Historically and traditionally, Tuscany is one of Italy’s “red” states. And “red” in this case, does not denote “republican” but rather “communist.” (Emilia-Romagna is Italy’s other traditionally “red” region.)
So it came as something of a surprise to many when Montalcino residents draped their village with the following slogan on the occasion of Agricutlure minister Luca Zaia’s press conference last month, where he announced the “resolution” of the Brunello crisis: “Thank you Northern League, thank you minister Zaia.” That’s Zaia, pictured left, in his “I saved Brunello” press photo. Note the green pocket square — a symbol of the Northern League — and his black tie, a powerful and ideologically charged statement in a region where many still remember the thuggery of Mussolini’s camicie nere or black shirts.
Italy’s separatist Northern League is a secessionist, xenophobic political movement, led by anti-Italian, racist Umberto Bossi. Bossi, pictured left, recently caused a furor in Italy when he began flipping off the Italian national anthem. He has also said he believes the Italian flag should be used as toilet paper. The humor in the video below may be lost on some of you who don’t speak Italian but watch it anyway. You’ll notice Zaia in the front row at one of Bossi’s speeches. The Lega is part of prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s current center-right coalition and when Berlusconi returned to power in May 2008, he made Zaia agricultural minister (no doubt, payback to the Lega for its support).
In nearly every one of Zaia’s press releases and statements on the Brunello controversy, he has been quick to accuse Italy’s center-left coalition, led by Romano Prodi, of inaction and ultimately has laid blame on his predecessor for the current crisis (whereby a local investigation of Brunello producers suspected of adulterating their wines has led to a U.S. block of imports from Montalcino).
So it must have come as a great surprise to Montalcino’s neighbors up in Montepulciano when they learned Friday that the U.S. Alcohol Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau has now blocked imports of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. According to a report published by my friend Mitch Frank over at The Wine Spectator, the TTB made the move after receiving no response to requests for information on the current investigation of Vino Nobile producers (who are also suspected of adulterating their wine).
In the meantime, Zaia has been working to improve perception of Italian wine abroad by authorizing the bag-in-box packaging of DOC wine. I guess he thinks that Sangiovese will be easier to market in a box. He just needs to remember to open the mail from America first…
Nice going, Zaia! Thank you Northern League and thank you Minister Zaia!
Italian Wine Guy did this fantastic post on Zaia in July. I only wish Zaia could speak English well enough to understand the paronomastic parody!
I’m not a fan of Wikipedia but this entry on the Lega Nord is informative.