Last week the results of the annual Wine Spectator Top 100 were finally announced. Along with Decanter, Wine Spectator is considered the world’s foremost wine magazine, so its annual list, now in its 30th year, is highly anticipated.
I always enjoy seeing the top 10, many of which unfortunately don’t make it to Australian shores. Often you’ll find obscure names, but this year’s top 10 had a few you’d recognise including the winner, international superstar Tenuta San Guido with its Sassicaia 2015, a world-renowned and highly sought after wine. Just getting on the Top 100 list is a massive achievement, so to be awarded top wine is a stunning result.
Sassicaia means ‘place of many stones’ or ‘stony ground’ and is named after the estate’s gravely soil, much like that found in Medoc, where many of the world’s finest Cabernets are made. The Tenuta San Guido estate is located in Bolgheri, a town not far from the coast in the famous region of Tuscany.
The Marchese Mario Incisa della Rocchetta came to the magnificent estate through his wife Clarice, whose family has owned it since the early 1800s. Aside from wine, the estate also produces olive oil and several crops including wheat. It also runs livestock, breeds thoroughbred horses and has a nationally significant bird sanctuary. Mario recognised the potential of the site to make a Bordeaux inspired wine and in 1944 planted several Bordeaux varieties, including Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. Mario spent the next 20 years making small quantities of his Bordeaux blend, keeping it for private family use. Importantly, during this time Mario was also able to see his revolutionary wine evolve with age, which it did with great success.
A big step came in 1971 when, after years of encouragement from family and peers, Mario finally decided to commercially release the 1968 vintage. As there was no appellation for Bolgheri, the wine was forced to be labelled as Vino da Tavola (table wine) which the Oxford Companion to Wine eloquently describes as “the lowest of the vinous low.” Inspired by Sassicaia, Marchese Piero Antinori, a cousin of Mario, soon followed suit, releasing a 1971 vintage blend of Cabernet and Sangiovese, which he named Tignanello. While his wine was within the Chianti Classico DOC, it was non-compliant with the appellation’s strict varietal rules, so it too had to be labelled as a Vino da Tavola.
In 1978 Decanter Magazine conducted a Cabernet tasting, judged by a star-studded tasting panel that included Hugh Johnson, Serena Sutcliffe and Clive Coates. Against a line-up of top notch Cabernets from around the world, including Bordeaux, the 1975 (some sources say 1972) Sassicaia took out top spot. But an even bigger breakthrough came when Robert Parker rated the 1985 Sassicaia 100 points, saying that he often mistook it for the 1986 Mouton Rothschild. The Italian bible of wine, Gambero Rosso did a vertical tasting of Sassicaia (1969-2013) in 2017 and even after all this time they gave the 1985 a score of 99 points. If anyone is lucky enough to have a bottle of the 1998 in their cellar, it scored 100 points!
Sassicaia became acknowledged as the first of what, by the 80s, had became known as the Super Tuscans - a term used to distinguish them from the inexpensive wines usually associated with the term Vino de Tavola. By the time this term took hold, many of the Super Tuscans were commanding higher prices than Italy’s top appellation (ie. DOCG) wines.
In an effort to bring the successful Super Tuscans back under the umbrella of Tuscan wines, regulations were changed so that many would be able to comply with the less restrictive IGT Toscana (IGT took over from Vino da Tavola in 1994). Despite this, the term Super Tuscan remains and, aside from Sassicaia and Tignanello, also includes Solaia, Ornellaia and Masseto. In 1994 DOC Bolgheri was created for red wines (weirdly, there had been a DOC for white and rosé since 1983) and in a unique step, Sassicaia was also granted its own official sub-zone, Bolgheri-Sassicaia DOC, the only estate in Italy to enjoy such a privilege.
These days Sassicaia is considered not only one of Italy’s best, but as this award shows, one of the world’s greatest wines.
Just FYI - Tenuta San Guido has made a second wine, Guidalberto since the 2000 vintage. Most recently it’s been a blend of 60% Cabernet and 40% Merlot. A third wine known as Le Difese, has also been made since the 2002 vintage. It’s a bend of 70% Cabernet and 30% Sangiovese.
The 2015 Sassicaia is a blend of 85% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Cabernet Franc. The fruit was handpicked and manually sorted, before being fermented using native yeasts. Post ferment the wine was aged for 24 months in French oak barriques (225L), one third of which were new.
And here are the reviews:
“Rich and concentrated, this red features blackcurrant, blackberry, violet, mineral and spice flavors. Dense yet lively, structured yet impeccably balanced, with vibrant acidity driving the long, fruit-filled aftertaste. The oak is beautifully integrated. Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. Best from 2023 through 2042.” 97 points, Bruec Sanderson, Wine Spectator, May 2018.
“Having followed this wine's evolution in barrel for the past few years, it is an honor to evaluate the final product. This Sassicaia has blossomed since my previous encounters with it as a young, awkward adolescent. The long-awaited 2015 Bolgheri Sassicaia represents a tremendous effort that comes together with seamless precision and focus. This is a confident and proud red wine from Tuscany. Starting with the primary material at hand, you sense the quality of fruit thanks to the wine's beautifully dark appearance and the rich texture it offers to the palate. The acidity is integrated, but more freshness still would have been welcomed in my view (and would also contribute to its longevity). The bouquet is amplified both in terms of volume and length. Its playlist includes dark berry fruit, spice, leather, licorice and roasted coffee bean. Yet the mouthfeel is extremely graceful and silky. The wine's undisputed pedigree is showcased on the palate. It should also be noted that this edition of Sassicaia feels more ready and open to me. It will age and evolve beautifully, but the 2015 Sassicaia can also be enjoyed in the medium-term. This wine is all about the here and now." 97 Points, Monica Larner, Robert Parker's Wine Advocate, February 2018.
"Love the aromas to this young red with blackcurrants, sage, cinnamon and five-spice character. Changes all the time. Full-bodied, dense and powerful with a ripe and rich tannin backbone that gives form and beauty to the ripe and beautiful fruit. Tight and very long. Approachable now but will reward more in five to six years. A classic Sassicaia.” 98 points, James Suckling, January 2018.
"This iconic wine's blackberry, cedar and vanilla aromas fill the glass. The elegant, structured palate delivers juicy blackcurrant, black cherry, exotic spice, crushed herb and menthol flavors alongside taut, fine-grained tannins. It boasts a fantastic combination of delicious, ripe fruits, balanced by remarkable freshness and agility for the hot vintage.” 97 Points - Kerin O’Keefe, Wine Enthusiast, July 2018.
"This is certainly an exceptional Sassicaia, with a sumptuous nose of ripe, creamy black and red fruit with cedar and spice notes. The colour is by no means dark (as is often the case with Sassicaia), and the impression on the palate is one of controlled power underpinned by gorgeous sweetness and flowing elegance. This is a very confident wine with real authority and presence, beginning with a magnificent attack of rich cassis and ripe griotte cherry followed by cigar box and leather notes, and a long finish of savoury bay leaf and minerals. It's deceptively structured, the tannins wonderfully ripe, creamy and finely textured, while the juicy acidity also suggests that this wine has a very long life ahead of it. This 2015 exhibits everything that you'd want from Sassicaia - and more - because of its winning combination of winemaking savoir-faire, world-class terroir, old vine fruit, and an outstanding vintage. It is unarguably stunning.” 98 points, Decanter, February 2018.
"The 2015 Sassicaia is utterly fascinating, and may be the finest vintage I have tasted in the past decade. It begins to open with simply striking aromatics of ripe red and dark fruits, which come together with spices, tobacco, floral and graphite all taking shape. On the palate this shows remarkable overall purity, focus and balance with a gorgeous velvety texture and beautifully polished tannins making it extremely captivating, even at this youthful age. It displays remarkable precision and concentration, with fantastic underlying acidity providing wonderful lift, as well as a lovely sense of freshness leading up to the long, polished finish. This is already absolutely stunning, and it also possesses the characteristics, as well as the track record to age gracefully for years to come. This has the potential to become one of the all-time great vintages for this iconic wine." 98 points, International Wine Report, March 2018.
For a wine of this pedigree and quality, this is still ridiculously cheap. A top Cabernet from the 2015 Bordeaux vintage will set you back anything from $500 to $5,000 a bottle.
I can offer it for $299 a bottle (limited) Order here