“Patiently and phlegmatically”: Giulio Gambelli, more remembrances…

Photo via Decanter.

A few more remembrances of Giulio Gambelli, whose transcendant personality galvanized a generation of Sangiovese growers, bottlers, shippers, and lovers…

From Lavinium, a passage quoted from Carlo Macchi’s hagiography of Gambelli (in Carlo’s voice; translation mine):

    A few years ago I was with Giulio at the Isvea Laboratory. A woman approached us with a printout of analysis results in one hand, a glass in the other.

    “Giulio,” she asked, “What’s the acidity [level] in this wine?”

    Giulio took a sip of the wine, spit (with his signature radial spitting technique), and then declared, “5… 5.2 at the most!”

    The girl read her results on the printout and then grumbled peevishly, “I must have done the analysis wrong!”

A heartfelt and very Tuscan tribute by friend and Montalcino great Fabrizio Bindocci:

    A highly capable man but at the same time a paragon of modesty who believed in the potential of Tuscan wines produced using only Sangiovese. He always said that winemakers are the ones who make the wines together with the land and the vine. He was a simple taster who gave his advice to winemakers on what to do in the cellar without forcing them to denaturalize their wines.

    He made his first visit to Montalcino in the early 1970s when the Consortium of Brunello di Montalcino asked him to visit all of the producers in the appellation. He drove his famous Renault 4 from winery to winery, tasted the wine from the barrel or vat, and then he would patiently and phlegmatically explain 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.

Patiently and phlegmatically… Words to live by…

The world of Italian wine mourns Giulio Gambelli, the great maestro of Sangiovese

Sit tibi terra [tuscolana] levis Juli.

When Italy’s top wine blogger Franco Ziliani wrote me yesterday to share the news that the great Maestro of Sangiovese, Giulio Gambelli (left, photo by A. Pagliantini via Enoclub Siena) had left this world for another, the feeds were already overflowing with tributes for the man who shaped a generation of winemakers in Tuscany and helped to craft some of the world’s greatest wines (see below). As Tuscany continues to abandon the traditional-style Sangiovese (“translucent and profound” to borrow Aldo’s phrase) that he championed, it’s hard not to imagine that his passing will not be remembered as the end of an era…

I’ve translated a few passages below (with links to the orignal posts for Italophones).

A very sad new year for the world of Italian wine: Giulio Gambelli, 87, the great maestro of Sangiovese has died in Poggibonsi, Tuscany. Gambelli was not an enologist but rather a master taster and the world’s greatest expert on Sangiovese — the often challenging, supreme grape of Italy. He was a modest, unassuming person, wine’s humble servant, not an oversized personality but rather an anti-celebrity. To his friends, he was known affectionately as Bicchierino, the little glass.

—Franco Ziliani

He was the man who had taught all the producers in Montalcino how to make wine, not to mention a healthy slice of Chianti Classico. He was a (towering) piece of the history of the last 60 years in Tuscan winemaking. But if you told him so, he would start laughing and he would huff and puff, unamused because he didn’t want to carry the weight for something that he did out of pure passion and because he loved to do it.

—Carlo Macchi

For those who didn’t know him, the following are just some of the Sangiovese producers for whom he consulted: Montevertine, Poggio di Sotto, Soldera, Ormanni, Villa Rosa, Bibbiano, San Donatino…

Gambelli had taught winemaking to so many producers in Montalcino and Chianti Classico that the adjective gambelliano had come to denote true Sangiovese…

—Aldo Fiordelli

Decanter’s obit here.

Photo by Consumazione obbligatoria.

Does Rosso di Montalcino need more personality?

In the wake of an aborted vote to change the Rosso di Montalcino appellation, Brunello producers association president Ezio Rivella (above) has broken the silence and explained the reason for wanting to add international grape varieties (Merlotization) to the currently monovarietal (100% Sangiovese) wine.

Speaking to his new public relations mouthpiece (ItaliaTV, which calls itself the “channel for internationlization”! HA!), he recently recounted how the producers association is “preparing a marketing plan [UGH] that will help us to relaunch Rosso di Montalcino as an independent wine — a wine that has its own personality.”

(I watched the video and translated some excerpts sans ironie over at VinoWire.)

Although I will commend ItaliaTV for its production value (decidedly better than Carlo Macchi Productions, who managed to capture Rivella saying that 80% of Brunello was illicitly blended with unauthorized grape varieties), I am repulsed by the fact Rivella continues to promote his personal agenda and program for internationalization and Merlotization in spite of the growing chorus of opposition voices (who succeeded at least in forcing the gerrymandering Rivella to postpone the vote to change the appellation).

I’ve been drinking Rosso di Montalcino since 1989 and I am here to tell you that honest producers never made it as a “leftover from Brunello.” They made it from younger vines grown in good (as opposed to top) growing sites; they made it as a more approachable expression of Sangiovese and their land, not intended for long-term aging; they made it to drink everyday (as opposed to special occasions); and they made it so folks like you and me could enjoy fresh, food-friendly, utterly delicious Sangiovese for around $20.

If that’s not personality, grits ain’t groceries and the Mona Lisa was Ezio Rivella

Ezio Rivella: “80% of Brunello was not pure Sangiovese.”

Above: I hope that Tuscan wine writer and internet-based interviewer Carlo Macchi doesn’t quit his day job. I certainly wouldn’t call him the next Antonioni. Although he might give Dario Argento a run for his money. Last week, the newly elected president of the Brunello producers association, Ezio Rivella, told Macchi that “80% of Brunello was not pure Sangiovese.”

You can imagine my utter and profound astonishment when I watched a recently taped interview with the new president of the Brunello producers association in which he stated the following: at least up until the time of the Brunello controversy that broke in March 2008, “80 of Brunello was not pure Sangiovese” and that the practice of adding “3-5% of grapes other than Sangiovese” was “widespread” and “commonly accepted” among the 250 or so bottlers of Brunello di Montalcino. (The interview was filmed in two parts: the above statements were made in the second segment, and here’s a link to the first.)

The interviews were conducted last week by Italian (Tuscan) wine writer Carlo Macchi, editor of the online wine magazine WineSurf. The videos came to my attention via the weekly web news roundup published on the Italian Sommelier Association website by Mr. Franco Ziliani (who, btw, is not currently blogging right now).

I’m only partly astonished by the figure. In fact, most people whom I’ve spoken to on the ground would arrive at the same figure more or less through guesstimation. As Gian Franco Soldera told me when I visited with him in September 2008 (at the height of the crisis), “the tanker trucks come in weighted down, their load riding low to the ground, and they leave riding high.”

No, what amazed me was the nonchalance with which Rivella brandished this astounding figure. But at the same rate, considering the fact that he spent four decades (the majority of those at the helm) at the largest producer in the appellation (you don’t need me to tell you who that is), I’m not surprised that he would so unabashedly utter these words. And in all fairness and in honesty, I must applaud Rivella for sharing this insight (so often spoken sotto voce, under one’s breath in Montalcino) in a public forum.

What alarmed me was the fact that Rivella also told his interviewer that “for the moment were not going to be talking about changing the appellation to allow for grapes other than Sangiovese.” The law states that the producers get to decide the rules, he explains, and the producers have voted for 100% Sangiovese. But — ugh and here it comes — “we will discuss changing it in future because it needs to be changed.”

When asked the wine figure that impressed him the most, he replied Robert Mondavi. Are you surprised?

I translated and paraphrased some other highlights (?) here at VinoWire.

The Barbera affair: what really happened that snowy night in Nizza

The following is my account of the events that took place on Tuesday, March 9, 2010, during Barbera Meeting 2010. The facts, ma’am, just the facts. See also the account published by Tom’s Wine Line.

Bernard Arnould

Above: Even after they traded words more acidic than an unoaked Barbera, Belgian wine writer Bernard Arnould (left) and winemaker Ludovico Isolabella shared pleasantries during the aperitivo after the conference on the wines of Nizza last Wednesday.

The controversy really began before lunch, when Italian wine writer Carlo Macchi, Austrian Helmut Knall, and Americans Charles Scicolone and Tom Maresca asked some pointed questions during the Q&A following a presentation by professor of enology Vincenzo Gerbi (University of Turin) and legendary winemaker Michele Chiarlo in Canelli before lunch. The speakers had presented the results of the Hastae experimental laboratory project. Researchers were able to reduce levels of acidity by employing non-traditional vine-training methods they said. I had been asked to interpret.

Why, asked the attendees, would you want to reduce the acidity levels of Barbera when its bright acidity is it’s defining characteristic? The answer, said the presenters, lies in a desire to make a wine more palatable to a wider market. The same held for judicious oak aging, they said. A heated argument on what defines “recognizability” and “typicity” ensued. Frankly, I had an easier time interpreting for the Italian foreign minister’s delegation and a hostile group of Chinese officials when I worked at the United Nations some years ago.

Above: Charles Scicolone addressed Michele Chiarlo directly during the afternoon session.

But things really heated up after we had tasted roughly 50 wines in the afternoon session in Nizza and Belgian wine writer Bernard Arnould took the floor and openly challenged the winemakers present: the wines we had tasted, he told them, were so oaky and concentrated that they were barely drinkable. They did not resemble Barbera, he said, and he couldn’t help but wonder out loud where they expected to sell these wines.

To this, winemaker (and one of Piedmont’s foremost lawyers) Ludovico Isolabella, owner of the Isolabella winery, responded by asking: “Do you know anything, anything at all, about wine?”

Following this, Charles Scicolone addressed the winemakers, and Michele Chiarlo in particular. He asked them for whom these wines were intended. They did not taste like the wines he had tasted 20 years prior, he said. Why, he asked, did they change their winemaking style? Were they making one wine for their own consumption and another to sell to America? The Barberas he had tasted, he explained, were no longer the high-acidity, bright fruit, low-tannin, food-friendly wines of two decades ago.

Above: The Barbera 7 watched on as the volatile acidity flew. You can see Polish colleague Andrzej Daszkiewicz in the background with Charles and Tom Maresca to his left.

That’s all I have time for today. I’ll have more to report tomorrow and I know that my colleagues are also scribing posts on the fateful events of that day.

In the meantime, I’ve spent the whole day (and last night) stuck at JFK. I kinda feel like the Tom Hanks character in Spielberg’s Terminal. Ugh… Hopefully, I’ll make it back to that beautiful lady of mine tonight. I don’t think I can stand another day without her…