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Delhi Wine Club
Rosso di Montalcino Stays Sangiovese

Posted: Friday, 09 September 2011 11:37

Rosso di Montalcino Stays Sangiovese

Sep 09 : The tussle between the traditionalists and modernists in Montalcino is finally over with the Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino voting down the proposed changes in the specifications for Rosso di Montalcino, which would have allowed upto 15% international grapes, after a passionate debate, writes Subhash Arora who feels this is one of the top Italian value- for- money premium wines for the tax-burdened Indian market

Rosso di Montalcino DOC, the second wine of the Tuscan town of Montalcino, known  as the baby brother of the iconic Brunello di Montalcino DOCG has been made under the appellation granted in 1984 using 100 per cent Sangiovese grapes known as Brunello (Sangiovese Grosso).  It has much shorter maturation requirement and may be released a year after the harvest; it does not even require wood maturation.

But some producers have been wanting to change the rules, allowing them the option to use up to 15 per cent of international varietals like Cabernet Sauvignon,  Merlot  or Syrah to make the wines more rounded, especially since the sales of this wine have been stagnating for about four years. The proposal had provoked a furious debate both for and against the said proposal, within Montalcino and internationally. The members voted down the proposal after debating the issue for months. Thus the Rosso maintains a pure Sangiovese status- at least for another year and the traditionalists; purists and romantics may breathe easy.

An average wine drinker in India may not be affected by the ruling either way but delWine has repeatedly advised for several years to ‘Think Brunello, Drink Rosso’ and in a country like India where heavy taxation and higher mark ups by 5-star hotels who get them customs duty free, make Brunello virtually a drink for special occasions, Rosso di Montalcino which is appropriately termed sometimes as a Baby Brunello is a perfect choice, especially as a unique wine found only in this area.

High taxes are not the only reason for our advisory. Brunello has to be aged for a longer period making it a complex and collectible wine; at least age-worthy for at least 15-25 years. The top producer, Biondi Santi has in its library Brunello  which is 120 years old. I have tasted their Brunellos around 50 years old and they were alive and kicking. Rosso di Montalcino, on the other hand is meant to be drunk young, with 2-5 years being a comfortable age before uncorking a bottle. Tannins are softer and the wine is approachable earlier and can be a match even with vegetarian dishes and pairs better with white meats. What’s more, during better vintages it is an excellent wine while in poorer years many Brunello producers  de-classify their Brunello and sell it as Rosso (caution: some top producers like Gianfranco Soldera of Casa Basse  and his neighbour Angelo Gaja’s Pieve Santa Restituta don’t make Rosso and sell their production as bulk wine in poor years) making it a better bang for the buck.

The members of Consorzio voted on the proposal that would allow up to 15% non-Sangiovese grape, allow irrigation which is banned till now and make a few amendments in the vineyards management including the height from sea level. The meeting was reportedly extremely well attended and 69 % voted against the proposal an for the quid pro quo.

Count Francesco Marone Cinzano who owns Col d’Orcia-one of the biggest wineries and exports to India through Ace Beveragez said that Montalcino producers had once again spoken out in favour of protecting the pedigree of these wines. But he was disappointed that such an amount of time, money and efforts were wasted on a practical non issue. He had visited India in 2007 as the President of the Consorzio but when the Brunello 2003 controversy erupted (it was covered extensively by delWine and appreciated by even the Montalcino producers for its balanced reporting), he had resigned in a huff. He plans to be in India again next month but only as a producer.

President of the Consorzio Ezio Rivella  was a Director till a decade ago for the American company Banfi which would like to see perhaps even the Brunello softened a bit for the American buyers. He reportedly supported the move to change and have the producers decide if they wanted 85% or 100% Sangiovese, said he would go with the decision at the meeting which he conducted on September7.

Bigger producers like him have the maximum votes-60 while the smaller producers have only 3. (A fact that Indian Grape Processing Board might want to keep in mind as the industry grows bigger and its role become as important as the Consortia in Italy). The voting was done by a secret ballot.  Naturally, some producers who had called for further sub-division into Rosso Superior Sangiovese, Classic and with the changes were disappointed since they felt that these changes would have given more options to the producers to satisfy different segments. They felt that the global markets-especially in Germany, China and Canada preferred much softer wines and that could be possible only with blends.

Interestingly a new Appellation of San’Antimo was introduced in Montalcino 15 years ago. This allows the producers to be much more flexible and they could produce a wine by blending Sangiovese with other international varieties that are already growing in the area. But the appellation never took off and remained a shadow under the international prestige of a Brunello and a Rosso di Montalcino and the growers are stuck with acres  and acres of the vines. One can also sell them as IGT wines-like super Tuscans. Maremma and Bolgheri are full of producers making IGT wines using Sangiovese and international red grapes-even at levels higher than 15%.

Outside Montalcino and perhaps Tuscany, the debate created even stronger and passionate divide between the lovers of Montalcino wines.  Now, delWine is in a happy position to continue to recommend to its readers, ‘Think Brunello, Drink Rosso.’ It is a unique wine, available at less than a third price of Brunello and can be drunk much younger- making it very suitable for our palate and pocket.

Although several articles may be searched for these wines, please visit our previous article on Brunello and Rosso di Montalcino Welcome Brunello 2011: Impressive but Young 2006

Subhash Arora


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