Tentuta San Guido produces Sassicaia – Italy’s most famous wine. An icon from the Bolgheri coastline of Tuscany, made from Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, its rise to prominence in the late 1970s sparked the Super Tuscan revolution.
The story of Sassicaia begins in the 1940s when Marchese Mario Incisa della Rocchetta inherited the 7,500-acre Tenuta San Guido estate in Bolgheri, following his marriage to Clarice della Gherardesa. At this time, Bolgheri had no history of commercial winemaking and was primarily producing orchard fruit. A fan of Bordeaux wines, Incisa della Rocchetta sourced some Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon vines from a grower in Pisa and planted a small vineyard on the property.
He first started producing wine in 1948. Initially the wines were not positively received by the critics or professionals who tasted them, and Incisa della Rocchetta started to lose enthusiasm for the project. It was only years later in the early ’60s, upon re-tasting older bottles, that Incisa della Rocchetta's wine industry friends became excited by the potential of the wines grown on the property. This reignited his own interest, initiating the planting of a second vineyard, this time lower down the slope, where there were more gravel stones – similar to the vineyards of Graves in Bordeaux. This site became the Sassicaia vineyard – which translates as "the place of many stones". The first official Sassicaia vintage was 1968.
In 1970, Mario’s son Nicolò Incisa della Rocchetta connected his father with his cousin, Piero Antinori, and his oenologist friend, Giacomo Tachis. Although Giacomo never liked to be called a winemaker, preferring the moniker "guardian of the grapes", he made several important improvements in the winery. Tachis lowered yields by increasing the vineyard’s planting density and introduced temperature-controlled fermentation vats and, perhaps most famously, ageing the wines for a shorter period in French barriques. The new French oak replaced the old Slovenian barrels and went on to influence the whole region.
In 1978 three of the world’s leading wine critics of the time – Hugh Johnson, Serena Sutcliffe MW and Clive Coates – rated the 1972 Sassicaia the best wine out of a line-up of “classic clarets” in a tasting for Decanter magazine, beating 33 other wines from 11 different countries. From this point onwards, Sassicaia’s international and domestic reputation began its unstoppable upwards trajectory.
Perhaps the most influential moment in Sassicaia’s history is when Robert Parker awarded the 1985 a perfect 100-point score, describing the wine as “otherworldly”. The critic later went on to describe the wine as the highlight of his 40-year tasting career: “unquestionably one of the most compelling and dramatic Cabernet Sauvignons I have ever tasted”. Sassicaia had officially entered the fine wine world’s hall of fame. In 1994 the Sassicaia site was declared an official subzone of the Bolgheri DOC and established as a separate DOC (Bolgheri Sassicaia) in 2013.
Tachis consulted for Sassicaia up until 2010 when Graziana Grassini took over the winemaking, having worked alongside Tachis for many years. Monica Larner of the Wine Advocate believes Grassini has brought a whole new level of purity and precision to the wine.
From the 2000 vintage, Tenuta San Guido introduced a second wine called Guidalberto, a Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot blend; in 2002 a third wine, La Difese (a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Sangiovese), followed.