Tasting notes on the just-released Sassicaia 2016

The latest vintage of arguably Italy’s most famous wine is already receiving perfect scores. Wine Chap hops over to The Lanesborough to taste “Italy’s Bordeaux”

Sassicaia’s grapes grow on the slopes of the fortress of Castiglioncello
Sassicaia’s grapes grow on the slopes of the fortress of Castiglioncello

After last year’s much-vaunted 2015 Sassicaia release, the next vintage of what is arguably Italy’s most revered wine has a lot to live up to – but 2016 delivers in style, already receiving perfect scores and favourable comparisons to the estate’s bar-setting 1985 vintage.

Although it is a wine first and last, legendary Tuscan producer Tenuta San Guido’s Sassicaia has also become an iconic brand. “My grandfather had a private passion, which my father developed, but with the reputation of the wine comes a responsibility,” says Priscilla Incisa della Rocchetta, whose family can trace its Bolgheri roots back over 600 years. There is a great weight of expectation on the estate, with each new release an important ambassador for the region, and for Italy. But despite the global prestige of Sassicaia, della Rocchetta is as modest and diffident as her father before her.

Tenuta San Guido’s 2017 Guidalberto and 2016 Sassicaia wines
Tenuta San Guido’s 2017 Guidalberto and 2016 Sassicaia wines

“2016 is fresher and more elegant [than 2015], a more classic Sassicaia,” she says, citing a cooler August and greater extremes of diurnal temperature variation than the previous vintage. Those I tried at The Lanesborough in London with UK distributor Armit Wines were only bottled last month and are among the very first to be unveiled. 

Sassicaia has long been known in Tuscany for an unrivalled consistency of both style and quality, with impressively restrained alcohol levels across vintages. Evolution has come in the form of greater vineyard holdings and increasingly older vines, rather than in embracing any new-fangled winemaking techniques. “We have great raw material requiring little manipulation,” says della Rocchetta, “and Giacomo [Tachis – San Guido’s late, legendary oenologist] saw his job as an overseer to accompany the vintage, rather than tamper with or try to put his stamp on it.”     

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The 2016 has a textural elegance and intensity more akin to Bordeaux than Bolgheri. Well-delineated aromas of graphite and blackberry, cedar, rosemary and baked earth waft confidently from the glass. The palate is highly structured, with an aristocratic reserve and style – not showy but beautifully tailored and powerful. An array of dark fruits, herbs and spices are currently penned in by layers of dusky tannins and a lively vein of juicy acidity that draw the nascent flavours out to a fresh, balanced, gravelly finish. Like the best Médoc-classed growths from 2016, this compelling wine should be forgotten for at least a decade, ideally two, but I look forward to being around when the first bottles are brought back into the light.

Also just being bottled is the 2017 vintage of Tenuta San Guido’s Guidalberto, which always offers terrific value. Despite that summer’s heat, there is still the elegance and freshness one expects from the estate. The Merlot was harvested early and the Cabernet and Sangiovese in the first week of September. With over 100 hectares now at its disposal, Tenuta San Guido has designated specific sites for Guidalberto, rather than producing it just from the younger wines and others not selected for Sassicaia. This solar vintage is very supple and engagingly fruit-rich, with great warmth and spice.

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Tom Harrow is a fine-wine commentator, consultant and presenter. His Grand Crew Classé is the ultimate invitation-only club for fine-wine enthusiasts, with exclusive access to rare bottles and events around the world. Follow him on Twitter.

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