The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

Recollections of Sassicaia’s Maker

Posted on | October 5, 2015 | Written by Janice Cable | No Comments

Sebastiano Rosa before Sassicaia's barriques

Sebastiano Rosa before Sassicaia’s barriques

There is an unmistakable scent when wine ages. It’s a smell of ineffable purple, of life and wood and grapes and the alchemy of fruit becoming something else, something greater. The air of every winery I’ve ever visited has that certain aging wine odor, yet they are all unique unto themselves. The closest analogy I can think of, and this will make sense only to horse-lovers, is the scent of horse barns. Every horse barn smells the same, for each one is, after all, a mixture of the same elements. And yet, each barn is individual and, to a horse-lover, something beautiful. Such is the case with wineries.

This analogy makes the most sense when you consider Tenuta San Guido, makers of Sassicaia. Both horse breeders and winemakers, Bolgheri’s Tenuta San Guido owns every inch of its aristocratic heritage. In America, we tend to think of aristocrats as haughty and pretentious—and, certainly, some of them are—but Sassicaia has an intense comfort with itself. It needs to prove nothing to anyone, so it can be simple, beautiful, hi-tech, clean and quiet. It’s a winery of buffed wood or shiny glass and steel. The winery, begun as a foray into experimental wine culture Mario Incisa della Rocchetta, is all these decades later serious business, and its seriousness imbues the wines, which are products of careful study, ceaseless experimentation, and an indefatigable commitment to its grapes.

IMG_1360“Good grapes make good wines,” says Sebastiano Rosa, who was Tenuta San Guido’s Director of Communications when I visited. They do, indeed, but no matter how much the estate tries to play down its viniculture in favor of its viticulture, it’s still a place where wine moves from vat to barrique and barrique to bottle by forced nitrogen so that it isn’t harmed by pumping or mechanization. There’s a serene, spare confidence to Sassicaia, and it’s telling. It’s in the architecture of the buildings. It’s in the air of the tasting room. And it’s in the wines. You can taste the self-assuredness, and it’s comforting and starkly, unattainably beautiful.  These are fairytale wines. This is, after all, where the Super-Tuscan revolution began in 1964, and it remains the beating heart of this extraordinary shift in Italian winemaking.

IMG_1371Today, IWM’s eLetter presented one of the most fabled vintages of Sassicaia, the 1985. Most people will never taste this wine (I haven’t), but that’s okay. There’s always the estate’s Guidalberto or Le Difese, the estate’s second-tier and entry-level wines, and they’re entirely first rate.

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