By any stretch of the imagination Sassicaia 2017 is a remarkable achievement – born out of some of the hottest temperatures ever recorded in Tuscany and yet being a wine of great freshness, elegance and precision. They say that you should always follow a winemaker not a vintage and in the case of Tenuta San Guido, never was a truer word spoken as Peter Dean assesses the Sassicaia 2017 alongside the estate’s other two wines Guidalberto, 2018 and Le Difese 2018 in the company of Priscilla Incisa della Rochetta, the granddaughter of the estate’s visionary founder.
The Sassicaia 2017 was tasted alongside Sassicaia 2007 as Tenuta San Guido sees this as a comparable vintage.
A cliché, perhaps, but the skill of a great winemaker is to produce an exemplary wine in the most difficult of circumstances. Not only has Tenuta San Guido done this with Sassicaia 2017, which had its release yesterday, but this grand Italian estate has also managed to do this consistently irrespective of how changeable the climate is becoming.
2017 was one such difficult vintage – lots of heat, little rain – so that the berries were smaller and the overall yield reduced.
Priscilla Incisa della Rochetta, 67 Pall Mall, February 5, 2020
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 – launched Sassicaia 2017, Guidalberto, 2018 and Le Difese 2018 at London’s 67 Pall Mall on Thursday 5thFebruary.
She explained that after 2016 (“Very much our style”) 2017 was hot everywhere although the specific micro-climate of DOC Bolgheri Sassicaia meant that “it was not so bad.” The proximity of Tenuta San Guido to the sea and being part of its own 1300 hectare wooded estate, meant that the intense heat of July and August was dissipated somewhat, with less risk of vine-stress. The decision was also made to source fruit mainly from the Castiglioncello, Quercione and Doccino vineyards that are older, more elevated and have cooler temperatures at night, the vines having deeper roots and more able to resist heat-stress. The fruit was picked some days earlier than normal with shorter maceration times, and other techniques in the winery to achieve the cool-fermentation that is one of the winery’s hallmarks.
The 2018 vintage which the two ‘second’ wines are from was a complete contrast to 2017 in that it was a fresh vintage with lots of rainfall and many days in August where the temperature dropped below average. The result was that the fruit had more hang-time with harvest postponed by 7-10 days “the result is that in 2018 we have a lot more freshness,” she says.
News from the estate included that fact they have submitted planning permission to turn one building into a facility dedicated to ‘second’ wine Guidalberto, although production will stand at roughly 350,000 bottles; and they will halve production of ‘third’ wine Le Difese which is the only one of their wines to use, roughly 50%, bought-in fruit.
Difese is also “the only one of our wines to use a local grape – Sangiovese – although technically you can call Cabernet Sauvignon, Franc and Merlot local grapes now,” Priscilla explains, alluding to the fact that for 25 years Sassicaia has had its own DOC – DOC Bolgheri Sassicaia – which is a sub-zone of Bolgheri. This makes Sassicaia the only wine to have its very own DOC in Italy, reinforcing just how unique the wine is.
Sassicaia, DOC Bolgheri Sassicaia, 2017
Cabernet Sauvignon 85%, Cabernet Franc 15%
The headline is that this wine does not seem to come from a hot vintage. This Sassicaia is elegant, precise with fine detail, the fruit voluptuous but surprisingly fresh.
Medium to dark ruby in appearance; the nose opens out invitingly in the glass (not in an overly-complex way) with notes of mulberry, ripe red plum, wild berries, a hint of dried rosemary; the palate is a joy – juicy, fresh, black cherry, blackberry, pomegranate, velvety ripe tannins, superbly balanced. The wine is so well-knit with the structure almost subliminal, the soft tannins poised for early consumption. After layers of red and black fruit, the finish is tidy and quite curt. ABV 14%
The 2017 was tasted alongside Sassicaia, 2007 as a comparable vintage. The 2007 had considerable secondary evolution – red brick edges, macerated fruit, a hit of black cardammon, tobacco candy, but the underlying fresh acidity was still intact, and the dryness on the finish contrasting with how ripe and rounded the register is in the 2017.
Guidalberto, Toscana IGT, 2018
Cabernet Sauvignon 60%, Merlot 40%
This wine is so true of exactly what it is – coming across as a Left Bank Bordeaux made in the Mediterranean. Aromatically it is intoxicating – bramble fruit with a savoury note, balsamic, pretty blossom; the palate has orange and blood orange, black fruit, tobacco. It is beautifully fresh with a dry stone finish. A little disjointed, which is perhaps explained by the fact we were later told that this bottle was manually assembled at the winery and is 90% reflective of the finished article. ABV 13.5%
Le Difese, Toscana IGT, 2018
Cabernet Sauvignon 70%, Sangiovese 30%
The only one of Tenuta San Guido’s wines to use Sangiovese. Light to medium ruby in appearance; aromas of red plum, fresh herbs; the palate is soft, with a slight crisp to its red fruit and wild blackberry, tobacco, sandpaper tannins; a pleasing simple rusticity and texture to the wine that gives the palate a little squeeze on the finish. ABV 14%