Recently we talked about one of the most iconic wineries in the Italian Toscana, Tenuta San Guido, producer of the incredible Sassicaia wine. Today we will talk to the winemaker behind this wine, Marchese Nicolò Incisa della Rocchetta.
Buongiorno, and thank you for your collaboration. If we look for a wine representing what’s a Super Tuscan wine, Sassicaia always comes to mind. How is it being the creator of such wine with almost 50 vintages behind?
Although Sassicaia is often referred to as “Super Tuscan”, one must consider that this wine was born at a time when in the Bolgheri area there were no appellations. Super Tuscan defines a wine that is produced within a certain appellation (for example Chianti Classico) but produced outside the rules of the appellation itself (using French grape varieties in the blend for example). For this reason, Sassicaia was never really a Super Tuscan in the original sense of the term. Nonetheless, we are pleased to be considered one of the first Super Tuscan. In fact, the story of Sassicaia is a bit different because when my father Mario Incisa started experimenting with Cabernet Sauvignon vines in Bolgheri during the 1940’s, he was considered a pioneer of that area. He was the first to understand and believe that the territory of Bolgheri had great potential for growing good quality wines, and was especially suited for Cabernet grapes. It begun like a bet or a challenge that my father pursued, following his inspiration. This has turned to be a surprisingly successful project. My role was then to carry on what my father had achieved continuing to follow his strong intuitions, vocations and teachings, trying to keep the quality high and the production philosophy unchanged.
What do Super Tuscan wines have to make them so distinct?
I think the freedom to chose the grape variety that better adapt to the type of “terroir” of production. The clones that can better benefit from the influence of the surrounding territory. It is in particular this characteristic, as well as the strong territorial identity the express, that have made them so recognizable and appreciated in the world.
What is the main characteristic you want Sassicaia to offer?
Primarily the elegance and the gentle approach, which is never aggressive on the palate. But at the same time the aromatic structure that reflects the territory situated next to the sea, surrounded by hills and the Mediterranean forest that grows all around our vineyards. This allows the wine to present a very distinctive style, recognizable across time.
You use Cabernet Sauvignon in all your three wines and then Cabernet Franc for Sassicaia, Merlot for Guidalberto and Sangiovese for Le Difese. Why the blend is like this, and not for example using Merlot for Sassicaia?
The experience with the Merlot started later with the first vintage of Guidalberto in the year 2000. We were also encouraged by the success that this grape variety achieved in the Bolgheri area, with the birth of very important wines around that time. We have never used Merlot for Sassicaia because I did not want to change the identity of the wine created by my father that had already existed for 50 years. Also I believe that Cabernet is more suited for Sassicaia especially for the elegance of the tannins and the touch of minerality that this grape is able to convey and which is perfectly in line with the production philosophy of Sassicaia. Both aspects that I was never willing to change for the Sassicaia blend.
Besides the difference in ageing in the three wines, what do the other varietal in each wine give to the Cabernet?
Neither my father nor myself were particularly interested in mono-varietal wines. We believe in fact that the elegance and refinement of the Cabernet Sauvignon was well complemented with the Cabernet Franc. This grape variety adds a soft and balanced yet more complex structure and extraction to the wine, enriching the blend without changing exceedingly its nature and identity.
In the case of Guidalberto the Merlot contributes to give a different character to the wine, by adding more structure, while keeping the balance with an elegant palate. This is a characteristic that we want to achieve in all three wines.
Also the 30% Sangiovese added in Le Difese is intended to give more structure to the blend while making it different from the other two blends. Le Difese is a wine conceived to be drank young, fresh and easy to combine with different type of food.
Do you use the same percentage in the blend year in and year out? How do you choose the percentage of each varietal?
Generally yes, although this depends also on the climatic evolution of each year and on the productivity of the vineyards. The blend is already set thought the ampelographic selection we have in the vineyards, but of course the further and more accurate selection that is done at the moment of the production, can bring some slight difference in the percentages.
What’s the influence of soil and climate in your vineyards?
Like my father often used to say, it is Nature that is the maker of the wine and the territory will always be a strong source of inspiration. The vineyards are planted on plots of land of alluvial origin, with different and composite morphological characteristics, as well as with a strong presence of limestone. These areas are also rich in rocks, gravel and clay as well as iron oxide. All these elements make our soils similar to the Graves in Bordeaux which are particularly suited for the cultivation of Cabernet. The proximity to the sea, the effect of light and heat due to the sun’s reflection on the water, the hills on which the vineyards are planted, between 100 and 300 meters above sea level facing West/South-West, that also offer shelter from the cold winter winds, and the mediterranean forest surrounding the vineyards, are all elements that influence the wines with scents and aromas. At the same time, the evening humidity cools down and moists the vineyards during the hot summer nights, helped by the fresh marine breezes. These are all optimal conditions that influence and characterize the grapes growing in this area.
How do they transmit their characteristics to the wines?
I would say that it is all based on these aspects of the Terroir described above. The cabernet vines and grapes, more than any other, are able to interact with the pedologic aspect of the soils, as well as with the microclimate. As a result the territory where the grapes come from always leaves a clear mark in the wines musts produced in the area.
What makes your wines different from other Super Tuscan wines?
I believe that each wine is born out of a particular territory and also from the hands of the person who harvests its fruits. I think that these characteristics are always recognizable in our wines.
What part of your job you enjoy more? The vineyards, the winery…
I enjoy all parts of my job, but especially the work in the vineyards, that is where the product, the wine, originally is born.
Which recent vintage are you more proud of?
It is a hard question, a bit like asking a parent what child one would be more proud of! I am proud of different vintages for different reasons. Maybe if we take the older vintages I would say 1988, still young today and still one of my favorites. Regarding the new vintages, probably 2014, which was considered by many a difficult year, while we managed to produce a very classic Sassicaia, of which we are very proud.
What’s your winemaking philosophy?
I have always followed and maintained the teachings of my father and also of the precious collaboration of Giacomo Tachis, with whom I have had the chance to work for a long time. I owe to them both the passion for wine, for the territory, and the appreciation of our particular style of production.
Do you have a personal touch in your wines?
Each wine has its own touch and our role is to preserve it and not change it. Personally I prefer to let the territory give its “personal” touch to our wines.
Which kind of wine you like to drink when you are not working?
I like very much drinking also white wines, especially Sauvignon Blanc from Alto Adige. As for the reds I also very much enjoy drinking a good wine from Bourgogne.
Thank you very much, Marchese.
Photos © Tenuta San Guido