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Brunello Investigator Reveals Details of the Case

Siena prosecutor charges that lab analysis has proved wines are not pure Sangiovese

Jo Cooke, James Suckling
Posted: October 22, 2008

The Siena public prosecutor leading the investigation into the production of Brunello di Montalcino broke his silence today to charge that laboratory tests have confirmed that several wineries under investigation used grapes other than Sangiovese in their wines, in violation of Italian law. A press release from Nino Calabrese's office, signed jointly by Calabrese and a deputy prosecutor, Mario Formisano, read, "Many of the producers involved in the investigation have violated the regulations governing the production of Brunello di Montalcino DOCG and Rosso di Montalcino DOC."

Calabrese's statement revealed no names, nor the number of wineries under investigation, but said that laboratory analyses had so far concluded that about 1,100,000 liters (122,000 cases) of Brunello di Montalcino and about 450,000 liters (50,000 cases) of Rosso di Montalcino did not contain 100 percent Sangiovese. According to Italian law, both wines must be pure Sangiovese.

Calabrese began his investigation in September 2007, sending the Italian finance police, the Guardia di Finanza, to look through winery documents and vineyards in search of evidence of other grapes being used. In the spring, he sequestered about 6.5 million liters (722,500 cases) of Brunello di Montalcino and about 700,000 liters (about 78,000 cases) of Rosso di Montalcino. The wines ranged from the 2003 to the 2007 vintages.

According to one Brunello producer close to the investigation, the sequestered Brunello from 2003 included both bottled wine and wine still in vats, and the laboratory tests were conducted by the Florence office of the Central Inspectorate for Quality Control of Food and Agricultural Products on bottled samples according to the various recorded bottling dates. They also tested unbottled vats.

Calabrese did not say which vintage or vintages the wines that were not pure Sangiovese were from. In an average year, Montalcino produces 540,000 cases of Brunello and 375,000 cases of Rosso di Montalcino.

In his statement, Calabrese said most of the wines that did not meet the legal standard for Brunello have been declassified to Toscana Rosso IGT. This triggered their release from impoundment, allowing the wineries to sell them. Calabrese also said that approximately 4,400,000 liters (about 490,000 cases) of Brunello and 220,000 liters (about 24,400 cases) of Rosso di Montalcino remain under sequestration and investigation, awaiting lab tests.

Word of the investigation first leaked to the media in April. Castelgiocondo (owned by Marchesi de' Frescobaldi), Pian delle Vigne (owned by Antinori), Castello Banfi and Argiano were implicated in reports as under investigation, an accusation the wineries later confirmed. Calabrese has never stated which wineries are under investigation nor confirmed whether other wineries besides those four are involved. There are 250 producers in the appellation, 200 of which bottle their own wines.

Calabrese's revelations came the day after Banfi, Montalcino's biggest Brunello producer, making close to 60,000 cases in a given vintage, announced that its Brunello di Montalcino 2003 had been cleared and released from impoundment. An employee at the winery said a small amount had been declassified. Other Brunellos were similarly cleared during the summer, including Antinori's Pian delle Vigne Brunello 2003 and half of Frescobaldi's Castelgiocondo Brunello 2003. A source familiar with the investigation said that Banfi's announcement spurred Calabrese to release his statement. Calabrese would not make any further comments, leaving several questions unanswered for now.

The president of the Consorzio di Brunello di Montalcino (the Brunello growers association, which oversees production), Patrizio Cencioni, was unavailable for comment. Some Consorzio members have recently proposed changing the regulations, allowing for the use of other grapes, much as Chianti does. Others have vocally opposed the idea. The Consorzio is meeting Oct. 27 for a preliminary debate on the possibility of changing the rules.

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