News, 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, 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