As I recalled in my previous post on the stop of the US authorities on the Nobile di Montepulciano, Brunello di Montalcino, the most famous Tuscan wine, is in the middle of a big storm since last March when the Italian authorities started investigations on some big producers of Brunello to verify if they respected the Disciplinare (Terms of Reference) for this wine, which impose that it is made of 100% Sangiovese grosso grape, or if they added some other grapes, like Merlot or Syrah, in order to soften some of the characteristics of Sangiovese and make it more accessible for the big "global" consumers.
I would like today to report the view expressed on this issue (letter in Italian reproduced on the site of the A.I.S. by Franco Ziliani) by one of the most famous Italian producers, Angelo Gaja, who has been responsible for promoting a modern view of Nebbiolo grape in Piedmont.
The name Gaja (the first wine business started in 1859) is in Italy synonimous of wines that have reached a "cult" status, thanks to an absolute pursuit of quality and an approach that has brought in 1961 the father of Angelo Gaja to use only its own grapes (and not bought from other growers) and then limit to the production of Barbaresco. This wine (including the two "Cru" of Barbaresco) has become a reference and its 1989-1990 vintage are highly collectible and sought-after wines (and are among the most expensive wines of Italy).
But Angelo Gaja has since the 1990's decided to move also to Tuscany and has bought in 1994 Pieve Santa Restituta in Montalcino (where he produces the Brunello Rennina and Sugarille) and in 1996 Ca' Marcanda in the area of Bolgheri (where he produces the wines Promis, Magari and Ca'Marcanda).
But what is he saying on the "infamous" Brunello saga?? Angelo gaja does not really manage his words and takes rather clearly the position of those who are supporting a modification of the Disciplinare. I already explained in my previous blog why I consider that there are no reasons justifying a modification of the Disciplinare and that there is already in Tuscany and on the basis of the Italian system of classification enough flexibility for producers who are not willing to respond to 100% Sangiovese to find out alternatives that would leave their commercial attractiveness untouched (Tuscan IGT that are called "Supertuscan" enjoy a large success notably in the US market and with American wine critics).
However, this time I am particularly puzzled by the arguments that Angelo Gaja has used to support such modification: it seems that he considers that since a bunch of producers already possess the best locations in Montalcino and that a large amount of Brunello are produced now in areas that are not well suited to produce high quality Brunello (difficult areas for Sangiovese), the only way to produce high quality Brunello for these producers would be to blend Sangiovese with other grapes.
Two remarks with regard to what he is saying:
a) first of all he seems to argue mainly against the "rental position" that the producers with the best areas are enjoying (because they have either enjoyed these lands as part of a family tradition or because, like Soldera, Mastrojanni, or Diego Molinari they bought it in the 1970's at very low prices) and his proposal to modify the "Disciplinare" seems like a "compensation" vis à vis the other producers, but with a clear effect to diminish the existing "rental positions". I believe that those which own the best locations have the right to produce better Brunello and the rules of the game should not be changed in order to "compensate" the other producers.
b) second, he considers that it is necessary to identify "a formula allowing the "artisans" to show in their wines the great dignity of Sangiovese and to identify this in the label on the basis of 100% Sangiovese and at the same time to the big producers to operate with more flexibility: both should be able to call this wine Brunello". Then, he seems to support two kinds of Brunello: a first class product, pure sangiovese, that we may call the "Real Brunello", and a more ordinary product, an unspecified blend resulting from second class wineyards: a basic, standard, "generic" brunello. I believe this strange patchwork would not help the image of the most famous Italian wine abroad and would simply allow to see our supermarkets filled in with plenty of 10€ "generic" Brunello. It would simply become like a basic Chianti. I do not think this is what the wine lover wants.