Wednesday, June 11, 2008

A Wine by Any Other Name- Brunello in Crisis

Brunello di Montalcino, my favorite wine in the world, the wine that I wish I could afford on a regular basis, a wine that has a taste worthy of its price, a wine that conjures big dreams, is involved in a humiliating scandal the Italian press has christened “Brunellopoli.” It is a sad day in vino-land when that wine you have perpetually held sacred is revealed as corrupt.

Brunello di Montalcino has always been thought of as the gold standard of Italian wine. High in tannins, Brunellos are perfect deep cellar wines, ideal for aging. In order to be considered a Brunello di Montalcino, it must be made from 100% Sangiovese grape (locally known as the Brunello grape). No ands, ifs, or buts. No two ways about it. 100% Brunello. Period.

How is it that these winemakers have been sneaking other grape varieties such as Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon into their prized wines and assuming that the adulteration would go unnoticed? Isn’t it obvious that if they were discovered, anarchy and nothing less would ensue? It is enough to not only damage an individual winery’s reputation but to ruin the credibility of the varietal as a whole.

According to the New York Times, “The prosecutor has impounded more than a million bottles from some of the most prominent Italian winemakers — including Antinori and Frescobaldi — while he determines whether they used unapproved techniques or grapes other than brunello… supposedly to give their idiosyncratic wine a broader international appeal.”

Furthermore the sale of the 2003 vintage is suspended until a system of checks and balances is implemented to guarantee the integrity of the wine.

The situation is bad for the economy and morale of Italy and winemakers in general. Some see the investigation as a witch hunt, intended to hurt the Brunello image, to disgrace the producers, especially smaller businesses. And it is a sad time for the people who have put Brunello di Montalcino on a pedestal.

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