Producer: Tenuta San Guido – Sassacaia

Region/Appellation: Bolgheri 

Country Hierarchy: Tuscany, Italy

Grape/Blend: Cabernet Franc – Cabernet Sauvignon

Food Suggestion: Beef and Venison

Wine Style: Red – Bold and Structured

Alcohol Content: 12 – 14%

Awards: TWS-BIWA, 201550 Best Italian Wines

Notes: Only wine from a single wine estate in Italy to have its own DOC. Indicative blend: Predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon with Cabernet Franc.


Bolgheri Wine

Bolgheri is a relatively young yet prestigious Italian appellation located in the Maremma on the Tuscan coast just to the south of Livorno, and named after a town in the north of the region. It is known mainly for deeply coloured, supple yet ageworthy red wines, usually based on the Bordeaux grape varieties. The winemaking zone features sloping coastal vineyards close to the Tyrrhenian Sea.

As recently as the 1970s, the area had little reputation for wine production, regarded elsewhere in Tuscany as something of a swampy zone producing fairly nondescript white wines and rosés, and better suited to other farming, in contrast to the prime Tuscan vineyards further up in the hills. Then, in 1978, in an infamous blind tasting arranged by Decanter Magazine, the 1972 vintage of a largely unknown wine called Sassicaia, made at Tenuta San Guido estate of the Marchese Mario Incisa della Rocchetta, beat a number of top Bordeaux wines. Wine had been been made at Tenuta San Guido in a rather rustic fashion for personal consumption for some years previously, and only commercialized from the 1968 vintage, but this early example of a more polished version made by legendary winemaking consultant Giacomo Tachis led to an awakening of interest in the region.

A vineyard in Bolgheri, Tuscany

Sassicaia’s name (“stony field”) alludes to the banks of gravel in the area, reminiscent of vineyards in the Graves and the Haut-Médoc, which inspired the French wine loving Marchese to plant Bordeaux varieties – particularly Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc – rather than Sangiovese. In the 1980s, Lodovico Antinori began planting on his neighboring Ornellaia estate. An area of clay within this estate was planted with Merlot and became the separate Masseto property. The sunny, dry and breezy climate of Bolgheri and the stony soils with clay patches have attracted further vineyard expansion mostly focusing on red Bordeaux varieties.

Until the current DOC regulations were laid down in 1994, Sassicaia and the other Super Tuscan wines produced here were usually sold as Vino da Tavola or Toscana IGT. Today a Bolgheri Rosso, Rosso Superiore or Rosé may be made entirely from Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, or a blend combining one or more of these, and/or up to 50 percent of Syrah or Sangiovese. Other red grapes such as Petit Verdot may account for up to 30 percent. Wines made from other grape varieties or nonconforming blend percentages are classified as IGTs. Earlier DOC regulations prevented monovarietal wines from being produced as Bolgheri Rosso, and some examples such as Masseto are also still labeled as Toscana IGT. Since 2013 Sassicaia has its own subzone DOC – expected to become a DOCGin due course – whose rules reflect the wine’’ typical 85-15 composition of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.

The white wine grape most often used in Bolgheri Bianco is Vermentino, which may account for up to 70 percent of the wine. Sauvignon Blanc and Trebbiano Toscano may contribute up to 40 percent, and others no more than 30 percent. There are separate Bolgheri Sauvignon and Bolgheri Vermentino DOCs that must contain 85 percent of the headline grape variety. Many white wine examples are relatively light, crisp and refreshing, though there are some examples of barrel-matured whites. 

Wine tourism in the area gained a considerable boost with the opening in 2017 of the World Wine Town, designed by Oscar-winning art director Dante Ferretti and located in Casone Ugolino, a former 16th-Century farm in Castagneto Carducci in the heart of the DOC zone. As well as the the MuSeM Sensory and Multimedia Wine Museum, the complex features restaurants, shops wine and cookery schools and conference facilties.


Grape Varieties:

Cabernet Franc – Cabernet Sauvignon are two of the key grape varieties (along with Merlot) used in the red wines of Bordeaux. The combined blend of the two has been so successful that it has been adopted in wine regions the world over.

Typically Cabernet Sauvignon is the dominant member in this blend, and provides both structure (acidic and tannic) and aromatic complexity (cassis, cedar, tobacco). The Cabernet Franc component brings a lifted, slightly more floral aroma, and a hint of spice on the palate. Exceptions to this rule of Cabernet Sauvignon dominance are most likely to be found in the Loire Valley, where Cabernet Franc has long been a staple red wine variety.

Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc blends

In Tuscany this blend has been warmly adopted. Sassicaia – one of Italy’s most famous wines – is arguably one of the world’s finest examples of this marriage of the two Cabernet grapes, and is largely responsible for the proliferation of the style throughout the region. This “Super Tuscan” wine is routinely described as having characteristics of cassis and five-spice with firm tannins in its youth. With age these wines soften and start to show more secondary qualities – often led by Cabernet Franc – of tobacco, coffee and earthy minerals.

In California it is common practice to add a small percentage of Cabernet Franc to Cabernet Sauvignon wines (see Meritage). The amount of Cabernet Franc added usually varies from vintage to vintage, with more Cabernet Sauvignon being used in good years. Cabernet Franc’s tendency to ripen one or two weeks earlier than Cabernet Sauvignon makes it an important buffer for wineries against late-season rain.

The combination of the two varieties is often a building block for other blends – perhaps most notably the Bordeaux blend.

Food matches for Cabernet Franc – Cabernet Sauvignon wines:

  • Sautéed pork chops with fennel
  • Wild-mushroom ragu with pappardelle pasta
  • Lamb shawarma


(sources : wine-searcher)


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