Losing Our Heritage

Why screw with success?


I was just reading the great wine blog Do Bianchi,where the latest chapter of the Brunello saga is playing out and I just had to share this with you all.

As some of you might know, the producer's association of Brunello di Montalcino narrowly prevented a vote earlier this year that would have allowed producers to use grapes other than Sangiovese in the production of their Rosso di Montalcino wines. This comes in the wake of the scandal over the past years that showed that some producers were already adding international varieties to their wines, and those wines were frequently being lauded for their qualities by critics and pundits more used to assessing Napa Valley Cabernet than Sangiovese.

Visit Do Bianchi to read more about this evolving story.

There are, of course, two sides to every argument and in this case the lines are clearly drawn. One side wishes that it be free to "improve" their wines by liberalizing the rule. The other side believes that they have something unique and special that would be lost with these sorts of rule changes. The truth is, there is no doubt that so-called "improved" wines have a broader critical appeal and points translate into easy sales and money. In the face of increasing sales, many producers would be tempted to follow suit and change their blends as well, but to what end? Does Brunello want to remain an iconic Italian wine or is market penetration the metric by which success is to be measured?

Yes, it's easy for me to Sunday quarterback this one since I don't have any Brunello to sell, but I have to say I come down firmly on the side of those who wish to preserve what is a unique and beautiful wine. And besides, I prefer my Brunello to be all about Sangiovese anyway! Thanks to Jeremy Parzen and his excellent blog Do Bianchi for translating and publishing the moving appeal by Brunello producer, Stefano Cinelli Colombini of Fattoria dei Barbi. It's definitely worth a read and I love the line "it takes more than slapping a Ferrari label on a (Fiat) Panda to sell it for Euro 100,000!

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  • Snooth User: rosserino
    342017 0

    I am in total agreement with you on keeping the "purity" of Brunello. Having just come back from Montalcino, I enjoyed my favorite wine as much as I could. We visited Poggio Antico, a lovely winery, and I look forward to opening my 2004 Brunello in the future.

    Aug 05, 2011 at 12:09 PM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 238,748

    Glad to hear I'm not alone. For those producers who wish to explore their option there already exists an IGT label for them to do that, Sant'Atimo.

    Brunolle and Rosso di Montalcino mean something to those of use who love the wines, let's hope it stays that way.

    Be patient with that 2004!

    Aug 05, 2011 at 12:22 PM

  • Gregory, thanks for the kind words and helping to set the record straight on this often frustrating issue. Looking forward to tasting with you again soon... if not in Santorini then in Montalcino... :) thanks!

    Aug 05, 2011 at 1:39 PM

  • Snooth User: Mark Angelillo
    Founding Member Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    2 5,324

    Was planning on making a trip to Montalcino in February. Would be interesting to chat with some producers about this. Thanks for the insight, GDP.

    Aug 05, 2011 at 4:13 PM

  • Snooth User: Seabrooker
    167088 56

    We were in Montalcino (and Chianti) in July and met a retailer who explained the controversies raging over Chianti, Montalcino and other local DOC's and DOCG's. Briefly, the "Supertuscan" producers want to be able to use the "Chianti", "Montalcino" etc labels for wines of whatever quality (and we tasted some pretty mediocre Supertuscans), while the "traditional" producers, who fought hard to get Chianti etc into DOC and DOGC AOC's, want to preserve the standard of wines made with Sangiovese. Having tasted widely, I'm with the traditionalists.

    Aug 05, 2011 at 6:06 PM

  • Snooth User: Laurapal
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    193530 98

    For the sake of pedantry (sorry everybody) the Brunellopoli scandal precipitated Montalcino producers to an open vote in October 2008. 96% of producers voted for 100% Sangiovese for Brunello DOCG so this is not the issue at present. Since the scandal, vineyard and cellar practices have become tighter and cleaner than ever (see new reduced yields for 2011 or the benchmark 2006 and the return of elegant classic Sangiovese). I can report From The Ground that the desire to similarly protect the Rosso di Montalcino DOC appellation is more than widespread amongst producers. At present only the Rosso DOC is under scrutiny and there is incredible and documented resistance from the majority of producers to this ridiculous and counterproductive proposal. And yes, Do Bianchi is a superb source of information, insight and detail. Mark, if you are in Montalcino, please come and visit!

    Aug 05, 2011 at 6:27 PM

  • Amen to the iconic standard. If I want to drink a good blend of red grapes, I will buy Bordeaux. I love Brunello only slightly less than a great Amarone.

    It's hard enough on my budget to come to grips with good wine without taking away some of the consistency that makes my understanding of it easier.


    I just bought a 2005 Velona Brunello yesterday. Hope it turns out.

    Aug 06, 2011 at 12:05 PM

  • This argument is parallel to that over Barolo, but there it is the introduction of French oak that is the threat to its character. No regulation needed changing since the DOCG only stipulated ageing in oak (or chestnut) barrels. Again it was the response of the USA market that drove it. "Lauded for their qualities" you say - but only the quality of uniformity and familiarity, as with oaky Barolo that tastes and smells like oaky Californian Cab-Sauv. Accepting the absurd idea that you can tell people how good a wine is by a single number is much of the trouble. Who wants unifomity? Look at barol.org.uk .

    Aug 07, 2011 at 9:38 PM

  • Snooth User: jpdemers
    118721 21

    I'm a great fan of the sangiovese grape, including the Brunello clone, but I have to agree that the "super Tuscan" blends represent an improvement. The desire of some producers to blend a Montalcino sangiovese, while retaining the price premium bestowed by the Brunello designation, is understandable, but I think the arguments in favor of retaining the traditional definition are entirely convincing.
    Re-defining Rosso di Montalcino, on the other hand, should be less of a problem, and would give producers more options to improve an underperforming Brunello before releasing it as a Rosso. (While the Sant'Antimo designation is available for such blends, it has unfortunately been defined so broadly that it carries little meaning.) Indicating the quality of a wine by a "single number" is no more absurd than indicating it by a single name, and the true measure of a Rosso can only be had by tasting it ... the purists among us can always read the label, and limit themselves to pure sangiovese if they so desire.

    Aug 13, 2011 at 11:48 PM

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