Log In / Join Now

Thinking About Sass and Wine

Posted: Apr 24, 2009 1:48pm ET

Have I lived in Italy too long or something?

I am still suffering a little from the aftermath of a long wine tasting/dinner last night with some winemakers from Bolgheri, the Tuscan coastal region known for such great wine names as Masseto, Ornellaia, Messorio, and, of course, Sassicaia.

The winemaker for Castello di Bolgheri, Alessandro Dondi, invited me to the village of Bolgheri to join his small tasting group to taste (and drink) a range of Bordeaux, Tuscan and California wines along with some wild boar pasta and duck confit.

I brought a bottle of Pichon-Baron 1990, and they tasted it against a 1988 Sassicaia. I preferred the Sassicaia, but they preferred the Pichon-Baron. It’s sort of backward! Should I like the Pichon and they like the Sass?

Here are my tasting notes for the two wines:

1990 Pichon-Baron:
What a wine! This has always been an amazing wine with masses of fruit and spices with hints of eucalyptus and balsamic. Full bodied, and very velvety with lots of fruit and layers of everything. Rich and sexy. 98 points, non-blind.

1988 Sassicaia: This is a great bottle. Sometimes it’s better than the legendary and much more expensive 1985. It shows incredible length here. Lasts for minutes on the palate with currant, orange peel, blackberry and mineral. Full and very, very silky. It goes on and on and on. A wine that amazes with its length and class. 99 points, non-blind.

We also drank 1990 Sociando Mallet, 1990 La Louvière, 1989 Mouton-Rothschild, 1986 Ridge Montebello, 1986 Angélus, 1967 Mouton-Rothschild (dead) and 1989 Guiraud. We tried to drink a white Bolgheri wine from the 1939 vintage but it tasted like rubbing alcohol.

Anyway, it was a good evening and fun to compare tasting notes. I received an e-mail a little while ago from Alessandro saying how he now loved the 1988 Sassicaia. Maybe the Italians are starting to go along with their foreign friend?

Here is Alessandro’s email. I didn’t change any spelling or punctuation.

"Hi James!

already thinking back to the tasting;
minds of course at first on the closest San Guido,
'88, a wine out of time, a style that not one in bolgheri has followed;
an emotional wine, so true and clear;
early picked grapes to keep freshness, low alcool, and a balance on the fruit/acid
low tannins extraction (and that way for me different in texture of bordeaux) ;
far from jam and polenta;
i wonder how was just bottled, and so how has developed in the years;

a bientot, A."

Makes me think. Love the 1988 Sass.

Matt Scott
Honolulu HI —  April 24, 2009 9:34pm ET
What a night! How was the '89 Mouton drinking? Should I wait?
James Suckling
 —  April 25, 2009 3:07am ET
Yes. It was really youthful! Here is my unedited tasting note: What a powerful Mouton with layers of vanilla, dried currants, raspberries and flowers. Full and massive with big chewy tannins and a long, long finish. Huge wine. This is is so young still. It seems like a 2000. You still see the fresh wood. A monument. 98
Jim Mccusker
Okemos, MI —  April 25, 2009 9:02am ET
Sounds like a great night, James. My wife and I tried a more recent vintage of Sass during a wine tasting trip to Montalcino last May (can't recall the vintage - maybe 2004 or 2005). Whatever the vintage, it was a bit too youthful for my palate to fully penetrate, but I was curious if the winemaking style at San Guido has changed significantly over the intervening years. I've never had the privilege of trying an older vintage, but I have to say that the quality/price ratio of the one we tried didn't blow us away. (We welcomed in the first hints of summer here in Michigan last night with filet mignon on the grill and a bottle of 1999 Paul Hobbs Beckstoffer To-Kalon Cabernet. Very yummy, although that plus the 2006 Melville Pinot we had with our antipasta (also very good) is translating into a slow-moving morning...)
Scott Mitchell
Toronto, Ontario —  April 25, 2009 10:09am ET
Wow, what a lineup! How was the Guiraud? Don't have a lot of experience with Sauternes from the 80s, but I just picked some up and was wondering when to pop the cork on one.Thanks in advance James.
Johnny Espinoza Esquivel
April 25, 2009 11:26am ET
Now, that's what I would call a sexy line up and night to remember. I can not even imagine how can it be to have such a amazing wines from two of the most excelled wine regions of the world.

Thank you for sharing such an amazing experiences!Keep Up The Good Blogs!
Marcel De Vries
Netherlands —  April 26, 2009 4:57am ET
Hi James, I have still 5 bottles of the sass 1988. What is the best time to drink them. Now or can I hold them for more years? Have you open the bottle several ours before?
Joshua Kates
April 26, 2009 8:18pm ET
I always enjoy reading your blog, James.I'd be interested in hearing how the 1990 Louviere was doing, as I just picked up a couple of bottles. In its prime or past it?Thanks,Josh
James Suckling
 —  April 27, 2009 5:21am ET
Joshua. You should drink it my man. Here you go:1990 La Louviere: A little herbal but still holding on with plum and berry character. Medium body. Fresh finish. Drying a little. 87
Marc Robillard
Montreal,Canada —  April 28, 2009 8:48am ET
Need your help James. Though I do not want you to give me the rating before it is published, I would like to know your opinion of the 2006 Ornellaia. It has arrived on the shelves here and I am thinking of picking up 2-3 bottles to go with the other vintages I have. Based on the quality of the vintage, I am assuming that the wine should get a Classics rating but have yet to see your review.I know other have rated it very high.ThanksMarc
Ken Koonce
Dallas, Texas —  April 28, 2009 2:26pm ET
I feel your pain, James, having to choose which is best between a 98 and 99 point wine!
Francesco Degli Esposti
Paris —  May 1, 2009 4:47am ET
Morning James, how comes that anyone at WS has yet to taste Londonne,Mouline,Turque 2005 (already available in the market), 2006 and 2007 (already tasted by the competition)?
James Suckling
 —  May 1, 2009 5:59am ET
I have no idea. Better to ask Molesworth who covers the Rhone for the mag.

Would you like to comment? Want to join or start a discussion?

Become a WineSpectator.com member and you can!
To protect the quality of our conversations, only members may submit comments. Member benefits include access to more than 315,000 reviews in our Wine Ratings Search; a first look at ratings in our Insider, Advance and Tasting Highlights; Value Wines; the Personal Wine List/My Cellar tool, hundreds of wine-friendly recipes and more.

WineRatings+ app: Download now for 340,000+ ratings.