Tocai Friulano: the story behind the EU decision to change the name

January 14, 2011

In her 1913 poem “Sacred Emily,” Gertrude Stein wrote famously that a rose is a rose is a rose.

The best English-language account (that I could find) of the EU litigation that led to Tocai’s name change was posted by DiWineTaste here.

The bullet points are as follows:

In 1993, Hungary filed a complaint with the EU, petitioning the legislative branch of the European government to block Italy from labeling wines as “Tocai.” The Hungarians’s complaint was based on a common precept of trademark law: the Hungarians were the first to use the name Tokaji (a toponym and enonym and homonym of the Friulians’s Tocai) in commerce.

A protracted legal battle ended with a 2005 EU decision that the Italians could use the designation “Tocai” only on bottles sold in Italy (and not abroad).

The decision went into effect in March 2007, so technically the 2007 vintage was the first to fall under the restrictions created by the ruling.

Surprisingly, as Mr. Franco Ziliani and I reported at VinoWire, sales of bottles labeled with the new designation “Friulano” increased in Germany and the U.S. after the new labeling restrictions went into effect.

Maybe Stein and Shakespeare were both wrong: What’s in a name? that which we call a rose Tocai / By any other name would smell as sweet sweeter!


CMO reforms and how they relate to Italy

October 13, 2009

Tracie B and I recently opened a bottle of 2004 Sagrantino by Paolo Bea (a DOCG) that we had picked up at The Austin Wine Merchant. The wine was super tannic yet also had a wonderful “lightness of being.” We could not stop talking about it. So good… Photos by Tracie B.

In the wake of yesterday’s post on why the Italian DOC/G does and does not matter, I received a lot of positive and inquisitive feedback. So minister Luca Zaia and the Prosecco wars will have to wait until tomorrow.

First of all, some Googling this morning (prepping for my Tuscany seminar tonight at The Austin Wine Merchant) led me to this site, Agraria.org, which does seem to have a nearly complete list of DOCGs (although the new Matelica DOCG is not listed, it does include some of the most recently added DOCGs like the Moscato di Scanzo and Prosecco Asolo and Prosecco Conegliano Valdobbiadene).

Secondly, in case you haven’t been following the European Commission’s efforts to “streamline” and “simplify” European Union markets, here’s a link to some background info.

The bottom line: in 2006 the European Commission “proposed to the Council and the European Parliament to adopt one single Common Market Organisation for all agricultural products. This project, ‘the Single CMO’ is another important step in the process of simplification, which is priority of the Commission.”

As part of this process, beginning with the current vintage, EU member states’s wines will be required to be labeled with the one of the following classifications: Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) or Protected Geographical Indication (PGI). In Italian, the acronyms are as follows: DOP (Denominazione d’Origine Protetta) and IGP (Indicazione Geografica Protetta).

The following links will take you to some back ground info: here and here.

Here’s a link to E-Bacchus, a searchable database of all the currently registered PDOs and PGIs. There are currently 412 records in the PDO database (Italian DOCs and DOCGs) and 120 records in the PGI database (Italian IGTs).

And here’s a English Wiki entry on Protected Geographical Status.

In case you missed it, Franco wrote (and I translated) this editorial on the mad rush that preceded August 1, 2009 deadline for the creation of new DOCs and DOCGs.

On Saturday night, we ordered 2007 Langhe Nebbiolo by Produttori del Barbaresco (a DOC) at Il Sogno in San Antonio (no website). It’s one of our favorite wines and Il Sogno offers it at a fantastic on-premise price, a great value. We’re planning to serve this wine at our wedding! :-)

In my view, the CMO reforms are a good thing (for a number of reasons) and were “agreed by Italy” (as you say in diplomatic-speak): existing DOCs and DOCGs will be allowed on labeling (despite some alarmist reactions unfortunately based on sloppy blogging and reporting).

There are a number of reforms that have been implemented in Italy and Franco and I have reported on some of them at VinoWire. These include grubbing up, distillation, and use of grape must reforms, all aimed at streamlining the system and rewarding producers in member states for eliminating waste and observing environmentally friendly farming and vinification practices.

The new labeling, in my view, will help to simplify the appellation system, thus aiding those of us who buy and sell Italian wines.

From what I have read, there are other reforms as well (some of them unfortunately allowing undesirable commercial practices, like the use of oak chips).

But the most significant reform, in regard to Italy, in my view, is that at some point — and it’s not clear when — Italian winemakers will be able to use varietal labeling when producing international varieties. In other words, a wine like Planeta Merlot putatively could be labeled “Sicilian Merlot” or a Merlot from Tuscany hypothetically could be labeled “Montalcino Merlot.” Varietal labeling will not be allowed for indigenous varieties like Sangiovese or Aglianico.

Essentially, from what I understand, it will allow Italian producers to label their wines the way Californians and Australians do and consequently it will allow them to compete more aggressively in international markets.

While I’m not sure I want to drink Sicilian or Montalcino Merlot (and again, I need to stress, it’s not entirely clear how the labeling reforms will be implemented), it will free Italian producers from the yoke of currently strict labeling regulations. If someone wanted to produce a Montalcino Merlot and label it as such, that would be her or his business — literally.

Like the story of the Rabbi and the Ham Sandwich, I don’t need to drink Merlot from Montalcino. But if someone else wants to, that’s fine with me.


Worth reading: Google Earth, terroir, Italian women in France, and an interesting take on the war of rosés

June 9, 2009

From the “I wish I would have thought of that” department…

My life in Italian wine began twenty years ago when I first visited Bagno Vignoni near Montalcino and began tasting some illustrious and not-so-illustrious bottlings of Sangiovese thanks to my friend Riccardo Marcucci.

While the single-vineyard system of Barolo and Barbaresco offer the Nebbiolophile a legend by which to navigate the terroir of those appellations, lovers of Brunello di Montalcino have little guidance in negotiating its various and highly diverse subzones.

My friend Alessandro Bindocci of Tenuta Il Poggione has unlocked some of the mystery behind one of the Brunello subzones, Sant’Angelo in Colle (the southernmost growing area in the appellation), in a series of posts entitled Understanding Brunello Terroir Using Google Earth. The most recent post is particularly fascinating: I’ve downloaded and installed Google Earth and it’s amazing to use it as a tool in understanding the unique macroclimate of Sant’Angelo, just as Alessandro suggests in his post. Damn, I wish I would have thought of that!

In other news…

However chauvinist and intrinsically bourgeois, the flier for yesterday’s Paris tasting of natural wines produced by Italian women winemakers is utterly irresistible. Did I hear someone say “movie rights”?

Click the image above to view in detail (hosted at Arianna Occhipinti’s blog).

Lastly…

While nearly everyone was relieved yesterday to see the EU drop plans to alter way rosé is made, Tuscan winemaker Gianpaolo Paglia offered some interesting insight in a comment over at VinoWire:

    I’m a wine producer. I’ve never made nor I do intend to make rosé wine in the future. I’m saying this because I wouldn’t want to be accused of having a vested interest in what I’m going to say now: can someone explain to me why a rosé wine made with the saignée method (salasso, in Italian) would be by default better than a blended rosé? Isn’t Champagne the only wine in EU always been allowed to be made that way and has that consequently resulted in the production of poor quality, but premium priced, Champagne wines? Are all the rosé wines made outside EU, largely produced by blending white and red wines, worse than the worst EU wine made with the saignée method?

    I confess my ignorance, but I don’t see the point in this “battle for quality agro-food heritage and wealth.” To be honest, and perhaps even a bit rude, all this nonsense looks to me [like] a lot of political rubbish.

Thanks for reading!


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