Gianni Masciarelli, Abruzzo winemaker pioneer, is dead at 53.

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.

Frescobaldi Brunello partially cleared by authorities

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.”

Events: Friuli DOC, Udine, September 18-21

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.

Dolcetto di Ovada Superiore DOCG gets long-awaited green light

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.

Communist party secretary snubs Lambrusco

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.”

Berlusconi: like Brunello I get better with age.

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).

Debate revs up over changes in Brunello DOCG

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.