Monday, February 11, 2013

Beautiful Bolgheri by the Sea and Tasting Sassicaia

Jan 9, 2013 – We checked out of our hotel in Siena early so we could drive 2 hours through the Tuscan countryside to Bolgheri by the sea. Linda, our tour director, considered asking our bus driver to take the longer route via freeway to avoid the chance of people getting car sick again on the very twisting roads through the hills, but in the end everyone voted that we take the faster and more winding route past the ancient hilltop town of Volterra. The drive ended up not being as bad as we feared and we arrived at Tenuta San Guido, the home of the very famous Super-Tuscan wine, Sassicaia, a little earlier than our appointment – which made me feel quite relieved.

It had taken months to schedule our trade delegation appointment here, and I was fearful of any delays that could cause it to be canceled. However, we were greeted by the friendly, smart and energetic, Elena, who made us feel very welcome and many people in our group said this winery was the highlight of the trip.

Vineyards of Tenuta San Guido

Elena started with an overview of the vineyards and explained that though Bolgheri was a DOC on its own, they also had their very own Bolgheri Sassicaia that was granted in 1994. All together Tenuta San Guido has 77 hectares of vines, with the first cabernet sauvignon being planted in 1944; the first vintage for the market was not released until 1968.

They are located 10 kilometers from the sea, with the vineyards ranging from 36 to 60 meters above sea level. The soil is a combination of stones, clay, and sand. The term “Sassi” means “wines from rocky soil.” Most of the vineyards are on a north/south orientation in order to avoid the salty ocean breezes. The soil is rather rich, so they have had to use wide spacing and VSP cordon trellis in order to achieve the “power and elegance” they want in their wines. The average age of the vineyards is 30 years.

Winemaking at Tenuta San Guido

After reviewing the vineyards, Elena led us into the first year barrel room where we were all overcome with the sweet smell of aging Sassicaia in French oak barrels. Though we were not able to see the fermentation tanks, Elena explained that the grapes are first sorted before being transferred into stainless steel tanks where they undergo fermentation using natural yeast for around 15 days at an average temperature of 31C. Pump overs and delestage are used, and ML occurs in tank.

Next the wine is moved to 225 liter French oak barrels where it ages for 2 years in 20 to 25% new oak with medium toast. The wine is racked 5 to 6 times with no topping. The cellar has excellent humidity control so topping is not necessary. The wine is not filtered, and nitrogen gas is used to protect the wine when being transferred.

After the blend is assembled, it marries for one month in tank and 3 months in bottle before release. In general, Sassicaia should be saved for 10 years before drinking. Elena explained that Jacomo, their winemaker had just retired, so now a team of people under the leadership of Niccolo, the present owner, makes the wine.

Marketing of Sassicaia

Since the majority of Sassicaia wine is allocated, “soft marketing” was the term Elena used to describe their promotion methods. They do submit the wine to very high end auctions, and make sure to pour at key events such as Vin Italy. They work very closely with selected distributors within Italy and around the world. Currently they export 45 to 50% of their wine with the USA being the largest market.

Tasting of 4 Wines at Tenuta San Guido

We were honored to be able to taste 4 wines from this estate, with the first being the 2009 Barrua from their sister estate in Sardinia. Though I generally do not care much for the rough taste of carignan, this had to be the best example I’ve ever tasted. It was 85% carignan and 15% merlot and cab, and had a savory, dark berry and herb nose and palate, with fresh acidity and a long finish.

Next we tried the 2010 Le Difese, 70% cab and 30% sangiovese, and named after the wild boar tooth. It was a light and elegant drinking red which Elena said pairs quite well with the local fish in red tomato sauce.

Third was the 2010 Guidalberto, 60% cab and 40% merlot aged 15 months in French oak with a touch of American oak as well. Some people refer to this wine as a “Baby Sassicaia,” and I must admit it still needs some time to open. It had a beautiful nose, but was tight with dark berry, earth and a long finish.

The last wine was the 2009 Sassicaia, which exploded on the palate with rich plum, berry, and spices of nutmeg and pepper. It is 85% cab and 15% cab franc with good balance, softer tannins and medium-high acidity. I was surprised at how approachable it tasted, since other young Sassicaia’s I have tasted are often rather tight with strong herbal notes. This was full of fresh fruit and spice, and I wondered about its aging potential. Most probably because of its fruit-intensity, this wine was an immediate hit with everyone in the room.

After the tasting, Elena made arrangements for us to visit the Tenuta San Guido wine shop across the road from the winery. Here we purchased olive oil from the estate, and many people picked up a bottle of the Sardinian wine, but we didn’t buy the Sassicaia because we realized we could purchase it for the same price in San Francisco ($155) and not have to risk breaking it in our luggage on the way home.

Visiting & Tasting Sassicaia – A Dream Come True

For most people in our group, visiting this estate was a dream come true. The wines were spectacular, and everyone was charmed by Elena. Sassicaia is definitely a “bucket list” wine for most wine lovers, and this visit is one that all will remember fondly for the rest of their lives.

1 comment:

Brian Mack said...

Hi Prof Liz
Great blog posting! Tenuta San Guido is indeed on the bucket list of us wineheads. Good that you have been able to check that box!

Wonder if you can tell me if your tour was organised by a trade group or through a private group in Italy? Reason is I will be docking in Livorno next year on a cruise. I only have the one day and would naturally love to visit both San Guido and Ornellaia. Any contacts or info you feel able to share would be gratefully received.

I have great memories of a three day tour of Sonoma Valley nearly ten years ago. Schug and St Francis remain standouts. You are blessed to be able to live and teach there.

Brian McIntyre
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia