Anthocyanin analysis to assure use of Sangiovese in Brunello, Consortium pres says

Reported by VinoWire contributor Susannah Gold, author of Avvinare. Photo by Alfonso Cevola.

According to Brunello Producers and the President of the Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino, Patrizio Cencioni (above, second from right), the 2004 vintage is “exceptional” and is expected to rival the famed 1995 and 1997 vintages. At a press conference in New York Tuesday, Cencioni noted that the harvest lasted until October 20 for the first time in over 10 years. This prolonged harvest allowed the grapes to reach perfect ripeness with mature polyphenols. The vintage, which was released in January, was awarded the highest rating of 5 stars. The wines are said to be very well balanced, with great color, structure and good alcoholic content thanks to ripe polyphenols. The wines are persistent on the palate and are expected to have considerable longevity.

During the press conference, part of Vino 2009, Italian Wine Week in New York, Cencioni also spoke about the other three wines from the Montalcino area. In addition to Brunello di Montalcino DOCG, Rosso di Montalcino DOC, Moscadello di Montalcino DOC and Sant’Antimo DOC can be produced in Montalcino. Moscadello, made from the Moscato grape, is an ancient traditional wine from the area which is having a renaissance of sorts thanks to the efforts of a few key producers in Montalcino.

In terms of production capacity, Montalcino produces 7 million bottles of Brunello di Montalcino, 4.5 million bottles of Rosso di Montalcino, 600,000 bottles of Sant’Antimo and 80,000 bottles of Moscadello on a yearly basis. In response to a question by VinoWire, Cencioni said there were no plans to expand the territory.

Cencioni was quite upfront about the troubles, widely reported on VinoWire which impacted Montalcino and Brunello in 2008 regarding the alleged failure of certain producers to comply with traditional winemaking legislation for Brunello., i.e., that only Sangiovese can be used. He noted that the Consorzio, in a meeting on October 27, 2008, reaffirmed that Brunello di Montalcino can only be made from Sangiovese. Some producers had called for the inclusion of other grape varieties such as Merlot but they were outvoted. Cencioni noted that there has been considered debate about the issue but seemed to consider the matter definitively closed. Cencioni said that the Consorzio has not received any direct official information from the Italian legal authorities regarding the failure of individuals to comply with the rules for making Brunello.

He noted that the consortium is looking at new technologies which will be able to detect what grapes are in the wines based on an analysis of the anthocyanins or coloring substances. Sangiovese has very particular anthocyanins and therefore is extremely recognizable using these new techniques. Cencioni hoped that after a two to three year experimental phase, this new methodology would lead to practical applications and give the Consorzio a further tool for quality control.

Amarone production levels growing at alarming rate

From “Quantity or Quality?”, Franco Ziliani’s article on Amarone and Valpolicella in the current issue of Decanter.

Back in the mid-1980s, even the most diehard optimist could never have imagined that less than 25 years later, Amarone della Valpolicella would have emerged as one of the trendiest wines on the Italian wine scene. Or that the Valpolicella zone would have shaken itself free from its state of semi-crisis and emerged from its provincial viticultural doldrums. Production of Amarone (and Recioto) rose from 1.5 million bottles in 1997 to almost 5 million in 2003 and 5.7 million in 2004. Estimates for the 2006 vintage are in the 8 million range, and for 2007 the estimated figure is in excess of 10 million bottles. Huge numbers of grapes have been put onto drying mats: the 8.2 million kilograms dried in 1997 had risen to a whopping 25.7 million just 10 years later. Those semi-dried grapes are a very large chunk of the 70 million kilos of grapes produced overall in Valpolicella. Far too many, in the eyes of some.

Click here to read the entire article.

The February 2009 issue of Decanter includes an “Italy” supplement, featuring articles on 2004 Barolo by Tom Maresca and Campanian whites by VinoWire contributor Tom Hyland.

Gaja vs. Bloggers: “Wasting another two vintages is not acceptable.”

In a much-anticipated live blogging summit held Sunday, January 18, in the conference room at the Gaja estate in Barbaresco, winemaker (and producer of Brunello di Montalcino) Angelo Gaja met with a group of Italian wine bloggers to answer their questions about the recent and current “Brunello affair,” as it has come to be called in certain circles. Last year, at the height of the still unresolved crisis, Gaja published an open invitation to bloggers to participate.

According to head blogger Antonio Tombolini (founder of Simplicissimus Blog Farm, which also hosts VinoWire), twenty bloggers attended the event and they were served a “1999 Rinaldi Barolo.”

The editors of VinoWire have faithfully translated the following passages from the live blogging session.

On “improver” grape varieties, i.e., international grape varieties used to improve 100% Sangiovese: “It’s not up to me, being from Piedmont, to go tell them what to do in Montalcino. I have my thoughts on the subject but I am very prudent when I express them. I prefer not to reveal them. I don’t want anyone to say, “Gaja said this or that…” The winemakers of Montalcino know best and it’s their responsibility to share their thoughts.”

“Remember: until 1982, appellation regulations for Brunello allowed for up to 10% of other grape varieties — even grapes grown outside Tuscany! The 10% [allowance] was eliminated with [the creation of] the DOCG. But it wasn’t because the local winemakers wanted it. The ministry in Rome wanted it.”

“Given that the need to change the appellation regulations is acknowledged, I like to simply the rules. I am in agreement with Ezio Rivella on this (even though he and disagree about many other things).”

“If the percentage of adulteration were [shown to be] high, then we would need to consider the fact that success has led many winemakers to consider the coefficient of the wine’s drinkability.”

“Some have said, ‘make Sant’Antimo’ [instead of Brunello]. This is not a request that can be made of me because I have made an investment [in his estate in Montalcino, Restituta]. And I am ready to throw away [wine], as I did even before the scandal — two vintages, 2002 and 2003. But I made that investment so that I could produce Brunello.”

“Wasting another two vintages is not acceptable.”

“Sangiovese has its weak points. The expansion of vineyards in Montalcino (which, by the way, was good for many others besides the winemakers!) has reached 2,000 hectares in a short period of time. This has led some to plant Sangiovese in sites located ‘in’ the township of Montalcino but not evidently well-suited” for the grape variety.”

“Some probably realized that Sangiovese is a bit lean and so they decided to risk it — and I don’t think there is a justification — by ‘improving’ it outside of the appellation regulations.”

French irked by Italian growth: omphakes eisin (unripe [not sour] grapes)

Much has been written about Italian viticulture’s substantive growth in volume and international sales. See, for example, Alder Yarrow’s post American and Italian Wine: Movin’ on Up!, published late last month and a fascinating post published by Alfonso Cevola, Italian Wine 2008 — Report from Flyover Country, published yesterday and culled from data collected by one of the largest distributors of fine wine in the U.S.

On Wednesday, the French weekly L’Express published an editorial entitled, Italy makes more wine than France… but not better wine. According to author Philippe Bidalon, France produced 485 million 12-bottle cases in 2008 while Italy produced 552 million. He attributes this to the fact that his transalpine cousins enjoyed a bumper crop in 08 while climatic “capriciousness” was the reason behind a light harvest in his homeland.

“What is important for French viticulture,” he opines, “is not to produce an infinite amount of beverages that it cannot sell — as our Latin [Italian] competitors do — but rather to make the most of the richness and diversity offered by its terroirs. It is safe to say that today Italy produces more table wines of little interest and that France makes more and more quality wines.” (translation by VinoWire)

Thou doth protest too much, methinks, Philippe. Your grapes are not sour, they’re just unripe.*

Jeremy Parzen

* See the “Unripe versus sour” note in this Wikipedia entry.

Brouhaha over Italian bubbles

The controversial director of Italy’s leading state-owned television broadcaster RAI Uno, Fabrizio del Noce, raised eyebrows on December 31, 2008, when he rang in the new year with a bottle of Dom Perignon on live television. (Click here for the YouTube video.)

In an editorial entitled “Del Noce’s Toast is Hurtful to Italy,” published on January 7, 2008, Alberto Lupini, director of Italia a Tavola, has publicly called for Del Noce to “apologize to Italians.”

“It seemed unreal,” wrote Lupini, “that once again [Del Noce] has shown his total thoughtlessness by giving a helping hand to our French cousins by popping open a bottle of Dom Perignon on New Year’s Eve on live television…” In Italy, sales of Champagne have dropped, he noted however, as the export of Italian sparkling wine has “surpassed consumption at home” for the first time.

In an act of largess, Maurizio Zanella — owner of Ca’ del Bosco (Lombardy), one of Italy’s top producers of Champagne-method wines — published an editorial (posted at Vino al Vino) this week asking Italian food and wine writers and pundits to tone down their “triumphalist” attitudes. Sales figures from 2008 have yet to be reported, he observed, adding that “irresponsibility” and “disinformation” lie behind “such a superficial claim” that Italy is overtaking France in terms of sparkling wine sales.

Italian sparkling wine, he wrote, “will enjoy great opportunity for growth,” thanks in part to its diversity. “But no one can seriously think that we can shake Champagne” from its position as the leading producer of sparkling wine.

“I hope that news organizations will report correct information,” he concluded, “that the director of the leading channel and most important news corporation will abstain from toasting with the Abbot’s wine on New Year’s Eve, and that he will choose a great Italian bottle.”

Angelo Gaja on the Brunello affair: “nothing can be the same.”

The following essay was published in Italian Weds., January 7, 2009, at I numeri del vino. It has been translated here by the editors of VinoWire.

What does the Brunello affair teach us?

By Angelo Gaja

Unlike France, Italy specifies the percentages of each authorized grape variety that can be employed in the production of every DOC and DOCG. There is an entire series of provisions that have proven to be ineffective in preventing violation of these laws and in combating commercial fraud: analysis of the wine during cask aging, sensory evaluation, monitoring of a plethora of registries, the application of government seals and authenticity labeling, etc.

In the current investigation in Montalcino, the Siena prosecutor has recognized as valid the analysis method employed by Donato Lanati and the Enosis Laboratory: using this method, Lanati is able to ascertain the presence of grapes other than 100% Sangiovese in wines that have been impounded. Never before has this type of analysis been used by monitoring agencies to ascertain the varietal conformity of a wine

The same analysis method can also be used to ascertain whether or not percentages have been illegally stretched in DOC and DOCG wines in which 15% of other grape varieties are permitted.

The application of this analysis method on a large scale would create no small number of changes: before bottlers complete their bulk purchase of a wine, they would have the opportunity to verify its conformity to appellation regulations; the current farraginous monitoring system for DOC and DOCG wines would be simplified and improved; it would finally become possible to monitor the wines “downstream,” in other words, sample bottles could be taken directly from the market (and no one would have to wonder endlessly how in the world bottles of Chianti, Piedmont Barbera, and Nero d’Avola are sold to the public at obscenely low prices).

But another side to this story is a cause for worry: random monitoring could lead to the explosion of contention between monitoring agencies and producers; when oversight authority is transferred to Brussels [i.e., to the EU], pressure could grow to change appellation regulations believed to be too rigid; disinterest in DOC and DOCG wines could grow as estate-branded wines became more popular; the same analysis method adopted in Italy could be used by foreign laboratories to verify conformity to Italian appellation law in wines imported to their countries.

One thing is certain: with the precedent set by the Siena prosecutor, nothing can be the same for Italian DOC and DOCG wines.

Producers need to be aware of this and they need to embrace the necessary leap in quality (and price). They will need to find strength and unity in their intentions and they will need to help to find ways to make the necessary changes.

Benvenuto Brunello 2009, San Francisco and New York, registration info

Alessandro Bindocci, author of Montalcino Report, has posted registration info for the upcoming Benvenuto Brunello tastings in San Francisco and New York.

The San Francisco tasting on Thursday, January 22, will take place at Terra Gallery, 511 Harrison Street, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The New York tasting on Wednesday, January 28, will take place during the Italian Trade Commission’s Vino 2009 “Italian Wine Week” conference at the Hilton New York Hotel, 1335 Avenue of the Americas, from 2 p.m. to 9 p.m.

At both walk around tastings, more than 45 wine producers from Montalcino will be on-hand to pour their wines, which will also include current vintages of Rosso di Montalcino, Sant’Antimo and Moscadello and a limited number riservas from the 2003 vintage.

The complimentary walk-around tastings are open exclusively to wine and food industry professionals with proper business identification.

For information contact 1-888-398-5440.

For reservations in San Francisco, click here.

For information and registration for Vino 2009, click here.