Virginie Saverys is fighting against what she calls the “viticulture of death.”
Born in Ghent, Belgium, Saverys graduated in law from the University of Paris, and moved to Tuscany in 2007. After taking the helm at Avignonesi two years later, she was, as she told me during a recent Zoom tasting of her wines, “a bit horrified” at seeing staff having to wear “hazmat suits” to farm the vineyards. Vineyards that, to her, “looked more like a lunar landscape” than a vibrant slice of Tuscan winemaking country.
Saverys’ personal focus on living an organic lifestyle kicked in, and over eight years she led a transformation in Avignonesi’s practices, achieving Biodynamic certification that, as she views it, is “putting more advantages on your side” when it comes to crafting authentic wine. As a testament to how seriously she takes this sort of thing: she shipped my samples to me packed in popcorn; not packing popcorn, but actual (inedible) popcorn. And with 175 hectares of land across nine estates… “it’s definitely not small” in terms of the effort required, “especially for a Biodynamic producer.”
No, I’ve had great and mediocre wines made conventionally, and I’ve had great and mediocre wines made Biodynamically. But all things considered, pretty much anyone and everyone in wine will tell you that to make excellent wine, you’re better off with both Mother Nature on your side, and making as few touches as possible along the way from grape to glass. With Saverys’ quietly fierce determination, lawyerly attention to detail, and passionately organic focus behind them, Avignonesi seems to have stacked the winegrowing decks in their favor…
2019 Avignonesi ‘Da-Di’ Rosso (Toscana, $22)
Made in 800L Tuscan terracotta jars, this 100% Sangiovese red is vibrant, bright, and alive with red fruits, earth, orange peel, and spices. Saverys was aiming for “lively, fresh, fruity” with this one, and hits the mark squarely in the bullseye. Once opened, a bottle of this is bound to empty quickly.
2018 Avignonesi Rosso di Montepulciano (Tuscany, $19)
Saverys recalls 2018 as “a really good vintage” for Sangiovese, and the lovely cherry, tobacco leaf, and citrus peel nose of this red makes a good case to back up her assessment. Juicy, round, and fresh, Sangio doesn’t really come a whole lot more delicious than this. For those who want herbal spiciness and plenty of POP! in their Tuscan reds.
2016 Avignonesi Vino Nobile di Montepulciano (Tuscany, $25)
This take on Sangiovese comes from older vineyards (upwards of 37 years), which Saverys credited with having “more sophisticated soils.” You’ll find stewed red plums, dark cherries, earth, cedar, wonderful spice notes, currants, cassis, and a gorgeously fresh, textured mouthfeel. And, yes, some extra sophistication, as well.
2016 Avignonesi ‘Poggetto di Sopra’ (Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, $56)
A single vineyard Sangiovese release from 1978 plantings, with only about 2,000 bottle produced per year, this is reserved, elegant, and earthy stuff. Tobacco, mineral, leather, and baked plum action gives way to cherries, juicy freshness, and dried violets in an awesomely elegant presentation. Saverys’ likened this release as “Jesus in short pants… it’s too young.” I am still not entirely sure what she meant by that, but I’ll just keep drinking this and pretend that I understood it!
2017 Avignonesi ‘Grifi’ (Toscana, $35)
A Super Tuscan blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Sangiovese, this red’s name comes from the fact that both of the cities form which the grapes are sourced sport griffons on their crests and flags. Black currant, wood spice, tobacco leaf, leather, cherries, mint… this is a fantastic marriage of its two main varietal components. Silky, structured, and full of those chewable, “dusty” Super Tuscan tannins, this is almost impossible to put down right now, but has a few years of softening and development ahead of it for the patient among you.
2017 Avignonesi Desiderio Merlot (Toscana, $50)
While this Merlot is named after a bull that lived on the estate that reportedly weighed over a ton, there’s no “bull” detectable in this authentic red, and nothing overly bullish about its elegant style. Black olive, plums, soil, cloves, iodine, minerals, wood spice… you could spend many minutes contemplating the nose. Plump and round in the mouth, the balance comes by way of ample freshness and focused grip, with a long and plum-laden finish that won’t quit.