The Original Super Tuscan Wines

Roberto Viernes
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Wednesday - May 07, 2008
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Super Tuscan Sassicaia
Super Tuscan Sassicaia

Super Tuscan is a term that has been bastardized quite a bit since its first appearance in the annals of wine. It first referred to a group of wines made in Tuscany from non-traditional grape varieties with certain winemaking methods that were unheard of for the time. The wines were a gargantuan leap in quality and character from what was the norm. Now almost everyone in Tuscany makes a “Super Tuscan.” But not much of them are really that “super.” They are simply Tuscan.

The “original” Super Tuscan is Sassicaia. It was the first Tuscan wine made entirely from the Bordeaux varietals of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. It was the dream and realization of Marchesi Mario Incisa Della Rochetta, who during the 1940s became well-acquainted with Bordeaux wines and believed that wines of the same quality could be produced in Tuscany using the same Bordeaux grapes and methods, in particular in the area of Bolgheri at his estate Tenuta San Guido. In 1944, he planted the first Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc vines to ever see the soil in this part of Italy. He used small French-oak barrels instead of the traditional large chestnut vats commonly used. The early vintages were kept only for private consumption, but 1968 became the first vintage commercially available to the world as the first Super Tuscan. And to this day, Sassicaia retains its command as one of the greatest of Italy as well as one of the world’s foremost wines.

I was recently invited to enjoy a wonderful dinner hosted by the very generous Tawfiq Khoury. He donated this dinner featuring the vaunted 1985 Sassicaia to the Rehab Hospital Foundation Annual Fundraiser Auction. The lucky winner was treated to a lovely dinner with not only the 1985 Sassicaia but the 1998, 1997 and 1990 plus a smattering of other great wines!

In the course of the dinner, the 1998 and 1997 Sassicaia were poured together. The 1998 was puzzling because it seemed a bit dumb. I tasted the wine some six months ago and this bottle was certainly not as expressive. It had a “quiet” nose of black fruit and light vanilla. It was rich on the palate, but not overly ripe. Perhaps it has entered an awkward phase and will require more time to liven up. The 1997 was quite evolved and seemed to be more like five years older rather than just one. The very open and complex nose boasts light hints of caramel, vanilla, dried black fruits and a touch of mocha. The tannin on the wine has softened and is quite balanced. It is more red fruit in the mouth with a long and sturdy finish. It was certainly more overt than the 1998 and is reaching maturity much more quickly. I speculate that it will hit its peak over the next three to five years.

The next flight with 1990 and 1985 Sassicaia was simply spectacular! They both were so youthful still, color and all. The 1990 had a BIG nose of super-ripe, cool black fruit brilliantly framed with spices and flowers. The palate is quite intense but not over the top, ripe but not jammy, with a very seductive coating texture. It has plenty of life ahead with at least another 10 years before readiness. As good as the 1990 was, I liked the 1985 even more. It is a seamless wine with added complexities and nuances above the 1990. Notes of cassis and anise jump from the glass with a silkiness and elegance of which anyone who makes Cabernet Sauvignon should be envious. The length of flavor in this wine is gorgeous. It is stunningly good and is also a decade away from reaching its apogee. This is a benchmark wine that shows just how super Super Tuscans can and should be.


Roberto Viernes is a master sommelier. E-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
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