The saying “behind every great wine is a great man” is fairly true in the history of wines.
Several of todays legendary wines have born just because of the force and foresight of these wine pioneers who had the vision and courage to create something out the ordinary in their own region. Often these men lived and influenced wine areas, which prior to their success had produced mediocre wines at most for decades or even for centuries.
In a way Brunello di Montalcino owes its origin to the Ferruccio Biondi Santi, The Bodegas Vega Sicilia Unico to Domingo de Garramiola y Arbe, Château Musar to Gaston Hochar, Penfolds Grange to Max Schubert, Barca Velha to Fernando Nicolau de Almeida, and Tignanello to Marchese Piero Antinori, as does Sassicaia to Marquis Mario Incisa della Rochetta.
Sassicaia was the drive and foresight of Marquis Mario Incisa della Rochetta, a native of Piedmont, along with the guidance from Piero Antinori´s winemaker Giacomo Tachis.In the 1920s, whilst a student in Pisa, Marquis Mario Incisa della Rochetta dreamed of creating a “refined” wine. Like many of the Italian aristocracy at the time, he preferred the taste of the finest Bordeaux – Château Margaux was particularly his favorite.
In 1940 he moved with his wife to his Tuscan estate, the Tenuta San Guido, located a few miles from Bolgheri, a small town on the Tuscan coast. Because of its nearness to the sea, Bolgheri had never before been considered as a quality wine region. After settling down, Marquis della Rochetta experimented with several grape varieties and came to a conclusion that it was Cabernet that had that refined bouquet he was looking for.
In 1942 he planted one thousand cuttings of Cabernet vines from Château Lafite-Rothschild on the hillsides of Castiglioncello, which in his opinion was influenced by the location’s similarity to graves in Bordeaux. “Graves” means “gravel” in French, and likewise, the earth at Castiglioncello gave Sassicaia its name, which in Tuscan dialect means “stony grounds”. To make wine that had Cabernet Sauvignon as its primary variety was a brave decision and took courage in those days, when no one had even considered to make wines from Bordeaux varieties on Italian soil. Despite protest from the local´s, he kept experimenting with Cabernet Sauvignon as a sideline, separate from the main family business of raising thoroughbred racehorses. Nevertheless it was never his intention to make commercial wine; he “unintentionally” created the most influential wine in modern Italian history.
The first bottles of Sassicaia appeared in small quantities in 1948, and were all enjoyed by himself and his guests on the estate. From then on to the early 1960s, Sassicaia was a completely private estate, and all the Sassicaias were drunk on the estate itself. Each year, a small number of cases were stored in the cellars, and the Marquis discovered that the wine seriously improved with age.
In the mid 1960s he planted two more vineyards with Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. The first one, new “Sassicaia” vineyard (about 10 hectares), was situated approximately 300 meters lower than the original vineyard, as was the second one “Aianova” vineyard (three hectares). In time all the wines produced from these vineyards became known as Sassicaia.
After almost 30 years of experimentation and solid work the Marquis decided to release Sassicaia´s 1968 vintage to the open market using his cousin´s, Antinori´s distribution network in the early 1970s, with instant sensation. At a Decanter tasting of Cabernet wines in London, 1978, Sassicaia from vintage 1972 beat all the other 33 wines of France and California, and since then Sassicaia has been one of the leading wines in the world and in great demand among wine collectors and investors. The marquis Mario Incisa della Rocchetta passed away in 1983. His son, Marquis Nicolò Incisa della Rocchetta, now oversees all estate operations.
In 1994 Sassicaia was granted its own DOC (Sassicaia DOC), the only wine from a single estate in Italy to enjoy this privilege. Before that, and in similarity to other wines made outside the traditional DOC/DOCG regulations, Sassicaia was classified as an Indicazione geografica tipica (IGT). Initially it was a Vino da tavola, which is normally a category for wines of little complexity.