André Simon Awards: ‘Chianti Classico’

The following extract is taken from ‘Chianti Classico: The Search for Tuscany’s Noblest Wine‘ by Bill Nesto MW and Frances di Savino. Published by UC Press it is one of the drinks books shortlisted in this year’s André Simon Awards.

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Giulio Gambelli at Tenuta di Bibbiano, Castellina in Chianti, in 2000. Photograph by Bill Nesto.

“Our interest in Giulio Gambelli arose from our search for true Chianti. It was the late 1990s, and I was looking for something more than the fashion-driven flavors of the Chianti Classicos that I was tasting…. Who was Gambelli?

“He was known as a maestro assaggiatore, another name for a palatista, a master wine taster, someone who could taste a wine blind and know its condition, its varietal makeup, and its origin. I learned that chemists calibrated their machines according to his palate…. I met Gambelli in the fall of 1994. He was in the cellar of Lilliano. He wore a fedora hat and a long coat. He did not speak English, and at the time, I could not understand or speak Italian. So we talked with our eyes, facial expressions, and gestures.

“Once he started taking me from barrel to barrel, I quickly understood that he knew the wines as if they were his children. The barrels had holes for sampling wine that were sealed with wax. He pushed a feather into the wax, pulled it out, put a glass at the puncture point, let wine drain into it, and then sealed the hole with the warmth of his finger. I had never seen this done before and never saw it again.

“Over the years, I accompanied Gambelli to visit several of his clients. I learned that he was hard of hearing. When I returned to Lilliano about a decade after my first visit, I wanted to show him that I had begun to learn Italian. He told me through Stefano Porcinai, who accompanied us that day, that he had just returned from a funeral of one of his relatives, someone very close. I meant to say “Mi dispiace“ (I am sorry), but instead “Mi piace” (I like it) came out. He smiled and thanked me. If he did not hear the words of men, he seemed to understand the speech of their hearts. He understood wine in a similar way.”

 

The André Simon Awards were founded in 1978 to recognise the achievements of food and drink writers. It is the longest running award of its kind. Previous winners have included: Elizabeth David and Rosemary Hume (the very first winners), Michel Roux, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Nigel Slater and Rick Stein. Last year’s drinks book winner was Suzanne Mustachich for ‘Thirsty Dragon’. The awards website can be found here.

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