The other super-Tuscan

The summer heat in Italy this year is excruciating, but the discomfort was compensated to some extent by the wondrous vistas of the rolling hills of Tuscany - the glorious landscape of forested hills and vineyard-covered hillsides.

Tenuta dell Ornellaia is a regular pit-stop for me whenever I am in Bolgheri. My first visit to Ornellaia was in 1985, soon after it had been started (in 1982) by Ludovico Antinori, brother of Marchese Piero Antinori of the great wine producer Marchese Antinori. Since then, Ornellaia has been one of my favourite pit-stops every time. And it has been fascinating watching the growth and development of the winery after it changed hands. Because, sadly, starting in 2000 a small share of Ornellaia was sold to Mondavi. By 2002, Mondavi - together with the Frescobaldi family - had acquired a controlling interest with the inevitable result, taking place in 2004, that the Frescobaldi family became sole proprietors when Mondavi was bought by Constellation.

Notwithstanding the extensive extension of the vineyards and the production, wine director Axel Heinz has successfully maintained Ornellaia consistently in the character and quality as it always has been. A blend of 60 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon, 25 per cent Merlot, 12 per cent Cabernet Franc and 3 per cent Petit Verdot, aged 18 months in barriques, Ornellaia is in character slightly softer and fuller-bodied than its neighbour Sassicaia.

My visits to Ornellaia usually take place in the afternoon following my visit to Sassicaia in the morning, thus making for an interesting tasting, comparing and contrasting the two, the latter being almost quite tight and almost lean in its youth.

Tenuta Ornellaia's most famous wine is its Masseto, 100 per cent Merlot from its own exclusive vineyard of 25-year-old vines, and aged 24 months in barrique. Produced in minute quantities, this has inevitably acquired the status (and price) of a cult wine.

Ornellaia 2013 (cask sample)

Black-red, enticing fresh floral perfume of ripe sweet fruit, peaches. Great concentration, very complex, darkly coloured rich flavours of dried fruits, citrus and stone fruits. Lingering finish with orangey tones on the palate. Very good indeed.

Ornellaia 2012 (bottle)

Cepage: 56 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon, 24 per cent Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot the rest.

Black-red, aroma of very sweet ripe fruit - berries, peaches, touch of citrus. A beautiful wine, almost at peak. The Cabernet Sauvignon dominated the palate, very good acidity and freshness, very complex, and very long finish. A great wine.

Ornellaia 2005 (bottle)

Still surprisingly very youthful dark purple-red. Beautifully tasting now, mellow, all elements blended together into one sweet fragrant wine, finishing long and lingering, leaving the palate refreshed.

Masseto 2013 (cask sample)

A gorgeous wine, very ripe fruit, soft and lush on the palate, seemed to need a little more freshness to balance the rich soft ripeness.

Masseto 2012

Black, black-red. Faint aroma of very, very ripe Merlot fruit. Rich velvety texture on the palate, still seemed to need a little more freshness to balance its opulent lushness.

Masseto 2005

Colour beginning to show the brownish taint of age in the deep red. Aroma also of mature wine, and very ripe rich fruit. Very lush palate, but not quite backed by enough acidity.

Poggio Alle Gaza 2013

Cepage: 70 per cent Sauvignon Blanc, the rest containing some Viognier.

A revival of the original white wine of Ornellaia. Light yellow-gold, aroma typical of Sauvignon Blanc (like kiwi fruit). Very good ripeness, flavours of tropical fruit, bananas and pineapples, dominated by kiwi fruit flavours. Very refreshing wine.

Ornellaia Blanc 2013

Sauvignon Blanc 70 per cent, Viognier 30 per cent.

First vintage. The real surprise! Light golden colour, very aromatic bouquet from the Viognier, very youthful. Very aromatic on the palate, also from the Viognier. To my surprise, I preferred this to the Poggio Alle Gaza.

Summing up

Ornellaia and Masseto reflect fully the suitability of the Bolgheri terroir for the exploitation of Bordeaux varietals. Masseto, because of its 100 per cent Merlot cepage, has been likened to Petrus and Le Pin, all three produced in minute quantities, and all three commanding stratospheric prices.

It may be of interest to know that Masseto is now marketed en primeur on the Bordeaux Place (Bordeaux wine market) together with the usual Bordeaux en primeurs - and Pingus too by the way!


This article was first published on July 17, 2015.
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