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   Share this article     Summary of Editorial column Wine Tasting 
  Editorial Issue 214, February 2022   
The Law of Monovarietal WinesThe Law of Monovarietal Wines  Contents 
Issue 213, January 2022 Follow DiWineTaste on Follow DiWineTaste on TwitterIssue 215, March 2022

The Law of Monovarietal Wines


 More than thirty years have now passed since I started tasting wine, both for pleasure and for professional reasons. And more or less the same time has passed since I started studying enology, sensorial tasting, ampelography and enography, also in this case, for the same reasons. The last subject, in particular – enography, that is the so-called “geography of wine” – has always caught my attention, a virtually endless subject for getting to know the wines of the world, as it is constantly evolving. In fact, enography is the discipline dealing with the study of wines from the wine-growing regions of the world, including the composition of the respective soils, climatic and environmental conditions, viticulture and enological practices, including ampelography, that is the presence and spreading of wine grape varieties in the territories. Furthermore, enography includes the study of the wine legislation of the various countries as well as the denominations and quality classification systems of wines.


 

 The study and evaluation of the wine quality classification systems in force in the many countries of the world is always an interesting exercise. Not only does it allow the understanding of the winemaking culture of that country, more specifically, the commercial importance wine represents in every single territory. The study – in particular – is focused on the grape varieties with which the enological production of a country is based, not least its wealth of native and international wine grapes, the latter introduced both for opportunity reasons and for obvious speculation or commercial emulation. In particular, the study of the ampelography of the various wine-growing countries of the world clearly shows – for example – the difference between the main European countries and those of the rest of the world. In the former ones, the production is strongly based on the use of native varieties, in the latter ones on grapes introduced from European countries, in particular, from France and Italy.

 Not least, it can be found out the impressive ampelographic richness of native varieties of Italy – there are over 500 – placing, in this sense, this country in the top ranking in the world. Moreover, when we begin to study the laws regulating the quality classification systems of the many wine-growing countries of the world, we discover that, in general terms, they all look alike. Some are undeniably more rigorous and strict, others are clearly more permissive and “open”, all – in a more or less similar way – define the concept of quality based on the quantity of grapes in relation to a certain surface of the vineyard, or the yield of grapes in must, always in relation to a delimited area of land. One aspect that has always caught my attention, one of the first things I have always checked every time I started studying the enography of a country, is the definition of “monovarietal” wine. Every time I did that, I have always ended up being perplexed to see how the laws of each country define – in many cases – a monovarietal wine in a way that, in reality, it is not at all.

 In this regard, I remember my astonishment when I discovered for the first time that many of the production disciplinary of Italian wines allowed the definition of mono-varietal wine in case a single variety was present for at least 85%. Like to say, 15% does not count at all and has no dignity, just a complementary element and which – by magic – turns into another grape. The 15%, if you think about it, is not so little at all. A quantity, although a minor one, which however has the power of altering, often significantly, the sensorial profile of a wine. Let's take, for example, a mono-varietal wine produced with a non-aromatic grape, therefore legally defined as such because of its presence for 85%. Let's add 15% of an aromatic variety to this wine: the sensorial impact, in particular olfactory, is completely altered and, thanks to some kind of magic, that wine expresses, in a rather evident way, bewitching and charming aromas of “grape juice”. As an example, let's imagine a wine produced with 85% Trebbiano Toscano and the remaining 15% Muscat Blanc. In that wine, the expression of Trebbiano Toscano is irremediably covered by that of Muscat Blanc, giving us an “easy” and “direct” wine, with a decidedly pleasing nose.

 I took this example, so to speak, extreme, in order to better understand what can happen in a mono-varietal wine and, moreover, in a completely legal way. For the sake of completeness, it must be said the complementary quota of 15% – in the disciplinary providing for it – can only be represented by varieties allowed to cultivation in that territory. Furthermore, it must be said in many disciplinary it is explicitly prohibited the use of aromatic varieties. In any case, in many of the Italian denominations the number of varieties allowed for cultivation is usually quite high, therefore – so to speak – the number of tools to alter the monovarietal profile of a wine is decidedly high. The alteration does not obviously affect the olfactory profile only: just think, for example, of the addition of 15% of a round variety such as Merlot, in a wine produced with 85% of Pinot Noir. Another extreme example, however useful to understand how a small quantity of “just” 15% is capable of distorting the character of a wine.

 Should these considerations lead to think of a criticism of the Italian monovarietal wines and the quality system in force in Italy, it should be noted the same criterion is common and widespread in every wine-growing country of the world. Moreover, in regard to the Italian wine quality classification system, it should be further said that the one in force in Italy is, in many respects, much more strict than that of others. From a purely sensorial point of view, any taster with a minimum of experience would be able to detect the contribution of 15% in a wine from a variety, so to speak, having a strong character, both in aromas and taste. To the less experienced taster, as well as to the not very attentive consumer, that wine will certainly taste more pleasing because of the contribution of the variety present in lesser quantity, however, in both cases, the result is evidently a deception. That alien sensorial profile will inevitably be associated with the main variety, when it does not actually belong to it at all. In legal terms, however, that wine is legitimately considered as monovarietal and represents the pure and immaculate expression of the primary grape.

 Our ancestors would say: “cui prodest”? (Who benefits?) Of course, all those modest and mediocre wines benefit from it which, with little – just 15% – can wear clothes that are not, and will never be, their own. And this is also definitely beneficial to the potential market opportunities of a wine as, transformed in such a way as to give more pleasing organoleptic qualities, it evidently has a better chance of winning the preferences of consumers. I would like to conclude with a very personal consideration. We talk every day, and not only with regard to wine, to safeguard the identity of a product, to preserve its most typical, traditional expression, as if it were a sort of untouchable sacredness, however we accept to correct the character that nature has granted each grape, in order to make monovarietal what is not monovarietal. For the sake of truth and clarity, it must be said there are many extremely strict production disciplinary and, rightly, for the definition of their monovarietal wines they require the exclusive use of that grape. But in all other cases, is it really necessary to transform the identity of a grape, of a wine, only to please the superficiality of distracted consumers, then hypocritically supporting the role of inflexible and irreducible fighter of the sacred and traditional identity of a territory and its grapes? Yes, inflexible and irreducible, proud defender of the sacred purity. But only for 85%.

Antonello Biancalana



   Share this article     Summary of Editorial column Wine Tasting 
  Editorial Issue 214, February 2022   
The Law of Monovarietal WinesThe Law of Monovarietal Wines  Contents 
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