Editorial: The Letter G Is No Magic Wand

On April 21, the Italy’s Agriculture Ministry announced the creation of two new DOCGs, Frascati Superiore and Cannellino di Frascati.

Is it really true that in the strange, loved and hated, controversial country that Italy has become, we tend to forget everything? That we act like nothing has happened? Perhaps we are convinced that everyone else is as forgetful as we and that memory is optional and inconsequential.

Our forgetfulness is a synonym for superficiality and a symptom of a gradual trivialization of certain things that will ultimately lose all meaning. You can find such forgetfulness in the world of wine — it’s to be expected, of course — where we tend nonchalantly to say the opposite of what was said the day before and where we take positions entirely lacking coherence and contradictory in the general disinterest of concerned parties.

Do you remember the case of the Frascati DOC? This appellation’s consortium was created in 1949 and it was one of the first appellations to receive DOC status (in 1966).

The Frascati DOC has always stood apart from the other appellations south of Rome. It’s always helped the other DOCs but allowing them to ride on its coattails. Any gains made by Frascati have been followed by gains for the other local appellations, even though the Frascati DOC is made up of 800 grape growers who span 1,400 hectares of surface area and who produce 150,000 quintals of grapes destined to become 110,000 hectolitres of wine vinified by roughly 30 winemakers and bottled by roughly 40 bottlers.

Just over a year ago, we spoke — in dramatic terms — of a perilous “production and sales crisis,” an issue that stemmed in part from the fact that the wines were bottled in northern Italy outside the production zone. When the crisis came to the attention of Italy’s agricultural minister, the Italian government applied for “emergency distillation” for Frascati [whereby producers are allowed to distill unsold wines into industrial-grade alcohol to be purchased by the EU].

It wasn’t long ago, in fact, that the regional coordinator for [wine guide] Città del Vino in Latium, Tommaso Mascherucci, called Frascati “a DOC in danger,” and he remembered the many missed opportunities in recent years “to take off.” He blamed the “destructive politics of the Frascati cooperatives.”

When faced with such a state of things, one would naturally try to resolve the problems threatening the appellation’s survival. Before taking any steps forward, the obvious move would be first to tighten every link in the chain of supply. But what happened instead?

The producers of Latium’s most famous appellation have instead expressed their belief in fairytales. Eleven years into the twenty-first century, they believe that the wave of a magic wand will magically cause all of their problems to disappear. And they believe that they have cast a powerful spell by adding the letter G to their simple DOC.

—Franco Ziliani

Agriculture ministry announces DOC and DOCG changes

Posted April 21 on the Italian Agriculture Ministry website.

Veneto: Creation of a spumante category within the Gambellara DOC.

Sicily: Producers of Etna DOC will now be allowed to include riserva on the labels of their red wines as well as their sparkling whites and rosés.

Latium: Creation of two new DOCGs, Frascati Superiore and Cannellino di Frascati; two new categories for the Frascati DOC, Superiore and Cannellino; a new Roma DOC which will include seven categories.

Campania: Five subzones in the Province of Benevento have been recognized within the Sannio DOC; creation of the Falanghina del Sannio DOC.

Tuscany: New DOCG for Montecucco Sangiovese, an appellation recognized within the current Montecucco DOC in the province of Grosseto; creation of Montecucco Vin Santo DOC within the Montecucco DOC; creation of a Maremma Toscana DOC incorporating certain wines made currently as IGT.

70K bottles of Farinetti’s Già impounded by Italian authorities

According to a report circulated yesterday in Italy, more than 70,000 bottles of Langhe Rosso DOC 2010 “Già” have been impounded by Italian authorities. A number of issues cited by officials prompted the seizure: French terms were used on the label (bilingual French-Italian labels are allowed only for Valle d’Aosta DOC and DOCG wines); the alcohol content was inaccurately reported (at 11%); and the contents were described as fresco (fresh) and giovane (young), leading consumers to believe that the wine was novello (new wine) when in fact it was not permissible to classify it as such.

Già is the brainchild of Italian retail tycoon Oscar Farinetti, founder of Eataly and majority stakeholder in the Fontanafredda winery, who bottled the wine. The wine was marketed as an inexpensive, low-alcohol product and an immensely successful advertising campaign positioned it as a revival of traditional winemaking, using images of septuagenarians — some would say, disingenuously — as ambassadors of its quality.

Reported by VinoWire editor Franco Ziliani.

Vinitaly 2012 dates changed (again) to March 25-28

According to a Facebook post by top Italian wine blogger Alfonso Cevola, Ms. Stevie Kim (Senior Advisor to Veronafiere CEO Giovanni Mantovani) reports that the dates for Vinitaly 2012 have been changed once again.

The news dates, according to Cevola’s post, are Sunday-Wednesday, March 25-28.

In a statement circulated during Vinitaly 2011, Veronafiere had announced the new dates would be April 1-4. Kim’s current statement evidently supersedes the previously released information.

The change from a Thursday-Monday to Sunday-Wednesday schedule was prompted by a desire to make the event more conducive to “business” and reduce the participation of non-trade fair-goers. See the previous VinoWire post for background.

Vinitaly to change schedule after 45 years

According to a press release published on the fair’s website, next year’s fair will take place on Sunday-Wednesday, April 1-4. Historically, the fair has opened on Thursday and closed on Monday. The new schedule, to be implemented after 45 years, is a “strategic change,” wrote the authors of the release, “to give greater space to business.”

The change marks an end to what VinoWine editor Franco Ziliani called a “schizophrenic formula” that ultimately led many producers to leave the fair early and left them saddled with the crush of consumer attendance during the peak of the event, Saturday and Sunday. “Four days instead of five,” wrote Ziliani on his blog Vino al Vino, “Finally! Three entire days — Monday-Wednesday — geared for operators, meaning restaurateurs, wine shop owners, distributors, importers, wholesalers, wine bar owners, sommeliers, and journalists etc.”

Report from Vinitaly by Italian Wine Guy

30-year veteran of the Italian wine industry Italian Wine Guy reports this year on Vinitaly.

Vinitaly 2011 will be remembered for many things. But the big story was the heat. Arguably the hottest Vinitaly on record with temperatures reaching 32º C.

There were some new hellos and one goodbye to this Vinitaly. As of next year, in 2012, Vinitaly will shorten to four days and start on a Sunday, something people have been asking for some time now. Unfortunately, the premier of the new format next year will be during the week before Easter and also will coincide with L’Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux. That will make it impossible for agents and journalists who cover both events.

Etna wines were one of the big hits this year. The Nerello wines from the brooding mountain are being compared to Burgundies and Nebbiolos. And the prices reflect that sense of rarity. Sicilian wines are becoming seen in a new light.

Daniele Cernilli is trying to reinvent himself, à la James Suckling but without the aplomb that the American in Tuscany seems to have started off. Calling himself Doctor Wine (isn’t there already a Wine Doctor and a Doctor Vino?) it is a feeble attempt at trying to enter into the 21st century. Hint to Cernilli: If you are calling it a blog, you might want to open your comments section up.

Speaking of Suckling, his absence at the fair was not noticed, again. In that sense, why should he come down and taste with the masses? He doesn’t have to do that in Bordeaux? So there will be no “Vinitaly- I am here” video likely to issue from his website.

The real star of the show was the youth in full press at the booths. Young Italians seem to be embracing Italian wine and moving into sectors once held by middle aged men. I noted this because when I was one of the young ones, the older men who ran the business were a closed set. Now that I have been in the business for some time (my first Vinitaly was 1984) I am seeing the impatience of youth knocking on the establishment’s door. So there will be much turnover in the next 5-10 years.

Talk this year at the Lageder event in Alto-Adige, Summa, was how they were going to work around the new Vinitaly schedule. Likely the two natural wine events near Verona, Vin Nature and Vini Veri are studying the 2012 calendar too.

The 2010 vintage in Italy, as in France and Germany, is showing to be a very good vintage. Weather patterns laid out a wonderful march to ripeness. There should be very good wines coming from Piedmont and Tuscany.

So, Sicily, Piedmont, Tuscany, all seem to have their eyes on the 2010 prize. Hey, it seems to be working for Bordeaux.

Read Italian Wine Guy’s blog here.