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19th September 2011 - Jefford on Monday: But what about Chianti?

by Andrew Jefford http://www.decanter.com/news/blogs/expert


The fatal hour has been and gone. Montalcino producers have, in the end, decided to reject the possibility of creating three different Rossi, two of which would have been pure Sangiovese and one of which would have allowed a 15 per cent admixture of ‘other’ varieties.


Great – but for my part, I still haven’t quite come to terms with the fact that something called Chianti Classico can contain up to 20 per cent Cabernet, Syrah, Merlot and so on. This percentage was ratified almost a decade ago and the initial decision was taken in 1996, but it still strikes me as perhaps the most senseless legislative change I have ever seen in the wine world.

I understand, of course, growers wishing to make such blends. Calling them ‘Chianti Classico’, though, strips meaning from ‘Chianti’ and makes ‘Classico’ ring hollow. As has been endlessly pointed out, there are IGT and even other DOC options throughout Tuscany as a passport to market for such wines. I can’t look at a bottle of Chianti without feeling a little deflated, and quickly spinning it in hope that the back label will tell me whether or not it’s made from Tuscan varieties alone. (Disclosing the blend, alas, is not obligatory.)

The arguments sketched out for the Rosso di Montalcino changes were telling. Sangiovese, we hear, is a difficult grape; it doesn’t grow well in every site in Montalcino; the wines would be ‘better’, ‘softer’, more consistent and less susceptible to vintage variations with a posse of other varieties reinforcing it.

These are the arguments of the accountant, of the academic oenologist, of the blender, of the brand marketer; their logic is industrial rather than agricultural, and I was surprised that so many distinguished figures in the Italian wine community were ready to make them.

If Sangiovese is inadequate, moreover, why hasn’t DOC Sant’Antimo already eclipsed Rosso di Montalcino? Could it be because the consumers of Rosso di Montalcino (like the consumers of most red burgundy) actually relish its singularities, its difficulties, its inconsistencies, and are more than happy to put up with them in return for the highly inflected pleasures which only Sangiovese grown in this place on earth can provide?

Indeed that shadowland of nuance is a reflection both of the astonishing local clonal diversity of this enigmatic variety, and of the multi-faceted, ever-changing Tuscan landscape. Some consumers may find the asperities challenging at first. Later, though, it is what they come to love most about these wines.

Subtle, refined, reserved, understated, intricate, austere, craggy, bitter-edged, acidic, authoritative, sober, senseless without food: these are some of the descriptors I jotted during a recent Brunello tasting. Many if not all of them apply to Brunello’s younger sibling, and indeed to genuinely classical Chianti. Does any of this sound like Merlot? Does any of these adjectives remind you of Syrah? I don’t think so. If I want a well-balanced, pleasant, consistent and internationally acceptable wine from Tuscany, I’ll buy an IGT wine. But I don’t. I want a glass that tastes like Dante, Machiavelli and a Savonarola sermon. Only Sangiovese can do that.

The challenge to Rosso di Montalcino is over. Let’s hope the producers of Chianti Classico have been listening - and now decide to take a look at their own muddle-brained rule book.

 

 
8th September 2011 - Montalcino throws out Rosso changes

By Kerin O'Keefe www.decanter.com/news

Montalcino's producers yesterday overwhelmingly rejected proposals to change Rosso di Montalcino's production code.

 

The proposals put forward by the Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino were to allow other grapes in Rosso di Montalcino, permit irrigation and chang current vineyard regulations.

The majority of Consorzio members attended the Assembly, and 69% voted not to change Rosso di Montalcino.

Voting rights depend on winery size: small to medium-sized wineries had an average of 3 votes each, while the biggest wineries had up to 60 votes depending on the year and bottle numbers.

The landslide victory left most producers buoyant. ‘This is an important milestone for Montalcino’s producers who work so hard to create unique, terroir-driven wines from Sangiovese,’ Gigliola Gorelli of Tenute Le Potazzine, one of Brunello’s rising stars, said.

Col d’Orcia’s Francesco Marone Cinzano said, ‘Montalcino’s producers have once again spoken out in favour of protecting the pedigree of our wines.

‘But I am very upset over the amount of time, effort and expense this call for a vote has cost everyone here in Montalcino. There was no logic or planning to their proposals, they just decided to call for the vote.’

Jacopo Biondi Santi, who distributes his father Franco's Brunellos along with his own Castello di Montepo, supported the 'no' vote.

He told Decanter.com, 'Thankfully Montalcino made the right decision yesterday, not only in terms of image, but in commercial terms. These proposals would have led to many more vines registered to Rosso production, and they would have saturated the market.'

Consorzio board member Fabrizio Bindocci said, ‘Montalcino has lost a great opportunity to have two Rossos that would have satisfied all markets. But this was a democratic vote, done by secret ballot, and the producers have spoken. At least now we know what route to take for the future’.

 

 
6th September 2011 - Montalcino changes demanded by markets, says consorzio

by Kerin O'Keefe www.decanter.com/news

Changes to Rosso di Montalcino are essential for key markets such as Germany, Canada and China, a Consorzio board member has said.

 
Sangiovese: no longer 100%?

 

Fabrizio Bindocci, oenologist at Il Poggione, and on the Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino’s board of directors told Decanter.com these markets want a softer style of Rosso, the ‘second wine’ to Brunello di Montalcino.

‘The proposals would allow producers to continue to make Rosso with 100% Sangiovese if they want, while giving others the option of adding other grapes. Many markets, like Germany, Canada and China, are demanding rounder, softer Rosso di Montalcino. Producers should be allowed to fill this demand,’ he said.

Bindocci added that although he supports the proposed changes to Rosso, he ‘will continue to make Rosso with 100% Sangiovese’.

Montalcino is bracing itself for a controversial vote tomorrow, 7 September, that would not only allow other grapes into the wine, but that would eliminate several key vineyard requirements.

While many small producers have contested the timing of the vote, at the start of the harvest period, a strong turnout is expected.

‘With such an important decision, we are expecting a turnout of the vast majority of firms,’ consorzio president Ezio Rivella told Decanter.com.

As has been reported, the vote is on whether to change the production code of Rosso di Montalcino, which like Brunello is currently made with 100% Sangiovese.

Two separate proposals call for the creation of up to three different Rosso di Montalcino. The upper levels would demand 100% Sangiovese while a lower level, basic Rosso di Montalcino, would only have to be 85% Sangiovese, allowing 15% other red varieties grown in Montalcino.

Rivella, Banfi’s director and winemaker from 1978 until 2000, will abritrate the vote.

The first order of business will be to decide whether to vote by secret ballot or a show of hands, he said.

Not all members have equal voting status. Italian laws governing consorzios give more voting power to higher volume producers, meaning the minority of large firms often override the majority of smaller producers.

Before he became president of the Consorzio, Rivella openly advocated allowing other grapes in Brunello and Rosso, but now says he will ‘accept what the consorzio members want,’ even if personally he would like to see ‘producers have the possibility to personalize their Rosso. If that includes adding other grapes, they should be allowed this possibility’.

However, some observers claim the proposed changes are in reality a way of utilising the 450ha of grapes, mainly international varieties, registered to Sant’Antimo, a denomination set up in 1996 allowing a variety of red and white varities.

Many consider Sant’Antimo unsuccessful: according to Rivella it ‘never took off’.

As of 2008, Banfi alone had 242 ha registered to Sant’Antimo DOC and 322 ha registered to IGT Toscana, as reported in the conosorzio’s publication I Produttori.

There are other crucial changes in the proposals, which would allow for emergency irrigation, currently banned, as well as changes to vineyard location.


Currently, Rosso vineyards must be on hills and slopes, and not above 600m, while terrain must be from certain geological periods.

The first two conditions would be eliminated and the third modified under the new proposals.

‘Vineyard requirements will eventually have to be revisited for Brunello as well,’ Rivella said.

Such modifications, as well as the high number of hectares of international grapes in Montalcino, have madeveteran producer Franco Biondi Santi clarify his position. ‘I will absolutely vote NO on any changes to Rosso di Montalcino’ thanks to 'huge modifications' of the original idea proposed three years ago. ‘Unfortunately, the culture of quality wine has evidently still not arrived in Montalcino,’ the winemaker said.

 
6th September 2011 - Franco Biondi Santi speaks out against proposed Montalcino changes

dobianchi.com reports:

It would seem that the editors at Decanter and Gambero Rosso spoke too soon when they reported that Brunello di Montalcino great Franco Biondi Santi (below, photo via Weintipps) supported proposed changes to the Rosso di Montalcino appellation that would allow for blending of international grape varieties in Rosso di Montalcino (current legislation requires that Rosso di Montalcino be made with 100% Sangiovese grapes).

Last week, both publications cited him as a supporter of Brunello producers association president Ezio Rivella’s campaign to modernize the appellation. But evidently, neither contacted Biondi Santi — the grandson of the creator of Brunello di Montalcino and a towering figure in the history of the appellation — for comment.

“Three years ago I was in favor of the addition of softening wines or grapes to Sangiovese for Rosso di Montalcino,” said Biondi Santi in a phone interview today with one of Italy’s leading wine writers and top wine blogger Franco Ziliani, who quotes the signore del Brunello on his blog Vino al Vino. “Today, things have changed and my position is no to any change to the appellation.”

The proposed changes, he noted, would allow producers to transform 500 hectares of unsellable Sant’Antimo and IGT Toscana into Rosso di Montalcino.

“We would enter into the same thicket as 1966,” said Biondi Santi, “when the appellation ‘Vino Rosso dai Vigneti di Brunello’ was created.” [editor's note: this appellation was changed to Rosso di Montalcino fifteen years later] “In the fall of 1966, Montalcino was obligated to found the Brunello Consortium, which became operative on January 1, 1967, with my father. After three months of negotiations with other producers, we decided not to enter the consortium because we strongly disapproved of how it was taking advantage of an equivocation at the time: the grape variety was also called Brunello and it was considered a subvariety of Sangiovese! Therefore, a no is indispensable in order to clarify.”

 
5th September 2011 - Biondi Santi, Nardi hint at 'yes' vote in Montalcino

by Adam Lechmere www.decanter.com/news

Senior figures in Tuscany have indicated they may vote in favour of a motion to change the rules on blending in Rosso di Montalcino.


MONTALCINO

While Nicolas Belfrage MW, James Suckling, Jancis Robinson MW and many other critics decry the notion as heretical – it would ‘pollute’ Rosso to allow Merlot or Syrah into the blend, Robinson said – others disagree.

Franco Biondi Santi, one of Montalcino’s eminences grises, has not changed his position since he said nearly three years ago that blended Rosso di Montalcino could work.

‘Since I know the land of Montalcino very well,’ he emailed Decanter.com yesterday, ‘I can confirm that small additions of other vines (Merlot, etc…) could balance the wine in small percentages.’

Emilia Nardi, of Tenute Silvio Nardi, refused to say which way she would be voting when the Montalcino Consorzio meets on Wednesday, but agreed that ‘for some producers it can be helpful to add another variety’ in some circumstances.

‘Sangiovese is a difficult grape variety, and Rosso di Montalcino can be seen as a poor brother of Brunello. It is important to make good wine, just as it is important to respect tradition. It is a very difficult decision,’ she said. ‘I will decide how to vote at the last minute, after listening to all the arguments.’

Nardi did say that she thought making Rosso into a three-tiered denomination was ‘not necessary’.

‘It wouldn’t be helpful for the market – we need to present the wine as a simple idea.’

Other producers are set against change. Francesco Marone Cinzano of Col d’Orcia said today, ‘It is important to keep Rosso as unique as Brunello. Sangiovese is a recessive variety – it lets itself be overwhelmed – so Rosso would quickly lose its identity.’

Next Wednesday , members of the Consorzio will vote on whether to change to a two-tier or three-tier denomination for Rosso di Montalcino, one tier of which in each case would allow international varieties in the blend.

Some – like journalist Jeremy Parzen on his blog dobianchi.com – argue that this is a fait accompli as ‘the option not to change the appellation regulations is not on the table.

In fact, Decanter.com understands, the first vote on Wednesday is to decide on whether or not to change the denomination. The substance of the changes will be decided after that.

 
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