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A strong national critique to create value around vintage: Andrea Lonardi’s thoughts

From the opinion on Brunello 2018, the proposals, to WineNews, of the CEO of Angelini Wines & Estates (and, according to rumors, next Master of Wine)

In the vineyard and in the winery, it is the job of agronomists and winemakers to best decline the vintage, understand its peculiarities, accept its limitations and enhance its merits. It is a long process, but a fundamental one in building the prestige of a territory and a winery. The job of critics, on the other hand, is to judge the result of such efforts. Without limiting itself to the moment of tasting, which often concentrates judgment on years of work in a window of a few hours. There is, on the contrary, a need to deepen, to know, to analyze and, indeed, to capture those uniquenesses that make each vintage different from the other, and then to tell the story and to create value. It takes, in essence, a small cultural revolution, but also a process of growth and evolution in the world of criticism, which is far from simple, and which deserves to be deepened. Starting from Montalcino, the land of Brunello, a denomination that, first and more than any other, has for years focused on the concept of vintage.

Tracing the path, with WineNews, is Andrea Lonardi, chief operating officer of Angelini Wines & Estates (and, according to rumors, Italy’s next Master of Wine, ed.), with a constructive and positive contribution to a debate that has been smoldering under the ashes for some time, on the need, for the entire Italian wine system, for strong Italian critics. “My reflection comes from Montalcino because it is the only Italian territory that has decided to marry vintage. In itself, it is a distinctive and very interesting aspect, but we have to learn how to manage it, to make it a tool that creates value, not destroys it. In this sense, the vintage should be judged against its model, not against previous vintages”, A reflection that stems from the “stance taken by a large part of Italian critics on the 2018 vintage of Brunello di Montalcino, recounted as a vintage that was below expectations and with diluted wines”, which reinforced the conviction that “Italian wine must support the rebirth of strong national critics, in order to be more respected in the world”.

“2018”, Lonardi continues, “is not one of the best vintages of the decade, but neither is it the worst as it runs the risk of being considered. The style highlighted in 2018 is not only the result of the vintage but perhaps also of a path that some producers are forcing? In this sense, if we were to open ourselves to a one-dimensional “best vs. worst” - typically Italian - approach, the result would be a multitude of purely subjective judgments, with preferences that could be very different from each other and, in some cases, surprising, and this would be even more Italian and risky. Montalcino, a denomination that focuses on the concept of vintage, just like Bordeaux, does not need this. We need to involve a core of Italian journalists to build together the judgment of the vintage”.

And this path must lead to an “evaluation of the vintage that must be experienced as a moment of value creation, an aspect in which Montalcino is the first appellation in Italy. The international press is part of this system, through a multi-level approach. The first level of analysis assigns the level of the vintage (vintage rating); the second level involves not searching for and listing defects compared to another vintage, but exalting the best merit that that vintage brings; finally, the third level rewards the producers who best interpret that vintage’s characterizing element, and/or certain areas - which will not be the same every year - thus giving all the dynamism and complexity to the debate that then leads to the vintage rating”.

That the analysis starts from Montalcino is no coincidence, because the road taken, courageously, must be traveled with conviction, and it is in this sense that, says Andrea Lonardi again, “I would like, as a producer, to make a constructive and concrete contribution, and in this sense I hope for a layered analysis, in which the assignment of the vintage rating will have to be as firm as possible, even with the help, as other territories do, of modern algorithms, which tie seasonal trends. The overall rating, after all, is one that attributes with absolute clarity the amount of value added to the vintage. For this reason, attacking the vintage not only detracts from its prestige, but also makes it difficult to market: one can have, as they say in Bordeaux, a inferior vintage, but perhaps it is a vintage to be consumed before another vintage, or a vintage that rewards some producers, or some areas, over others. I appreciate and applaud the path taken by Montalcino - which over the years has always demonstrated its ability to deal with very challenging dynamics - of tying itself more and more to the narrative of the vintage. To do so, however, we need solid critics who add value and accurately identify the pros and cons of a vintage. Above all, valuing the best merit of the vintage and who has interpreted it best: that is the real narrative of the typicality and the link of the grape variety to the place where it belongs”.

Following, Lonardi concludes, “the example rooted in all the great appellations of the world that have undertaken the link to vintage. I hope it becomes a possible scenario for Montalcino as well. For this reason, I believe this is an opportunity that the national press must be able to seize, interpret and make its own. New tools and (human) resources are needed to lead the naming/printing system in this direction. It would be - finally - a great signal and a new page of Italian wine in the world”.

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