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A Brush with Greatness: 2002 Sassicaia

By Dave Buchanan

Sometimes the gods of fortune smile on a newspaper hack, and this past month has seen rare examples of being in the right places at the right times.

My most-recent Brush with Greatness was this weekend in Aspen, watching the best women skiers in the world attack the gates and race courses during the Nature Valley Winternational World Cup ski races on Aspen Mountain.

There is more news about ski racing in the sports section, but there’s so much excitement generated by watching those skiers it makes one (almost) willing to pay for early season skiing on man-made snow.2002 Tenuta San Guido Bolgheri Sassicaia

The first BWG I slipped into ¬– like slipping on a banana peel only to find you fall next to a $100 bill – was during a friend’s birthday party when the host opened a bottle of the 2002 Tenuta San Guido Bolgheri Sassicaia.

A step back in time: The first 100-point wine I tasted was the 1985 Sassicaia during a tasting in at an early Food and Wine magazine Classic in Aspen. I stumbled into this one, too, and at the time I remember thinking, “Why can’t all wines be this good?”

Actually, I probably was thinking, “I wonder how I can get the rest of this bottle out of here?”

The story of Sassicaia dates from 1944 when Mario Incisa planted cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc vine cuttings on a steep hillside of the San Guido estate, called Castiglioncello after an 11th-century castle at the vineyard's upper edge.

The 3.75-acre vineyard was expanded in 1965 with a second, 30-acre vineyard, planted with cuttings from the Castiglioncello parcel. This gravelly second vineyard gave the wine its name: Sassicaia, "the place of many stones".

The wine is a field blend, using the same percentage of grapes (about 85 percent cabernet sauvignon and 15 percent cabernet franc) in the bottle as found in the vineyards.

As usual in the wine world, there are different opinions of where Sassicaia should be listed in the spectrum of great wines but the one thing on which everyone apparently agrees is that the estate was a trailblazer in the super-Tuscan movement.

Tenuta San Guido’s use of non-DOCG grapes (remember, this is wine is a child of Tuscany, but without a drop of Sangiovese) is credited with spurring the super-Tuscan movement and revitalizing Italian wine regulations across many DOCs and DOCGs in Tuscany.

The 2002 vintage isn’t considered quite as impressive as the 1985, but that’s quibbling over what’s generally thought of as the greatest Sassicaia ever and what some critics consider one of the best wines to come out of Italy.

I rarely offer tasting notes, since my description of “black plums with hints of chocolate, tobacco and leather” might mean nothing to you. However, I will offer the 2002 still was a bit restrained but eventually opened to fresh dark fruits, gravelly tannins and to what Monica Lardner of Wine Enthusiast magazine called Sassicaia’s “unmistakable elegance.”

This is a wine you let roll around in your mouth, hesitant to swallow because then it’s gone.

Being the nosy sort, I looked online for a price and saw it ranging up to $180 a bottle, although my host paid much less than that in 2004.

Just as those world-class skiers paid a price for their greatness, great wine isn’t going to be inexpensive.But how often do you get an opportunity such as that?


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