Agriculture minister appointment blocked by President Napolitano

In a move viewed by many observers of the Italian wine industry as a game of musical chairs and political spoils, a relatively unknown parliamentarian with no agriculture experience, Saverio Romano (Sicily), was officially tapped last week by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to replace current agricultural minister Giancarlo Galan, now slated to become Italy’s new minister of Cultural Heritage (beni culturali).

According to reports widely circulated by the Italian mainstream news media, the nomination has been blocked by President of the Italian Republic Giorgio Napolitano, not because of Romano’s obvious lack of qualifications, but because of his alleged association with organized crime. Some political observers have speculated that the nomination was the result of a political deal that would have allowed Romano to avoid prosecution by virtue of the appointment because government ministers enjoy relative immunity in Italy.

“How can we believe in the future of this beloved/hated country,” asked VinoWire editor Franco Ziliani on his blog Vino al Vino last week, “when a key post like that of the agriculture minister goes to an unknown without any experience in the field like Romano?”

Romano has claimed that the allegations associating him with organized crime are the result of political muckraking but he has not — at least in any current news reports available online — addressed his qualifications (or lack thereof) for the post.

US TTB approves 06 Brunello for import

Via Reuters.

The U.S. has given approval for the iconic Italian wine Brunello di Montalcino, which had been involved in a quality scandal, to be imported into the country.

The U.S. Department of Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), in a statement released last week, said that since Italy had certified the 2006 vintage it would allow the vintage to be sold in the U.S.

U.S. collectors represent roughly 25 percent of the market for the storied Tuscan red, which fetches hundreds of dollars a bottle at auction.

“TTB announces that the Government of Italy has certified that the 2006 vintage … meets all the requirements for the denomination,” the statement said.

Under strict Italian quality rules Brunello di Montalcino must be made exclusively with Sangiovese grapes. But in 2008, Italian government officials found some producers of the 2003 vintage were using other grapes such as Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.

U.S. officials blocked some of that vintage. Italian officials impounded more than a half-million cases of the wine and seized 10 vineyards. The so-called Brunellopoli scandal touched some of the region’s best known producers.

Most of that vintage was stripped of the prestigious title and sold off as Rosso di Montalcino, which costs a third to half as much as its more prestigious cousin.

Berlucchi to shift to 100% Franciacorta production

In an interview published last week the Mille Bolle Blog (a blog devoted to the world of Italian sparkling wine, edited by VinoWire editor Franco Ziliani), the Italian sparkling wine giant Berlucchi has announced that “within a few years,” its production will shift exclusively to Franciacorta. Currently, the winery group produces a significant amount of Franciacorta, including the historic “Franciacorta 61” label, but the majority of the 4.5 million bottles produced is devoted to “classic method” wines grown in Trentino, Alto Adige, and Oltrepò Pavese.

For industry observers, the shift represents a significant move expected to greatly raise consumer awareness of the Franciacorta appellation in the near future.

Opinion: Giacomo Tachis, an uninspired choice for Decanter’s Man of the Year

With all the dutiful respect due to this man, to his not so tender age, to his white hair, and to that Cheshire cat expression of his, am I allowed to dissent from the predictable hosanna and applause that will greet the news that the longtime Tuscan-based Piedmontese enologist Giacomo Tachis has been named the Decanter 2011 man of the year?

With all respect for the long and illustrious career of the man who is being celebrated as the “father of Italian wine,” is it permissible to harbor some reservations — however gentle — not only regarding the question of whether or not Tachis is “the guiding light behind the renaissance of Italian wine in the 1970s and 80s,” but also regarding the role he has played in Italian wine in recent decades?

There is no doubt, as the editors of Decanter wrote, that “in five decades at the forefront of Italian winemaking, the Piedmont-born Tachis has been instrumental in the introduction of practices that are now standard at the top end of Italian wine production: clonal selection, high-density, low-yielding vineyards, and refinements in malolactic fermention and oak ageing.”

And it’s equally true that “it is for the introduction of Cabernet Sauvignon and other Bordeaux varietals in the original ‘SuperTuscans,’ Sassicaia, Tignanello and Solaia, that Tachis is most renowned.” Such an observation certainly does not warm my spirit. In fact, it sends a chill down my spine when I consider that just other day someone published the following statement on a popular blog: “Giacomo Neri has brought prestige and fame to Montalcino and to all of Italian enology.”

Without going as far as to call him an ill-intended teacher, can we be sure that his loss of identity in the name of fatuous internationalization did not lead degenerative phenomena like Brunellogate? Did his style as the “architect of blending” (as another celebrated enologist has called him) contribute to the current lack of direction in Italian wine? I’d much rather remember him for his wonderful book on Tuscan Vin Santo.

Personally, I don’t feel right celebrating the man who declared: “It’s time to open our minds because the appellations [of the Italian DOC system] are a load of bollocks concocted by people who don’t know a thing about wine.”

A team of psychologists and anthropologists and scholars should be commissioned to study the human behavior of enologists like Giacomo Tachis and Ezio Rivella. These two Piedmontese found their success in Tuscany and yet they openly attack the very same appellation system that — whether they like it or not — defines the past, present, and future of Italian wine.

Consider the many names of those who have received the Decanter Men and Women of the Year award from 1984 until the present: Prof. Émile Peynaud, Aubert de Villaine, Marcel Guigal, Ernst Loosen, Miguel Torres, Jancis Robinson, Hugh Johnson, José Ignacio Domecq, May-Eliane de Lencquesaing, Michael Broadbent, Max Schubert, Angelo Gaja. They are all true giants of the world of wine. I can’t honestly consider the current choice as one of the most inspired. There are many figures that I’d rather call “fathers” of Italian wine. Tachis isn’t one of them.

—Franco Ziliani

Ezio Rivella: Rosso di Montalcino needs its “own personality”

In a YouTube video posted Sunday, February 27, 2011 by ITALIATV, Brunello producers association president Ezio Rivella spoke to interviewer Dario Pettinelli about the reasons behind a proposed change in the Rosso di Montalcino appellation that would allow for the use of grapes other than Sangiovese.

When the appellation was conceived, said Rivella, “attention was rightly focused on the fact that in order to maintain the standards of Brunello di Montalcino, some of the wine needed to be declassified to Rosso di Montalcino… In recent years, we have seen that this Rosso di Montalcino system was not working as it had in the past. And so we are facing this [issue by] preparing a marketing plan that will help us to relaunch Rosso di Montalcino as an independent wine — a wine that has its own personality. Because presenting the Rosso as the leftovers from Brunello was the wrong approach.”

Translation by VinoWire.