Posts tagged ‘sassicaia’
At VinItaly this April, I was able to taste several new releases of Bolgheri reds from the outstanding 2007 vintage. 2007 is being hyped as a first-rate year in many Italian wine regions and it is true in Bolgheri as well. This was a classic year, with more traditional weather than in more recent years. There was sufficient warmth, but it was spread out over the growing season, which had a few cool spells. This assured a good difference in temperatures between night and day so that proper acidity was preserved with the aromas offering greater complexity. Combine that with impressive concentration and you have the recipe for excellent to outstanding quality.
Bolgheri is best known for a few wines that are icons around the world, namely Sassicaia (Tenuta San Guido) and Ornellaia (Tenuta dell’Ornellaia). However there are now more than 30 wine estates in Bolgheri and while their focus is often on Bolgheri Superiore (priced at $70 and up) produced from Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and other grapes (as with Sassicaia and Ornellaia), there are some excellent wines priced in the $18-30 range that offer a fine sense of the area.
Here are notes on some the best Bolgheri reds from 2007 I tried earlier this year:
Sassicaia - Aromas of red cherry, blackberry and bramble; outstanding concentration; lengthy finish packed with fruit; lively acidity and outstanding balance; typical class and breeding. Best in 20 years plus.
Tenuta dell’Ornellaia “Le Serre Nuove” - This is the estate’s second wine and it is glorious – how impressive this wine has been in the last two or three vintages! Loaded with fruit – black cherry, black raspberry and black plum and a long, silky finish with polished tannins and pinpoint acidity. Gorgeous wine – so delicious now, but this only hints at what is to come – best in 12-15 years.
Ornellaia - Black cherry, red currant and vanilla aromas; excellent concentration; superb balance; lively acidity. best in 20 years plus.
Tenuta dell’Ornellaia “Masseto” - This is the most famous bottling of Merlot in Italy and one of the most famous in all the world. Simply put, the 2007 is a massive wine. Tremendous concentration, red cherry and red plum aromas along with lovely red rose perfumes. Amazing fruit persistence. A classic! Best in 15-20 years and I am probably being a bit conservative on that – it might still be drinking well in 2050!
Guado al Tasso - Ripe black cherry, sweet Damson plum and vanilla aromas. Excellent concentration; long, beautifully balanced finish; nicely styled with gentle tannins. Best in 15-20 years.
Argentiera Bolgheri Superiore - Black cherry, currant and tar aromas;medium-full with excellent concentration; very good persistence; a touch oaky, but otherwise nicely balanced. Best in 12-15 years.
Batzella “Pean” – This is a Bolgheri Rosso, not a Superiore, so it is lighter and more reasonably priced. Red cherry and red plum aromas; very well balanced with velvety tannins; very good acidity. Lovely wine – enjoy over the next 5-7 years.
Another entry in my Top 100 Italian wine producers:
TENUTA SAN GUIDO
Located in the heart of the Bolgheri district in western Tuscany, Tenuta San Guido is world-famous thanks to its most renowned red wine, Sassicaia. This blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc has become a highly sought after commodity ever since its debut for the public from the 1968 vintage; today it is one of the world’s most iconic red wines.
The property is owned today by Marchese Nicola Incisa della Rocchetta, who has succeeed his father Mario. The elder Marchese first planted Cabernet Sauvignon at his estate in 1944 and experimented for several decades with this variety. He correctly believed that this territory close to the sea was more beneficial for Cabernet Sauvignon (and later Cabernet Franc, both Bordeaux varieties) than Sangiovese, the dominant red grape planted throughout Tuscany.
Throughout the 1940s, ’50s and early ’60s, he continued to produce small amounts of Cabernet Sauvignon; after several years in the cellar, these wines showed marked improvement. Several of his friends encouraged him to release this wine to the public, which he did with the 1968 vintage. He named the wine Sassicaia or “place of the stones” for the local soil.
The celebrated enologist Giacomo Tachis was the winemaker of that first vintage and today continues his consulting work for the estate, while Sebastiano Rosa (son of Nicola) serves as everyday winemaker. Over the years, Tachis came about with his ideal blend of 85% Cabernet Sauvignon with 15% Cabernet Franc and today Sassicaia is the only wine in Italy with its own DOC designation.
Sassicaia is a powerful wine that like the finest examples of Bolgheri (Ornellaia, Grattamacco, et al) are not copies of Bordeaux, but rather bottlings that display the local terroir. The vineyards in Bolgheri are only a few miles from the Tyrrhenian Sea and the breezes off the water help moderate temperatures which in turn helps maintain very good levels of natural acidity; indeed Sassicaia has higher levels of acidity than most classified Bordeaux. This acidity translates into excellent structure, while the naturally high tannins of the Cabernet Sauvignon are ideal for longevity. The 1968 is in superb condition; even the lesser vintages of Sassicaia (if there are any!) drink well for 15-20 years.
There are some traditionalists in Italy that are not fans of this wine or any other Bolgheri reds; they moan that these wines are not Italian in style. They may be correct from a historical perspective, but tradition is a moving target. Sassicaia, perhaps more than any other Italian red wine over the last 50 years, showed the world what Italy could do in terms of producing world-class wines. Rather than label it as something different, it is best to think of Sassicaia as a complemenary wine to the great Sangiovese-based wines of Tuscany, such as Brunello di Montalcino, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Chianti Classico.
Tenuta San Guido also produces other reds from local vineyards including “Guidalberto”, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot; and “Le Difese”, a Cabernet Sauvignon/Sangiovese blend that is an fine value at $25 a bottle. Both are deeply colored with ripe fruit and rich tannins and are evidence of the quality of this estate. There are one or two other estates in Bolgheri that are as successful with their lineup of wines, but it was Tenuta San Guido that was the first to set the quality bar so high for this zone’s reds; today the estate continues its role as the leader of Bolgheri.
Located in the province of Livorno along Tuscany’s western border, the Bolgheri wine zone is one of the region’s most important and distinctive. While the other famous wine districts of Tuscany such as Chianti, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Brunello di Montalcino are based on wines made from Sangiovese, Bolgheri is focused on other varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, as Sangiovese is a supporting player.
GEOGRAPHY / CLIMATE
Bolgheri is physically quite different from central Tuscany, where vineyards are planted inland amidst rolling hills. Bolgheri is situated near the sea, as many vineyards are located less than three miles from the Tyrrhenian. While a few of the vineyards are planted at elevations of 500-600 feet above sea level, most are planted no higher than the 300-foot elevation.
This is a warm climate, although the hot temperatures during the summer are moderated by the sea. During the critical period of flowering in the spring as well as during autumn when harvest is approaching, the reflection of the sunshine off the sea helps warm temperatures as well.
The favored grape varieties in Bolgheri are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot along with Sangiovese and Syrah to a lesser degree. The DOC regulations for a Bolgheri Rosso are quite unique, with a minimum requirement of 10% Cabernet Sauvignon; there can be as much as 80%. The amount of Merlot and Sangiovese is up to 70%, while other red varieties can be as much as 30% of the blend. Needless to say with regulations such as these, the red wines of Bolgheri differ as to the style and blend preferred by each producer.
Note that a Bolgheri Rosso has until now always been required to be a blend. The DOC regulations are now changing so that a monovarietal wine made from grapes grown in the Bolgheri DOC zone can be labeled as such. This means that wines such as Scrio, a 100% Syrah or Paleo, a 100% Cabernet Franc, both produced by Le Macchiole in the heart of the district, will now be able to be labeled as Bolgheri DOC instead of Toscana IGT. (Several of the best estates of Bolgheri also produce a white wine, often made from Vermentino and/or Sauvignon.)
Leading estates of Bolgheri include the following:
- Tenuta San Guido (Sassicaia)
- Tenuta dell’Ornellaia
- Le Macchiole
- Guado al Tasso
- Guado al Melo
- Campo alla Sughera
- Tenuta dei Piniali (Tenuta di Biserno/Coronato)
- Poggio al Tesoro
- Enrico Santini
- Campo al Mare
The most famous wines of Bolgheri are the Bolgheri Superiore such as Grattamacco, Ornellaia and Sassicaia. These wines have shown the ability to age for 20-25 years and as vine age increses in this area, the wines will only improve.
While these wines have become world renowned and thus costly (more than $150 per bottle), there are many fine examples of Bolgheri Rosso in the $18-$25 range; these include wines from estates such as Guado al Melo and Campo Alla Sughera.
The quality of the red wines from Bolgheri is unquestioned. The debate continues on whether these wines are Tuscan in nature or not. Some believe they are not, as Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, two historically non-Tuscan varieties, are the focus. This has lead to a comparison between Bolgheri and Bordeaux. “The wines have similiarities,” says Lodovico Antinori, former owner of Tenuta dell’Ornellaia and currently owner of Tenuta di Biserno, located in Bibbona, only a few miles from Bolgheri. “But they have different personalities. The terroir here is not found in Bordeaux.”
The wines of Bolgheri have only been DOC-designated since 1994; the first commercial vintage of Sassicaia was the 1968. In just a few decades, the wines of Bolgheri have joined the ranks of Italy’s finest. They will only improve in the coming years.
BUYING GUIDE TO TUSCAN WINES
I have just put together a collection of my reviews of the latest wines from Tuscany. These reviews can be found in a special Tuscan issue of my newsletter, Guide to Italian Wines; this is a 30-page pdf document. This issue contains reviews of 50 different Brunellos from the 2004 vintage, as well as reviews of wines from six different estates in Bolgheri (including three vintages of Sassicaia), as well as 40 new bottlings of Chianti Classico, a dozen examples of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and even a couple newly released bottlings of Vin Santo.
The price for this special issue is only $10 US. I will email the issue to you upon payment (either check or Paypal), so if you are interested, please email me and I will reply with payment instructions. This is a must for a Tuscan wine lover!