Italian agriculture ministry extends government monitoring of Brunello

In a post published today on the ministry’s website, Italian agriculture minister Luca Zaia has announced that the Italian government’s monitoring of Brunello di Montalcino will be extended until June 30, 2010. The original decree calling for government intervention in the monitoring of the appellation, signed in July 2008 in the wake of an adulteration scandal, had already been extended but was set to expire on December 31, 2009.

While the minister made no mention of his October meeting with U.S. Alcohol, Tobacco, Tax, and Trade Bureau officials in Washington and the subsequent confusion created by dueling press releases, the extension, said Zaia in his statement, “represents yet another guarantee in the monitoring of quality in our products and in the perception of a historic wine with ancient traditions.”

With the approval of the extension, the Italian government’s Ispettorato centrale per il controllo della qualità dei prodotti agroalimentari (Central Inspectorate for the Monitoring of Food and Farm Products, a department within the ministry) will continue to test Brunello di Montalcino and will provide producers with certification letters (which continue to be required by the U.S. Alcohol Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau) for the next 6 months.

Although details of an over-arching reform of monitoring systems have not yet been made public by the ministry, Zaia has revealed that local producers associations will be permanently relieved of monitoring duties when the reforms take effect. Until the July 2008 decree, monitoring of authenticity was conducted by the Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino (Brunello Producers Association).

“The new law,” said Zaia in a recent statement, “offers historic innovation: a third party will evaluate the quality of the wines — not the consortia anymore. If such a provision had previously been put into place, cases like Brunello di Montalcino would not have happened.”

An orange wine from the Veneto

This post appeared originally in Italian here. Translation by VinoWire.

Since it’s that time of year when Christmas cheer brings out the best in all of us, I’d like to tell you about one of the wines that impressed me the most in November in Fornovo Taro at the Vini di Vignaioli/Vins de Vignerons conference and tasting, where there was no lack of authentic, delicious surprises.

I’m talking about a white wine, a unique blend of white grapes produced by a small winery called Monteforche in the hamlet of Zovon di Vò at the foot of Monte Venda, one of the top growing sites in the Colli Euganei (the Euganean Hills in the province of Padua).

Monteforche has 6 hectares planted to Garganega, Moscato Bianco, Pinot Grigio, Malvasia Istriana, Traminer, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot. In 2003, the winery planted an experimental vineyard with nearly extinct indigenous varieties: Marzemina Nera Bastarda, Cavarara Garbina, and Pataresca. The estate is managed by Alfonso Soranzo, who received his degree in music at the Conservatorio di Padova (the Padua Conservatory) and began to work in his family’s vineyards in 2001, aided by his friend, agronomist Guido Busatto.

What makes this growing area so special? First of all, the volcanic origins of the subsoil, which was formed following “underwater eruptions balsatic lava roughly 50 million years ago that created viscous magma.” The resulting presence of trachyte, marl, and calcareous clays allow the winemaker to fashion wines distinguished by their elegance and rich flavors.

All of the wines produced by Monteforche are vinified and aged on their fine lees in cement vats. The only exception is the Vigna del Vento, which is aged in oak cask. The winery uses only native yeasts and it embraces the natural wine approach to winemaking.

Two white wines that I tasted entirely won me over. I’m talking about the Vigneto Carantina Bianco Veneto IGT produced with 100% Garganega grapes, sourced from a vine planted in the early 1960s and fermented with skin contact. This radiant, expressive, and rich Mediterranean wine could compete with nearly any Soave.

monteforche2

But the true gem was the Cassiara Bianco Veneto IGT 2008, an unusual blend of Garganega (80%), Malvasia Istriana (15%), and Traminer (5%), vinified in cement and aged on its lees for no fewer than 6 months. Beyond its balance, this wine impressed me for its bright vibrant color, a gorgeous and lively straw gold, and for its intriguing nose, unexpectedly lively and complex, with a dominant aromatic component, fresh and elegant, and complemented by a floral and fruity component, with citrus and white peach notes.

This wine was beautiful in the mouth, flavorful, enjoyable, with a nervy, lively attack, precise and incisive, with an expansive energy on the palate, full-bodied without ever losing its freshness and savory notes, with minerality and a calibrated acidity that rewards the drinker with a vertical persistence.

A truly great if unexpected white wine.

—Franco Ziliani

10 million liters of Tuscan wine suspected of adulteration, Italian news agencies report

According to numerous reports that appeared today in the Italian news media (including the Siena edition of the Italian daily La Nazione and the Agenzia Giornalistica Italia), Italian treasury authorities and the Italian agriculture ministry inspectorate suspect that roughly 10 million liters of Chianti, Toscana IGT, Brunello di Montalcino, and Rosso di Montalcino have been “cut,” i.e., blended, with wines of inferior quality. According to the authors of the reports, seventeen persons and forty-two companies are currently under investigation for having falsified public documents and authorities have requested preemptive seizures. While the investigation is focused primarily on Tuscany, actors in Abruzzo, Trentino, Piedmont, Lombardy, and Emilia-Romagna are also suspected of having adulterated wines.

Amphora wine in Apulia

VinoWire editor Franco Ziliani, author of Italy’s most popular wine blog, Vino al Vino, recently returned from Apulia.

savese1

Above: Vittorio Pichierri of Vinicola Savese in Sava (Manduria, Apulia) has been aging wine in amphorae since the 1970s and beyond. Photo by Franco Ziliani.

How are things going in Apulia? I’ve been here since Sunday in “full immersion” together with some foreign colleagues — Patricia Guy, Rosemary George, Kyle Phillips, and Wojciech Bońkowski.

To be brief, I’d say that things are going exceedingly well and couldn’t be better, with an intensity of experiences, encounters, situations, and emotions that confirm the grandeur of this region and its centrality to the discourse of Italian wine, yesterday and today.

We started out Sunday and Monday, at the splendid Masseria Cefalicchio di Canosa (farmhouse and highly efficient and well-managed biodynamic farm), owned by politician and economist Nicola Rossi and his brother Fabrizio. A visits and tastings followed at the Spagnoletti Zeuli winery and then in the Gioia del Colle zone where the Primitivo produced is very different from that produced in Manduria and Salento (the wines of Gioia del Colle are gradually coming into focus and are beginning to establish themselves for their quality). Tuesday, we spent the day enjoying the beautiful backdrop of the Itria valley at I Pastini, where Nicola Carparelli told us the story of his rediscovery of the Fiano Minutolo grape and his research in white grape varieties in the Locorotondo zone. We then headed to Salento and San Donaci for a great tasting at Candido (where we tasted the winery’s products as well as other local production) and Guagnano where we visited Cantele and experienced another one of the collective tasting moments that revealed thrilling surprises.

All of these visits delivered meaningful experiences that allowed us to tap into the diverse world of Apulia and its wines today.

The we moved to the production zone for Primitivo di Manduria and yesterday morning in Sava, we had one of those great visits that alone, not to diminish the other visits, would have justified our journey to the southern lands of Apulia. We had an appointment at Vinicola Savese, with Vittorio Pichierri (above), an authentic voice and standard-bearer of the identity of Primitivo. From the moment of our arrival, my colleagues, who were visiting this historic winery for the first time, and I, who had been there before, knew we were in store for a visit we would never forget.

Vittorio is Primitivo’s “last of the Mohicans,” a sort of Bartolo Mascarello or Soldera of this noble wine. He is unmatched in his ability to tell the story of the grape grower and winemaker’s craft and he has always lived his life with the utmost respect for his land and the identity of Primitivo, for his method o producing it and honoring its traditions. But he’s no dusty museum curator: his winery is full of life and he thrilled us with the flight of wine he shared with us that day.

The tasting wasn’t just based on his many bottlings, from Tradizione del Nonno to Desiderium, Passione, and Terra Rossa (all of which we tasted together, just to mention a few).

But he also did something highly unusual: he took samples directly from the interred cement, glass-lined cisterns and from the large-format barrels used for long-term aging of his wines. Our tasting revealed these wines to be even more complete and more real in their evolution. And even more unusual was our tasting from Vittorio’s capasoni, a clay vessel similar to an amphora or the Italian earthenware jar, the giara. The capasoni vary in size and Vittorio Piccherri — who makes wine “by intuition,” as he likes to say — uses them to age his wine. He could care less about the dictates of marketing, modernity, or the “law of the market.” These wines are his masterpieces.

His wines are capable of challenging time and showing how Primitivo di Manduria — I beg your pardon — Primitivo di Sava, as he likes to point out, not only stands up to time but also evolves splendidly, acquiring a treasure of unimaginable elegance and complexity.

Unforgettable evidence of this was his truly moving, exquisite bottle of classic Primitivo Savese “obtained from the best ripe grapes in Sava” in 1975. A wax-sealed bottle with 21% alcohol, opened and decanted with great expertise by Enzo Scivetti, who accompanied us on the tour. The wine had an endless aromatic bouquet, with brilliant and aristocratic nuance, persuasive on the palate, enchanting, full of energy and still incredibly fresh, creamy, and drinkable with its notes of cherry and candied citrus, dried figs, spices, aromatic herbs, leather, tobacco, and cocoa.

Even more unbelievable was a wine more than twenty years old, drawn from a capasone by Vittorio and offered to us as the miracle of Primitivo.

This wine showed fantastic aromatic complexity, with an evolution of mid-palate notes that included dried mushrooms, truffle, rhubarb, Asian spices, black cherry and chocolate. In the mouth, it was fresh and full of life, with a magnificently warm texture, velvety with still impressive tannic structure. An enchanting, persuasive wine, very elegant, without the roughness and over-extracted leaning that we saw in a good number of wines from other wineries tasted that afternoon at the Manduria Wine and Must Producer Consortium. Too many wines we tasted tried to impress with power, concentration, and the intolerable woodiness that afflicts the many bottlings of Primitivo that crowd the production field of this noble and ancient Apulian wine.

Happily, there was no lack of good things to be discovered in Apulia but a hearty thanks goes to Vittorio Pichierri for having shown us the noble, ancient, wise, miraculous, and quasi-mystical face of Primitivo, a legacy of elegance, complexity, and calibrated sweetness (even in the rich naturally sweet wines, with their higher alcohol content), of harmony and — I believe — unrivaled balance in an ever more crowded panorama of Primitivo producers. This was one of those special visits, one of the best memories I will take away with me from this umpteenth vinous journey to one of the wine destinations I love the most, one of the best memories of an entire career of an itinerant chronicler of wine who seeks authenticity, poetry, and a capacity to inspire emotion and awe within…

—Franco Ziliani

Amarone and Recioto DOCG approved by Italian government

According to a press release published last week online by the Italian Agriculture Ministry, the DOCG for Amarone della Valpolicella (previously a DOC) has been approved by Italy’s National Wine Commission: “I am particularly proud,” said Minister Luca Zaia, “to be able to announce that [Italy’s National] Wine Commission has approved recognition of Amarone della Valpolicella as a DOCG [designation of controlled and guaranteed origin]. This is the highest recognition of quality allowed by [Italy’s] national and [EU] Community law and this extraordinary Italian agricultural product deserves it without a doubt. Such recognition is also owed to the passion of Amarone producers, who, over the centuries, have helped to establish this product in the Veneto, in Italy, and the world.” (Translation by VinoWire.)

A DOCG has also been approved for Recioto della Valpolicella. A DOC was also approved for Ripasso, which will now have its own designation, independent from Valpolicella (previously, the term ripasso could only be used a sub-designation for Valpolicella).

It remains unclear, however, what bearing the new DOCG will have now that new European appellations must be approved by EU legislators in Brussels. [Editor’s note: VinoWire reader Angelo Peretti reports that as long as the proposal for a new appellation was made before the July 1, 2009 EU deadline, new appellations approved after the deadline will be allowed by EU legislators; the Amarone, Recioto, and Ripasso proposals were submitted to Rome before July 1.]

Other appellation modifications were approved in the commission’s recent meeting but Zaia’s statement did not specify as to their nature.