The U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco and Trade Bureau (TTB) has given Brunello di Montalcino producers two extra weeks to prove their wines are pure Sangiovese. According to a spokesman for the federal agency, which collects excise taxes and ensures that wines are labeled, advertised and marketed according to the law, the TTB extended its threatened cut-off date for Brunello imports into the U.S. from June 9 to June 23.
The Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino now has until that date to certify that any bottle of Brunello di Montalcino imported into the United States is made from 100 percent Sangiovese. Without certification by laboratory analysis or a statement from the Italian government, the wines cannot be sold in America. Italy's prized Sangiovese red 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.
According to Art Resnick, spokesman for the TTB, agency officials granted an Italian request for a delay due to the recent Italian elections and the transition of a new government headed by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. Also, agency officials are traveling to Italy during the week of June 12 for a conference for FIVS, an international federation of wine, spirits and beer industry members, and have accepted an invitation to meet in Rome with members of the Italian government and the Brunello Consorzio while in the country. According to Resnick, the conference was long scheduled, so the agency was happy to grant the meeting while their officials were in Italy.
The TTB originally sent a letter to the Italian embassy in Washington outlining the terms of its potential boycott on May 7, after, Resnick said, repeated requests for a list of the wineries involved in the inquiry were ignored. "We're still waiting for the list of producers," said Resnick. The TTB hopes their Italian counterparts will hand it over at the Rome meeting.
"We [still] cannot give the list," said Stefano Campitelli, director of the Brunello Consorzio, "because we actually don't have it ourselves. The inquiry is still underway and there have been no official results yet."
Campitelli added that the wines under question have been sequestered by the magistrate as part of the ongoing inquiry and would not be exported to the U.S. anyway. "In reality, these wines are under lock and key in the winery and cannot be released onto the market."
A ban on imports would be a severe blow to Montalcino's winemaking community as the U.S. imports roughly 25 percent of the entire annual production of Brunello.
"The new date gives us a bit of room," said Campitelli, "but it's still too close for us to be able to initiate the kind of tests they were asking for. You would need months for that."
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