This morning marks the release of Sassicaia 2017, the prodigious Italian powerhouse. The 2017 vintage in Italy was not an easy one for winemakers, bookended by frost, then drought. This resulted in a small crop, but wine with good concentration and tannin ripeness. The vintage cannot live up to the epic 2015 and 2016, which were always going to be hard acts to follow. However, Sassicaia with its exceptional terroir and savoir-faire managed conditions brilliantly. Their historic vineyards Castiglioncello, Quercione and Doccino are sited on the back hill of Bolgheri, with higher elevation than other properties, which provides cooler night temperatures. Their old vines, whose roots system extend deep and wide provide water access even in droughts. In 2017 Sassicaia harvested early, thereby avoiding the risk of jammy flavours and producing a very fine wine in 2017. Monica Larner of The Wine Advocate has awarded it 94 points, James Suckling 95-96 saying that it ‘shows focus and finesse with dark berries, currants and a light rosemary character. Full-bodied, refined and focused. Serious.’ Finally, Antonio Galloni of Vinous who says ‘The 2017 Sassicaia is a wild, exotic beauty. Sumptuous and flamboyantly ripe, the 2017 captures all the personality of the year in spades. Super-ripe red cherry, pomegranate and spice notes all flesh out in this curvy, racy beauty from Tenuta San Guido.’
Since their release the 2015 has increased 77% in price and the 2016 89%, adding greater demand and cachet to what was already one of the most in-demand wines in the world. Indeed, over the last five years, Sassicaia has seen its average price increase 70% over the last 15 vintages. We have previously projected it would achieve an average market price of £1,000 per case of six by 2025, though recent uber vintages have accelerated this. The 2017 releases today £850 per case of six or £1,700 per case of 12, marking a 34% increase on last year. It marks a clear change in strategy from the Estate, who clearly have taken note of the rising prices on the secondary market. Our advice as always is to secure an allocation, buy Sassicaia perennially and let it adorn one’s cellar. It is one of the great wines of the world and is only getting more and more expensive to buy on release and on the secondary market.
The Sassicaia Estate is situated near the Tuscan coast (Bolgheri) and has been owned by the Incisa family since 1800. It was Leopoldo Incisa’s writings on vines and wines that inspired his great grandson, Mario Incisa della Rocchetta, to plant the Sassicaia vineyard on his wife’s Estate, Tenuta San Guido. It is rumoured that he planted vines originally purchased from Chateau Lafite Rothschild. The first Cabernet Sauvignon vines were planted on land in Tenuta San Guido in 1940 and all the wine produced for the next 20 years remained under the ownership of family and close friends. The 1968 wine was the first vintage to be produced commercially.
The name Sassicaia comes from the Italian word for stone (sasso) and its meaning can be summed up as stony fields. The vines are protected from sea breezes by the Tenuta San Guido castle and the south-west facing hill they are planted on. There are three vineyards on the Estate: Castiglioncello – the original plot of land (1.5 hectares), Di Sotto (13 hectares) boasting clay soil and 40 year old vines and the Aianova (16 hectares) which provides well drained soils of a similar age. Each plot is crushed and fermented separately in steel tanks at 30 degrees for around two weeks and then blended before ageing in oak. Historically they were aged in 60% French and 40% Slovenian oak. Today, however, all barrels are French, 30-40% new oak and aged for 24 months.
The Estate insists that it is the Cabernet Franc that is able to achieve full ripeness year on year and provides that unique finesse and famous longevity. In their youth the wines are ripe, rich, opulent and layered with black fruits, cherries, spices, minerals, herbs, new leather, caramel, smoke and toast. With age; sweet fruit, tobacco, cedar, porcini mushrooms, liquorice and flowers whilst maintaining a rich body with delicate tannin and a wonderful balance of masculinity and femininity.
In addition, we are very pleased to be able to offer their second wine, Guidalberto, which releases a year ahead of Sassicaia. As such, today’s release is the exceptional 2018, which is yet unscored. The 2016 vintage in Tuscany, which we will also be covering this year, is a very good vintage. Guidalberto is aged for 15 months in French oak barriques, with a small element of American oak and then three months in bottle before being released onto the market. Guidalberto’s blend is 60% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40% Merlot. Sassicaia’s is 85% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Cabernet Franc but aged longer for 24 months in French barrique and six months in bottle.