Not even during the mid-August holidays we can quietly relax and enjoy the summer with a good bottle of wine (actually up to now here in Brussels summer was not so bright but I am thinking about a nice sunny day in Tuscany).
The scandal that hit Montalcino and its Brunello this spring and that brought to the temporary withdraw of millions of bottles of some well known producers of Brunello now is moving further south towards Montepulciano, a wonderful village which is producing the second star of Sangiovese: Nobile di Montepulciano.
But what's happening to the most famous "traditional" wines of Tuscany, recently brought to heaven also by the US wine critics (most notably the Wine Spectator), now stopped by the US authorities for suspect fraud?
Well, I guess most of you know of the scandal that hit Brunello in Spring, where some producers were suspected of blending the Sangiovese grapes (Brunello, according to the "Disciplinare" must be produced on the basis of 100% sangiovese) with other grapes (such cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or Aglianico) in order to create a wine easier to drink for what is considered a "globalised taste". If you want to find more details I suggest that you read these articles that well present the situation. The situation as you may know has not been clarified yet: some of the producers have been cleared (but to some the doubts may well remain), some not yet but may well be in the future;
Discussions have flourished about whether to change the "Disciplinare" to introduce more flexibility with regard to the grapes which may be added to the Brunello. I believe that the producers in Tuscany have already a large flexibility in producing the type of "international wines" that appeal to the large public by using the denomination "IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica)" or also DOC (like Bolgheri DOC). These denominations allow to use various grapes in the wines and have strongly supported the widespread world recognition of those wines called "Supertuscans". We should not make of Brunello just another Supertuscan, despite the strong pressure of major interests behind it.
In addition, the market for brunello is clearly not asking for it. The production of Brunello (which is growing probably excessively (too many areas of Montalcino that are not well suited for creating great wines are not cultivated with Sangiovese for Brunello) is largely absorbed by the market and the reputation of what is one of the greatest Italian wines has been growing during the last years. As some fine wine journalists and bloggers (is there a real difference now...?) have noted (see here an article of Monty Waldin), despite the fact that in Montalcino we have noticed recently a large presence of wines that appear not to respond to the general criteria of Brunello (too much concentrated, or round, with signs that other grapes than Sangiovese may have softened their characteristics), there are still the tenants of the tradition (starting of course from Biondi Santi) that reminds us of what a real Brunello is. It is still possible, as many have done from the '90's to use other means to soften some characteristics of Brunello, for example by using french barriques (I' m not a friend of it however).
The news (largely expected) that US authorities are now blocking imports of Nobile di Montepulciano is a rather a big blow to the Italian world of wine. Even if the issues concern a small number of producers, the entire sector will surely pay the consequences and the reputation will suffer for a long time.
As you know, I organised last month an interesting tasting of Brunello. Several persons were participating, some with a good knowledge of Italian wines and notably Brunello, others not at all and from various EU countries: nearly all of them elected Biondi Santi and Soldera Case Basse as the two best wines of the evening (against the competition of more modernist producers like Cerretalto Casanova di Neri, Castelgiocondo Ripe al Convento..).
The traditional brunello and nobile di Montepulciano is a great wine and we should work to protect them. It is not by protecting the geographical indications at international level and then watering down their major characters that we will reinforce the reputation of Italian wines and our credibility.