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From the Point of Departure for the Global Success of Sassicaia

Posted: Nov 5, 2008 11:47am ET

As I promised in my last blog post, I am posting all the notes from the once-in-a-lifetime Sassicaia vertical held in Florence last week at the excellent restaurant Cibreo. Going over some of the notes, there are some real gems. Perhaps the most interesting for most of us is that the recent vintages are all winners with the exception of the 2002, which was a cool and wet growing season, making it hard to make very good Cabernet Sauvignon-based wines in Tuscany.

Sassicaia is normally about 85 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 14 percent Cabernet Franc. It is made in a simple fashion, fermented in stainless-steel, temperature-controlled vats and then aged for up to 24 months in two-thirds new French oak barrels. There is really no fancy winemaking here. It’s been pretty much the same since the Incisa della Rocchetta family started using stainless steel vats in the early 1980s. They make about 15,000 cases depending on the vintage.

The wine even has it own DOC now – DOC Bolgheri Sassicaia – which stands to reason, considering its very special soil and climate. The best vineyards are the hillside ones, which produce wines with lots of aroma and structure. Meanwhile, those on the gentle slopes below, near the offices of Tenuta San Guido, the actual name of the property, give the wines their body and softness. It’s this gentle, friendly character of Sassicaia, with a firm and defined aromatic and structural style, that makes the wine what it is. I think the wine comes into its own about 10 years or more after the harvest.

My two favorite wines of the tasting were the 1985 and 1998, as I said in my last blog. The 1985 is already a legend and normally sells for close to $3,000 a bottle, if you can find it in a specialty wine shop. The 1998, which is the best Sass since the legendary 1985, looks reasonable at about $250 to $300 a bottle. The 2003, 2004 and 2005, the most recent on the market, are also outstanding, and worth buying.

Here are my tasting notes. The wines were tasted in chronological order at Cibreo in flights of five vintages each.

Sebastiano Rosa and his stepfather Nicolò Incisa della Rocchetta, who work together to produce Sassicaia.

2005 Tenuta San Guido Bolgheri-Sassicaia Sassicaia: This is rich and round with beautiful berry and chocolate aromas and flavors. Full-bodied, with very polished and soft tannins. It’s long and caressing. Gorgeous already, but just a beautiful baby now. Best after 2015. 95 points, non-blind.

2004 Tenuta San Guido Bolgheri-Sassicaia Sassicaia: Blackberry with toasted oak and currant and chocolate aromas. Full-bodied, with very silky tannins and attractive flavors of vanilla, currant and blackberry. Persistent on the finish and very balanced. I am giving the edge to this over the 2005 at this stage. Best after 2013. 94 points, non-blind.

2003 Tenuta San Guido Bolgheri-Sassicaia Sassicaia: Powerful aromas of currants and blackberries with black licorice. Very aromatic. Full-bodied and chewy. Tight on the finish but shows reserve and elegance, especially considering how hot the vintage was. Give it time still. Best after 2011. 93 points, non-blind.

2002 Tenuta San Guido Bolgheri-Sassicaia Sassicaia: I have never liked this wine that much. It’s good but not a serious Sass. It’s very light. Aromas of sweet tobacco and plum with hints of vanilla. Medium to light body with round tannins and a simple finish. Needs drinking. 84 points, non-blind.

2001 Tenuta San Guido Bolgheri-Sassicaia Sassicaia: This has always been a well-defined, classy Sassicaia. Floral, berry and currants with hints of roses and lilacs on the nose. Wonderful fruit. Full and very structured with firm tannins and a long rich finish, yet cool and racy. Very, very beautiful. You can enjoy it now but best after 2012. 95 points, non-blind.

2000 Tenuta San Guido Bolgheri-Sassicaia Sassicaia: Seems very ready now. Little disappointing tonight. Round and rich with chocolate, plums and berry on the nose and palate. Full-bodied and soft with ripe fruit. Slightly disjointed. No reason to wait. Drink now. 87 points, non-blind.

1999 Tenuta San Guido Bolgheri-Sassicaia Sassicaia: Classic Sassicaia with mineral, fresh mint, berry and plum jam aromas. Full-bodied, with silky tannins and a long, long finish. So beautiful and racy. Berry and minty. I underrated this. Starting to come around now. Best from 2010 to 2020. 93 points, non-blind.

1998 Tenuta San Guido Bolgheri-Sassicaia Sassicaia: This is the greatest Sassicaia since the legendary 1985. It seems to be getting richer in the bottle. It’s so layered and powerful with beautiful tobacco, berry, plums and currant character. Full-bodied, with lovely layered tannins, it shows a long, beautiful and captivating finish. It gives so much. A long life ahead of it. Drink now or hold. 98 points, non-blind.

1997 Tenuta San Guido Bolgheri-Sassicaia Sassicaia: Soft and velvety with round and rich palate. And long velvety texture finish. Flavors of plums, spices and sliced sautéed mushrooms. Some thought it was a little volatile but I liked it a lot. Starting come around now. 93 points, non-blind.

1996 Tenuta San Guido Bolgheri-Sassicaia Sassicaia: What a pretty wine with currants, minerals and hits of mint leaf. Full and silky with chewy tannins but with tobacco and mineral character. this is very cool and refined. Just right now. Bordeaux-like. Will live a long time. Drink now. 91 points, non-blind.

1995 Tenuta San Guido Bolgheri-Sassicaia Sassicaia: Balanced and fruity with mineral, mint and berry character. Medium to full body, with soft tannins and a berry and chocolate character. Very soft and round. Needs drinking now. 88 points, non-blind.

1994 Tenuta San Guido Bolgheri-Sassicaia Sassicaia: Love the berry and mint aromas with hints of minerals. Full-bodied, with chewy tannins but plenty of currant and leafy character. Medium finish. Holding on beautifully. Drink now. 90 points, non-blind.

1993 Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia: A bit mushroomy with berry and cherry character, but then opens to berry and currants with a slightly cedary undertone. Balanced but a little short. Drying up. Drink now. 83 points, non-blind.

1992 Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia: This was served in magnum. It shows mushroom, berry and currant character on the nose. Medium body, with good berry and chocolate character. But finishes a little short now. Needs drinking. 84 points, non-blind.

1991 Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia: Hard to remember this wine when it was tasted on release, but now still shows good berry and mineral and meat aromas and flavors. Medium body, with soft tannins and a velvety finish. Ready now and still holding on. Not dry at all. 87 points, non-blind.

1990 Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia: This is super fresh with currants, minty, spearmint and plum aromas follow through to full body. Velvety and very, very long with beautiful fruit and soft tannins. Long and balanced. I like the super refined tannins. This will age many years but it is so, so good now. Love it. Better than I remember. 94 points, non-blind.

1989 Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia: A little sharp now with plum, cedar and tobacco on the nose and palate. Medium body, with soft tannins and a cedar, tobacco and berry aftertaste. Surprisingly good still for a weak vintage. 87 points, non-blind.

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. This has always been very, very close in quality to the legendary 1985. In fact, owner Niccolo Incisa della Rocchetta prefers it. 97 points, non-blind.

1987 Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia: Porcini mushroom and black cherries and black licorice. Full-bodied, with super soft tannins and a round and caressing finish. So much character and richness to the wine. Meaty and long. This is holding on beautifully. 92 points, non-blind.

1986 Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia: Mineral and berries and mushroom. Complex and delicious. Bull-bodied and balanced with silky tannins. Long and so flavorful with wonderful caressing texture. Gorgeous. It hasn’t changed in years. Fab. 93 points, non-blind.

1985 Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia: Currants, blackberries, black cherries and licorice. Mint too. So aromatic. Full and silky with a voluptuous style. So thick yet balanced. SO much going on. Layers of everything, just waiting to be discovered. It reminds me of 1959 Latour. There is so much love and sweetness here. This deserves its legendary status. Drink now and forever. 100 points, non-blind.

1984 Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia: This is rather thin and weedy, but has some delicate berry character. Still friendly. 80 points, non-blind.

1983 Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia: Currants, berries, treacle tart and sweet tobacco aromas. Medium to full body, with fine tannins and a long, balanced finish. There is very Cabernet character to this. A little astringent but the fruit brings it all together. Drink now. 92 points, non-blind.

1982 Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia: Round and seductive with lovely plum, chocolate and berry character. So young and delicious. Juicy, full and soft-textured. Long and beautiful. What a wine. Drink now. 94 points, non-blind.

1981 Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia: Fresh and minty with wonderful spearmint, berry, and mint. Full yet refined and balanced. So harmonious and delicious. Silky and interesting. Lively and racy. This has always been excellent every time I have drunk it. 93 points, non-blind.

1980 Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia: Spearmint, berry and mint with currant and licorice. Medium to full body with silky tannins and pretty licorice and aniseed flavor. Long and beautiful for the vintage. Surprisingly excellent. Drink now. 90 points, non-blind.

1979 Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia: A bit cloudy with cedar, mushroom and spice. Medium body, with some fruit but a little funky now. 84 points, non-blind.

1978 Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia: Full and velvety, but a little dry. Shows fruity and spicy flavors with grilled meat. A pretty wine but needs drinking now. 88 points, non-blind.

1977 Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia: Mahogany and dried mushroom with berry and currant character on the nose. Full and rich with mushroom, cedar and meaty flavors. Decadent and rich with soft tannins. Seems slightly volatile but beautiful. 91 points, non-blind.

1976 Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia: This is a little herbal and funky now but there’s still a little very good spearmint and berry character here. Medium to light body. Light finish. Good for a difficult vintage in Tuscany. Drink now. 83 points, non-blind

1975 Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia: This reminds more of a top California Cabernet from 1974. There is loads of mint, eucalyptus and currant character on the nose. It’s full-bodied with velvety tannins and a long flavorful finish. There is some true purity of fruit in the wine, even though it is a tiny bit rustic. Really just home winemaking at this point. Drink now. 95 points, non-blind.

1974 Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia: This is the last bottle in the cellar a little volatile and earthy with mushroom and berries. Some berry and cherry character on the palate. Balanced and refined but light now. 87 points, non-blind.

1972 Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia: This is so good, with lycee fruit, spearmint, berry and currants plus hint of parsley on the nose and palate. I love the nose. Full-bodied, with wonderful ripe fruit and spicy undertones. So much going on. A revelation. 93 points, non-blind.

1971 Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia: This is a little herbal and tobacco on the nose with hint of volatility. Medium body, with silky tannins and a spicy fruity finish. It’s on the way down now, but interesting still. 83 points, non-blind.

1970 Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia: Very ripe with spicy, berry and currants on the nose. Also lots of minerals with fresh spearmint and mint. Full bodied, velvety tannins with dark chocoalte and berry with lots of fruit. Balance. A rich and powerful wine. Little volatile, with an acidic edge, but who cares? 90 points, non-blind.

1968 Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia: This is beautiful and amazing with lots of berry and spicy character throughout. Full and luscious with silky tannins, it turns to cedar, berry and plum jam on the palate. What a pretty and impressive wine for the first commercial vintage of Sass. It was the point of departure for a very special, unique wine. 93 points, non-blind.

Dennis D Bishop
Shelby Twp., MI, USA —  November 7, 2008 10:42am ET
You lucky dog you! Fantastic report. Sassicaia is definitely one of my very favorite reds!
Roberto German
Rio de Janeiro —  November 8, 2008 6:54am ET
I agree through and through with your comments about 1985 Sassicaia, but having tasted it two years ago, I had the feeling it was unexpectedly still very closed.
Peter Chang
Hong Kong —  November 9, 2008 2:14am ET
I had the good fortune to taste the '81 and '85 side by side, and actually rated the '81 slightly higher...both were awesome wines.I tried the '70 this year and agree that the acidity was a bit high.
Mario Citriniti
buffalo,ny —  November 16, 2008 8:26pm ET
Sassicaia is my favorite wine. I have had the fortune to try different vintages and I agree with most of your comments. The one I can't forget is the 1988, even more than the 1985. I had at least 6 six-packs and it was always consistent. You were right:"The stuff that dreams are made of"

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