Hoping to stave off a threatened U.S. embargo, the Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino has announced plans for a "Board of Guarantee," a panel that will devise a system of scientific analyses to establish the authenticity of their top red wine. But Italy's ministry of agriculture has yet to sign off on the idea, and some question whether any test could guarantee that a Brunello is 100 percent Sangiovese.
The Tuscan appellation is currently involved in a high-profile fraud inquiry, as a Siena magistrate investigates whether some Montalcino wineries are using other grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot. Producers under suspicion are contesting the investigation. Meanwhile, the U.S. government has asked Italian wine authorities to certify that any bottle of Brunello di Montalcino imported into the United States is made from 100 percent Sangiovese, beginning June 23. Without certification by laboratory analysis or a statement from the Italian government, the wines cannot be sold in the United States.
The Consorzio's announcement, made after a meeting on May 30, detailed plans for the panel, consisting of three as-yet-unnamed persons, who would consult with internationally renowned technical experts in the field of enology, agriculture and biology, in order to define the working parameters and processes for tests to confirm that any Brunellos sent to the United States are pure Sangiovese.
The Consorzio stated that the plan had been devised in conjunction with Italy's Ministry for Agricultural Policy and the local chamber of commerce in Siena. But just two days later, the minister, Luca Zaia, issued a release reporting, "We deny categorically that the ministry was involved, or that there is any agreement regarding the project announced by the Consorzio."
According to the Consorzio statement, the projected analyses form part of a broader, updated system of quality control that would guarantee adherence to regulations concerning grape yields, aging techniques and the territorial authenticity of Brunello wines.
This is the first time that a specific scientific analysis has been adopted as a guarantee of wine regulations in Italy, the Consorzio leaders claim. But the efficacy of such scientific analyses to authenticate wines has been the subject of much discussion in Italy since the beginning of this Brunello case in April 2008.
A number of Tuscan winemakers say that tests involving gas chromatography, which measure certain volatile compounds in a grape to identify a specific variety, have a 5 to 10 percent margin of error. "There isn't a set international standard for identifying the percentage of grape type, whether it's Sangiovese or Cabernet Sauvignon," said one enologist. "What are Brunello producers supposed to do?"
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