1st March 2000
Top producer Anselmi decides to leave the Soave appellation.
To do it Anselmi wrote an open letter to the Consorzio where he carefully criticised the state of the DOC and its rules, which allow extremely high yields and the planting of vineyards on the plain. During the years Soave had become synonym with bulk, cheap, simple white wine of questionable quality, heavily damaging the image of quality minded producers. Anselmi was sick of this state of thing and he finally decided to distance himself from the DOC.
Some people hoped that this decision could have been only a temporary one, but it is now 19 years since it was taken and Anselmi keeps bottling his wines as IGT.
17 March 1986
Three cases of wine poisoning are reported in Milan. One of the victims will pass away afterwards and the count will rise in the following weeks as 23 people will die in one of the biggest scandals of wine history.
What had happened? The victims had drunk wine made by one producer named Ciravegna, who had used methanol to increase the alcoholic volume of the must. Methanol was cheap and did work, but if employed in high quantities it also has this “little” side effect: it kills your customers. What the hell were they thinking?
The following investigation uncovered other producers using methanol in their wine, from north to south. Giovanni and Daniele Ciravegna (father and son) were sentenced to 14 and 4 years in prison, but the victims received no repayment for the damage as the two claimed to be destitute. Consider that not only 23 people died for that wine, but many others (19, according to Intravino) suffered heavy injuries like complete blindness, with their life ruined forever.
Just the year before the diethylene glycol wine scandal had shaken Austria wine industry, it really makes you think what the hell some producers had in their mind when making wine.
18 March 1909
Ernest Gallo is born in Jackson (California).
A son of italian immigrants, Gallo is almost unknown in Italy. He made his fame in the American wine industry, first by selling grapes; then, after Prohibition, by making its own wine together with his brother Julio.
The firm grew to be a small empire, becoming the dominant US wine company in the 1970s. Grapes for their wines were fetched mostly from Central Valley, but they also bought large shares from Sonoma and Napa. They even started importing wine from South France and Italy (they have some good brands, like Argiano, Allegrini and Renato Ratti).
However the relation with their ancestor’s Country was not always amiable: at the beginning of the 1990s the firm had suited the Consorzio del Gallo Nero, the body regulating the production and promotion of Chianti Classico, for the word Gallo, which EJ Gallo claimed to have registered before the Italians. The judge ruled in favor of the two brothers.
According to Forbes, today the company, based in Modesto (California) has 6,500 employee for a revenue of 4.7 billion dollars.
21 March 1098
Robert de Molesme, disappointed by his fellow Benedectines, founds the first Cistercians Abbey at Cîteaux (Burgundy, France) and becomes its first abbot.
Like and maybe even more than the Benedectines, Cistercians have been very important for the development of viticulture in Burgundy.
While the land at Cîteaux was marshy and unsuited for grape growing, the monks explored the region, particularly today Côte de Nuits and acquired plots of land starting from present Grand Cru Clos de Vougeot (which they “composed” bit by bit in over than 200 years). They also possessed parcels in Fixin, Clos de Tart (Morey Saint Denis), on the Corton hill and in Meursault.
All the land was confiscated and redistributed after the French Revolution, but the abbey is still operative today. 35 monks actually live there, still famous for producing cheese, caramels and honey-based candies.
23 March 1536
Pope Paul III begins his diplomatic trip to Nizza, where he will try to mediate between Emperor Charles V and King of France François I de Valois. Sante Lancerio, his “bottigliere” (kind of “cellar master”), will follow him and leave us a chronicle of the wines tasted by the Pope during the voyage: “Wines of Italy, judged by pope Paul III and his bottigliere Sante Lancerio”.
The wines are identified by the name of the city where they are consumed (as there were no denominations at the time) and they were probably very different from what is bottled today. However some of the names still sound familiar: Montepulciano, San Gimignano (drank in Poggibonsi), Acqui.
On their way back the court pass along the Adriatic coast, Emilia Romagna, Marche and then Umbria to Rome: between the others Camerino, Recanati, Tolentino make good wines, and Ancona as well, but better whites than reds. On the contrary those from Ayesio (Jesi), Osimo and Sassoferrato are better avoided. Montefalco is also cited as a good source.
After this chronicle, Sante Lancerio starts to review the wines he had the chance to taste for his job, reporting the judgements of the Pope along with his own. This part is even funnier than the first one and some tasting descriptions are strikingly modern. Years ago I wrote an entire article on the blog about this portion, if you are interested you can find it here: “A guide to XVI century italian wine: Sante Lancerio and Pope Paul III”.