Posted November 2, 2015
Brunello & Rosso di Montalcino Tighten Their Regulations
Brunello di Montalcino, already among the highest-quality wine denominations in Italy, is updating its disciplinare (the rules governing wine production) to ensure that quality in the production zone remains at a level that will continue to justify its lofty reputation and price. New disciplinari for both Brunello di Montalcino DOCG and Rosso di Montalcino DOC have recently been approved at the national level. Only a couple of the changes will be readily apparent to the consumer, but they will make a difference in the vineyards and wineries (and maybe on somms’ exams).
The two things that will be obvious to the casual observer, if and when they are implemented, are:
- Larger bottle sizes of 6, 9, 12, 15, and 18 liters are now permitted for both Brunello and Rosso. Before now, the largest bottling allowed was 5 liters. This will give wineries the opportunity to make these large-format bottlings in excellent vintages or for special occasions.
- Rosso is now permitted to use screwcaps. Consumers are embracing screwcaps on more and more wines, and for a Rosso that will probably be opened within a year of release, why not give producers that option? Brunello will continue to be corks only, of course.
The other significant changes are all designed with an eye toward maintaining Montalcino’s quality and standing for many years to come. In general, the tightened requirements reflect standards that most wineries already achieve or exceed, but they take away the opportunity for a producer to free-ride on the Montalcino reputation by making a bare-minimum Brunello that drags the overall quality level down. The new rules in this category are:
- The minimum planting density increases from 3,000 vines per hectare to 4,000 for new plantings beginning in 2016. Given that there is no change to the maximum yield per hectare for Brunello or Rosso in general, more vines equates to lower yield per plant, which should mean better quality.
- There are new rules for single-vineyard (“Vigna” or “Vigneto”) wines, with a lower maximum yield. The new maximums for single-vineyard wines are 7 tonnes per hectare (47.6 hl/ha) for Brunello and 8 tonnes per hectare (56.0 hl/ha) for Rosso, beginning with the 2016 harvest. As noted above, lower yields avoid overcropping and lead to better quality fruit.
- Minimum total acidity decreases from 5.0 g/l to 4.5 g/l for Rosso. This potentially allows the grapes for Rosso to remain on the vine a little bit longer and ripen a little bit more (Brunello continues to require 5.0 g/l).
- Minimum extract increases from 24 g/l to 26 g/l for Brunello and from 22 g/l to 24 g/l for Rosso. Extract refers to the dissolved solids in wine apart from sugar, such as tannin and anthocyanins. Higher levels of extract are associated with more complex and longer-lived wines.
The last significant change is the deletion of the maximum elevation restriction of 600 meters (approximately 2,000 feet). This restriction on vineyard plantings was originally included because grapes at higher elevations did not ripen sufficiently for high-quality wine. However, with the effects of global warming, an arbitrary elevation cutoff no longer makes sense, and many denominations are now removing these restrictions from their disciplinari.
These changes take effect immediately, although they are still subject to review and approval at the EU level (which takes a while—Nizza DOCG is still waiting for EU approval almost a year after it was approved in Rome). A new disciplinare will be issued when that process is complete.
Thanks to Guido Orzalesi of Altesino and Giacomo Neri of Casanova di Neri for their insights into these disciplinare changes.