Should Brunello di Montalcino change its rules?

Published by Sally on August 30, 2011

Among the crowd of sangiovese-based Tuscan wines, Montalcino stands out like a beacon of pure sangiovese, challenging occasionally, but also inspiring in its beauty of expression. There are moves afoot to change the rules to allow ubiquitous cabernet sauvignon, merlot, syrah into the blend which would ‘internationalise’ the style, and arguably make Montalcino wines indistinguishable from the crowd.

Nick Belfrage MW is garnering support for the rules on Rosso di Montalcino to stay the same.  He has sent an open letter – below – to the producers of Montalcino who are due, on September 7, to make an historic decision on the varietal make-up of Rosso di Montalcino DOC, which currently must be 100% Sangiovese.

In background to this meeting, Nick said “certain big producers, with a lot of cabernet/merlot/syrah planted in their vineyards, have for some time been trying to get the regulations changed for Rosso (and Brunello). Because the number of hectares a producer has under vine influences the number of votes he has in Assemblea, although numerically they are a small band, vote-wise they are very powerful.

“There was supposed to be a vote on this last April but (it is presumed) because they thought they’d lose they decided to put it off till now, when people are more distracted by the harvest.

“The crucial date is Sept 7. If we can get the little guys all turning up to vote there is little chance of [the big guys] winning, [whose] hope is to slip it through on a low turnout. Once it’s through it becomes a Trojan horse for the big one, Brunello, which would be a tragedy.”

Register your support in keeping Montalcino 100% sangiovese on Franco Ziliani’s blog:

Nick’s letter:
“I understand that, on Wednesday Sept 7, 2011, a vote will be held in the Assemblea of Montalcino wine producers on whether to allow a small but significant percentage of other grapes, which everyone understands to mean Merlot and/or Cabernet and/or Syrah, into the blend of Rosso di Montalcino DOC, which is of course at present a 100% Sangiovese wine.

“I would urge you in the strongest terms not to support this change. Rosso di Montalcino, like Brunello di Montalcino, has created for itself a strong personality on international wine markets based largely on the fact that it is a pure varietal wine. In these days when more and more countries are climbing on the wine production bandwagon it is more important than ever to have a distinctive identity, to make wine in a way which no one else on earth can emulate. It is my belief that the strongest factor in the identity of Rosso di Montalcino (and of course Brunello di Montalcino) is the fact that it is 100% Sangiovese.

“I am not disputing the fact that Merlot, Cabernet and Syrah are excellent grape varieties, but it is their very excellence, their very strength of personality, which threatens to compromise the unique character of Rosso di Montalcino. Who could ever imagine the producers of Bordeaux voting to allow 15% of Sangiovese into the Bordeaux blend? The idea is absurd – or would be treated as such by the Bordeaux producers. There are many who think that a reverse situation, in Tuscany’s finest vine-growing area, would be equally absurd. Yes, in many cases it may improve the wine – especially in weak vintages or where Sangiovese does not succeed every year. But it will fatally undermine the personality of the wine.

“I am aware that a lot of Merlot and Cabernet are planted in the Montalcino growing zone, and that there may be a need in the short term to find a commercial use for these grapes. But there are the options of St. Antimo or IGT Toscana. Perhaps, instead of compromising the purity of one of Montalcino’s unique wines, there should be more effort in the direction of promoting these other wine-types.

“You will be aware that many of us fear that a compromise in regard to Rosso di Montalcino would constitute an opening of the door to a compromise, farther down the line, of the purity of the great Brunello – one of the world’s great wines. Whether or not that might be the case, I am convinced that it is against the long-term interests of Montalcino to allow any other grape variety, including any Italian or Tuscan variety, into the Rosso, just as it would be fatal to great Burgundy, for example, to allow Syrah to be blended with Pinot Noir, as was once widely practised – with, one might add, some notable successes, but with the inevitable distortion of the style.

“You, the Montalcino producers, hold the fate not only of your own future market in your hands. You are the representatives of all of us who will not have a vote on September 7th.

We urge you, please, to vote NO.

Nicolas Belfrage MW

30 August 2011”


2 Responses to “Should Brunello di Montalcino change its rules?”

  1. Mario Crosta Says:

    I read on the “The Brunellogate affair is now officially over, but tensions continue (including a recent – rejected – attempt at modifying the rules of Montalcino’s less expensive wine, Rosso di Montalcino, to allow other grapes than Sangiovese)”. It’s true. On the next 7 september will be another assembly of producers. As on the (Franco Ziliani’s blog) and (Jeremy Parzen’s blog), I also ask You what You think about an other new possible Rosso di Montalcino DOCG Superiore (with Sangiovese 100% and other requirements in the vineyard and winery) – my proposal – to incrise the unique character of Rosso di Montalcino, as other Consortium did for Aglianico del Vulture Superiore, Asolo Prosecco Superiore, Barbera d’Asti Superiore, Barbera del Monferrato Superiore, Bardolino Superiore, Cesanese del Piglio Superiore, Conegliano valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore, Dolcetto di Dogliani Superiore, Dolcetto di Ovada Superiore, Soave Superiore, Valdobbiadene Superiore di Cartizze, Valtellina Superiore, Vermentino di Gallura Superiore and so on in Italy. Practically to emptied the DOC Rosso di Montalcino always under discussion from the best wine, that could after accommodate changes of grapes composition in the DOC. In all italian DOC the generic name ”rosso” specify a blend of two or many grapes. Only in Montalcino generic name want be accurately: this is not clarity…

  2. Mario Crosta Says:

    The opinion of Wojciech Bonkowski:

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