Tom Jones of the Whalley Wine Shop reveals how his love for Sassicaia began
This Tuscan wine is often described as an iconic, find out why
Sassicaia. The email lands in my inbox explaining that the 50th anniversary release of one of my all-time favourite wines is soon approaching. I only need to hear the name and fabulous memories and feelings of food, travel and wine come cascading joyously in.
‘Iconic’ is often overused when it comes to describing wines and in stark truth not that many can claim to justifiably hold the title. There are many ‘great’ wines. But iconic? Not quite. Sassicaia, however, is one of those wines. It truly is an icon.
I first discovered this wine when, as a young 20-something looking to develop my interest in wine, I used to avidly devour Decanter Magazine each month.
They ran a full page at the back called ‘Icon Wines’ It looked at great wines from all over the world from the last 100 years and picked an individual one each month to tell the story of. And this particular month the wine in question was Sassicaia 1985 – that choice resonated with me as that was my own birth year and at the time, I was working in an Italian restaurant so was fascinated by anything Italian food and wine.
I read the story, the history and the background and that was it…I was hooked. Despite never having tasted Sassicaia (never actually having seen a bottle of it in real life!) I swore I would one day try that wine.
So, what is the story of Sassicaia?
It involves a beautiful setting on the Tuscan coast, an ancient aristocratic family, and a humble Vino da Tavola (table wine) that took the rest of the wine world by storm.
Sassicaia is the name of the red wine made at the wine estate Tenuta San Guido, which is located near the small village of Bolgheri, near Livorno on the Tuscan coast in Italy.
The story revolves around Marchese Mario Incisa della Rocchetta. As a wealthy student in 1920s Italy, and with a great love of wine, the Marchese was naturally drawn to the Cabernet dominant wines of classical Bordeaux.
Having settled with his wife at the Tenuta estate in Bolgheri to pursue their shared passion of horse breeding he decided that he would also pursue his wine passion and plant some Cabernet Sauvignon vines to attempt to create a wine for his own personal enjoyment based on Cabernet, rather than the local Tuscan varietals.
For the next 20 years or so the wine remained just that, a personal project produced only for the estate and enjoyed by the Marchese, his friends and family.
Over time friends and relatives, primarily his son Nicolo and nephew Piero Antinori (of Tignanello fame), persuaded him to release it to the rest of the world and in 1968 the first commercial vintage of Sassicaia was released to great acclaim.
The first of the so-called ‘Super Tuscans’ was here and continues (for me at least!) to be the standard bearer.
However, it was in 1978 when the 1972 vintage of Sassicaia was ranked above many of the Bordeaux and the rest of the world’s greatest Cabernet wines that Sassicaia’s place as one of the true greats was cemented. It has continued to improve, modernise and maintain its quality since then.
The 1985 mentioned above is regarded by many wine critics as one of the greatest wines ever made. Closely rivalled by the 1988 vintage.
The ‘8’ vintages have always seemed to work for Sassicaia, and the 2018 vintage is initially very well regarded, possibly a classic, and highly anticipated. I, for one, am incredibly excited to taste this fascinating wine when it arrives with us from that wonderful estate buried in the rolling hills of Tuscany…
For a long time, the rules relating to Italian wine production were strict, controlled and, some would argue, slightly out of date.
In Tuscany, for example, a ‘Chianti’ or ‘Tuscan’ red could only include ‘native’ grapes and not international grapes such as Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon. When Sassicaia was released, as a Cabernet dominant red it could not be released under the higher classification it perhaps deserved but instead had to be categorized as a mere ‘Vin da Tavola’ the lowest category and generally viewed as inferior poor-quality wines.
Sassicaia spun that logic around and ‘Super Tuscans’ are viewed as some of the finest in Italy.