Podere Sapaio – two great Cabernet-based blends

Founded in 1999, Podere Sapaio is a Bolgheri winery between Castagneto Carducci and Donoratico, owned by Massimo Piccin. Originally from the Veneto region, Piccin invested in Bolgheri with the aim of making two wines, a Bolgheri DOC Rosso and a top Bolgheri red, both Bordeaux blends. The company has 25 hectares of vineyard planted with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot and is now certified organic. The focus on just two red wines shows focus and clarity of purpose. It neatly contrasts with strategies of two of Sapaio’s neighbours, Poggio al Tesoro (also an investment from the Veneto, in this case, Allegrini with nine wines) and Bolgheri semi-outsider, Michele Satta with eight wines. The recent vintages of Sapaio’s wines have received high scores on jancis.robinson.com and Decanter

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, I was not able to visit Sapaio. However, its winemaker, Alessandro Nanelli, seen above, kindly stepped into the breach. He offered to contribute a harvest report to Tuscan Harvest Watch 2020, sent me samples of the wines and the photos above that adorn this page. It so much more interesting to visit and get the feel of the place but this was a very good second best in the context of 2020.

Volpolo, Bolgheri DOC, 2018, 14.5% – Both wines are Cabernet Sauvignon dominant red blends, with 70 per cent of this variety. They are both aged in French oak barriques and tonneaux, in this case for 14 months. As such, it becomes clear that not only are there just two wines here, but they are two very similar wines. They are in effect a Grand Vin and second wine on the model of a Médoc estate. And remember that today top second wines are of a very high quality and can be very expensive.

In the Volpolo, the complementary grapes are 15 per cent Merlot and 15 per cent Petit Verdot. The wine is marked by accessible, ripe, blackcurrant and red plum fruit, well-integrated light vanilla oak notes and a firm, dry, moderately tannic finish. It balances well its accessibility with subtle layers of interest. The style is quite opulent but with a tannic and acidic structure that reminds us that we are in Italy. Its fruit and the structure would enable it to age in the bottle for 10 years or more … if you could resist it that long. It costs around £26 in the UK.

Sapaio, Toscana IGT, 2017, 14.5% – similarly, this is a Cabernet Sauvignon dominant blend that ages for 18 months in barriques. The complementary grapes in this case are 20 per cent Petit Verdot and 10 per cent Cabernet Franc. In other words, the softening effect of Merlot has been replaced by the firmer, darker-fruited Petit Verdot – though it has to be said that Petit Verdot is riper in the Maremma than in Bordeaux. The company uses around 30 per cent of new barrels each year, used for both wines.

The difference between the two wines is presumably grape selection, with the best grapes going into this wine. Unusually, the top wine is bottled under the less prestigious IGT Toscana designation. The reason for this is that some of the grapes are sourced from a very high-quality vineyard near Bibbona, north of, and outside of, the Bolgheri DOC. On the nose, Sapaio is deep and alluring, with ripe black fruit melded with cinnamon and liquorice highlights. These themes continue on the palate which is dense and full, with so much flavour packed into every mouthful. The structure is so well hidden by the exuberant fruit but is there, resulting in a balanced if powerful wine. It is perfectly drinkable now with food but would no doubt gain complexity and a softening of the tannins with bottle age. It does not appear to be available in the UK but would be around £60.

Podere Sapaio is a fine example of what Bolgheri does best. These wines manage to combine opulent and ripe fruit with an Italian structure. They would grace the cellars and dining tables of anyone who likes warm-climate oak-aged Cabernet-based blends.

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