When Marchese Mario Incisa della Rocchetta married Marchesa Clarice della Gherardesca in 1930, her dowry included the 7,500-acre Tenuta San Guido estate. Nowadays, the estate is better known by the name of its world-famous wine, Sassicaia.
Located in coastal Tuscany outside the village of Bolgheri, production in the region traditionally focused on light, easy-drinking wines, designed to be consumed shortly after harvest. But the Marchese had grander visions for the region’s winemaking potential. He dreamed of emulating fine Bordeaux reds, and aimed to craft wines that would rival the prestigious Chiantis of the nearby rolling Tuscan hills, and the Barolos of Piedmont in Italy’s northwest.
Della Rochetta saw his dreams realized in just a few decades. By the late 1970s, Tenuta San Guido’s Sassicaia helped spawn the highly coveted “Super Tuscan” category. Sassicaia’s widespread critical acclaim also caused ripples that would change Italian labeling laws forever.
How did one wine make such large waves? Here are 10 things you should know about Sassicaia.
1. Sassicaia shuns tradition.
In 1944, della Rocchetta planted the San Guido estate’s first vineyard, Castiglioncello, with Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. It was a bold, unconventional move. Italy’s finest wines traditionally featured native grapes such as Sangiovese and Nebbiolo, but the Marchese sought the “bouquet” of Bordeaux wines.
2. The first vintages failed to impress.
Up to the early 1960s, Tenuta San Guido didn’t release its wines commercially. And the unsophisticated early vintages failed to leave an impression on critics, who were more accustomed to the light, local style. The majority of production was instead consumed by the family or left forgotten in the cellar.
3. The vineyard’s name is inspired by stones.
Located 650 feet below the Castiglioncello vineyard, Sassicaia is planted on a 30-acre plot of gravelly soil. Translating to “the place of many stones,” Sassicaia mirrors the Graves region of Bordeaux. (Graves also gains its name from its gravel-rich soils.)
4. Marchese’s son was just as innovative as his father.
During the late 1960s and early 1970s, Nicoló Incisa, the Marchese’s son, took an increasing role in wine production at the estate. Nicoló helped steer Tenuto San Guido to international acclaim by lowering vineyard yields and modernizing production methods. He also hired acclaimed winemaker Giacomo Tachis as a consultant.
5. French oak barriques bring balance.
Under the elder Marchese’s helm, the estate aged wines in 225-liter Slovenian oak barrels. The casks broke from the traditions of nearby Chianti, where large oak aging vats were commonplace. The highly extracted wines that emerged from the smaller barrels were hard and tannic. This character gave them great aging potential, but also meant the wines required extended periods to settle in bottle before they could shine.
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Excerpt taken from: VinePair
Author: Tim McKirdy