Banfi manufactures consent

The strangest post found its way to my inbox yesterday. In it, someone who calls her/himself WineCentric reports that last year the Banfi winery “came under fire from Italian authorities who claimed that varietals other than Sangiovese were being blended into Brunello di Montalcino” and she/he claims that the winery “has emerged sagacious and smelling as sweet as the rose petal and raspberry bouquet found in their Rosa Regale sparkler… Lab tests eventually cleared Banfi of any impropriety.”

Sagacious? Smelling sweet as rose petal?

Reports by leading Italian news outlets don’t jive with such claims. According to L’Espresso, for example, wineries like Banfi had to declassify considerable amounts of Brunello in order for their products to be allowed back on the market.

I wrote to Winecentric but received no response.

I’m sorry, Banfi: you still stink… Me? I’m just trying to keep the world safe for Italian wine.

Fight the power…

Sue me, Summus… Banfi proposes 3-5% “tolerance” of international varieties

That’s Cristina Mariani to the left, owner of Banfi Vintners, one of the world’s largest and most powerful winemakers. Her family’s winery is one of the largest producers of Brunello di Montalcino.

Yesterday, on the eve of the Brunello Consortium’s historic vote on whether or not to allow blending of grapes other than Sangiovese, she and her company issued a statement in which they declare their support for a 3-5% “tolerance” of other grapes and for a new “Super Tuscan” Rosso di Montalcino designation:

    “It is our strong belief that the heritage of Brunello rests solidly on the ennobled Sangiovese grape, and therein rests its future as well. This is why we dedicated our resources over the past thirty years in our ‘Pursuit of Excellence,’ collaborating with leading scholars to research, register and plant optimal clones of Sangiovese in their ideal soils on our estate. And this is why we will support the move to maintain the definition of Brunello di Montalcino as being made exclusively from the Sangiovese grape, with only a minimal (3%-5%) tolerance to be included in Brunello Appellation Rule to provide for human error in the vineyards or winery, as befitting a truly artisan production.

    At the same time, we will work with our supportive neighbors to develop Rosso di Montalcino into a broader appellation that will allow Sangiovese to contribute its special character to a blend of other varietals, and continue to pursue the expression of the region’s unique terroir in ‘Montalcino Super Tuscan’ wines.”

There’s a saying in Italian, avere la botte piena e la moglie ubriaca, to have your cask full and your wife drunk. In other words, Ms. Mariani and her company want to have their cake and eat it too.

I’m sorry, Cristina, but sue me, Summus. You write: this is why we will support the move to maintain the definition of Brunello di Montalcino as being made exclusively from the Sangiovese grape, with only a minimal (3%-5%) tolerance to be included in Brunello. There seems to be some faulty logic here. Or do I not understand the meaning of the word exclusive?

The critical theorist in me can’t decide if I should apply a Marxist or Freudian reading to your conflict. But the Lacanian me reminds me that the signifier always precedes the signified.

In the words of the great Big Joe Turner, either you is, or either you ain’t (Lipstick, Powder, and Paint).

And in the words of James Suckling, LET BRUNELLO BE BRUNELLO!

Do the math: Siena prosecutor speaks out on Brunello investigation

Earlier this week, Banfi issued a press release announcing that its 2003 Brunello di Montalcino had been released by Siena authorities (it was impounded in April 2008). Evidently in response to Banfi’s press release and the newspaper articles and blog posts that followed, the Siena prosecutor sent a statement to members of the press today.

Click here to read the post published by Franco and me at VinoWire.

Our sources on the ground in Montalcino tell us that nearly half of Banfi’s 2003 release — Rosso and Brunello — had to be declassified.

Read our post and do the math…

Don’t Murder the Sangiovese: the Brunello debate, observations and reflections (part I)

Above: the Brunello debate panel included Banfi’s ex-director enologist Ezio Rivella (seated stage right), moderator Dino Cutolo, wine writer Franco Ziliani, and winemaker Teobaldo Cappellano.

In 1930, at the height of the “happy years” of fascism, the founder of the Italian Futurism movement and the father of the historical avant-garde Filippo Tommaso Marinetti published his Manifesto della Cucina Futurista, in which he advocated “The abolition of pastasciutta, an absurd Italian gastronomic religion.” (The term pastasciutta means literally dried pasta.)

Today, it is hard to imagine that one of Europe’s leading intellectuals and one of the 20th century’s most dynamic figures (indeed, he who literally gave new meaning to the word dynamism) would lash out so violently against one of Italy’s greatest contributions to world cuisine and a sine qua non of its identity. Thankfully, neither the Futurists nor the fascists prevailed and today pastasciutta and freedom, however bridled by consumerism, continue to thrive in Western Europe.

As I watched the live streaming of the Brunello debate on Friday, I couldn’t help but think of Marinetti’s calls to abolish pasta and to “murder the moonshine” (uccidiamo il chiaro di luna! or let’s kill the claire de lune, 1909) when I heard one of Italy’s leading enologists, Ezio Rivella, say that “Sangiovese is a ‘lean’ grape with little color” and that the Italian wine industry would be better served by “using international grape varieties” and “making wines more international in style.”

“You don’t win a 100 points from the Wine Spectator,” said Rivella, “using just Sangiovese.”

At a certain point during the debate, moderator Dino Cutolo (professor of anthropology, University of Siena), pointed out that the calls for the abolition of Brunello as 100% Sangiovese were coming “from the right.” He quickly added, “not the political right, but from my right.” But his lapsus linguae wasn’t lost on the crowd and drew a chortle from the gallery, palpable even over the internet.

At the height of the heated exchange, when voices were raised and tempers flared, Rivella leveled his finger at Franco Ziliani: “how can we not change the appellation regulations and allow for the use of Merlot in Brunello, caro Lei, Ziliani?” (borrowing a vocative, dear sir, evocative of another era). In the light of the “enormous capital we have invested, we need to make wines for the international market.”

The bottom line: when Banfi, led by Rivella, came into the picture in the 1970s and launched a new era of industrial winemaking in Montalcino, it tried — politically and viticulturally — to impose a modern imprint and it expanded the appellation’s plantings to international grape varieties. The large, commercial producers of Brunello have lobbied twice unsuccessfully to change appellation regulations (allowing for blending of international grapes) from within the now defunct producers consortium. Their bid failed because within the consortium’s hierarchy, the vote of the smallest producer (think Delaware) carried the same weight as the majors (think California).

I’ll let the reader infer her/his own parallels or analogies from the above.

Tomorrow, Teobaldo and Franco’s response. Stay tuned…

Say it ain’t so: reporter claims that Banfi’s 03 Brunello contains grapes other than Sangiovese

Above: “no hunting allowed.” Photo courtesy VinoalVino.

Ne nuntium necare. I’m really sorry to report that, according to at least one Italian news service, Banfi’s 03 Brunello contains grapes other than Sangiovese. Read our post at VinoWire and for those of you who speak Italian, read Franco’s post.

I’m in Montalcino as I write this and I am speechless. Non ho parole. This sucks.