The death of Giulio Gambelli, known as il grande maestro del Sangiovese, on January 3 in Poggibonsi, Tuscany, marks a quiet changing of the guard for Italy’s most noble and proud indigenous grape. Nicknamed bicchierino, or “little glass,” the 87-year-old was applauded not just for his ability to make Sangiovese-based wines, but also for his deft palate to evaluate them.
Gambelli’s winemaking philosophy epitomized brightness, purity, appropriately streamlined extractions, floral aromas and beautifully integrated acidity. His intimate understanding of Sangiovese determined a faithful and genuine expression of the variety. For many years now, modernist winemakers have moved away from the Gambelli style, favoring instead the thicker color, intensity and concentration that make a wine more commercially attractive in international markets.
His consultancies spanned Montalcino and Chianti Classico including Soldera’s Case Basse, Montevertine, Poggio di Sotto, Ormanni and San Donatino.
In the early 1970s, Gambelli made his first visit to Montalcino when the Consortium of Brunello di Montalcino asked him to visit all the producers in the appellation. He traveled from winery to winery and “explained the importance of cleanliness in the cellar, precision in vinification, the importance of racking, etc. But always with the humility typical of the greats in the world of wine,” wrote vintner Fabrizio Bindocci in his son Alessandro Bindocci’s blog, Montalcinoreport.com.
Gambelli’s 70-year career in Sangiovese started with Tancredi Biondi Santi, who first hired him as a laboratory assistant.
“He was far ahead of his time. The importance of Sangiovese, in its own right, is now undisputed in Tuscany and, arguably, it was Gambelli's work that led to that recognition,” wrote Alessandro Bindocci.