by Adam Lechmere
Wednesday 31 August 2011
Proposals to allow Rosso di Montalcino to be blended with other grapes have divided the Italian wine world.
On 7 September, Montalcino wine producers will vote on whether to split Rosso di Montalcino – the ‘second’ denomination to Brunello di Montalcino – into three tiers.
Rosso di Montalcino Sangiovese Superiore, and Rosso di Montalcino Sangiovese would both remain 100% Sangiovese, with differences in yield allowances.
A third level, Rosso di Montalcino, would have to contain a minimum of 85% Sangiovese with 15% other ‘authorised red grapes’ in the blend.
Wine critic Nicolas Belfrage MW has written an open letter urging producers ‘in the strongest terms’ to vote against the proposals.
‘The strongest factor in the identity of Rosso di Montalcino (and of course Brunello di Montalcino) is the fact that it is 100% Sangiovese,’ he writes.
‘I am convinced that it is against the long-term interests of Montalcino to allow any other grape variety. into the Rosso, just as it would be fatal to great Burgundy, for example, to allow Syrah to be blended with Pinot Noir.’
Others agree: Brunello producer Gianfranco Soldera’s comment to Decanter.com, ‘any wine that has Montalcino on the label should be made with only 100% Sangiovese,’ is typical of a flood of blog and twitter posts.
Kerin O’Keefe, wine writer and author of a forthcoming book on Brunello di Montalcino to be published by University of California press said she was ‘totally against changing Rosso di Montalcino’s production code… Adding international grapes would dumb it down and turn into just another of Tuscany’s myriad of blended Sangiovese wines.
‘Rosso is also a crucial safeguard for Brunello quality because every year most producers declassify some Brunello to Rosso. This is why consumers consider Rosso a well-priced Baby Brunello, but this would all change if the other grapes are allowed.’
At the same time, other observers counsel keeping a sense of perspective.
‘This debate has been going on since at least the 1960s,’ Dante Cecchini of renowned producer Banfi told Decanter.com.
Allowing blending, he said, would make Rosso more consistent, with the downside that that there would be less vintage variation and so less character.
‘Rosso would lose some customers, but would gain others who wanted more consistency from their wine.’
Lamberto Frescobaldi, owner Brunello estate Castelgiocondo, said he was ‘not opposed to any measure that would enhance the quality of Rosso’.
‘Sales of Rosso di Montalcino have been sluggish for the last four years, and we need to invigorate this wine because having a successful Rosso in the end means having a more successful Brunello, since only the best Sangiovese goes into Brunello.
‘But over the years, some producers have planted Sangiovese in less than suitable areas, leading to lower quality Brunello, and even lower quality Rosso. This hurts the whole denomination.’
Montalcino was mired in controversy in 2008, when sales of the 2003 Brunello di Montalcino were suspended and producers including Antinori, Frescobaldi, Argiano and Castello Banfi investigated for allegedly mixing Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, albeit in quantities of less than one per cent, into the wine.
At the time, Franco Biondi Santi, whose grandfather Ferruccio is credited with inventing Brunello in the 1880s, suggested that parts of the region were not ideal for Sangiovese.
‘In some areas the vine excels, in others it simply does not,’ he said. ‘Rather than change Brunello, we should think about allowing other red grapes, grown within the denomination, to Rosso di Montalcino.’