Within the estate of Tenuta San Guido, in the hills close to the Tuscan coast, between Livorno and Grosseto, are some beautiful, historical buildings, including the Castiglioncello di Bolgheri, a retreat which dates back to 780AD, and the Oratorio di San Guido, the 1803 church at the end of a classic Tuscan avenue of tall cypresses.
However, it was in the early 20th century that even more historic foundations were established on the estate. When he acquired the property in the 1930s, the Marchese Mario Incisa della Rocchetta noted the similarity between the stony ground of his land, as well as the sea breezes coming in off the Tyrrhenian Sea, and the terroir of Graves, and so, when planting began in the 1940s, he opted primarily for Cabernet Sauvignon, rather than the province’s dominant Sangiovese grape. For several decades, the Bordeaux-style wine produced from that Cabernet Sauvignon, with some Cabernet Franc, was a strictly private treat. But when, in 1968, Sassicaia was finally released to the world, it revolutionised Italian wine, creating a new genre: the Super-Tuscan.
It was the Marchese’s son Nicolò who pushed for the move to commercial production, along with his cousin and nephew Piero Antinori (who also happened to be a member of a longer established winemaking family). They called on the expertise of the late Giacomo Tachis, who introduced innovations such as a switch to fermentation in steel but ageing en barrique. Soon, Sassicaia established the region’s reputation and led to the 1994 declaration of the DOC Bolgheri.
The 21st century has seen further development under Marchese Nicolò, thanks to further family connections. When Sebastiano Rosa was two years old, his mother married Nicolò Incisa della Rocchetta and his destiny was sealed. After studying at Davis in California, he worked at Lafite Rothschild and Tenuta di Argiano in Montalcino, before joining his stepfather at Tenuta San Guido in 2000. Strength in numbers at the top has enabled the estate to pursue a number of new projects, including converting an old olive press into a new cantina and the production of two further wines: Guidalberto and Le Difese. Throughout this time of development, Armit Wines has had the pleasure of exclusively importing Tenuta San Guido’s wines to the UK.
Named after his ancestor, Guidalberto della Gherardesca, who was an agricultural pioneer in Bolgheri in the early 19th century, the estate’s second wine Guidalberto was born of a desire to explore how Merlot would grow in Tenuta San Guido. At first (2000 to 2003 vintages), the equation also included Sangiovese but it has settled into a 60% Cabernet Sauvignon 40% Merlot blend, which can be appreciated at a younger age than Sassicaia. The Sangiovese grapes are instead used in Le Difese (30% with 70% Cabernet Sauvignon), which can be drunk even younger – in fact, immediately.
Le Difese is named after the teeth of the wild boar which roam the Tuscan hills. Tenuta San Guido is not simply a collection of vineyards and winery but a place of complete immersion in nature. Before anyone had heard of Sassicaia wine, the estate was known as the base of the Razza Dormello Olgiata stud. Marchese Mario Incisa della Rocchetta and his wife met through a shared love of horses and, teaming up with breeder Federico Tesio, they produced some of the greatest racehorses of the past century, including Ribot (winner of two Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe and the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes).
Marchese Mario also converted the coastal marshland on his estate, formerly used for duck shoots, into Italy’s first bird sanctuary, before forming the Italian branch of the World Wildlife Fund. He believed in the power of refinement, innovation and nature – all qualities found in the wines his estate would go on to produce.