You know that something special awaits you as you enter the Cypress Avenue in Bolgheri lined with elegant cypress trees standing like royal soldiers, because like any cypress-lined road in Tuscany, something supremely beautiful is at its midst. My destination - Tenuta dell'Ornallaia (Ornellaia Estate), the winery where excellence is supreme, in both its wines, arts and passion.
Bolgheri is a town in Northern Maremma, Tuscany located in the foothills of the Colline Metallifere and an arm's throw away from the Tyrrhenian Sea. For this position, the terrains of Ornellaia are both complex and varied giving the soils marine, alluvial and volcanic elements. Its close proximity to the sea gives it a substantial amount of humidity from the sea breeze taking away the need to irrigate at all.
The vines are patterned according to the slopes of the hills and the position of the sun because the sea functions like a mirror that can bounce more light and heat to the vineyards which gives them the luxury of longer daylight. The climate in the area can be described as mild as it gets the warm coastal Mediterranean breeze from while the hills protect the vines from the cold inland winds.
Ornellaia Estate is divided into two separate vineyards that are separated by Bolgheri's Cypress Avenue. 41 hectares surround the Estate while 58 hectares of vineyards are in a nearby area called Bellaria which is closer to the sea. These are divided among the main varieties Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot while the other varieties with much smaller plots are Sauvignon Blanc and Petit Manseng.
Producing wines with excellent quality is given utmost attention from the time the grapes are harvested until they are bottled and leave the winery. With the importance of all details of winemaking, the perfection of the process starts from the grapes that are then sorted by the expert hands of the women of Ornellaia, plucking away unwanted vegetation before sending them to the destemmer where the stems are separated from the grapes.
In general, the vinification starts in the stainless steel tanks where they spend 20 days before they are transferred to new French oak barrels for another 12 months, blended and 3 more months in the barrels. They are then bottled and left to age for another 12 months before they are released.
On the upper floor of the production line are two ageing rooms, one for Ornellaia and the other one for Masseto, the other label in Ornellaia Estate that has gained quite an incredible importance to the wine industry. The Ornellaia oak barrel ageing room was full of barrels were fermenting for their next vintage. Masseto on the other hand was devoid of oak barrels when we were there but there were some bottles ageing in the shelves. Both doors to the rooms were sealed. I was looking through a glass as a silent observer to the ageing of the future Super Tuscans.
Axel Heinz, the estate's winemaker, got his oenological education and initial experiences as oenologist in prestigious wineries in Bordeaux before joining Ornellaia. Together with the expertise of consultant winemaker Michel Roland, another well-known oenologist from Bordeaux, Ornellaia comes out with wines of exceptional blends and quality.
Ornellaia was established in 1981 by the Antinori family and had its first vintage in 1985. The estate changed ownership in 2005 to Marchesi De' Frescobaldi. Keeping the principles that have led to the success of the estate from the past, Frescobaldi continued what the Antinori family have embedded in the roots of the name Ornellaia.
Strengthening the bond between art and wine, Ornellaia started a multi-year project called Vendemmia d'Artista (Harvest of the Artist) connecting world-renowned artists with their creative interpretation of the unique characteristics of each vintage of the estate's iconic wine, Ornellaia. Art pieces of bigger scale are also positioned in different parts of the winery.
|Left side: Ornellaia 2012 L'Incanto Upper right:Ornellaia 2007 L'Armonia Lower right: Ornellaia 2011 L'Infinito|
The first vintage of the Ornellaia Vendemmia d'Artista was 2006 by artist Luigi Ontani which he named L'Esuberanza (The Exuberance). Ornellaia 2007 L'Armonia (The Harmony) was interpreted by Ghada Amer and Reza Farkhondeh. Ornellaia 2008 L'Energia (The Energy) was interpreted by Rebecca Horn. Ornellaia 2009 L'Equilibrio (The Equilibrium) was created by Zhang Huan. Ornellaia 2010 La Celebrazione (The Celebration) was interpreted by Michelangelo Pistoletto. Ornellaia 2011 L'Infinito (The Infinite) was interpreted by Rodney Graham. Lastly, Ornellaia 2012 L'Incanto was created by John Armleder.
|Left side: Ornellaia 2009 L'Equilibrio Upper right: Ornellaia 2010 La Celebrazione Lower right: Ornellaia 2006 L'Esuberanza|
The wine tasting consisted of 4 Bordeaux red blends starting from Le Volte dell'Ornellaia 2013 to the their celebrated red wine Ornellaia 2012. It was a gradual succession of freshness to complexity of red wines and I have to say that they were among the best red blends I have ever tried.
Le Volte dell'Ornellaia 2013 was the easiest to drink and their version of everyday wine which is fresh and young. It is a blend of 50% Merlot, 30% Sangiovese and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine is aged for 10 months in 2-4 year-old French barriques that were already previously used for ageing the Ornellaia. It pairs well with pizza and charcuterie.
Variazioni in Rosso dell'Ornellaia 2013 is a blend of 65% Cabernet Franc, 20% Merlot and the rest are 13% Cabernet Sauvignon and 2% Petit Verdot. Each of the variety was vinified separately and the wine spends 15 months in barriques. The wine varieties are blended after 12 months then returned to the barriques for an additional 3 months of ageing. They are then aged in bottles for another 6 months. The Cabernet Franc imparts its classic aromatic complexity with a lovely peppery flavor and spice to the nose. The wines just kept on getting better as we tasted this second glass.
Le Serre Nuove dell'Ornellaia 2013 is the second vin of Ornellaia. It has 52% Merlot, 28% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Petit Verdot and 8% Cabernet Franc. The fermentation in the French oaks lasted for 15 months in total, the initial 12 months of which are fermentation of the varietals separately then they are blended and returned to the barriques for another 3 months of ageing. They are then bottled for aged for another 6 months before their release. This full-bodied deep ruby red wine is very smooth and velvety with flavors of berries. It's a very refined wine and its smoothness makes it so enjoyable to drink.
Ornellaia 2012, the flagship and the most celebrated wine of the Estate had its first vintage in 1985. It goes through an extremely careful selection of varieties grown in the vineyards. It is a blend of 56% Cabernet Sauvignon, 27% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc and 7% Petit Verdot. Unlike the previous wines, this wine was aged longer in the barriques and the bottles. It stayed in the barriques for the initial 12 months of maturation before it was blended. It was then returned in the barriques for 6 more months and another 12 months of bottle aging before its release. It's a full-bodied deep red ruby wine bold Bordeaux blend. It has rich spice, smoke and fruit notes. It was a conclusion to a wine tasting worth waiting for. Priced at €180 per bottle, I was not ready to invest in one but I was happy enough to have tried it.
I did leave quite satisfied with my purchases of a bottle of Variazioni in Rosso dell' Ornallaia 2013 as well as a bottle of their extra virgin olive oil. Comprised of an incredible 15 olive varieties with a delicious composition of harmonious tastes, I couldn't leave without one. After all, I was told that the usual blending of extra virgin olive oil is only composed of about 3 kinds of olive varieties. Like the wines in the estate, the oil also has a rich characteristic of excellence. They don't sell the other wines in the estate but if you go to the town of Bolgheri, you will find their labels there where I managed to buy a bottle of the Le Serre Nuove dell' Ornellaia 2013.