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.