming methods. They believe that their methods of sustainable farming will produce better wines. I looked very much to putting that to the test during our lunch later one!
After the jaunt around the vines we head back towards their famous ancients cellars, passing old farmers villas…
Even an old chapel…
Behind these huge wooden doors is the ancient stone cellars. They provide the perfect temperature and humidity to hold barrels of wine.
Huge barrels stood neatly and are lit to give a great atmosphere. Along with the smell of oak, damp and ages of resting wines it was a heady environment for any wine lover.
A huge industrial relic sits forlornly by.
It’s wine tour etiquette to wait patiently for everyone to take their photos before charging on.
Soon, however our tour guide disappeared down to the lower cellars.
It is decidedly cooler down here. It felt more ancient too as terracotta kegs that once held balsamic vinegar still sit there. They are really only there today for us tourists to enjoy.
It turned out to be the space where our tour guide explained the methods of organic farming used by Avignonesi.
So here goes…
- When you farm biodynamically you use no inorganic fertilisers, herbicides or pesticides. They seek to improve the vine through strengthening its natural defence system and making its growing habitat as healthy and nourishing as possible.
- To do that they go to extraordinary measures and produce their own natural fertilisers by growing green manure in the rows between the vines, including plants like mustard, rocket, field beans, grasses etc. Which they mulch into the soil. The mulch mineralises the soil with substances such as potassium, sulphur and nitrogen. The network of roots also loosens the soil, aerating it, making it looser and protecting it against erosion.
- It is this biodiversity of flora which encourages a proliferation of wide ranging of insect and microorganisms that then help the vines to thrive.
- They want the vines to be in tune with the natural rhythm of their environment. So they start after the harvest in autumn by ploughing the soil to loosen it. We then apply a biodynamic preparation called 500P (four times a year). This is cow manure that has matured in cow horns buried in the ground over winter. They apply the 500P in the afternoons when the soil is said to be ‘exhaling’.
- Another biodynamic preparation is 501, a horn silica consisting of finely ground quartz. It is also buried in cow horns and during the summer, so it can still absorb heat and sunlight. It is then stored in a bright place and finally mixed with water and sprayed onto the vine leaves. They do this before 9 o’clock in the mornings when the earth is said to ‘inhale’.
Turning another corner we got to see barrels of young wine laid to rest (for the time being).
Along this cellar is a tantalising room where bottles of wine are held and tested…
Unfortunately we weren’t permitted to enter and give our two-penneth.
Finally we were taking to their mecca, properly know as the Vinsantaia, and the place under the roof where kegs of wines are stored for fermentation before being bottled. The room is above ground but is still cool especially with the many windows open.
It’s nice to wonder through them spotting the years and types of wines nearly ready to be bottled.
Having heard all about the processes and the sweat, love and devotion that goes into the production of this wine we were all very ready to sit down and enjoy the lunch with the wine pairing.
The dining room was charming but as we were visiting during summer we were heading outside.
The dining terrace was a very chic place to lunch with gorgeous views of old olive trees, distant hills and rolling fields. There was a pleasant breeze through the Foresteria.
It was a perfect opportunity for a group shot!
The meal started with a traditional Tuscan dish of bread crumbs soak in virgin olive oil with crisp vegetables and a dairy topping (a cream cheese, I think). We were poured some delicious Il Marzocco Chardonnay Toscana IGT.
Il Marzocco 2015 shows a pale, golden colour. It has an inviting bouquet of wild flowers, golden apple and candied lemon curd with delicate, underlying hints of freshly baked bread. It has a fragrant, round and well-balanced flavour with notes of acacia honey and sweet spices. The after taste is extremely long- lingering, releasing hints of lychees and tropical flowers.
This is the first vintage of Il Marzocco to be certified organic.
The idea is you choose a Tuscan starter, main and dessert along with a choice of specially selected Avignonesi wines.
Each couple went for one of each so we got to try more wines. Clever heh?!
We paired this beetroot risotto with La Tonda Sangiovese Toscana IGT.
In La Tonda the varietal notes of cherries, plums and red fruit are accompanied by a variety of delicate spices, such as white and pink pepper and nutmeg, and refined by spring-like hints of rose petals and violets. On the palate it has a tightly woven, vibrant texture where freshness and body come together in an intriguing, almost aromatic tasting experience, which lingers on the palate with scents of leather, chocolate-covered figs, Indian spices and thyme.
Andy had the ragu with tagliatelle made from their own Verna grain. He paired this with the Grandi Annate Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG.
A Sangiovese heart, a unique terroir and the distinct Avignonesi signature are the main ingredients for the finest expression of the Avignonesi Vino Nobile, Grandi Annate. Vino Nobile Grandi Annate is the finest expression of Sangiovese from our Montepulciano vineyards. This wine is produced only in the very best years, when the climate brings optimum growing conditions to the vines, permitting the grapes to express all the complexity of the terroir, leading to a wine that is rich in character with the stamina to age for many years.
The meal was unhurried and relaxed and the wine was topped up generously. This pigeon dish was our favourite. I had the Grifi Sangiovese – Cabernet Sauvignon Toscana IGT (my favourite wine, I think)
Bright ruby red colour with aromas of ripe, red berry fruits, sweet cherries and undergrowth with underlying scents of eucalyptus and nutmeg, intertwined with subtle hints of dark chocolate. The flavour is round and full-bodied, with a tightly woven structure and an inviting, fruity core, leading to a long-lingering, balsamic finish. Grifi 2013 is a wine perfect for long ageing in the bottle.
and hubby had the 50&50 Toscana IGT (also delicious).
50&50 has a deep, ruby red colour. Aromas of blackcurrants and sour cherries are intertwined with scents of sandalwood, cloves, thyme and menthol. The flavour is rich and enveloping with lots of ripe fruit and warm notes of baking spices. Long-lingering and elegant, the finish is delicately balsamic. This is a wine suitable for long ageing in the bottle.
They encourage you to order the pairings created by the chef, but I really enjoyed this yogurt mousse and was happy to sup the dessert wine separately afterwards…
The Vin Santo di Montepulciano DOC was thick and very sweet, almost a syrup. It felt deeply indulgent.
This caramel coloured Vin Santo, vintage 2013, is characterised by intense aromas of toffee and dark chocolate, softened by acacia honey and Mediterranean herbs. Notes of freesia, candied orange peel and French pastry develop as the wine opens. On the palate, this sweet wine reveals new and surprising flavors with every sip; fig, almond, lemon, and roasted coffee bean. A perfect balance between the acidity and sweetness compliments a sensual finish.
We all had a blast celebrating Andy’s 50th Birthday at this Avignonesi vineyard. The tour was fun and informative and the wine superb. We loved sitting on the airy terrace for lunch. If you are looking for a wine tour in Tuscany we would highly recommend this one.
This is not a sponsored post, we are just sharing the love!
The Tour & Wine lover’s lunch is available from Monday to Friday, March 21st through November 18th, and Saturdays from May through October. Total length of this activity: 3 hours.