I celebrated 40 years of Sassicaia in the marketplace last night with a small group of wine merchants and wine lovers at Cibreo restaurant in Florence. Owner Niccolo Incisa della Rocchetta and his stepson Sebastiano Rosa brought every vintage ever commercially made at their Tuscan wine estate of Tenuta San Guido for the 14 of us to taste last night. It started with 2005 and ended with 1968.
The Sass tasting was an incredible experience in every way, and more of a friendly celebration than a dead serious wine tasting. Ron Spogli, the U.S. Ambassador to Italy, was also there. It didn’t hurt that we had a mind-blowing dinner at Cibreo afterwards – no special menu. My spicy cuttlefish stew with the 1998 Sass was to die for.
But Sassicaia is such a loveable wine. It is a wine that has soul. It's one of those iconic wines that make you want to own and to drink them. The Cabernet Sauvignon-based red helped make Tuscany famous by convincing serious wine consumers around the world with its wonderful quality, elegance, and finesse. It is viewed in the same light as legendary Bordeaux growths, as well as top wines from Burgundy, California and just about anywhere else in the world.
Interestingly, it was Niccolo's, cousin vintner Piero Antinori, who originally convinced him to sell Sassicaia in the marketplace. Before 1968, it was just something they made on their estate on the Tuscan coastline to drink with friends and family. Niccolo's father was a big fan of Bordeaux and wanted to make something like that at Tenuta San Guido.
What I like about Sassicaia is that it is so drinkable – even when it's young. It is never overdone or exaggerated. The wine always shows subtlety and reserve. It seems to gain strength with age in the bottle. The latter point is also why it can be difficult to judge when young. I found in the tasting last night that many of the wines tasted better than I remembered from blind tastings in my office when they were young.
It's also sort of funny how it's seldom the best wine of Tuscany in a given vintage, especially now with all the new wines and wineries out the area. But it is nearly always in the upper echelon. And it has a great pedigree, as the tasting proved.
The wine of the tasting was the 1985. I gave it 100 points, non-blind. This is "the" legendary Sassicaia. It is arguably the greatest wine ever produced in Italy, or at least in Tuscany. The first bottle of the 1985 we opened was corked! I wanted to cry, but Sebastiano had another bottle in his car. And it was sublime. It showed amazing aromas of currants, blackberries, black cherries, and licorice with mint and spices. It was so aromatic and enticing. It put me in a trance to smell it. The palate was full-bodied, silky and caressing with layers of fruit and ripe tannins intertwined. There was so much sweetness and love in this wine. It reminded me of the amazing 1959 Latour.
The other wine of the tasting was the 1998, which just gets better and better. I recently drank a double magnum at my 50th birthday and it was fabulous. If you want to catch the "new 1985," don’t miss the 1998. It is clearly better than the 1997 now. It seems to be getting richer in the bottle. It's so layered and powerful with beautiful tobacco, berry, plums and currant character on the nose and palate. Full-bodied, with lovely layered tannins, it shows a long, unctuous and captivating finish. It gives so much. This has such long life ahead of it, but it's so good now. I gave it 98 points, non-blind.
Niccolo’s favorite wine remains the 1988. He even thinks that it’s better than the 1985. It was very rich and powerful with layers of berries, spices and ripe plums on the nose and palate, and then showed hints of blackberry jam and fresh porcini. It’s so full-bodied yet balanced. I scored it 97 points, non-blind.
Other people were blown away by the 1990 and 1975, which were bold and firmly structured with beautiful perfumes. And I thoroughly enjoyed the 1968, which showed this amazing nose of lots of berry and spices. It was very balanced and fruity with lovely silky tannins and a long fruity, cedary aftertaste. It was hard to believe that the 1968 was hardly anything more than a homemade wine when the Antinoris bottled and sold it as a sideline. But most great wines with a pedigree have humble beginnings.
There were so many wonderful wines in the tasting, so I will give you complete notes on Monday. It was amazing how there was not a bad wine in the bunch. I can't think of a wine producer in Italy who could lay on four decades of every wine they bottled, and all the wines would be good to classic quality. That is something very special. That is something very drinkable. And it's why I love drinking Sassicaia.
Matt Scott — Honolulu HI — October 31, 2008 10:15pm ET
Vittorio — Italy — November 2, 2008 10:44pm ET
James Suckling — — November 3, 2008 11:45am ET
Solaroli Giovanni — Faenza, Italy — November 4, 2008 6:40am ET
Apj Powers — Dallas, TX — November 4, 2008 12:37pm ET
Tony Wood — Brighton U.K. — November 4, 2008 6:25pm ET
James Suckling — — November 4, 2008 7:58pm ET
Niall Cosgrove — Ireland — November 5, 2008 4:15am ET
James Suckling — — November 5, 2008 7:59am ET
Niall Cosgrove — Ireland — November 5, 2008 9:29am ET
Tohphan — Thailand — November 8, 2008 3:26am ET
Ivo Zoffoli — brisighella/italy — November 9, 2008 12:17am ET
Pascal Roduit — Summit,NJ,USA — August 2, 2009 5:39pm ET
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