Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia 2015 Rates 97/100: But How Does It Compare With The 1985 Vintage, One Of The Greatest Wines Of The Last Century?
by Ken Gargett
Sassicaia is one of the most famous of all wines of Italy, and often one of the country’s very best.
Apparently, it was made many decades ago as a behind-the-scenes family effort in an attempt to emulate the great wines of Bordeaux. The first commercial release was the 1968, which created a bit of a sensation.
Italy has/had some fairly draconian wine labelling laws, and to make this wine in Tuscany, as a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc (usually an 85/15 percent split), meant to give up any proclaimed level of quality; it could not be considered as anything more than a basic vino de tavola (table wine) rather than the more highly regarded DOC and DOCG designations (there is now a separate category to cater for these wines: IGT or Indicazione Geografica Tipica).
Thus, Sassicaia became known as the first of a new group of wines to take the world by storm: the Super Tuscans. Tignanello followed in 1971.
The initial vintages were made by Marchese Mario Incisa della Rocchetta; his nephew Marchese Piero Antinori and his famed oenologist, Giacomo Tachis, soon became involved.
The vineyard source has been modified somewhat, but the hallmark concentration, saturated blackfruits, florals, and spices with perfectly integrated oak, is still evident. As is its extraordinary ability to age.
Perhaps the most famous of all the Sassicaia is the 1985 (I did hear a story about how the estate felt that was an outlier and that it was never aiming to make that style again – I struggle to believe this could be true as the 1985 Sassicaia is simply one of the greatest wines of the last century).
Sassicaia is first fermented in stainless steel before spending around two years in French oak, around one-third of which will be new. Production is normally around 10,000 cases, although the latest, the 2015, was reputedly more than 17,000 cases.
This means that sourcing this wine is far from impossible if you have the cash – the price is usually AUD$250 to AUD$350 per bottle, depending on local taxes.
The Sassicaia from the 1980s and 1990s were almost always stellar wines. To be honest, I wondered whether the crown had slipped a little in more recent vintages, perhaps relying on past glories, but the last couple of releases have put those thoughts to rest. Some brilliant wines have hit the market and none better than the latest, the 2015.
Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia 2015: recognized for what it is
This vintage was recognized by the American wine magazine Wine Spectator, giving it the Number One Wine of the Year Award. This created a little controversy, not least on an Italian site, Doctorwine run by Daniele Cernilli, who was rather miffed – actually extremely grumpy – at all the attention created by Wine Spectator when Doctorwine had previously given it its top award and it had not attracted similar attention.
One would think it should be about the wine itself, rather than those recognizing its quality. But each to their own.
I had the chance to try it recently, coincidentally a few hours before Wine Spectator made its announcement (but I have no issue at all with its rating – well deserved). It was one of the wines presented at the annual Cape Mentelle International Cabernet Tasting, now in its fourth decade.
This event attracts wine lovers from around the world and has done for years. A lineup of around 20 wines in total, in three flights and all blind, is served to those attending. The wines are all from the same vintage, on this occasion from 2015.
There will always be good local representation as well as a few from other Cabernet-producing regions in Australia, such as Coonawarra and the Yarra Valley. An occasional New Zealander, always some top Italians (almost always Sassicaia and Ornellaia, though on this occasion the latter wine failed to arrive), top Napa, and an array of top Bordeaux.
Wine professionals speak at the end of each set without knowing the identity of the wines, ensuring we can make fools of ourselves, but it is all in good fun. After the tasting, everyone settles in for a long lunch and the remaining bottles. Always a great event.
This time, among the very best wines were Stoneyridge Larose from Waiheke Island in New Zealand, Cullen’s Diana Madeline, Heydon Estate Cape Mentelle (Margaret River), Léoville Las Cases, Montrose (Bordeaux), Newton, and Spotteswood (both Napa).
My pick as the best of the day was the stupendous Mouton-Rothschild from Bordeaux (which one winemaker from France described as “Jesus in velvet underpants,” which we assumed was positive). The Sassicaia was a whisker behind it.
For me, the Sassicaia was brilliantly concentrated and balanced, with great length. A regal wine with warm earth, dark berries, chocolate, coffee bean, and blackberry flavors. The tannins were firm and powerful, but the length is what really stood out. A wine for the long haul. For me, 97.
Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia 2015: how does it taste?
The 2015 was a warm vintage but an exceptional one, and that is reflected in the wine. It is considered to have similarities with the vintage conditions of 1985.
Will it ever match the 1985? I’ve seen that wine twice, the last time a few months ago. Both times, it was 100 points standing on its head. An astonishing wine. Monumental. It deserves all the accolades it has garnered over the years.
As good as the 2015 is, it is unlikely to quite reach that level, although falling just short would still mean it is a truly magnificent wine. After all, if you are considered to be the second-best batsman behind the great Sir Donald Bradman, you are still something very special.
At the recent Fine Wine Magazine tasting of the great wines from the 1980s, the international panel of judges named the 1985 Sassicaia as the greatest wine from the decade with an averaged score of 98.4! We looked at nearly 200 of that decade’s great wines, so it had plenty of competition. But it was simply peerless.
Worth a spot in any cellar and be in no hurry to drink it.
For more information please visit www.tenutasanguido.com.