A story that began in the 1920s
When Mario Incisa della Rocchetta in the 1920s, found himself tasting a wine of the Salviati Dukes in Migliarino Pisano, noticed that it had “the same unmistakable bouquet of an old Bordeaux… tasted at my grandfather Chigi’s house,” –– that bouquet that even more so he found in a Château Margaux 1924. “Since then,” he wrote in a letter to Gino Veronelli “I had set out to make a wine that had that same particularity.” Bolgheri, the hamlet of Castagneto Carducci in the province of Livorno, where Tenuta San Guido is located, became the scene of his attempts to produce his own wine –– from the Castiglioncello vineyard –– which however had those characteristics of elegance and refinement. The nobleman who for many years experimented in less than ideal conditions (farmers were unfamiliar with the subtleties of cabernet, plus premises, inadequate equipment, etc.) proved to be the true innovator of the local viticulture, which until then had not been considered a prime resource: the area was better known for fruit than for grapes intended for great wines. But equally important was his pioneering role in affirming the culture of environmental conservation and the protection of ecosystems.
Sassicaia: the new course
In 1972 the Incisa family entered into an agreement with their Antinori cousins, for the sale of Sassicaia through their commercial network. The first vintage was 1968. Following the agreement between the two families, Giacomo Tachis, the great oenologist of the Antinoris, arrived in the winery, and continued to collaborate with Mario’s son, Nicolò Incisa, who still manages the Tenuta San Guido estate. The changes were numerous and the semi-artisan choices were quickly abandoned, not without some controversy, but the idea of the Marquis Mario Incisa of producing cabernet in Bolgheri, proved to be winning. In fact, if the first was a fairly slim release –– only 3000 bottles –– which couldn’t even enjoy an encore the following year: 1969 was not bottled and the same fate then also touched 1973. But apart from these two episodes, Sassicaia has always been punctual, even in the most difficult years.
A long history of success
The first to realise how great and important the wine was, was Luigi Veronelli, who dedicated his entire column in the weekly Panorama (November 1974 issue) to Sassicaia 1968, writing about it in enthusiastic terms. In 1978 came the international consecration: in a tasting with strictly blind samples organised in London, the Sassicaia of an exceptionally rainy vintage like 1972 beat the 32 best Cabernet Sauvignons in the world, including the best Bordeaux Châteaux. In those days it was an exceptional event that an Italian wine could beat the French. Giacomo Tachis in an interview stated “The oenologist is not good at making Sassicaia, the opposite is true, it is Sassicaia that makes a good oenologist.” The Sassicaia phenomenon exploded on global scale and a few years later its popularity was such that in Canada local enthusiasts spent the night – as cold as it can get in winter over there – in front of the state monopoly shop in order to secure some 1981 bottles. The event was celebrated by the participants with a badge “I froze my ass for the ’81 Sass.” Then with the 1985 vintage, a further leap forward to consolidate the fame, and a slew of Italian recognition – many vintages were awarded with the Tre Bicchieri – and international awards, with the 2015 vintage at n°1 in the “Top 100” by Wine Spectator. With the current 2018 vintage that has all the characteristics of the best Sassicaia, the magic is renewing itself, once again.
Respect for nature and the value of elegance
The result of the work of a time-tested team, led by the Marquis Nicolò Incisa, is pure magic. The general manager of Tenuta San Guido, Carlo Paoli, remembers that “You should never lose sight of that trait of respectful history for nature that has distinguished Sassicaia since its early years, even by those who only approach it today. The ancient sensitivity of the Marquis Mario towards the environment and naturalness has always been maintained. This is why it has always been a modern wine.” Oenologist Graziana Grassini began collaborating with Tenuta San Guido from the beginning of 2010, continuing the work of Tachis who had to retire from the business for health reasons (the great winemaker passed away in 2016, Ed.). “When I started I already knew Sassicaia: for me it was a point of reference despite the fact that, in those twenty years more concentrated, structured, oaky wines were popular. I tried to understand the wine better and better, respecting its elegance, the gift that most characterises it. When you have left the muscular wines behind, the great wine prevails.” A principle that Priscilla Incisa della Rocchetta, daughter of Nicolò, wine brand ambassador since 2012, knows well, “Elegance is a discriminating factor that still applies today. I believe that all great wines must enhance the values of their terroir while remaining faithful to their style. Sassicaia has never changed and has kept it steady over time. This is the reason for its success.”
Doc Bolgheri Sassicaia 2018. Chronicles of a vintage
Grapes: 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Cabernet Franc
The soils on which the vineyards are located have a strong presence of limestone areas rich in marl, as well as rocks and stones (from which the wine takes its name, “sassi”) and partially clayey. The production plants are located at an altitude between 100 and 300 meters above sea level, with exposure West/South-West.
Sassicaia 2018 has a deep ruby colour and purple reflections in the foreground. On the nose, initially, the sensations are of spice with a hint of aromatic oak and walnut chase one another and then continue with notes of Mediterranean scrub as distinctive of Sassicaia as of the wines of Bolgheri. The same notes that one perceives – essences of garrigue – when crossing the woods to reach Castiglioncello. The austere layout is interrupted by refined flashes of red fruits. In the mouth it is juicy and persuasive at length, with a perfectly fused tannic component. What makes it particularly fascinating is an acidic sensation that enhances both the light flavour and the fruity/spicy base. Very long and fresh, elegant. As great as 2017, albeit different. An “Etruscan haiku” by Alessandro Petri, agronomist of the company, is recommended as a background for tasting the wine. The one that reads “A robin / dyes the bare vineyard / with a mute song.” Wine is its terroir.
by Andrea Gabbrielli