BAROLO - One was the favorite wine of modern Italy’s first prime minister, Camillo Benso Count of Cavour, the other was beloved by Giuseppe Garibaldi, the globetrotting general who unified the nation. One is from the northern region Piedmont, the other from the center of Tuscany. For a century and a half, Barolo and Brunello have been rivals, competing for the title of the most beloved Italian red wine in the world. But now a truce has suddenly broken out, with big plans to join forces and conquer new and old markets together.
Italians are taking lessons from the French who are still the world's best at marketing and selling their wines. From France, the wine industry attacks together on every new front, deploys all their labels, from every grape and region; and for years, French wines have blown away the competitors.
Still, there are loads of opportunities, as consumers begin to look past French bottles of Bordeaux and Bourgogne, and sales of Barolo and Brunello are on the upswing.
The moment seems to be here in China and in other Asian countries, which are currently the most dynamic markets. French wines have easily conquered 46 percent of the market in the area. But growth is now slowing, and Italian wines have just finished a strong 2011.
“The reason is simple. If you start to appreciate great wines, at one point, you’ll try Barolo and Brunello. And once you’ve tasted them, you’ll never take them off from your table,” says Pietro Ratti, president of the Consortium of producers of Barolo and another Piedmont wine, Barbaresco.
So now, the association Barolo Great Wines of Langa Trail have worked on a truce with their Tuscan rivals. This week, Ezio Rivella, president of the Consortium of Montalcino, gave a lecture on the market strategy of Brunello at the Museum of the Barolo wine, which is based in Marchesa Juliette Colbert Falletti’s castle.
“We are offering an enological alliance to ride the wave of the moment for both wines,” says Nicola Argamante, president of Barolo Great Wines of Langa Trail. “This is the moment to show the world the Italian excellence. Piedmont and Tuscany have to walk together on the same path.”
Already a twosome
Argamante said that there is no risk of cutting into each other’s sales. “Barolo and Brunello are already a kind of couple, as a matter of fact. On the international wine lists, if one is there, the other is always there too. Abroad, wine lovers are not as conservative as they are in Italy. They are more curious. They want to learn and to try new experiences.”
Ezio Rivella is originally from Piedmont, which might help for a truce. “The old quarrels are outdated. The mutual goal is to increase the volume of exports and to expand the geography of destinations.”
Today, 65% of Barolo and Brunello exports are bound for the U.S., Germany, and other Western countries. “But tomorrow two-thirds of our wines will be on tables in Asia, South America and other emerging markets,” said Rivella.
Rivella recalled how he once asked the great Californian wine baron Robert Mondavi why Italians – despite great wine, and active promotion -- were not as successful around the world as they could be. “Your issue is that you want to promote all your wine without distinction,” Mondavi told Rivella. “You should learn from the French, who push only the most famous names and leave the others to follow.”
That French lesson is about to be applied with Barolo and Brunello leading the way, and “Italian wine,” of all prices and places hoping to harvest the benefits.
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Photo - sporkist