On the eve of Vinitaly, a push to create a Montalcino DOC (and reflections on a year past)

Above: Franco Ziliani (left), my friend and co-editor of VinoWire, and Mauro Mascarello, winemaker and producer of one of the greatest expressions of Nebbiolo, Giuseppe Mascarello Barolo. We tasted at Vinitaly last year together. This year, Franco and I will be tasting together at Vini Veri.

Passover and Easter will shortly be upon us and the who’s who of Italian wine is preparing to descend on the province of Verona for our industry’s annual trade fairs: Vinitaly (the largest and most commercial), Vini Veri (a gathering of natural winemakers and the most interesting in my opinion), and VinNatur (an assembly of winemakers who broke away from Vini Veri some years back). I’m particularly excited for Vini Veri because this year’s tasting sees the unification of Vini Veri with the Nicolas Joly biodynamic and quasi-biodynamic tastings, Triple A and Renaissance du Terroir (Return to Terroir).

Above: The Banfi Castle at last year’s Vinitaly. There were rumors — unfounded and untrue — that Banfi’s wines were seized on the floor of the fair last year. I am looking forward to tasting the 2004 Brunello di Montalcino by Banfi. Charles Scicolone and Tom Hyland — whose palates I respect greatly — have both told me that it’s classic Brunello, 100% Sangiovese, and one of the best wines Banfi has ever produced.

It’s remarkable to think that at this time last year, the world of Italian wine was gripped by the breaking news of the Brunello scandal: at least five major producers were accused of adulterating their wines from the 2003 vintage. A year has passed, a large quantity of wine has reportedly been declassified, and no indictments have been issued by the Siena prosecutor who supposedly launched the investigation in September of 2007.

It’s not surprising, however, that there has been a new push — albeit weak — within the association of Brunello producers to create a Montalcino DOC. Last week, a proposal to create such an appellation was put to the floor at the consortium’s assembly. (I haven’t been able to find out the results of the vote but according to most observers, it was unlikely that it would be ratified.)

Above: I am always geeked to taste Paolo Bea Sagrantino with Giampiero Bea at Vini Veri (I snapped this photo at last year’s fair). Tracie B and I have been enjoying his Santa Chiara 2006. It’s radically different than his 2005 and I hope to ask him about the vintage variation. (Is it the result of climatic differences or differences in the cellar? I imagine — knowing Giampiero and his radical belief in natural winemaking — that the former is the case.)

Currently, Montalcino producers must label their wines as Toscana IGT or Sant’Antimo DOC if they contain grapes other than Sangiovese. If approved, a Montalcino DOC would allow them to exploit the Montalcino “brand” in their labeling of so-called Super Tuscan wines. The proposed DOC is part of a greater push to create new Italian appellations before OCM reforms take effect in August 2009 and the power to issue new DOCs shifts from Rome to Brussels.

Above: This year, the world of Italian wine mourns the loss of Teobaldo Cappellano (photo courtesy of Polaner). Baldo, as he was known fondly, was one of the founders of the Vini Veri movement and one of Italy’s most zealous defenders and promoters of terroir-driven wines and natural winemaking. He was a truly delightful man and is sorely missed.

There’s a reason why the fairs are held at this time of year: historically and traditionally, the spring marks the moment when winemakers unveil their cellared wines. Long before the hegemony of the Judeo-Christian canon, spring was observed as Mother Nature’s moment of renewal and rebirth.

The ancient allegory — and it is an allegory, not a metaphor — could not be more apt this year.

8 thoughts on “On the eve of Vinitaly, a push to create a Montalcino DOC (and reflections on a year past)

  1. Jeremy:

    Enjoy Vini Veri- it sounds great! I look forward to hearing more about it.

    As for the Montalcino DOC. Let them have it- after all, what’s one more DOC? But let’s keep Brunello di Montalcino out of this new discipline. Keep Brunello di Montalcino what it’s always been – an iconic red made exclusively from Sangiovese.

    Regarding the 2004 Banfi, you have slightly misquoted me. I do like the wine and find it is nicely balanced with very good structure and find that it is more subdued than some recent vintages. But I wouldn’t go so far as to say it is one of their best. I would rank it as a very good wine, but not on par with the 1999 or 2001. I’m interested to hear your comments.

    But thanks for writing that you greatly respect my palate. That’s very kind of you and I feel the same way about you!

  2. Tom, me too I respect your palate, my friend, but I don’t think that Banfi Brunello 2004 is a very good wine, better than past vintage of Banfi Nebbiolo, but absolutely not a very good wine…

  3. Tom, you’re correct. It was Charles Scicolone who said it was among the best that Banfi has made. For the record, Tom Maresca also commented on my blog, saying that he, too, thought it was a good example of classic Brunello.

    I will confess that my previous experience leads me to think I will agree with Franco. But I’m trying not to be prejudiced. I’m looking forward to tasting the wine, that is, if they will let me near the Banfi stand!!! ;-)

    I have a feeling that I am a persona non grata in the Mariani realm… we’ll see and I will most definitely post my impression of the wine if I can get to it…

  4. Franco:

    I think the Banfi is a nice wine in 2004, but I’m not excited about it. As both of us have written in the past, the more traditional wines such as Il Poggione, Fuligni and Sesta di Sopra are classic Brunellos. Banfi may not be classic, but it is a well made wine this vintage. It is in a different style than the others mentioned, so that always causes people to take sides. The great thing about this is that we are all free to say what we choose! (Also, you said “previous vintages of Banfi Nebbiolo,” but it’s Sangiovese, of course. At least, I hope it’s Sangiovese!)


    I know what you mean about getting near the Banfi stand at VinItaly! If you are indeed a persona non grata with the Marianis, well that’s life. Your work on Italian wines has been exemplary so if you believe the wine is not good, so be it. No producer is above constructive criticism.

  5. hey, can i get in on this boys’ club?

    great post 2B, loved the allegory…maybe there will be a clean slate this year! now get over there and keep the world safe ;)

  6. This change from Rome to Brussels sounds huge. I am a newbie in the wine world but it seems to me this will have some negative consequences:

    1. Sounds like Brussels is under pressure to be even looser about letting in new designations than Rome is.

    2. Italy’s pride will be hurt.

    3. World consumer confidence regarding “authentic” Italian wine will be hurt.

    Am I right or wrong?

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