Though well known for their Vino Nobile of Montepulciano, Avignonesi's Vin Santo (from Tuscan white grapes such as trebbiano toscano and malvasia bianca toscana) and Vin Santo Occhio di Pernice (made from prugnolo gentile, the local sangiovese) are not just two of Italy's best wines, but in the top vintages among the greatest in the world. At another level entirely from any other Vin Santo you may have tried, these are absolutely stellar, sticky-sweet enological tours de force. Today, both of these wines spend ten years in small barrels prior to being bottled.
Also recommended: 2006 Rosso di Montepulciano (86).
Other wines tasted: 2003 Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva Grandi Annate. (Dalla Terra, Napa, CA)
($14; a blend of merlot, cabernet sauvignon and sangiovese blend) Medium ruby. Pretty black cherry nose with a delicate herbaceous touch. The fruit offers moderate density but the wine is still appealingly sweet, with a sound acid spine and a clean, lively finish that shows good definition. A great everyday wine.
($25) Medium-deep red. Explosively fruity aromas of rich red cherry and strawberry complicated by delicate herbaceous nuances. Ripe but high-acid fruit gives this a very elegant mouth feel. The velvety finish features very suave tannins.
($100; a sangiovese/merlot blend) Deep ruby-black. Vanillin and caramel oak on the nose does not overshadow the deep aromas of black cherry, blackberry and enticing mocha. Shows more of the vanillin oak character on the palate, but also plenty of ripe black fruit to buffer the soft, noble tannins. Harmonious acids frame the moderately long and very smooth finish, which shows pleasant lingering notes of espresso and milk chocolate. This can only get better with aging.
($150; a blend of trebbiano and malvasia toscana) Deep bronze. Complex, compellingly deep nose highlights hazelnut, almond, toffee, white chocolate and herb aromas that are slightly masked by an oaky veneer. On the palate, dried fruit and fig flavors are framed by penetrating acidity but appear somewhat clumsy at present, and the creamy, almost unctuous texture of this extremely sweet wine is toughened by overbearing tannins that show a slight dryness on the long finish.
($210; entirely sangiovese, or prugnolo gentile) Shiny medium reddish-bronze. Extremely rich and complex nose offers strawberry, almond, milk chocolate and redcurrant jam aromas. The creamy palate is redolent of strawberry and redcurrant jam, honey, fig and date flavors that simply will not flag on the aftertaste. The wine's acidity is so high the enamel on your teeth starts to ache, but it gives great depth to the flavors.
($150) Deep golden amber. Syrupy-sweet aromas of caramel, toffee, balsamic vinegar, peach, apricot and dried fruits boast unbelievable precision and great freshness due to somewhat elevated volatile acidity. Absolutely luxurious in mouth feel, with flavors of red cherry, fig, date and balsamic vinegar; an incredibly sweet yet lithe texture; and a finish that never stops. One of the best wines made in Italy in the last 20 years, and much better than the vaunted '92.
($210) Medium red-bronze color. Ripe, penetrating fruit aromas of redcurrant, raspberry and plum are lifted by a fresh herbal note. Very sweet and lush, with ripe red fruit, vanilla and balsamic vinegar flavors that are less well delineated than in other examples of this wine. The extremely long finish wraps your palate in a bright but luscious and decadently sweet embrace.