~ Fortezza di Montalcino ~

Brunello can’t seem to get out of its own way.   Whether it’s the almost now decade old 2003 Brunellogate Scandal*, the verbal back and forth between the Consorzio and the enigmatic Gianfranco Soldera, or the scathing article about the 2009 harvest penned by Antonio Galloni,  Montalcino has taken it’s share of blows. 
So this week, when Decanter magazine published an article entitled “Italian Police Uncover Brunello di Montalcino Scam” the wine world cringed and many thought,  “here we go again”.   The only problem?  The title of the article is deliberately sensational and misleading.  

~ View over Montalcino from the Fortezza ~
As with any matter, it’s always best to investigate for yourself.  Practicing a modicum of due diligence can go a long way. Yesterday I saw several links and tweets on Social Media referencing the Decanter piece without a single word of commentary regarding the true context or meaning of the article.  Therefore, I’m going to clarify.  

This incident was not a scam instigated or perpetrated, in any way,  by any Brunello producer or the Brunello Consorzio.  This was a crime. A fraud and a criminal plot by persons unassociated with Brunello to counterfeit and sell generic table wine as “DOCG Brunello di Montalcino.”   They were caught.  None of the bogus Brunello was exported, nor was it sold.   

~ Brunello Vineyards at Il Palazzone ~
In June, I spent several days in Montalcino tasting with and talking to winemakers.  Over a casual lunch with Laura Gray and Marco Sassetti of Il Palazzone, this topic came up:  May 29th by the Rome office of the Associated Press.  So counterfeit wine is nothing new.
Gray told me at the time that while the extent of that fraud was unknown,  that’s exactly what it was: criminal fraud perpetrated against the producers and the consorzio. The instant case is nothing different.
The recent Decanter article cites the Guardia di Finanza – Italy’s State Financial Police – as confiscating enough wine labeled as Brunello or Rosso di Montalcino, to fill upwards of 200,000 750ml bottles.  So the extent of this fraud was significant. 
In fact, as The Guardian reported today, the foiled plot went much deeper than first reported. “A wine expert, who had obtained fake Brunello and Rosso di Montalcino labels and falsified certifications in the region’s wine database, was selling lower-quality wine as bulk supplies of the coveted red to unwitting local producers, police officers in Siena said.”

While the President of the Brunello Consorzio, Fabrizio Bindocci stated that “the issue could cause significant damage to Brunello di Montalcino, its producers and its territory”  there was a collective sigh of relief from several producers who expressed satisfaction that the plot was disrupted before it gained traction and exposure.  The Consorzio plans legal action to recover damages.
~ A former Well in a Montalcino Trattoria converted to a wine cellar holds precious bottles of real Brunello ~

So what’s the bottom line? What lies at the bottom of the Brunello well?  And how can you trust that the Brunello your about to buy is authentic? 
Considering that the Consorzio is aggressive in protecting it’s brand, in fact, local authorities confirmed that it was a tip from the Consorzio that sparked this investigation, consumers should take some comfort that they’re buying true Brunello.
Today, Italian authorities named a local wine “consultant”,  Alessandro Lorenzetti, as the perpetrator of the fraud.  This individual was noted for working with 10-12 very small producers who often needed to purchase “bulk” wine in order to meet their bottling commitments. These producers represent less than 4%  of the total Brunello producers and it was these winemakers whom Lorenzetti attempted to defraud. 
The take away to protect yourself?  Know your producers. Know their reputations. Understand their properties and their commitments to excellence.  Producers who own their own vineyards and have no need to solicit wine from fruit sources they cannot control pose little risk to Brunello lovers and provide a greater degree of assurance to the end consumer.
In Vino Veritas….
* – The BrunelloGate scandal was incorrectly identified in the Decanter article as pertaining to the 2004 vintage.
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