Sassicaia 2016 – A Legendary Red Wine in the Making…

One of the great things about Sassicaia new releases is that every year you get to taste the new wine alongside the estate’s Guidalberto and the Le Difese cuvees, both from the subsequent vintage. Last year, while tasting the incredibly fine Sassicaia 2015, it was the Guidalberto 2016 that really turned heads and got tongues wagging. If the unofficial second wine is this good, what could we expect from Sassicaia 2016 itself!?

 

So after 12 months of waiting, we recently got to taste the new Sassicaia 2016 release in London. Rather unusually, the wine had already been tasted and rated 100 points by The Wine Advocate’s Italian reviewer, Monica Larner, which as can be expected, set the fine wine trade fully ablaze and sent merchants into a vinous frenzy as they ventured to secure precious allocations. Also, the fact that Monica Larner had scored the 2015 Sassicaia the same as I had at 97/100 merely served to further increase my own personal interest in the new release.

 

What can be confirmed is that both 2015 and 2016 are certainly two of the best back to back vintages anyone can remember in Tuscany. The 2010 Bolgheri reds were fantastically good and the 2013’s were also very memorable, but neither vintage was as highly anticipated as either the 2015 or 2016 releases. Hype can make vintages seem even better than they are, but in this case, these two back to back 5 star vintages seem to be fully grounded around their exceptional quality in the bottle.

 

Tasting the Sassicaia 2016 with Priscilla Incisa della Rocchetta in London.

Both vintages saw long hot summers that encouraged vigorous vine growth. In 2015, a cold and rainy winter preceded an irregular spring followed by exceptionally hot, dry summer weather, creating small bunches of grapes, leading to reduced yields across the region, exacerbated by several violent August hailstorms, although concentration levels are very good. 2016 was another very good vintage in Tuscany which produced wines with deep colour, piercing freshness and impressive fragrance. However, yields across the region were again down by up to -20% compared to the average and at Sassicaia, their own yields were down at least -10%, which was reflected in merchant’s final bottle wine allocations.

 

Will the 2016 with is sublime fruit purity, linear tension and taught acid freshness live up to the legendary status of the 1985? Who knows? All that is certain is that it is an incredibly fine Sassicaia expression and possibly one of the best young Sassicaia releases I have ever tasted. Buy some, age it and if you are lucky, it will turn out to be a wine to rival the 1985 in cult status.

Tenuta San Guido Le Difese de Sassicaia 2017, IGT Toscana

As usual, the le Difese blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Sangiovese delivers an incredible level of complexity and vinous pleasure for the price. The 2017 is a slightly opaque plum ruby red and offers up a fine aromatic melange of red cherries, melted tar, sweet baking spices, red plum confit, red liquorice and a piquant high note. Texturally the palate is bold and full, deliciously fleshy and plump with a glycerol weight that rolls around the mouth. Acids are sappy and fresh enlivening the sweet red fruit flavours of sun raisined red plum, sweet red cherry, aniseed and liquorice stick. Another classy, thoroughly delicious, opulent rendition of this Tuscan favourite. Drink now to 2025+.  

(Wine Safari Score: 91+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Tenuta San Guido Guidalberto 2017, IGT Toscana (Barrel Sample)

T he 2017 Guidalberto blend is made up of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40% Merlot and has an alluring dark black plum colour. Like the le Difese 2017, there are attractive aromatic nuances of exotic grilled herbs and sweet dried spices that flow from the glass in a most seductive manner with layers of spicy red plum, pithy red cherry, incense, lipstick, graphite and a fabulous mineral undertone. The palate is super precise and sleek with a creamy, fleshy, harmonious concentration of sweet red cherries, bramble berries, plum skins and crushed limestone that is neatly and concisely supported by suave chalky dry tannins and a sappy, leafy sweet and sour acidity. The noteworthy power and intensity is offered up in a very approachable style but as always, suggests ageing this wine further will bring even greater textural harmony and with it enhanced drinking pleasure. Drink now to 2030+.  

(Wine Safari Score: 93/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia 2016, DOC Bolgheri Sassicaia, Toscana

After tasting the super impressive Guidalberto 2016 last year, the anticipation for the release of the 2016 Sassicaia started building from that point for a full 12 months! The wine sticks to the classical blend of 85% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Cabernet Franc and offers up a cornucopia of perfumed aromatics of sweet red crystallised cherries, red bramble berries, dried herbs, sage, sweet cedar and a subtle menthol red peppercorn exoticism. Fabulously complex, the 2016 unfurls in the glass in the manner of a young Grand Cru Cotes de Nuits Burgundy overpowering the senses with a seamless, integrated harmonious concentration. Effortlessly classy, sublimely opulent and intense but also treads so lightly. The 2016 picks up precisely where the epic 2015 let off but adds a few extra dimensions of textural finesse and intensity without ever being overtly glossy. Very impressive effort indeed. Another expression that will undoubtedly be compared to the now iconic 1985 Sassicaia. Will it live up to those proven 100 point heights? Only time will tell but it looks a sure bet if ever there was one! Drink from 2022 to 2045+.  

(Wine Safari Score: 98+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Wines distributed to the UK trade through Armit Wines.

Tasting the Casanova di Neri Flagship Brunello di Montalcino Cerretalto 2012 with Giacomo Neri…

The most famous vineyard sites produce the most famous wines and Montalcino is certainly no different. Casanova di Neri was founded by Giovanni Neri in 1971 and since his passing in 1991, his son Giacomo Neri has run the farm overseeing all vineyard and cellar activities personally where they produce six different wines.

 

The Cerretalto vineyard cuvee is however an exceptional flagship expression in the Casanova di Neri range producing extraordinary Brunello’s with a real concentration of fruit and minerality but are only bottled in the most expressive vintages. Of the total 8 hectares of the vineyard, only 4 hectares of vines lying on the red iron soils are used for this special cuvee.

The first Cerretalto vintage was 1981, followed by 1986, 1988, 1990, 1993, 1995, 1997, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2003, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010 and now finally 2012… a wine always released after 6 years aging in the cellar of which 28-30 months are in 300 and 500 litre French oak barrels and the remaining 30 months in bottle.

 

Tasting with Giacomo Neri, the current owner.

Casanova di Neri Cerretalto Brunello di Montalcino 2012, 15 Abv.

One of the most famous ferrous iron rich soil sites of Montalcino located east of the town continuously produces incredibly profound, potent wines with a very classical cool personality in the context of Brunello di Montalcino. The aromatics possess a wonderfully lifted perfumed fragrance laden with intense notes of dried rose petals, exotic baking spices, graphite, sun raisined cherries, Arabian prunes, iron filings, bresaola, liquorice and tar. On the palate, the flavours are bold and powerful with an incredible cherry fruit intensity layered with nuances of aniseed root, gravelly minerality and creamy sweet tannins that embrace the palate and then gently tail off slowly to leave a lasting imprint of sublime complexity, textural depth and superb elegance. This wine is a revelation and once again, top terroir trumps vintage conditions. Drink from 2020 to 2035+

(Wine Safari Score: 97+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Marchesi Mazzei Launches Its New Fonterutoli Gran Selezione Chianti Classico 2015 In Arty Style…

It has long been apparent the excellent quality that Tuscan producers managed to harness with the 2013 vintage for wines from Chianti, Bolgheri and the Maremma. Indeed, it was one of the very few European premium wine regions that reached very high quality levels in 2013. While 2014 saw its challenges for Tuscany, 2015 returned with a bang to allow producers to make some astonishingly pretty wines. 

I recently had the opportunity to taste the impressive new Gran Selezione 2015 Chianti Classico from Marchesi Mazzei’s Fonterutoli estate in Tuscany. The success of this new vintage was put into context being tasted alongside the 2008, 2010 and the superb 2013 and paired with excellent food from the acclaimed Petersham Nurseries, a restaurant business owned by Giovanni Mazzei’s wife Lara Boglione’s family.

To complete the perfect setting, the wines were poured at the Petersham Nurseries‘ temporary Pop-Up Restaurant at the 2018 Frieze Art Fair in London... a suitably flamboyant venue for these delicious wines.

Fonterutoli Chianti Classico Gran Selezione 2008, 13.5 Abv.

Layered and opulent, the bouquet is starting to show subtle tertiary notes after 10 years age. Plenty of earthy stewed cherries, herbal spice, black plum, tannery leather, liquorice and aniseed root. Palate is plush and comfortably mellow, showing plenty of piquant sappy spice, cedar and pithy, stewed black berry fruits. Drinking well now, quite traditional in style, maturing nicely. 

(Wine Safari Score: 92/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Fonterutoli Chianti Classico Gran Selezione 2010, 14 Abv.

Lovely smokey aromatics of incense, graphite, sweet grilled herbs, polished mahogany, tannery leather and earthy black plummy fruits. Pithy and piquant, there are subtle coffee bean notes, wood spice and creamy brûléed back berry nuances. Evolving nicely, drinking well now, but still plenty of life ahead. 

(Wine Safari Score: 93/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Fonterutoli Chianti Classico Gran Selezione 2013, 13.5 Abv.

Youthful and vibrant, the 2013 displays beautiful perfume of cherry blossom, violets, dried flowers, black cherry and smokey charcoal embers. Palate is super polished, vibrant and elegant with deliciously fresh acids, soft creamy tannins and a glitteringly pretty, elegant, vibrant textural finish. 

(Wine Safari Score: 96/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Fonterutoli Chianti Classico Gran Selezione 2015, 14 Abv.

An altogether more opulent, dense, powerfully ripe expression from a very fine vintage in Tuscany. The aromatics are youthful and intense with lashings of black cherry confit, black plum, kirsch liqueur and salty cassis. The palate follows with a ripe, fleshy, intensely focused palate with high class tannin management, beautifully sweet mid palate fruit weight and a long, vibrant, concentrated finish that fans it’s tail with caramelised red cherry, black currant and sun raisined cranberry nuances. Fabulously delicious and eminently drinkable already.

(Wine Safari Score: 95+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Available to trade in the UK from importer Maison Marques et Domaines. 

Querciabella 2015 Raising The Quality Bar For Premium Chianti Classico…

South African winemaker Manfred Ing continues to make waves in Chianti’shire as he continually pushes the level of quality upwards across the entire range. But of course it’s the Chianti Classico red that is the main Estate wine and therefore the offering that receives the most close and critical assessment from wine reviewers and commentators with the release of each new vintage.

A 100% Sangiovese cuvee, the grapes used have been biodynamic since 2000 and organic since 1988. Averaged yields are approaching 35 hl/ha and the oak use is 100% French, 5% new with the remainder normally consisting of 2nd and 3rd fill barrels.

Agricola Querciabella Chianti Classico DOCG 2015, Tuscany, 14 Abv. 

Wonderfully bright ruby hue, this is a power packed, super distinguished juicy effort from a fantastic vintage in Gaiole, Tuscany. The aromatics are packed with sun raisined cranberries, aniseed root, sweet wood spice, wet tobacco, black cherry and dusty earthy clay notes. The palate ups the ante with an ultra generous texture, wonderful ripe red cherry fruit concentration, suave sweet tannins and an incredibly focused, creamy mineral laden finish. True class, impeccable proportions and fantastic balance. Drink from release or cellar for 8-10+ years.

(Wine Safari Score: 94+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

The 2015 is an exceptional wine from an exceptional Tuscan vintage and probably the best new release Chianti Classico I can remember tasting from this winery. The signals are all looking good for the 2016s as well, so I look forward with great interest to see what young talent Manfred Ing can conjure up.

One of the Great Names of Chianti Producing Some Very Impressive Wines – Tasting with Francesco Ricasoli…

Having just returned from Tuscany and Campania, it was lovely to have Francesco Ricasoli pop in and show me his new vintages. The Ricasoli family has been linked with winemaking since 1141, with the original “blending recipe” for making wines in the Chianti region invented by Baron Bettino Ricasoli or the Iron Baron.

From the estate’s 5 main soil types, grapes are harvested for 230 micro-vinifications, with my favourite often being the Colledilà. Together with their own vineyard yeasts which they have just had isolated and cultured, Ricasoli is making some very expressive wines from around Gaiole.

Castello di Brolio Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Colledilà 2015, Tuscany, 14 Abv.

After the excellent 2013 from Baron Ricasoli, the Colledilà 2015 ups the intensity somewhat being even more exciting and impressive. The fruit from this 7.5 hectare vineyard plot was not bottled into Colledilà in 2012 or 2014. On the nose, the 2015 shows a wonderful exotic perfume of cranberry cordial, red crystallised maraschino cherries, lavender, parma violets and a delicate pink musk fragrance. Thoroughly seductive and alluring. The palate expresses a brisk steely linearity and precision, revealing the true characteristics of the vineyard’s marl limestone soils, bringing extra brightness, fresh acidity and an intense minerality. The texture is ultra sleek and harmonious, pin point and taut with delicious red cherry and black currant fruit nuances, aniseed root, fennel seeds and a pronounced piquant graphite spice on the finish. Superbly balanced and focused in the mouth, this wine shows class with power, intensity and purity. Already drinking so beautifully, a few more years in bottle will bring added tertiary complexity and allow this pure Sangiovese to unwind a little.

(Wine Safari Score: 95/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Returning to Authenticity – Tasting the New Era of Biodynamic Wines from Avignonesi…

Unravelling the conundrum that is Vino Nobile di Montepulciano has been a long term goal of mine. As someone who lives and breathes Italian wines, I have never quite understood the true appeal of Sangiovese wines from Vino Nobile primarily because so much rustic fare has been produced over the years, wines with hard angular tannins, tart acidity and thin fruit.

Exit stage door left, enter Max de Zarobe and Virginie Saverys, the philanthropic-styled current owners of Avignonesi. It’s been a long time since I’ve met such candid, honest talking winery owners such as Max and Virginie, which is thoroughly refreshing in a wine world filled with plenty of smoke and mirrors.

Tasting with winemaker Matteo Giustianini and owner Virginie.

After two days of multiple vineyard visits, winery exploration and wine tastings, it quickly became apparent the amount of passion, knowhow (and money), Max and Virginie have committed to their Avignonesi winery project which they took full ownership of in 2009.

Rejuvenated 42 year old Sangiovese vines in the Avignonesi vineyards.

As successful ship owners in Antwerp, Max and Virginie are quick to point out that turning Avignonesi around from a volume orientated commercial beast into one of Europe’s largest quality focused, organic, biodynamic wineries has been akin to turning a super tanker around, a seemingly ‘simple’ task that takes an astonishing half a day… and perhaps a decade for the winery.

Tasting through the full range of wines from Avignonesi, located near Montepulciano in southern Tuscany, it becomes clear some very impressive wines have been produced in a region that has struggled to replicate the success of Chianti Classico, Brunello di Montalcino and more latterly, the Maremma.

Winemaker Matteo Giustianini and viticulturalist Alesio Gorini expertly oversee the 179 hectares of vines, planted over 9 sites, with 102 hectares of Sangiovese and some historic Merlot planted on what are effectively very recent, young geological soils. The results are indeed positive and confirm the region’s innate ability to produce truly great red wines once the right amount of application, investment and attention to detail are applied.

Avignonesi Ventisei Rosso 2017, IGT Toscana Rosso Organic, 13 Abv.

Bright and lifted, the aromatics are lush and fruity, brimming with strawberry confit, strawberry pips, sappy red bramble berries and plum sauce. The palate is equally rich and expressive with an overt illusion of sweetness, layered with strawberry coulis, red cherry and sweet red plums. Full bodied, mouth-filling but deliciously fresh and thoroughly unpretentious.

(Wine Safari Score: 88+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Avignonesi Ventisei Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG 2015, 14 Abv.

A blend of 90% Sangiovese plumped out with 10% Merlot, the nose shows complex hits of botanical herbs, black berries and pithy black cherry with a subtle hint of cinnamon and oak spice. The palate is very elegant, sleek and polished, revealing layers of black currant, mulberry confit, balsamic and sweet, pithy, vanilla pod spice. Fine balanced with lovely approachability and very sleek, tamed tannins.

(Wine Safari Score: 89/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Avignonesi Cantaloro IGT Toscana 2015, 13.5 Abv.

A blend of 38.5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 36% Merlot, and 25.5% Sangiovese. The aromatics are bright and exotic with notes of sour plum, red cherry, mango skins and blood oranges. There is a lovely texture and elegance, sleek fine creamy tannins with hints of black cherry, baking herbs, vanilla pod spice and a long, cool, menthol tinged black currant finish. Seamless, cool, classy blend.

(Wine Safari Score: 92/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Avignonesi Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2014, 13.5 Abv.

100% Sangiovese from a more challenging vintage, the 2014 shows lush opulent notes of freshly cut hedge row, bramble berries, violets, forest floor, truffle oil and strawberries drizzled with balsamic reduction. There is plenty of ripe savoury fruit on the palate which shows a gentle touch of extraction, a fleshy soft red berry core and a long, red cherry and pink rock candy finish. Delicious approachability and drinkability already.

(Wine Safari Score: 91+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Avignonesi Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2015, 14Abv.

100% Sangiovese, this nose is jam packed full of perfume, fruit and opulence. This great vintage delivers ripe lifted notes of sweet strawberry, red berry, red plum and pithy, resinous sappy notes. Deliciously exotic on the palate, the tannins are sweet and ripe, powdery and silky soft, melting into the sweet red cherry and strawberry fruit melange. The finish is more structured, revealing power and intensity with an impressively long length. Big impressive vintage for sure.

(Wine Safari Score: 93+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Avignonesi Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG Grandi Annate 2013, 14 Abv.

Only produced in the best years, this 2013 is a deliciously crafted wine with a complex, more tertiary nose of bramble berry fruits, botanical herbs, summer flowers, sweet red cherries and subtle rosemary and nutmeg hints. Palate is sleek and deep, earthy and savoury with delicious wood spice and cinnamon notes, graphite minerality and soft polished tannins on a classy, noble, classical finish. Fine poise and power. A wine not to be underestimated.

(Wine Safari Score: 93/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Avignonesi Grifi 2012, IGT Toscana, 14.5 Abv.

Made from Sangiovese sourced from old vines in Montepulciano and Cabernet Sauvignon from Cortona, the 2012 was a hot, dry vintage and is evidenced in the glass with a deep, dark colour and an overtly opulent nose of sweet black cherry confit, cherry liquor, black plums, vanilla pod spice and roasted herbs. The palate shows power and depth, savoury black plum fruit, tannery leather, tobacco, chalky tannins and an opulent, earthy, foresty finish. An expressive, powerful wine.

(Wine Safari Score: 90/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Avignonesi Merlot Desiderio 2015, IGT Toscana Organic, 14.5 Abv.

Made from 100% Merlot sourced mostly from a vineyard near Cortona and a vineyard near Montepulciano called Le Badelle. There is a more international aromatic profile to this wine, with a lifted, opulent nose of black plum, sweet cherry kirsch liquor, grilled herbs, hoisin sauce and vanilla pod spice. The palate is generous and ripe, sweetly fruited and plushly textured with hints of black currant pastille, black cherry and blueberry crumble. Well proportioned, finely polished graphite tannins and a long, dense finish with a tantalising saline kiss of liquorice. Modern and intense, but beautiful execution.

(Wine Safari Score: 94+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

50/50 2013 IGT Toscana, 13.5 Abv

This 50% / 50% Blend of Sangiovese from Gaiole in Chianti and Merlot was first produced in 1988 in a joint venture between Avignonesi and Capannelle in Chianti Classico. The Merlot is produced by Avignonesi from the Lodola estate located in Valiano and shows a richly embroidered aromatic display of sweet black cherry, black plums, kirsch liquor, blueberry muffins and sweet mint sauce. The palate is bold and fleshy but also very supple, finely balanced and elegant with the Sangiovese sap and spice marrying harmoniously with the overt, blueberry and vanilla pod creaminess of the Merlot. A big, bold, adventurous red expression, this wine delivers pleasure on so many levels, always remaining fresh, elegantly balanced and finely poised, making it eminently drinkable now or cellar-worthy for 10 to 15 years.

(Wine Safari Score: 95+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

The amazing Vin Santo storage building, where wines are aged for up to 10 years in small oak barrels.

Full Ornellaia Immersion at the Vendemia d’Artista Charity Auction in London with South African Icon Artist William Kentridge…

In 2018, Ornellaia’s Vendemia d’Artista charity auction returned to the UK with a wonderfully lavish dinner at the Victoria & Albert museum. For me personally, the black tie event held added interest and excitement not only because they were pouring the excellent new release Ornellaia 2015, but especially because the chosen artist for the 2015 art labels was none other than South Africa’s greatest living artist, William Kentridge.

William Kentridge was invited to design 10 unique labels to adorn the Ornellaia Vendemia d’Artista labels, with profits raised at the evening’s charity auction going to the V&A museum this year.

William Kentridge on stage explaining his inspiration for the series of 10 works of art designed for Ornellaia 2015 Vendemia d’Artista.

Some of the William Kentridge works of art.

Ornellaia Winemaker Axel Heinz with Steven Spurrier.

Tenuta dell Ornellaia 2005, Bolgheri Superiore, Toscana, 14 Abv.

Deliciously expressive wine, complex, nuanced nose, so multi-faceted that it seems initially quite hard to describe all the multiple layers. A bit of coaxing yields sweet red cherry kirsch liquor, fennel, sweet black plum and hints of sweet tobacco and cedar spice. The palate is a plush, bright and very approachable style with great fleshy accessibility, opulence and harmonious pleasure. A very pretty expression that is certainly a true beauty and a lovely expression of Axel’s first vintage at Ornellaia.

(Wine Safari Score: 94/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Tenuta dell Ornellaia 2015, Bolgheri Superiore, Toscana, 14 Abv.

Intense broody dark fruited nose brimming with black cherry, crushed gravel and graphite spice. But the minerality of this superb, glamorous, opulent vintage does not outweigh or over power the incredibly intense perfume of lavender, violets and cherry blossom. The underlying note on the palate is dark fruited, powerful and structured with vibrant black tart cherry acidity, suave fleshy textural concentration and the most seductive, complex finish of pithy black cherry, liquorice stick, graphite and chalky tannin spice. A very serious effort, showing great generosity, power, intensity and gravitas. This has the credentials to age for 2 to 3 decades, and the potential to be a future Bolgheri Ornellaia legend.

(Wine Safari Score: 97/100 Greg Sherwood MW)