• Believe the hype: how Sassicaia 2019 was made into a true classic

    2019 is proving to be a refined and classic vintage throughout the whole of Tuscany and yesterday’s launch of Sassicaia 2019, one of the last ‘big guns’ to be released, is further proof that budgets need to be diverted… just so long as you can get an allocation. COVID kept Tenuta San Guido’s Priscilla Incisa della Rochetta away from presenting the wines in the flesh for a second year running, however Sassicaia 2019, Guidalberto 2020 and Le Diffese 2020 are more than capable of standing on their own feet. The cepages of the last two wines has changed considerably because of 2020’s challenging growing season, re-emphasising how individual these wines are. Sassicaia 2019 is a stone cold classic make no mistake. Peter Dean shows why.

    2019 is proving to be a refined and classic vintage throughout the whole of Tuscany and yesterday’s launch of Sassicaia 2019, one of the last ‘big guns’ to be released, is further proof that budgets need to be diverted… just so long as you can get an allocation. COVID kept Tenuta San Guido’s Priscilla Incisa della Rochetta away from presenting the wines in the flesh for a second year running, however Sassicaia 2019, Guidalberto 2020 and Le Diffese 2020 are more than capable of standing on their own feet. The cepages of the last two wines has changed considerably because of 2020’s challenging growing season, re-emphasising how individual these wines are. Sassicaia 2019 is a stone cold classic make no mistake. Peter Dean shows why.

    mm By February 23, 2022

    “As with all true classics Sassicaia 2019 has a harmonious power that equals more than the sum of its parts – elements that are all seamlessly and joyously woven together,” writes Dean.

    “All the world needs more Sassicaia.”

    Brett Fleming and Nicolas Clerc MS, managing director and buyer of Tenuta San Guido’s UK importer Armit Wines are talking to the estate’s Priscilla Incisa della Rochetta via Zoom at the press launch of Sassicaia 2019. It is the second year in a row that Priscilla has been unable to come to London in person to launch her new wines, her daughter’s COVID necessitating an unscheduled sojourn in Switzerland.

    Sassicaia 2019
    Brett Fleming and Nicolas Clerc MS (l-r), with Priscilla Incisa della Rochetta, February 22, 2022

    Fleming is half-joking about having his allocations increased to cope with what is always a case of demand outstripping supply, a scenario exacerbated when critics start awarding Sassicaia 100 points as they did in 2016 and as have some with the new release Sassicaia 2019. Both are very different wines but 2019 has already started making waves – this is a classic vintage whose market price is already racing ahead of its release price.

    It is a small price to pay for having such a successful, (truly) iconic wine in your stable, a wine that only first saw the light of day in 1968 after 20 years of experimentation. This is a wine that not only is at the forefront of Italian wines’ performance on the secondary market in recent years, but is also at a price where wine lovers can afford to drink it.

    Sassicaia 2019
    Some of the vintages that never made it onto the market

    There’s a clear message from Priscilla and Armit at the event that Tenuta San Guido makes three wines and not just one – the launch is not just for Sassicaia 2019 but also Guidalberto 2020 and Le Difese 2020 – and that in the eyes of the estate they are very different wines and not graded in terms of importance.

    Guidalberto, in particular, is a wine whose profile Tenuta San Guido is in the process of changing from a perceived second wine to it being a “separate wine.” The estate is gradually planting Merlot vines so that the fruit can be entirely sourced from the estate, rather than rely on bought in grapes, and the solus winery being built to accommodate Guidalberto is resuming this month after a delay caused by you-know-what.

    “Guidalberto is part of a bigger communication that we are many things apart from just wine,” says Priscilla, who says that their Instagram feed has been taken out of mothballs and their web presence altered accordingly. “We want people to get to know the whole of Tenuta San Guido so (it is important) to talk about three wines, not to be too aggressive but to be part of a new vision.”

    “We have to also generate the message as an importer,” Clerc adds, “That is the challenge to change the profile of Guidalberto that it is a separate wine not a second wine, it has a different fruit source for example, it will take time for that message to be accepted.”

    Sassicaia 2019
    The Castiglioncello vineyard, planted in the early 40s by Mario Incisa della Rocchetta, cradle and home to the historic Cabernet Sauvignon.

    Just how different Guidalberto and Le Difese are from Sassicaia as wines is even more apparent in the 2020 vintage whose challenging weather favoured the earlier ripening Sangiovese and Merlot over the Cabernet Sauvignon whose proportions are reduced in both wines for this vintage.

    The percentage of Sangiovese in Le Difese 2020 has increased from 30% in 2018, to 45% in 2019 and now in 2020 it is dominant with 55% of the blend. With Guidalberto the 60/40% split between Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot is switched in 2020 so Merlot is the dominant grape. Although Sassicaia 2019 is still the customary 85/15% of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, Priscilla does hint that this time next year there will be less Cabernet Sauvignon in the Sassicaia blend.

    Fleming announces that he has agreed with the estate a policy of holding back bottles of Sassicaia to release to the on-trade when they are hit their drinking window, a move which presumably will put even greater pressure on allocations.

    “I can’t buy a bottle for myself,” the managing director says, “I’d love to but this year I’m stopping all staff buying the wine so it all goes to the trade.”

    Vintages 2019 and 2020

    What the Tenuta San Guido tasting shows once again is that these are not ‘cookie cutter’ wines and they have their own very individual identity, with different grape varieties, fruit sources, and vinification methods that ‘roll with the punches’ with whatever challenges they face with the vagaries of the growing season.

    2020 Priscilla describes as a challenging vintage which was altogether a hot year but one that had enough rain at the tail end of 2019 and Spring 2020 for the vines to cope. Spring frost affected about 30% of the Merlot vineyards which led to lower production and faster ripening in the abnormally hot August, but had the benefit of creating fruit with excellent phenolic ripeness and quality. Higher than average sugar content and the lower yield necessitated a faster and earlier harvest across all the grape varieties which then created a challenge in the winery.

    “It was challenging for the Cabernet Sauvignon to get ripe in time,” said Priscilla, “the much shorter harvest time made it difficult to handle it in the winery (10-15 days quicker). Not that the quality wasn’t reached but it was more challenging.”

    2019 was an excellent growing season producing grapes of high quality and ripeness, although the course of a classic vintage never runs entirely smooth. A classic sunny bud break in good weather was followed by an abnormally cold and rainy April and couple of hail storms which thankfully didn’t stop an excellent flowering and fruit set. A classic Bolgheri summer followed with average temperatures and few heat spikes. A slightly cooler August with high diurnal range paid dividends as it did in 2016 to produce crunchy, healthy grapes with an excellent balance between technical and phenolic maturity.

    So how were the wines tasting?

    Sassicaia 2019

    Sassicaia 2019, DOC Bolgheri Sassicaia, 14% abv

    Cabernet Sauvignon 85%, Cabernet Franc 15%

    Sassicaia 2019 is, and will go down in the annals of this great wine estate, as being a refined and classic vintage – certainly one of the best this Century. Priscilla puts it somewhere between 2015 and 2016 in terms of style which makes sense as it has perfect balance, profound aromas and a structure which, unlike 2016, is there but not intrusive.

    Decanted 90 minutes before tasting the wine was reticent at first but then opened up like a flower captured in Slo-Mo. A pretty mélange of summer pudding – red and black fruit with a touch of cream – was shown, along with blossom and violets in what are extraordinarily beautiful and elegant aromatics. The mouthfeel is fresh and pure with washes of juicy blue and black fruits; there is considerable concentration and intensity here but held in check by a terrific core of acidity and tension. The tannins have a quality of grain that makes them almost imperceptible, but delivers great poise in the mouth and register on the long finish. The wine is obviously complex with darker flavours of jamon and liquorice in the weave, dominated by a blood orange acidity that adds freshness and grip on the palate. This is a generous wine, fleshy, clean and fresh that has all bases covered for many long years of ageing. As with all true classics it has a harmonious power that equals more than the sum of its parts – elements that are all seamlessly and joyously woven together. RRP £995 per 6X75cl IB.

    Sassicaia 2019

    Guidalberto 2020, IGT Toscana, 14% abv

    Merlot 60%, Cabernet Sauvignon 40%

    As with the Sangiovese in Le Difese, the increased percentage of Merlot in Guidalberto 2020 brings added freshness in a wine that is in great shape for one so young. This the 21st vintage to be released onto the market (tasted from a tank sample) has broad shoulders is dark, opaque with a profound nose that offers densely-packed bramble fruit with an attractive herbal quality and balsamic notes. On the palate the wine has a purity and freshness that makes it feel almost chilled, the balance and acidity are both excellent. Open, juicy, clean and pure, the black fruit has a nice tart edge – redcurrant with a touch of blood orange – the finish is long and dry. As with previous vintages the layers of the wine are perceptible and need more time in the bottle to knit together. A great value meeting Bordeaux of Bolgheri – RRP £180 per 6X75cl IB.

    Le Difese 2020, IGT Toscana, 14% abv

    Sangiovese 55%, Cabernet Sauvignon 45%

    Introduced as a wine in 2002, Le Difese is the only wine on the estate using Sangiovese, the fruit being bought in from estates in Chianti and Chianti Ruffina. The percentage of Sangiovese has increased from 30% in 2018, to 45% in 2019 and now in 2020 it is dominant with 55% of the blend, adding a real freshness to a wine that is already made to be approachable and drinkable when young. The wine is matured for eight months in French and American (15%) oak. To look at the wine is semi-transparent, medium ruby red, showing blue plum, red cherry, fig notes with a wisp of smoke and Mediterranean herbs; the palate is dense but fresh and giving, juicy and voluptuous; tannins are gravelly but well integrated, the finish almost abrupt with a wet chalk note. Superb value at RRP £95 per 6 x 75cl IB.

    Armit Wines is a supplier partner of The Buyer. To discover more about them click here.

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