COMMENT: Confusion over Brunello wine scandal
Nearly 18 months since Italy launched a wine fraud investigation in Brunello di Montalcino and no one appears quite sure what did or did not happen, nor whether any further action is to be taken.
Italian authorities this month published their report on the investigation, which according to widespread Italian reports, named five wineries as prime suspects - Antinori, Argiano, Banfi, Casanova di Neri, and Marchesi de' Frescobaldi.
Police last year confiscated stocks of several wineries' Brunello di Montalcino 2003 vintage, following allegations that some producers had bulked up their wines using grape varieties other than Sangiovese - the only type allowed according to Brunello rules.
Scandal in Brunello di Montalcino, named as one of the best wines in the world, struck at the heart of Italian wine.
Confusion has reigned ever since.
The then president of the Brunello di Montalcino Council told me in an interview in early summer 2008 that some producers "became greedy" and that there were "a few bad apples in the basket". These would be weeded out, he assured.
Threats of an import ban by the US were quickly placated by Italian officials and Council. A new leader of the Council was swiftly elected at the height of last summer and a new guarantee system for the content of the wines was introduced, backed by Italy's Government.
Slowly but surely over the next few months, all of the confiscated stocks were released and no charges brought.
Castello Banfi, which produces 600,000 bottles of Brunello di Montalcino annually, saw its 2003 stocks released in October. "This clearance closes the case for Castello Banfi Brunello," it said at the time.
So, what are we to make of the authorities' new report on the case?
Banfi told just-drinks today that, as far as it is concerned, "there is no news concerning the Brunello investigation and that our statement given last October is entirely actual".
However, Italian wine expert Franco Ziliani, who has followed the Brunello case closely on his blog, vinoalvino.org, said that "the inquiry is not over".
On 13 August, Ziliani quoted directly from the Italian authorities' report, which said: "Large quantities of wine from the 2003 through 2007 vintages were 'cut or softened' with grapes other than Sangiovese, the only variety allowed by Brunello di Montalcino appellation regulations."
Ziliani said that, regardless of charges, the scandal could lead to the sale of some Brunello di Montalcino wineries.
The authorities' report also takes in investigations over the last 18 months into possible fraud in Chianti Classico and Montepulciano. All in all, Ziliani, who was contacted by just-drinks this week, says the report accuses 17 people of wrongdoing, but it is not clear whether this means charges are to follow.
Exactly where the last 18 months has left Italian wine's image in the wider world is, like the outcome of this scandal, anyone's guess.
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