Ornellaia is an estate in the Bolgheri DOC region on the Tuscan coast of Italy. It is situated not far from the medieval town of Bolgheri, at the end of the Viale dei Cipressi, the celebrated column of cypress trees in Castagneto Carducci in Livorno province. Ornellaia Bolgheri DOC Superiore and Ornellaia Bianco are the estate’s top wines ensued by the second vin which is Le Serre Nuove dell‘Ornellaia, plus Le Volte dell’Ornellaia and the white Poggio alle Gazze dell’Ornellaia. In little over thirty years (Ornellaia’s first vintage was 1985) has resulted in critical acclaim and public success within Italy and internationally. To Ornellaia was subsequently added the 100% Merlot red, Masseto, as Pomerol’s Michel Rolland succeeded André Tchelistcheff.
Owner: Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi (Tenute di Toscana) since 2005 when it bought the half share owned by Constellation Brands, the 50% stake that had belonged to Robert Mondavi (part of Constellation). (2021 would be Frescobaldi’s 16th vintage).
Background: Ornellaia was founded in 1981 by Marchesi Lodovico Antinori (Piero Antinori’s younger brother). Lodovico Antinori’s cousin by marriage, Mario Incisa della Rochetta had created the neighbouring Tenuta San Guido, whose flagship wine is Sassicaia (Ludovico’s mother was Marchese Niccolo Incisa della Rochetta’s sister-in-law). Lodovico Antinori bought 70ha of land, and followed the Sassicaia model by planting Bordeaux grape varieties both Cabernets, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc and others, hiring André Tchelistcheff as his first winemaking consultant, the latter being one of the pioneers of quality California Cabernet (Nicolas Belfrage MW: 2001, p.395). Lodovico also created a ‘space-age winery,’ (Nicolas Belfrage: 2001, p.395).
In 1999 Lodovico Antinori sold a share of Ornellaia to Robert Mondavi. In 2003 Lodovico Antinori sold the remaining 50% of Ornellaia to the Frescobaldi family (with whom Mondavi had already started a Tuscan joint venture to produce the internationally styled Supertuscan Luce from Frescobaldi’s Castelgiocondo estate in Montalcino).
In 2005 Constellation Brands, which had acquired Mondavi, sold the remaining 50% of Ornellaia to Frescobaldi. Meanwhile, in 2001 Lodovico, together with Piero Antinori, founded a new estate in Bibbona north of Bolgheri, Tenuta di Biserno, where Rolland is involved in the production of Bordeaux-style wines. Ornellaia Bolgheri DOC Superiore and Ornellaia Bianco are the estate’s top wines. The second vin is Le Serre Nuove dell’Ornellaia, Le Volte dell’Ornellaia and Poggio alle Gazze dell’Ornellaia, a white. The first vintage of Ornellaia was 1985.
The name: Ornellaia derives from two Italian words. ‘Orn’ refers to ‘ornello’ or ‘ornielli’ meaning ash tree or ash trees in Italian. The Ash was prized in Tuscany as the tree’s wood was both very resistant and flexible, and so farm tools were made out of it. ‘Aiai’ is a Tuscan suffix for a ‘field of something’. Here it is a field of ‘ornielli’ or ash trees in in Italian. Ash was a prized wood in Tuscany being both very resistant and flexible (farm tools were made out of it).
Estate Director: Axel Heinz (Born in Germany to a German family with Bordeaux roots) became estate director and head winemaker in 2005. He has the longest tenure of any estate director at the property. The 2021 vintage would be his 17th at Ornellaia). Michel Rolland has been involved here from 1991 (2021 would be his 30th vintage).
Winemaker: Olga Fusari is the winemaker (2021 would be her 15th vintage).
Former staff: General Manager: Leonardo Raspini. | Commercial Director: Alex Belson. | Former winemakers: 198?–199? Tibor G’al (Hungarian-born winemaker; met Lodovico in Eger, Hungary when Lodovico was looking at investing in Hungary). | Thomas Duroux (from Bordeaux).
Terroir: Axel Heinz told me (Visit 2021) ‘Bolgheri is among those Tuscan terroirs whose attributes were recognised comparatively late. With clay-rich soils and a Mediterranean climate one would expect the wines to be big but this is not the case. We have very different soil types and milder climatic conditions–both summers and winters–on the coast than are found in inland Tuscany. Bolgheri and Bordeaux are both maritime regions, but Tuscany’s extra day-time heat means treading the cautious path. The drier air here gives more flexibility in terms of picking dates during the day. Cold nightime air preserves aromas and the freshness needed for aging. And compared to Atlantic-influenced Bordeaux the Mediterranean influence here gives riper, richer wines without going overboard. Ripe but not over-ripe is what we want. We ferment cooler here compared to Bordeux. This preserves richness and ripeness without ever losing the necessary freshness.’
Vineyards: 64ha (160 acres) of land of which 83ha (207 acres) of vines on two vineyard locations, the original vineyard called Ornellaia, where the winery is located, and Bellaria, just to the east of the small town of Bolgheri, on very diverse but primarily marine, alluvial and volcanic soils (Parker, 2005, p.528). | 5,000-7,000 vines per ha (Parker, 2005, p.528). | 2015 99ha producing 832,000 bottles (Gambero Rosso: 2015). | 2018 115ha of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. | 2021 Axel told me (2021) ‘the vineyards are mature now, balanced, less worry for us, helps lighter-touch winemaking.’
Cabernet Franc: Bolgheri’s signature grape is the Cabernet Sauvignon but Heinz is not the only Bolgheri winemaker to show increasing interest in Cabernet Franc.
Petit Verdot: Julia Harding MW (08 Aug 2013) points out that Petit Verdot was only authorised in Bolgheri from 2000, and the first Ornellaia vintage with Petit Verdot was 2003. There seemed to be an implicit assumption among the tasters In London, myself included, that the small amount of this variety was a sort of secret ingredient bringing a little magic, as it can do in Bordeaux when it is fully ripe. But, just as in Bordeaux, when the other varieties are both ripe and well structured, Petit Verdot is not really needed. Heinz explained that although this variety ripens regularly, they find that any more than 5-6% in Ornellaia is too much, making the wine rather rustic. They intend to decrease the proportion in future. He was more enthusiastic about Cabernet Franc, saying that if they had the opportunity (ie suitable land to plant), they would go for more Cabernet Franc rather than Petit Verdot. Heinz felt that it showed the entire history of the property, where Sangiovese never really flourished in the way that the Bordeaux varieties have done. Axel told me (2021) ‘too much Petit Verdot can be rustic although in the 2018 vintage of Le Serre dell’Ornellaia it accounted for 17% of the blend.’
Vineyard consultants: 1985-1988: Federico Staderini. 1992–1995: Michele Satta.1995: Danny Schuster. 1996 onwards: Danny Schuster and Andrea Paoletti. 2001–2013: Leonardo Raspini and consultants Danny Schuster and Andrea Paoletti. Viticulturist Mario Fregoni was also involved. Other consultants include oenologist Jacques Puisais.
Organics: Started working organically in part from 2011 on one third of the vines.
Winemakers: 1981-1990: André Tchelistcheff. | 1985-1988: Federico Staderini and André Tchelistcheff. | 1989-1990: Tibor Gal and André Tchelistcheff. | 1991-1997: Tibor Gal and Michel Rolland. | 1998 – 2000: Wine maker Andrea Giovannini and consultant Michel Rolland. | 2001-2003: wine maker Thomas Duroux and consultant Michel Rolland. | 2004: Leonardo Raspini + Anna Martens and consultant Michel Rolland. | 2005 – 2013: Axel Heinz and consultant Michel Rolland.
Winery: The winery is near the original Ornellaia vineyard. It was seen as Napa-esque because André Tchelistcheff designed the winery and cellars. The winery was pentagonal shape made of steel, concrete and wood. The fermentation vats were a mix of stainless steel vats and open-top wooded fermenters, with French barrels for ageing.
Winemaking: Axel told me (2021) ‘tasting grapes pre-harvest gives only a part of the story. When you think you know it all you risk working to template. The first days of fermentation give you more clues. The very varied vintage weather patterns mean there are no templates in winemaking any more. Flashy winemaking is not what fine wine making is about. Old vines are less flexible, so we adapt to them rather than vice versa. And now the vineyards in general are mature we have a real sense of what Ornellaia should express. I love my job. If I manage to create wines which demonstrate effortlessness then for me it is a job done right. Each vintage is made uniquely,’ he told me
Wines: Ornellaia Bolgheri DOC Superiore and Ornellaia Bianco are the estate’s top wines. The ‘second vin’ is Le Serre Nuove dell’Ornellaia, Le Volte dell’Ornellaia and Poggio alle Gazze dell’Ornellaia, a white. The first vintage of Ornellaia was 1985.
Ornellaia Archivio Storico: As wines released too early may not show at their best, giving the wrong impression late release wines are sold and in different packaging too. These bottles are kept in the Ornellaia Archivio Storico, a cellar designed by Florentine architects Piero Guicciardini and Marco Magni, authors of the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo in Florence and many other projects for the enhancement of cultural heritage. The historical vintages of Ornellaia can be kept undisturbed from birth in perfect conditions. To guarantee the uniqueness of these bottles, a special Ornellaia Archivio Storico label has been created, as well as a single wooden case and a Prooftag™ that certifies its origin.
Pian de Susini: This is Poggio alle Gazze’s sibling. 80% Trebbiano bought in, plus 20% estate grown Sauvignon Blanc. Jacques Puisais advised on this variety.
Toscana Bianco IGT Poggio alle Gazze: Poggio alle Gazze or ‘magpie hill’ is the estate’s flagship white wine and is predominantly Sauvignon Blanc which does well here. The wine came originally from three small north-facing vineyards. These were grubbed and now the vines–mainly Vermentino, plus Verdicchio and Viognier are in the main vineyard area, again north-facing, but on heavier terrain and on deeper, more water-retentive soils. Vermentino now ferments in concrete eggs which are better than stainless steel. The Viognier adds weight, but is hard to get right, can easily become flabby and cannot undergo skin contact due to its phenolics. Axel told me he wants ‘a Mediterranean style white wine which is both layered, crisp and fresh’, so the grapes are picked early morning and go in a cool truck before going to the winery. Poggio alle Gazze used to be 100% stainless steel. Now part is barrel fermented and part is oak aged. The oak is for texture, Axel told me. Concrete eggs are used for Vermentino ‘as it does not like oak and the egg’s oval shape allows better lees circulation, more harmonious ferments and better-integrated creaminess,” he explained, adding that this wine peaks at 8-10 years.
Toscana Bianco IGT Poggio alle Gazze: 1988 Debut vintage overseen by Federico Staderini. Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon.
Toscana Bianco IGT Poggio alle Gazze: 2013 Debut. ‘A firm structure and ripe fruit while maintaining great finesse,’ say the owners.
Toscana Bianco IGT Poggio alle Gazze: 2018 83% Sauvignon Blanc, 11% Vermentino, 6% Viognier. After several years with un-wintery winters, 2018 brought normal weather conditions, with with temperatures below zero for a number of days, sufficient for the vines to begin their winter rest. Spring was one of the rainiest in history, with three times more rainfall than the seasonal average and high temperatures in April. Despite the late budding, the weather conditions and the rapid growth of the shoots allowed the vines to catch up and even flower a full week early. It rained less in June than in May, but there was above-average rainfall throughout June. A break came only in July with a warm and dry month. The veraison took place between 22 and 25 July. August was as hot as 2017, but with slightly more rain. The sugars and acidity developed slowly, while the berries grew to larger dimensions thanks to the high level of water present in the soil. In September the weather was warm and it did not rain. Temperatures were higher than the seasonal average, but the cooler nights allowed the vines to recover and preserve the grapes’ aromas and acidity. The harvest for the Sauvignon Blanc began on 16 August and continued until mid-September, after which the Vermentinos were harvested between 17 and 25 September (a relatively late harvest.
The clusters were hand-picked into small 15 kg boxes in the early morning and immediately chilled on arrival at the cellar in order to fully preserve their aromatic compounds. After a meticulous quality selection, the whole clusters were given a very slow, gradual pressing, while great care was exercised to prevent oxidation of the fruit. After gravity settling of some 12 hours, the separate lots of must were put to barriques, 25% of which new and 25% used, in steel tanks and in concrete vats (50%). Fermentation temperatures did not exceed 22°C, and the wine did not go through malolactic fermentation. The wine matured on the fine lees for 6 months, with regular bâtonnage throughout the period, followed by the assemblage of the final blend. After a light fining, it rested an additional 12 months in the bottle before release. Poggio alle Gazze dell’Ornellaia 2018 has ‘a classic straw-yellow colour. The nose presents intense aromas of white-fleshed fruits, accompanied by delicate notes of vanilla. On the palate it is initially ample and soft; the wine reveals a great richness and marked tanginess that lead to a fresh and persistent finish,’ says Olga Fusari, Winemaker, May 2019.
Toscana Bianco IGT, Ornellaia Bianco: Ornellaia Bianco is a blend with a majority of Sauvignon Blanc coming from three small vineyards that have demonstrated their capacity to express the unique character of Ornellaia. (North facing vineyards planted on sandy clay-rich soils, I think). 2015: 100% Sauvignon Blanc. After an unusual year in 2014, 2015 proved to be a very normal wine-making year, almost textbook. After a standard winter, wet and mild but with some days below 0°, germination happened on time during the first few days of April. Spring was characterized, by dry and sunny weather, ideal conditions for normal vegetative growth that led to quick and full flowering at the end of May. From June water stress steadily arrived. July will be remembered as being particularly hot and dry, with peaks in temperature consistently above 30°C on every single day of the month. The heat wave, together with the lack of rain gave rise to the fear that ripening would stop and that an early harvest would be necessary. Fortunately rain arrived around 10th August with heavy rainfall that unblocked the ripening process, bringing with it some much fresher weather during the final phase of ripening. In this way, we could harvest in perfect conditions during the last 10 days in August.
The grapes were hand-harvested in 15 kg bins in the early hours of the morning and immediately cooled on arrival in the cellar to keep all their aromatic potential intact. Following careful selection the whole grape clusters were subjected to slow and soft pressing with maximum attention to protection against oxidation. After static decantation lasting approximately 24 hours, all the must was placed in barriques, 30% new and 70% used, for alcoholic fermentation at temperatures no higher than 22°C. No malolactic fermentation was carried out. The ageing continued for 12 months on the lees with periodic batonnage over the entire period, and concluded in steel vats for 3 more months. Before bottling, blending of the various batches was carried out, along with light fining.
The 2015 vintage ‘has an intense but bright colour, classic aroma of mature and lively citrus fruits, subtle toast and vanilla notes. A full-bodied and juicy palate reflects the sunny season, but at the same time its vibrant acidity and crisp fruity character leave a very fresh and elegant impression in the mouth. Finishes with a classic touch of saltiness and subtle toasty notes,’ says Axel Heinz – March 2017.
Toscana Rosso IGT, Variazioni in Rosso IGT : 2016 72% Merlot, 13% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Petit Verdot, 6% Cabernet Franc.
Toscana Rosso IGT Le Volte: 2015 100% Merlot Bottled.
Bolgheri Rosso DOC, Le Serre Nuove dell’Ornellaia: Le Serre Nuova dell’Ornellaia originated out of a particularly rigorous selection of grapes for the 1997 vintage Ornellaia,’ (Nicolas Belfrage: 2001, p.396). The name translates as ‘the new greenhouses’. Axel Heinz told me (2021) ‘the Le Serre Nuove is a wine with its own identity rather than a second wine. It is a more casual wine that is approachable straight off but can age. Young vines and specific terroirs are suited to this wine, such as sandier or earlier ripening sites. It is picked early too to sacrifice a degree of tannic structure.’
2004 Bolgheri Rosso DOC Le Serre Nuove dell’Ornellaia: 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc, 5% Petit Verdot. Superb vintage, according to current winemaker Axel Heinz. Textbook conditions. 51 separate base wines produced from different parcels. 17 months in oak, with blending after 12 months. 25% new barrels.
2010 Bolgheri Rosso DOC Le Serre Nuove dell’Ornellaia: 45% Merlot, 41% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Cabernet Franc, 9% Petit Verdot. Unusual vintage. Cool and late ripening, so less Mediterranean than most. Malo completed in barrel (25% new). Bottled April 2012. 15 months’ ageing but not blended until the separate components had had 12 months in barrel.
2013 Bolgheri Rosso DOC Le Serre Nuove dell’Ornellaia: 36% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc, 12% Petit Verdot. 14.5% alc. After a dry 2012, winter 2013 was characterised by mild but very rainy weather, which caused a delay in budding of up to 15 days. The cold and the rain also led to an irregular and very long flowering period – with a two-week delay compared to the average – which reduced production and resulted in uncoordinated development of grapes. Fortunately the summer, which arrived as always at the end of June, was perfect, dry and sunny, but with a few peaks of intense heat in July and August. The slow vegetative development was ultimately beneficial because it deferred ripening until after the hottest period. The August storms significantly lowered temperatures, especially at night, which favoured aromatic expression, but led to a later than average harvest, between 9 September and 14 October, with predominantly sunny weather without excessive heat.
2013 Harvest & winemaking: Harvesting took place by hand in 15 kg boxes, and the grapes were graded and selected by hand on a double sorting table, before and after de-stemming, and finally soft-pressed. Each variety and each parcel was vinified separately. Alcoholic fermentation took place in stainless steel, at temperatures of between 26° and 30°C for two weeks followed by maceration for a total of around 10-15 days. Malolactic fermentation was started in stainless steel, and completed after transfer to barrels (25% new and 75% a year old). The wine remained in Ornellaia’s temperature-controlled cellar for a further 15 months. It was assembled after the first 12 months and then reintroduced in the barrels for a further 3 months. After bottling, it was aged for an additional six months prior to release.
2013 Winemaker’s notes: Axel Heinz (May 2015) is quoted thus: ‘A marvellous summer and a cool, sunny September made it possible to achieve perfect maturation of the grapes despite the difficult flowering period, with wines that express a particularly elegant side. Le Serre Nuove dell’Ornellaia 2013 has an intense, bright colour. The nose is vibrant and fruity underscored by delicate toasty notes. On the palate, the smooth, silky texture contrasts with tannins of great freshness. Whilst its structure will enable it to mellow with age, the crispness of the fruit and its soft, fine character make it perfect to enjoy straight away.’
2017 Bolgheri Rosso DOC Le Serre Nuove dell’Ornellaia: 54% Merlot, 26% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Cabernet Franc, 6% Petit Verdot. 2017 was one of the hottest, driest years ever. Things were clear from the outset due to a particularly mild winter, with temperatures over three degrees higher than the seasonal average and rains within the norm. Consequently, the vines budded much sooner than usual, almost two weeks in advance. The vegetative cycle was accompanied by hot weather with very little rain from March onwards. This was interrupted by a sudden drop in temperatures at the end of April, which caused frost in various parts of Tuscany. Thanks to the mitigating effects of the sea, temperatures remained above zero along the coast, preventing damage to the young buds. The hot, dry weather returned in May, limiting vegetative development and the size of the bunches, while flowering occurred under excellent conditions. There was virtually no rain in July and August but fortunately the hot weather was offset by cooler temperatures at night. The harvest began early, with the first Merlot on the 24th of August, continuing through until the last week of September in hot weather and under sunny skies. Rain finally put in an appearance around the middle of month, cooling things down and creating the perfect conditions for the later-ripening varieties.
2017 Harvest & winemaking: The clusters were hand-picked into 15-kg boxes and then selected by hand on a double sorting table, before and after de-stemming, and finally gently crushed. Since 2016, optical sorting has been introduced in addition to manual selection, in order to further increase the quality of selection. Each variety and each parcel was vinified separately. Alcoholic fermentation took place in stainless steel, at temperatures of 25°C for two weeks followed by one week of maceration, thus not exceeding a total of three weeks in tank. Malolactic fermentation was started in stainless steel, and completed after transfer to barrels (25% new and 75% a year old). The wine remained in Ornellaia’s temperature-controlled cellar for a further 15 months. It was assembled after the first 12 months and then reintroduced in the barrels for a further 3 months. After bottling, it was aged for an additional six months prior to release.
Tasting note: “Le Serre Nuove dell’Ornellaia 2017 expresses itself with outstanding elegance, combining great ageing potential with immediate enjoyability. A deep ruby red colour with purple highlights, a complex nose characterised by scents of small red berries and balsamic notes reminiscent of Mediterranean scrub vegetation. The quality of the tannins on the palate is particularly striking, smooth and silky. The mouthfeel ends with a lingering finish and unexpected freshness,”Olga Fusari, Winemaker, May 2019.
2018 Le Serre Nuove dell’Ornellaia: 33% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32% Merlot, 18% Cabernet Franc, 17% Petit Verdot. 14.5% alc. After several years in which winter seemed to be little more than a memory, 2018 brought a return to normal climatic conditions, with temperatures spending enough time below zero for the vines to begin their well-deserved winter rest. Spring was one of the wettest in history, with three times the seasonal average rainfall and high temperatures in April. Despite late budbreak, the weather conditions and rapid growth of the buds enabled the vines to catch up and bloom a week earlier than anticipated. For the entire month of May and – to a lesser extent – June, rainfall remained above average and it was only in July that we received some respite, with a warm and dry month. Veraison took place between the 22nd and 25th of July, and August was as hot as it had been the previous year, but slightly wetter. The sugars and acidity developed slowly, while the berries grew to larger dimensions thanks to the high level of water present in the soil. September was warm and dry. Temperatures were higher than the seasonal average, but cooler nights enabled the vines to recover and preserve the aromas and acidity. The red grape harvest began on the 31st of August with the Merlot and ended on the 8th of October with the later-ripening varieties. ‘some wines had finished fermenting before harvest ended,’ Axel Heinz told me (Visit 2021).
Vinification & ageing: The clusters were hand-picked into 15 kg boxes and then selected by hand on a double sorting table, before and after de-stemming, and finally gently crushed. Since 2016, optical sorting has been introduced in addition to manual selection, in order to further increase the quality of selection. Each variety and each parcel was vinified separately. Alcoholic fermentation took place in stainless steel, at temperatures of between 26° and 30°C for two weeks followed by maceration of around 10-15 days. Malolactic fermentation was started in stainless steel and completed after transfer to barrels (25% new and 75% a year old). The wine remained in Ornellaia’s temperature-controlled cellar for a further 15 months. It was assembled after the first 12 months and then reintroduced in the barrels for a further 3 months. After bottling, it was aged for an additional six months prior to release.
Tasting note (estate): ‘Lively ruby red colour. Great aromatic complexity, a distinctive feature of this vintage, aromas of berries, blackberry, raspberry and red cherry, floral hints of wild rose and spicy notes of pink pepper and liquorice. Good tannic structure, enveloping and balanced, with a crisp and savoury finish.” Olga Fusari – Winemaker – May 2020.
Tasting note (mine): 2018 Le Serre Nuove: Rich, tactile nose. Rich ripe plum. Bright crimson. Like liquid velvet. Youthful palate, very juicy, tangy, tannins well honed oak beneath giving support. Will age but hard to resist now (Visit 2021).
Blend: Axel Heinz told me (Visit 2021) ‘lots for blending Ornellaia are not tasted blind and nor are they graded, for example, on technical data such as eg. polyphenol levels. We do the blend based on a combination of taste and data. We blend the wine after the wine has been in barrel for 12 months. We have 70-80 lots for Ornellaia and Le Serre Nuove. The bottled Ornellaia usually comprises 30 lots and of this there is a core of lots from 20 sites that are regularly the backbone of the blend.’ The presence of small percentages of Petit Verdot provides a talking point.
Food pairing: Axel Heinz told me his favourite dish was a legendary dish of French cuisine, Tournedos Rossini which is made with minute-cooked fillet of beef placed on bread, covered with a slice of duck foie gras and drizzled with a truffle-and-Madeira sauce.
1985 Ornellaia: Debut vintage.
1988 Ornellaia: Very good vintage here.
1990 Ornellaia Vino da Tavola. 82% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc. Hot end to the growing season. Part fermented in wood, part in steel. Finished malo in barrel (40% new). 15 months in barrel.
1991 Ornellaia Vino da Tavola:
1992 Ornellaia Vino da Tavola:
1993 Ornellaia Vino da Tavola:
1994 Ornellaia Vino da Tavola:
1995 Ornellaia Vino da Tavola:
1996 Ornellaia Vino da Tavola:
1997 Ornellaia Bolgheri DOC Superiore Rosso: The superstar vintage of the 1990s. But the 1998 was even better (see below).
1998 Ornellaia Bolgheri DOC Superiore Rosso: ‘Very good, underrated, fresh, compact tannins, better than 1997. No Petit Verdot. Took time to be discovered and still compact in 2021,’ Axel told me (Visit 2021).
1999 Ornellaia Bolgheri DOC Superiore Rosso: 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc. ‘Big crop, high quality. The wine needs plenty of time to settle. Great vintage and here helped by maturing vines. Harvest first week in Sept to the start of Oct. Very uniform ripeness. Part fermented in wood and partly in tank, malo in barrel (60% new). Parcels kept separate for the first 12 months in barrel and then another 6 months in barrel after blending,’ Axel told me. Peaking in 2021. Risk of being monolithic initially. Very rich, very ripe, figgy, solar, exuberant clear red fruit with dark hints, still firm in the mouth. Very Mediterranean. Grip. Warm fruit on the nose with no signs of corruption. Sweet tobacco. Took time to open up. Not an Axel winemaking style, a different and dry, hot era, can feel the sun. Will age to 2035 (Visit 2021).
The estate’s technical report on 1999: ‘Winter this year was more severe than in 1998, with budbreak occurring one week later. Spring was within average parameters however, with normal levels of rain and temperatures, so that flowering and vegetative growth proceeded at a rate very close to the previous year. Optimal weather conditions during flowering ensured better-than-average fruit set and a larger-than-expected crop per vine. A hot, rainless summer brought an early ‘veraison’, one week earlier than in recent years, and the berries were of good quality and uniform size. In early July, cluster-thinning was carried out in Merlot, removing up to 50% of the clusters in some vineyards and 10% in others, while Cabernet lost about 10%. The Merlot harvest started during the first week in September and continued through the middle of the month. At that point, picking began in the Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, which concluded in the beginning of October. The fruit brought into the cellar was in outstanding condition and exhibited uniform ripeness. All the grapes were hand-picked into small, 15-kg boxes. It is noteworthy that this year’s Cabernet Sauvignon is of particularly fine quality.’
Harvest & winemaking: The grapes were destemmed and crushed before being introduced partially in wooden fermentors and partially in stainless steel tanks where alcoholic fermentation took place at a temperature not exceeding 30°C. Maceration continued for a period of 20-25 days after which the wine was transferred into new French oak barriques (60% new and 40% once-used) where it completed its malolactic fermentation. Each single variety and each vineyard lot was aged separately for the first 12 months. The wine remained in barriques in the temperature controlled cellars at Tenuta dell’Ornellaia for 18 months. After the first 12 months the master blend was made and the wine was reintroduced into the barriques for the remaining 6 months period and then bottled.
The 1999 Ornellaia came from a hot and highly rated vintage providing uniform ripeness, hence the darker and deeper than usual fruit expression. In 2021 Heinz described it to me as ‘a figgy, very solar wine that probably has 15 or more years ahead of it.’ Took time to open up (Visit 2021).
2001 Ornellaia Bolgheri DOC Superiore Rosso: “Archivio Storico”. A reference vintage here. 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc. Quite a lot of crop thinning early July, especially for the Merlot. Harvest early Sept to 5 Oct. Part fermented in wooden vats, part in tank. MLF in barrel (70% new). 18 months in barrel, blended after 12 months.
2002 Ornellaia Bolgheri DOC Superiore Rosso: High quality grapes were picked until the end of the third week in September but overall this vintage was not seen as a great one overall in Tuscany.
2004 Ornellaia Bolgheri DOC Superiore Rosso: Archivio Storico. 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot. Textbook vintage, high yields kept in check by regular bunch thinning. Early summer mild and moderate; hot, sunny August. Harvest from 2 September to end of first week in October.
2005 Ornellaia Bolgheri DOC Superiore Rosso: Axel Heinz became Ornellaia’ estate director and head winemaker in 2005.
2006 Ornellaia Bolgheri DOC Superiore Rosso: A very good vintage which overshadowed the 2007 (see below). Drinking now (2020–2035).
2007 Ornellaia Bolgheri DOC Superiore Rosso: 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 27% Merlot, 14% Cabernet Franc, 4% Petit Verdot. 2007 began with a very mild winter, with less rainfall than usual. As a result bud break occurred about 10 days early. Spring was mild too, with rains coming just when they were required, which allowed excellent vegetative growth and led the vines to flower early. June rains, which occurred throughout Tuscany, accompanied the development of the grapes. Summer finally started with a July, which was hot and dry, followed by an August which was cooler, with classic mid-month thunderstorms that slowed the ripening of the grapes, bringing the projected somewhat early harvest date in line with the average. A perfect September with brilliant sun, mild temperatures, and little rain permitted a perfectly slow, steady ripening of the grapes, concentrating polyphenols and aromatic compounds, without leading to any over-ripeness.
Harvest began on 28 August 2007 with Merlot in the youngest vineyards and concluded in the first week of October with the final Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards. The clusters were hand-picked into 15-kg boxes and then graded and selected by hand on a double sorting table, before and after destemming, and finally soft-pressed. Each grape variety and single vineyard block was vinified separately. Fermentation took place in stainless steel tanks at temperatures between 26-30°C for one week, followed by 10-15 days of maceration on the skins. The malolactic fermentation took place primarily in oak barriques, 70% new and 30% once-used. The wine then remained in barriques, in Ornellaia’s temperature-controlled cellars for about 18 months. After the first 12 months of maturation, the wine was assembled and then returned to the barriques for an additional six months.
The 2007 Ornellaia shows elegance and development of richly-faceted aromatics, with its classic dark, intense ruby colour. Fully-ripened fruit pervades the nose, with crisply-delineated dark wild berry fruit and spice, with balsamic notes. On the palate, exceptionally glossy, velvet-smooth tannins immediately impress, along with intense notes of fruit and spice. Good volume and depth contribute to an overall harmony of all its components, suitably crowned by a long-lingering finish infused with aromatic fruit and balsamic impressions and marked by a healthy vein of tannins that promise a long and salutary development. Axel told me (in 2021) that the 2007 followed on from the highly rated 2006 and was low key initially which meant it was somewhat overlooked initially by the market. It has has never really closed down since, providing a long drinking window and a silkiness that is not dissimilar to 2018. The Cabernet Sauvignon gives it a minty coolness. It is a sleeper vintage entering the phase of perfect maturity,’ Axel Heinz told me (2021). It had a bit of oak on the nose which soon blew off, with clear, mouthwatering fruit, tangy fruit with good weight, Bordeaux right bankish (tasted at the estate 2021 ).Axel told me ‘2007 followed the very good 2006 vintage, but 2007 produced a very refined, low-key Ornellaia which I very much love.’
2008 Ornellaia Bolgheri DOC Superiore Rosso. 54% Cabernet Sauvignon, 27% Merlot, 16% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot. Summer 2008 initially very hot, Rain mid-August tempered the heat. In mid September (during Merlot harvest) there was a complete change and huge drop in temps – below 20 ºC until end Oct. 10-15 days’ post-ferment maceration. Malo mainly in barriques (70% new). Blended after 12 months in barrel, then another 8 months in oak.
2009 Ornellaia Bolgheri DOC Superiore Rosso: 14.5%. 52% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Merlot, 21% Cabernet Franc, 5% Petit Verdot. Hot dry summer, with hot winds hastening the ripening (early ripening is rare here, 2017 was also early), especially for Merlot. Rain in mid September gave the later-ripening varieties a breathing spell. Harvest 26 Aug to 6 Oct. 20-25 days’ post-ferment maceration. Malo mainly in barriques (70% new). Blended after 12 months in barrel, then another 6 months in oak. |
2010 Ornellaia Bolgheri DOC Superiore Rosso: 53% Cabernet Sauvignon, 39% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc, 4% Petit Verdot. Harvest mid September to 12 October. Malo mostly in barrel (70% new), 18 months in oak, blended after 12 months. 14.5% alc.
2011 Ornellaia Bolgheri DOC Superiore Rosso: A good vintage in parts of Tuscany such as Montalcino and Chianti Classico DOCG. Yet Bolgheri was unusually cold, saw rain, and ripening was late. Long, slow maturation. Lower alcohol levels than 2015 or 2016. Complex and elegant or light and simple. Over-shadowed by the 2010 vintage.
2012 Ornellaia Bolgheri DOC Superiore Rosso: Axel Heinz told me 2012 was an underdog vintage for Ornellaia because the previous 2010 vintage got the attention.
2013 Ornellaia Bolgheri DOC Superiore Rosso: “L’Eleganza”. 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 38% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, 7% Petit Verdot. 13% alc. After a dry 2012, winter 2013 was characterised by mild but very rainy weather, which caused a delay in budding of up to 15 days. The cold and rain also led to irregular and very long flowering – with a two-week delay compared to the average – which reduced production and resulted in uncoordinated development of clusters. Fortunately the summer, which arrived punctually at the end of June, was perfect, dry and sunny, but with a few peaks of intense heat in July and August. The slow vegetative development was ultimately beneficial because it deferred ripening until after the hottest period. The storms of August significantly lowered the temperatures, especially at night, which favoured aromatic expression, but led to a later than average harvest, between 9 September and 14 October, with mainly sunny weather without excessive heat.
“What appeared to be a disadvantage for the 2013 vintage – late budding and flowering – proved to be a major advantage thanks to a warm summer and month of September offering textbook conditions for harvesting, with cool temperatures but a prevalence of sunny weather. This resulted in slow but complete ripening with great balance and a delightful aromatic quality, which we like to define as “Elegance”,” says Axel Heinz – May 2015.
The clusters were hand-picked into 15-kg boxes and then selected by hand on a double sorting table, before and after destemming, and finally softly crushed. Each grape variety and single vineyard block was vinified separately. Fermentation took place in stainless steel tanks at temperatures between 26-30°C for two week, followed by 10-15 days of maceration on the skins. The malolactic fermentation took place mainly in oak barrels, 70% new and 30% once-used. The wine then remained in barriques, in Ornellaia’s temperaturecontrolled cellars for about 18 months. After the first 12 months of maturation, the wine was assembled and then returned to the barriques for an additional 6 months.
Axel Heinz told me (visit 2021) Ornellaia 2013 was ‘elegant and restrained, still young and demanding despite having lost its primary fruit whilst without being fully developed. Hence it is still grippy and compact, like an athlete with no fat, its positive tightness complex, and with moreish layers of fruit and tannin. It needs time, being tight, and still fighting with itself, deciding if it wants to be a young wine or a mature one. Dense aromas. Very ripe and clear. Coolness to the fruit even if it was not a cool season. We had to fight to get it ripe’. Might be ready in 2026, Axel suggested.
2014 Ornellaia Bolgheri DOC Superiore Rosso:
2015 Ornellaia Bolgheri DOC Superiore Rosso. Dubbed ‘Le Carisma’ in house. The 2015 won’t last as long as the 2016–discuss. Mocha, earthy? Black berry or black current? Will peak before the 2016.
2016 Ornellaia Bolgheri DOC Superiore Rosso: Dubbed ‘La Tensione’ in house. Drink: Now-2046 Should be among the best if not the best Ornellaia wines ever made. Really clear fruit with ripeness and depth, Needs time to open and soften. The 2016 Ornellaia is absolutely fantastic and will only get better over the next 20+ years.
2017 Ornellaia Bolgheri DOC Superiore Rosso: 2017 was an early ripening, rare here. 2009 was also early.
2018 Ornellaia Bolgheri DOC Superiore Rosso: ‘La Grazia’. The 2018 vintage is seen in Bolgheri as better than the 1997. Axel Heinz told me (2021) it reminded him of 2007. After a few years that almost made us forget what winter was like, 2018 brought the weather conditions back to normal, with a number of days with temperatures below zero that were sufficient for the vines to begin their well-deserved winter rest. Spring will be remembered as one of the rainiest in history, with three times more rainfall than the seasonal average and high temperatures in April. Despite the late budding, the weather conditions and the rapid growth of the shoots allowed the vines to catch up and even flower a full week early. Even if it rained less in June than in May, there was above-average rainfall throughout June, and a break came only in July with a warm and dry month. The veraison took place between 22 and 25 July and the month of August was as hot as the previous year, but with slightly more rain. The sugars and acidity developed slowly, while the berries grew to larger dimensions thanks to the high level of water present in the soil. In September the weather was warm and it did not rain. The temperatures were higher than the seasonal average, but the cooler nights allowed the vines to recover and preserve the grapes’ aromas and acidity. The harvest of the reds began on 31 August with the Merlots, and ended on 8 October with the later vines.
The wine turned out smooth, silky and balanced once fully blended (Axel Heinz, visit 2021) whereas the constituent parts initially at least did not seem that way. He told me (2021) ‘it turned out dense, open, friendly which is east 2’018 is about.’ 51% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Cabernet Franc, 2% Petit Verdot. More Merlot in the blend in 2018 than usual (Visit 2021). Merlot harvest began on 31 August and the other varieties were picked until 8 October. Fermentation took place in stainless-steel and concrete tanks at between 26 and 30 °C for one week, followed by maceration for about 15 days, for a total time in the vat of about three weeks. Malolactic conversion took place mainly in oak barrels, 70% new and 30% once used. The wine then remained in barriques for about 18 months. After the first 12 months’ ageing the assemblage was made and returned to barriques for an additional six months. After bottling, the wine aged a further 12 months prior to release. 14.5% alc. The 2018 Ornellaia ‘La Grazia’ is very ripe and clear, with dense aromas, very tangy raspberry red fruit to taste which lingers. The oak is just about integrated (2021) and was very gentle in 2018. It will have a long drinking window until 2040 or so, like 2007.
2020 Ornellaia Bolgheri DOC Superiore Rosso: Hopes are high for the 2020 vintage. A few nights in March were particularly cool. Spring was almost perfect: sunny, with some rain at the right time. Slightly earlier budbreak, one week earlier than usual. Fruit set laid the foundations for a generous harvest in August. June was wetter than usual, forcing the Ornellaia team to conduct considerable vineyard management to limit and protect the vegetation at the height of its growth. July balanced the circumstances, given the lack of rainfall, slowing down the development of the vines just in time for veraison, which occurred during the last ten days of July. The advent of Covid-19 meant re-organizing vineyard and cellar work. “Back in April,” explains Estate Director Axel Heinz, “we reorganised the cellar, where about 20 people work, whereas distancing is natural in the vineyards. We changed our working methods without altering our operation and without compromising our standards of quality. It has been a significant challenge.” The harvest started about a week earlier than usual, on 13th of August, with the first bunches of Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier. The red varietals (Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot) are expected to be harvested between the last few days of August and the first week of September. The watchwords for this first harvest after the Covid-19 lockdown are ‘confidence & resilience,’” continues the Director. “Our commitment is to work as usual, interpreting the vintage to the best of our abilities while preserving the style and identity of Ornellaia.”
Vendemmia d’Artista label project: Since the 2006 vintage, the Vendemmia d’Artista project saw Ornellaia labels decorated by an original artwork. | 2015 Artwork by Shirin Neshat (an American artist). The artist created a site-specific art installation, plus a personalised edition of 111 large-size bottle labels, and designed an artistic label, one of which is in every 6-bottle box of 750ml Ornellaia. The wine comes from a single block.
Archivio Storico: A selection of older vintages sold direct from the winery and labelled only when sold with a label identifying them as a later than normal release.
Masseto: A varietal Merlot called Masseto, ‘which as a prototype of the now rapidly expanding school of outstanding Pomerol-like Merlots of central Italy, from its first release in 1986, became an icon in Italian and indeed international wine circles,’ (Nicolas Belfrage: 2001, p.395). 1986 Debut. 100% Merlot. | 2006 100% Merlot. | 2009 100% Merlot. | 2011 100% Merlot. | 2012 100% Merlot. | 2013 100% Merlot. | 2014 100% Merlot. | 2015 100% Merlot.
Sweet white wines
Ornus, Costa Toscana Vendemmia Tardiva: Made from late picked Petit Manseng.
Grappa dell’Ornellaia: ‘Distilled from the Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot marc. Nine months in barriques prior to bottling. 50cl. Dried apricot, kumquat, dried fig and Seville orange marmalade aromas,’ (Corney & Barrow: May offer 2002).
Via Bolgherese 191 (Località Ornellaia, 191)
I-57020 Bolgheri (LI), Italy
Tel+39 0565.71811 | www.ornellaia.com
GPS Coordinates: 43.211526, 10.611459
Jonathan Goodall, Out on his own, Wine & Spirit international, Oct 1994, p.51.
Julia Harding MW, ‘Ornellaia celebrates 25 vintages,’ jancisrobinson.com 08 Aug 2013.
Nicolas Belfrage MW, From Brunello to Zibibbo: The Wines of Tuscany, Central and Southern Italy (London, 2001).
Oxford Companion to Wine (2015), p.530 by Walter Speller
Oz Clarke 2015, Oz Clarke Wine A-Z (Pavilion, 2015), p.227.
Robert M Parker Jnr, ‘The World’s greatest Wine Estates‘, Robert Parker Jnr, (Dorling Kindersley), 2005
Susan Low, ‘Foreign Correspondence’, Decanter, October 1993, p.71-72.