Wine Review: Tenuta San Guido, Bolgheri Sassicaia 1995 DOC… and the History of "Super Tuscans"

Last month, a friend of mine invited me and a common friend to dinner at his place. At the time of the main course, he showed us what he had decided to share with us: not only was it a bottle of Sassicaia, but it was a 1995 vintage!

The Bottom Line

Tenuta San GuidoBolgheri Sassicaia “Sassicaia” 1995 DOC ($150): let me say it right from the outset – WOW! Although I had had Sassicaia before, having the opportunity to taste a bottle having 18 years of in-bottle aging under the belt was beyond fantastic.

Rating for this excellent wine: Spectacular Spectacular – $$$$$

(Explanation of our Rating and Pricing Systems)

Before we get into the details of that almost mystic 🙂 experience, let’s take a closer look at the notion of “Super Tuscans” and let’s delve into some history about the archetype of all Super Tuscans, that is in fact Sassicaia.

History of the “Super Tuscans”

If you pardon my quoting my own Wine Glossary, the term “Super Tuscans” indicates certain Bordeaux-style red wines that have been made in Tuscany, since the early Seventies by winemakers who wanted to experiment and veer off traditional Tuscan winemaking styles, often utilizing international grape varieties (such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah) as opposed to traditional local ones (such as Sangiovese). In order to enjoy such freedom to experiment, those winemakers produced their Super Tuscans outside the strict rules of the most prestigious Italian appellations (DOC and, more recently, DOCG), which resulted in those premium wines to be initially labeled as “table wines” and more recently as IGT wines (a more loosely regulated Italian appellation) in spite of their quality and substantial price tags. The “grandfather” of the Super Tuscans is Sassicaia, whose notoriety and quality led to the creation in 1994 of the DOC Bolgheri which includes a Sassicaia sub-zone, thus making Sassicaia the first Super Tuscan to enjoy DOC appellation status.

Although it appears that nobody knows for sure who coined the incredibly successful moniker “Super Tuscans“, some believe that it was created by Burton Anderson, a wine reviewer who covered Italy for Wine Spectator in the 1980s. What is certain though is that it very quickly became the name by which that kind of wines were internationally identified.

As we said, the wine that started the Super Tuscans phenomenon was Sassicaia. This fabled wine was created by the Marquis Mario Incisa della Rocchetta, who first completed his agrarian studies in Pisa in the Twenties and then, thanks to his being a family friend of the Baron de Rothschild (the owner of Chateau Lafite Rothschild, one of Bordeaux’s Premier Crus), he had an opportunity to visit the famous estate and study the terroir where the grape vines that produced one of the world’s finest reds grew. Incisa then went on to acquire a few rootings of 50-year-old Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc vines from an estate near Pisa owned by the Dukes Salviati to transplant them in 1942 at the family’s San Guido estate in Bolgheri, Tuscany.

His decision to transplant those vines in an area of Tuscany that up until then had never known any serious viticulture was due to the resemblance of the soil of that area (“Sassicaia” alludes to the Italian word “sasso” meaning stone, and seems to refer to a pebbled terrain) with that of the Graves (which in French means gravel) on the Left Bank of the Garonne river near Bordeaux, where another Premier Cru, Chateau Haut-Brion, is located.

At first, Sassicaia had not enthused the Marquis (nor his employees working the vineyards, who supposedly called the wine, with typical Tuscan coarseness, “good only for the pigs“): this convinced Incisa to keep the first “experimental” vintages of the wine for personal consumption only. However, Incisa soon realized that, after a few years of aging, that same wine that had not convinced him initially would turn into a much better wine.

This realization gave him the incentive to keep at it, making several improvements, including being the first one to import small barrique oak barrels into Italy for aging Sassicaia and cutting a deal with wine producer Antinori (Piero Antinori was Incisa’s nephew) for the future distribution of Sassicaia, as a result of which arrangements Antinori sent their well-known enologist Giacomo Tachis to the San Guido estate to work on Sassicaia. Tachis refined the blend, the wine making process and the cellaring of the wine until, in 1968, the first “official” vintage of Sassicaia hit the market with just 3,000 bottles and initially it did not really rock the wine world…

The turning point was 1974, when Luigi Veronelli, a famous Italian food and wine writer, published a rave review of the 1968 Sassicaia. International acclaim for Sassicaia came not long after that, in 1978, when during a worldwide blind tasting of 33 Cabernet Sauvignon-based wines organized in London by Decanter Magazine, the 1975 Sassicaia took the top spot, ahead of all the prestigious Bordeaux reds, thus marking the beginning of the Sassicaia success story. Later, Robert Parker awarded Sassicaia’s 1985 vintage (universally considered the best yet) a perfect 100 point score and James Suckling of Wine Spectator even compared it to the 1985 Mouton-Rothschild, admitting Sassicaia into the Olympus of the world’s best wines.

(Credits for most of the information that I researched as a basis for this Sassicaia history: DecanterL’Acqua BuonaSassicaia.it; and Sassicaia.com)

About the Estate, the Appellation and the Producer

For detailed information about Tenuta San Guido and the “Bolgheri Sassicaia” appellation, please refer to this post.

I would definitely recommend that you also check out this other post featuring an interesting interview with the owner of Tenuta San Guido, Marchese Nicolo’ Incisa della Rocchetta.

Our Detailed Review

Now, on to my tasting notes for the Sassicaia 1995 that I had the pleasure of drinking! Considering the high profile of this wine, I am going to follow all of the steps of the ISA wine tasting protocol in my review (for more information, see my previous post about such protocol and its various steps).

Tenuta San GuidoBolgheri Sassicaia “Sassicaia” 1995 DOC is a blend of 85% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Cabernet Franc, with just 12% ABV. It underwent between 14 and 18 days of maceration and malolactic fermentation. It aged 24 months in barrique casks, part new and part previously utilized. The Sassicaia 1995 vintage retails in the US at about $150.

For more information about the grape varieties Sassicaia is made from, please refer to our Grape Variety Archive.

In the glass it was clearruby red with garnet hintsthick.

The bouquet was intensecomplex and fine, with aromas of black cherry, blackberry, sweet tobacco, cocoa, vanilla, soil and a graphite hint.

In the mouth it was drywarm, silky smoothquite fresh, gently tannicquite mineralmedium-bodied, perfectly balancedintense in its mouth flavors (with very good correlation to the bouquet), with a long finish, of excellent quality; mature and definitely harmonious.

Follow FsT on:

0 thoughts on “Wine Review: Tenuta San Guido, Bolgheri Sassicaia 1995 DOC… and the History of "Super Tuscans"

  1. Pingback: Meet the Maker: An Interview with “Mr Sassicaia” | Flora's Table

  2. Pingback: Meet the Maker: A New Column plus a Tasting of Sassicaia 2010 and Its Little Brothers | Flora's Table

  3. myhomefoodthatsamore

    All good things come to those who believe … a couple of years ago, a friend of mine who is in the food and wine business asked me whether I’d be interested in coming along with him to interview the Marchese, and thus be privy to a wine tasting. I of course jumped at the opportunity (!), and off we went from south of Rome very early in the morning, chatting away with high expectations. Then his car broke down near Montalto di Castro. Got it fixed … in part … and we decided that unfortunately we wouldn’t be able to make it. We were told to head to the outskirts of Tarquinia to the nearest car repair shop. We got there just after it had closed for lunch, so we ate in some horrible in-the-middle-of- nowhere ‘gastronomia’ place … and I was fit to burst into tears by now. Then the car shop opened and told us it would take them at least 2-3 hours to get it repaired. My husband, who had called to check how things were going, imagining us to be in 7th Heaven, came to the rescue and offered to come and pick me up in Tarquinia on his motorbike. The gallant husband duly picked me up and half an hour later we got stopped by the police on the motorway for a routine check. I can’t remember what it was that my husband hadn’t renewed in time, quite becaues he had forgotten, but we got a massive ticket (something like Eu300) into the bargain. So you see … I think that I ‘deserve’ a bottle of Sassicaia after all this, don’t you?

    1. Stefano Post author

      Oh Man, Jo: that’s an unbelievable story and the backbone of a post about it right there! I tell you, after going through that incredible ordeal not only do you deserve to enjoy a bottle of that delicious wine, but if I were the Marchese and I read your post, I would send a bottle your way to make it up to you! 🙂 Thank you for your very nice comment.

    1. Stefano Post author

      Thank you, Suzanne: I am fairly certain that when you try it, you will like it A LOT! 🙂 It definitely is expensive, but in my view it is a spectacular wine, especially if you enjoy it after it has a few years of in-bottle aging.