VinoWire editor and creator Franco Ziliani recently made an appeal to Vino Nobile di Montepulciano producers, asking them “to say no to the Merlotization” of their wines. He invited them to contact him and share their thoughts as to why they were considering an increase in the percentage of international grape varieties allowed in their wine. Leading Italian winemaker Renzo Cotarella, who produces a Vino Nobile for the Marchesi Antinori wine group, reached Franco by telephone. Here’s what he had to say…
Slowly, something is beginning to emerge from the inexplicable and absurd wall of silence that met my appeal to winemakers in Montepulciano to explain the reasons behind the recent request for a change in appellation regulations. Producers of this marvelous wine have asked for an increase in the percentage (from 20% to 30%) of “alloctonous grape varieties.” If a proposed change in regulations are approved, greater amounts of international grape varieties (read Cabernet, Merlot, and Syrah) will be allowed in a wine that — if logic applies — should be dominated by Prugnolo Gentile (aka Sangiovese).
Recently, I was contacted by a top technician of Italian wine, Renzo Cotarella, technical director and principal collaborator to Piero Antinori and the Marchesi Antinori wine group, which acquired the Braccesca estate, a producer of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano (230 hectares planted to vine), in 1990.
You may remember that, at the height of the Brunello scandal last year (which initially involved Marchesi Antinori among others), Renzo Cotarella contacted me and allowed me to post his explanation of his company’s point of view. The other morning, he called me again, and delivered this overwhelmingly clear and simple message.
In his words, with “more than 20% of non-indigenous grapes you arrive at an exasperation of the concept of Vino Nobile,” and “the ‘Super-Tuscanization,’ as you put it, of Tuscan wine production represents a grave error.” According to Cotarella (brother of famed Umbrian enologist Riccardo Cotarella), a “market that moves toward the standardization of its products is making a mistake.” It’s important to “avoid making Tuscan Sangiovese seem like a defective grape variety” that needs support and corrections delivered by “improvement grapes,” which, in fact, it does not need at all.
Today, Sangiovese “is better understood and better work is being done in the vineyard with it,” said Cotarella, emphasizing the “unique vibrations of its tannins,” a description he had offered at Vino Nobile Preview, where the 2008 vintage was presented.
Of course, he noted, “in terms of effort, Cabernet and Merlot are easier to grow in Tuscany because they require less effort.” But this is no justification for abandoning the potential of the prince of Tuscan grapes and de-Tuscanizing the region’s wines.
On the silence of Montepulciano producers — “indigenous grape-growers,” as I have dubbed them — Cotarella diplomatically refrained from comment. He did, however, remind me that the 2008 samples presented by him at the Vino Nobile Preview were made with 100% Prugnolo Gentile grapes and that the wine had been criticized not only by certain journalists but also by a handful of producers. The wine, they said, lacked vigor and was difficult and atypical. In a certain sense, they noted, it was anomalous.
This inevitably leads me to ask whether or not — and this is my conclusion, not Renzo Cotarella’s — certain Vino Nobile producers have lost “confidence” in the grape that symbolizes their appellation. It seems they have lost faith in their practical knowledge of Prugnolo Gentile’s immense potential. Sangiovese should be treated as the illustrious grape that it truly is and producers should work to understand it better through study. And they should believe — as Renzo Cotarella does — in the magnificent mosaic of terroirs that gave life to the most ancient and most noble Tuscan DOCG.