Sassicaia, the wine that started life as a “simple, charming experiment” was, for the first quarter-century of its existence, drunk only by the family and friends of its founders. Today, as those same founders – or, at least, the latest generation – launch the 50th commercial vintage of the wine, the Incisa della Rocchetta family is kickstarting work on a multi-million-Euro winery in the heart of its vast Tenuta San Guido estate.
The new winery, at La Fornace in the middle of the great estate, will be dedicated to the vinification of Tenuta San Guido’s second and third wines, Guidalberto and Le Difese. The project was, for obvious reason, halted in 2020 and should now be finished by 2023, co-owner and brand ambassador Priscilla Incisa della Rocchetta told Club Oenologique.
The winery is being built in a disused brick factory which previously supplied material for farmhouses and paving across the estate. The buildings, which have been unused since the 1990s, will be preserved; the hillside behind, which had been quarried for bricks, will be reconstructed.
While this is a major project comprising winery, barrel cellar and reception area and costing in the region of €10m, it’s by no means a “grand design”, Rocchetta says. “It’s hidden in the forest up a winding road. The design is utilitarian like all the winery buildings on the estate – it’s very down to earth, which is the character of our family: earthy not glamorous.”
That may be so, but today Sassicaia sits as arguably the most renowned of the Super-Tuscan wines, and the only one to have its own appellation – DOC Sassicaia, a sub-appellation of the Bolgheri DOC. The 100ha of vineyard at Tenuta San Guido make up just a fraction of the 2,500ha estate, more than half of which is wild woodland, including a 580ha wildlife reserve. The first vineyard, one hectare of Cabernet Sauvignon, was planted by Rocchetta’s Bordeaux-loving grandfather Mario Incisa in 1942 just under the great medieval fortress of Castiglioncello. The early vintages were too robust for Tuscans used to their native Sangiovese, so until 1967 they were drunk only within the family.
The wine’s subsequent history is the stuff of legend – how in the early 1970s the Marchese’s cousin Piero Antinori and his consultant Giacomo Tachis gave the wines polish (they became less “homemade”, according to Antinori) and found them an international market. The 1985 was awarded 100 points by Robert Parker, and Sassicaia is now considered one of the world’s greatest Cabernet blends, adored for its freshness and longevity. The finest vintages fetch more than £1,000 a bottle at auction; Serena Sutcliffe MW, who has tasted almost the entire canon, considers the 1968 “a bewitching landmark of wine history, an enchantment to drink”.
Along with the 2018 Sassicaia, Tenuta San Guido is releasing Guidalberto 2019 and Le Difese 2019, Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot and Cabernet/Sangiovese blends respectively. Guidalberto is considered a counterpart to Sassicaia, while Le Difese is an entry-level wine.
Tenuta San Guido is an extraordinary place, Rocchetta says. “It’s a huge piece of land with hugely varied biodiversity. It’s more like a small world with many different activities co-existing. Our estate manager not only looks after the vineyards but the olive groves, the nature reserve, kilometres of roads…” There is also the 100-horse racing stable and stud, which has produced countless winners over the years.
One of the secrets of Sassicaia’s stylistic freshness lies in the variety of vineyards across the small appellation. The 1942 vineyard, which has since been replanted, faces southeast because the Marchese was not sure if the sea breezes would be good for the vines (the estate looks over the Mediterranean towards Corsica). Subsequent vineyards were planted at varying altitudes facing the southwest, northeast and north.
As a result, winemaker Carlo Paoli has extensive choice for blending; the final blend for Sassicaia is selected from some ten different parcels, “So that we can achieve elegance and freshness,” says Rocchetta. “During warm years, for example, the higher vineyards are very helpful, as they are surrounded by forest.”
Asked the perennial question of whether Sassicaia, being made of non-traditional varieties in a non-traditional area, is “authentic” or not, Rocchetta said the issue was now irrelevant. “It sounded very strange at the time, but Cabernet Sauvignon is now part of the Bolgheri identity. It has adapted, and found a good way to express the terroir. I don’t see why one should rule out a grape variety just because it has a French name. After all, who knows when it arrived in France, and from where?”