The history of Sassicaia in a historical letter by Mario Incisa della Rocchetta
Sassicaia 2018 turns 50 years old and we celebrate it with a truly unedited document
A legendary wine, the symbol of Italy’s winemaking renaissance, was celebrated with a big event held at Parma’s Regio Theatre. We are talking about Sassicaia, the great Tuscan red which, in 2018, turned 50 and whose 2015 vintage was acclaimed as the world’s best wine by all major wine guides this year. A symphony of taste which, accompanied by the Michelin-starred dishes of Enoteca Pinchiorri and Antica Corte Pallavicina, brought together a select audience of qualified guests to discuss excellence and taste the best of the “Made in Italy”.
The event’s host was a true wine expert, journalist Daniele Cernilli, also known as Doctor Wine. “Sassicaia- he explained- has been a biodynamic wine ahead of its time: experimental, even disappointing beginnings, and then a great history”. Born right “Before San Guido” and in the shade of Bolgheri’s celebrated cypress trees, Sassicaia is the fruit of the adventurous spirit of Mario Incisa della Rocchetta, the artisan-dreamer who never gave up, reaching an unprecedented level of excellence in winemaking, exactly as he had done with the legendary Ribot, the invincible racehorse of all time. From the Piedmont region to that oasis between the Tyrrhenian Sea and the hills, which the Marchese saw as a “tropical landing place”, the perfect place where he could make his dreams come true, as he himself wrote to Luigi Veronelli, in 1974, to convince him of the effectiveness of his enterprise. Following are some excerpts of this touching letter, which we are pleased to share with you:
You cannot believe how pleased I am to learn that you have shown an interest in our “Sassicaia” wine and that you have asked to taste it. I was informed that you have been sent two bottles and I am, of course, very anxious to know what your judgement is. I will attach more importance to your judgement than to that, unanimously in favour, of friends, acquaintances and customers. Piero Antinori, who informed me that he sent you, some time ago, a list of the grape varieties collected, over one century ago, by a great-uncle of mine in Rocchetta Tanaro, encouraged me to write to you to let you know why and how I attempted to produce a bottled wine such as Sassicaia here in Bolgheri.
[…] Well, the origin of the experiment dates back to the years between 1921 and 1925, when, as a student in Pisa and frequent guest of the Dukes Salviati in Migliarino, I drank a wine from one of their vineyards on Mount Vecchiano, which featured the same unmistakable bouquet of an old Bordeaux wine which I had tasted rather than drunk (because at the age of 14 I was not allowed to drink wine) before 1915, at my grandfather Chigi’s house.
[…] A few years later, I was able to get a number of French wine bottles, of fine vintages, including a 1924 Margaux (mis en bouteille au Château), which featured that same bouquet I had tasted in 1914-15 and drunk at last in 1921-25. […]. Since then, I have been determined to make a wine having that particularity […]. As soon as I settled permanently in Bolgheri, I searched for an area suitable for my experiment. […]
I remember that my Father, of Piedmontese origin, used to say that, in any other place in the world, a “governed” wine would go sour, just like in any other country in the world; […] Bolgheri’s wine was always bad, if not turned to vinegar, but, on the other hand, it featured a different fault every year: “This year, it’s a bit sparkling”, the cellarman would say; “This year, it’s mushy”, but nobody was able to explain the reason behind such variations. The only constant was that red wine always had a “salty” touch: because of the proximity of the sea, they said; which is the reason why mostly white grape varieties were planted.
Confident in the knowledge I had gained, I chose a plot of land at a height of 350 meters for my Cabernet vineyard ( a mini-vineyard of 100 vines), safe from the influence of the sea; and with a south-west exposure, for I had read that both the vineyards of the Côte d’Or and those of the Médoc usually had such an exposure. In the meantime, because of a stroke of luck, the Salviati winery provided me with a number of shoots from the Vecchiano vineyard, which I grafted onto my vines. […] Every year, in the month of March (when, here, wine is considered to be ready and drinkable), the local land agents and experts would agree that the wine was disgusting.
Feeling confused and humiliated by the experts’ certain knowledge, I dared not try again and I had literally forgotten about that wine. However, “defeated but not subdued”, I tried to vinify Canaiolo grapes on my own. And I put about one hundred bottles of the 1945 vintage aside. The result was amazing: after 15 years, the wine was excellent; after 20, very good; now, in my opinion, still good. At that point, I suddenly remembered about the Cabernet of the early years.
And so, little by little, timidly, I began drinking it and offering it to friends. […] At present, we have about 21,500 vines of Cabernet (partly Cabernet Franc, partly Cabernet Sauvignon), 3,500 of which in Castiglioncello di Bolgheri, at 350 meters above sea level, and 1,500 in another vineyard at 100 meters above sea level. […] 3,000 vines of Canaiolo spread over 1 hectare and another 3 hectares are planted with 6,500 Cabernet vines. […] The current number of bottles is the following:
1950, 130 / 1951, 5 / 1952, 120 / 1953, – / 1954, 95 / 1956, – / 1957, 130 / 1958, 56 / 1959, – / 1960, 65 / 1961, 23 / 1964, 25 / 1965, – / 1966, 50
1967, 200 + (in two varieties, one of mediocre quality).
In addition, 52 bottles of Canaiolo 1945.
I would like to apologize again for the length of this letter: its purpose, however, is that of getting you interested enough to come here in person- and this is a formal, official and cordial invitation- and see for yourself if any of the above-listed vintages are worth keeping; if the wine is “well-conceived” and if we should go on making it this way.
My very best regards,
M.se Mario Incisa della Rocchetta