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12th March 2012 - Brunello subzones desirable but unlikely, say experts

by Adam Lechmere

Lovers of Brunello di Montalcino would benefit if the appellation were to be split into subzones – but it's politically highly unlikely, Italian experts argue in this month’s Decanter.

Kerin O’Keefe and Ian D’Agata say in the April issue of Decanter magazine that ‘Montalcino’s varied subzones’ should be officially recognised. The terroir varies significantly across the 2000ha of the Montalcino appellation, O’Keefe says.

‘Summertime temperatures can vary by as much as 7C between Montalcino’s northern and southern extremes’, and altitudes can range from just above sea level to 500m.
Many producers recognise that Sangiovese - the only permitted grape in Brunello di Montalcino and Rosso di Montalcino - cannot grow equally well in so many different terroirs, hence moves to allow international blends in Rosso, the region’s 'second' wine.

But any attempt to introduce different quality levels via subzones is doomed to failure. ‘With all the commercial interests in Montalcino, it’s probably too late,’ O’Keefe writes. And she is backed up by Ian D’Agata. Writing on the same pages, the critic and journalist argues that Brunello is in danger of losing its character.

‘I believe it is impossible to make truly great wine from such a large area,’ he says, going on to argue that it is necessary to zone the region in order that the terroirs most suited to Sangiovese are allowed to stand out.

The problem in Montalcino is that it was allowed to expand ‘without taking into account that great Sangiovese cannot be made just anywhere.’

Montalcino and Chianti are two areas of the world in which ‘Sangiovese reaches qualitative heights unattainable, and unimaginable, elsewhere.’ To lose that, D’Agata says, would be ‘beyond stupid’.

16th January 2012 - Guiseppe Quintarelli dies

Article from

Giuseppe Quintarelli, the man recognised as the father of Amarone, has died aged 84.

Quintarelli: 'uncompromising' [Image:]

Quintarelli's death was confirmed by his grandson Francesco Grigoli, who said he had Parkinson’s disease.

Tributes have been pouring in on social media for a winemaker described as ‘maestro’ whose ‘stunning Amarones were legendary’, and who was respected as an uncompromising perfectionist.

Giuseppe Quintarelli was born in 1927, in Negrar in the Veneto, the heart of Valpolicella. His father Silvio had been making wine since before the First World War, cultivating vines with his family under a sharecropping system, and managing to buy his own land after the war.

Giuseppe took over the estate in 1950, and started a programme of gradual improvement and expansion. Today the 12ha of vineyards stretches along the eastern side of the Negrar valley, the grapes brought in and vinified in the estate cellars located on the peak of the Cà Paletta hill in Cerè di Negrar.

As well as its renowned Amarone della Valpolicella Classico and Amarone Riserva, the esate produces a Valpolicella Classico and a Recioto della Valpolicella, and a handful of IGT wines - a Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Corvina blend called Primo Fiore, Rosso del Bepi, Alzero, Amabile del Cerè, and a dry white, Bianco Secco, from a rare local variety called Saorin.

In many ways Quintarelli was one of the most traditional of the Amarone producers, ageing his wine for seven years in Slavonian oak 'bottis', hand drawing – and hand-glueing – all his labels. It was part of the Quintarelli legend that every bottle could be slightly different, even of the same wine in the same vintage. This was regarded as proof of true artisanality.

As many point out, however, Quintarelli may have been traditional but he was not afraid of innovation. In 1985 he introduced new grape varieties such As Nebbiolo, Croatina, Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon. Bianco Secco was one of the first dry white wines in Valpolicella.

Italian critic and blogger Franco Ziliani, on his blog Vinoalvino, said that after the death of Guilio Gambelli at the beginning of the month, this was turning into ‘a cruel January, with another serious loss to the world of Italian wine…Giuseppe ‘Bepi’ Quintarelli was ‘the true soul of Amarone della Valpolicella.’

Others paid tribute to his uncompromising nature and his ability to craft wines that were ‘light years away from commodity wines,’ as Ziliani said.

Polish blogger Wojciech Bońkowski wrote, ‘Quintarelli was uncompromising as a person and as a winemaker. Although firmly of the Old School, he did allow new things to be introduced, he grew some Cabernet and Merlot in the vineyards and even used small oak barriques in Alzero, his stunning reinterpretation of Amarone.’

David Gleave MW, managing director of Liberty Wines,, ‘The most amazing thing about him was the fact that about 20 years ago he passed on the business but found the quality of the wines dropped, so in his 70s he took over and started making the wine again.’

Many tried to copy the wines, which were ‘traditional but without defects,’ Gleave said. ‘They were not in the modern style but it’s important to have that diversity.’

Giuseppe Quintarelli leaves his wife and three daughters, the eldest of whom, Fiorenza, supervises the winery. Her son Francesco Grigoli runs day-to-day operations along with veteran cantiniere Luca Fedrigo.

16th January 2012 - Giuseppe Quintarelli dies

by Walter Speller -

17 Jan - See additional information at the end of this article.

January 2012 has torn away another human icon from the Italian wine scene. Only a few weeks after Giulio Gambelli passed away, yesterday the sad news reached us that Giuseppe Quintarelli has died.

Quintarelli may be known primarily for the exhorbitant prices at which his Valpolicella and Amarone changes hands, but 'Bepi', as Quintarelli was also known, was anything but a marketing wizard. A staunchly traditional man, he believed that good quality grapes could come only from the hillside, and his Amarone, which was produced only in exceptional years, received prolonged cask ageing, his Riserva version at least 10 years compared to the eight prescribed by law. 

In more modest years, unlike most of his neighbours, he always declassified his Amarone, a big financial sacrifice for a wine which fetches up €300 a bottle, to the modestly named 'Rosso del Bepi'. But the wine world's ongoing fascination with his wines is due to the fact that they are so very different of most Amarone nowadays: a rich, sweet, heady and alcoholic dark red wine, while Quintarelli's is about freshness and elegance.

But Quintarelli didn't eschew international varieties and he was one of the first to plant Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. He dried the grapes, just like Amarone, to produce a dry passito wine called Alzero, and which, just like the Amarone, achieved cult status with many imitations throughout the region.

Quintarelli may have been thought of as living in the past, but his staunch clinging to traditional values in the vineyard and the cellar and insisting on producing only the highest quality, has made him from the very beginning the region's leader. The fact that his wines commanded the prices they do in the international market is proof that Valpolicella, considered by many a simple, cheap wine associated mainly with supermarket shelves, can be a great wine if made with care and dedication. His way of working has inspired a new generation which, more than ever, wants the wine to be a true expression of terroir. 

Quintarelli has shown them the way, insisting on large oak casks, choosing natural drying processes for the grapes, reappraising old vines' pergola training and, most of all, an independence from the market which dictates annual production of one of Italy's greatest wines, Amarone, whether the vintage conditions permit it or not. 

Jancis adds: He was a one-off and the future of his unique estate remains a mystery. i recommend anyone who has yet to taste a Quintarelli wine does their best to do so. may be able to help. I have very fond memories of his Cabernet Franc. 

One UK company with an unusually comprehensive array of Amarones and an entirewebsite devoted to them (from which the image above was taken) is The Vineyard in Dorking. Their current selection is here.

4th January 2012 - Italian Grape Name and Appellation Pronunciation Project

From the Dobianchi blog

The Italian Grape Name and Appellation Pronunciation Project was inspired by a desire to share the aural experience of Italian ampelography, vinography, and toponymy — in the voice of the winemakers and grapegrowers themselves. It all began here. Here you’ll find YouTube videos in alphabetical order (and I’ll continue to add more each week with each new episode). Thanks for listening to Italian grapes and appellations!

4th January 2012 - Father of Sangiovese dies

by Walter Speller -

The New Year starts with the loss of one of Italy's most important consultants, Giulio Gambelli, who from the very beginning has been Sangiovese's main protagonist and staunch supporter. Sangiovese, Tuscany's most important grape variety, has seen a revival in recent years but it is not that long ago that it was considered nothing more than fodder for bulk wine and supermarkets. It is thanks to the likes of Gambelli, insisting all his working life on the inherent greatness of the variety, that Sangiovese finally got the vineyard sites and respect it deserves.

The modern history of Sangiovese is closely tied to the life of Giulio Gambelli. Born in 1925 in the centre of Tuscany, Poggibonsi, Gambelli began working with the grape variety at the age of 14 as a cellar hand at what was then one of the largest wineries in the region, Enopolio. Never having received any official training as an oenologist, he found his talent and fabled capacity as a taster soon acknowledged by the winery's director, Tancredi Biondi Santi, who appointed him as his assistant in Enopolio's laboratory. This phase proved seminal for Gambelli's belief in and love for Sangiovese, as Biondi Santi was also the custodian of a Sangiovese clone he had isolated in one of his vineyards, Il Greppo, and which would become world famous under the name Brunello di Montalcino.

Gambelli's knowledge of the grape variety was second to none and he has consulted at some of Tuscany's most famous estates, which all have one thing in common: Sangiovese as the expression of Tuscan terroir. Many of Tuscany's top wines such as Soldera, Poggio di Sotto, Ormanni and Montevertine would not have been possible without Gambelli. He also proved to be an ongoing inspiration for the next generation of wine producers of Chianti Classico in particular, resulting in a host of single-vineyard 100% Sangiovese wines, eschewing the addition of international grape varieties. 

Estates Gambelli consulted for until fairly recently included most notably:

Montevertine – Le Pergole Torte 
San Donatino 
Villa Rosa 
Ormanni – Chianti Classico Borro del Diavolo 
San Donatino 
Il Colle – Brunello di Montalcino 
Poggio di Sotto

Gambelli kept on working for a oenological laboratory, which provided his income. Until very recently (I visited him twice in this laboratory in Poggibonsi until a couple of years ago) he kept on tasting the wines people brought him as he was no longer able to travel throughout the region. It is here that things become controversial, and typically Italian, about who can say Gambelli was a consultant. The debate rages on, some saying that only estates Gambelli actually visited are his true clients, while other estates, such as La Porta di Vertine (whom, I should point out, I advise on marketing), followed the Gambelli philosophy and carried samples to him to ask for his advice and opinion. The fact that in some cases he hadn’t been able to visit the estates themselves was, in my opinion, of little importance, as he knew the region like no other. Literally every patch of vineyard he knew, and I have experienced this formidable knowledge myself during those visits to the lab. It is ironic, that the controversy is fuelled over the right to claim his or her wine as a true Gambelli wine, when until very recently Sangiovese was considered a mediocre grape and many Italian wine critics were enthralled by the international styles...

Although Gambelli's legacy will undoubtedly live on, his loss is felt even more acutely as Gambelli, unlike other consultants, never wrote down his protocols and was too modest to even think of writing his memoirs. This is the same person who never took any money for his advice.

A couple of years ago, when I discovered Giulio Gambelli's advanced age, I mentioned this to Cosimo Gericke, the proprietor of Fattoria di Rignana, and he offered to organise a lunch and invite some of the owners of estates Gambelli was still in touch with. The picture below of Gambelli and Gericke was taken at that memorable lunch.

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