Soldera: Rorschach & (probable) resolution

soldera criminal

Above: I took this photo of sunset over Soldera’s Case Basse estate in 2010.

Nearly two weeks after more than 60,000 liters of wines were destroyed in an act of vandalism at the Soldera Case Basseestate in Montalcino, Italian wine industry observers generally concur that the atrocious and senseless crime cannot be attributed to organized crime. The theory that it was an act of retribution for the 2008 Brunellopoli controversy, believed by some to have been sparked by Gianfranco Soldera, has also been discounted by Montalcino insiders.

This week, leading Italian wine blogger Franco Ziliani quoted a private message sent to him by lawyer Bernardo Losappio, who represents many Montalcino wineries and winemakers.

“I am certain,” wrote Losappio, “that the author of the crime will be sought among persons with whom Case Basse has had private relations” and not among “external” actors.

gianfranco soldera montalcino

Above: Soldera (left) with chef Roberto Rossi in 2010.

In an article published online this week by Panorama (a leading weekly), author Gianmaria Padovani, whose family makes wine in Montalcino, noted that the crime is not being investigated by an “antimafia” investigator. This fact, he writes, precludes a “mafia connection.”

In my personal email exchanges with persons on the ground in Montalcino this week, everyone of my friends and colleagues has expressed the belief that it was an ex-employee of Case Basse who committed the crime.

Many have written that it’s only a matter of days before the case is solved.

One thing is certain: this act of heinous vandalism and “intimidation,” as Soldera has called it, has prompted a collective gasp of disbelief and horror that stretches across the world.

As in a Rorschach test, every subject has reacted differently: many saw the hand of organized crime, some called it an act of retribution by “big” wine, and others simply expressed their inability to wrap their minds around this atrocious act of violence.

Our morbid fascination with this episode surely reflects the role that wine plays in contemporary bourgeois society as an emblem of wealth, luxury, and power. Nearly two weeks after news of the crime spread through the internets, we have observed how the power to destroy wine — an act that took just a few minutes — is almost as enthralling as the power to produce it. And we continue to be nonplussed by the disparity between the energy expended to make this wine (six vintages of maniacally cultivated fruit and meticulously vinified wine) and the energy employed to destroy it.

In other news…

This week, the Case Basse winery declined an offer by the Brunello producers association who had called for donations of wine to be given to the Soldera family to use at its discretion. In a statement, published online (and reposted by Franco Ziliani), Soldera thanked the consortium for its solidarity but proposed that the wine be given to the Universities of Siena and Florence for research.

The winery also announced that it is suspending sales of its 2006 Brunello di Montalcino in order to discourage “speculation” in pricing. On the popular Italian wine blog Lavinium, leading wine writer Roberto Giuliani reported today that an Italian wine shop was selling the 2006 for Euro 4,500.

Soldera update: making sense of the unfathomable

montalcino vendetta wineMala tempora currunt (bad times are upon us), wrote Italian wine writer Franco Ziliani yesterday in an email, one of the tide of messages that pulsed across the internets as we all tried to make sense of the unfathomable: on Sunday night, someone entered the cellars of Gianfranco Soldera (left, photo taken during my visit in 2008) and destroyed more than 60,000 liters of his wines, six entire vintages, spanning 2007 (still in cask) through 2012.

According to a post today by the Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino (Brunello producers association), “62,600 liters” were destroyed and the site confirms that “the entire production from 2007-2012” was lost.

The site also reports the same figure and vintages, noting that “the valves of 10 casks were opened.”

When reached for comment by the authors of the post, Soldera’s son Mauro told them that the wine was insured, including coverage for vandalism (before becoming a winemaker, Gianfranco Soldera made his fortune in the insurance trade in Milan).

The post also quotes the mayor of Montalcino, Silvio Franceschelli, who expressed the town’s “utmost solidarity with Case Basse for this villainous and cowardly act.”

Franceschelli is also quoted as saying that “any allusion to phenomena that bear the mark of the mafia are entirely imaginary.”

I wasn’t able to reach Soldera winery for comment today (the landline was occupied every time I called and a call to Gianfranco’s cellphone went unanswered). But I did speak to a number of people “on the ground” who concurred that the involvement of organized crime is unlikely.

Most believe that the senseless act was inspired by vengeance, perhaps in retribution for the supposed (but never verified) letter that Soldera wrote to authorities who launched an investigation into adulterated wines in Montalcino, an episode that culminated with judiciary action against a number of major players in Brunello in 2008 (the so-called “Brunellopoli” or Brunellogate affair).

(For the record, in 2008, while visting with him under the pergola of his home, I asked Soldera whether or not he had sent a letter to authorities. He flatly denied that he had and I believed him. He was, however, an outspoken critic of many of those implicated in the scandal.)

brunello scandal soldera

Above: Photo taken in 2008 during a visit to the winery. Yesterday, when we spoke, wine merchant Ceri Smith told me that she had tasted the 2007 in cask when she visited Soldera in February of this year.

One person I spoke to this morning (afternoon in Montalcino) proposed that it might have been a disgruntled ex-employee of Soldera.

But everyone I spoke to agreed that it’s unlikely that organized crime was the author of the vandalism. There has been no mafia activity there, said one informed person, and it is improbable that such an event would be isolated if the malavita were involved.

“One thing is certain,” wrote Franco Ziliani on his blog today, “today, all those who called Soldera a ‘poison pen’ or ‘snitch,’ accusing him of breaking the curtain of silence and challenging [Montalcino’s] establishment, should recite a sadly belated mea culpa. They are the ones objectively responsible for having prompted the deranged vandals who violated the cellar at Case Basse as punishment of its owner.”

In a phone conversation today, one of my friends in Tuscany noted how easy it would be to empty the casks of their wine. If you’ve ever visited a winery where large format casks like Soldera’s are used, you know that it’s simply a matter of opening a valve (if the wine were aged in 225-liter barriques, for example, this egregious task would be much more complicated).


Above: “I let my grandchildren use chalk to draw on the casks,” said Soldera during my 2008 visit. Note the spigot at the bottom of the cask.

“The territory of Montalcino is a small and tranquil territory,” wrote winemakers Alessandro and Fabrizio Bindocci on their blog today, “where many people still leave their doors of their homes unlocked.”

As hard as it is to wrap our minds around this nefarious and senseless episode, it’s easy to imagine how simple it would be to execute the crime. When Tracie P and I stay in Montalcino, we regularly leave our keys in the rental car and the doors to our apartment unlocked.

Italy has a long history of vengeance, spanning ancient Rome, the Renaissance, and the twentieth-century, when many towns and families were torn apart by the brutality of fascism, the extreme violence of organized crime, and the envies and jealousies borne out by the gap between those who prospered in Italy’s post-war economic miracle and those who didn’t.

The English word vendetta, indeed, comes from the Italian (from the Latin vindicta, meaning vengeance).

Today, faced with the thought that no fewer than six vintages of one of the world’s greatest wines have been lost, no one among us has an explanation for the incomprehensible violation of — what we must recognize as — one of Italy’s greatest treasures and one of the most noble expressions of its cultural legacy.

United in our bewilderment, we can only express our solidarity for a man who has lost six precious years of his life.

50 Best Italian Wines (?)

It would be pleonastic for me to address the myriad reasons why “top” lists — 10, 50, 100, the number doesn’t matter — are inherently useless in any putatively empirical assessment of wine.

Such indices, even when presented as genuine and well intentioned, serve only the purposes of marketers, advertisers, sellers of advertising space, and those whose lives are driven by a desire to maximize consumer goods.

And just like a schoolchild who aimlessly believes that highlighting a passage in Manzoni’s The Betrothed with a yellow pen will aid her/him in a mnemonic quest, authors of such lists inadvertently delete scores of wines from their ledgers the way said child quickly forgets the unhighlighted passages — not seeing the forest for the trees.

Today the world of Italian wine is reeling from the publication of an Italian-grown “Best Italian Wine Awards,” presented yesterday in Milan by the organizers (click here for a blog post depicting the scene).

The list, which can be viewed here, surprised many Italian observers of the Italian wine industry and I believe it may surprise you as well.

Among the Italian wine bloggers I follow, no one protested Valentini and G. Mascarello in pole position.

But some were puzzled by some glaring omissions, like top Italian wine blogger Franco Ziliani who noted the absence of any of Angelo Gaja’s wines. Now, if you follow Franco’s excellent blog, you know that he’s no fan of Angelo Gaja’s wines. But as he points out (rightly), this could only be considered an “eccentric” oversight.

And beyond Gaja, there are many others missing and many bizarre entries.

With academic interest and for the record, I point you to the list here.

Otherwise devoid of cultural, societal, intellectual, or epistemological value, the list does represent a cross-section of marketing forces in Italy today (as do the “prize” selections).

Aldo Conterno, remembrances and my visit to Bussia

Above: One of Barolo’s most beloved winemakers and last defenders of its historic identity Aldo Conterno has died at 81 (photo via La Stampa).

Myriad English-language tributes to the great Barolista Aldo Conterno have appeared in the enoblogosphere between yesterday and today since news of his passing first broke: Walter Speller, Monica Larner, and — one of the most touching — by S. Irene Virbila.

Franco Ziliani reminds us (in Italian) that together with great winemakers like Giovanni Conterno (Aldo’s borther), Bartolo Mascarello, Teobaldo Cappellano, Beppe Rinaldi, and Mauro Mascarello, Aldo was a “steadfast defender in a battle for the respect of Barolo’s personality in the heady years when some were trying to make the wine become something different.”

And La Stampa wine writer Sergio Miravalle remembers fondly that “for decades, he signed some of the most stunning wines of Italy but his fame never distanced him from the concrete, simple way of life of farmers in Langa.”

I had the great fortune of meeting him once at his home and winery in the village of Bussia (in the township of Monforte d’Alba).

The year was 2000 and I had met his son Franco Conterno earlier in the year at the presentation of the A. Conterno 1996 crus in New York and Franco had invited me to visit their cellars in Langa.

The release of the 1996 vintage from Langa was a pivotal moment in the new wave of Nebbiolo mania in the U.S. Then rising wine star Joe Bastianich, owner and founder of the retail crew at Italian Wine Merchants, had decided to throw his weight behind the vintage and the producer and the hype that 1996 would be “the vintage of the century” was thick. (Of course, even though there’s no doubt in my mind that 96 was the superior vintage, it was eclipsed by the American wine media’s love affair with 1997.)

When I was received by Aldo, we spoke in Italian only because I was accompanied by an Italian friend of mine but he greeted me in perfect English (see S. Irene Virbila’s wonderful remembrance for Aldo’s years in California and his service in the U.S. military).

I was just starting my career as a wine writer then and our meeting had a profound effect on me. I realized, for the first time, that certain women and men — persons of truly great character — make wines that will outlive them. In other words, he grew, bottled, and raised a wine — in this case the epic 1996 vintage — whose ultimate expression would occur only after his passing. My personal realization was even more powerful given that so many winemakers in Langa at that time were trying to make wines more approachable in their youth.

I’ll never forget his gentle voice, nor will I forget the taste of bittersweet Barolo Chinato at the end of the flight.

Carissime Alde, sit tibi terra alba levis…

Franciacorta “reset” applauded by winemakers

Above: The gorgeous Lago d’Iseo (Lake Iseo) provides maritime influence for the vineyards of Franciacorta. The beauty of Italy’s topography is immeasurable.

“No inflated numbers this time. No triumphalism. And not even any orgasms during a ‘Ring Around the Rosie,'” wrote my good friend, winemaker, and Franciacorta superhero Giovanni Arcari on his blog yesterday. “Nonetheless, it feels like a good moment to celebrate a success, even if that success was generated by a problem.”

Giovanni was referring to newly announced Franciacorta appellation regulations that will lower yields, raise the minimum vineyard age, and help to raise production standards throughout the appellation, where Champagne-method sparkling wines are produced.

By all accounts, Italy produces more sparkling wine than any other country: at latest count, “400 million bottles with Euro 1.7 billion in sales.”

Despite the generally bleak outlook for Italian winemakers, these figures have resulted in robust chest-beating, fist pumping, and a surplus in funds devoted to marketing (the “triumphalism” to which Giovanni refers).

But Franciacorta, an affluent appellation created in the 1960s and funded by Italian steel magnates, has suffered the economic crisis more acutely than any other sparkling wine producer: as Franco Ziliani reported on his sparkling wine blog earlier this year, prices for Franciacorta — a luxury product — have reached alarming lows, with wines being sold in Europe for as low as Euro 4.

Above: One of the most interesting tastings I attended during the 2011 European Wine Bloggers Conference was a flight of nearly 30 Franciacorta crus at the Berlucchi winery. I think that many would be surprised at the diversity of growing sites in the appellation (but more on that in a future post).

The new appellation regulations were approved by an overwhelming majority (by Italian standards) of 80% of consortium members, reports Giovanni.

And the measures will deliver significant change in an appellation dominated by large commercial producers whose bottom line often trumps character and originality in the wines they bottle.

Of all the sparkling appellations in Italy, Franciacorta — there’s no doubt in my mind — has the potential to deliver truly great and original wines: even though very few of the top bottles make it to the U.S., I’ve tasted some stunning wines in Franciacorta, where fresh, clean, bright Pinot Noir and Chardonnay take on an intensely saline quality that pairs superbly with the fresh water cuisine of the Italian Lake District.

And the new appellation regulations, everyone seems to agree, are a step in the right direction. [We must] “improve to grow and grow to improve,” wrote Giovanni in the chiasmus of his title. And they are sure to do more than consortium president Maurizio Zanella’s recent appeal to the Italian media to stop using the term bollicine (tiny bubbles) when referring to Franciacorta.

Franciacorta and sparkling wines from Italy have been on my mind lately because I’ve been asked to speak on a panel devoted to the subject at the upcoming Viva Vino conference in Los Angeles.

The Holy Grail quest to produce sparkling wines has played an enormous role in shaping the history of Italian wine in general. And I’ll devote an upcoming post to my research.

In the meantime, if you want to get the discussion rolling, please share your thoughts in the comment section.

What is it, after all, that makes sparkling wine play such a powerful role in our vinous psyche?

Ezio Rivella: “Tradition is a ball and chain.”

Above: Remember this image? Scanned from a 1982 edition of Wine Spectator (via Alfonso). I posted about it here.

On Monday, Ezio Rivella — Brunello’s deus ex machina and futurist of Italian wine, creator of the Brunello brand and propagator of the California dream — spoke before a group of Langa’s top winemakers in Piedmont. He had been invited their by the government-funded body Strada del Barolo (Barolo Wine Roads) to speak about the current crisis in Italian wine (the five-part series is entitled — and I’m not kidding here — “Feel Sorry for Yourself or React to the Crisis?”).

According to wine blogger Alessandro Morichetti, who attended the seminar, nearly the entire arc of Barolo was there: Maria Teresa Mascarello, Giuseppe Rinaldi, Angelo Gaja, Enzo and Oreste Brezza, Cristina Oddero, Federico Scarzello, Lorenzo Tablino, Eleonora Barale, Davide Rosso, Enrico Scavino, and Michele Chiarlo, among others.

I’ve translated the following quotes from Alessandro’s report on the talk…

“Tradition is a ball and chain. At best, it serves as historical anchor.”

“The market fluctuations following Brunellogate? Rants by masturbating journalists.”

“Quality is what people like. Those who sell [their products] are right. There is nothing to learn from people who[se products] don’t sell.”

“Blogs are [a form of] self-flattery. The people behind them are incompetent.”

And all this time, I thought that Rivella didn’t read blogs! Go figure!

Reacting to Alessandro’s account of the event, Italy’s top wine blogger Franco Ziliani wrote: “Rivella chooses the path of insults…”

If you don’t know the backstory, here’s the thread of my posts devoted to Rivella and his self-appointed mission to refashion authentic Italian wines as expressions of Californian winemaking for the U.S. market.

As a manager and winemaker at Banfi from the 1960s through the 1990s, he credited Robert Mondavi as one of the inspirations for the behemoth Brunello brand that he created with the backing of the Mariani family, the Long Island-based importers who decided nearly 50 years ago that they would make Montalcino a household name in the U.S. (initially by producing sparkling white wine, btw).

Since returning to Montalcino to gerrymander his second coming as Brunello growers association president in 2010, he has patently conceded that “80% of Brunello was not pure Sangiovese” (an egregious transgression of appellation regulations and Italian law). And in doing so, he tacitly expressed his support for using “improvement” grapes like Merlot in traditional Italian wines made historically with indigenous varieties. He has repeatedly attempted, unsuccessfully, to lobby for the passage new appellation regulations that would allow for the blending of international grape varieties in Brunello and Rosso di Montalcino. Twice he has called votes and both times the body governed by him has remained unswayed by his industrial Brunello complex.

My friends who live and work in Montalcino tell me that he doesn’t even reside there. He lives full time in Rome, governing from afar, uninterested in the workaday lives of the homegrown montalcinesi.

He is also the author of Brunello, Montalcino and I: The Prince of Wines’ True Story (2010).

What will come of the legacy of the self-proclaimed Prince of Brunello?

Perhaps he should take the advice of a Tuscan, Niccolò Machiavelli, who wrote (chapter 3, “On Mixed Principalities”): “It is quite natural and ordinary for a Prince to want to expand his rule, and when [Princes] do, if they can, they are praised and not blamed. But when they are unsuccessful, but still want to do it, here lies the error and the fault.”

Flute elitism in this day & age? Assessments from Franciacorta

Above: Many late evenings tasting Franciacorta and kibitzing with my good friend and extreme life force Giovanni Arcari in Brescia…

Franciacorta lover Franco Ziliani’s post this week on “Which Glass for Our Bubbles?” got me thinking fondly about my visit to Brescia and Franciacorta in October of last year for the European Wine Bloggers Conference.

Over the course of five or so days that I spent there, I drank sparkling wine from Franciacorta at nearly every meal and it was never served to me in a conventional flute. Nor was the question of what glass to serve Champagne-method wines ever even posed.

Above: At the restaurant Novecento in Brescia, our server — who wasn’t particularly wine savvy — poured Gatti’s Franciacorta Nature in Bordeaux glasses.

In Franco’s post, he quotes Champagne scion Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger (in a passage culled from a pseudo-advertorial post on Drinks Business).

    “Champagne is not only a wine but a symbol of love and generosity and if we forget that we are dead, and I am fighting that,” [Taittinger] stated.

    Continuing, he referred to a battle with “marketers” who, he said, “want us to drink Champagne in a wine glass.”

    “But we have a specific glass…”

The Taittinger quote brought to mind the infamous statement by Frederic Rouzaud of Cristal from a few years ago: we can’t stop them from drinking it…

It’s been many years since I’ve served Champagne or any other sparkling wine in a flute. In fact, I don’t even own any flutes: in my view and experience, the flute is the worst possible glass to serve any wine in because it obstructs the wine’s aroma, especially when your drinking a Pinot Noir-based wine that can tend toward the tannic and tight (we’ve even begun decanting certain sparkling wines at our house).

Above: The Lago d’Iseo in Franciacorta. I still need to post my notes from some of the interesting tastings I attended in Franciacorta in October. The photo, above, of the Lago d’Iseo gives you a sense of the Morainic subsoil and the maritime climate that give the wines their minerality and make them so fresh. Click the image for the hi-res version.

How do you serve sparkling wine at your house?

Prosecco, lies, and videotape: the real story behind the new wave Prosecco

Above: Until the 1970s, before pressurized “autoclave” tanks were introduced into the appellation, most Prosecco was double-fermented in bottle “on its lees.” The resulting wine was gently sparkling, cloudy, and still had the “fondo” (sediment) in the bottom of the bottle. Even when I lived and worked in the Veneto in the 1990s, it was a lot easier to find Prosecco “col fondo” (with sediment) than it is today. The traditional glass for Prosecco is the one pictured above.

Alan Tardi is one of the great wine writers and restaurant professionals of our generation. I had the chance to meet him a few times when I lived and worked in New York and I’ve greatly appreciated and admired his work (especially this wonderful 2006 article on Asprinio).

But he gets it wrong in today’s New York Times article on Prosecco and its (relatively new) DOCG, “Prosecco Growers Act to Guard Its Pedigree.”

Maybe it was not Alan but his editor at the Dining section who hand-crafted the title (a “pedigree” for Prosecco?). But it was certainly Alan who wrote the oxymoron “sophisticated prosecco.”

The Italian wine writers scratched their head incredulously when then-agriculture minister and native of Treviso where Prosecco is made, Luca Zaia, effortlessly pushed through legislation creating the Prosecco DOCG.

Does a humble wine like Prosecco — and by its very nature, Prosecco should be a humble wine — deserve to be elevated to the status of wines like Barolo and Brunello di Montalcino? asked pundits like Italy’s top wine blogger, Franco Ziliani.

Yes, it’s true, as Alan notes, that the new DOCG (which went into effect in April 2010) gives the wines raised in Conegliano and Valdobbiadene a bureaucratic distinction that sets it apart from Prosecco grown in Friuli, Piedmont (yes, Piedmont), and Australia. But this DOCG was just one of many that were created before Common Market Organization reforms went into in 2009, shifting the power to create new designations from Rome to Brussels. It’s one of the many examples of political spoils that Zaia lavished on his hometown before his boss Berlusconi was forced out by the international community.

And yes, it’s true that the biggest names in commercial Prosecco — Adami and Ruggeri are among those that Alan tasted for the piece — are making “heirloom” vintage-dated and vineyard-designated wines, as well as low-sulfur and even lees-fermented wines.

But these products are the result of attempts by the Prosecco industrial complex to appeal to the hipster sommelier crowd.

In fact, excellent col fondo Prosecco has been produced for many years now by an ever expanding group of small growers (see this post on our col fondo tasting last year). This is the bona fide new wave of Prosecco.

Costadilà is one of those wines and has been available in the U.S. for a few years how. And Coste Piane, which has also been available here for many years, has been making and marketing true Prosecco for as long as anyone can remember. More recently, col fondo producer Bele Casel has shipped its wines to North American shores.

Above: The village of Rolle (not Passo Rolle, the mountain pass, btw) lies at the epicenter of the Prosecco appellation. Nearly equidistant from Conegliano and Valdobbiadene. Most locals would argue that Conegliano is where Prosecco was born as an appellation, even though Valdobbiadene has eclipsed its sister village.

And on a technical note, in Italian and Veneto dialect (including the dialect of Treviso), rive is the plural of riva, which does indeed denote hillside or slope (analogous to costa in Prosecco parlance). The rive system doesn’t denote a single growing site, as Alan implies: it denotes a series of slopes set apart for their topographical designation.

While I’m not a fan of Ruggeri, there’s nothing wrong with a glass of any of Adami’s wines. But they don’t represent real Prosecco. They are an expression of the consumerist hegemony that has choked my beloved trevigiano since the 1990s when Prosecco became a brand in the U.S.

I know I’m splitting hairs here and I remain Alan’s loyal admirer.

His oversights are harmless in the big (commercial) scheme of things and not nearly as bad as those in a Times piece this week in which Eric Pfanner ingenuously believes that a Paris wine shop owner is affected by Robert Parker’s “downgrade” of a 1998 Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

    I have no intention of second-guessing Mr. Parker, who has been tasting, and championing, the wines of Châteauneuf-du-Pape for decades. But the change in his score for the 1998 Beaucastel highlights the challenges of encapsulating something as complex, subtle and capricious as a fine wine in a single number.

The moment of truth has arrived: it’s high time that we begin questioning the wisdom of Robert Parker’s rating system! It’s enough to make you think that the editors at the Times Dining section only recently discovered bread and butter…

O, Eric the Red, where art thou? O, Solomon among wine writers!

Sexy girls and sommeliers: an Italian recipe for controversy

Anyone who has ever been to Italy (and especially anyone who’s ever watched an Italian primetime variety show) knows that sexy girls often appear there in the strangest places.

The models are called veline (a word that doesn’t come from velo or veil but rather the French vélin, akin to vellum, i.e. fine parchment obtained from calves’s skins; it was first used in its current meaning in the late 80s on the show Striscia la notizia where, by metonym, it was used to denote the models who presented cue cards, called veline in Italian editorial parlance, to the show’s stars).

The Italian Sommelier Association’s (AIS) use of a velina (left) in one of its promotional campaigns stirred controversy late last year (December 27) when one of Italy’s top wine bloggers, Alessandro Morichetti, pointed out that the model is holding her glass incorrectly. The story was picked up on Monday of last week by Luciano Ferraro, a blogger for one of Italy’s leading newspapers, the Corriere della Sera. “The veline sommeliers have arrived,” he wrote.

Later in the day, in a post entitled “AIS, Good Taste, and Blow-Up Dolls,” Laura Rangoni, blogger for one of Italy’s leading glossy magazines, L’Espresso, wrote that she was offended by the campaign’s sexual and body-image implications, saying that she was going to cancel her membership in the body (no pun intended). The “good taste” of the association had sunk to new lows, she wrote, especially when the campaign centered around the slogan: good taste: either you have it or you don’t (playing on the assonance between the second personal singular of the verb avere, hai, and the association’s acronym AIS).

By Thursday, a spokesperson for the AIS issued a press release in which he reproached Morichetti for posting false information and Rangoni and Ferraro for alleged sloppy journalism.

It’s enough to drive you to drink!

Another AIS controversy unfolded late last year when the body ended its longstanding relationship with top Italian wine blogger Franco Ziliani, who, for more than three years, curated a recurring “WineWebNews” column for the association’s site, a monthly round up of wine blogging from Italy and around the world. It enjoyed a wide following in the Italian enoblogosphere, in part because it offered readers a view beyond Italy (Franco synopsized and translated salient quotes from English-language blogs). As southern Italian wine blogger Luciano Pignataro observed, the move came after the AIS hired ex-Gambero Rosso editor Daniele Cernilli as its head of marketing. (De gustibus non est disputandum.)

“An Aristotelian syllogism could be applicable in this case,” wrote Luciano. “Cernilli is named as director of marketing. Cernilli detests Franco Ziliani. Cernilli rubs out Franco Ziliani.”

Inspired by a tide of appeals from readers, Franco has relaunched the column on his own blog.

My goodness… It’s enough to drive you to drink… and blog…

The world of Italian wine mourns Giulio Gambelli, the great maestro of Sangiovese

Sit tibi terra [tuscolana] levis Juli.

When Italy’s top wine blogger Franco Ziliani wrote me yesterday to share the news that the great Maestro of Sangiovese, Giulio Gambelli (left, photo by A. Pagliantini via Enoclub Siena) had left this world for another, the feeds were already overflowing with tributes for the man who shaped a generation of winemakers in Tuscany and helped to craft some of the world’s greatest wines (see below). As Tuscany continues to abandon the traditional-style Sangiovese (“translucent and profound” to borrow Aldo’s phrase) that he championed, it’s hard not to imagine that his passing will not be remembered as the end of an era…

I’ve translated a few passages below (with links to the orignal posts for Italophones).

A very sad new year for the world of Italian wine: Giulio Gambelli, 87, the great maestro of Sangiovese has died in Poggibonsi, Tuscany. Gambelli was not an enologist but rather a master taster and the world’s greatest expert on Sangiovese — the often challenging, supreme grape of Italy. He was a modest, unassuming person, wine’s humble servant, not an oversized personality but rather an anti-celebrity. To his friends, he was known affectionately as Bicchierino, the little glass.

—Franco Ziliani

He was the man who had taught all the producers in Montalcino how to make wine, not to mention a healthy slice of Chianti Classico. He was a (towering) piece of the history of the last 60 years in Tuscan winemaking. But if you told him so, he would start laughing and he would huff and puff, unamused because he didn’t want to carry the weight for something that he did out of pure passion and because he loved to do it.

—Carlo Macchi

For those who didn’t know him, the following are just some of the Sangiovese producers for whom he consulted: Montevertine, Poggio di Sotto, Soldera, Ormanni, Villa Rosa, Bibbiano, San Donatino…

Gambelli had taught winemaking to so many producers in Montalcino and Chianti Classico that the adjective gambelliano had come to denote true Sangiovese…

—Aldo Fiordelli

Decanter’s obit here.

Photo by Consumazione obbligatoria.