One of Italy’s preferred wines – Barolo – has been diluted with cheaper wine, according to research.
4. jun 2009
Two Danish researchers have carried out Carbon-14 tests of Barolo luxury wines from 1960 to 2000 and have discovered that several of them were diluted with cheaper wines, according to videnskab.dk.
“The vintner quickly finds out that the good 1985 wine sells well, but he only has four vats of it. He can avoid that problem by taking a vat from a following year and pouring it into the four existing vats. The result is five vats of good wine – and that pays well,” one of the researchers Jan Heinemeier tells videnskab.dk.
… Barolo > is not the only wine that has been diluted with cheaper varieties – but it > was the wine that had the most wrong dates at the time of the research. >
Here’s the headline that could be written EVERY year and be MORE helpful to consumers, but isn’t:
'Investigation: Winemakers with scruples declassifies Barolo barrels into Langhe Nebbiolo to make both wines better."
The English version of the story certainly doesn’t suggest there was any systematic problem. For all one can tell from the summary of the research, they found three bottles of Barolo whose carbon 14 profile didn’t match the vintage on the label versus no more than two for any other type of wine.
But what about the other various accusations about Barolo being adulterated? There were lots of ugly rumors a few years ago about syrah and merlot finding their way into some of the modernisto wines.
Also, six or seven years ago (as I recall), some Swiss lab said that it had found alcohol or sugar had been added to some off vintages of Barolo (91 or 92, as I recall, but I’m not sure). I remember that Scavino was named in those stories and he denied it. I never heard of any follow up. Anyone else remember that?
I think you will find that many (if not most) wine regulations (even in California) allow for a certain amount of wine from other vintages to be used. Typically less than 10% but, in some climatically challenged areas like Barolo (Germany?), as much as 15%.
This is a completely different thing than using unauthorized varieties in Brunello.
FYI, I was curious, so I checked and the US rules set a 95% minimum for an appellation equivalent to an American AVA (e.g., a DOCG like Barbaresco) and 85% for all other appellations less specific than an AVA equivalent but more specific than a mere country:
(1) If an American or imported wine is labeled with a viticultural area appellation of origin (or its foreign equivalent), at least 95 percent of the wine must have been derived from grapes harvested in the labeled calendar year; or
(2) If an American or imported wine is labeled with an appellation of origin other than a country or viticultural area (or its foreign equivalent), at least 85 percent of the wine must have been derived from grapes harvested in the labeled calendar year.
In addition, the wine must conform to its home country’s vintage dating rules. 27 C.F.R. § 4.27(c)(3).
The U.S. rule used to be 95% for all wines, but it appears the threshold was lowered in 2006 at the request of the U.S. wine industry. http://www.ttb.gov/announcements/vintagedatereg042705.pdf" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false; (Wine Institute letter to Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau)
The following quote from Bruno Giacosa (Alba Exhibition 2006 Barbaresco by Franco Ziliani The World of Fine Wine issue 25, 2009, p. 22) brought this thread to mind.
Bruno Giacosa will not be bottling any of his 2006 Barbarescos or Barolos (neither red nor white label). The reason for skipping the vintage, he explained to me, was that “There is nothing at all special about 2006. It falls short by every measure – aroma, structure, typicity… It was a growing season out of balance from the beginning and never did resolve itself.” He continued: "> If you put into your wine only grapes from the 2006 harvest there is simply no way the wine will be great; and if it is, then something else has been added> “”
Whereas on pp. 168-177 (2004 Barolo Age Before Beauty by Nicolas Belfrage) one reads:
Barolo history, however, does not stop in 2004. What about > 2006> , 2007, and 2008? This plethora of fine vintages, with only one poor vintage (2002) in 14 years, has got to stop before we Barolo-heads completely destroy our livers. … > ROY RICHARD’S VERDICT > > There remain, regretfully, far to many  wines that are too dark in color to be an authentic reflection of their origin. Whether this is down to the blending in of Barbera or, more frequently, Cabernet Sauvignon or is due to undesirable methods of extraction – or, I suspect, both – the producer of wines tailored to markets and the winning of competitive points must stop. They are an abomination.
My suspicion is that varietal or vintage tampering is not so common as suggested. Sure there will be some, just as there will be anywhere. For wine that is in cask for 3+ years, there will be cross vintage topping at some point no doubt. I suspect that there is far more to blame on winemaking methods (extraction, barrique, ripeness etc) when considering why Barolos are getting darker and more approachable.
That said, I still can’t fathom Giacosa’s dismissal of 2006. I don’t think 06 is the next 99 or 01, but it’s not that far off and the wines I’ve tasted have been very very good. Many people are suspicious that the winemaker change (from Dante to Giorgio) has some involvement here but I don’t think we’ll ever know.
Roy Richards is one of the principals of Richards. Walford, Ltd. (http://www.r-w.co.uk" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;), one of the top importers in the UK. (Disclosure – he is a good friend of mine.) He is an outstanding taster and frequently sits on tasting panels for World of Fine Wine.