There aren’t many wines with quite the cachet of the Super Tuscan Sassicaia. Fêted by critics, adored by the Obamas, Beckhams and the Clooneys – and sought after by collectors – it changed the course of Italian winemaking when it launched its first commercial vintage 50 years ago, paving the way for a new generation of bordeaux-style blends grown in a part of Tuscany hitherto only known for so-so Sangiovese.
Sassicaia is, indisputably, an icon – yet it almost didn’t see the light of day. “When my grandfather first began experimenting with Cabernet Sauvignon in the 1940s, it was only ever with the intention of making a ‘family’ wine,” says Priscilla Incisa della Rocchetta, the 46-year-old co-owner of Tenuta San Guido, the family estate in Bolgheri that makes Sassicaia. “When my father, Nicolò, suggested selling it to the public, my grandfather was resistant to the idea – he just didn’t think there was an opportunity for a wine like this.”
Incisa della Rocchetta’s father got his way, and in 1971 Sassicaia made its debut with the 1968. Classed simply as a vino da tavola (“table wine”), it was met with scepticism at first. But by the end of the decade, the buzz around this new breed of cab blends from Bolgheri had started to build. By the mid-’80s, Sassicaia, Tignanello and Ornellaia were widely dubbed the Super Tuscans. And, in 1994, Bolgheri’s reputation was cemented with its own appellation – and within that, Sassicaia was recognised with its own DOC.
Despite its success, Tenuta San Guido has always maintained an alluringly low profile. It’s not open to the public, and the estate does little marketing. And Sassicaia’s 50th anniversary year, by all accounts, will be no different. It’s not being marked with a special label or a new wine. Just the release of the 2018 – a vintage which Incisa della Rocchetta describes as fittingly classic: “It was a fresh, cool vintage, which is the kind of vintage we like – less about concentration and sugar and alcohol content, and more about finesse and elegance.”
Made from a blend of 85 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon and 15 per cent Cabernet Franc, the anniversary vintage has a wonderful vitality to it: vivid red and black berry notes, hints of herbs and citrus. The tannins are silky, the oak subtle, and there’s a slight salinity on the finish – regarded by many as a hallmark of its coastal terroir. It is, in a word, mouthwatering.
Sassicaia is renowned for its ageing potential – some vintages can go on improving for 20 years or more. Incisa della Rocchetta predicts that the 2018 will be one of those. “It’s still a baby at this point. Having said that, Sassicaia is a wine that can also be enjoyed young, because it is generally very well balanced. The number eight has always been a lucky vintage for us,” she smiles. “The 2018 represents us very well.”
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