Here's my tasting note for a 1988 Sassicaia consumed on Oct. 30, 2008, at Cibreo Restaurant, in Florence, Italy, during a vertical tasting covering the commercial history of the famous Tuscan estate:
1988 Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia: Very rich and powerful with layers of berries, spices and ripe plums. Hints of blackberry jam and fresh porcini. Full-bodied and balanced with fine and juicy tannins. So much currant and ripe fruit on the palate. 97 points, nonblind.
Here's my note for a 1988 Sassicaia consumed on Jan. 9, 2009, at Le Cirque, in Las Vegas, with friends during a celebratory dinner of being together:
1988 Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia: Wet cardboard aromas with eucalyptus and some fruit character underneath. Full-bodied with some richness, but muted and funky with a slightly acidic undertone. Just not right. 84 points, nonblind.
It was obvious that there was something wrong with the bottle of 1988 Sassicaia that I tasted last Friday night in Las Vegas with some friends from Hong Kong during a dinner at Le Cirque at Bellagio casino. But the sommelier insisted that it was a sound bottle. I was with one of the most important wine collectors in the world, who wishes to remain anonymous, as well as wine collector/film director James Orr and an L.A.-based wine collector. We all thought the 1988 Sassicaia was corked, but the sommelier would not agree.
“Perhaps you should order another wine?” he suggested, looking at us as if we had stone palates.
I guess he didn’t want to part with another bottle of the 1988 Sass at a little more than $1,100 a bottle. The legendary 1985 was a laughable $21,000 and change on the list. The 1988 is very close in quality and a fraction of the cost, even in mere mortal wine shops. In fact, Nicolò Incisa della Rocchetta, the owner of Tenuta San Guido, prefers the 1988 to the 1985.
Anyway, I felt like I was at a Circus – which is the name of the restaurant in French – the way the wine service was handled. To give the restaurant credit, my friends had brought a number of wines to the restaurant, and they were properly opened and decanted, including a fabulous bottle of 1970 Trotanoy. But the corky Sass incident just got under everyone’s skin. Perhaps that’s why my friend, who was comped by MGM Casinos, did not gamble that night?
Le Cirque’s sommelier also said that he took the wine to no less than two Master Sommeliers at the nearby Picasso restaurant, and they concurred with him that the bottle was perfect. My friend, who had invited me to the dinner, just shook his head. “Just let it go,” he said. I guess the casino was paying, but it didn't seem right.
I only wish I knew what the motivation of the sommelier was, when the wine was so clearly corked. Could it be that the restaurant didn’t want to take the financial loss on the bottle with the current economy? Or maybe the sommelier simply couldn’t detect the corkiness in that particular bottle?
In any case, it seems to me that one of the most important jobs of a sommelier is to find corky bottles and not subject customers to them, regardless if the wine is $1,000 or $10.