The origins of Sassicaia
When Mario Incisa della Rocchetta planted the first cabernet sauvignon and franc vines in Castiglioncello, in 1944, on his beloved Bolgheri estate, he certainly never imagined the impact his wine would have worldwide. The Marchese had been very successful, especially with his greatest love – horses. Nearco, Ribot, and the purebreds of his Dormello-Olgiata stable, for over twenty years, had dominated the most important races in the world, from the Derby to the Arc de Triomphe. Mario Incisa, who was an agronomist and great wine aficionado, also cultivated another passion, the dream of producing a few French-style barriques for his own consumption and that of a few lucky friends. The leap forward came in 1972, when, on the advice of his Antinori cousins, he brought a brilliant enologist on board. Giacomo Tachis. Tachis was already in charge of production on the Antinori estate. He was the force behind Tignanello, Solaia, and other celebrated Italian wines, first working with Antinori, and later, many others. The first enthusiastic review of Sassicaia by Luigi Veronelli in Panorama magazine in 1974 was followed by awards and prizes, in Italy and around the world.
The international success of a modern classic
Sassicaia is a modern classic of Italian enology. The prices for old vintage years – 1985, for example – break records at every international auction. Today the winery is headed by son Niccolò, who gave Sassicaia an entrepreneurial makeover, transforming it from a family passion to a cult label. More than once the wine won over more prestigious Bordeaux chateaux and other world classics in international competitions, just as Ribot had done years before. Alongside Niccolò is his daughter Priscilla. Like her father and grandfather, she is in love with this corner of Tuscany’s Maremma, which the Incisa family has decided to preserve intact as a natural reserve, a first in Italy. Year after year, Sassicaia, which has its own denominazione d’origine as a subzone of the Bolgheri DOC, unwaveringly maintains its charm, elegance and delicious drinkability. Its success created a winegrowing zone that had not existed before, but where today grand cru labels are no longer a rarity. Bolgheri is the Mediterranean alternative to the grand crus of the Médoc.
We decided to do a vertical tasting of all the vintage years, from the first assembled by Giacomo Tachis, the legendary 1968, to the latest one released, 2013. Priscilla Incisa della Rocchetta and Carlo Paoli, director of Sassicaia, shared with us the last bottles, for some vintages, of the family reserve. We can definitely state that this is an unrepeatable vertical tasting.
A fantastic wine, right from its nose, with fresh, crisp notes of red and black fruit – currants, blackberries, blueberries – hints of sweet spices, tobacco and leather, menthol sensations of extraordinary elegance. The palate is already beautiful, even though young, with imperceptible wood, perfectly mature tannins, state-of-the-art acidity and a long, long finish, deep and penetrating, unending. A masterpiece.
A very intense nose, but at the same time not very expressive in terms of multiple facets and chiaroscuro tones. Wood plays a crucial role, with balsamic notes suggesting paint. Fruity notes offer sensations of plum jam. In the mouth, besides wood, which here, too, is excessively present, vegetal sensations are the most evident. Tannin doesn’t seem perfectly mature and presents a finish that is a bit too dry. Time will help.
Initially, a note of alcohol stands out, but after a few seconds in the glass, fresh and refined notes of fruit – strawberry and currant – take over, along with a vibrant vegetal and earthy note. The palate is very lively and full of character, fine and elegant. Alcohol again makes itself felt, but it is balanced by good acidity and mature, smooth tannins. A very convincing finish.
The wine shows the effects of the vintage year, one of insistent rain. On the nose, fruit already shows signs of maturity, with notes of plum jam, tomato, sweet spices, hints of aromatic herbs, tobacco and chocolate. The palate predictably offers a solid dose of acidity, but the tannins are not truly mature, and the finish contracts on green notes and some astringency that brakes its progression. Still, it is one of the best 2010 bottles tasted from the denomination.
The nose initially seems focused on vegetal notes of bell peppers, brambles and cooked herbs, but then opens on very ripe fruity notes of berries, cinnamon and cloves. The palate is intense and round, creamy and dense. Despite its concentration, it maintains a high level of acidity. Tannins, though, curl up a little on the close.
The nose is already very complex and multi-faceted with evolved notes of coffee beans and damp earth. But the fruity aspect is also present, with fresh sensations of dark berries, then dried flowers, roses and lilac. The palate is poetic in its balance and harmony. Structure and length, roundness and softness are all there, as is a lashing of acidity, maintained to the end, in a long and graceful finish.
An inexpressive nose, ethereal, a little elusive, with tenuous sensations of tobacco, autumn woods, notes of blood. The palate is somewhat small, although pleasant, very immediate, defined by acidity, with tannins a little drying and slightly bitter.
2006 (magnum) 93/100
An uncharacteristic nose, compared to the dark and deep winery style. Notes of grilled meat, dark berries, mentholated nuances and soot. A palate of great structure and power. Dense, tight tannins. The finish is wider than it is long. In some way it resembles a very young 1985. Time will tell…
A vintage year that time has ignored: it offers the same sensory profile as when it was released. Fresh and agile on the nose with notes of red fruit, flowers, aromatic herbs. Fine and elegant, seductive, truly enthralling, like a symphony. Dry but mature, with extraordinary acidity that renders the finish infinite.
A wine that delivers more than the nose leads you to expect. A certain maturity and openness of its olfactory notes, with sensations of cherry jam, tobacco and leather corresponding to a vital palate with great character. The finish is not especially long, but is certainly fresh and energetic.
Overall, a wine on its way down, as you might expect from a year that was not balanced, and was marked by a torrid summer. The nose is intense and hot, not very complex, with notes of roast meat, autumn leaves, jam. The palate is both voluminous and elusive, caused by a probable excess of alcohol and tannins still rough today.
Today, like ten years ago, this wine surprisingly resembles a Pinot Noir. Notes of berries, raspberry and wild strawberry, pencil lead, medicinal herbs. The palate is light and elusive, certainly not substantial and structured, but it displays the usual class and elegance. It isn’t a wine with more room to grow. But it’s here right now, authoritatively.
A muscular and structured vintage, but Sassicaia doesn’t lose the elegance and agility that has always distinguished it. The nose is initially closed and decidedly reduced, requiring a few minutes to display its notes of tobacco and soot, currants and juniper berries. The palate is rich and powerful, dense and harmonious, with mature and integrated acidity and tannins that lengthen and refine the finish. Severe and fascinating.
A wine slightly on the down swing with its notes of dried leaves, sweet tobacco, and damp soil, but also fresh, with sensations of Mediterranean herbs and licorice. Tannins, conditioned also by a slight touch of Brett, are slightly dry, but a final lashing of acidity puts the wine into a perfect mood.
Another vintage of structure and intensity, with the nose initially not perfectly focused and reduction notes evident. Little by little they leave room for sensations of ripe black and red berries – currants and blackberries – for balsamic and citrus notes, and for hints of pencil lead and rare steak, in a continuous play of chiaroscuro. The palate is majestic, displaying volume and breadth without ever being heavy and monotonous. Tannins and acidity are mature and perfectly blended. The finish is infinite and still has a great deal to say.
The refinement and classicism of this wine are difficult to render in words. Mediterranean scrub, berries, candied orange peel, chocolate and tobacco, spices and dried flowers: there’s every sensation you could imagine in a great Sassicaia. It has reached adulthood, and it shows, but it hasn’t lost freshness and vitality. It is round and sinuous, with velvety tannins and the extraordinary acidity of aristocratic wines. Simply, a masterpiece.
A vintage year that in some way is difficult to decipher. From a year that overall was one of the hottest of the 1990s you wouldn’t have expected a wine defined mostly by green sensations – bell pepper and grass. Some hints of red fruit, then mint, spices, and an unusual note of celery. The palate is substantial, not over-elegant, defined by slightly aggressive tannin that is perhaps not perfectly mature.
An amazing wine, complex and multi-faceted, that regales us with sophisticated sensations of black truffles, olives in tapenade, orange zest, smoke, cacao and barley sugar, then fresh sensations of strawberries and medicinal herbs. Tannins are very slightly severe, but acidity and sapidity are overwhelming in this wine, and give it a sort of second youth. A true surprise.
A cool year that yielded a multi-faceted Sassicaia. Along with the green and immature notes typical of the vintage year, come a parade of fruity sensations, ranging from currants to marasca cherries, aromas of dried herbs, gentian and root, dried leaves and pipe tobacco. On the palate, the alcoholic component dominates in a surprising way, which tends to impoverish the finish, rendering it divided and not very penetrating.
A wine that certainly lacks some backbone and breadth, predictably, given a vintage year that was not exactly propitious. It has something shaded and melancholy about it, with green sensations braided with currants and marasca cherries, mint and licorice. The palate is streamlined and slim, the tannin a little aggressive and slightly bitter.
A wine grasping its acidity. Sensations of blood, grass, notes of plum jam, then a palate that is a bit narrow, in which atypical notes of wood emerge, in a minor vintage year that doesn’t manage to express itself. Acidity offers a vital sensation, but on its own, it isn’t enough to render the finish truly lasting.
More convincing in the mouth than on the nose, where an evolved vegetal component prevails, lacking freshness and complexity. But on the palate it is more available, fairly harmonious, little defined in terms of length and tension.
The passage of time is evident in this vintage. Evolved notes of tar prevail, transformed soon after in the glass into tamarind, plum jam, and tobacco, with a nuance that resembles broth cubes and cooked greens. The palate too lacks complexity and length. It is soft but also elusive midway, with a split due to alcohol not completely masked by structure.
Intense and open on the nose as well as the palate, but not at all disappointing and with a great deal still to say. Fruity notes of blackberry in the background braid together with spicy tones, offering a very effective sweet/intense sensation, not cloying at all. The palate is lively and voluminous, lacking just a little presence in the center due to excessive alcohol. But considering the very warm vintage year of this wine, it is a sort of miracle.
An extraordinary wine…if drunk quickly. The vintage years shows that it doesn’t stand up well to oxygenation in the glass. Given this fact: dried flowers, sachet, berries, cinnamon, cardamom, black truffles, then a harmonious palate even if not enormous. Long, streamlined, with vibrant acidity.
Extremely fascinating and complex on both nose and palate. A dominant fruity sensation of currants and blueberries followed by a seductive but not immatre vegetal note, then tobacco and tar, pencil lead and forest floor. The palate is fine and well-defined, not overwhelming, but with great tannic elegance. An interminable finish that is somehow noble, aristocratic.
Certainly evolved, with sensations of quinine and tamarind, maintaining its dignity thanks to pipe tobacco and dried herbs. Not an explosive nose, but with a certain refinement. The palate is harmonious, although not holding the cards of a world champion.
There is a magic moment that speaks of red fruit, fresh and crisp, of roast peppers and dried flowers. Then oxygen brings reality back, and speaks of a wine thirty years old, and turns to notes of juniper berries and tamarind, of forest floor and mushrooms. The palate is rigid, narrow and sharp, whole and austere.
We were waiting for this one, the vintage year that made Sassicaia famous around the world. It didn’t let us down. The vintage year was a warm one, as the alcohol, still perceptible, reminds us. But all together, it is blackberry and tobacco, soot and pencil lead, forest floor and leather, and a masterful choice of wood, because little by little, in the glass, sweet spices appear that give a Middle Eastern flavor to this timeless wine. The palate displays power and harmony, and despite a certain alcoholic dilution in the center mouth, acidity directs the orchestra and renders the finish fascinating and interminable.
The vintage year wasn’t among the best, and the wine has difficulty standing up to the test of time. The garnet color speaks of some evolution, confirmed on the nose, with its notes of quinine and cooked greens. The palate is small, narrow and dry, with a bitterish finish.
An aging wine, with pride. Notes of tar, coffee and chocolate, mint and leather lead into an agile palate with smooth tannins and vital savory acidity.
A nose full of chiaroscuro effects, with truly amazing youthful sensations. Currants and cherries, dried flowers, juniper and mint, with a markedly fresh vegetal background of bell pepper and medicinal herbs. The palate is not disappointing, defined by dense, mature tannins, integrated and harmonious, and by balanced acidity that brings equilibrium and length to the finish.
Defined above all by vegetal sensations that in some way lead to an idea of immaturity in the fruit. The palate also presents rigid sensations, with tannin still very astringent and acidity assertive, not fully covered by the fullness of the fruit.
Soft and consoling, the 1980 is a wine without sharp edges or rigidity. Ripe fruit on the nose, plum and cherry jam, joins juniper, bay leaf, orange zest and chocolate, while the well-structured palate flows velvety and harmonious, without hardness. Twilight, with class.
The 1978 seems the antithesis of the 1980. Fresh and rigid, this wine is defined by its harder components. On the nose, camphor against an animal background, with notes of dried herbs, mint, tarragon, hay and carob. A vital palate, narrow and long, a little frigid, but it doesn’t seem to fear time.
Without a doubt, a wonderful surprise. Already on the nose, it resembles and old, fascinating Claret: tobacco, forest floor, dried leaves against a general ethereal sensation and a vague hint of fruit. The palate is surprising for its harmony and tannic delicacy, its glittering acidity, even if the finish is not very long and lacks a pinch of structure.
A point score that takes into account the age of this wine. The sensations that evolution brings with it are all there: jam and tobacco, cigar box and dried leaves, leather and mushrooms, but overall, the wine holds together, on the palate as well, where tannin has held up very well without falling into the bitterness of oxidation, and acidity sustains with great dignity.
Italy won the European finals against Yugoslavia. The Beatles conquered 10thplace in the Rolling Stones Best 500 list with their ninth album, White Album. The Rolling Stones answered with Beggars Banquet. Sassicaia produced the first vintage released of its Cabernet Sauvignon. After 48 years, it still has a great deal to say. It begins with an amalgam of cacao and pipe tobacco, followed by, without signs of weakening, red fruit, dried herbs, truffles, licorice, wet leaves and sweet spices. The palate has backbone and tension, amazing grip and touching, emotional ups and downs, as exhilarating as a long night of love.
Sassicaia | Tenuta San Guido | Bolgheri | Castagneto Carducci (LI) | www.sassicaia.com
by Marco Sabellico and Eleonora Guerini