About Do Bianchi

A humanistic perspective onto the world of Italian food, wine, and culture.

Violent hailstorm batters Collio

According to a report posted online yesterday by the University of Udine, roughly 300 hectares of Collio vineyards were “devastated” by a hailstorm that battered the area around midnight on Saturday. The affected areas represent nearly “a sixth of the total surface area planted to vine in Collio.”

“‘The hailstorm, which lasted for a good 30 minutes, struck in a leopard-spot pattern [affecting] one out of every six vineyards,’ said Luigi Soini, director at the Cantina Produttori di Cormons. ‘In some cases, as in Plessiva, Zegla, and Preval, 100% of the crop was lost. In others, 80%. In the more fortunate cases, only 10-15% of the fruit was damaged… It’s been years since a calamity of this proportion has occurred in Collio.'”

Inclement weather also “struck heavily” in Dolegna del Collio and Brazzano, according to the report. The metereological event was “one of the worst hailstorms in Friuli-Venezia Giuli in recent years.”

Mafia indictment requested for Italian agriculture minister

(ANSA) – Palermo, July 13 – Palermo prosecutors on Wednesday requested that Agriculture Minister Saverio Romano be sent to trial for alleged Mafia association.

The prosecutors were forced to make the indictment request after a preliminary hearing judge rejected their petition for the case to be dropped four days ago.

In March President Giorgio Napolitano had expressed reservations about Romano’s appointment as agriculture minister when swearing him because the MP was among the suspects in a probe into politicians allegedly having dealings with Mafiosi in exchange for electoral support.

The investigation led to the former governor of Sicily, Salvatore Cuffaro, being imprisoned in January, when his final appeal against a seven-year term for helping the Mafia failed. ”I don’t intend to comment on an act the Palermo Prosecutor’s office was obliged to make after eight years of investigations and two requests for the case to be dropped,” Romano said Wednesday.

In the request, the prosecutors said Romano ”consciously and effectively contributed to the support and reinforcement of Mafia association in order to acquire electoral support by entertaining relations with numerous high-ranking members” of Cosa Nostra.

The prosecutors said Romano and Cuffaro had agreed to a request from a leading Mafia boss, Nino Mandala’, to have a man put on to a centrist party list for regional elections in 2001.

Romano joined the cabinet this year after being part of a group of lawmakers who have changed sides recently to support Premier Silvio Berlusconi’s government and help it survive after its majority in parliament was slashed by an internal split.

He left centrist Catholic party UDC in September and is part of the self-styled ”responsible” group of lawmakers.

Another preliminary judge will decide whether the case will go to trial.

Source: ANSA.

First-ever rosé DOCG raises skepticism among Italian wine pundits

When VinoWire editor Franco Ziliani posted news of Italy’s first DOCG for a rosé — the recently created Castel del Monte Bombino Nero DOCG — on his blog Vino al Vino last week, the story was met with a tide of skepticism and negative comments by Italian winemakers and observers of the Italian wine world.

The first comment in the thread, authored by winemaker Stefano Menti, was a preview of the many observations and handwringing that would follow: “Dear Franco, I believe that with this step, the credibility of our DOC and DOCG [system] will be eroded.”

Why was such a humble expression of rosé wine elevated to the highest status in the hierarchy of the Italian appellation system? asks Franco in his post. As he points out, there are many more famous and perhaps more historically significant appellations for rosé in nearby Salento, where Negroamaro is used to produce some of Apulia’s most famous wines — both red and rosé. Furthermore, Franco observes, the current appellation is, in fact, a multivarietal appellation and allows for the inclusion of:

    Bombino Nero and/or Aglianico and/or Uva di Troia from 65-100%. Other grapes allowed in the production of this wine, by themselves or blended, include non-aromatic grape varieties recommended and/or authorized by the Province of Bari, provided they are grown locally, [for] up to 35% of the blend. (translation by VinoWire)

Franco proposes three theories as to why Italy’s National Wine Commission would condone such an abomination of the Italian appellation system:

1) The local presence of wineries who wield considerable weight, like Torrevento, Tormaresca (aka Marchesi Antinori), and Rivera, whose enologist Leonardo Palumbo is the president of the enologists association of Apulia and Calabria.
2) It’s impossible to identify any thread of logic in decisions made by Italy’s National Wine Commission. Had logic been their guide, legislators would have focused on the many other more-deserving appellations.
3) The true “blame” for this DOCG is not to be placed with the ministry-appointed bureaucrats but rather with the directors and leading players in appellations more renowned for their rosé than the newly minted DOCG Castel del Monte Bombino Nero.

For the most up-to-date list of Italian DOCGs, please see Alfonso Cevola’s blog, On the Wine Trail in Italy.

Opinion: new DOCGs trivialize and politicize the world of wine

VinoWire editor Franco Ziliani comments on the news that three new DOCGs in the Veneto have been approved by Italian authorities. (Alfonso Cevola has updated his list of DOCGs here.)

This umpteenth batch of new DOCGs is the result of efforts by the previous directors of the [agriculture] ministry, both of whom are Veneti by birth and by electoral process. And the Regione Veneto is the primary beneficiary: it places Friularo di Bagnoli and Colli di Conegliano on the same level as Barolo, Barbaresco, Brunello di Montalcino, Taurasi, Franciacorta, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Carmignano, Fiano d’Avellino… Observers of the world of wine can only be dismayed by this mechanism, which erases any differences, trivializes, and confers a mark of superior quality to wines that, even in the best of cases, are known solely in the zones where they are produced.

—Franco Ziliani

Dante Scaglione to return to Bruno Giacosa

According to report posted today on his blog by VinoWire editor Franco Ziliani, legendary Langa producer Bruno Giacosa has confirmed rumors that his long-time enologist Dante Scaglione (above, left, with Bruna and Bruno Giacosa) will return to the winery and resume working with the great Nebbiolo maestro again.

More than 3 years after Scaglione’s abrupt and unexplained departure from the winery where he had worked side-by-side with Giacosa for sixteen years, the news of his return is sure to be received by observers of the Italian wine industry with jubilation.

Scaglione’s unexpected departure was the subject of intense speculation and scrutiny and many feared that the Bruno Giacosa legacy would be abandoned by his heirs.

Editorial: EU green harvest subsidies are misguided

Last month, the Regione Toscana (Tuscan Regional Authority) announced that, using EU subsidies, it will pay Chianti and Chianti Classico producers Euro 3,200 for every hectare of “green harvested” vines.

I am well aware that, according to EU legislation, “green harvesting means the total destruction or removal of grape bunches while still in their immature stage, thereby reducing the yield of the relevant area to zero.”

I am also aware that “support for green harvesting shall contribute to restoring the balance of supply and demand in the market in wine in the Community in order to prevent market crises” [the final phase of EU Common Market Organisation reforms that include voluntary grubbing-up incentives to be distributed to and applied by EU members at their discretion, subsidies intended to reduce the number of vineyards that may have never produced wines but were planted rather to reap distillation subsidies in years of reckless EU promotion of growth].

Frankly, I just can’t understand this means of regulation and “balancing” production to aid producers during the market crisis. Honestly, I find it hard to swallow.

In my view, such regulation seems more suited to industries like iron and steel or car manufacturing — not for such a wondrous thing as wine.

Perhaps I’m a stubborn old enophilic Don Quixote who views wine romantically, as an expression of the earth, a modality of rustic knowledge, and the fruit of artisan culture. It is not a simple product that can be financed and manufactured when the market is “up” and then discarded when things get difficult.

Strange things have been happening in the world of wine today.

—Franco Ziliani

Common Market Organisation reforms and how they affect the Italian DOC system

As the EU reform of viticulture, winemaking practices, appellation regulations, distillation, and grubbing-up policies enters its final stages (2011 is the third and last year of the Common Market Organisation Reform that went into effect in 2008), the editors of VinoWire invite you to consult the English-language version of the EU legislation.

In particular, the text of Regulation (EC) 479/2008 should help to clarify the new system of EU regulation of PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) and PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) wines (see Title III, Chapter III, “Designations of origin, geographical indications and traditional terms”).

In recent months, the Comitato Nazionale Vini (Italy’s National Wine Commission) has ratified the creation and modification of a number of DOCs and DOCGs. Many of these are the result of a frantic rush to apply for protected status before the EU overarching reform of appellation regulation came into effect in 2009. (The deadline for application was extended until August 2009 and you may remember VinoWire editor Franco Ziliani’s editorial “Eurobureaucrats, please block the growth of DOCs before we lose count!”)

Most recently, the Italian agriculture ministry announced the creation of a handful of new DOCs and DOCGs and it remains unclear how many new appellations and modifications will be ratified in the wake of the 2009 tsunami of applications.

Editorial: The Letter G Is No Magic Wand

On April 21, the Italy’s Agriculture Ministry announced the creation of two new DOCGs, Frascati Superiore and Cannellino di Frascati.

Is it really true that in the strange, loved and hated, controversial country that Italy has become, we tend to forget everything? That we act like nothing has happened? Perhaps we are convinced that everyone else is as forgetful as we and that memory is optional and inconsequential.

Our forgetfulness is a synonym for superficiality and a symptom of a gradual trivialization of certain things that will ultimately lose all meaning. You can find such forgetfulness in the world of wine — it’s to be expected, of course — where we tend nonchalantly to say the opposite of what was said the day before and where we take positions entirely lacking coherence and contradictory in the general disinterest of concerned parties.

Do you remember the case of the Frascati DOC? This appellation’s consortium was created in 1949 and it was one of the first appellations to receive DOC status (in 1966).

The Frascati DOC has always stood apart from the other appellations south of Rome. It’s always helped the other DOCs but allowing them to ride on its coattails. Any gains made by Frascati have been followed by gains for the other local appellations, even though the Frascati DOC is made up of 800 grape growers who span 1,400 hectares of surface area and who produce 150,000 quintals of grapes destined to become 110,000 hectolitres of wine vinified by roughly 30 winemakers and bottled by roughly 40 bottlers.

Just over a year ago, we spoke — in dramatic terms — of a perilous “production and sales crisis,” an issue that stemmed in part from the fact that the wines were bottled in northern Italy outside the production zone. When the crisis came to the attention of Italy’s agricultural minister, the Italian government applied for “emergency distillation” for Frascati [whereby producers are allowed to distill unsold wines into industrial-grade alcohol to be purchased by the EU].

It wasn’t long ago, in fact, that the regional coordinator for [wine guide] Città del Vino in Latium, Tommaso Mascherucci, called Frascati “a DOC in danger,” and he remembered the many missed opportunities in recent years “to take off.” He blamed the “destructive politics of the Frascati cooperatives.”

When faced with such a state of things, one would naturally try to resolve the problems threatening the appellation’s survival. Before taking any steps forward, the obvious move would be first to tighten every link in the chain of supply. But what happened instead?

The producers of Latium’s most famous appellation have instead expressed their belief in fairytales. Eleven years into the twenty-first century, they believe that the wave of a magic wand will magically cause all of their problems to disappear. And they believe that they have cast a powerful spell by adding the letter G to their simple DOC.

—Franco Ziliani

Agriculture ministry announces DOC and DOCG changes

Posted April 21 on the Italian Agriculture Ministry website.

Veneto: Creation of a spumante category within the Gambellara DOC.

Sicily: Producers of Etna DOC will now be allowed to include riserva on the labels of their red wines as well as their sparkling whites and rosés.

Latium: Creation of two new DOCGs, Frascati Superiore and Cannellino di Frascati; two new categories for the Frascati DOC, Superiore and Cannellino; a new Roma DOC which will include seven categories.

Campania: Five subzones in the Province of Benevento have been recognized within the Sannio DOC; creation of the Falanghina del Sannio DOC.

Tuscany: New DOCG for Montecucco Sangiovese, an appellation recognized within the current Montecucco DOC in the province of Grosseto; creation of Montecucco Vin Santo DOC within the Montecucco DOC; creation of a Maremma Toscana DOC incorporating certain wines made currently as IGT.