THE SASSY SASSICAIA
There are some ‘firsts’ in life that you never forget. It was almost a decade ago, my uncle had invited me for dinner to the Wentworth Club, a privately owned golf club in Surrey, UK. When he walked in, I noticed he was carrying a 2-bottle leather case, engraved with his initials, KP. As you can imagine, the club, being 90 years old and having an exclusive membership programme, doesn’t really have a ‘bring your own’ policy. But he was no regular member, and this was certainly not a regular bottle of wine as I soon discovered.
He told the manager, whilst adjusting his cravat, “I apologise, but this is actually your fault. There isn’t bottle of wine in your cellar that I would enjoy. Here are two bottles, one for us to have with dinner, and one for you.” Moments later the bottle appeared on
LITERALLY TRANSLATED, SASSICAIA MEANS PLACE OF MANY STONES AND REFERS TO THE GRAVEL-LIKE SOIL AT THE ESTATES IN BOLGHERI TUSCANY, ITALY
our table, along with a decanter. It was a 1998 Sassicaia. The first I had heard of this label but definitely not the last.
Literally translated, Sassicaia means ‘place of many stones’ and refers to the gravel like soil at the estates in Bolgheri Tuscany, Italy, where these grapes are grown. It is composed of 85 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon and 15per cent Cabernet Franc, and unofficially (not recognised within the Italian wine classification system) known as one of the ‘Super Tuscans’. Tenuta San Guido, the producer, was established by Mario Rocchetta in 1948, and the consumption of this glorious wine was strictly private at first. It was not until 1968 that the first commercial bottle of Sassicaia was sold. Today it has an annual production of 180,000 bottles and continues to grow.
The wine lessons I learnt over the course of our 2-hour dinner were exceptional by any standard. As I reached for the decanter my uncle asked, “Surely you’re not thinking of pouring it right away”? Of course I was. He explained that it needed to breathe, but asked me to have a sip right away. The beginning of a master class. It was delicious, a little heavy for me, with flavours of dark berries, smoke, and fresh leather, and looked like a glossy dark ruby red ink. Then I waited. And waited. Our entrée had come and gone. It was 45 minutes before I was allowed my next sip. Everything had changed. It was lighter and medium bodied, more peppery, with flavours of red berries now, still fresh on the palette, and a long warm finish. I couldn’t believe how beautifully complex it was. I managed to get in a few sips with my grilled steak and it paired exceedingly well. Although meats are the preferred match to Sassicaia, I wouldn’t hold back trying it with poultry, or even a tomato rich based pasta.
The next time I came face to face with another bottle of Sassicaia was during a ski trip in Megeve, France. I was excited, and relayed my entire Wentworth Club story to my friends in great detail, followed by strict instructions of how to drink it, of course. Needless to say it was a hit that night and on several subsequent nights.
Although numerous wines in the future came rather close, none could ever match my Sassicaia experience. A visit to the vineyards of Tenuta San Guido still remains high on my bucket list. If you can get your hands on a bottle, it is highly recommended that you don't let go. It is truly exciting and diverse.