The Wine Advocate
The Tenuta San Guido 2018 Bolgheri Sassicaia
This is a classic vintage of an Italian icon now celebrating its 50th vintage. The Tenuta San Guido 2018 Bolgheri Sassicaia lays out a familiar blueprint that borrows from the proven track record of this landmark estate that extends into the hills just beyond the Tyrrhenian shores of Tuscany. This vintage is crystalline and pure in its delivery, and if you are familiar with previous editions, it is impossible to mistake this wine for anything but Sassicaia.
The growing season started off cool and wet but turned to warm and dry conditions comfortably before the harvest. Cabernet Sauvignon with Cabernet Franc in a supporting role deliver a graceful mid-weight texture that holds back style-wise in terms of phenolic density. The wine's careful balance is achieved thanks to the nuanced character of the fruit, the present acidity, the well-managed structure and the contained alcohol. The palate is lifted and bright, the finish is polished and long, and the wine skips over any heaviness on the mid-palate. The bouquet is especially intriguing with a very lively plummy fruit element that is enhanced by baker's chocolate, pepper spice, iron ore, caramel and pie crust. There is also a green character that adds positively to the bouquet with aniseed, tea leaf, soya, menthol rub and black olive. The fruit maturity is spot-on with no elements that feel over or underripe. Overall, the 2018 Sassicaia weighs in with a svelte frame and long persistence. Moreover, it is distinguished by the archetypal elegance and pedigree of the classic vintages of the past. This new release gives you much pleasure to await.
Tuscany’s Viale dei Cipressi (the road of the cypresses) is easily overlooked in a region packed with monuments of cultural importance and sites of natural wonder. Yet, a drive down the five-kilometer road flanked by 2,400 tightly lined cypress trees, so tall and abundant thanks to their considerable age, is always a stirring experience.
The road, officially classified as strada provinciale 16d SP 39-Bolgheri, is ribboned with undulating waves and dips in the pavement that you feel at the bottom of your stomach if traveling at the right speed. Flashes of sunlight peek through the wispy tips of the cypresses, and quick snapshots of the beautiful countryside appear between some of the larger gaps between the trees. The road links the Bolgheri castle and sleepy town center to the tiny Oratorio di San Guido chapel that is also walled in with cypresses along its octagonal perimeter. This is where the strada provincial intersects, with precise perpendicularity, the Via Aurelia, or the Roman Aurelian Way that has served as an artery of commerce and communication between Rome and France since antiquity.
The Viale dei Cipressi is one of those quintessential experiences in which the journey, even if only briefly, outweighs the destination. And, in these times of magical thinking in which so much strife and suffering surrounds us, there is comfort to be found in metaphors. The passageway, such as this magnificent road surrounded by its majestic trees, takes on special significance in these trying times.
A passage is a symbol of life and the many milestones accrued along the way. It feels especially fitting to consider the Viale dei Cipressi on this year as Tenuta San Guido, the celebrated wine estate named after the Oratorio di San Guido with its winery located at the western end of the cypress-lined road, celebrates the 50th vintage of its legendary wine Sassicaia.
Seen with a wider lens, the Viale dei Cipressi could represent the long road traveled by modern Italian wine and the forward trajectory of an enological identity that starts here, with a world-celebrated bottle made under the shadows of those proud trees. As I am often reminded: Sassicaia is the father of all vino italiano.
The first commercial vintage of Sassicaia was 1968, and the current release (reviewed here) is 2018. This blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc (usually played out in an 85/15 ratio) is named after the stones, or “sassi” in Italian, found in the historic vineyards located at the eastern end of the Viale dei Cipressi. Indeed, the entire production of Sassicaia from grape to bottle is mapped out along Bolgheri’s five kilometers of asphalt, from one end to the other.
“The 2018 vintage confirms how the number eight brings good luck to Tenuta San Guido,” says General Manager Carlo Paoli. “The 2018 vintage shows a consistent link to 2008, 1998, 1988 and, of course, the 1968 vintage that marks Sassicaia’s debut on the market.” He adds that “the seasonal trend of 2018 was truly perfect and paid the best homage to Mario and Nicolò Incisa della Rocchetta on such an important anniversary as this 50-year celebration.”
The Tenuta San Guido 2018 Bolgheri Sassicaia is an exciting and reassuring wine that brought a very happy smile to my face. I found the bouquet and the mouthfeel to be something of a homecoming or a return to the classic philosophy of the estate. In many ways, 2018 represents a stylistic intersection or convergence of the two previous vintages. The wine offers the precision and elegance of 2016 (which I scored 100 points) and the more cautious or tapered 2017 vintage (which I scored 94 points). I awarded the 2018 vintage a score of 97+, with an emphasis on the plus sign to underline the future aging potential of this bottle.
The Tenuta San Guido estate covers 2,500 acres of land with vineyards, equestrian paddocks and forests teaming with wild boar and other wildlife alongside brambly Mediterranean shrub oaks. The historic Sassicaia vineyard (originally measuring just two hectares) was planted in 1942, but the estate holdings grew in the 1950s and 1960s. Today, there are 97 hectares of vines, and most of the fruit is sourced from the Castiglioncello, Quercione and Doccino parcels. The Bolgheri appellation is celebrated for its rich soil diversity, and Sassicaia is drawn from sites with silt, clay, sand, gravel and alluvial deposits. A high presence of iron and manganese is reflected in the slightly mineral character of the bouquet.
The original blueprint for Sassicaia was created by Mario Incisa della Rochetta and Giacomo Tachis, and not much has changed over these 50 years. Fermentations are not especially long in stainless steel with frequent délestages and pump-overs. It ages for two years in Allier and Tronçais oak with medium toast and long seasoning. About a third of the barrique are third or fourth passage, adding to the careful integration of the tannins.
The 2018 growing season saw abundant rains between spring and summer, making for a challenging start. Those frequent rains and humidity alternated with sunny days and warm temperatures created the perfect conditions for fungal diseases. Many vintners in the Bolgheri appellation dedicated extra labor hours to managing this situation by tending to the canopy and eliminating weeds. Vineyard sites with looser soils and more stones proved well-draining and gave some of the best results. The season proved considerably warmer and drier in the final weeks before harvest, and this accelerated the ripening. However, the harvest came a bit later in 2018 as a result of the delays earlier in the year. At Tenuta San Guido, grapes were harvested two weeks later than average, and the excellent quality of the fruit was never compromised. To summarize, 2018 started off as a cool vintage but ended as a warm one.
“The Cabernet Sauvignon, and especially the grapes from the older vines on the highest hills in Castiglioncello di Bolgheri, reached a perfect balance in terms of ripeness,” says Carlo Paoli. Thanks to these conditions, Sassicaia celebrates its 50th vintage with the classic 2018 vintage. This is textbook Sassicaia, a wine with an infinitely complex bouquet, elegant phenolic weight, balanced acidity, moderate alcohol content (with a real value of 13.35% and 13.5% recorded on the label) and a great deal of potential for cellar aging.
Happy Birthday Sassicaia!