Col d’Orcia

© Paolo Tenti | Poggio al Vento vineyard with Castello di Argiano in background

The first thing to do was to pull up tobacco and wheat; after that it was years of studying Sangiovese. All that work has paid off, says Kerin O’Keefe, and Col d’Orcia continues to set ever higher standards in Montalcino.

Perhaps one of Francesco Marone Cinzano’s most significant contributions to Montalcino was choosing the right areas to plant Sangiovese.

Read the article: Col_dOrcia_feb_2013.pdf

Police arrest suspect in Soldera wine sabotage

Police have arrested a former employee of Brunello producer Soldera in connection with the destruction of thousands of litres of wine.

As reported earlier today on Montalcino-based website winenews.it, Di Gisi was arrested last night after a coordinated investigation involving Montalcino and Siena carabinieri, as well as the public prosecutor of Siena.

According to reports, the suspect already has a record of crimes involving destruction of property. In this case, he is charged with sabotage.

According to unofficial reports, Di Gisi bears a grudge against Soldera, stemming from the fact ‘Soldera showing preference to another employee by giving him better lodging’ at the winery, online daily siena.free.it said.

At a televised press conference in Siena the authorities said they arrested the subject after following his movements on 2 December on various video cameras around Montalcino and later intercepted a cell phone call where he told his nephew, ‘Wine isn’t like blood, with two washes it will go away.’

Read the article: Police arrest suspect in Soldera wine sabotage

Montalcino rallies round as Soldera’s Brunellos are destroyed

Vandals have destroyed thousands of litres of ageing Brunello in the cellars of cult producer Gianfranco Soldera.

The cellars at Soldera’s Case Basse estate in Montalcino were broken into and the taps opened on all of his Brunello barrels, draining the every litre of vintages from 2007 to 2012 – more than 600 hectolitres (60,000 litres) of ageing wine. No bottles, nor any valuables were taken or damaged.

Most observers assume this was a personal attack on Soldera (pictured), one of the most outspoken Brunello producers and a staunch advocate of the rule that allows only 100% Sangiovese in the blend.

Fellow producers and their consorzio, shocked at the crime, are rallying behind him.

Read the article: Montalcino rallies round as Soldera’s Brunellos are destroyed

Italian legend Aldo Conterno dies

Legendary Barolo producer Aldo Conterno passed away in Monforte d’Alba in Piedmont at the age of 81.

Aldo Conterno, who played a crucial role in Barolo’s rebirth as a world-class wine, came from generations of Barolo producers.

His father was the acclaimed Barolista Giacomo Conterno, one of the denomination’s twentieth century pioneers who in 1920 began bottling the family’s Barolo Riserva, so heralding the birth of Monfortino, arguably Barolo’s most iconic wine.

In 1961, Conterno and his brother Giovanni inherited the Giacomo Conterno winery; the two brothers went their separate ways in 1969 and Aldo created his own estate, Poderi Aldo Conterno, in Bussia in Monforte d’Alba.

Read the article: Italian legend Aldo Conterno dies

Modest maestros

From the shadows of Italy’s famous consultant winemakers, who drove the country into the spotlight with cult bottlings from international grapes, a band of less starry names is finally emerging. Kerin O’Keefe profiles six oenologists working with native grapes who are reluctantly getting the attention their efforts deserve.

Read the article: Modest maestros

Montalcino: time to get in the zone

Forget blending scandals and infighting over the make-up of Rosso – the biggest issue facing Brunello di Montalcino is the creation of subzones. Kerin O’Keefe argues that consumers need better guidance around what is a vast region of hugely variable styles – and quality.

If Brunello di Montalcino’s 2008 grape blending scandal proved anything, it was that the region’s native Sangiovese excels only in certain areas of the vast growing zone. Why else would producers be tempted to adulterate it with other varieties?

It is surely no coincidence that since the scandal, which was effectively swept under the rug in 2009, there has been an attempt to change Brunello’s rigid production code to allow other grapes, as well as two efforts to modify Rosso di Montalcino – reportedly launched by some of the denomination’s largest firms. The efforts failed.

Now a number of producers are arguing that, rather than allowing other grapes to bolster wines hailing from inferior vineyards, it is instead time to recognise quality by creating official subzones. Summertime temperatures can vary by up to 7°C between Montalcino’s northern and southern extremes, and a dizzying array of altitudes range from just above sea level to more than 500m. Montalcino also boasts one of the most complex and diverse soil profiles in Italy, and all of these factors have a marked effect on the performance of the temperamental Sangiovese. Despite such obvious differences, or perhaps because of them, the powers that be in Montalcino continue to ignore pleas from a growing number of parties to officially acknowledge Montalcino’s varied subzones.

Read the article: Montalcino: time to get in the zone

Lugana. World Class White with Finesse

Lugana is one of the most exciting white wines made in Italy thanks to its unique growing conditions, very old vines and native grape Turbiana.

If for years Lugana was Italy’s best kept oenological secret,
known mainly to the throngs of tourists who descend every year
on the sparkling shores of Lake Garda to visit the area’s picturesque villages and the charming 13th century Sirmione Castle, the secret is now out.

Read the article: Lugana. World Class White with Finesse

Bruno Giacosa

This eminent Barolo producer has been around the block more than once since starting in wine 68 years ago. Kerin O’Keefe pays the great man a visit and hears how he has overcome the formidable challenges of recent years, including illness and the firing and re-hiring of his winemaker.

At first glance, things appear remarkably unchanged at Bruno Giacosa’s winery during my recent visit. It is almost as if the daunting challenges that the legendary Barolo and Barbaresco producer has faced over the past five years had never happened. Giacosa, one of Langhe’s trailblazing winemakers and an undisputed expert on the area’s top sites, showed off the latest vintages and discussed the past, present and future of this iconic estate alongside daughter Bruna and winemaker Dante Scaglione.

Giacosa, now 82, began his illustrious career at the age of 14, when he started working for his father’s grape-buying and winemaking estate. The young Giacosa soon gained renown for what many describe as his golden palate, and he went on to create Barolos and Barbarescos of extraordinary complexity from renowned vineyards, while discovering lesser-known sites that he would later make famous. Today, Giacosa’s acclaimed bottlings read like a wish list for wine connoisseurs, and include some of the most hallowed names in Piedmont, such as Falletto and Le Rocche del Falletto in Barolo, and Asili and Santo Stefano in Barbaresco. His red-label Riserva bottlings – made only in the best years – are among the most sought after wines in the world.

Giacosa was one of the first Italian winemakers to fully understand the importance of Langhe’s vineyards and, in 1967, he began bottling the famous hillside vineyard yields separately. Thanks to decades of experience as one of Langhe’s foremost grape buyers and winemakers, Giacosa decided years ahead of time which properties hewanted to own. The main object of his desire? Falletto. Located in the venerable village of Serralunga, perhaps the most prestigious of all the Barolo villages, Falletto has perfect southwest exposure that allows the grapes to mature slowly but fully, while its calcareous soil adds complexity and structure. ‘I’d been buying grapes from Falletto since 1967 and had always wanted to buy it,’ says Giacosa. ‘In 1982, I finally realised my dream.’ In 1996, he went on to acquire a parcel of land on the top of the notable Asili hillside in Barbaresco. Today he admits that this is the vineyard closest to his heart. ‘No other vineyard in Langhe yields a bouquet as elegant, or possesses such finesse and balance as Asili,’ says the veteran, who attributes the vineyard’s performance to its sandy, almost silty soil, full southern exposure and high altitude.

Read the article: Bruno Giacosa

US love affair with Italy

Why the US can’t get enough of Italian wine.

Food and wine have always been important for Italian Americans, and today many star US chefs are of Italian descent. This love for Italian food has helped drive the popularity of Italian wine.

Even though an increased focus on food and wine pairing is a major force behind Italian wine sales in America, some experts attribute the sustained success of Italian wine here to a tailor-made style that caters specifically to the ’American Palate‘, a term which has become synonymous with highly oaked, overly dense, sweet and powerful wines.

Surprisingly accepted as a reality for years by many in the media and by wine producers themselves, the concept behind the American Palate – that a single style can capture the taste buds of an entire nation – is generating sharp debate, if not a downright backlash, as evolving consumer preferences are turning away from this heavy-handed style.

Read the article: US love affair with Italy

A Rosso by any other name

Rosso di Montalcino used to be a light, simple quaffer, not a rich powerhouse like its big brother, Brunello. So why are so many Rossos now being made in this stronger style, asks Kerin O’Keefe.

Monstrous tannins, alcohol levels reaching 14.5% and made exclusively with 100% Sangiovese? Only one wine should fit this description: Brunello di Montalcino.
But Rosso di Montalcino, often called Brunello’s fratellino (baby brother), and created as the denomination’s second wine to be consumed young, often shares many of the qualities once reserved for the hilltop town’s most illustrious bottling. While sibling rivalry is nothing new in the Italian wine world, it is perhaps the first time the term applies to two wines made with the same grape from the same denomination. So why are so many Rossos now powerhouses, with
almost Brunello-like structures?

Read the article: A Rosso by any other name

Brunello: 2005 now, 2004 Later

The tail-end of the vintage was a washout, leading some to write it off. Yet many smaller estates have made impressive Brunellos in 2005, says Kerin O’Keefe– perfect as we wait to open the magnificent riserva 04s…

One of the biggest problems facing producers of the recently released Brunello 2005s is that the vintage is sandwiched between the superb Brunello 2004s and the already much-hyped 2006s, scheduled for release next year. While 2004 is a classic vintage, thanks to perfect climatic conditions that yielded structured, harmonious wines with serious cellaring potential, 2005 was an unstable year in most of Montalcino’s growing zone, with a cool summer that culminated in heavy rains at harvest time.

There are, however, some surprisingly good Brunellos from
the vintage, and those estates – mostly small – that were able to
pick entirely before torrential rains arrived, like Costanti, made
some of the best 2005s. Many of the larger houses, on the other
hand, were not able to finish harvesting before the rain, so had
a mixed quality crop.

The 2005 vintage underlines the need for official subzones
in Montalcino. While many Brunellos hailing from estates just
north and south of the town are delicate, with earthy, floral
aromas, Brunellos from Castelnuovo dell’Abate in the southeast
have bigger structures (though grape selection was still crucial).
The higher areas of Sant’Angelo in Colle in the far south also
yielded some very good wines, such as Il Poggione’s.

Read the article: Brunello: 2005 now, 2004 Later

Chianti Classico divorce papers come through

The Chianti Classico Consorzio has confirmed that after 78 years of distancing itself from the Chianti denomination, the divorce is now final.

The Chianti Classico zone, the original central growing area for Chianti, was first delimited in 1716 by the Grand Duke of Tuscany.

It was relegated to mere subzone status in 1932 when the government divided the much expanded Chianti area into subzones.

Since then Chianti Classico, which produces among the best wines in Italy, has fought to distance itself from Chianti, winning its first battle for independence in 1996 when it became its own autonomous denomination.

A new ministerial decree goes even further, and bans any vineyards in the Classico zone from being used for Chianti or Chianti Superiore production.

Read the article: Chianti Classico divorce papers come through

Brunello: no change in the rules, producers vote

Brunello di Montalcino producers have voted by a landslide to leave the wine 100% Sangiovese.

In yesterday’s highly publicised assembly to decide the fate of the beleaguered wine, 96% voted to leave Brunello as it is.

‘Only 4% of producers voted to change the production code,’ a triumphant Franco Biondi Santi told decanter.com.

Biondi Santi was one of the most active defenders of the wine’s traditional production code and over the past few months helped rally the support of the majority of Brunello makers.

Read the article: Brunello: no change in the rules, producers vote

Brunello on the brink

An overhyped 2003 vintage, a fraud scandal, and the threat of a US ban has left Brunello in crisis. Could subregions be the answer, asks Kerin O’Keefe.

No one will forget the scalding summer of 2003, among the hottest and driest ever recorded in Europe. Many consumers, however, will want to forget the wines from this vintage; Italy was hit hard and most wines reflect the difficult conditions.

Brunello di Montalcino subzones
© Decanter | Montalcino subzones

For now, subzones remain unofficial, but more and more producers are writing back-label info or the name of the hamlet on the front label. Although some subzones are considered superior to others, ultimately, any such view depends on what you want. Brunellos that will develop layers of complexity with age hail from the original growing area just southeast of Montalcino, while Sant’Angelo is a good source of fruit forward, muscular Brunellos. For a combination of elegance and power, look for Castelnuovo d’Abate, and for Brunellos with exquisite bouquets and refinement, buy from north Montalcino. While unofficial, the following zonal breakdown should provide a useful guide…
Read the article: Brunello on the brink

The Great Escape

It is rare today to find vines that have not been grafted to American rootstock to counter phylloxera, which destroyed so many of the world’s vines. Until recently, few people had any idea of how this had affected the wines’ flavours, but a few producers are now making wines from ungrafted vines and have discovered a taste of yesteryear, writes Kerin O’Keefe.

It is hard to believe that a nearly microscopic louse is responsible for obliterating age-old traditions of vine cultivation and wine production around the world. Yet phylloxera, a tiny insect which kills grape vines by attacking their roots, accomplished just that and continues to attack California and parts of the New World today.

Aptly named phylloxera vastatrix or ‘the devastator’ by 19th-century French scientists, the pest was unknowingly imported into Europe from America with live vines during the height of botanical imports from the New World. Destroying nearly 2.5 million ha (hectares) in France alone, phylloxera raged throughout Europe from the 1860s until the 1930s before being brought under control.

After much trial and error, it was discovered that the only effective solution was grafting the European vitis vinifera varietals onto resistant US rootstocks, a technique which still holds true today. While replanting grafted vines saved wine production from extinction in the Old World, experts and wine lovers have often wondered what wine was like before phylloxera. Thanks to tiny parcels of vineyards throughout Europe which were inexplicably unscathed by this voracious aphid – as well as a very few courageous producers who are risking all by planting ungrafted vines – it is still possible to get a taste of these wines from the past.

Read the article: The Great Escape

Frescobaldi now in full control of Ornellaia

Tuscan producer Frescobaldi has bought the remaining 50% shares of Ornellaia from Constellation and now owns the elite Bolgheri estate outright.

Frescobaldi logoAs reported on decanter.com last December Frescobaldi had been eyeing a complete takeover since wine giant Constellation bought the Robert Mondavi Corporation. Mondavi had been partners with the Frescobaldi family in two Italian joint ventures, Luce della Vite and Ornellaia. Frescobaldi took control of Luce in early March of this year although Constellation was more reluctant to part with the higher-end Ornellaia, one of the jewels of the Italian wine scene, and whose wine, Masseto, is one of the most-sought after around the world.

Frescobaldi exercised the ‘option to buy clause’ in the original contract between the two companies which stated that if either party sold its share of the wine, the other would have the option to take full control.

Read the article: Frescobaldi now in full control of Ornellaia

Italian and other producers turn back to large casks

Orders for traditional large wooden barrels are sharply increasing in Italy and abroad, as barrique imports fall dramatically, according major cooperage Garbellotto.

Reacting to consumer demand for less dominant oak flavours in wines, producers all over Italy are starting to use their small French barrels (‘barriques’) two or three times. Many are abandoning them altogether and turning back to traditional large barrels made from Slavonian wood.

Read the article: Italian and other producers turn back to large casks

Barolo patriarch Bartolo Mascarello dies (by Paolo Tenti)

Italy’s Bartolo Mascarello – the patriarch of Barolo – died at his home in Barolo on Saturday at the age of 78.

A teenage partisan during the Second World War (he used to tell German wine lovers, ‘first you chased me, now you chase my wine’) he was dubbed ‘the Last of the Mohicans’ for his dogged refusal to let traditions die.

Deploring the shift from the traditional wooden botti to smaller, 225-litre barriques, he never accepted any method of making Barolo other than low yields, long maceration, big oak casks and minimum intervention in the cellar.

His dedication to the preservation of Barolo’s true character and above all its longevity, made him the patriarch of traditional Barolo and gained him an international cult following – with fans as diverse as the cellist and conductor Rostropovich, and the Queen of the Netherlands.

Mascarello spent most of his life tending four small vineyards in prime locations: Cannubi, San Lorenzo and Rué in Barolo, and Rocche in La Morra. He favoured the old-school practice of blending from those four plots, rejecting the modern style of single vineyard crus. He always argued, ‘We don’t even have a word for cru: we have to import it from France.’

Read the article: Barolo patriarch Bartolo Mascarello dies

Italian wine culture in danger of outsiders and ‘vultures’: Tachis

Giacomo Tachis, the most celebrated Italian winemaker, has outlined a bleak future for corporate-owned Italian wines – and says those who inflate the price of the top wines are ‘vultures.’

At the Vini di Toscana 2004 awards ceremony held earlier this week in Florence, the legendary oenologist, who was honored with a lifetime achievement award for his pioneering work with Super Tuscans, surprised the audience with some outspoken observations.

Read the article: Italian wine culture in danger of outsiders and ‘vultures’: Tachis

Pioneer Luigi Veronelli dies

Italy’s most celebrated wine and food critic Luigi Veronelli died at his home in Bergamo yesterday after a long illness. He was 78.

‘Gino’ Veronelli was among the first to celebrate the men and women who dedicated their lives to viticulture and agriculture. His pioneering guide to Italian wines, first published in 1959, set the standards for wine writing and wine guides around the world, and his television series on cooking and wine in the 1960s introduced millions of Italians to Italy’s regional specialities.

His advice on wine and viticulture was not only for consumers. According to Barolo and Barbaresco producer Bruno Giacosa, the critic also influenced Italy’s top wine producers.

‘Gino was all heart,’ Giacosa told decanter.com. ‘He was the first person to teach us that a great wine was born in the vineyards. He was the first to point out the absolute necessity of carefully selecting grapes in the vineyards, the importance of terroir, of realising the potential of one vineyard or cru over another.

‘He believed Italian wine could be brought to exceptional levels if we worked closely with the earth. Back in the 60s and 70s, no one thought like this. He truly was a pioneer.’

Read the article: Pioneer Luigi Veronelli dies

Nebbiolo is viognier cousin, conference hears

Nebbiolo, one of Italy’s most famous black grape varieties, is related to the aromatic viognier, DNA boffins have found.

Nebbiolo grapes
© Paolo Tenti | Grapes from old Nebbiolo vines in Barbaresco

The noble Piedmontese grape, which gives Barolo and Barbaresco their power and longevity, has been found to relate directly to another indigenous grape from Piedmont called freisa, which in turn is a cousin of viognier.

Genetic researchers Dr Anna Schneider from CNR of Turin and Dr José Vouillamoz of UC Davis and Istituto Agrario di San Michele all’Adige, released surprising preliminary findings from their research into nebbiolo’s DNA composition, at a conference in northern Italy at the weekend.

Read the article: Nebbiolo is viognier cousin, conference hears

Anti-Berlusconi label becomes collector’s item

A hand-painted Barolo label lampooning Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi has become a collector’s item.

Bartolo Mascarello label: No Barrique No Berlusconi
Bartolo Mascarello label: No Barrique No Berlusconi

The label scandal which erupted in Italy during last year’s elections is continuing to draw wine aficionados to Piedmont in search of the rare bottles of ‘No Barrique, No Berlusconi’ Barolo.

Tourists and collectors are flocking into the area hoping to find bottles of the wine that caused at least one shop to be raided by the military for ‘displaying political propaganda in an unauthorised space’.

Read the article: Anti-Berlusconi label becomes collector’s item