Think of Italian brands and which ones spring to mind? Ferrari, Gucci, Labretta, Cinzano. Think of Italian wine brands and Sassicaia comes pretty high up that tree. Until 1985, when Robert Parker gave the wine 100 points, life at Tenuta San Guido was just as much about breeding horses and making olive oil as it was about making wine. In a revealing interview Priscilla Incisa della Rochetta – the granddaughter of the Marchese Mario Incisa della Rocchetta, who first conceived the wine – opens up to Chris Wilson about how life has changed, as well as open up a few bottles, of course, so that we can get the full picture.
Sassicaia 2015 looks like being a great wine, although you won’t get Priscilla Incisa della Rochetta saying anything quite so bold… just yet.
It was a bright and brilliant winter’s day in west London, the prefect day to visit Armit Wines’ third floor tasting room – complete with stunning views across the city – to taste the newly released Sassicaia 2015.
The original Super-Tuscan from Tenuta San Guido is one of Italy’s flagship wines, a world-beating Bordeaux blend that was first released commercially in 1968 and steadily gained a reputation before exploding in popularity when Robert Parker scored the 1985 vintage a perfect 100 points.
It has been centre stage ever since and commands a hefty price tag as a result; the 2015 release is priced at £565 for a six-bottle case, in bond.
On the day of release, Tenuta San Guido’s Priscilla Incisa della Rochetta – the granddaughter of the Marchese Mario Incisa della Rocchetta, who first conceived the wine and planted the Bordeaux grapes in Tuscany in the 1940s – was in London to show the wine to journalists, sommeliers and private customers.
After presenting the new vintage, alongside the 2016 releases of Tenuta San Guido’s Le Difese and Guidalberto, and a magnum of Sassicaia 2005, The Buyer sat down with Priscilla to discuss the new wine, how Sassicaia has become an Italian icon and… mushroom picking.
How was the 2015 growing season and vintage?
“I think it’s important to say that 2015 came after a very challenging 2014 vintage so first of all we were very much relieved. The first reactions on the 2014 last year were not very good – it was challenging to make… but we were happy with the results so we cannot complain but, of course, when the 2015 vintage took place we were very happy because the conditions throughout the year were ideal and so already we reached the summer months quite relaxed,” Priscilla explains.
“The summer was quite warm and we were lucky to have some rains at the end of July which brought down the temperatures – so for the Cabernet, especially, we had the chance of having it ripe at the right time. From a purely technical point of view, from the weather side of things, and the looking at the analysis this is a vintage that has every chance of becoming a great vintage. Of course, we don’t like to say that too early, let’s say we have great expectations. Now we have to see how the wine develops.”
Has production of Sassicaia changed since 1968?
“The production has increased, of course, we started with 2,000 bottles and now we are about 200-220,000 per year of Sassicaia. The making of the wine and the blend has not changed very much. The innovations were introduced by Giacomo Tachis in the 1970s with stainless steel vats and temperature controlled fermentation, but since then we pretty much use the same techniques. Going very much back to Giacomo’s own writings and library of notes.”
How large is the current Sassicaia estate?
“In the beginning my grandfather planted one hectare and now the Bolgheri Sassicaia DOC is about 100 hectares so we have planted all the best soils and sites. My father is more for consolidating now rather than expanding. From this 100 hectares we are able to select the best parts for Sassicaia and the best for the Le Difese and Guidalberto wines.”
“When I was a child I remember a lot more about horses than wine! I remember we had big lunches for Christmas with lots of Sassicaia bottles – this was when my grandfather was still alive. When I was a child it wasn’t like it is now, a brand product of the estate… it was like we make oil, we make wine, we have horses… it wasn’t such a big thing. Then from 1985 when Robert Parker gave Sassicaia 100 points, then it became much more interesting and my father started travelling much more.”
Do you feel a weight of expectation as a torch-bearer for this world-famous wine?
“Yes! For Italians it has really become something that gives them pride. It’s one of the Italian brands in the wine world that really identify you as an Italian. You feel the pressure that you have to meet these expectations and that you are carrying the Italian image all over the world.”
What are your passions away from wine?
“I like to pick mushrooms. In Bolgheri we have this fairly big forest and it is mushroom paradise, and in the autumn and winter I look for mushrooms there. I also like skiing and I have two small children which keeps me busy… and then I travel the world.”
Bright and mineral nose with delicate summer fruits. Full and fresh with a sumptuous fruit explosion (cherry, blackberry) on the palate, before a whack of tertiary characters: black olive, dark chocolate, liquorice and toffee. There’s vanilla and cedar too from the oak and sticky tannins that are very prominent but nicely integrated. It really opened up on the second visit, 20 minutes after the first, where a smidgen of pink peppercorn spice could also be found.
Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia 2005
A pleasure to sample this 13-year-old wine, which was served in magnum. It shows just how young the 2015 is and how much time is needed for that to develop in bottle, but also hints at the promise of the 2015. This has a punchy nose of developed black fruit, plums, caramel and blackcurrant lozenges… this medicinal tang is very alluring. In the mouth it’s smooth and packs a punch of raspberry and hedgerow fruit as well as caramel and cedar wood. Complex yet approachable, soft and tempered, this will go on and on.
Tenuta San Guido Le Difese 2016
Green stalky nose with just a hint of brambly fruit. Reveals a lot more in the mouth with blackberry fruit, some leather and a lean acidity. It’s balanced and easy-drinking, which was the intention when this Cabernet (70%) and Sangiovese (30%) blend was first conceived.
Tenuta San Guido Guidalberto 2016
This Bordeaux blend (Cabernet 60%, Merlot 40%) has a bold nose of cherries and plums. The cherry fruit continues on the palate and is joined by black fruit and tobacco. It’s smooth with fine tannins and a sleek, plush finish.
All wines distributed in the UK by Armit Wines