A New Column: Meet the Maker
This post is going to be the first in a new column that I thought I would call Meet the Maker – this column will provide interviews with wine producers or other key players in the wine industry.
When I decided to give this new feature a go, I thought I might as well just start big so with some luck and lots of gratitude to Carlo Paoli, the gracious General Manager of Tenuta San Guido, I had the pleasure of sitting down for an hour or so in the wine tasting room of Tenuta San Guido with Carlo and Mr Sassicaia himself, Marchese Nicolo’ Incisa della Rocchetta, who was kind enough to answer my questions while we were tasting the whole lineup of the estate, which was something pretty cool.
About the Estate: Tenuta San Guido
But let’s start from the beginning: as you may know, Tenuta San Guido is a huge 2,500 HA estate that is located in that beautiful stretch of forested coastal Tuscany known as Maremma and it belongs to the Italian noble family of the Marchesi Incisa della Rocchetta. The estate encompasses a 513 HA wildlife preserve managed by the WWF (Oasi Padule di Bolgheri), the training facility for the Dormello-Olgiata thoroughbred race horses, the most famous of whom was legendary “superhorse” Ribot, and of course 90 HA of vineyards from which glorious Sassicaia plus two more wines (called Guidalberto and Le Difese) are made.
More specifically, 70 of those 90 HA of vineyards are dedicated to the production of Sassicaia and therefore are for the most part Cabernet Sauvignon with some Cabernet Franc. In the remaining 20 HA, Merlot and Sangiovese (the blending partners of, respectively, Guidalberto and Le Difese) are grown, beside Cabernet Sauvignon (the common variety in all three blends). Among the three labels, Tenuta San Guido produces about 700,000 bottles per year.
On a previous post, I have provided a pretty detailed story of the vision of an enlightened man, Marchese Mario Incisa della Rocchetta (Nicolo’s father, the creator of Sassicaia), how Sassicaia came to be and how it became the archetype of all Super Tuscans, so if you missed it, I would suggest you go back and take a look before you continue reading this post.
As is described in detail on that previous post, the turning point for Sassicaia was Marchese Mario’s intuition to hire Antinori’s enologist, Giacomo Tachis, in the late 1960′s. Tachis optimized Sassicaia’s production process turning Sassicaia from a good wine to the wine that was awarded a perfect 100 score by Robert Parker for the 1985 vintage. Mr Tachis, arguably the most famous and revered among Italian enologists, eventually retired and Graziana Grassini took the helm of making Sassicaia (along with the responsibility to ensure that the legend lives on) as of the 2009 vintage.
About the Appellation
Interestingly enough, in an effort to recognize Marchese Mario’s vision and tenacity in creating a wine that gave Italian winemaking international lustre and fame, in 1983 Italy created a DOC appellation called “Bolgheri DOC” that would encompass a small territory surrounding the Tuscan town of Castagneto Carducci (in the Maremma, near Livorno) and within that territory a specific subzone was identified by the name of “Sassicaia” which precisely matches those about 70 HA owned by Tenuta San Guido where the Sassicaia is made. This has been the first case in Italy in which an official subzone of an appellation has been created to precisely overlap with the area where a single producer’s wine is made. As a result, Sassicaia is the only wine that can be made in the “Bolgheri Sassicaia DOC” appellation.
In terms of permitted grape varieties, the “Bolgheri Sassicaia DOC” appellation requires the use of at least 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, which can be blended with up to 20% of other black-berried varieties permitted in Tuscany, and a minimum aging of 24 months, at least 18 of which must be in oak barrique casks.
Our Tasting Notes
Before moving on to the actual interview of Marchese Nicolo’ Incisa della Rocchetta (which will be the subject matter of the next post), these are my succint tasting notes of the three wines in the Tenuta San Guido lineup that I got to taste with the Marchese:
1. Le Difese 2011:
Tenuta San Guido’s entry-level wine, whose first vintage was 2002. It is a 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Sangiovese blend that is aged for 12 months in French and American oak barrique casks and is released ready to be enjoyed (it is not meant for aging).
Pleasant and linear, with no frills: nice (although not particularly intense) nose of wild berries with hints of licorice and ground coffee. Well integrated tannins and good structure in the mouth for an enjoyable red with a good QPR.
2. Guidalberto 2011:
Tenuta San Guido’s mid-range wine (not Sassicaia’s second wine, as the Marchese pointed out in the course of the interview). It was released with vintage 2000 and it is a 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot blend, aged for 15 months in mostly French and in small part American oak barrique casks, plus 3 additional months of in-bottle aging. The Guidalberto is a wine that can be enjoyed right away, but is meant for aging up to 10 years.
A very good wine, despite its young age, with an enticing nose of black berries, ground coffee, tobacco, cocoa and black pepper. In the mouth it was already round and smooth, with tame tannins and significant structure as well as a long finish. In my view, with a few more years under its belt, the Guidalberto will give plenty of joy to those who can wait.
3. Sassicaia 2010:
The King of the Hill, of which we already said much in relation to its 1995 vintage on a previous post. It is an 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Cabernet Franc blend that is fermented in steel vats and undergoes 15 days of maceration. It ages for 24 months in all French oak barrique casks plus 6 additional months in bottle. Sassicaia is a wine that is meant for aging and in my view it should not be enjoyed before at least 5/7 years after its vintage year.
The 2010 vintage that I tasted was already mind-blowing: the nose was very intense with a symphony of black cherries, blackberries, cocoa, licorice, coffee, sandalwood and leather. In the mouth it is still a bit “separate” in its core elements, which need time to fully assemble and integrate, but it already showed glimpses of how spectacular a wine it will be for those who can wait: full-bodied, with plenty of structure and tannins that are already supple, intense mouth flavors and good acidity, topped off by a long finish. Perfect to be cellared and forgotten for a few years and then enjoyed the way it deserves.
That’s all for today: until the next post, which will feature my interview to Marchese Nicolo’ Incisa della Rocchetta.