The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

The Brightside of Controversy

Posted on | February 19, 2010 | Written by Tara Carille | No Comments

Italy isn’t exactly shy of controversy — and few people would have the doughtiness to classify Italy as a strict and rule-ridden country. However, when it comes to food and wine, controversy seems to arise, oddly enough, precisely from the strict geographical and production regulations.

A country supported and admired by epicureans, Italy doesn’t take their food and wine production with the proverbial grain of salt. The land of gourmands and winos, the proud home of the Slow Food movement, and the world’s best wine, Italy takes their food and wine seriously, but is the exclusivity and rigidness creating grounds for detrimental PR? Or, in other words, are scandals always bad for business?

Until recent years, the food and wine industry has managed to stay pretty clear from headlines. This all changed though in 2007 when the scandal known as “Brunellopoli” took the front page. (Selected Brunello producers were being investigated for allegedly adulterating their 2003 vintage by using grapes that fell outside the DOCG standards.) Then, in 2009 a new scandal arose—and created the need for an investigation into adulterating wine for Chianti production zones. While no particular producers were publicly cited guilty in either investigation, the controversies at the very least must create skepticism in consumers’ minds.

It doesn’t seem easy to find a silver lining of, say, a betting scandal, political corruption or organized crime, but when it comes to food and wine, I think that good can fall from these scandalous rainclouds. Much of the controversy affecting the wine industry arises from deviations of the strict appellation system (for information on one such appellation see Frank Sansotta’s post on Prosecco’s new DOCG). If the Italian Ministry of Agriculture weren’t so passionate about abiding by the system, and thus protecting their consumers, they would pay little attention to these sorts of adulterations and modifications. Brunellopoli incidents wouldn’t become world shaking controversies if the Ministry of Agriculture wasn’t so particular and regimented. It is, and that’s a good thing.

Similar standards are applied to the Italian food industry—the protected domination of origin ensures that Parmigiano-Reggiano can only be produced in a specific stretch of land. Since taking office in 2008, Italian Minister of Agricultural Food and Forestry Policies Luca Zaia has spent his tenure fighting counterfeiting of Italian food products. Zaia and the Italian government are working to ensure the high quality reputation and authenticity of Italian products, and that when we buy Italian we are in fact getting “the real thing.”

So, sure, it may cause cognitive dissonance to try to wed the idea of Italy with that of stringent rule-keeping; however, when we give that idea the context of the food and wine, we can see how Italy can take the form of a strict disciplinarian. Scandals may erupt, but they also show that Italians are serious about what’s on their tables and in their glasses. And ultimately, these guarantee that we, the consumer, receive only the best.


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