Ramontalcinos say no to Merlot

April 30, 2009

Above: They say “no” to Merlot. Federico Marconi (left) handles marketing and Gianni Fabbri is the winemaker at the Fabbri family’s winery, Le Presi, one of my favorite Brunello producers. I tasted with them and snapped these photos at the Italian wine trade fair, Vinitaly, earlier this month.

Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against Merlot per se. I’ve tasted great Merlot from all over the world — Bordeaux, Trentino, Friuli, Tuscany, California. I can’t say that I’m a fan of most it but that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with it.

The problem, as Alice pointed out in her post today, is that Merlot is a grape Zelig: “Why does everyone has to grow merlot? Because it’s a grape Zelig? Merlot, like mint, takes to most places.”

Merlot has been grown in Tuscany for centuries, but it was during the 1980s and 90s that it became increasingly popular there, as the Super Tuscan craze began to emerge and Italy began to sell more wine in the Merlotophile American market. Behind his back (and with an acute dose of disdain), many Italian winemakers call Tuscany’s leading wine wizard “Mr. Merlot” — a distinction bestowed upon him because of the ubiquitous Merlot in his award-winning Chiantis and his alleged use of Merlot in Brunello di Montalcino, where appellation regulations require the wine be made with 100% Sangiovese grapes.

Yesterday, when I wrote “just say no to Merlot,” I was addressing and appealing to producers of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, who are considering an increase in the amount of international grape varieties allowed in their appellation.

My friend, artist, poet, musician, and marketing director for old school Brunello producer Le Presi, Federico “Ramontalcino” Marconi, had this to say:

    The Fred Man too says No to Merlot! Let’s defend a precious little thing called “heritage”… Why are they so short-sighted and unable to recall the nasty backlash of last year’s “Brunello-gate”? I don’t get it: what does these people have against a Good Ol’ Sangiovese!? And let me tell ya: I am a Sangiovese “fan to the bone”. Gabba Gabba Hey!

Above: Federico created this “Old School” t-shirt to reflect Le Presi’s traditional approach to winemaking. Even though the winemaker and his team are young, the wines are as old school as it gets — natural fermentation and aging in botti, large old, neutral oak barrels. Wolfgang was the first to post on this great marketing idea.

When I met Federico and we became friends, we decided we would start a band called the Ramontalcinos (we owe the name to Josh Loving of Vino Vino fame, an accomplished classical guitar player, who will also be part of the act).

I wish more Italian winemakers could be like Federico and Gianni: they marry a punk rock sensibility with a respect and passion for their heritage. They are wise to see that they can better market their wines not by changing their nature but rather by infusing their image and perception of their brand with youthful energy and verve.

Gabba gabba hey.

Ringo says no to Merlot, too. Check out this clip of Ringo singing the “No No Song” with the Smothers Brothers. The best part is the gag at the end (with Ben Einstein)!


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