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DFWE 2011: Sassicaia and Ornellaia Masterclass

Such was the interest for the Sassicaia and Ornellaia master class that Charles Chevalier, winemaking director at Château Lafite Rothschild and Maggie Henriquez, CEO of Krug Champagne – both featured in other master classes over the weekend – attended to compare the wines from the 2008, 2004, 2000 and 1998 vintages, plus two second wines.

Listening to Sassicaia owner Marchese Nicolo Incisa della Rochetta, one could almost forget the revolution he had launched in Tuscany with his untraditional non-Sangiovese blend back in 1968. With avuncular charm, he thanked Decanter for having provided the first-ever international tasting venue for Sassicaia featuring the1978 vintage.

‘We have been lucky with the “8”s,’ Rochetta said. He said that he could not understand the massive success of the legendary 1985. ‘1988 is more elegant to me,’ he said. He recalled a recent tasting where French critic and Decanter contributor Michel Bettane called the 1998 and 2008 the two best vintages ever made so far.

Ornellaia – considered by many as the most innovative Bordeaux blend among Italian wines today – traces its origins directly to Sassicaia: it was founded in 1981 by Lodovico Antinori, whose aunt Clarice della Gherardesca married then Sassicaia owner Marchese Mario Incisa della Rochetta.

Participants discovered two very different styles. Blended with 85% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Cabernet Franc, Sassicaia reflects a cooler winemaking philosophy: shorter maceration; fresher, higher-elevation terroir; less new oak; lower alcohol.

The Ornellaia – which includes Merlot – came across to most tasters as richer and bigger. Decanter subscriber Paul Mulgrey (along with Chevalier and Henriquez) preferred Sassicaia for its more elegant claret style, while others preferred the more modern, larger-scaled Ornellaia.

The masterclass highlighted the quality of the Bolgheri region’s proximity to the sea, which moderates temperatures, explained Orneillaia winemaker Axel Heinz, who recalled a heat wave of 40°C one summer, but in Bolgheri, temperatures had remained at most 35°C, because of the maritime influence.

Recommended food pairings for both wines include wild boar. Heinz said the animal is hunted around the vineyards. He also recommended a local fish restaurant known for sea bass.

Panos Kakaviatos

Written by Panos Kakaviatos

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