L’Affaire Brunello: J’accuse…!

The editors of Do Bianchi have received countless letters in the wake of the recent Brunello controversy. Space constrictions do not allow us to publish all of them but we deemed the following missive, sent from Paris, worthy of our readers’ attention.

Dear Editor,

I am but a humble clerk in a wine shop in Paris (on the Place du Panthéon) and a man of limited means. But for decades now I have been an Italian-wine enthusiast and amateur collector. I have followed the l’Affaire Brunello in Italian and American newspapers and magazines. And I’ve also read about it in the blogosphere, where the debate and commentary are no less lively and inspired.

I tasted Brunello for the first time in 1989, when I traveled to Montalcino on a family holiday. Over the years, I have returned on numerous occasions, to visit my old friends in Bagno Vignoni, to dine at the Trattoria Il Pozzo in Sant’Angelo in Colle, to soothe my soul with the intonations of Gregorian chants at Sant’Antimo, and to wander through the rolling hills of the Val d’Orcia and breathe in the dolce aere tosco, the sweet Tuscan air, to borrow a phrase from Francis Petrarch.

Since word of an investigation of Brunello producers first hit the blogosphere in late March, myriad accusations and allegations have been thrown about, videlicet, that producers had used other grapes besides Sangiovese (the only permitted by law) in their Brunello. On Wednesday of last week the Italian agricultural minister announced that the controversy had ended (but has it?).

I have but one passion: to enlighten those who have been kept in the dark. And so I would like to share with you the following reflections regarding the so-called “Brunello scandal.”

When I first visited the wine country there in the shadow of benevolent Mt. Amiata, my friends poured me Brunello di Montalcino side-by-side with the wines of Bolgheri (about a 2-hour drive to the west, on the coast). The former, made from Sangiovese grapes, was bright in color and clear, austere and tannic but balanced by acidity, and natural fruit flavor. The latter were dark and opaque, made from Cabernet and Merlot, with remarkable fruit and tobacco flavors, the tannins mellowed by aging in new French and Slavonian oak barrels. Over the last two decades, some of the wines made in Montalcino — by certain producers — began, more and more, to resemble those made on the coast.

This phenomenon was no secret. Many local residents told me that they had noticed a change in the wines and wine writers in the U.S. took note, rewarding the wines that had seemingly been transformed with higher and higher scores. At least one such wine even received a “perfect” score of 100 points out of 100 from one of America’s leading wine magazines.

This is the truth, the plain truth. But this letter is long, Sir, and it is time to conclude it.

J’accuse…! the Siena prosecutor for launching a criminal investigation in the first place: the issue of adulterated Brunello should have been handled by the Italian agricultural ministry (and not as a criminal allegation).

J’accuse…! the ex-president of the Consortium of Brunello producers for making matters worse by not responding to inquiries by the press and subsequently by the U.S. government for information about rumored investigations.

J’accuse…! the investigated winemakers for not coming forward and revealing their identity while others’ reputations were at stake and were subsequently damaged by virtue of association.

J’accuse…! the editors of L’Espresso who coined the term “Velenitaly” (PoisonItaly) in reference to supposed health risks in other food and wine products and wrongly associated it with the Brunello scandal — the very week of the Italian wine trade fair! This was a case of sloppy, “yellow” journalism and served only to sell magazines.

J’accuse…! the Italian ministry of Agriculture who handled the affaire with marked partisan (Separatist) attitude. His hubris is only matched by his unnecessary and inexplicable delay in dealing with the issue.

Perhaps we’ll remember l’Affaire Brunello not as the Brunello scandal but rather as the “‘Brunello scandal’ scandal.”

With deepest respect, Sir.

Edoardo Bianchi
7 July 2008

2 thoughts on “L’Affaire Brunello: J’accuse…!

  1. Yes, the news about the scandal was more newsworthy than the scandal itself- nicely put!

    The real crux of the matter is that while no one’s proven anything as to the inclusion of other grapes in Brunello, too many producers have taken the easy road and made their wines dark in color, superripe and too oaky- all characteristics that please certain critics both in the United States and Italy.

    Even if these producers have not included Merlot or Cabernet Sauvingon in their Brunello, they have sold their soul for a score.

    Tom Hyland

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