Posted December 10, 2016
For years, the main trend in Italian denominations has been to go smaller—creating subzones and MeGAs (menzioni geografiche aggiuntive), spinning off subzones as new more-defined DOCs or DOCGs, or upgrading one style of wine (grape variety, riserva, etc.) to mini DOC or DOCG status on its own. It seems that in 2016, the opposite has become popular: creating larger denominations out of smaller areas and expanding the denominations’ breadth by adding new styles. Another trend that has been simmering for several years has continued: downplaying grape varieties within the names of denominations.
Already in 2016, we have seen the national approval of a new denomination that effectively covers an entire region and encompasses all of the region’s existing DOPs—namely, Friuli DOC. This denomination lies above all six of the Friuli-Something DOCs (how many can you name?), as well as the hip Collio DOC and all four of Friuli’s DOCGs. It thus provides either a fallback label or a unifying force for the region, depending on your perspective. Producers are now able to use Friuli DOC on the labels of an array of white, red, and sparkling wines—mainly international varieties, but also some more interesting locals such as Friulano, Verduzzo, Ribolla Gialla, and everyone’s favorite, Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso. These wines will begin to appear in the market in early 2017.
Working its way quickly through the regulatory process is another even bigger denomination, Delle Venezie DOC. This area covers not only all of Friuli–Venezia Giulia but also all of Veneto and Trentino (but not Alto Adige), putting it on a scale with Sicilia DOC and the “di Sardegna” DOCs. However, it is essentially for only one wine: Pinot Grigio. The hope is that Pinot Grigio delle Venezie DOC, with as much as 20,000 hectares (50,000 acres) of vineyards and a potential production in the neighborhood of 20 million cases, will become a marketing juggernaut that will lead to greater sales in export markets like the United States, Russia, and China. Undoubtedly, the lion’s share of this denomination’s output will be varietal Pinot Grigio table wine, but its proposed disciplinare (governing rules) also would permit a white blend and sparkling Pinot Grigio. The disciplinare is currently in its national approval phase, which could result in some changes. It’s too late to get labeling approval for the 2016 vintage, but you can count on seeing DOC-level Pinot Grigio delle Venezie in 2017.
Wait, you say, Isn’t there already an IGP delle Venezie? Isn’t that going to confuse consumers? Don’t worry—they’ve already thought of that. With the approval of the delle Venezie DOC, the IGP will be changing its name to IGP Trevenezie, a reference to the three Venetian regions that it encompasses.
New Styles Added to Denominations
Disciplinari go through occasional minor changes that often go unnoticed, and a number of these sneak in a new style or two for the denomination. For example, earlier this year, IGP Forlì quietly added some new varietal wines from the likes of Famoso, Malvasia di Candia Aromatica, and Malbo Gentile. Likewise, Montefalco DOC now allows varietal Grechetto wines, and Trentino DOC added a new subzone called Cembra.
The most talked-about disciplinare change of the year, however, was a flash-in-the-pan nonevent. A proposal was floated in late summer to change the disciplinare of the Piemonte DOC to include varietal Nebbiolo. Now, some of you may be surprised to learn that you can’t make wine from Piemonte’s flagship grape variety in the Piemonte DOC (well, actually, you can, but you can’t call it Nebbiolo on the label even if it’s 100%). But when the Piemonte DOC was created in 1994 as an overarching regional denomination (not unlike Friuli DOC), Nebbiolo was conspicuously left off of the list of varietal wines that were permitted. The argument, then as now presumably, is that there are already denominations for Nebbiolo in all the places where Nebbiolo ought to be grown, and allowing Nebbiolo wines to be produced in other areas would inevitably result in inferior wines that would ruin Nebbiolo’s reputation.
For a few weeks, this idea generated some very heated water-cooler discussions, of the end-of-the-Earth variety. Was Nebbiolo’s reputation (or Barolo’s and Barbaresco’s reputations) in mortal danger if producers in the less-than-ideal terroirs start making Piemonte DOC Nebbiolo? As it turns out, we may never know, because the idea was killed in committee. But it’s nice to know that there are other people paying attention to disciplinare amendments.
Downplaying Grape Varieties in Denomination Names
The last trend is that of removing or downplaying grapes in denomination names. The big example in 2016 is the DOCG formerly known as Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Colline Teramane. As of July, it became—wait for it—Colline Teramane Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. Seriously? you ask. Thank goodness for drag-and-drop, because I wouldn’t want to have to retype that name everyplace it needs to be changed. So, what’s the deal?
Well, this is an ongoing process that stems from the fact that grape variety names are not protected, but place-names are. You can’t stop someone from calling a wine Montepulciano if it’s made from the Montepulciano grape, but you can (in most countries, anyway) stop them from calling their wine Colline Teramane if it’s from somewhere else. Anticipating a day when they might have to or want to drop the grape name entirely, the folks at MACT decided to become CTMA. Since no one wants to say the whole long name anyway, people will probably call it Colline Teramane, and it will be readily distinguishable from anything else that is made from Montepulciano.
The prime example of this trend is Prosecco, except that they were able to go a different route and rename the grape variety to Glera rather than changing the highly recognizable brand that is Prosecco sparkling wine. Fortunately for them, there is in fact a town of Prosecco in the Trieste area, so Prosecco as a place-name was protectable. (If you’re thinking, But Montepulciano is a place-name, too, don’t go there—that’s a whole other can of worms.) The same protection motive has led to numerous changes, such as Dolcetto di Dogliani becoming just Dogliani and Sagrantino di Montefalco becoming Montefalco Sagrantino. The folks in the Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC (and the d’Asti denominations, too) are in a bit of pickle, though, because Abruzzo is already a protected place-name, so without the grape name, they don’t have anything left that’s protectable. How they deal with that issue will be instructive.
On the Horizon
What exciting disciplinare changes can we look forward to in 2017? Anything’s possible, so you’ll have to stay tuned. But as a teaser, get ready for the number of DOPs to go down.