Vine Talk: Battle of Brunello exposes row over purity vs blends

Tue Aug 3, 2010 5:55pm EDT
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(Robert Whitley is the publisher and managing partner of wine website Wine Review Online and the host of an online radio show "Whitley on Wine." He also oversees several international wine competition. The opinions expressed are his own).

By Robert Whitley

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - It has been centuries since residents of the walled Tuscan city of Montalcino have had to worry about barbarians at the gates but that does not mean life in Italy's most famous hill town has been without drama.

A couple of months ago acclaimed winemaker Ezio Rivella from Asti, in Piemonte, was controversially elected president of the consorzio that rules the production of Montalcino's beloved Brunello, one of Italy's most important red wines.

His candidacy was challenged on the eve of the vote by one of the most respected men of Montalcino, Fabrizio Bindocci from the vineyards of Tenuta Il Poggione, who backed another candidate, Donatella Cinelli Colombini, as he said she was born locally.

When Colombini unexpectedly withdrew, leaving the path free for the outsider, Bindocci offered himself as an 11th-hour candidate for president but he did not have the numbers.

The controversy over the election has put the spotlight on growing divisions in the wine world as some producers take a more global approach to their craft while others stick to tradition.

Opponents such as Bindocci are passionate defenders of the status quo and are convinced that the 77-year-old Rivella as the modern face of Brunello could put the soul of Brunello at stake.

As chief enologist at wine producer Castello Banfi, Rivella initiated research at the University of Pisa and University of Milan that identified the most suitable clones of the red wine grape Sangiovese for the Brunello vineyards of Montalcino.   Continued...

<p>A tourist smells a glass of Brunello di Montalcino wine before taking a sip in the Tuscan town of Montalcino in central Italy, in a September 22, 2004 file photo. REUTERS/Max Rossi/files</p>