• First taste: How good is the new vintage release of Sassicaia 2021?

    Tuscan wine royalty, Tenuta San Guido, releases Sassicaia 2021, the latest vintage of its true iconic flagship wine this February. The 2021, available through importers Armit Wines, has been eagerly anticipated following favourable vintage conditions on the rolling slopes of Bolgheri, towards Tuscany’s stunning western coastline. We sent The Buyer’s very own Italophile, Mike Turner, to taste the wines with Priscilla Incisa della Rocchetta and find out more about what proves to be another much sought-after triumph for the team at Tenuta San Guido.

    Tuscan wine royalty, Tenuta San Guido, releases Sassicaia 2021, the latest vintage of its true iconic flagship wine this February. The 2021, available through importers Armit Wines, has been eagerly anticipated following favourable vintage conditions on the rolling slopes of Bolgheri, towards Tuscany’s stunning western coastline. We sent The Buyer’s very own Italophile, Mike Turner, to taste the wines with Priscilla Incisa della Rocchetta and find out more about what proves to be another much sought-after triumph for the team at Tenuta San Guido.

    mm By February 13, 2024

    “2021 maceration times were longer than 2020, but we could do that due to the quality of the grapes,” noted Incisa della Rocchetta. “The freshness is always an important marker for the best of Sassicaia.”

    Sassicaia 2021

    When you get a chance to attend the new vintage tasting of a true icon of the modern wine world, you don’t say “no”. I’m very glad I didn’t.

    But before we get onto the Sassicaia 2021….

    How did Sassicaia first become an icon of a wine?

    Tenuta San Guido was owned and developed over many decades by the della Gherardesca family. In the 1930 Clarice della Gherardesca inherited the land and winery in her dowry on her marriage to Marchese Mario Incisa della Rocchetta. Also a visionary agronomist after completing his studies in nearby Pisa, Marchese Mario planted his first vines at the estate in the 1940s. In a break from Tuscan tradition, his early vine plantings included classic Bordeaux varieties, namely Cabernet Sauvignon and Franc, that would latter cause such curiosity and interest in the otherwise Sangiovese heartlands of Tuscany. Originally produced only for friends and family, it was Mario’s son Nicolò (whom himself would go on to lead the estate to increasing fortunes) who worked with his father on the first commercial release, in 1971, of the 1968 Sassicaia. Critical acclaim, awards, and now its very own DOC have followed in an impressively short time.

    Far from a classic wine making estate, Tenuta San Guido covers an impressive 2,500 hectares of land with only 4% used for the production of wine. Native forests, olives, crops, and even a highly acclaimed race-horse training stables keeps the staff at the Tenuta busy throughout the year. 500 hectares are given over to a wildlife and wetland nature reserve, with Marchese Mario even becoming Italy’s first president of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), a nod to the ethical and what we would now call ‘sustainable’ approach that has supplied the founding pillars of the estate from the start.

    This tasting was not the first time I’d tasted Sassicaia before. I’d been lucky enough to do that on many occasions. I knew I was walking into what was likely to be a thoroughly enjoyable tasting. It was, however, the first time I’d tasted it in such a formal setting and in the presence of the supremely impressive Priscilla Incisa della Rocchetta, grand daughter Clarice and Mario, the widely travelled exponent of the history and culture behind the estate and the family that runs it. Let’s be frank, she doesn’t have to work as hard as she does, and travel as often as she does, to sell Sassicaia to the world. But it goes to show the care and passion for the wines, the estate and for their consumers that she does, adding an extra element of enjoyment to these fabulous wines and continuing to cement their place in the icons of wine.

    What you need to know about the Sassicaia 2021 vintage

    Sassicaia 2021
    “No such a thing as a classic vintage,” Priscilla Incisa della Rocchetta at the Sassicaia 2021 launch, 67 Pall Mall, February 7, 2023

    And so, to the tasting and the much-anticipated Sassicaia 2021.

    Even before we walked into the room the news had filtered through of Monica Larner’s 100-point score for RobertParker.com. Expectations were, as you can imagine, slightly elevated but not just because of the full-house marks. The 2021 vintage has been touted as one to watch from the moment the harvest grapes began to arrive at the winery.

    Indeed 2021 appears to have been a very fortunate vintage for most of the wines of Bolgheri. A cold 2020/21 winter allowed the vines to rest, before a warm February and March allowed the estate workers the chance to get out and perform vital works in preparation for budburst. Despite a cold snap in April, the vineyards of Bolgheri managed to survive relatively unscathed due to their exposed and windy locations. Standard spring weather of alternating sun and rain broke into a hot and dry summer that led to healthy bunches of ripe fruit but with smaller bunches and berries.

    Brett Fleming, managing director of Armit Wines, was present at the tasting and recalled with enthusiasm a visit to the estate in the summer of 2021.

    “I was chatting with Carlo (Carlo Paoli, general manager of Tenuta San Guido) about how the harvest was shaping up,” remembered Fleming. “He was tentative, given the excellent quality, but smaller and more concentrated berries. He said if they get some rain just before harvest then it had all the promise of an exceptional vintage. And guess what? That’s exactly what they got!”

    Harvesting began on the 1st September, but with favourable weather remaining throughout the month allowing for ideal picking selections for each plot.

    “2021 was very similar to 2019,” recalled Incisa della Rocchetta. “We had favourable weather conditions all the way up until harvest time, and a great autumn meant we could take our time over the picking and processing of the grapes which were in excellent condition.” The famed Castiglioncello, Sassicaia di Sopra and San Martino sites completed the harvest by the first days of October.

    The grapes were sorted, pressed and destemmed before fermentation and malolactic in stainless steel. After that was completed in early November, the wine was racked into a selection of fine grain, medium toast, French oak barrels for 24 months. Unlike many of what we would consider the finest and most unique red wines, Sassicaia is only subject to 40% new oak, with the rest a mixture of 1-3 year old wood. “It’s very important for us to show off the elegance of the estate and not have the oak too prominent,” stated Incisa della Rocchetta.

    The wine itself, the classic Sassicaia blend of 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Cabernet Franc, showed an incredible depth of blue, black and red fruits, with complex but subtle hints of a whole host of spice and savoury notes that just blossomed with time in the glass. Nutmeg, balsamic, sage, black olives, and incredible length of the finish, but with a really notable freshness of both acidity and minerality, as well as restrained alcohol. The fabulous balance, making this a wine perfectly suited for those who enjoy their wines old and aged, was completed by a firm but beautifully elegant tannic structure.

    “2021 maceration times were longer than 2020, but we could do that due to the quality of the grapes,” noted Incisa della Rocchetta. “The freshness is always an important marker for the best of Sassicaia.”

    Vertical tasting shows evolution in wines and styles

    Sassicaia 2021

    Also on show were wines graciously donated from Tenuta San Guido’s wine library, including 2016, 2011 and 1998.

    “I don’t really think there is such thing as a classic vintage” mused Incisa della Rocchetta as she introduced the wines. “What these are, however, are vintages where we feel there is a great deal of elegance and balance.” Not only that, but it was clear from the tasting that there has been subtle stylistic changes towards more restrained body and more elegance that has marked the acclaimed recent vintages of Sassicaia.

    The larger, bigger, bolder, more extracted styles of many Bolgheri wines in the 1990s and 2000s was evident in even Sassicaia’s 1998. A perfectly delicious wine, but one that was a clear stylistic outlier from the other three. For my part, the more restrained style is much more up my street and the 2016 was an exquisite precursor of the heights that the Sassicaia 2021 seems destined to match.

    Of course, it’s not just as simple as deciding on a new style to produce. The climatic and logistical changes in the winery have their effect too.

    “We are very aware of vines from different areas,” explained Incisa della Rocchetta. “In warmer years we maybe use less young vines, or vineyards higher up. We also have about 8-10 vineyards or plots that we can separate into microcuvées, with Carlo even specifying certain rows at times that he believes deserve their own special attention.”

    Expanding portfolio highlights the class

    Sassicaia 2021
    Mattia Scarpazza MS shows off Masnaghetti’s terroir of Bolgheri in 67 Pall Mall, London

    Since the turn of the century, Tenuta San Guido has added two new wines to join the iconic Sassicaia in its portfolio. The fame around Merlot blends in the 1980s and 1990s saw the birth of Guidalberto, a blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40% Merlot named after one of the founding fathers of agriculture on the estate, Guidalberto della Gherardesca. Financially, this a much more available wine to a wider wine drinking public and one that will perform equally well on wine lists and merchant shelves.

    The ability to drop the name “Sassicaia” into the sales pitch, and the fact that this wine is made with as much love and attention by Carlo and the team as the primo vino in the range, is a great way to nudge people up to that £50 (ish) retail bracket. With a new purpose-built winery due for completion in 2025, expect continued price:value excellence from Guidalberto vintages.

    The third wine in the portfolio, and one I was very pleased to see as part of our tasting, is the excellent Le Difese 2022. The first vintage of this 45% Cabernet Sauvignon 55% Sangiovese blend was released a little over 20 years ago and shows off everything I love about fruit-driven varietal character.

    “This is a wine that can age,” remarked Incisa della Rocchetta, “but it really isn’t designed for that.” The Sangiovese parcels are bought in from family and friends in Chianti and Chianti Rufina, and its softer, herbal, Mediterranean style is proving a real hit in bars and restaurants the world over. In 2022 around 300,000 bottles of this red plum and raspberry deliciousness was produced and is trading for a modest £21 per bottle in bond right now. It’s a truly excellent entry to the world of Tenuta San Guido.

    Trying the new vintages for yourself

    Both the Sassicaia 2021 and Le Difese 2022 are available right now for in-bond purchase from Armit Wines. For those of you who have a free afternoon on Tuesday 5th March, these wines will be open for tasting at Armit’s portfolio tasting alongside some other truly wonderful wineries from across the globe. If that’s not enough to tempt you, then once again Priscilla Incisa della Rocchetta will be in town to present the wines personally, a great chance for you to get the inside story on one of wine’s truly iconic producers.

    Sassicaia 2021 and the wines of Tenuta San Guido are sold and distributed in the UK by Armit Wines which is a commercial partner of The Buyer. To discover more about them click here. To attend Armit Wines’ portfolio tasting on the 5th March, please contact Jonathan White at jrwhite@armitwines.co.uk

    Mike Turner is a freelance writer, presenter, educator, judge and regular contributor for The Buyer through his editorial company Please Bring Me My Wine. He also runs a wine events and ecommerce business, Feel Good Grapes, that explores and discusses the idea of sustainability in the wine trade.

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