Franciacorta tasting notes by Tom Stevenson, Margaret Rand, and Franco Ziliani

Tom Stevenson believes that Italy’s grandest sparkling wines are getting better and better,” write the editors of Fine Wine, “a conviction strengthened by a recent tasting shared with Margaret Rand and Franco Ziliani.”

The editors of the magazine were kind enough to share a PDF of this article, which includes tasting notes from their remarkable tasting. Click here to view.

Siena prosecutors impound more Brunello as Siena Farmers Union members oppose changes in appellation

More Brunello seized by prosecutors

According to an article published today in the Siena edition of La Nazione, the Siena prosecutor’s office has seized more wine from an unspecified number of producers of Brunello di Montalcino. The authors of the article also report that nearly all test results of previously impounded wine have been delivered to the investigator’s office, with the final results expected by early next week. Lawyers for wineries implicated in the investigation have already begun to question the validity of the results. (Impounded wines have been tasted for the presence of grapes other than Sangiovese. Appellation regulations require that Brunello di Montalcino be made from 100% Sangiovese grapes.)

Siena Farmers Union members unanimously reject proposed changes in Brunello appellation

VinoWire’s source reports that members of the Siena Farmers Union “indignantly and unanimously” rejected proposed changes in Brunello appellation laws in a meeting of the organization on Friday, September 19. While some producers entertained the possibility of a “3-5% tolerance” of grapes other than Sangiovese, at least one producer noted that hybrid clones — Sangiovese grafted historically with other grape varieties — have created problems for certain producers. Such clones, the producer noted, are genetically identical to Sangiovese but may not meet appellation requirements.

Siena producers discuss changes in appellation regulations

According to a report published today by wine writer Roberto Giuliani, an unspecified number of Montalcino producers will meet tomorrow to discuss five proposed changes in Montalcino appellation regulations. While details remain unclear, VinoWire editor Franco Ziliani was able to confirm that the meeting has been organized by the Siena Farmers Union. Five proposed amendments, writes Giuliani, are to be discussed:

    Proposal 1: the allowance of up to 5% of grapes other than Sangiovese in Rosso and Brunello di Montalcino and the use of concentrated must and irrigation.

    Proposal 2: lower yields and an increase in the amount of wine that does not have to be aged in wood.

    Proposal 3: the allowance of up to 15% of red grapes (varieties currently authorized for cultivation in Tuscany) in Rosso di Montalcino.

    Proposal 4: the creation of an overarching appellation, “Montalcino,” that would encompass the current Rosso, Moscadello, and Sant’Antimo designations and would allow for the use of indigenous and international grape varieties.

    Proposal 5: the creation of a new designation, “Classico,” that would denote Rosso and Brunello di Montalcino made with 100% Sangiovese grapes.

Stefano Bonilli abruptly fired by Gambero Rosso

The world of Italian food and wine writing and the Italian food and wine blogosphere were shaken late last week when respected and beloved food and wine writer Stefano Bonilli, director of Gambero Rosso — Italy’s leading food and wine imprint — was abruptly and unexpectedly “fired” by Gambero Rosso company. News of the layoff was announced on and then later deleted from Bonilli’s Gambero Rosso-hosted blog, Papero Giallo, and has been reposted on the new independent version of his blog.

In a message he posted last week, Bonilli wrote: “I have been fired by Gambero Rosso. I no longer owned stock in the company and now I am being expelled for just cause. And so the world goes.”

According to a press release issued this week by Gambero Rosso, Bonilli was let go after a corporate shift took place at the highest level of the publishing house. Gambero Rosso Editore also announced that Daniele Cernilli, director of publishing and media, will take Bonilli’s place.

Many Italian food and wine pundits and bloggers have already noted that Cernilli’s business relationship with his wife Marina Thompson, owner of Italy’s top wine-centric public relations firm, Thompson Marketing already represented a substantial conflict of interest. With the announcement of his new position within the publisher, new calls for him to address this issue have surfaced in the Italian blogosphere. Thompson Marketing runs the Gambero Rosso’s “Road Show,” a commercial itinerant tasting that visits major U.S. markets.

Opinion: Vino al Vino’s “Brunello 100% Sangiovese” list

To be added to Vino al Vino’s “Brunello 100% Sangiovese” list, please send an email to Franco by clicking here. The list will be updated here at VinoWire every time it is updated at Vino al Vino.

I had promised Carlo Merolli that I would publish this: it was his idea to create this “Brunello 100% Sangiovese” list and I am honoring that promise today.

I propose the following to all producers of Brunello, even those who do not particularly like me and those who — how can I say? — might call me a pain in the… I propose something very simple, a sort of public declaration, a “coming out,” as the Americans like to say.

I propose that they include their first names, last names, the names of their wineries, and — if they so choose — their average annual production of Brunello in a list, a “non-binding document that has no legal value, nor will it cast a bad light on those who are not there or who decide not to participate. It will serve only to communicate and to guide the readers of this blog and any consumer who wishes to be informed. It will include all the producers of Brunello di Montalcino who are willing to declare publicly: “My Brunello di Montalcino is produced with 100% Sangiovese grapes from Montalcino!”

That’s all. And I would like to underline that this is no “black list” nor would it ever be. It is simply a sort of directory open to all good-willed producers and to all those who want to make — through the simples of gestures — a free public declaration that they produce and wish to continue to produce Brunello di Montalcino exclusively with Sangiovese grapes listed in the Brunello registry.

This is a gesture of good will made in the defense of Brunello, of Montalcino, and of the correct perception of this precious wine, a wine for which Tuscany and all of Italy should be proud.

I can already hear the objections of the list’s carping critics: what purpose, they will ask, does it have to ask for a declaration like this when all the wineries who belong to the Consortium of Brunello producers could be obligated to be included?

The difference is quite substantial, actually. This is a public declaration, a public stand that the individual wineries will take, a sort of self-certification intended for consumers, wine lovers, and clients. It is a strong signal for every individual producer. I sincerely hope that many will respond (given that the tacit agreement to be silent passes and that there is no encouragement “from on high” to ignore this list).

Come on, friends and producers, please respond! I’m here and we are here waiting to hear from you, as are all the readers of the blog across the world. We are waiting to hear your public declaration of love for Sangiovese grown in Montalcino and your commitment never to turn your backs on Montalcino, its relevance, and the fact that its Brunello has no need of a “little helper.”

The following have added their names to the list, in chronological order:

first and last name

Giuseppe Gorelli
Guido Folonari
Francesca and Margherita Padovani

winery name and average annual production

Tenuta Le Potazzine di Giuseppe Gorelli 18,000-20,000 bottles
Tenuta San Giorgio Ugolforte
Campi di Fonterenza 4,000 bottles Brunello and 4,000 bottles Rosso di Montalcino

Biondi-Santi proposes change in Rosso di Montalcino DOC, allowing other grape varieties

In an interview published Friday, September 5 in the Italian national daily La Nazione, Franco Biondi-Santi (left) — the “father” of Brunello di Montalcino — has proposed a change in the Rosso di Montalcino DOC, making it “no longer a 100% Sangiovese but a mix with other varieties cultivated in Montalcino.” The proposed change would potentially allow for the addition of just a “few varieties” besides Sangiovese, “in percentages to be studied and established with clarity,” grapes that “would express the characteristics of the terroir.” The addition of other grape varieties, said Biondi-Santi, “would help those wineries whose growing sites are not particularly suited for Sangiovese.” It would also help those wineries “to find favor with the palate of a part of the global market.”

“This is a possibility that we can exploit,” said Biondi-Santi, “not a situation that we must be forced to endure. Rosso di Montalcino should not be viewed as a ‘little brother’ but rather as a ‘different twin’ of Brunello.”

Banfi denies journalist’s report

The Mariani family, owner of Banfi, issued the following statement yesterday in reponse to a report published by journalist Cecilia Marzotti in La Nazione on Wednesday, September 3.

    The September 3, 2008 report from an Italian journalist is an undocumented accusation that any Brunello wine might contain grapes other than Sangiovese.

    The Siena prosecutor’s office has not yet divulged to us the results of this series of chemical analysis tests, initiated by the prosecutor’s consultants over three months ago, May 26th, and long anticipated in its release. We are waiting to receive the final and official documentation as soon as possible in order to analyze and evaluate the results in comparison with the the prosecutor’s threshold for proof. According to our data, the majority of the production analyzed is within the established parameter even if that threshold has not been either firmly established or universally accepted.

    The methods and results of chemical analysis to show the varietal content of an aged wine such as Brunello are subject to intense professional debate even within the team of consultants gathered by the prosecutor of Siena, and their reliability questioned as well by the same world organization that set out the procedures for the testing.

    Official parameters for determining if a wine is made from 100% Sangiovese have not been set nor has a databank of results been established, in part because there are many factors that can influence what was once considered the traditional profile of Brunello, including fermentation methods, soil types, barrique aging, and clonal selection of Sangiovese, for which Castello Banfi is a pioneer. In consideration of these factors, Banfi and other producers have asked the judiciary panel to appoint an independent expert to carry out all the necessary technical investigations, independent of the as yet undisclosed conclusions of the consultant nominated by the prosecutor.

    The drawn out nature of this process has negatively impacted the commerce of family businesses both in America and Italy. Misleading statements by established news sources, the possibility of leaks and indiscretions, and the expression of clearly biased opinions from supposedly neutral sources only exacerbates an already difficult situation. Yet we remain hopeful for due process and truth to clarify the situation and bring this case to its rightful conclusion.

    -The Mariani Family, 4 September 2008