Ezio Rivella: “80% of Brunello was not pure Sangiovese.”

Above: I hope that Tuscan wine writer and internet-based interviewer Carlo Macchi doesn’t quit his day job. I certainly wouldn’t call him the next Antonioni. Although he might give Dario Argento a run for his money. Last week, the newly elected president of the Brunello producers association, Ezio Rivella, told Macchi that “80% of Brunello was not pure Sangiovese.”

You can imagine my utter and profound astonishment when I watched a recently taped interview with the new president of the Brunello producers association in which he stated the following: at least up until the time of the Brunello controversy that broke in March 2008, “80 of Brunello was not pure Sangiovese” and that the practice of adding “3-5% of grapes other than Sangiovese” was “widespread” and “commonly accepted” among the 250 or so bottlers of Brunello di Montalcino. (The interview was filmed in two parts: the above statements were made in the second segment, and here’s a link to the first.)

The interviews were conducted last week by Italian (Tuscan) wine writer Carlo Macchi, editor of the online wine magazine WineSurf. The videos came to my attention via the weekly web news roundup published on the Italian Sommelier Association website by Mr. Franco Ziliani (who, btw, is not currently blogging right now).

I’m only partly astonished by the figure. In fact, most people whom I’ve spoken to on the ground would arrive at the same figure more or less through guesstimation. As Gian Franco Soldera told me when I visited with him in September 2008 (at the height of the crisis), “the tanker trucks come in weighted down, their load riding low to the ground, and they leave riding high.”

No, what amazed me was the nonchalance with which Rivella brandished this astounding figure. But at the same rate, considering the fact that he spent four decades (the majority of those at the helm) at the largest producer in the appellation (you don’t need me to tell you who that is), I’m not surprised that he would so unabashedly utter these words. And in all fairness and in honesty, I must applaud Rivella for sharing this insight (so often spoken sotto voce, under one’s breath in Montalcino) in a public forum.

What alarmed me was the fact that Rivella also told his interviewer that “for the moment were not going to be talking about changing the appellation to allow for grapes other than Sangiovese.” The law states that the producers get to decide the rules, he explains, and the producers have voted for 100% Sangiovese. But — ugh and here it comes — “we will discuss changing it in future because it needs to be changed.”

When asked the wine figure that impressed him the most, he replied Robert Mondavi. Are you surprised?

I translated and paraphrased some other highlights (?) here at VinoWire.

14 thoughts on “Ezio Rivella: “80% of Brunello was not pure Sangiovese.”

  1. I am disgusted and not surprised…thing is, do you think the big spenders who go to Osteria Mozza, for example, care a whiff about Brunello Consortium rules? It’s a quandary for Wine Directors/Somms who want to sell but also educate. I think it is the duty of a WD to buy only from those using 100% Sangiovese, if he/she truly cares about Brunello.

  2. You know Jeremy, I always thought that wine tasted a little funny. Now I know!!! Thanks for the blog info. You just never know who to trust these days. Oh well enough of my weird humor. You and I know I don’t know squat about wine. Just want to write on my son-in-laws blog. Tell that good looking, sweet wife of yours I said hi and love ya’ll..
    Have a great day Dr. J.

  3. This is not news. The problem is that 80% of the producers cannot make good wine without adding other grapes, using barriques and other modern methods. The wine was much better when there were only 25 producers. Franco Biondi- Santi a great man that makes
    great wine just like his grandfather did.

  4. Ciao Jeremy,
    in realtà, dal punto di vista della regia credo di essere un incrocio tra Fellini ed Antonioni. Quindi mi vorrei chiamare “Felloni”.
    Scherzi a parte, grazie per le tue parole e la tua traduzione. Credo che quanto ha detto Rivella sia importante e per certi versi scioccante. Dato che nessuno lo ha costretto a dirlo sono convinto che lo abbia detto per attirare l’attenzione nuovamente su Montalcino e cercare di far capire che le cose sono cambiate (se poi il cambiamento sia vero o no….)
    grazie ancora
    Carlo

  5. Of course, anyone who wants eventually to allow for other grapes with impunity would say this, whether true or false: he is claiming that Brunello has been a successful “brand” and no one seems to have complained about the contamination (because it sells), so, therefore, this must be a “better” formula. Italy is starved for revenue, so the argument will prevail. Maybe the best that could be hoped for would be a separate designation of “Brunello IGT” which would combine two highly successful Italian branding labels.

  6. Pingback: Wine blogs you should and can’t read react to Brunello “rivellation” « Do Bianchi

  7. thanks for all the thoughtful comments, everyone… I’m not sure what Rivella is up to now but you can bet that I’m going to find out! Heading to Tuscany soon…

  8. Sad thing, though someone had the balls to spill what was i guess known but no one talked.

    This happens & I think it will continue to happen if we want to make these easy accessable, technically well-made, global wines. Let the terroir shine…….
    Mayby in Piedmont they don’t add another grape but they managed to create these oaky “Barolos & Barbarescos” that are not what they are suppose to be. Thank got Bartolo Mascarello and a couple of others keep the spirit high.

    The trye believe is that a WINE at its best should be a GENUINE reflection of the soil, the region, the varietal(s), as well the traditions of winemaking that have been used for many years with in these regions. (genuine is a key word here)

    No make up wines, no silicon, not over-oaking, purity and love

  9. Barolo and Barbaresco can’t be “unoaky”, of course.
    The law doesn’t say whether tho oak has to be a barrique, or another larger “botte di rovere”.
    They also must be 100% made from nebbiolo grapes.
    Tradition is a word with different means everywhere in the world.
    Tradition in Langhe Barolo, and in Gavi white wine, goes back 150 years ago.
    Brunellos are younger, as they start to produce them many decades later by sangiovese 100%.
    But the real strange problem is that international buyers are always looking for ruby colour, softness and mellow taste even for these great, traditional light-red and tannic wines.
    This is the real problem: often the producers are not so strong, and intelligent, to say “NO, you can’t get a real nebbiolo, or a real sangiovese with colour and taste of merlot”
    mr rivella is exactly this: a sales & marketing man, looking after his buyers, and their money.

  10. Jeremy, what are the grapes they are adding to Sangiovese Grosso? Are those principally international or native? Can we realistically start calling the 80% “contaminated” Brunellos “super-Tuscans”? (which are obviously tremendously successful internationally)

  11. Pingback: Brunello and Rosso di Montalcino: of vintages and varietals | TheWineBlog Wine

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