Giulio Gambelli, one of the giants of Tuscan wine, has died at the age of 86.
Gambelli – who was known as Bicchierino (or ‘Little Glass’) – was celebrated as one of Italy’s greatest connoisseurs of Sangiovese, and recognised as a superb taster.
He was born in 1925 in Poggibonsi in Siena, and joined Enopolio de Poggibonsi, which was then one of the largest wineries in the region, at the age of 14 as a cellar hand.
At Enopolio his tasting skills came to the notice of its director, Tancredi Biondi Santi, who took him on as his assistant in the company’s laboratory, where Gambelli started a lifelong study of Sangiovese.
In a career spanning nearly 70 vintages Gambelli’s most renowned consultancies were with the Brunello di Montalcino of Soldera and Chianti Classico of Montevertine, but his importance was as an unwavering proponent of the use of the Sangiovese grape as a monovarietal at a time when Tuscan wineries were busily experimenting with blending Sangiovese with international grapes.
In this 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.
Among many plaudits he received, Le Pergole Torte of Montevertine, on which he consulted, featured in Decanter’s 2008 list of Italy’s 50 Greatest Wines.
Journalist Carlo Macchi, who published a biography of Gambelli in 2007 (pictured) described him as ‘the last Sangiovese butterfly [that] for the past sixty-five years, instead of flying off, has been creating wines that make you feel lighter’.
Macchi quoted Gianfranco Soldera of Soldera in Montalcino, for whom Gambelli consulted, saying that ‘Giulio tastes what others do not, there’s no-one like him’.
Tributes have been pouring in on social media, with Italian wine lovers the world overlamenting his passing.
‘Gambelli‘s legacy is a strong belief in Sangiovese – as one of Italy’s undisputed great grape varieties’ one tweet said, while others referred to him as’ Sangiovese’s most important protagonist’.
Most simply paid tribute to a man they described as ‘il grande maestro del Sangiovese.’
Written by Adam Lechmere