Sassicaia 2008 – The Best in Years

October 27, 2011 at 11:24 am 4 comments

Sassicaia, arguably the most famous wine in all of Italy, is a wine unto itself – literally. One can say that as the wine has its own DOC – Bolgheri Sassicaia DOC – a status that no other wine in Italy has. Produced by Tenuta San Guido at its estate in Bolgheri amidst the famous “avenue of cypresses,” Sassicaia is a wine that has been a true trailblazer.

The history of Sassicaia dates back to 1944 when Marchese Mario Incisa della Rocchetta decided to produce a novel wine at his Tenuta San Guido estate, which sits at an elevation of 1300 feet, only one mile from the Tyrennhian Sea in western Tuscany. Though warned by some that the proximity to the sea would make proper ripening difficult, the marchese sensed that the high elevation would mean more sunshine, a critical factor for maturation. He decided upon Cabernet Sauvignon for this land, as he believed the area’s chalky soil resembled that of Bordeaux. He called his wine Sassicaia, “the place of many stones.”

As Cabernet Sauvignon was a “foreign” variety to much of Tuscany, there was a great deal of skepticism that this project would endure; as a result, only friends and family enjoyed the wine for the first ten to fifteen years. But as the older offerings started to round out beautifully after a decade in the bottle, it was evident that this was a very special wine. Finally in 1968, winemaker Giacomo Tachis released the wine to the market where it was greeted with unanimous praise from media and consumers alike.

Sebastiano Rosa, current winemaker of Sassicaia (Photo ┬ęTom Hyland)

Over the years a few changes were made by Tachis to the wine, such as fermentation in steel tanks instead of wood; also 15% Cabernet Franc has been introduced into the blend. Current winemaker Sebastiano Rosa has pretty much kept the course over the past decade and the wine is as powerful and complex as ever. It is one of the world’s most celebrated wines; with each vintage anxiously awaited by wine lovers everwhere; in fact, during my most recent visit to the estate, Rosa told me that “even airline stewardesses know Sassicaia!”

As for the current 2008 bottling, I tasted the wine with Rosa at the estate in early 2010 after it had been bottled, but a year before its release. I was greatly impressed by the overall balance and structure of this wine then and am even more of a fan now. The 2007 and soon-to-be released 2009 are also stunning wines and are more full-bodied on the palate; certainly there were be many who prefer these two vintages. But for me, there are two principal factors that make the 2008 a great bottling: the finish, which is extremely long with outstanding persistence and the pinpoint acidity. When I write that the 2007 and 2009 are bigger wines, well it’s all relative, as even the lightest example of Sassicaia is a powerhouse of a wine. So with the 2008, you not only have the depth of fruit you expect, you also have a wine with marvelous structure as well and one that I think is even better balanced than those other two vintages.

Of course the 2008 received a Tre Bicchieri rating from Gambero Rosso and a cingue grappoli rating from Duemilavini, the annual guide of the Association of Italian Sommeliers. News of this in Italy is about as surprising as learning that the sun rises in the east. So Sassicaia is a superb wine every year. It’s just that the 2008 is an extraordinary wine, one of the three finest releases of the decade, along with the 2001 and the 2004.

Sassicaia is imported into the United States by Kobrand Corporation.

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4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Gerald Weisl, wine merchant  |  November 4, 2011 at 5:47 pm

    Tom, I’ve long been an aficionado of Sassicaia, but when I paid $150, or so, for a bottle of the 2002 vintage, I dropped out of the fan club. The wine, from a difficult vintage, should have been, in my view, declassified and they should have “skipped” bottling the wine under the main label.

    If you ask Sebastiano he will admit it was a challenging vintage, but he is willing to defend bottling the wine as “Sassicaia” and charging the usual hefty price.

    It betrays the trust the consumer has (or had) in the label, especially since the price tag was as high as ever at that point.

    I don’t find the wines from this decade to be as impressive as the wines made in the late 1970s, 1980s and 1990s.

    Perhaps my perspective has changed and other wines from the Bolgheri region are simply more showy and more complex?

    • 2. tom hyland  |  November 4, 2011 at 6:51 pm


      Thanks for your intelligent and enlightening comment.

      You are not the only one to offer an opinion preferring older vintages of Sassicaia. I never did try the 2002 and as it was a “challenging” vintage, perhaps it wasn’t up to the usual standards.

      Sometimes a famous wine such as this is highly rated because of its status and past glories. I still find the wine to be rather special. What I loved about the 2008 was that it had better structure than several recent vintages. This was a wine with beautiful acidity that had finesse, while still being a full-bodied wine. This was not as powerful as 2007 or 2006, so that’s why i liked the wine better.

      • 3. Robert Kennedy  |  December 2, 2011 at 4:55 am

        Hello guys. I am an expat living in Italy Ravenna, Italy and recently took part in a 2007 Bolgheri wine tasting. The bottles we tasted are listed below:

        Antinori Bolgheri Superiore Guado al Tasso 2007
        Podere Sapaio Bolgheri Superiore Sapaio 2007
        I Luoghi Bolgheri Superiori Campo al Fico 2007
        Tenuta San Guido Bolgheri Sassicaia 2007
        Campo alla Sughera Bolgheri Superiore Arnione 2007

        It was my first go around with Bolgheri as I am, to say the least, a wine neophyte (well at least as far as wine tasting is concerned). It was a blind tasting and at the end of the day, and quite surprisingly to me, the Bolgheri Sassicaia was one of the least favorites. The overwhelming favorite was Sapaio with Guado al Tasso coming in a close second. When one considers the cost of the Sassicaia in comparison to the others it kind of makes you wonder, doesn’t it????

      • 4. tom hyland  |  December 2, 2011 at 11:32 am


        Thank you for your interesting comments. It’s nice to know you’re a follower of my blog.

        As for the tasting you mentioned, these things mean whatever one wants them to mean. If the Sassicaia finished toward the bottom of the group, so be it. It may mean only that the people in this group (you didn’t say how many) preferred a more drinkable wine than Sassicaia. Certainly, this wine is best judged after 15-20 years following its release, especially in a year such as 2007, where the wine is huge. (The 2008 which I prefer, is a bit lighter, with higher acidity). The Guado al Tasso is always a favorite of mine and is also a full expression of Bolgheri, though it is always lighter than the Sassicaia.

        Wines change from month to month and even sometimes from day to day. Sassicaia is a great wine and the price reflects that. I’m all for people expressing their opinions, especially as wine is a personal sensory experience. But the bottom line for me is not rating a wine against other wines of its type, but tasting the wine on its own and judging it for what it is.

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