January 9, Rachel Kau-Taylor
Before we got to Sassicaia I wasn’t really looking forward to Day 8. People who haven’t tried Sassicaia often say that it is over rated and more expensive than it’s worth. Where have we heard that before? Right about California Cabernet, which sometimes is more expensive than it’s worth. I was prepared for this to be a truly pretentious wine tasting experience where we would get shown around another gravity flow winery and then have a tiny taste of one wine we could never possibly afford. Boy was I wrong. First our guide skipped most of the winery tour, because they were bottling and not usually open to the public this time of year. Instead she talked for a bit then poured us our most generous tasting of 4 different wines and let us just sit and talk about them with her and with each other. It was wonderful, the wine was wonderful, and I felt completely relaxed for the first time since landing in Florence. There are several things to note about Sassicaia, first they try to keep most of their wines at a reasonable price point including the flagship, which they believe should be something people are able to have on a special occasion at least once in their life. They are also striving for lower alcohol levels somewhere between 13 and 13.5%, they want the wine the express Italian terroir rather than tasting like something you could find in California. The first wine we tried was from a project they are doing in Sardinia. The wine was called Barrua and was a blend of Carignano, Merlot, and Cabernet. My tasting notes for the 2009 vintage were strawberry, bergamot (earl gray tea), cherry, lavender, dark chocolate, high tannin, medium acid, high alcohol. I loved this wine. The second wine we tried was their second label called Le Difese which means the boars tooth, it has a very cool picture of a boar on the front. The 2010 was a complex but not very fruit forward wine my notes were cilantro, tomato leaf, leather, mushroom, orange peel, and hazelnut. The third wine we tried was the 2010 Guidalbreto which was also very complex, my notes include tomato salsa, cilantro, vanilla, chambourg, over ripe stone fruit, bay leaf, and chocolate. Then we came to the 09 Sassicaia, my description of this wine makes me feel like the biggest wine nerd ever, but at the same time wines like this are the reason why I taste in the first place. The thing I love most about wine is that when it’s right it will transport you to a place. When I closed my eyes and smelled Sassicaia, I instantly felt like I was on a picnic in Tuscany in the summer in a forest of umbrella pines. It is a beautiful wine with a greater sense of place than any we tried on this trip. My notes were mixed berry pie, black pepper, brown dirt, procuitto, and summer pine. It left me with the sense that I had tasted something truly Italian.
Then we went to Ornellaia where we had the opposite experience. Ornellaia has a very savvy marketing team. This was the first time we’ve seen one like it the whole trip. The coolest thing they are doing is that every vintage is given a word, then they commission an artist to create an installation based on that word. Then from that installation the artist creates a label which is put on a few bottles that they auction in the artists home country in support of art programs in that country. It might be the coolest wine project ever. The only problem is that I wasn’t fond of the wine. We tried three wines. The first was the 2010 Le Volte which was 50% Merlot, 25% Cab, and 25% Sangiovese sourced from other properties. My notes were orange peel, sour cherry, plum peal, plumy on the pallet, medium tannin, medium acid. This was the only wine of theirs that felt Italian, probably because of the Sangiovese. The second wine was the 2010 Le Serre Nuove which they think of as their second label, this should be the wine that introduces people to Ornellaia. My notes were fairly generic cherry, blackberry, eucalyptus mint, medium tannin, medium acid, high alcohol. Then we tried the Ornellaia 2009, which the winemaker told us was not a very good year. You could make Ornellaia anywhere, and I’m sure people would love it. Out of the context of the rest of our day I might have loved it more, but it doesn’t have the sense of place that Sassicaia has.