Our annual Italian tasting trip kicked off last week on the Tuscan coast in Bolgheri, home of super Tuscan legends such as Sassicaia, Ornellaia and Tignanello. The Tuscan leg of the trip was just Robin Kick, our wine buyer, and me. It was my first time on this particular trip, so a huge amount to take in over the next six days which would take us all over Tuscany, up to Piedmont and finally into the hills of Alto Adige, or Sud-Tirol as the locals call it.
The first instalment is a little bit “Conde Nast Traveler”. We are often asked for hotel and restaurant recommendations in wine regions and the first night’s board and lodging were definitely noteworthy.
Dinner was a feast of seafood, including an outstanding Spaghetti alle Vongole, one of my all-time favourite dishes, at La Pineta overlooking the sandy beach at the Marina de Bibbona. It is pretty hard to find, you have to be determined, as it looks as though you are heading towards the municipal camping ground, but it is worth persevering. And go at lunchtime, so you can really enjoy the view of waves breaking on the sand.
We learned later in the week that Angelo Gaja, during a flying visit to his Maremma estate, stopped off to pick up a package of seafood to take back to Piedmont for his birthday dinner that night. You don’t get much better recommendations than that. (La Pineta, via dei Cavalleggeri Nord 27 I – 57020 Marina di Bibbona, 0586600016)
We stayed in a beautifully restored townhouse in the village of Bibbona: highly recommended if you are in the area. (La Locanda di Villa Toscana, Via Vittorio Emanuele 41, Bibbona, +393356852353) Immaculate attention to detail, and a good breakfast which is fairly hard to come by in Italy.
Monday morning started well with a visit to Sassicaia at 9am. This iconic estate needs little introduction as one of the pioneers on the Bolgheri region, with Bordeaux grape varieties planted by the Marchese Mario Incisa della Rocchetta as early as 1944. His son, Marchese Nicolo, still inspects the vines each morning even though he is over 80, and the next generation, Sebastiano and Priscilla, are set to follow in his footsteps.
As you would expect the winery is immaculate. A modest but elegant exterior houses a veritable cathedral of barrel ageing.
We tasted through the 2009 Difese and Guidalberto, which we already know. Both wines are very rich and polished. They represent particular value for money, compared to the price of the Grand Vin. Watch this space for tasting notes on the soon to be released 2010s and snap up a case if you can.
And then Sassiciaia itself, both 2008 and the soon to be released 2009. There can be no questions about the quality of the wine. It combines the brilliant fruit and complexity of great Claret with an unmistakably Italian nuance. Utterly delicious with a savoury, moreish finish that makes the glass hard to put down. They are certainly not giving it away, but in the context of prices for wines of comparable quality, it is a buy.