Wine notes

Thursday, 9 July 2009


The Consorzio of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, the regulating and protecting body of the wine from this Tuscan region, has proposed controversial changes to the disciplinary for the production of its wine. At this moment Vino Nobile, which was the first of all Italian wines to be elevated to the superior status of DOCG in 1980, must consist of a minimum of 70% of Sangiovese, or Prugnolo Gentile, as it is known here, with the balance made up of a maximum of 20% of the indigenous Canaiolo and a maximum of 20% of authorised grape varieties. This rather cryptic regulation already allows for the international grape varieties, first and foremost Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and, more and more, Syrah to put a stamp on the wines, but with the new proposal this will be increased to a hefty 30%. Unsurprisingly it has the protagonists of Sangiovese up in arms, as they consider the change an official degradation of Sangiovese. According to this camp it erroneously suggests that this most important ingredient of all Tuscan wines is not capable of producing great wines on its own, and needs “amelioration, as this authorisation of “other grape varieties” is euphemistically known by.

With the recent Brunello scandal fresh in mind it is curious, to say the least, that the Consorzio is going this way, especially in the light that there does exist a perfectly suitable category, Rosso di Montepulciano, with exactly the same regulation, and which allows for a free hand with the international intruders, unlike the Rosso di Montalcino equivalent, which must consist of 100% of Sangiovese only. Therefore, the argument, which claims that out of economic reasons (and catering for an alleged international, but mainly American consumer taste) there must be more lenience with the blend, is virtually powerless. Contrary to the Brunello di Montalcino debate, the Rosso di Montepulciano category already pulls in all grape varieties other than Sangiovese into the legal framework, whereas in the Montalcino area, Cabernet & Co can only be marketed under the much less commercially appealing DOC of Sant’Antimo, which doesn’t allow to capitalise on the famous Montalcino name.

While the Consorzio proudly states on its website that the Vino Nobile is considered a true expression of its terroir, it is questionable in how far this message can be conveyed in a wine that relies so heavily on non Italian grape varieties. Although advocates of the change argue that regardless of grape variety used, terroir characteristics are mainly the result of a specific site and soil type, it is doubtful if an international style would be able to express the uniqueness of the wine and make it inimitable on a global market saturated with French varieties. However, according to Thomas Francioni, Project Manager and marketeer of the Consorzio of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, the proposed changes merely simplify the existing situation, introducing more clarity to the legislation without any radical amendments.