Tuscan winemaker D’Alessandro speaks out on the Tuscan wine scandal: “I’m afraid that wine has always been made like this in Tuscany.”

The following is a translation of page 131, from the chapter, “Art at Any Cost (Sryah from Cortona),” from Italian journalist Andrea Scanzi’s new book, Il vino degli altri (Other People’s Wine, Mondadori, 2010), released in April 2010 during the annual Italian wine industry trade fair Vinitaly. According to Scanzi’s blog, the book chronicles his “voyage in search of the best wines of the world (and their Italian rivals).” VinoWire editor Franco Ziliani has published a digital scan of the page on his blog Vino al Vino.

In 2006, Tenimenti d’Alessandro changed enologist.

“There’s a problem with in-demand winemakers” [said owner Massimo d’Alessandro]. “All they care about is their fee. They work with 60 wineries. They live out of their cars. And every month they trade their car in for a newer, more expensive model. [Enologist Stefano] Chioccioli would come work with us for a few days and then he would head out again. He wasn’t the right fit for our type of winery.”

Was there a risk of all the wines being made the same? It seemed an obvious question but this is where the first volley was launched.

“I’m about to tell you something that you shouldn’t write about. But I’m going to say it anyway. The Tuscans are a shrewd bunch. They have always made wines that were somewhat fake. It’s part of their history. You know full well that there is a very serious investigation of Tuscany wine going on right now.”

“Yes, I know,” I said.

“It’s much more than an investigation. The bottom line is that they found out — according to allegations — that an important enologist, Carlo Ferrini, was making wine in Tuscany using wine that came from other regions. From what I understand, they caught the supplier with his invoices and everything. The supplier was from Abruzzo and his trucks traveled at night so they wouldn’t be discovered. Justice will take its course and it’s not my place to come to any of my own conclusions. I’ll only tell you what I know. But people have been talking about it more and more because the investigation is now in the hands of an honest magistrate. Do you want me to be brutal? I’m afraid that wine has always been made like this in Tuscany.”

I asked, “What do you mean?”

“Poorly tended vineyards, low-quality vines, and wines improved using base wines from other regions. The base wine always has a high quantity of dry extract. The flavor is neutral so that it won’t be detected and it is always produced using highly technical methods: infrared rays and such. It gives the wine color, structure, and extraction. Wine has been impounded all over the place. I’m a friend of Brancaia. They told me that 75,000 bottles of their wine, already sold to the Americans, were seized. The same thing happened to Frescobaldi and to others as well. Do you know what the only solution is? Get rid of that magistrate because this way of doing things is too widespread in Tuscany. It will never change.”

The following is a translation of response sent by the owners of Brancaia to Mr. Ziliani, who promptly posted their letter on his blog Vino al Vino.

Because of a publication by journalist Andrea Scanzi this week, we feel obliged to make a formal statement.

For many years, we have worked passionately and strenuously to produce the best possible wine from our terroir — with the greatest respect for nature’s resources and with the wholehearted devotion of our team.

We produce three top wines: Brancaia Il Blue (IGT), Brancaia Chianti Classico (DOCG), and Ilatraia (IGT).

For these wines we use only grapes grown in our vineyards: 25 hectares planted to vine on our estate in Chianti Classico and 40 hectares planted to vine on our estate in Maremma.

Our easy-drinking wine, Brancaia TRE (IGT), is made from grapes that we have not selected for our top wines.

Because of the success of and demand for Brancaia TRE, in addition to the grapes we grow ourselves, we have been buying grapes and bulk wine — both Toscana IGT — for some time now. This is no secret and it is by no means a crime.

Here are the facts:

– Two Tuscan sellers of bulk wine are under investigation for having sold wines with falsified documentation (fraud).
– As a result, all of the bulk wine, and even the wine already delivered to producers, has been blocked.
– Since we bought wine from these sellers in good faith, the wine that was used for Brancaia TRE has been blocked.
– During the inspections, we showed all of the documentation requested and we answered all questions.
– Following inspection, Brancaia TRE was released.
– We have purchased only a small amount of bulk wine and only for Brancaia TRE.
– The use of purchased grapes and bulk wine is allowable by law and is based on high quality standards.
– All of our other wines have been made only with grapes grown by us.

We feel that we have always acted appropriately and we patently deny the statements made by Massimo d’Alessandro as reported by Andrea Scanzi.

As far as such statements are concerned, we reserve the right to protect our good name and our reputation with all the competent authorities.

—Barbara and Martin Kronenberg Widmer

Tom Hyland: a brief summary of new releases from Vinitaly

VinoWire contributor Tom Hyland recently returned from Italy where he tasted at Italy’s annual wine industry trade fair Vinitaly.

2009 Whites

I tased dozens of impressive whites from 2009, especially from Friuli and Campania. Cool throughout most of the growing season, there was some much needed sunshine in August and September, according to Elisabetta Polencic of the Isidoro Polencic winery in Friuli. Luigi Maffini from the Salerno province of Campania told me that 2009, “was a very good vintage. The wines are very complex and offer excellent freshness. I prefer the whites from 2009 over 2007 and 2008.” Antonio Capaldo, owner of Feudi di San Gregorio, says that 2009 was “especially good for white wines.”

A short list of my favorite 2009 whites:

Friuli

Gradis’ciutta Sauvignon (Collio)

Livon Sauvignon “Valbuins” (Collio)

I Clivi Malvasia (Collio)

I Clivi Verduzzo Friulano (dry) (Colli Orientali del Friuli)

Isidoro Polencic Sauvignon (Collio)

Campania

Feudi di San Gregorio Greco di Tufo (especially good value)

Feudi di San Gregorio Greco di Tufo “Cutizzi”

Colli di Lapio Fiano di Avellino

Mastroberadino Greco di Tufo “Novaserra”

Mastroberardino Fiano di Avellino “Radici”

Marisa Cuomo Furore Bianco

Terredora Greco di Tufo “Loggia della Serra”

Vadiaperti Fiano di Avellino

Pietracupa Greco di Tufo

Vinosia Greco di Tufo

Luigi Maffini “Kratos” (Fiano – IGT Paestum)

Liguria

Cantine Lunae Vermentino “Etichetta Nera” (Colli di Luni)

Piemonte

Oddero Langhe Bianco (Chardonnay, Riesling blend)

Puglia

Alberto Longo “Le Fossette” (Falanghina) (Pugila IGT)

Amarone

Many of the newest releases are from the 2006 vintage, a very good vintage. The regular Tedeschi bottling is rich, spicy and gusty, but above all, well-balanced, while their “Monte Olmi” offers more weight on the palate with more pronounced ripeness. Similar notes for the Stefano Accordini “Acinatico” bottling, though fatter on the palate. Accordini has also released his exceptional “Il Fornetto” from 2004; a great wine from a great vintage. This will not be available until very late in 2010- this is a must buy for Amarone lover with its layers of fruit and intense notes of fig, date and red raspberry.

It’s also interesting to note how two exceptional Soave producers have now focused on Amarone as well. Leonildo Pieropan previewed his first-ever Amarone from the 2006 vintage; the wine offers beautiful ripeness and delicate spice and is as elegant as the man himself. Ca’ Rugate has produced Amarone for a few years now and their new 2007 is their finest yet. Displaying black cherry and cranberry fruit wih notes of orgeano, the wine is driven by its fruit and not by oak and is quite elegant. Look for 10-12 years of improvement with this wine – complimenti to winemaker Michele Tessari.

2006 Barolos

I tasted a few bottlings of 2006 Barolo; the new wines will be released within the next few months. This is a big vintage and right now, many of the wines are quite tight and a bit tannic. While it’s difficult to fully appreciate these wines right now, one can clearly sense the excellent depth of fruit; this should be a long-lived vintage.

As usual, the finest bottlings display their terroir; take the three offerings from Vietti. The Brunate is wonderfully perfumed with velvety tannins, the Lazzarito is much more closed with firmer tannins, while the Rocche is more full-bodied with appropriate young tannins. The always lovely Vajra “Bricco dell Viole” is excellent, though more restrained than the 2005 was at this time last year, while the Luigi Baudana “Baudana”, aged in grandi botti, is quite elegant, while still offering excellent concentration.

My two favorite 2006 Barolos I tasted at VinItaly were from Oddero; the Rocche di Castiglione with sensual red cherry and orange peel notes and the Villero, a spicier and more powerful bottling that is no less elegant. I hope many more of the 2006 Barolos I will taste in May in Alba will offer the balance and finesse of these wines from Oddero.

2005 Brunello di Montalcino

I tasted a few dozen of these wines in February in Chicago and New York; this was my chance to try some of my favorites I missed. While these wines may be a slightly more difficult sell comig after the celebrated 2004 vintage, this is an excellent vintage overall, with beautiful varietal character and lively acidity. Among the very best I tasted were the Stella di Campalto, Talenti, Le Chiuse, Col d’Orcia, Innocenti, Ciacci Piccolomini, Fossacolle and these three I rated as outstanding: Il Poggione, Pian dell’Orino and Il Palazzone.

Franciacorta

Finally, a few words about a sparkling wine I love, but don’t get ot try often enough and that’s Franciacorta. Only a few brands, most noticeably Ca’ del Bosco and Bellavista are imported into the United States, which is somewhat understandable (especially now during the worldwide financial mess), but still a shame, as the finest efforts are distinctive and very special. I mentioned the amazing 2002 Bellavista “Vittorio Moretti” bottling in a separate post on my other blog; a few other excellent bottlings include the 2006 Camossi Extra Brut (their first Millesimato) the 2006 Saten from Il Mosnel and two very distinguished bottlings; the 2004 Guido Berlucchi Palazzo Lana “Extreme”, a 100% Pinot Nero with a lengthy, persistent finish and the full-bodied Brut normale from Enrico Gatti, a wine that is better than many top bottlings from other Franciacorta firms.

Here’s hoping that we see more examples of Franciacorta come to the United States!

—Tom Hyland

Veneto president appointed agriculture minister

President of the Veneto Giancarlo Galan was appointed as Italy’s minister of agriculture by Italian president Giorgio Napolitano on Friday, April 16, 2010. Galan’s predecessor, Luca Zaia, was named president of the Veneto by the same decree.

Galan joined prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party in 1994 and was first elected president of the Veneto in 1995, where he has presided over the region’s legislature for 3 terms, through 2010.

Some, like Federico Vecchioni, president of Italian agricultural giant Confagricoltura (General Confederation of Italian Agriculture), have praised the appointment, citing Zaia’s opposition to “biotechnologies” as an “error that I hope will be corrected as soon as possible.”

Others, like Giuseppe Politi, president of the Confederazione Italiana degli Agricoltori (Italian Farmers Confederation), hope the newly appointed minister will change a current trend that could lead to “higher costs and thousands of companies going bankrupt” later this year.

At the same rate, other Italian industrial agriculture power players, like Sergio Marini, president of behemoth Coldiretti (National Independent Farmers Confederation), have called on Galan to embrace Zaia’s “iron” support of “the identity and typicity of ‘made in Italy'” agriculture and his opposition to Common Market Organisation “processes of standardization.”

Source of quotes: Il Sole 24 Ore.

“No block of wine exports to U.S.” says agriculture minister after 10 million liters of Chianti DOCG seized by authorities

On Thursday, April 8, Italy’s agriculture minister Luca Zaia announced the seizure of 10 million liters of adulterated Chianti DOCG. The seizure was ordered by Italian authorities in November 2009 and the story made headlines in Italy in December 2009.

Click here for the report by VinoWire.

“There will be no block of wine exports to the U.S.,” said the now lame duck minister and governor-elect of the Veneto in a statement delivered last Thursday at the Italian wine industry trade fair Vinitaly in Verona.

“We have avoided a catastrophe, particularly in the U.S. Luckily, we intervened in time… The wine was not a health risk but rather a bunch of rubbish” that was being sold as Chianti DOCG, said Zaia, according to a report published by Yahoo Italia. “The embassies are in contact and we have been following this situation for months. We will avoid the usual disagreements that penalize all wines.”

Although some observers, including VinoWire editor Franco Ziliani, have questioned Zaia’s motivation for waiting until last week to make the announcement, Mr. Ziliani praised the minister’s statement in his blog today: “It’s never too late,” he wrote, “to raise one’s voice, to take a tough stance, and to demand severe, clear-cut sanctions. The world of Italian wine must find the courage to free itself of scum like these parasites. They are a virus that threatens not only its health but also the credibility of Italian wine throughout the world.”

As Italian wine world gathers for annual trade fairs, president Napolitano signs historic reform into law

As Italy gathers in the region of the Veneto for the wine industry’s annual trade fairs, President of the Italian Republic Giorgio Napolitano has signed historic legislation overhauling Italy’s wine appellation system, its regulation, and monitoring.

The so-called “riforma 164” (or amendments to law 164) brings Italy’s appellation system into line with European Union Common Market Organisation reforms and streamlines the application and amendment processes, shifting more control and monitoring responsibilities to local and regional authorities. It also provides the framework for the continued presence of the so-called “DOCG/DOC/IGT pyramid” within the EU Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) and Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) system.

No major reforms had been made to the Italian appellation system since 1992 when law 164 was approved by Italian legislators in 1992.

The amendments were published (in Italian) on the internet yesterday by the Association of Italian Enologists and Enotechnicians here.

Most have hailed the new legislation as a positive step toward promoting quality, deterring “agropiracy,” enhancing competitiveness, and streamlining bureaucracy. But the relationship between the Italian DOCG/DOC/IGT pyramid and the EU PDO/PGI system has yet to be determined.

Tomorrow, President Napolitano is expected to visit Italy’s largest wine trade fair, Vinitaly in Verona, which was inaugurated today by current agriculture minister and newly elected governor of the Veneto Luca Zaia.

Barolo, Barbaresco, Alba, Langhe, and Roero producer association elects new president

On Monday, March 29, the Consorzio di Tutela Barolo Barbaresco Alba Langhe e Roero (Barolo, Barbaresco, Alba, Langhe, and Roero Producers Association) announced the election of its new president, Pietro Ratti, and its current advisory board. Ratti’s election marks the second time a member of the Ratti family has occupied the post. His father, legendary winemaker and chronicler of Langa winemaking history, Renato Ratti held the position three decades ago.

The new president and adviser members are as follows.

President: Pietro Ratti (Renato Ratti)

Advisers (Consiglieri):

Nicola Argamante (Podere Ruggeri Corsini)
Cesare Benvenuto (Pio Cesare)
Matteo Bosco (Terre del Barolo)
Giovanni Bracco (Cantina Clavesana)
Luca Casavecchia (Casavecchia Marco)
Alfio Cavallotto (Cavallotto F.lli Tenuta Bricco Boschis)
Sergio Germano (Germano Ettore)
Marina Marcarino (Punset)
Massimo Martinelli (Bricco Mollea)
Roberto Massolino (Massolino Vigna Rionda)
Francesco Monchiero (Monchiero e Carbone)
Angelo Negro (Negro Angelo e Figli)
Dino Negro (Pace)
Orlando Pecchenino (Pecchenino F.lli)
Massimo Penna (Cascina Casanova)
Marta Rinaldi (Rinaldi Giuseppe)
Gianluca Roggero (San Biagio)
Claudio Rosso (Cantina Gigi Rosso)
Aldo Vacca (Produttori del Barbaresco)
Roberto Vezza (Josetta Saffirio).

Tom Hyland: Produttori del Barbaresco, one of Italy’s top 100 producers

The debate rages everywhere in the wine world – who are the great producers? The answer of course, often depends on the individual as greatness for one person is defined differently than it is for someone else.

So maybe the more important question should be, which are the most important producers? By that, I mean, which producers are looked upon as a reference point for their viticultural zone? What are the estates that everyone knows not only for their quality but for their leadership? In Barbaresco, there are several estates that are important for numerous reasons; certainly Angelo Gaja has done as much as anyone to make the name of this wine world famous. I’ll write more about him in a future post, but today, I’d like to discuss an equally famous producer, Produttori del Barbaresco.

The company was established in 1958 by a local priest from the village of Barbaresco, who believed that the local grape growers had to band together to produce wine in order to survive. The first few vintages were made in the church basement and today, the winery stands just across the corner from that location.

Aldo Vacca, Director, Produttori del Barbaresco (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

The managing director of the winery today is Aldo Vacca, who has done a brilliant job of securing fruit from 56 different growers in Barbaresco (all of whom are members of the Produttori), representing 250 acres of the finest vineyards. More over, Vacca has maintained a wine making philosophy of using only large wooden casks (grandi botti) in order to craft a wine that truly represents the local Barbaresco terroir. More than that, by favoring large casks over the small barrels that many producers find so appealing these days, each wine offers a special sense of place, especially the single vineyard offerings, so that the Asili Barbaresco tastes much different than the one from Moccagatta or Montestefano.

The winery makes wines solely from the Nebbiolo grape and there are three separate wine types: a Nebbiolo Langhe (Langhe is the larger zone where Barbaresco is located; Barolo is also part of Langhe), a Barbaresco normale and the cru bottlings of Barbaresco. The Nebbiolo Langhe represents 20% of the total production, while the regular and single vineyard bottlings of Barbaresco each account for 40% of the total output.

The typical Barbaresco from the winery has beautiful aromatics focusing on dried cherry, currant and orange peel, often with notes of roses or other flowers. The acidity is a key factor here, as the proper levels ensure not only a balanced wine, but one that will age gracefully. Even the normale bottling of Barbaresco from Produttori can drink well for 7-10 years in a good vintage (such as 2005), while the aging potential goes from 12-15 years in superior vintages such as 1999, 2001 and 2004.

There are nine separate cru bottlings of Barbaresco, which are produced only from the finest vintages. Thanks to excellent farming practices (the name of the grower or growers is on the back label- a nice touch) as well as the winemaking standards of Vacca, each wine is an outstanding expression of its site. On two separate occasions, I have had the opportunity to sample all nine bottlings at the winery; this is a special look into the terrroir of Barbaresco, as a bottling such as Pajé or Pora display the more floral, delicate side of Barbaresco, while Montefico and Montestefano are evidence of a more powerful version of the wine that will age for 15-25 years.

What truly makes the Produttori del Barbaresco such an important producer is that it serves as a reference point for Barbaresco. Even if you prefer a riper, flashier, oakier approach when it comes to this wine, one has to look at the wines of the Produttori as the bottlings that define the classic style of Barbaresco. After that, we can compare the products from other producers in the area.

For real Barbaresco lovers, these wines represent the soul of the zone. I cannot give these wines any higher praise than that.

—Tom Hyland