It is not easy to control and guarantee the origin of a small area of origin such as Franciacorta, Montefalco Sagrantino, Taurasi, Gattinara or Ghemme. With larger DOCG areas such as Barolo, Montalcino or Chianti Classico, efficient control is even more difficult to achieve and the fabulous "guarantee" of origin is almost an exaggeration.
The control of the origin under today's circumstances is a sheer impossibility in very large wine-growing areas such as the Chianti region. To even claim that the origin of Chianti is "guaranteed" - as is done with the DOCG label - borders on fraudulent labelling.
The introduction of the DOCG was already an incomprehensible act for non-Italians. According to Italian law, there have been guaranteed and "unguaranteed" controlled designations of origin since 1980. Trying to explain the logical difference between "controlled" and "controlled & guaranteed", however, led deep into the contradictions of Italian administrative dialectics and should better be avoided by the lovers of this beautiful country.
If one asks an official about the difference between the DOC and the DOCG, i.e. an origin with "G" and one without "G", the law is quoted. It is explained that for the DOC such and such controls, for the DOCG such, such and additional controls are prescribed.
Anyone who is guileless enough will be satisfied with this answer and will refrain from asking the follow-up question: "Are the controls provided for by law actually carried out? He will therefore not hear the following answers: "Unfortunately only partially, the necessary implementing decrees have not yet been issued the tasting commissions at the chambers of commerce provided for by law only exist in part we have too few resources and people for systematic controls the law does not allow us to control non-members, etc.".
In the case of large DOCG areas, there can be no question of a guarantee of origin today. If a consumer organisation were to denounce the Chianti producers for fraudulent labelling - the indication "origine garantita" on their wine labels is demonstrably an untrue assertion - it could cause the DOC system to totter.
Those who, like Merum, believe in the fundamental importance of designations of origin must find the Chianti DOCG a thorn in their side. Honouring Chianti with the DOCG at the time is now proving to be one of the biggest blunders in the quest for more guarantee of origin and credibility for Italian quality wine.
While the control bodies make a valuable contribution to the detection of wine counterfeits and the arrest of the fraudsters, too little is done to prevent fraud. Checks are only carried out on a random basis or on the basis of concrete suspicions, and not enough attention is paid to prevention.
In Italy, a whole series of authorities and institutions are entrusted with wine control tasks. There is the Repressione Frodi (fraud prevention office of the Ministry of Agriculture), Nucleo Antisofisticazione (special unit of the Carbinieri could for the prevention of counterfeiting), Guardia di Finanza (financial police), USL (health authority), protection consortia and - where present - regional control offices. However, these agencies work independently - and usually uncoordinated - from each other.
The Chambers of Commerce watch over DOC/DOCG wines on behalf of the Ministry of Agriculture, they keep the relevant registers, are responsible for the official quality control (analyses and tasting) of DOC/DOCG wines and are recipients of the producers' harvest declarations. They are also obliged to set up an inter-professional commission in the absence of a protection consortium for a particular appellation. But the chambers of commerce do not contribute much more to control than bureaucratic and statistical services.
The contribution of the Chambers of Commerce to wine control is unsatisfactory for a wine in the situation of Chianti. Not one, but six chambers of commerce have the task of issuing DOCG control strips to producers and trading houses on the basis of harvest declarations or delivery notes and invoices. Chianti is produced in six provinces of Tuscany - Florence, Siena, Arezzo, Prato, Pistoia and Pisa - and the production has to be recorded by six different chambers of commerce, six bodies are thus responsible for issuing the control seals at the same time. And judging from recent events, there seems to be no coordinated control over the total number of strips issued.
No one in Italy has the mandate and the competence to monitor an entire DOC/DOCG territory, the vinification and the commercialisation of the corresponding DOC/DOCG wine. No authority has the possibility to systematically prevent counterfeiting.
Another unsolved problem is the lack of bottler registers for the appellations. For Chianti, too, no official register of marketing wineries exists. In the six Chianti producing provinces of Tuscany, about 5000 bottlers are registered, the consortium estimates that about 2000 of them bottle Chianti DOCG. In addition, there are Chianti bottlers outside Tuscany.
It is completely incomprehensible that not all of the implementing regulations, which are essential for the functioning of the exactly ten-year-old wine law, have been passed yet. Among other things, although required by law, there are still no official registers for the bottlers of the individual DOC/DOCG.
The current system of Italian wine control seems to be a big jigsaw puzzle, with few pieces fitting into each other, most overlapping and many missing.
Contrary to the prevailing opinion, the protection consortia are also not legally authorised to do more than any other private club: club members can be frisked, non-members can do whatever they want. Cellar visits and inspections in the vineyard by the consortium's inspectors are only allowed for members.
But control and guarantee of origin and thus prevention of counterfeiting begin in the vineyard. Whoever is to guarantee the origin of Chianti would have to know how much wine each individual vineyard is capable of producing. He would have to know the real potential of all Chianti vineyards and be able to record this potential in a database. He would have to compare the individual production declarations of the winegrowers with this database and, moreover, be concerned that every batch of Chianti DOCG sold could be traced back to the cellar of the wine press via certificates of origin. Only when it is guaranteed that the DOCG seals are exclusively issued against such certificates of origin could one speak of a guarantee of origin.
Glimmer of hopeon the horizon
A glimmer of hope for the credibility of Italian wine control is brought by a decree of the Minister of Agriculture of the last government. It wants to put the consortia in a position to systematically and fully monitor all DOC production, from the vineyard to the shelf, from the biggest bottler to the smallest winegrower, whether members of the consortium or not.
A consortium can then be given the public control function if its members represent more than two thirds of production.
But this is not yet the case. The internal resistance in the Italian wine industry is great: not everyone who has something to say is enchanted by the strengthening of the role of consortia and more efficient controls. Not a single consortium has yet been given overall supervision of its appellation. But as they say in Italy: "La speranza è l'ultima a morire", "hope dies last".
The above article was kindly made available to us by the Merum editorial team. Many thanks for this.