The U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco and Trade Bureau (TTB) has softened its stance regarding its threatened embargo of Brunello di Montalcino, scheduled to begin June 23.
While the danger of a blockage still stands and the deadline remains the same, the government agency has dropped its threat to refuse imports of Brunello unless Italian authorities offer laboratory tests proving that each wine was made from 100 percent Sangiovese grapes.
Instead, the bureau will accept certification from the Italian government that the wines comply with the rules, it announced in a circular letter addressed to "importers, wholesalers and others concerned," posted June 17 on the official TTB website.
The letter further states that any Brunello imported after that date and found in circulation in the U.S. without an Italian government guarantee would be considered a "willful violation," resulting in possible "suspension or revocation of the importer's permit."
The TTB's new position follows recent negotiations between the Italian minister of agricultural policy, Luca Zaia, and his American counterpart, U.S. secretary of agriculture Ed Schafer.
"We have not yet received any official communication," said Patrizio Cencioni, newly-elected president of the Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino, "but we expect it to arrive very soon, as the deadline is very close. We can then get moving on the documentation. What we want to avoid," he said "is a whole container of Brunello being blocked because, say, 60 bottles are not covered."
The requirement covers all shipments of Brunello di Montalcino starting June 23. Wines from the recent 2003 vintage that are already circulating in the U.S. are not included in the new ruling.
"We brought over all our 2003 Brunello in February and it's already sold," said Dominic Nocerino, owner of U.S. importers Vinifera Imports Ltd, which brings in Brunellos from Valdicava, Centolani, Canalicchio di Sopra and Castello di Romitorio. "I'm not worried about the new rules for documentation," he added. "After 30 years in the business, another piece of paper is not going to be a problem."
Meanwhile, back in Montalcino, the troubled Consorzio elected Cencioni this past week. His family has owned the Brunello-producing winery Capanna since 1957. The election followed the resignation of Francesco Marone Cinzano, on June 9, after the government temporarily stripped the Consorzio of its role as Brunello's guarantor and created a "Committee of Guarantee" of outside experts.
Various other members of the Consorzio's council have also resigned, including Roberto Guerrini of Eredi Fuligni and Stefano Cinelli-Colombini, owner of Fattoria dei Barbi.
"The council of which I was part was elected in a boom period for Brunello," said Cinelli-Colombini, "but a good captain in fair weather is not necessarily the man to be in charge when the going is tough."
The government-appointed "Committee of Guarantee" will, for the next six months, coordinate and supervise the control of the production of Montalcino's DOCG (Brunello di Montalcino) and DOC (Rosso di Montalcino, Moscadello di Montalcino and Sant'Antimo) wines.
Though the Montalcino saga is still drawing most of the limelight, other wine areas of Tuscany are facing their own legal problems.
The magistrate's office in Montepulciano recently initiated an investigation into the possible use of grapes from other areas of Italy in wines produced there. So far, two notable producers, Gattavecchi and Vecchia Cantina di Montepulciano, have been named.
Reports have also appeared in the local press of an investigation into the illegal use of oak chips in a red produced in the town of San Gimignano, better known for its light, white wine, Vernaccia di San Gimignano. The president of the consorzio there was quick to play down any involvement of Vernaccia di San Gimignano in the enquiry there and accused the media of being on a witch hunt.
Sips & Tips | Wine & Healthy Living
Video Theater | Collecting & Auctions