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james suckling uncorked

Point Fingers the Right Way in Montalcino


Posted: Oct 28, 2008 2:41pm ET

I wasn't surprised with the news today that the wine producers' association in Montalcino overwhelmingly voted to maintain current regulations for producing Brunello di Montalcino, the famous red of the region. Despite some proposed initiatives to allow partial addition of other grape varieties in Tuscany’s great red, Brunello producers agreed that their wines should be 100 percent Sangiovese. In other words, their decision mirrors my last blog post – let Brunello be Brunello.

Nonetheless, I think that Brunello producers have missed an opportunity to improve the winemaking legislation in their region and fine-tune the boundaries of their vineyards. One of the main problems with Brunello di Montalcino is that the designated vineyard area is too large, and there are parts that are not good for growing Sangiovese. This is perhaps why some producers have been cheating and adding grapes other than Sangiovese to their wines.

An alternative would be to have a ranking of vineyard areas similar to Burgundy, whereby there are premier cru- and grand cru-ranked vineyards. The best and most highly ranked vineyards would make Brunello. It’s just an idea. It would be up to Brunello makers, and the Italian government, to decide on a system. But what is sure is that some weak vineyard areas exist that have no business growing Sangiovese for Brunello.

I still believe that the best vineyard areas around Montalcino are amazing in every way. They have the perfect sun exposure, climate and soil to grow what is one of the great and unique grape types in the world. Moreover, there are very few other places – even in Tuscany – where the Sangiovese grows to such perfection.

It’s time for Brunello producers to get over themselves and put aside their jealousy and selfishness and think about the future of their region. They could take what has been a very negative experience and turn it to a positive one. Alas, Montalcino is a small town and most of the wine producers continue to point fingers at one another and remain content with the status quo.

Marcello Buontempo
October 28, 2008 4:52pm ET
James what you said in the last paragraph is the reason why there will never be an agreement among the producers that some areas of montalcino are better than others also some producers have vineyards in just one part of Montalcino and others in two or more
Jim Mcclure
DFW, Texas —  October 28, 2008 5:10pm ET
James, it seems from there are classifications for blends from this same area. How difficult is it to redesignate vineyards, in portion or whole, in the Montalcino region so that other varietals may be grown for (legal) blended bottlings in the manner you describe? -Jim
Albert Jochems
The Netherlands —  October 28, 2008 6:25pm ET
As said, this is a wise decision. And I'm glad that one of the best cepage classifications in the world is being continued.

Interesting suggestion though about more detailed classification of vineyards. But the 'cru' type of designation is already used by many producers (names like Cerretalto, Vigna del Fiore, Ugolaia, Montosoli come to mind).

Doesn't the Rosso di Montalcino designation already refer to the 'larger' vineyard boundaries? I always understood that the Brunello boundaries where a subset of the Rosso. You can make rosso from the whole plot, and Brunello from only a selected part. But I don't read Italian well enough to be sure about this......
Sandy Fitzgerald
Centennial, CO —  October 28, 2008 6:54pm ET
You're getting political now. I know Bunello producers that have been saying for years that some of the wineries are well outside the Brunello clone area. They even claim they claim prove it by plant DNA. War will happen if a number of wineries are cut out of the BdM appellation, and then they end up only selling sangiovese. It would be best for he region, but I doubt anyone has the courage to go there.
Solaroli Giovanni
Faenza, Italy —  October 29, 2008 4:32pm ET
Albert Jochems, I'll try to resolve your doubt. It doesn't exist difference between BdM and RdM about viticultural area. Both must be produced inside the Montalcino boundary with 100% sangiovese grapes. At the momemt. BdM have to be aged 50 month (24 of that in oaks thanks of any capabilities, also barriques. RdM 10 months is enough. It's easy to understand that any wine under examinations by a commission and judged not suitable to become BdM, probably will be sold as RdM. I hope you'll understand and apologize me for any uncorrected phrases.Ciao.
Andrew Schaufflervircsik
Clarkdale, AZ —  October 30, 2008 1:48am ET
I worked in a vineyard in Montalcino one year. During harvest, we went through and took all bunches off of the vine except the very best bunch. We then went back and harvested the best bunch, which became the bdm. The first pass all went to rdm. As for the boundaries, aren't the boundaries delineated by the rivers and waterways surrounding the area? It makes for a pretty clear designation, no matter what the quality of the soil. One other question...there are good bdm from all corners, N, S, E, W. What makes for a bad area?
Gabriel Enning
Sweden —  October 30, 2008 5:39am ET
I don't think that a "cru-classification" is possible today in any of the worlds best regions. There is too much financial interest, politics and jealousy these days. Perhaps if they shut down the whole Montalcino area, bring in a couple of hundred super religious monks and let them analyse the vineyards for 100 years. Then we could have fair classification of the soil.All other ways will probably lead to winemaker war.
James Suckling
 —  October 30, 2008 5:48am ET
LOL. That was a good laugh over my coffee this morning. If only the monks could work a little faster!
Bert Pinheiro
Baltimore Maryland —  November 7, 2008 12:44pm ET
James I only purchase the names that are trustworthy each year and the ones you have liked.

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