Brunello producers not suspected of using Apulian wine says Siena prosecutor

Montalcino producers are not suspected of using Apulian wine in the production of Brunello, said the Siena prosecutor’s office on Friday.

As the Brunellopoli or Brunellogate scandal continues to unfold, Siena prosecutor Nino Calabrese issued the following statement Friday to WineNews.it.

“I am abstemious,” said Calabrese. “I do not read newspapers. I prefer literature and I do not issue statements to the press. In this case, however, it is necessary to give some clarity. This office is verifying whether or not grape-growers have respected appellation regulations for Brunello di Montalcino DOCG. The investigation is still pending. There is no truth, however, to what has been reported by certain members of the media regarding the use of wines from the region of Apulia in the production of Brunello.”

According the the website, the statement was issued exclusively to WineNews.it.

Fiorano Rosso 91, 89, 86

Italian wine connoisseur Charles Scicolone and his wife and Italian food authority Michele Scicolone recently invited me and a few others to their home for a truly remarkable tasting of a wine I had heard and read so much about but had never had the opportunity to enjoy: Fiorano Rosso, a wine produced by the legendary, however enigmatic, Prince Alberico Boncompagni Ludovisi (the flight, above, included, from left, Torre Ercolana 1990 and Fiorano Rosso, 91, 89, and 86). According to publisher and food and wine writer Luigi Veronelli, the prince was the first to employ “biological” farming practices in Italy (see the excerpt from the Veronelli guide to Italian wines below). While Fiorano whites have recently resurfaced in the U.S., the reds are seemingly impossible to find. After tasting them the other night, I can see why collectors bought them all up when the prince stopped releasing them commercially and why they are reluctant to open these magnificent expressions of Cabernet and Merlot, grown and vinified outside Rome.

The wines were elegant yet earthy, with balanced fruit and beautifully mellowed tannins. One of the guests — who happened to be one of the world’s top wine writers — noted that they reminded him of first growth Pauillac.

According to the legend, after the prince’s daughter married Piero Antinori (one of the men behind Italy’s modernist winemaking movement), the prince purportedly destroyed his vineyards so that his son-in-law would never abuse the legacy of his coveted wines. In a 2001 interview, Veronelli asked the prince why he had ripped out the vines. I’ve translated the prince’s answers and his artful explanation of his relationship with his son-in-law below (I’m not sure the year of publication: Charles gave me a photocopy of a photocopy he had been given from Veronelli’s guide to Italian wines).

    Since 1934, when I was sixteen years old, the use of industrially produced chemicals in land management has never seemed wise to me.

    The Fiorano estate began to produce wine around 1930 using local grape varieties. In 1946, when I received the property from my father, I judged the wine to be inferior and consulted with Dr. Giuseppe Palieri who was producing wine on the Maccarese estate about 20 kilometers southwest of Rome. Dr. Palieri suggested that I graft Cabernet and Merlot to my vines for the reds, 50% of the one and the other, and Malvasia di Candia and Semillon for the whites. I continued to rely on Dr. Palieri for the rest of his life. Dr. Tancredi Biondi Santi subsequently became my enologist and continued to work with me until his passing.

    I pulled out almost all of my vines because of advanced age and poor health and the advanced age of the vines. But I still produce a small amount of wine from Cabernet and Merlot grapes, blended in equal amounts.

    My three granddaughters [Albiera, Allegra, and Alessia] have inherited their interest in wine not from me but from their father Piero [Antinori], an eminent producer of fine wine.

Jeremy Parzen

What do they mean by Superiore?

The question has been bothering me for some time now: what on earth do winemakers in Asti really mean when they call their wines superiore or superior? The official definition is wine “made from grapes with a natural minimum alcohol volume of 12% and released for consumption with a minimum alcohol of 12.5% after a mandatory aging period of no less then one year, beginning on January 1 of the year following harvest, including at least 6 months in oak or chestnut casks.”

But judging from the overwhelming majority of roughly twenty bottles of 2005 Barbera d’Asti I tasted recently with the Decanter editorial staff in the futuristic Blue Fin Building in London, it would seem that there is some confusion among Piedmontese producers.

On the flight back to Italy, it occurred to me that superiore is no longer a synonym for higher quality nor does it mean wines with greater complexity or wines with greater devotion to the grape variety and terroir. Alas, superiore is now a synonym for concentration, super-extraction (especially when it comes to green tannins), and a quest for improbable power and massive fruit.

By “de-varietalizing” their wines, these producers turn their wines into Merlot and Super Tuscan style wines (judging from the color alone), concentrated, impenetrable, sad wines with eggplant notes. The fruit is concentrated to the point of jamminess and overripeness and the acidity – the backbone of any truly superior wine and Barbera in particular – has been neutralized. The wines I tasted were flabby and lacked élan, distinction, and appeal. They were boring and predictable and I was hard-pressed to think of a food pairing. In fact, although they might be good as stand-alone wines, they were entirely un-food-friendly – the opposite of what good juicy, round, irresistible Barbera should be.

Italian wine should be itself and it should not be afraid to reveal its identity. Despite the superiore on their labels, to my great disappointment, the wines I tasted that day were a caricature of Barbera, meaningless jokes told on a windy and cloudy day in London.

Franco Ziliani

Antinori, Argiano, and Frescobaldi named in “Brunellopoli” Brunello Scandal

According to a report published today by the Florentine edition of Italy’s daily newspaper La Repubblica, winemakers Antinori, Argiano, and Frescobaldi have been implicated in Siena prosecutors’ investigation of fraudulent winemaking. The scandal has been dubbed Brunellopoli by the Italian press and blogosphere (a reference to the notorious Tangentopoli or bribesville political scandal of the 1990s). At least four other producers are to be named according to the report.

The Sienese edition of the daily La Nazione also reports today that investigators have informed at least 12 persons that they are currently under investigation, although officials have yet to release their names. Investigators have identified 14 Montalcino vineyards, according to the account, where growers have cultivated varieties other than the required Sangiovese Grosso grape.

“There is no basis for such a claim,” said Tiziana Frescobaldi to La Repubblica journalist Maurizio Bologni. “And we have no doubt that we will be able to clear this all up.”

“We will not release a drop of 2003 Brunello,” said Piero Antinori, “even though we could. Before we do, we want this affair to be cleared up and we trust it will be, fairly and promptly as far as we are concerned.”

The report by La Repubblica credits Italian journalist and VinoWire editor Franco Ziliani with breaking the story in Italy.

Five Brunello producers implicated in fraudulent wine scandal reports Italian daily La Repubblica.

According to a report published today by the Italian daily La Repubblica, five Montalcino wineries are being investigated for adding “Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, [and/or] Petit Verdot” to their Brunello (appellation regulations require that Brunello be made from 100% Sangiovese grapes). The article erroneously attributes the initial reporting of the investigation to wine writer James Sucking’s blog. News of the investigation was first published by VinoWire editor Franco Ziliani on Friday, March 21, 2008 (read post in Italian here). Suckling did publish a post later in the day where he refers to “rumors” of irregularities.

The following is a translation of the report published today by La Repubblica (translation by VinoWire):

    The case: “doctored Brunello,” seizures at five wineries… Brunello cut with other grapes, regulations for Italy’s most famous wine broken by combining other grape varieties with Sangiovese in the bottle. Prosecutors in Siena investigate top Montalcino producers for fraud. Treasury and Labor Departments have already seized vineyards, cellars, and bottles.

    The hypothesis is that those producers used between 10 – 20% of grapes other than Sangiovese in their Brunello. According to appellation regulations, the wine must be made from 100% Brunello grapes. They are suspected of using different grapes – Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot – and sacrificing hectares historically used for the cultivation of Brunello.

    Investigators believe that the operation began in 2003 (this vintage was released for sale in 2007). Three or four persons from each winery have been investigated. The intention was perhaps that of producing a softer wine, more appealing to certain palates, like American palates. The first to report the investigation was a blog published by the noted American magazine Wine Spectator. The blog reported that the wine used to doctor the Brunello arrived from the south. But this has been ruled out by investigators. [the blog post in question, by James Suckling, refers to “rumors” that southern Italian wine has been blended with Brunello; but he clearly states that he believes such claims to be unlikely – editor’s note]

    — Michele Bocci

Controversy in Montalcino Continues: Consortium issues statement denying “rumors” through unaffiliated website

The website WineNews.it published the following statement yesterday, attributed to the website of the Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino (translation by VinoWire). The editors of VinoWire have not been able to find the statement on the Consortium’s website. The editorial offices of WineNews.it are located in Montalcino and its contributors frequently report coverage of Consortium events and press releases.

    In reference to recent website postings on alleged violations of regulations for the production of Brunello di Montalcino, the Oversight Consortium issues the following statements:

    1) In regard to “rumors” that Montalcino producers have used southern Italian wines in their 2003 Brunello: we find it hard to believe that such a grave accusation is true and the Consortium has found no evidence whatsoever to support these claims.

    2) In regard to the purity of Brunello vineyards, in 2007, the Consortium completed inspections of more than 1,667 hectares of registered vines [according to the statement, there are 2,000 registered hectares in the appellation – editor’s note]. These inspections, which began in 2004, have revealed only 17 hectares in non-compliance, 1% of the vineyards inspected. Therefore, we can confirm that at the end of 2007, more than 99% of vineyards registered in the Brunello di Montalcino appellation were in absolute compliance with production regulations.

    The declared mandate of the administration of the Consorzio del Brunello di Montalcino is the oversight of the wines of the four appellations of Montalcino. The Consortium has always carried out this task using monitoring tools required by law as well as more rigorous tools prescribed by the Consortium’s internal norms.

    Source: Consorzio del [sic] Brunello di Montalcino [the consortium’s official title is Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino – editor’s note].

Brunello Consortium Director Confirms “Irregularities”

In the wake of widespread rumors that Italy’s Treasury Department is poised to indict scores of Brunello producers on charges of fraud, VinoWire editor Franco Ziliani spoke with director of the Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino, Stefano Campatelli, who has confirmed that “irregularities” have been found in wines labeled as Brunello produced by at least twenty producers in Montalcino.

According to outside sources who have requested anonymity because they were not permitted to speak publicly about the investigation, that number could be as high as 80 or 90.

Campatelli did not deny or confirm rumors, first reported by Franco Ziliani on Friday, March 21, 2008, that scores of producers are about to be indicted on fraud charges by Italy’s Treasury Department after an investigation revealing the presence of Apulian-grown grapes in wines labeled as Brunello di Montalcino (the Brunello di Montalcino appellation requires that wines labeled as Brunello are made with 100% Sangiovese Grosso grapes grown in Montalcino).

According to a March 6, 2008 report by the Corriere Fiorentino, fourteen persons have already been charged with labeling wines made with Apulian grapes as Tuscan, including Lamberto Frescobaldi, Director of Production of the Frescobaldi estate.

VinoWire reported the Frescobaldi indictments on March 10, 2008.