Sassicaia, like many of the best things in life, began as an experiment, a passion project that came to fruition thanks to good fortune and hard work.
The wine began in the 1940s as a homemade red crafted by a curious Renaissance man trying to emulate Bordeaux on his Bolgheri estate near the Tuscan coast. It became the prototype of the nascent Bolgheri region, inspiring many others while establishing itself as one of the great wines of Tuscany and Italy. And now, in 2018, 50 years after the wine’s first commercial vintage, Tenuta San Guido Bolgheri-Sassicaia Sassicaia 2015 is Wine Spectator’s Wine of the Year.
Sassicaia is an iconic wine, as blue-chip as first-growth Bordeaux, grand cru Burgundy or Napa Valley cult Cabernet. Although its character is austere in comparison to other Bordeaux-style blends from Bolgheri, it ages magnificently, as a tasting of the 1985 vintage at the estate late last year proved. In a stellar vintage like 2015, Sassicaia has everything: rich and concentrated black currant, blackberry, violet, mineral and spice flavors allied to a dense structure; vibrant acidity that drives the long aftertaste; and beautifully integrated oak, providing impeccable balance.
But the Sassicaia 2015 is very different from the early vintages made by Marchese Mario Incisa della Rocchetta, the wine’s creator. Those wines were produced from Cabernet Franc cuttings taken near Pisa and planted high on an inland hillside, near Castiglioncello. Though the original vineyard still exists, the bulk of Sassicaia’s vineyard parcels today are located at lower elevations.
“He was experimenting,” explains Mario’s granddaughter Priscilla Incisa della Rocchetta, who now manages the estate. Few innovators get it exactly right the first time around.
Ironically, the locals found Incisa della Rocchetta’s wine too green, preferring the light, fruity reds made from high-yielding Sangiovese. Nevertheless, after aging in cask and bottle for 10 years, Sassicaia was a revelation. It caught the attention of Piero Antinori, Mario’s nephew, who was enlisted to make Sassicaia known to the world. The debut commercial vintage was 1968.
With Antinori came his enologist, Giacomo Tachis, who applied his knowledge and skill to the development of Sassicaia. Vineyards lower on the slope and closer to the sea were planted, mostly to Cabernet Sauvignon, which became the backbone of the blend. Sassicaia today is typically 85 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 15 percent Cabernet Franc.
The new Sassicaia soon caught the attention of wine lovers worldwide. Yet it never lost its Old World character or its Tuscan roots. The 1985 and 1988 vintages are legendary, and the 2015 reveals all the hallmarks of a great Sassicaia that will one day enjoy a similar reputation.
Though the Tenuta San Guido estate grows other crops and raises and trains thoroughbred horses, wine became its main economic focus by the early 1970s. Mario’s son Nicolò Incisa della Rocchetta took over from his father in the early 1980s; Nicolò’s daughter Priscilla now represents the third generation.
Since 2009, Carlo Paoli has been the estate director, overseeing a team of vineyard and cellar workers. Sassicaia is fermented in stainless steel and then aged in French oak casks, one-third new, for 24 months. Average annual production is 10,000 cases, making the wine widely available.
Tenuta San Guido produces two other red wines. Guidalberto is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (60 percent), including some young vines of Sassicaia, and Merlot. Eighty percent of the grapes come from a leased vineyard near the Sassicaia vineyard; the remaining fruit is purchased. Le Difese is the only San Guido red that contains any Sangiovese (40 percent), with the remainder Cabernet Sauvignon. Fruit for Le Difese comprises a combination of estate-grown and purchased grapes.
The Sassicaia story might never have been written at all if it weren’t for the personalities involved: fully committed and with the deep pockets to tackle the project. But it is a story with a happy ending, an amazing journey that began with the vision of its creator, shepherded along the way by some of Italy’s most respected vintners. Sassicaia has taken its rightful place in the pantheon of the world’s great wines and, spotlighted by the success of the 2015 vintage, it earns the honor of being named Wine Spectator Wine of the Year.
Rich and concentrated, this red features black currant, blackberry, violet, mineral and spice flavors. Dense yet lively, structured yet impeccably balanced, with vibrant acidity driving the long, fruit-filled aftertaste. The oak is beautifully integrated. Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. Best from 2023 through 2042.—Bruce Sanderson
- Special Designation:
- Tuscany, Italy
- Issue Date:
- July 31, 2018