Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Italy to check Brunello wine production standards

ROME (AP) — Italy has set up a panel of experts to check if Brunello di Montalcino meets production standards, following an investigation into whether some of the wine might have been cut with other grape varieties, the Agriculture Ministry said Monday.

Minister Luca Zaia said the step was taken to protect consumers worldwide and safeguard the reputation of one of Italy's best-known wines, which is supposed to be made from only sangiovese grapes.

Three wine experts will be on the committee, a statement from the minister said.

Zaia told The Associated Press in an e-mailed statement that by setting up the panel he hopes to "relaunch the most prestigious Made in Italy brand."

Investigators in Tuscany in April ordered the confiscation of 600,000 bottles from a prominent vintner. They allege the acreage dedicated to the production could not have yielded as many bottles as were produced without the wine being "cut" with another variety of grape, such as cabernet sauvignon.

U.S. officials, who have set a June 23 deadline to block shipments of the wine, were expected to travel to Montalcino on Tuesday to meet winemakers from the Brunello di Montalcino consortium, the association said.

Italy is particularly sensitive to the U.S. market. Italian farm lobby Coldiretti estimated that 30 percent of all bottles of wine consumed in the United States in the first three months of this year were Italian.

More than 7 million bottles of Brunello are produced on average every year, 60 percent of which are sold abroad, the Brunello association said. Twenty-five percent of annual production goes to the United States, Coldiretti said.

Coldiretti said Brunello di Montalcino brings in more than $185 million annually. There are 247 producers of it.