Italian wine protection questioned, says report

By Neil Merrett

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Wine, Cabernet sauvignon

A scandal has engulfed the manufacturers of one of Italy's most
prestigious wine varieties over claims that it is failing to meet
its own strict production guidelines, the US department of
Agriculture (USDA) has said.

Producers banded under Italy's Brunello di Montalcino designation are facing a probe by a regional prosecutor over claims that some makers of the Tuscany wine may have blended grapes other than the permitted Sangiovese variety in their product. While the consortium representing the designation has stringently denied the claims, the case could prove damaging to the reputation to both their own wines and the Vino a Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) system. The Brunello di Montalcino designation is one of many DOCG wines protected under Italian law by strict production requirements, which include tasting panels and other measures designed to control origin and quality. According to the USDA report, 'Brunello di Montalcino Italian Wine Scandal', 600,000 bottles of the wine produced back in 2003 have been recalled after suspicions were aroused that various grape varieties including Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Petit Verdot may have been added during production. Under the Brunello DOCG, all wines must be 100 per cent derived from Sangiovese grapes, with Italian prosecutors now investigating 13 wineries over a possible infringement of the system the USDA said. Just last year, as part of a request by the country's Ministry of Agriculture, the provinces of Florence and Siena were called upon to verify the vineyards in their respective appellations. This process included some vineyards in Montalcino, which make up the Brunello DOCG, and found that some were not entirely using the Sangiovese vines as required, according to the report. While not considered to be a threat to health, the damage on the country's wine industry could prove more significant, according to the report. The problem of grape sourcing for wines has been further complicated by a prolonged drought in Italy during 2003, which the USDA said had reduced the amount of available grape must, including Sangiovese, in the country. However, the consortium of Vino Brunello di Montalcino wine responded claiming there was no proof to suggest that its members had blended wines from the south of Italy into their products either in 2003 or more recently. The consortium, which was appointed by the Italian food and agriculture industry to protect the designation in 2004, added that last year saw inspections over 1667 hectares of vineyards registered for use in Brunello. Following the inspections, just one per cent of the vineyards tested were found to have failed to comply with its porduction standards. "It is the declared intention of the board of administration of the consortium of Brunello di Montalcino Wine, to carry out its' role as it has always done in the past in safeguarding the wines of the four denominations found in the Montalcino territory,"​ the group stated. "The consortium has always carried out this task using monitoring tools required by law as well as more rigorous tools prescribed by the consortium's internal norms."

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