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