The Italian wine industry is built on history and tradition.
Look at the story of any of Italy’s largest producers and you will always see discussion about the importance of honouring and building from the foundations laid by those who came before. The history of Italian wine, and its importance both as an economic and cultural produce in Italy, is a history that’s revered the world over.
Tradition is everything in the industry.
And that’s why shockwaves get sent through it whenever something comes along that bucks tradition.
That’s exactly what happened in the late 1960s and early 1970s with the arrival of the Super Tuscan wines. These new wines, which did things with the Chianti formula that had traditionalists up in arms, completely changed the industry and led to a new classification of wines that are still among the most popular in the world to this day.
Now, when we talk about Super Tuscans, the conversation naturally moves towards Tignanello. The Antinori family’s new take on Chianti was the one that brought the idea of a Super Tuscan into the mainstream and popularised the idea. It became the figurehead for an entire movement of Italian wine producers.
But as important as Tignanello was to the rise of the Super Tuscan’s…
It wasn’t the first.
That honour belongs to the stunning Sassicaia, which broke all of the rules and set the scene for what would become the most important revolution In Italian wine that we saw in the 20th century.
In this article, we look at the history of this gorgeous wine and the innovator behind it.
From Agronomist to Wine Revolutionary
It was the first war of its kind.
For the first time in human history, a war spanned the entire world. We saw a conflict on a global scale that we’d never seen before, so much so that that war earned the moniker “The Great War” amongst those who lived through it. That period between 1914 and 1918 was the most chaotic the planet had seen and the aftereffects shaped the world for years to come.
Mario Incisa della Rocchetta was just one of the millions sent off the fight in this greatest of conflicts.
An agronomist by trade, Incisa became a cavalryman during the fighting. Unlike many who entered the trenches, Incisa had the good fortune to return home to Italy safe and sound. Enrolling as part of the Faculty of Agriculture in Pisa, he made plans to settle down and start a new life following the war.
But something was missing.
Incisa needed a change of scenery.
He decided to move to Tuscany with little else to his name beyond his beloved horse. And it was through his eventual association with that regions thoroughbred community that he met the love of his life – Clarice della Gherardesca. The couple married in 1930 and decided to move to Rome to breed race horses. And for a while, life was good for the new couple.
But in 1939, everything changed again.
To the disbelief of everyone, that year marked the beginning of a second global conflict that would ultimately engulf “The Great War”. For six years, fighting ravaged the world, with Europe bearing the brunt of the conflict. Any thoughts about breeding racehorses went out the window as Incisa and his wife focused on surviving the second great war of their lifetimes.
Thankfully, both managed to come out the other end in-tact.
And it was following the second World War that Clarice della Gherardesca inherited a property named Tenuta San Guido.
The Rise of a Winemaker
Tenuta San Guido wasn’t much to look at when the couple arrived to inspect their new property. Years of neglect had left the place a shadow of its former self. But at the same time, Mario Incisa saw a world of opportunity sitting in front of him. As an agronomist, he saw that the property had everything needed to create a successful farm. With a little tender love and care, Tenuta San Guido could thrive with vegetables, fruits, and other agricultural products.
It was this realisation that led Incisa down the path of wine.
Growing up in a noble family, Incisa had developed a fondness for the wines of Bordeaux. And as he stood in front of his family’s new property, that passion for the vine exploded within him. His thoughts turned to how he could create a fine Bordeaux using the Tuscan land that he now stood on.
But how would he do that.
Tuscany’s native grape is Sangiovese and all of the best wines to emerge from that region use the grape. What’s more, the recently-created DOC placed strict restrictions on the types of grapes he could grow and the wines that he could produce.
Following these limitations would mean that he couldn’t produce the wine he wanted to produce.
But Incisa was not a man who allowed tradition to bind him. Saying to hell with the rules, he began a journey that would culminate in the creation of a brand-new wine – Sassicaia.
Creating the First Super Tuscan
Incisa worked quickly, so much so that the first Sassicaia was bottled in 1945, the same year that World War II ended. But the truth is that the wine was nothing like what Incisa hoped to produce. Staring a failed vintage in the face didn’t damage Incisa’s spirit though. Instead, he started experimenting even more, looking for ways to blend Sangiovese with other grapes to create a wine unlike anything the region had seen before.
The breakthrough came with the arrival of Giacomo Tachis.
Tachis agreed with Incisa’s desire to introduce the grapes of Bordeaux to Tuscany and, what’s more, he’d worked in Bordeaux and learned about the modern techniques winemakers in that region used to get the most out of their grapes.
The duo worked together to create vintage after vintage until finally, in 1968, they felt they had something ready for commercial release.
And thus, the Super Tuscan phenomenon was born.
Sassicaia absorbed the massive backlash from traditionalists and went on to prove its worth in a number of blind taste tests. The wine inspired an entire movement, creating a whole new tradition in the process.
And the rest, as they say, is history.