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Delhi Wine Club
WWS opens with Sassicaia Tasting at Villa d’Este

Posted: Friday, 11 November 2011 14:47

WWS opens with Sassicaia Tasting at Villa d’Este

Nov 11: The third edition of the World Wine Symposium known in the French world as Devos du Vin opened in grand style at Hotel Villa d’Este in Italy with a vertical tasting of 8 vintages of Sassicaia going back to 1977, presented to 50 select participants by Marchesi Nicolo Incisa della Rocchetta of Tenuta San Guido, followed by a Taste Culture Austrian Cuisine dinner, writes Subhash Arora

Imagine the anxiety on alighting from the plane at Milano Malpensa Airport about not finding the transport promised you-it has happened before. Villa d’Este is not close by so one may take a cab but 70-80 kms away at Lake Como where the lake-facing majestic hotel is located in the small town of Cernobbio, the venue for the international wine conference.

From Maserati with Love

Fears unfounded, the 21-year young driver is waiting at the gate. Sitting in the car, I cannot but murmur with pleasure-it is a Maserati GTS, the sporty 4-door car costing €150,000. Ferrari owns this ‘label’ which can go up to 300 kms an hour, reaches from 0-100 kms/hour in 3.8 seconds, and is test driven at several tracks including the F1 track Monza. The young test driver Alberto tells me that the company has decided to aggressively market these cars now and is sponsoring the World Wine Symposium. It was also exciting to know that two models of the cars were available at the hotel to test drive.

So the first thing I do on reaching the hotel and having a quick soup and pasta with truffle lunch is take both the cars for a spin and dream about being a F1 driver for a while instead of breathing wines and the Devos du Vin that I have come to attend and go on record being a Maserati test driver on the Milan Como Highway. The sponsorship has been managed by Francois Mauss organising the event for the third time, inviting me every time and who despite looking at the final arrangements rushes to give me the welcome hug. Nice way to begin the conference!

The highlight of the first day is the Sassicaia tasting limited to 50 persons only and I was fortunate enough to be afforded a place. Before the grand tasting, the doors are opened for a multi-nation tasting of wines from countries like Italy, Germany and Austria. But that is only the warm-up for the big tasting to be conducted by the introverted owner of Tenuta San Guido, Marchesi Nicolo Incisa della Rocchetta who would guide us through 8 vintages spanning over 4 decades- ’77,’79.’82,’85, ’95,’98 ’00 and ’08.

Sassicaia Vertical Tasting

‘Yabi, dabi doo,’ says Francois in his inimitable style, presumably welcoming the full- house. Interestingly, the wines numbered 1-8 have been pre-poured with the oldest vintage first to taste-usually the order is from youngest to the oldest.  Moreover, we are all asked to first taste by ourselves and make notes in pin drop silence, which makes it look like an MW exam. Fortunately, after the final ‘bell’ from Mauss goes, Marchesi starts explaining the wines and the philosophy about his winery.

The winery that came out with its first vintage in 1968 of what came to be known as the first Super Tuscan because of its international grapes, started experiments after the second world war and kept on drinking whatever they produced within family for about 20 years before bringing out the first vintage  commercially. Till the end of 70s Italian barriques made with Slovenia oak were being used, a third being new oak. However in the eighties they switched to French oak with ageing remaining same at 24 months. Nothing else has changed, he said- always the blend of 80% Cabernet Sauvignon and the balance being Cabernet Franc.

What has changed is the climate- since mid 90s it has become warmer. In what may be of interest to non-believers of global warming, the alcohol before ’95 used to be 12.5%-today, it has reached  13.5%! ‘We always try to keep the level low with precocious harvest. We look for elegance more than structure, so we pick grapes earlier than our neighbours,’ he shared.

So how were the wines? All were outstanding to extra-ordinary. The ’79 served to our group turned out to be corked- one of the 3 magnums that had been opened for the occasion. But a sip from Bill Harlan’s glass who is also present with his son, showed what the Marchesi meant when he said, ‘1979 was a surprise tonight. It was considered a weak vintage-but today it was showing well.’ I personally liked ’79 a lot more after getting the right sip. ‘ 85, 90 and 98 were other favourites  for me. Interestingly, there was a marked difference in the personality in 2000 and 2008 from the older versions- wines were fuller, fruitier and drank easier. Marchesi had a simple explanation- they had introduced another wine  in 2000 which was not exactly second wine but Guidalberto was made using grapes that were not found suitable in the selection  and for Sassicaia and Merlot was added to soften the wine and make it more fruity.

Bill Harlan commented that the wines were well balanced. ‘California wines are in general very ripe. These wines are nice for us’, he said. ‘Great balance’ was the unanimous opinion. The revered French journalist Michel Bettane said that younger wines were a lot better with younger vines. Older were very interesting, ‘82 was a bit wrinkled, he added. But they were pure wines. Francois emphasized that the wines had come directly from the property in magnums and were kept the good condition.

A lady expert on Bordeaux loved ’77, especially since it was a bad year in Bordeaux. ‘85 had a great equilibrium.  There was a big difference in style. The 2000 and ‘08 had more finesse and balance and more  modern style.

During the tasting the wines started opening up magnificently. My general take was that the wines were like a young beauty with perfect figures-perhaps ’77 a bit old. But leaving them in the glass was like undressing them. Need I say more!

Austrian Cuisine Dinner

Click For Large ViewThe dinner that followed an excellent short classical music interlude was an Austrian Cuisine event, presumably sponsored by the Austrian Wien Marketing Board. In his usual effervescent style, the CEO Willi Klinger introduced the wines and the producers- three  wines from Weinguts Lackner-Tinnacher Wells- Tement Zieregg and Gross Ratscher Nussbeerg- all  Sauvignon Blanc from Steyer. Excellent wines-especially the last two. There was the signature Grüner Veltliner 2010 from Mittelbach Hoehreck, a Riesling 2006 from Bruenslmayer and a 2008 Pinot Noir from Willi Bruendlmayer  completing the Austrian stable. Also added were a magnum from Ch du Moulin a Vent and an outstanding Chianti Classico Riserve 2001 from Antinori.  The last one with dessert was a Mittelbach TBA 2005. All wines complimented the dinner very well. Too many wines at the table but no one seemed to be complaining.

A nice start for the 3-day conference which has around 200 participants with a definite French slant to it- with Italian being close. My guess is that there would be more Chinese in the foreseeable future.

Subhash Arora
Villa d’Este 


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