Montalcino – the path to plonk?


7 Sep - The Montalcino producers voted in the end to keep Rosso di Montalcino 100% Sangiovese. See more on the issue here.

Francesco Marone Cinzano, highly respected
head of Col d'Orcia, Montalcino, and ex-president of the Consorzio there, writes, in the wake of the issue highlighted last week in Keep Montalcino pure!:

What surprised me the most when I received the request to attend and vote at the General Assembly on 7 September (tomorrow), the vote being to decide whether Rosso di Montalcino remains a 100% Sangiovese wine or can be made from a blend of other grapes (such as Merlot, Syrah, etc), is that the proposals for changes to the Rosso di Montalcino are in no way explained. No accompanying letter, no explanatory note, nothing.

In fact the proposals put forward now are essentially the same as those of the General Assembly held in February 2011, when the vast majority of producers decided that we should not put any potential changes to the vote.

At the time, some producers asked that a master plan be put together, one that would take into account the numerous denominations that already cover the Montalcino wine-producing zone, and not just focus on Rosso di Montalcino as if changing the rules for Rosso was the solution to everything. There are no fewer than six different red-wine denominations that a producer in Montalcino can choose from:

Brunello di Montalcino DOCG (100% Sangiovese or 'Brunello')

Chianti DOCG (yes, in Montalcino we are already allowed to use other grapes and call it Chianti)

Rosso di Montalcino DOC (100% Sangiovese, shorter ageing requirements than Brunello)

Sant'Antimo DOC (all grapes allowed ie Sangiovese, Cabernet, Merlot, Pinot Noir and any other grapes allowed in Tuscany)

Moscadello di Montalcino DOC (white wine from Muscat of Alexandria or Moscato Bianco)

Toscana IGT (all grapes allowed)

While the urgency of the proposed vote on 7 September makes it appear that nothing has happened in Montalcino since February 2011, in fact during this time wine producers have been called to strategy meetings by the Consorzio on at least two occasions. In one series of meetings, we had the contribution of a university professor brought in as a consultant. Calls for an all-encompassing strategy were renewed. Proposals of alternatives were voiced. It seemed that a very positive debate was started about the future of the Montalcino region.

To my great surprise and dismay nothing seems to have come out of all this.

Is it possible that no strategy has been put together? No marketing plan, no road map, no set of objectives, no pros and cons chart, no positioning statement? Nothing, not even a slogan.

Well, having read the proposals in detail and debated them with some fellow producers, I have come up with a slogan we can use if one of the two proposed changes is approved. Here it goes:


If one of the two proposals put forward by the board is approved, I foresee that within a couple of years consumers will be able to find on the shelves of supermarkets screwcap bottles of unidentifiable plonk, just like the cheapest Chianti or Toscana IGT red wines but this time with 'Montalcino' written on the label.

Is it possible that the capable and experienced members of the board of the Consorzio do not see this? Suddenly I realise that maybe they do. Maybe this is what they are aiming for. Maybe this is the reason they do not reveal their strategy. Maybe they know it would not be accepted if they went public with it. Maybe this is the reason they broke the unwritten rule that an assembly is not called during harvest when everybody is busy picking grapes.

Either Rosso di Montalcino becomes just another anonymous Tuscan red blended from a wide range of grapes, or it remains as a pure Sangiovese wine expressing the uniqueness of the Montalcino terroir. On Wednesday we will know what path Montalcino is going to take