Station of Capriata d’Orba, Piedmont. Here Sassaia takes shape, the last stage of a journey that led the de Alessandrini family of Neuenstein (‘Newrock’ Trento) to move from the imperial courts to the Atlantic coasts of Virginia, only to return to those lands trampled on at the beginning of ‘900. A love never hidden towards this strip of Piedmont, which today takes on the geometric shape of the rows and the flavor of Timorasso, an autochthonous vine around which the company is building an oenological project inspired by French Burgundian Style and UC Davis Wine Study.
The roots of the family of Enrico de Alessandrini of Neuenstein date back to the Trento of the fifteenth century, where his ancestors played important functions, also entering the imperial court as doctors. At the beginning of 1900 Enrico’s grandfather decided to move to Genoa, buying at the same time a plot of land and a residence in Capriata d’Orba, in the piedmontese hills behind. Life at the foot of the Lighthouse lasted the space of a generation, as his father, already a doctor of Portofino, decided to continue his profession in the United States, becoming over time Italian vice-consul in Virginia.
And it is here that Enrico grew up, later engaging in the field of investments in raw materials and commodities. A life interrupted in 2012, when Enrico decided to devote himself to the world of wine, first as an importer, then wearing the clothes of the winemaker. A decision that would have led him to found Sassaia in the same lands from which his family left to emigrate to the States, with the clear intention of contributing to their enhancement in international markets “My family owes a lot to these lands, which over a century ago welcomed us. My hope is to be able to give back what they have given us, helping this territory to grow overseas“, he says while pointing to the surrounding skyline.
Right from the start it was clear his interest in the native vines of the area, courteous and fearful above all, with which to produce wines with a reduced alcohol content, able to adhere to the most current tastes of world consumers “Our intention is to reduce the alcohol content of the wine by about one degree compared to the current average. This will allow us to enhance the organoleptic profile, finally free from the excessive alcohol content that often afflicts current wines“, says Enrico. Decisive in this regard was the meeting with Pierre Naigeon, a producer in Burgundy with whom, in 2016, he began a collaboration aimed at developing wines capable of linking Italian territorial expressiveness to an oenological style of French matrix “on the other hand, Piedmont has always been the bridge that has united Italy to France ” says de Alessandrini, whose attention to scientific and technological aspects is such as to push him to return to school, to obtain the Wine Making Certification issued by the University of California Davis.
There is also attention to the surrounding environment, whose protection is evidenced by the extension of the SQNPI certification to the eighteen hectares cultivated today, which are added to the presence of a photovoltaic (solar power) system capable of generating about 25kw / h. “Grapes and environment – says Enrico – are two inseparable elements. For this reason, once the typical best practices of SQNPI certification have been consolidated, I would like to embark on a deeper sustainability path, which improves the entire production process“.
The soils on which the vineyards are located are the classic ones of the area, of marine origin, alkaline, with a calcareous subsoil where there is sandstone and, to a lesser extent, chalk. Currently Sassaia can count on a vineyard area of about 18 hectares, of which about two thirds are white grapes, where Timorasso (about 5 ha), Cortese di Gavi (6 ha), Nebbiolo (2.5 ha) and Dolcetto (2 ha) stand out. Also including Cab Sauvignon, Syrah and Chardonnay, the company has a production potential of 2,400 hl of wine (about 180,000 bottles), which have found space in a new cellar at the foot of Capriata d’Orba “essential to affirm those quality levels that together with my wife and son we
set ourselves when we decided to undertake this path in the world of wine “. The American origins of the owner also influence the composition of the markets, with the USA currently absorbing about 90% of the production and in the wine shop they stand, with the flagship labels, between 50 and 60 dollars per bottle.
Interesting is the use of GPS Enogis, advanced satellite monitoring of vineyards that allows you to verify their vigor, development and phytosanitary conditions. With the technology, which takes the form of an app, it is possible to identify the moment when harvest conditions are optimal to collect grapes with a low enough alcohol content to allow for fermentation with indigenous yeasts. The same is a valid help in determining whether the berry will be able to carry out its fermentation without the addition of YAN – Yeast Assimilable Nitrogen, an acronym that contains the ammonia and alpha- amino nitrogen necessary to develop the synthesis of proteins, membranes and enzymes.
Finally, in the new cellar of Capriata d’Orba, there is an innovative water filtration system and an automated system for controlling the temperature and humidity of the barrel cellar and the aging and processing areas. Through the same system it is also possible to monitor and control the temperatures of the tanks, all of which can be monitored 24/7 and controlled remotely through a telephone app.
Among all the vines, the one on which the Italian-French duo has focused the most attention is undoubtedly the Timorasso, which since 2017 has been the subject of several vinifications, initially conducted in stainless steel containers. This interest quickly came to the attention of Carlo Ricagni, director of the Alexandria section of the CIA, who, intrigued, tasted the wines produced by Sassaia finding them fresh and accessible long before most of the other Timorasso tasted. This perceived quality led him to introduce the two to Walter Massa, with whom the idea of starting an experiment was soon born that would lead the harvested timorasso to be vinified in Burgundy, in the cellars of Pierre Naigeon, to explore ‘in the French way’ the versatility of which this vine is capable.
In fact, a project focused on the prince of the Tortona Hills was taking shape, to which Massa himself wanted to contribute by indicating to de Alessandrini some special plots in the municipality of Monleale, which, Sassaia purchased, and planted new vineyards faithfully following the traces of those already existing. Having ‘Made’ the grape selection from plots with Massa, it became necessary to define an oenological style, which, in the case of Sassaia, would combined berry contact fermentation in stainless steel and traditional Burgundy style fermentation practices in barriques.
Hyper-oxidation trials were undertaken as well.
Among the many Sassaia varietals we focused on timorasso, the vine today at the center of the company’s development. In revealing an evolving style, the three trials made their return to Capriata d’Orba from Gevrey-Chambertin. The approach to alternative oenological practices and cultures meticulously described by Enrico de Alessandrini, in the glass translates into organoleptic scenarios in the making, useful to define the boundaries of a grape still to be explored.
‘Derthona’ 2019 – Platinum Reserve
Label under the sign of honey, which we find in the chromatic shade and in the first olfactory sensations, where there are iodized and sea sand references. In the mouth it is Mediterranean, sometimes balsamic. Pineapple, apricot and straw, recomposed in a structured but fresh sip. It closes clean, declining towards vegetal sensations.
Colli tortonesi Doc Timorasso 2019
Straw yellow, the nose gives lines of almond and straw, re-proposed in the mouth together with hints of caramel, wildflower honey and plant influences. The body is fresh, of medium intensity and good persistence. Pleasant tropical fruit for a lively and balanced wine on the sip. Closure of medium intensity and great cleanliness.
Colli Tortonesi Doc Timorasso 2018
Pale gold in the glass, the 2018 vintage is characterized by a citrus nose, tempered by notes of apple and straw. In the mouth it is consistent and vital, with hints of cut grass and orange peel. Of beautiful flavor, it closes giving a last sensation of almond and licorice.
Among our barrel tastings of other varietals, we discovered the surprise dolcetto, which, in line with the oenological idea of the company, aims for lower alcohol to offer clearer sensations associated with greater drinkability. Produced with hand-selected grapes, the must and whole berries spent only three days in contact with the skins, and then was racked and fermented in second-pass barriques for about 20 days, at a temperature between 20 ° and 25 °. The oenological technique of fermenting a red in barrel, gives the wine a wide organoleptic spectrum of crunchy red fruit already capable of binding to delicate spicy veins. The reduced tannins suggest a sip devoid of the usual grumpiness of the dolcetto, which, associated with an alcohol content of about 13.5 °, will be able to separate this wine from the tasting stereotypes that today weigh on one of the red symbolic vines of Piedmont.