Since the Big Three, Wine Enthusiast, Wine Spectator, and Eric Asimov, have all written about this, it MUST be HUGE news in the world of wine. Personally, while I have enjoyed it a time or two, I don’t get the opportunity to drink much Brunello di Montalcino so I am not as up in arms over this as I probably should be. Or, maybe I just assume that wine labels are not 100% accurate, particularly in Italy and Spain. As long as the wine is good, I am okay with that.
That said, it appears that there is a major scandal brewing.
From Wine Enthusiast:
Taking extreme measures, the United States has issued a warning to Italy that all imports of Brunello di Montalcino could be blocked starting June 9th.
From that date forward, the US will require laboratory certificates accompanying all Brunello authenticating that the wine contains 100 percent Sangiovese.
According to the rules that govern the wine, a bottle cannot carry a Brunello label if it contains any percentage of foreign grapes such as Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon or Montepulciano.
And, from Wine Spectator:
When news of the investigation was reported, the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco and Trade Bureau (TTB) sent several letters to the Italian Embassy in Washington asking for a list of producers under investigation and any other relevant information, according to a spokesman for the TTB. After not receiving the information, the TTB sent a followup letter on May 7 informing the Italians that if the matter is not resolved by June 9, the U.S. Customs bureau will hold any Brunello shipments unless “the importer submits a full and accurate statement of contents verified by laboratory analysis, or a statement from the government of Italy demonstrating that the product is made from 100 percent Sangiovese grapes.”
“These wines are not properly labeled,” said Art Resnick, a spokesman for the TTB. Even though the investigation is still ongoing, “in the meantime, we don’t know what the consumer is being sold.” The bureau is responsible for collecting excise taxes and ensuring that wines are labeled, advertised and marketed according to the law. The U.S. and the European Union have trade agreements that wine labels shall not contain false or misleading information. “It is all about truth in labeling,” said a source at the American Embassy in Rome. “It doesn’t matter if it is Parmigiano cheese or wine, the Italian product has to be what it says it is on the label. It’s about protecting the consumer.”
Finally from Eric Asimov:
Still, my sense is that the government would not have stepped in had the Italians given them the information they sought. Rumors and concerns abound over wine producers all over the world not adhering to the letter of the law. Yet, the last time the American government stepped in to block wine imports was during the scandal over Austrian wines in 1985, Mr. Resnick said.
Clearly, this is a far less grave situation. And while the threat of blocking imports may compel the Italians to provide the information requested by the regulators, I have to wonder whether it might have a dampening effect on any future whistle-blowing around the globe.
Since this scandal did not involve the use of antifreeze I am hereby offering my services to any Italian wine makers who need someone to help them get rid of this obviously useless wine.