1861-2011: 150 YEARS OF ITALIAN HISTORY AND 150 YEARS OF WINE HISTORY
The marvellous ascent of Italian wine recounted at the Benvenuto Brunello
Brunello di Montalcino wine becomes a symbol of the history of Italian wine
in the 150 years of the Unity of Italy
For centuries Montalcino has been known for its excellent wines and its “wine symbol”, Brunello,with a history as old as that of the Italian State. The indissoluble links between the historic happenings of Italy and those that brought about the birth of wine culture and tradition of our country are at the centre of the television talk show held by journalist Daniele Cernilli programmed for Friday 18th February. During the event there will also be a preview showing of the first instalment of the RAI programme “La storia siamo noi” by Giovanni Minoli, dedicated to 150 years of the history of Italian wine in which Brunello is an emblematic protagonist. The story is told from its beginnings from when wine was served in jugs in the 19th century taverns up to the bottles served in luxury restaurants in New York, London and Beijing, through testimonials of protagonists such as Biondi Santi, Ricasoli, Gancia, Carpenè, Rallo, Rivella, Cinelli Colombini, etc.
Italian wine starts its history from a humble point of departure: in the years when the unification of the country was happening, Italian agriculture produced wines for personal consumption while pricy bottles were almost all imported from France. National production amounted to 24.4 million hectolitres, vastly inferior to that beyond the Alps of 68 million hectolitres. Exports were very limited (200/300 thousand hectolitres per year), while France in 1866 was already exporting 3 million. In this scenario, the renaissance of Tuscan wine boasts three incontestable protagonists: Chianti with the Ricasoli in the Castello di Brolio, Chianti Rufina and Pomino with the Albizi and their heirs Frescobaldi and Brunello di Montalcino with the Biondi Santi family.
The name Brunello comes from the vine traditionally cultivated in Montalcino, that halfway through the eighteenth century was identified with a variety of Sangiovese. During the same period, between 1865 and 1869, the owners of a few farms intensified their vinification of the Brunello grapes aging the wine in barrels. The result was excellent: to produce a wine with 4-5 years of aging was something exceptional in Italy, an exclusive prerogative of the prestigious French wines.
The true champion of this incredible success was Clemente Santi, owner of the ‘Fattoria Il Greppo’, and a chemist by trade, a man of great culture, capable of convincing other landowners of the area and his grandson Ferruccio Biondi Santi to follow his example.
During those years Brunello was a giant in quality but a dwarf commercially. At this point Tancredi Biondi Santi, having succeeded his father Ferruccio, united the forces of the Montalcino vintners and created, in 1926, the ‘Cantina Sociale Biondi Santi e C.’ that sent wine as far as the United States.
The beginning of the twentieth century was a difficult period for wine: phylloxera destroyed vineyards throughout Europe and between 1879 and 1914 600,000 hectares of vineyards disappeared particularly in Sicily , Apulia, Sardinia, Calabria and Piedmont. Despite this scenario Tancredi Biondi Santi did not surrender. He replanted Sangiovese and set up his winery to produce only quality wines. He is the link between the pioneers of the past and the success of today.
The start of the new century also marked the beginning of discussions over the safeguarding of the denominations of origin of the typical wines. The first convention took place in Alba in 1909 but fifty years still had to pass before the birth of the denomination of origin. Indeed the fascist era is characterized by a remarkable lack of interest with regard to wine and the only significant contribution towards the qualification of national enology was the 1926 Decree regulating the safeguarding of typical wines. In Italy in 1927 the fascist government closed 25,000 taverns out of the 180,000 in existence. In a few years the consumption of wine was reduced by 30%.
From 1950 onwards wine underwent a great boost: the law that instituted the DOC dates back to 1963 and, to this day there are 56 DOCGs, 330 DOCs and 118 IGTs. Even the research centres were consolidated in the course of the years. In 1960 the ‘ENOTECA ITALIANA’ was instituted as a showcase for the best national wine production. In 1966 Vinitaly was born, an authentic commercial fair held in Verona every year.
It is precisely during the second part of the twentieth century that Brunello was transformed from a delicacy for few, into a world symbol of the best ‘Made in Italy’. Today 7 million bottles of Brunello and 3 million of Rosso di Montalcino are produced. Brunello obtained the DOC denomination in 1966, in 1967 the Consorzio was constituted and in 1980 Brunello became the first Italian wine to have the DOCG. Numberless rewards confirmed the quality of the wine: in 1999 the prestigious American magazine Wine Spectator counted Brunello among the 12 best wines of the twentieth century and in 2006 it crowned a Brunello at the top of the world classification. In 2010 the collection of Brunello medals was enriched by the title of best red wine in the world, awarded by the International Wine Challenge of London, a Montalcino winery won the special Vinitaly prize and a Brunello was chosen as the best red wine of the year by the ‘Guida del Gambero Rosso’.