“By law, Brunello di Montalcino can be made only with 100 percent Sangiovese cultivated in Montalcino. Otherwise, it’s not Brunello. It shouldn’t be difficult to grasp,” asserts Gianfranco Soldera of Case Basse regarding “Brunellogate,” the grape-blending scandal that broke wide open just days before Vinitaly, the country’s largest annual wine fair, rocking both the sleepy village of Montalcino and one of Italy’s most esteemed denominations. The always forthright Soldera is one of the very few Brunello producers to speak out on the issue that currently besieges the wine and threatens its future. A tense silence has fallen like an iron curtain among the majority of Montalcino’s growers and winemakers, as well as their governing Consorzio. This near-total communication breakdown has not only left Brunello fans in the dark but has also generated controversial media coverage that has confused, exaggerated, or even made up the facts, while at the same time casting doubt as to the fate of Brunello as a varietal wine.
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.
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
While the notion of terroir has been both celebrated and ridiculed in some of the world’s greatest wine-producing areas, one of Italy’s most illustrious denominations has instead chosen to ignore it—until now. Kerin O’Keefe discovers Montalcino’s unofficial subzones.
Majestic. Elegant. Powerful. Long-lived. Expensive. Rare. All these adjectives have been applied to Brunello di Montalcino by the world’s leading wine authorities, from Cyril Ray to Burton Anderson, but may soon be supplemented by another much less positive—overflowing. Due to massive overplanting, Brunello production is now on the brink of exploding, which has pushed the long-neglected question of Brunello’s tipicità to the forefront, as Montalcino winemakers search for ways to protect Brunello’s identity and prestige from the perils posed by a saturated market. As areas previously considered unsuitable for winemaking are cultivated, many producers feel the time has come to recognize officially Montalcino’s greatly varied subzones and to curb vinification techniques that render a more international style.
Con il suo libro Kerin non ci propone solo una documentata, appassionata, ben raccontata biografia della dinastia Biondi Santi e di Franco, gentleman del Brunello, descritto a tutto tondo nella sua umanità e nel suo voler essere il degno testimone di un impegno, quello della qualità senza discussioni, che è sentito ancor più fortemente perché s’intreccia con la storia della sua famiglia.
O’Keefe, e di questo dobbiamo esserle profondamente grati, nel suo libro dimostra di credere in una sua idea del Brunello, (che, vedi caso, coincide con la visione di Franco Biondi Santi), e con coraggio, senza perifrasi e giri di parole, ricorda chiaramente che ora ci si trova di fronte ad una “situazione allarmante per il futuro del Brunello, il cui carattere e la cui tipicità uniche al mondo sono minacciate”, e che “oggi con il futuro di questo grande vino in pericolo e il volere da parte di certi produttori di cambiare ancora il disciplinare”, Franco Biondi Santi ha scelto di aderire al Consorzio per combattere dal di dentro ,”nella speranza che lui e gli altri produttori del Brunello tradizionale possano fermare la tendenza a renderlo un vino irriconoscibile”.
A modern-day war is being waged in Italy’s most renowned and treasured wine regions.
Of course there are no real battlefields and no loss of life. Instead, this war is being fought in seemingly idillic vineyards and winery cellars up and down the peninsula as two schools of tought clash. In jeopardy in this conflict are native grape varieties, prized wines and years of winemaking tradition. Some obeservers even argue that those who admire and enjoy Italy’s unique wines could suffer.