Some of my best friends are Merlot (the Cocacolonization of Chianti Classico)

Above: Ornellaia’s Masseto vineyard in Bolgheri, Tuscany is arguably Italy’s most famous expression of Merlot.

I don’t have anything against Merlot. In fact, some of my best friends are Merlot.

As a matter of fact, on my recent trip to Friuli, I had a bona fide Merlot revelation after tasting some truly fantastic bottlings of Merlot from Radikon, Edi Keber, and Ronco del Gnemiz. (BTW, I have a backlog of Friuli posts but am hoping to get to them soon.)

But when I read that the Chianti Classico producers association is going to allow member wineries to present IGT (read “Super Tuscan”) bottlings at their annual vintage debut show in February next year, I thought I was going to heave… The nausea only grew when I learned that it would only cost the producers an extra Euro 50 per bottle of Merlot or Cabernet they present.

Italy’s top wine blogger Mr. Franco Ziliani first reported the news on his blog and we posted about it today in English at VinoWire.

At the end of a decade of Italian wine marked by the high-profile Montalcino controversy and the less-talked-about but equally significant Tuscan blending scandal, the Cocacolonization of the Italian wine industry seemed to have shifted gears, leaning more toward Bethlehem than Babylon. Unfortunately, the organizers of this landmark event have once again decided to defile the Temple.

The Chianti Classico producers association represents Italy’s most recognizable wine brand and one of its greatest historic appellations. This aberration and contamination of the sanctity of Chianti Classico’s most important yearly event is — in my mind and on my palate — a hegemonical tragedy of Gramscian proportions.

13 thoughts on “Some of my best friends are Merlot (the Cocacolonization of Chianti Classico)

  1. I don’t see the big problem here. Chianti Classico is still a minimum 80% Sangiovese. If you think it should be closer to 90%, that’s up for debate – no problem.

    But Merlot, an early ripener, can sometimes save a Chianti Classico in a very cool year, when the mid-October rains threaten the Sangiovese. This means a winemaker can have a more balanced wine, as the Sangiovese may be too acidic and perhaps a bit under ripe. You may not like the Merlot character in the finished wine, but that’s a practical fact. (Of course, Cabernet Sauvignon can also be used in a Chianti Classico blend, but given the strong tannins of that grape, I’d favor Merlot if another variety was needed to make a more harmonious wine. In a perfect year, I’d love 100% Sangiovese for a Chianti Classico, a la Castello di Volpaia for one of their wines.

    As for the Consorzio allowing Super Tuscans at the event, is it that big a deal? This will surely bring in more attention (as well as more people) to the event. Wines will be clearly defined as Chianti Classico or not.

    If you want to debate the “honesty” of Chianti Classico versus Super Tuscans, that’s one thing and I’d be willing to agree with you. But I don’t see a big problem here.

  2. @Tom your point is well taken. And, of course, there is some purposeful hyperbole in my post. But the news of this new protocol just feels wrong to me. It’s sending the wrong message. As Franco pointed out in his post, how would we feel if the Brunello producers association allowed IGTs to be presented at Benvenuto Brunello? The example set by the Chianti Classico consortium is a bad precedent… Thanks for reading and thanks for your sharp and spot-on insights here (as always).

  3. Jeremy:

    That’s a good point that Franco makes.

    Maybe the difference is that Brunello is the best wine made by its producer and an IGT is their way of saying, let’s see what happens when we blend in Cabernet or Merlot. But few would say that it’s a better wine than Brunello.

    Also, as Brunello has to be 100% Sangiovese (we certainly know that is true, don’t we?), an IGT wine from there is an entirely different animal. As Chianti Classico is usually a blended wine, the line between a Chianti Classico and a Super Tuscan made by the same estate is often shaded in gray.

    But I hear what Franco and you are saying. It’s as though the Consorzio feels they need to have producers taste out their Super Tuscans, as the bottlings of Chanti Classico “normale” may not be exciting enough. If that’s their take, that is unfortunate.

  4. As one of the oldest and largest producers of Sangiovese in California I find it unfortunate that the Italians are succumbing to the new world fad and pressure of using Merlot and Cabernet to blend with their Italian varieties. Cabernet dominates their wines and Merlot strips away its sole. The world has enough of these varieties and not enough Sangiovese.

    Gregory Graziano

  5. @Tom…a Super Tuscan (Cab Franc/Merlot for ex) d/n necessarily have to have Sangiovese, so there very well could be a distinction between CC/ST on the same estate.

  6. Hi.. I read your post and I want to say that Merlot is a very good wine but I don’t know why people are saying no to it. May be due to some quality decrement or something else. I will have to search out the reason behind this.

  7. So, what is wrong with Merlot? Nothing.

    Are they not growing Syrah in Sicily?

    Better to look for ways to improve what you have than to make a bad product. I do remember the older styles of Italian wine and some were good and some were just ok. Now the wine drinking public is worldwide. People do not have to drink something just because that is what the vineyard grew or what the winemaker made.

  8. @Gregory AMEN!

    @gdfo As I noted in the post, there is fantastic Merlot grown in Italy (IMHO in Friuli and in some parts of Latium). Syrah from Sicily? It’s like the rabbi and the ham sandwich, I tried it and discovered I don’t have to drink it. Let them grow all the Merlot they want but let Chianti Classico be Chianti Classico… that’s my motto. You have every right to say that Italian wines are “bad products” without the addition of Merlot but I personally find such a statement offensive and, frankly, racist.

    @Adrian you make a really good point. There was a nuance that happened that I didn’t write about: the day of the Super Tuscans were to be presented, they intended to close the blind tasting for journalists. The implication (or at least my inference) was that, in a blind tasting, the journalists might not be able to tell which were Super Tuscans and which were Chianti! That was a slippery slope!

    @’na cica de’ vino right on brother!

    @Australian wine I’ve heard you guys make wine down there!

    @Sgt. Sassafrass I wonder how Merlot goes with Zampone…

  9. Merlot doesn’t go well with Zampogna.

    What in tar-nation is gdfo saying, “People do not have to drink something just because that is what the vineyard grew or what the winemaker made.” ???

    @gdfo – no, people dont have to drink anything, in fact, let’s all go on a liquid strike and live on air, like the ancient mystics.

    What a dumbass comment

  10. As a C.Classico producer that has always worked only with Sangiovese.I’m not scandalized by the proposal to present IGT’s at the Anteprima,after all many are entirely from Sangiovese grapes.I find a lot more questionable that the rules have gradually increased the amount of non-traditional grapes allowed in the blend,(now that’s a slippery slope to me).The Chianti “Bordelais” lobby keeps pushing to increase this percentage,the last proposal was to allow up to 40%.(it failed for now).I need to make clear that I’m not at all against growing other varietals in Chianti;quite the opposite,I think that the Classico appellation should allow wines from other varietals to be called Chianti Classico,with a varietal appellation added.It’s just that CC alone shouldn’t be fattened by Merlot or Cab.It would be nice if things were more transparent,with things clearly stated on the label.I love CC from Sangiovese for its elegance,finesse,food friendliness,and for how the light penetrates it and gives it brilliance.What really bugs me is when an overly concentrated and heavily oaked muscular wine pretends to be a Sangiovese.

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