food / travel

Barolo And Brunello Bury Italian Wine Rivalry, Join Forces To Conquer Asia

Barolo and Brunello have long competed to be considered the top Italian red wine. Now makers of both wines have decided to market their bottles together, an approach the French have always used. The Italy v. France battle is on to woo millions from the Am

Prized vintages at the official Barolo tasting Enoteca (sporkist)
Prized vintages at the official Barolo tasting Enoteca (sporkist)
Roberto Fiori

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.

Read more from La Stampa in Italian

Photo - sporkist

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How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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