With classic regions and the famous Super-Tuscan wines, exports are Tuscany’s life blood. Christian Davis reports

The announcement that 11 premium Italian wine producers have formed the Italia del Vino-Consorzio and called for a co-ordinated campaign to “construct and enact a national strategy to attack emerging markets for wine” is excellent news for winemakers in Tuscany.

Although Italy is one of the largest producers of wine in the world, both the country overall and its various regions lack effective, proactive generic bodies to represent them, safeguard their interests and actively promote their wines. Bordeaux has the CIVB, Burgundy the BIVB, Chile, the Wines of Chile, California, its Wine Institute and New Zealand, the NZWG. Italy? Frankly, not much.

Chianti Classico has a consorzio but it appears to have limited funds to be effectively proactive. So the IdVC is potentially great news for Italian wine producers, sellers and lovers of its wines. 

Of the 11 IdVC combatants, seven have interests in Tuscany: Gruppo Italiano Vini; Conti Serristori and Melini in Poggibonsi (Siena); Machiavelli in San Casciano; Val di Pesa (Florence); Banfi is the biggest Brunello di Montalcino producer and Zonin has the Castello d’Albola estate in the Chianti Classico area.

Producers of the so-called Super-Tuscan (see panel) wines command such high prices that they hardly need any assistance in selling their wines. 

So, producers in premium regions such as Chianti Classico and Brunello di Montalcino can only be thrilled at the prospect of a co-ordinated campaign to “attack emerging markets for wine”.

Turning to the Chianti Classico, Silvia Fiorentini the consorzio’s marketing and communication manager, tells Drinks International: “Trends are going towards an easier drinkability of the wines, but in Chianti Classico’s the freshness which is given by the acidity, typical of Sangiovese-based wines, can enlighten the impact of alcohol level. So you could find wines with 14% of alcohol which are still easily drinkable.

“The consortium has been working for several years (through the ’80s and ’90s) on scientific research under the name project Chianti Classico 2000, studying planting densities, clones, cultivation techniques and other in order to give its producers the best suggestions to replant their vineyards. The result was a constant improvement in the quality of Chianti Classico wines,” she says.

“Chianti Classicos may have different styles and characteristics, but with a common denominator: they are all strictly linked and influenced by their terroir. This is what global consumers and buyers appreciate in our wines: their authenticity,” says Fiorentini.

After the domestic market, which takes about 22% of Black Rooster (Chianti Classico’s Gallo Nero seal), the US takes 28% and Germany 13%, followed by Canada, UK and Switzerland (source: Chianti Classico Consorzio).

Castello di Querceto owner Alessandro François says as far as his company is concerned: “The leading export countries are the US, Germany, South Korea and Russia. Generally these countries are seeking different varietals and blends – mostly Sangiovese in Europe and the US and Cabernet Sauvignon in the Far East.”

Dominique Génot, manager and winemaker at Caiarossa says: “The Asiatic market is important but, as far as we are concerned, China is not yet a big market. From what I have seen there, most Chinese consumers are more interested in famous brands than ‘boutique’ wines. 

“On the opposite, Japan is a more mature market where people – from the retailer to the consumer, are more educated about wines.

“The US is a leading export country but Europe is not to be left behind. The UK and Germany are very important too,” he says.

Indigenous focus

“In general, the focus is more and more on wines that are typical of their region of origin, so it means mainly made from indigenous grapes. Concerning the alcohol content, it doesn’t seem to be such an issue anymore: most people have understood that what is written on the label has little importance. What really matters is what you feel in your glass,” says Génot.

Alessandra Zambonin, communications manager at Zonin, which exports to the US, Canada, Japan, Germany, UK and Sweden, sees a growing demand for single varietals, more white wines and “a request for low alcohol wines at entry level”.

Monteverro sales and marketing manager Olympia Romba says: “We are well represented in the US and Canada but our main market remains Europe, with a special focus on German-speaking countries.

“When it comes to high-quality products you will always find a way to present your products on the market, be it a more traditional indigenous wine or an ‘international style’ wine such as ours. Generally speaking we noticed that the care not to interfere with terroir  – we only use indigenous yeast, natural fermentation – is usually very much appreciated by our client, as well as the fact that our wines are produced in small quantities. 

“It is nevertheless true that people are nowadays more aware of alcohol content and try to avoid too alcoholic wines,” she says.

Asked what types, styles of wines buyers and consumers are requesting, Romba says: “Back to nature. People tend to avoid the blockbuster style of wine to the advantage of more elegant and refined wines. Not too much extraction. There must be power but at the same time the wine must be the mirror of the place it comes from.”

She continues: “More and more competition from the New World producing countries, which produce at lower costs, are affecting the old traditional wine producers who want to stay competitive but guarantee their quality over the time. 

“The challenge is to increase the consumption in traditional markets or find new consumers, maybe in new markets where people are starting to discover wine –China, Vietnam etc.”

Cinzia Merli, owner of Le Macchiole in Bolgheri, about 100km from Florence and 5km from the sea, is moving towards becoming biodynamic. Exporting to 47 countries, she says: “The current global recession is definitely affecting even the wine world, leading to a higher request for cheaper wines.

“Le Macchiole is a ‘niche production’ with 150,000 bottles in total. This global recession is lightly affecting us in several markets.”

Consumer awareness

San Felice general manager Alessandro Marchione, says: “Consumers have a healthier lifestyle and are more aware of not drinking wines with a high level of alcohol. It does not mean that there is a low-alcohol wines trend but an awareness of the content. Wines over 14.5% might be a bit scary.”

All grape varieties grown on the Tenuta degli Dei estate, near Panzano in Chianti, are of French origin: Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Alicante Bouschet. Owner Tommaso Cavalli says: “As for the wine style, due to the increase of global wine production, the focus is to shift to wines capable of expressing the typicity and tradition of their territory, especially if they belong to established DOCG, like Brunello di Montalcino.

“After years of heavy concentration and full-bodied structures, connoisseurs’ palates are more oriented to elegant, lighter and food-friendly wines. 

“There is a necessary return to the care of the vines instead of the recent efforts in manipulating the product for commercial reasons and to please the standards of the most influential international trade press. Organic winegrowing, at different degrees, is getting more successful as it maintains the health of the soil and longevity of the plants. 

“The weather and the seasons are the most critical factors in wine growing, as standard quality strictly depends on that. As for international export, market shares of traditional producing countries (such as France, Italy and Spain) are inevitably reducing because of the quality of wine production in many emerging countries, such as China, Brazil and India, and the consequent regionalisation of consumption (local wine and local food supported by regional media and globally spreading).

Diego Bonato, general manager and winemaker of Tolaini, says: “They love Sangiovese but also Super-Tuscan wines, so wine made from a blend of Sangiovese and international varieties such as Merlot and Cabernet.

“Buyers are not seeking a particular kind of planting but they like round wines, balanced with a touch of oak but well integrated with a good structure and soft tannins.

“Of course, I’m talking about red wines as, when I think of Tuscany, I think only about red wines,” says Bonato.

“The global recession is one thing and the exchange rates are very bad for export now. Also the regulation and the custom tax in countries such as China and Brazil, are too high. Our government is doing nothing to help the export-oriented producer,” he says.

“We also have to consider that globalisation made the market more competitive and so every producer is required to fight with all the world in terms of quality, price and brand image. Not all producers are prepared enough to deal with it. This is another cause of the bad economic situation we are in now,” concludes Bonato.