America’s first vertical tasting of the fine wines of Podere Sapaio from Bolgheri in Coastal Tuscany took place at my restaurant, Undici Taverna Rustica in Rumson, NJ, this past year. Owner, enologist Massimo Piccin was present and told us, “We are wine. We are men and women winemakers who transform grapes into wine by means of our know-how, our errors and our technology. Wines are like babies: we give them birth, see them grow and take care of them year after year. Man and his knowledge belong to the terroir, just like the sun and the rain, the soil and the vine. Great wines cannot come into being without man’s great passion.” Read on to learn more about Bolgheri, and discover what can be unpacked during a vertical tasting.
Verdoni: My first visit to Bolgheri was in the mid-1960’s, as a part of an Etruscan archaeological dig. The wines of the area were not so important to me or to the world at the time. They were mostly rosés which went well with the local fish. This is the Maremma, the Marittima, the Tuscan Coast. Bolgheri’s wines are not wines of altitude. They are wines of the sea; they are wines of light. The brightness of the zone rivals that of Provence. Bolgheri’s wines reflect that.
Magic has been taking place here ever since the late 1960’s. Today there are DOC’s for excellent white Vermentino, as well as a Bolgheri Rosso. The superstar is Bolgheri Rosso Superiore DOC. Classic Bordeaux varietals benefit from the temperature variation from day to night. What does a Bolgheri Rossi Superiore taste like? It is not as fruity, oaky as a big California Cab. It has structure, class and style like a great Haut-Medoc. However, where you feel earthiness in the French wine, in the Bolgheri wine you feel sunlight and brightness.
Vic: I first met Massimo Piccin in 2007. My family and I were the guests of Sebastiano Rosa and his wife Elena at the Tenuta San Guido estate (Sassicaia). Being a wine and food junkie, I like to branch out to taste the best local ingredients and the finest wines. Bolgheri is a small, walled village between Grosseto and Livorno, north of Rome and south of Pisa. The castle at the top of the hill in Bolgheri is a mere 8 kilometers from the sea. In this village everyone knows everyone, and word was out that I should meet the new kid on the block, Massimo Piccin of Podere Sapaio.
My GPS instructed me to turn onto a dusty road. After a few curves, we arrived at the estate. Massimo seduced us with a bottle of vintage Champagne and lunch. I was amazed at his humility, charm and dedication. We tasted 2004, 2005 and 2006 Volpolo, and 2004 and 2005 Podere Sapaio Superiore. The wines had depth, character and class. I realized that I had stumbled upon a gem. It was a great tribute that these fine wines were fashioned from vines that were very young.
The Podere Sapaio Estate
Massimo Piccin, an engineer from Veneto, purchased Podere Sapaio in 1999 and planted his first grapes in February of 2000. Podere means “farm” and Sapaio takes its name from the Sapaia grape which used to grow in this area. The farm consists of 25 hectares (about 37 acres) dedicated to the vine. The soil of the vineyards are clay and sand with some limestone. Until the 17th Century this area was a swamp. Podere Sapaio’s illustrious neighbors include Sassicaia, Ornellaia, Grattamacco, Le Macchiole, Guado al Tasso, Michele Satta and Angelo Gaja. Bolgheri is a tiny zone, consisting of about 1,200 hectares (about 1,800 acres). The total production of all 50 or so grower/producers is less than 4,000,000 bottles per year. Massimo Piccin rarely produces more than 100,000 bottles per year, all of which are red.
The Sangiovese does not grow well within Bolgheri. It does better farther south in the Scansano area, where it is known as Morellino.
At Podere Sapaio, Massimo Piccin works only with the classic red Bordeaux vines, Cabernet Sauvignon (Uva Francesca), Cabernet Franc, Petite Verdot and Merlot. These and other French varietals have been in Tuscany since the 1700’s. An increase in French plantings took place along the Maremma coast in the early 19th Century, when Napoleon was exiled to the nearby island of Elba.
Podere Sapaio produces two wines, both red. Volpolo is a Bolgheri DOC, aged 14 months in barrique and tonneaux and 6 months in the bottle. It is a brilliant wine of great value. The 2012 Volpolo consists of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot and 15% Petit Verdot. 90,000 bottles were produced.
Sapaio’s Bolgheri Superiore DOC is more important, richer and more age worthy. This noble red is barrel fermented, aged 18 months in barriques and further refined in the bottle for 8 to 10 months before it is released. It usually consists of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc and 20% Petite Verdot. In some vintages Merlot is added. Emphasis and focus is placed on creating the best blend. At every step Massimo is assisted by world renowned consulting enologist Carlo Ferrini.
Some of the older vintages came directly from the winery or from the personal collection of Victor Rallo. All of the bottles were in pristine condition and showed very well. We feel that you can age Podere Sapaio Bolgheri Superiore DOC red wines comfortably for a decade or more.
Volpolo 2012: This is the current release. Dry, harmonious, still young with lustrous, ruby to purple color. Blueberries, subtle, concentrated. Drink now through 2018.
Podere Sapaio Superiore 2011: Only 10,000 bottles produced. Bottled June 2013. The oak is in balance with the fruit. Drink now, but decant. Hold until 2018-2020. A warm, difficult vintage. The excellence comes from a careful selection.
2010: Balanced and elegant. Will develop for the next 15 years. Good minerality, salinity and fruitiness. A cooler vintage. Deep, blue color. Fragrance of herbs and pencil shavings. Try with steaks and lamb chops.
2009: Unique, most Tuscan. Starting now to evolve. Leathery aspect, like smelling new car leather seats. Fruit and spice and minerality. Drink from now through 2020.
2008: Big, deep, rich, complex. Concentrated with great body. A banner year, 30,000 bottles produced. Some Merlot added. Plummy, ripe. Drink from now through 2020.
2007: Elegant, tannic, sweet in the nose and mouth. Rich, big, bold. Drink from now through 2022. Merlot added.
2006: Powerful, tannic but graceful. Superb structure, opulent. Age this one. Drink from now through 2025. Use of Merlot is judicious. Ripe.
2005: Merlot added. Good acidity and tannins to balance the concentrated dark fruitiness. Drink from now through 2020.
2012: Will be very good, as we can see from tasting the 2012 Volpolo.
2013: This will be an outstanding wine, superior to the 2006.
2014: There may be no Sapaio Superiore, due to a lack of balance in fruit maturation. Superiore juice will probably create a great Volpolo.
Massimo Piccin, not realizing that his wines would develop a cult following, gave all of his first vintage – 2004 – away as gifts. Fortunately, one large format – 3 liter bottle – made its way into the hands of a friend, who was kind enough to share it with us. It was excellent, a prelude to things to come. And to think, this classy 2004 was crafted from vines that were less than 5 years old! Grazie, Massimo.