Italy, Tuscany

Changes in Rosso di Montalcino DOC race ahead

The red colour of Italian cars is not just any red. It comes from a long history of rules, mostly developed between the World Wars, from when car racing began. Different countries were assigned different colours: blue for French cars, white for German cars and, of course, British cars were racing green. Red was assigned for Italian race cars and now, the red colour of Alfa Romeo, Maserati and Ferrari is instantly recognisable as a “race red” (or Rosso Corsa).

All these rules have a history, which gain sense from the time, but most people today know what is meant by Ferrari Red. Just as with Italian car colours, and a lot of things in Italy, Italian wines have many rules. So it is worth considering what the proposed changes in the rules mean, especially when on the 15th December, the 15 board members proposed to change Rosso di Montalcino from 100% to 85% guaranteed Sangiovese.

Currently the law stands: Brunello di Montalcino must be 100% Sangiovese and aged for 4 years (Riserva for 5 years) with at least 2 years in oak. While waiting for the Brunello to age, the Rosso di Montalcino is released, made from similar grapes but only required to age for 6 months (up to 1 year in total) in oak. It also must be 100% Sangiovese.

Why would Montalcino want to change the law so they lose some of their uniqueness and become comparable to their neighbours’ wines in Tuscany? The simple answer is Sangiovese is a difficult grape. Sangiovese does not ripen consistently every year every where in Montalcino as a crop and the dry flavours are not enjoyed without a little understanding of the wine and food (which makes it less easy to sell to some non-Italian consumers). Some of the 250 wineries voting on the proposal when reconvening in January 2011 say, that for a Rosso, meant for early, easy-drinking, it does not make commercial sense to have it 100% Sangiovese every year.

In fact, before the mid-19th century the wines from the region were a blend, although of a dubious quality. Before then, the wine from the region was known as Vermiglio, and it could be a blend of varieties, Sangiovese, Canaiolo, Colorino, Tenerone, Gorgoteco, Terrbiano or Malvasia. Unlike Montalcino’s ancient neighbours, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Chianti Classico, the history of quality wine from Montalcino is very recent.

When 100% Montalcino Sangiovese has a good year it is ethereal, unique and the closest thing to art than any Grand Cru Burgundy. However, as much as that is good for the collector and wine lover, many larger wineries don’t agree it makes commercial sense to have so many inconsistent vintages.

There is a pressure for Rosso di Montalcino to become more commercially savvy and international. The “Modernists” believe blending with French varieties like they do in Chianti Classico may speed up the commercialisation of the Rosso di Montalcino wine.

Since 2008s Brunellogate (Brunellopoli), where the wines were found to have grapes other than Sangiovese and lost some face in the US market, the region has not been winning the race. But if the Ferrari is dented, would it be worth changing the colour for the whole car?

Will this mixed Rosso make the wine go faster?

Or, in the long-term, will the decision on Rosso di Montalcino skid the wines reputation into the region’s winner, Brunello di Montalcino, with the only result being one big pileup?


The issue was raised by 15 Consiglieri on 15 December and is now subject to debate in January to be voted by 250 producers. It will now be interesting to see what develops in the new year for one of the world’s great wine regions.

Link: Franco Zilliani “And then the Rosso di Montalcino disciplinary change” (In Italian)


Image: Bridget Bardot


  1. Mark Ryan says

    There are many ways to "soften" Sangiovese in off years (some of them perfectly acceptable and others more dubious) without resorting to blending with French grapes: carbonic maceration, reverse osmosis, deacidification, leaving a slight amount of residual sugar in the wine, micro-oxygenation, etc.

    Given these tools at the modern winemaker's disposal, it's clear what the REAL reason behind why the Montalcino wine producers want to allow blending: they want their wines to taste 'international' by the addition of Bordeaux grapes.

    And it's only a slippery slope before Brunello will be a blended wine as well…

  2. Thank you, good point. Brunello di Montalcino is a miracle of 100% Sangiovese, I really hope it is not a slippery slope, as you say, from changing Rosso to changing Brunello.

  3. Lovely thoughtful article. I don't see the fate of Rosso di M. "per forza" connected to that of Brunello since for many producers here in Montalcino the two are quite separate beasts, and not elder and younger siblings at all. Rosso has been a difficult appellation of late, limping along, with enormous differences in quality and price-points. There are Rossos that spend as much time in wood as some Brunellos, or even start out life AS Brunello in terms of yield and so on, and then there are Rossos that were conceived as such from the start and that come out at a fraction of the price. Let's wait for the vote… and keep Brunello out of the equation. Viva sangiovese!

  4. fabio says

    Salve a tutti; scrivo in Italiano perchè visto la delicatezza dell'argomento vorrei essere preciso.
    prima precisazione, il 70% del rosso di Montalcino viene prodotto da vigneti iscritti a Brunello, quindi 100% sangiovese, vengono vendemmiati, vinificati come Brunello, chi vuole lo imbottiglia direttamente dall'acciaio o li fa fare un periodo di affinamento in legno come la maggior parte dei produttori sempre come Brunello, quando si decide di imbottigliare il Rosso di Montalcino questa è la procedura: riclassificazione degli ettolitri destinati a Rosso di Montalcino da Brunello di Montalcino alla denominazione Rosso di Montalcino dopo di che richiesta di autorizzazione all'uso della denominazione ed imbottigliamento.
    Seconda precisazione: in Italia i disciplinari obbligano che le stesse percentuali dei vitigni nelle vigne siano rispettate nei vini cioè non è possibile impiantare una vigna solo “merlot” per poi utilizzarla per miscelare con il sangiovese proveniente dal Brunello per fare Rosso di Montalcino.
    Quindi come vedete la cosa è molto più complessa del previsto.
    In realtà esiste una piccola scappatoia che è la scelta vendemmiale che potrebbe permettere di fare questo gioco ma la maggior parte delle aziende hanno solo vigneti a100% sangiovese e l'impossibilità di impiantare nuovi vigneti…
    Io ritengo che se la maggior parte dei produttori non si fa raggirare da i soliti sarà molto difficile che passi, comunque l'iter sarà molto lungo e tortuoso vi ricordo che ogni cambiamento di disciplinare dovrà essere approvato dalla Comunità Europea

    E' nato tutto da una ricerca effettuata per conto del consorzio il quale ha incaricato dei consulenti esterni per avere un quadro complessivo proveniente dall'esterno, questo è stato il risultato, il consiglio di amministrazione ne ha parlato e discusso, prossimamente inizieranno delle riunioni per discutere l'argomento e capire cosa vogliamo fare noi produttori, credo che questo sia e debba essere il percorso più chiaro possibile e mi sembrano al quanto impertinenti certi articoli di personaggi che credono di conoscere il tessuto dei produttori Montalcinesi.
    Questa continua denigrazione e colpevolizzazione di noi produttori sinceramente mi ha stufato molto
    Auguro a tutti un 2011 un po' più rilassato e meno aggressivo

    Fabio Giannetti

  5. Ringrazio per il tuo post di ieri, Fabio – I have translated into English.

    "70% of Rosso di Montalcino s are made from vineyards that are authorised for the production of Brunello – therefore necessarily 100% Sangiovese. The grapes are harvested and vinified as Brunello. If the producer decides to make a Rosso di Montalcino then they can either bottle directly from the steel tanks or age the wine for some time in wood with the wine still classed as Brunello. When a producer decides to make a Rosso di Montalcino from wine destined to be Brunello (i.e. from Brunello authorised vineyards, with Brunello yield and vinification characteristics – acidity, alchool and so on) then there has to be a reclassification procedure with a precise request to use the appellation and to bottle as Rosso di Montalcino.

    2) In Italy the wine disciplinaries (laws) require the same proportion of vines in the vineyards to be observed in the wine s. This means that a producer cannot plant a Merlot vineyard to have grapes to blend with Sangiovese coming from a Brunello authorised vineyard to make a Rosso di Montalcino with a percentage of Merlot.
    It is a very complex issue.

    There is a very small loophole involving the "scelta vendemmiale" (selection during harvest) that would allow the introduction of other grapes as above but most estates only have Sangiovese planted (for the production of Brunello) and are not in the position to plant new vineyards.

    I believe that if the majority of producers do not allow themselves to be manipulated by the usual suspects it is very improbable that this change will be voted. In any case it will be a long-drawn out and complicated procedure since all disciplinary changes must be approved by the EEC.

    This all came about after the Consorzio commissioned a research with external consultants. The councillors talked and discussed the issues raised and the next step is meetings with the producers to try to gauge their wishes."

  6. fabio says

    ………. come ti dicevo su twitter:
    per una legge della comunità europea qualunque vino che all'interno abbia almeno l'85% di un vitigno può essere considerato in purezza, almeno che non ci siano delle specifiche più restrittive nel disciplinare di produzione ( vedi brunello o il vecchi disciplinare del Rosso).
    in questo modo il consumatore non saprà mai se il Rosso d Montalcino che beve sarà puro al 100% o all'85%!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Con questa decisione verrà vanificato tutto il lavoro delle aziende serie che fino ad oggi hanno lavorato per otenere un sangiovese ottimo ed un vino di carattere, ma come dice la parola difficile!!!
    con il taglio riusiranno a fare un vino "ruffiano e piacevole" ma senza identità o meglio senza "terruare" (spero che si scriva così.Tutte le piccole aziende ch si sono basate ormai da deceni solo sul sangiovese saranno tagliate fuori senza pità!!!!
    solo gli importatori potranno garantire quello che vendono!!!

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