What the hell is going on in Montalcino???!!!

In the wake of my Friday post where Franco and I revealed one of the “hypotheses” for a new Rosso di Montalcino category that would allow the use international grape varieties, a lot of folks have been asking, what the hell is going on in Montalcino, anyway???!!!

Today, on his blog, Franco asks rhetorically, is the proposed change prompted by market demand or does it reflect the interests of certain actors?

The fact of the matter is that there is an oligarchy of commercial, big-business, industrial wineries that want this change. Their baron-robber chum and ringleader Ezio Rivella — gerrymandering president of the Brunello producers association — says that before the Brunello controversy of 2008, 80% of Brunello (which by law must be made from 100% Sangiovese grapes), was blended in part using international grape varieties. (Here’s my post and translation of that story.) He and his gang claim that the market (read AMERICA) wants international grape varieties from Tuscany. What he doesn’t acknowledge is that the overwhelming majority of Brunello growers and producers — 90% by most counts — want to protect their appellation from internationalization in the name of Italian and Tuscan cultural heritage. The last time that Rivella tried to hold a vote on changing the appellation to allow other grape varieties, he had to retreat at the last minute because he knew he would lose. (Here’s the post on VinoWire.)

In the days that led up to the aborted vote, Francesco Illy — scion of the Illy coffee dynasty and owner of Montalcino estate Mastrojanni — published two open letters exhorting his peers and colleagues to protect the identity of Montalcino’s iconic wines. (Juel Mahoney posted English versions of the letters here.)

Comparing the crisis in Montalcino to the hard times faced by his father in the coffee industry, he wrote that “Experiences tell us [sic] that those who have managed to defend its identity in the end he won [sic].”

The bottom line is this:

1) The big-money, establishment producers want to make the rules more flexible so that they can make more wine, even in bad vintages, when Sangiovese is more difficult to cultivate (and Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon are more consistent and reliable).

2) The overwhelming majority of smaller producers do not want to change the appellations because they feel a deep connection to their land and their traditions and they do not want to see their wines internationalized (Rivella is from Piedmont, btw, not Tuscany). Ultimately, they realize, if Rivella and his gang prevail, there will be no space left in the market for their products (Walmart wins again).

3) The industrialists continue to create new scenarios that would allow them to use international grape varieties through a “back door” or “loop hole”; in other words, let’s create a new category that allows us to use Merlot when we need or want to. In keeping with the current strategy, Rivella continues to water down (forgive the pun) the different scenarios, hoping that eventually one will be approved.

If Rivella prevails, everything will be lost in Montalcino. Clear some trees, build a golf course, and, hell, why not turn all of Tuscany into a Disneyland-run tourist attraction? And after we build Disneyland in Tuscany, we’ll start working on Disneyworld in Piedmont. After all, the American boom times will return and all those fat cat brokers in Manhattan are going to need more Tuscan Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah to wash down those steaks. Shit, Tuscan Merlot costs less than Californian anyway!

O tempora o mores! Pasolini, Gramsci, Marx? Therein lies the answer…

Giacosa and Mauro Mascarello spar over 2006

Above: A recent photo of iconic Langa producer Bruno Giacosa.

Over at VinoWire, Franco and I have posted a preview of Franco’s article on Bruno Giacosa’s controversial decision not to bottle his 2006 Barbaresco and Barolo (to appear in the February issue of Decanter Magazine). But you’ll have to click over to VinoWire to get it. It marks the first time that Giacosa has spoken directly to the English-speaking world on the polemic move. You might be surprised by what some of his peers and interlocutors have to say about the vintage.

In other news… from the “just for gastronomic fun” department…

It’s that time of year again when we spacciatori di vino (wine pushers) hit the streets and start showing our wares again. It’s been good to reconnect with a lot of folks I only see when I’m on the road, like my good friend Josh Cross, who always has something fun on the menu at his awesome restaurant Oloroso in San Antonio. Josh and I both worked in the New York restaurant scene during the better part of the last decade and so we have a lot of friends in common.

He’s open for lunch now and so he treated me to one of his lunch specials, a take on “pigs in a blanket” (above): housemade venison sausage, cased in a runza dough kolache bun, served with a fig mustard and piquillo pepper relish.

I really like his sous chef Ernesto Martinez’s take on the German and Czech historical presence in Central Texas. How’s that for fusion?

Today, I’m on my way from Dallas to Houston, where I’ll be speaking at a wine tasting tonight. In less than a week, my beautiful Tracie B and I will be leaving for San Diego and the final preparations for our wedding. I wish ya’ll could see the grin on my face as I write this from a Starbucks in Ennis, Texas! :-)

The great Brunello debate and please keep Austin weird

Above: sopecitos at Fonda San Miguel, one of the many excellent Mexican restaurants in Austin, Texas.

Just a quick reminder: Franco and Ezio Rivella will face off tomorrow in the great Brunello debate in Siena, 3 p.m. local time. You can watch the debate live at http://www.vinarius.it/. I’ll be watching, of course, and will most certainly post about it here and at VinoWire. Franco will be presenting the case for Brunello di Montalcino to remain 100% Sangiovese while Rivella will argue that appellation regulations should be changed, allowing for other grapes to be used as well.

Above: Dale Watson did an awesome show at the Broken Spoke the other night in Austin.

In other news…

Tracie B. and me did us some more honky-tonkin in Austin this week. I’ve really been impressed by how Austin still has many family-owned and run music venues and restaurants. Especially coming from Southern California, where the landscape is dominated by fast food chains and strip malls, I’m happy to know that there is an America where folks are still keeping it real. Keep Austin Weird is a grass-roots movement that promotes general “weirdness,” as they put it.

I’ve been enjoying some of that weirdness and I really dug Dale Watson’s version of Pop a Top the other night at the Broken Spoke (my second-favorite honky tonk after Ginny’s Little Longhorn).

Pop a top again
I just got time for one more round
Sit em up my friends
Then I’ll be gone
Then you can let some other fool sit down

I’d like for you’d to listen to a joke I heard today
From a woman who said she was through and calmly walked away
I’d tried to smile and did a while it felt so outta place
Did you ever hear of a clown with tears drops streamming down his face.

Pop a top again
I think I’ll have another round
Sit em up my friend
Then I’ll be gone and you can let some other fool sit down.

Home for me is misery and here I am wasting time
Cause a row of fools on a row of stools is not what’s on my mind
But then you see her leaving me it’s not what I perfer
So it’s either here just drinking beer or at home remembering her.

Pop a top again
I think I’ll have another round
Sit em up my friend
Then I’ll be gone and you can let some other fool sit down
Pop a top again.