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.