The world of Italian wine mourns the loss of Abruzzese pioneer winemaker Gianni Masciarelli (left, photo by Gambero Rosso), who succumbed to a stroke on Monday and died this week after being flown to Munich for emergency care. He was 53 years old and is survived by his wife Marina Cvetić, for whom his top line of wines was named, and his three children. Masciarelli began making wine at his father’s winery in 1978 and has long been credited as a visionary in the revival of winemaking in Abruzzo and the refashioning of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo as a grape that could produce world-class wines. In 1984 he launched his Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Villa Gemma, a new benchmark in quality for the appellation and in 1991, he released the first vintage of Trebbiano d’Abruzzo Marina Cvetić, named after his wife, a wine that set a new standard for “modern” expressions of the grape variety.
According to a report published today at Wine Spectator online, Frescobaldi 2003 Brunello di Montalcino has been partially cleared by the Siena prosecutor’s office.
“Local magistrates have released approximately half the production of Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi’s Castelgiocondo Brunello di Montalcino 2003 from impoundment,” writes the Spectator‘s Jo Cooke, “after laboratory tests concluded that the wine contained only Sangiovese, as required by Brunello DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) regulations.”
Frescobaldi’s 2003 Brunello was impounded this spring by local authorities who alleged that the wine contained grape varieties other than Sangiovese. Brunello di Montalcino appellation regulations require that the wine be made from 100% Sangiovese grapes grown in Montalcino.
“According to Lamberto Frescobaldi, who oversees production of all his family’s estates in Tuscany and beyond, the cleared wine consists of 469 hectoliters (equivalent to around 5,200 cases) of yet-to-be-bottled Brunello. The winery has already bottled 5,000 cases, which remain under the scrutiny of the magistrates, who have not said when Frescobaldi can expect further results.”
The 14th annual Friuli DOC food and wine festival will be held September 18-21 in Udine, Friuli. Long considered one of Italy’s top food and wine festivals, the 2008 Friuli DOC fair will feature “hillside” food, wine, culture, and artisanal products from 15 townships.
July 2008 marks the 1-year anniversary of the launch of the fair’s highly popular blog, Friuli DOC Vive, which boasts more than 8,000 page views a month.
In December 2009, Ovada producers will be able to send their wines to market labeled “Dolcetto di Ovada Superiore DOCG” or simply “Ovada DOCG,” according to a report published by FocusWine.it. Earlier this month, Italy’s Ministry of Agriculture gave the DOCG the long-awaited green light, which had been delayed by bureaucratic wrangling, according to the report. In order to expedite the new legislation, the ministry has also vowed to publish revised regulations in the Italian government’s Gazzetta Ufficiale (Official Journal of the Italian Republic) within 30 days.
Last week, in a move that astounded Italian Communist Party (PDCI) members, the party’s convention organizers banned the consumption of Lambrusco at the party’s congress in Salsomaggiore Terme, in the province of Parma — the heart of Lambrusco country. A lack of funds was reported as the reason for the absence of Lambrusco at the convention-goers’ repast. But when members purchased bottles of Lambrusco at a nearby bar, event organizers instructed the bar owner to cease and desist.
Historically, Lambrusco has been closely associated with the Italian Communist Party, which has always enjoyed strong support in Emilia-Romagna, one of Italy’s wealthiest regions where communist-party members have dominated local politics for generations. When asked about the ban, the newly appointed Secretary of the Italian Communist Party, Sardinian-born Oliviero Diliberto (above), responded bluntly telling a reporter from a local publication, “Lambrusco is disgusting.”
“When we saw Parmigiano on the tables, unaccompanied by Lambrusco,” said Donato Vena, secretary of the Reggio Emilia Communist Party federation (local chapter), “we began to worry. This is sacrilege. If they refuse to give us Lambrusco, we will buy it ourselves and we will offer some to Diliberto so that he can change his mind.”
When Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi compared himself to Brunello di Montalcino in his address to the Coldiretti national convention on Friday, editorialists and political pundits took note (Coldiretti is Italy’s powerful farmers union). As the Brunello inquiry drags on, media-savvy Berlusconi was clearly lending his support to the embattled winemakers of Montalcino and the fact that he made the remarks before the farmers union did not go unnoticed.
“I am proud of having gathered together a splendid team of young ministers,” Berlusconi told the group of commercial farmers on Friday. “But an old man’s experience was also needed. I can be compared to Brunello di Montalcino, which, as you know, gets better with age.”
In a political cartoon published on Saturday in the national daily Corriere della Sera, one of Italy’s greatest vignettistes, Emilio Giannelli, parodied the controversial Berlusconi (click image to enlarge):
In the cartoon, it is Minister of Public Administration and Innovation, Renato Brunetta, a staunch reformer and member of Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party, who offers Berlusconi a glass of wine and tells him (borrowing Berlusconi’s line), “The older I get, the better I become.” Berlusconi tastes the wine, chokes, and then spits it out, exclaiming, “But this isn’t Brunello! It’s Brunetta,” one of the “young” ministers appointed by Berlusconi.
The satire also makes reference to an episode that took place earlier this year, when Berlusconi feigned an attack of food poisoning after eating mozzarella di bufala, a much-discussed and ill-advised gesture in the light of the recent mozzarella scandal (harmful toxins were discovered in cheese produced in Campania).
According to Vinowire’s sources in Montalcino, the city’s mayor and the Confederazione italiana agricoltori (Italian Farming Federation, otherwise known as CIA), and many individual winemakers (members of the CIA) have expressed support for radical changes in the Brunello di Montalcino DOCG. Some have called for the creation of new appellations within Montalcino and Sant’Antimo and for changes that would other grape varieties besides Sangiovese to be used. At the same time, in a meeting yesterday, the Unione italiana vini (Italian Wine Union or UIV), members expressed opposition to any such changes. Modifications of the appellation, Union members said, should come from within the Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino (association of Brunello producers).
Our sources report that many producers have expressed support for the creation of a new appellation designation, reserved exclusively for Brunello made with 100% Sangiovese (possibly with a “prestigious” attributive or qualifier). A new name for Brunello made with 100% Sangiovese, proponents say, would allow producers to continue to exploit the Brunello “brand name,” even if produced using other grape varieties.
The editors of VinoWire encourage winemakers, bloggers, wine critics and writers, and lovers of Italian wine to submit their comments.
Craig Camp, Oregon winemaker and author of one of the most respected wine blogs in the U.S., recently posted the following editorial on the fallout of the Brunello controversy:
- The recent “scandal” in Brunello di Montalcino has forced the Italian government to guarantee that all Brunello wines hitting the American shore are made from Sangiovese and Sangiovese alone. Funny, I thought that’s what the DOCG did.
The hypocrisy of the TTB in such matters is truly sad. Under the guise of consumer protection, the TTB continues to make the American market a mess with reams of confusing and contradictory regulations. Their wasting time on a matter the Italians were clearing handling on their own only shows how out of touch with the world of wine they are. Anyway, anyone who has gotten a look at the true majesty of Italian bureaucracy, which may be the most complex and convoluted in the world, would realize that the piling on of an American bureaucracy was redundant at best.
Italian winemaker Gianpaolo Paglia of Poggio Argentiera (Tuscany) recently weighed in with the following observations on proposed “deregulation” of the Brunello DOCG:
- Does deregulation mean no rules? Not to me. Does deregulation mean to remove all the obstacles that make the wine industry a fenced garden where the notion of free market is often unknown? I agree with this.
Wine industry, as well as the rest of agriculture in EU and USA, is regulated in order to avoid the excess of product and not to push up quality. That is because agriculture is heavily subsidized (50 Billion Euros is the yearly budget for EU for agricolture), so that the excess is taken out of the market at taxpayer expenses. The transformation of wine in alcohol alone absorbs 400-500 Million euros per year in EU. That is not only costly, but also has been proven to be ineffective. Let the farmers decide what to grow (not possible today, especially for wine) and stop wasting money in politics that are ineffective and reduce the free market at taxpayers and consumers expenses.
Let’s invest more money in the quality of products, even implementing and enforcing more sophisticated control procedures and techniques.
That’s what I call deregulation.
This is the second part in VinoWire editor Franco Ziliani’s two-part interview with winemaker Renzo Cotarella of Marchesi Antinori. Scroll down for part 1.
What led to the investigation of Antinori?
In Montalcino, Marchesi Antinori has 62 hectares under vine, of which 31 are registered as Sangiovese for [the production of] Brunello. The rest are in Sant’Antimo, even though we still haven’t applied for this DOC. These grapes — various red varieties — are destined for our Villa Antinori Rosso IGT Toscana, as is some of the Sangiovese that comes from the Monteriggio zone.
[An error arose] because of a superficial mistake, due to our intention to maintain moderate amounts of this variety in Montalcino, even though it’s an accepted and authorized variety: 3.2 hectares in Sant’Antimo had been registered as Sangiovese but they were actually Petit Verdot. [It was] a technical error that led investigators to believe that those grapes could have ended up in the Brunello di Montalcino, even though the analysis — and I will never get tired of repeating this — has shown that there is only Sangiovese in our Brunello: Sangiovese from Montalcino.
None of us — employees and colleagues at Marchesi Antinori — has the authority to act like an idiot or to do anything less than correct whether it be in Montalcino or on any of our other estates. In 2005, when the scarcity of the vintage could have led us to [employ] the practice of “talking vats,” using grapes sourced from other Tuscan estates, in Montalcino we chose to purchase officially registered Brunello Sangiovese grapes.
Do you think that appellation regulations should be changed to allow other grape varieties other than Sangiovese?
Montalcino is one of the few places, together with certain, limited zones in the Chianti Classico area, where [winemakers] should work with 100% Sangiovese. Brunello should have a consistent, recognizable style. In Chianti Classico, Sangiovese can be blended with up to 20% of other grapes. In my opinion, this is excessive. To do this [in Montalcino] would be a mistake because 10-15% of Cabernet in a Merlot or vice versa doesn’t really change much. But when you add 15-20% of French grapes to Sangiovese, things change a lot.
[The idea of] flexible appellation regulations is a complicated one — for example, allowing up to 10% of other grapes (but which ones?) in difficult vintages like 1992 or 2002. [It would be better] if the law of the market permitted it, to decide not to make Brunello and skip the vintage when Sangiovese shows ripening or other type of problems. But, frankly, this would be unthinkable. A small margin for error [could be allowed], no more than 2-3%, in the case of errors by grape growers or accidents in the cellar.
VinoWire editor Franco Ziliani spoke recently to Marchesi Antinori’s winemaker Renzo Cotarella about the Brunello controversy. Antinori was one of the first wineries to be named in the investigation: in March 2008, the Italian national daily La Repubblica reported that Antinori’s 2003 Brunello di Montalcino Pian delle Vigne had been impounded by the Siena prosecutor. On June 26, Antinori announced that investigators had released the wine, reporting that it had been analyzed and was found not to contain grapes other than Sangiovese. The wine was made available for sale on July 1.
Of the wineries officially implicated in the investigation, Antinori is among the first to be cleared by Italian authorities.
This is the first in a two-part interview. Look for part 2 tomorrow at VinoWire.com.
What was your first reaction to the investigation?
None of us at Marchesi Antinori expected that such a situation could come about. It literally took us by surprise. We weren’t prepared for the search warrants, the inspections, and the involvement of our company and brand in an episode that was blown way out of proportion. Our first concern, beyond protecting the good name of our company, was that of protecting the land value of our vineyards. Even before the Siena prosecutor decided to impount our 2003 Brunello di Montalcino (of which we had planned to release 200,000 bottles), we ourselves decided not to release the wine for sale as a precaution. It was a tough decision for us but we wanted to undestand what was happening.
The prosecutor has now released your wine and approved it for sale, clearing Antinoris name. Why then did you declassify 80,000 bottles?
These were difficult months during which the company had to act with style, on the one hand respecting the job the magistrate was doing and on the other not making counter-productive statements. We had to wait for the chance to show that we were innocent, that we had nothing to do with the allegations, and our respect for the existing appellation regulations, and the law. [We didn't want to lose an order from a valued customer], “Emirates Airline, and we realized that this was taking a long time and didn’t know if we would be able to meet our deadlines, so we decided to declassify 80,000 bottles of Brunello Pian delle Vigne 2003 to IGT Toscana. The airline’s choice was essentially based on the quality of our product. The appellation change did not bring about any change to our agreement and we sold the IGT at the same price we had agreed upon for the Brunello.
We promptly followed the Siena prosecutor’s office instructions — using a method agreed upon in the name of common sense — and we were able to submit our 2003 Brunello for analysis. We were thus able to show that we were working correctly and that our wines were in perfect conformity with appellation regulations requiring that the wine is pure Sangiovese from Montalcino. For future vintages, which Brunello has yet to be “cleared”), if required, we will request testing and the wines will be made available for sale on schedule.
How will the 2004 Brunello di Montalcino be released?
Because of the nature of the vintage, the 2003 was bottled a year early. For 2004, we plan on bottling the wine between the end of July and the beginning of August 2008 and we will then let it age 6-8 months in bottle.
We have not yet decided whether or not we will bottle before or after we have performed the required analysis. Shortly, we will contact the Siena prosecutor’s office to coordinate every step of the process.
We have roughly 1,200 hectares under vine in Tuscany and Marchesi Antinori is entirely in favor and open to any type of analysis. We believe that this practice is the most appropriate response in our efforts to bolster the value of our land and to maintain consumer confidence and perception of our company.
What are your thoughts on the recent controversy and the future of Brunello di Montalcino?
What happened is still the source of great bitterness. We didn’t realize that it could have such a devastating effect.
It has caused considerable damage, even though Brunello is still incredibly strong. Many brands, including our own, have maintained their credibility. In just a few days, we will have the green light to ship the wine [and] most of the bottles of 2003 Pian delle Vigne have already been sold.
At any rate, I believe that the “Brunello scandal” has brought attention to the necessity for an “ethical approach” to wine, its production, its sale, and marketing. When a product can be monitored and the source of the fruit and the grape varieties can be analyzed, it invariably acts as a deterrent for those who might resort to shortcuts.
Sangiovese is a fantastic grape variety but it is also difficult and it creates a lot of problems. Montalcino is one of the few places — together with certain, well-defined areas in Chianti Classico — where you can work with 100% Sangiovese.
We have to accept the fact that over the last few years, when ripening conditions are not the best, you either have to decide not to produce Brunello or you need to make less of it.
[The press] needs to learn how to understand Montalcino and Sangiovese and to realize that great wines can be made from vineyards in Montalcino but those wines shouldn’t be considered too tannic, acidity, or as having excessive volatile acidity.
Do you think that appellation regulations should be changed to allow other grapes besides Sangiovese?
We need to accept the appellation rules and consider them as a plus and not as a limitation. These wines have a personality all their own and we shouldn’t expect them to be something other than what they are.