Posts tagged ‘bolgheri’

Three Vintages of Ornellaia

Does Axel Heinz, winemaker at Tenuta dell’Ornellaia in Bolgheri, have his own personal approach when he makes the estate’s flagship wine, Ornellaia, each vintage? “I certainly have,” he says, “but it’s not always a very conscious process. The idea is to maintain a certain continuity.” Noting the changes in the winemaking scheme and in the ownership as well at the estate, he adds; “The estate has maintained its production philosophy and its style throughout the years.”

Ample proof of that emerges in the three most recent vintages of this iconic wine from the small wine district only five miles from the sea in the Tuscan province of Livorno. I sat down with Axel to taste the 2006, 2007 and soon to be released 2008 bottlings in order to experience how the wines vary from year to year. They certainly do, even in these three vintages, each of which Heinz labels as “great”, but of course, the stylistic thread that is Ornellaia is ever present.

A few words on Ornellaia before the specifics of each of these vintages. This is a blend of four grapes, all Bordeaux varieties, that dominate the plantings in Bolgheri. Unlike the rest of Tuscany where Sangiovese is the dominant grape, that variety is rarely seen in this wine district; indeed it represents only about 1% of the plantings in Bolgheri. The clay soils, which are prevalent here are a main reason; clay is ideal for Merlot, for example, but not for Sangiovese. In fact, Heinz points out that Bolgheri is one of the few DOC zones in Tuscany where Sangiovese is not required in the final blend.

The dominant variety in Ornellaia is Cabernet Sauvignon, usually representing about 55% of the blend. Merlot is next (about 27%), followed by Cabernet Franc (usually around 15%) and finally, Petit Verdot at 4% or less. Heinz points out that the percentage of Cabernet Franc has slowly increased over the past few years, as the variety is performing, in his opinion, “brilliantly at Ornellaia and throughout Bolgheri.”

The wine is aged in approximately 70% new oak – French barriques – for anywhere from 15-20 months on average. The wine is a Bolgheri Superiore, which means the wine has to spend at least one year in wood, which is exceeded at the estate. While the new oak is noticeable, it is well-integrated into the wine and does not stand out, especially given the powerful fruit concentration.

Axel Heinz (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Heinz recalls 2006 as an outstanding vintage, but one that did not have the usual characteristics of a great year, as it was quite hot and extremely dry; in fact, it was the driest vintage ever. The reason the wine turned out so well, according to Heinz, it that as conditions were a bit extreme, the vines reacted in producing less fruit with smaller berries, resulting in especially intense and concentrated wines. Tasted now, the wine has marvelous balance and very good acidity, despite the hot conditions of that particular growing season.

As for 2007, the winemaker remembers that year as a more classic one from which you would expect greatness. Bud break was very early – as much as 10-14 days early and temperatures were moderate; cool temperatures were the norm until the end of August. Thus the grapes received great hangtime, which provided beautiful aromatics as well as ideal acidity. This is a beautifully balanced wine, which was the norm for Bolgheri in 2007.

Regarding 2008, it was a hot, dry summer with temperatures reaching as high as 35 degrees Celsius (100 degrees F); thankfully, that changed quite dramatically in mid-September, as conditions during the day plummeted to 18 degrees C (66 F), allowing a bit more ripening time in the vineyards.

Heinz had to treat the 2008 Ornellaia a bit differently in the cellar as compared to other vintages. Because of its intensity, he aged this wine 21 months in oak, longer than any other wine he has worked with at the estate (he became winemaker at Ornellaia in 2005). Heinz made this decision as he believed the wine “needed polish to shed the hard tannins.” The wine does have a blast of tannins in the finish, but again there is excellent depth of fruit and beautifully defined acidity.

Ornellaia vineyard, February (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

My own notes on these three wines note that remarkable depth of fruit and power each wine has; aromas of black cherry, anise and mocha or dark chocolate, along with the vanilla notes of new wood, are primary. Each wine is full-bodied with excellent complexity and the structure to age for 20-25 years, perhaps longer. The 2006 seemed a bit sharp in the finish, but as Heinz pointed out, the wine may be going into a stage where it shuts down for a bit.

The 2007 is an extraordinary wine, the most perfectly balanced of the three, in my opinion. The wine has ideal acidity and an extremely long finish with strong notes of mocha and anise. The 2008 is extremely deep in color – bright ruby red with evident purple hues – and offers beautiful ripeness and excellent persistence. This may turn out to be even better than the 2007, I believe. As for Heinz, he notes how beautiful the wines from 1988 and 1998 were from Ornellaia (the 1998 being “one of the greatest of all Ornellaia,” in his opinion), so he is not surprised that the 2008 has turned out to be such an amazing bottling. He admits there may be something to the last number, so the 8s have it, at least as far as the quality of Ornellaia goes. Does this mean the 2018 Ornellaia will also be a legendary bottling?

“Ornellaia is now considered one of the classic estates of Tuscany and of Italy,” Heinz remarks. “Yet, it’s still an estate that is growing and stabilizing, because it was created barely 25 years ago. Given the efforts of Heinz in only five years, I think it’s safe to say that Ornellaia will continue to prosper and improve, providing us with legendary wines that will live on for decades.

April 27, 2011 at 10:15 am Leave a comment

The Best Italian White You’ve Never Tried

I love the style and scope of Italian white wines, especially the gorgeous aromatics of the best bottlings from Friuli, Alto Adige and Campania. These are the best known whites in the country, but there are some gems I love that are produced in small quantities, so their fame is minimal. I’m thinking here of Pecorino from Marche and Abruzzo as well as Erbaluce from Piemonte or the occasional Fiano from Sicily (Planeta) or Falanghina from Puglia (Alberto Longo).

A few years ago on a visit to Bolgheri, along Tuscany’s west coast, I discovered the white wine from Guado al Melo, an excellent small estate in this famous red wine district. Like several properties here, the winery grows Vermentino, a white variety that is seen along the coast, both here and on the island of Sardinia. Most examples are made without any oak aging, so as to preserve the pine and pear aromas; the perfumes are a trademark of this wine along with its vibrant acidity. Most are fairly straightforward in their approach, with an appealing freshness along with a bite of saltiness in the finish, no doubt a result of the plantings near the sea.

Of the examples of Vermentino from Bolgheri, the most intriguing for me is the Bianco from Guado al Melo. The trick here is the addition of a variety rarely seen in Italy, Petit Manseng. Grown primarily in southwestern France, Petit Manseng is a white mutation of Manseng Noir; thus it is also known as Manseng Blanc. The aromatics of this variety – quince and apricot – are among the reasons that owner Michele Scienza planted this variety. Son of famed Italian viticultural historian Attilio Scienza, Michele has more than 30 varieties planted at his Guado al Melo estate.

Michele Scienza, Guado al Melo (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

The blend for the Guado al Melo Bianco is usually around 90% Vermentino and 10% Petit Manseng; the latter variety adds complexity and a bit of texture and rounds out the palate. It is very appealing in its youth, but thanks to the excellent acidity of the Vermentino, it ages well. I recently tasted the 2002 vintage (actually a fine vintage in Bolgheri, despite being below average in most of Tuscany) and it displayed lovely freshness and complexity. This may be an exotic white, but there is a nice earthiness in the older bottlings. In its youth, I’d recommend it with Asian cuisine, but as it ages, it becomes a more appropriate partner with veal or lighter game – it’s a serious white wine and proof of the ongoing need by the country’s finest producers to craft new styles and new wines.

July 28, 2010 at 1:52 pm 4 comments

Doing it Their Own Way

Fiano Vineyard of Mastroberardino, Santo Stefano del Sole (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Looking back on the first six months of the year, I am reminded of the wonderful Italian wines I’ve tasted in 2010. Perusing the lists of these bottlings, I’m once again reminded of the amazing variety of Italian wines – be they white, red, sparking, rosé or sweet. These wines are from the breadth and width of the country, from Piemonte to Sicily and they run the gamut of price ranges. Most of them, of course, are from indigenous varieties, which combined with their excellence, also give them a singularity.

This is nothing new, but sometimes we need to remind ourselves of the identity of Italian wines as well the the quality. I’ve made 4 trips to Italy this year and a total of 45 trips in all (maybe I should just move there?), so I’ve been able to gain remarkable insight into the Italian wine industry. At its best and most honest, it’s about making wines that represent one’s land and one’s heritage. Yes, some Italian wines of today are international in style, but most of the finest wines of today are based upon terroir and communicate a sense of place. Personal preference is one thing, but there’s no disputing heart, passion and honesty.

Montalcino (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

I’ve just published the Summer issue of my Guide to Italian Wines and it’s evidence to what I mean about Italian wines. In this 46-page issue, I have conentrated on several wine types and regions including:

  • 2009 Whites from Friuli
  • 2009 Whites from Campania (an excellent vintage in both regions- these wines have fine backbone along with impressive concentration)
  • 2005 Brunello di Montalcino – an overlooked vintage, especially after 2004, but one that offers elegance and very good typicity.
  • The beautiful sparkling wines of Franciacorta – especially those from Bellavista – what a remarkable lineup of wines!
  • The sumptuous 2007 reds from Bolgheri – these are not produced from indigenous varieties, but are often gorgeous wines; 2007 represents some of the finest reds from Bolgheri to date.

These are the highlights of this issue. I’ve been writing my Guide to Italian Wines for eight years now and this was one of the most notable collection of wines I’ve reviewed during that time.

The Guide is available on a subscription basis of $30 per year (four issues), but if you would like to purchase this Summer issue only, the price is a mere $10. I don’t think you’ll spend your $10 more wisely when it comes to learning about Italian wines.

To find out how to purchase, email me at

July 13, 2010 at 11:10 am Leave a comment

2007 Releases from Bolgheri

Guado al Tasso (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

At VinItaly this April, I was able to taste several new releases of Bolgheri reds from the outstanding 2007 vintage. 2007 is being hyped as a first-rate year in many Italian wine regions and it is true in Bolgheri as well. This was a classic year, with more traditional weather than in more recent years. There was sufficient warmth, but it was spread out over the growing season, which had a few cool spells. This assured a good difference in temperatures between night and day so that proper acidity was preserved with the aromas offering greater complexity. Combine that with impressive concentration and you have the recipe for excellent to outstanding quality.

Bolgheri is best known for a few wines that are icons around the world, namely Sassicaia (Tenuta San Guido) and Ornellaia (Tenuta dell’Ornellaia). However there are now more than 30 wine estates in Bolgheri and while their focus is often on Bolgheri Superiore (priced at $70 and up) produced from Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and other grapes (as with Sassicaia and Ornellaia), there are some excellent wines priced in the $18-30 range that offer a fine sense of the area.

Sebastiano Rosa, winemaker, Tenuta San Guido (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Here are notes on some the best Bolgheri reds from 2007 I tried earlier this year:

Sassicaia - Aromas of red cherry, blackberry and bramble; outstanding concentration; lengthy finish packed with fruit; lively acidity and outstanding balance; typical class and breeding. Best in 20 years plus.

Tenuta dell’Ornellaia “Le Serre Nuove” - This is the estate’s second wine and it is glorious – how impressive this wine has been in the last two or three vintages! Loaded with fruit – black cherry, black raspberry and black plum and a long, silky finish with polished tannins and pinpoint acidity. Gorgeous wine – so delicious now, but this only hints at what is to come – best in 12-15 years.

Ornellaia - Black cherry, red currant and vanilla aromas; excellent concentration; superb balance; lively acidity. best in 20 years plus.

Tenuta dell’Ornellaia “Masseto” - This is the most famous bottling of Merlot in Italy and one of the most famous in all the world. Simply put, the 2007 is a massive wine. Tremendous concentration, red cherry and red plum aromas along with lovely red rose perfumes. Amazing fruit persistence. A classic! Best in 15-20 years and I am probably being a bit conservative on that – it might still be drinking well in 2050!

Bottles of Ornellaia and Masseto (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Guado al Tasso - Ripe black cherry, sweet Damson plum and vanilla aromas. Excellent concentration; long, beautifully balanced finish; nicely styled with gentle tannins. Best in 15-20 years.

Argentiera Bolgheri Superiore - Black cherry, currant and tar aromas;medium-full with excellent concentration; very good persistence; a touch oaky, but otherwise nicely balanced. Best in 12-15 years.

Batzella “Pean” – This is a Bolgheri Rosso, not a Superiore, so it is lighter and more reasonably priced. Red cherry and red plum aromas; very well balanced with velvety tannins; very good acidity. Lovely wine – enjoy over the next 5-7 years.

June 25, 2010 at 12:51 pm Leave a comment

Tuscany’s Viticultural Coast

Last week at VINO 2010 in New York City, I attended several seminars, ranging from the wines of Calabria to one feauturing wines from Sardegna made from the Cannonau grape. For this post, I’d like to focus on the seminar about the wines of Tuscany’s western coast.

Piero Selvaggio of Valentino Restaurant moderated the seminar on the wines of Morellino di Scansano and Bolgheri (Photo ©Tom Hyland)


Led by Piero Selvaggio, the gracious owner of Valentino Restaurant in Santa Monica, CA (as well as Las Vegas), this tasting and seminar dealt with the wines of two separate zones in western Tuscany; Morellino di Scansano to the south and further north, the famous territory of Bolgheri. 

The wines from these areas are quite different in nature. Morellino di Scansano is made primarily from Sangiovese, while Bordeaux varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc are the main types used in Bolgheri. Professor Attilio Scienza, arguably Italy’s most knowedgable authority on indigenous Italian varieties (his last name in Italian fittingly translates as “science”) spoke about the soils of these lands and why particular varieties were well suited to specific zones. He also asked all of us to note the youth of the producers who were present to speak about their wines. These young vintners, armed with the knowledge of their parents and grandparents, are forging new paths in Tuscan viticulture.

The wines of Morellino di Scansano (Morellino, or “little cherry” is the synonym for Sangiovese here) can be quite traditional, made with 100% Sangiovese and aged in large oak casks or they can be quite modern in their approach, often blended with small percentages of Cabernet Sauvigon, Merlot or Alicante, a variety that adds very deep purple, almost black color to the wine. The wines selected for this seminar were primarily traditional in style; my favorites were the 2005 Villa Patrizia “Le Valentane” and the 2008 Celestina Fé. The former offers black cherry and tar notes with a lightly spicy finish and should drink well for another 3-5 years. The latter is a wine meant for earlier consumption (2-3 years), but one that shows remarkable subtlety, finesse and elegance. There are lovely strawberry and red currant flavors with silky tannins, subtle wood notes and lively acidity. I love wines like this, which display not only beautiful varietal character, but also a gentle hand of the winemaker. 

I’ve written previously about Bolgheri; this seminar showcased some of the area’s lesser-known producers. These estates, such as Guado al Melo, Batzella and Poggio alle Querce may never be as famous as Ornellaia or Tenuta San Guido (Sassicaia), but they are first-rate and display the excellent to outstanding quality of this zone. My favorite wine of this seminar was the 2006 Guado al Melo Bolgheri Superiore, which is produced from 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc and 10% Merlot. Medium-full with flavors of marascino cherry and black currant, this is impeccably balanced and has the structure to age for 10-12 years and perhaps even longer. It is an excellent, almost textbook example of what a top notch Bolgheri red is all about. This estate, incidentally, is run by Michele Scienza, the son of Attilio.

Michele Scienza, Guado al Melo (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Selvaggio made an important point; that despite the use of Bordeaux varieties, these wines had a Tuscan character. I agree and I believe a major reason for this is the fact that the vineyards are so close to the sea – usually 3-7 miles – which moderates temperatures and preserves acidity. 

This was an excellent look at one of Tuscany’s newest viticultural chapters and I want to thank the Italian Trade Commission, BuonItalia and the producers for making this event so memorable!

February 9, 2010 at 4:08 pm 2 comments

“B”eautiful Italian Reds


Winter Vineyard Scene, Bolgheri (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Winter Vineyard Scene, Bolgheri (Photo ©Tom Hyland)


Text and photos ©Tom Hyland

This past week I conducted a class at Perman Wine Selections in Chicago that included some of Italy’s finest and most famous wine types. I dubbed the class “Italy’s Killer B’s”; the wines tasted were examples of Brunello, Bolgheri, Barbera, Barbaresco and Barolo. 


October 5, 2009 at 4:14 pm 2 comments

Great Reds of Toscana – Bolgheri



Early morning winter at Tenuta dell'Ornellaia vineyard, Bolgheri (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Winter morning - Tenuta dell'Ornellaia vineyard, Bolgheri (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Located in the province of Livorno along Tuscany’s western border, the Bolgheri wine zone is one of the region’s most important and distinctive. While the other famous wine districts of Tuscany such as Chianti, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Brunello di Montalcino are based on wines made from Sangiovese, Bolgheri is focused on other varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, as Sangiovese is a supporting player.



Bolgheri is physically quite different from central Tuscany, where vineyards are planted inland amidst rolling hills. Bolgheri is situated near the sea, as many vineyards are located less than three miles from the Tyrrhenian. While a few of the vineyards are planted at elevations of 500-600 feet above sea level, most are planted no higher than the 300-foot elevation. 

This is a warm climate, although the hot temperatures during the summer are moderated by the sea. During the critical period of flowering in the spring as well as during autumn when harvest is approaching, the reflection of the sunshine off the sea helps warm temperatures as well.



The favored grape varieties in Bolgheri are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot along with Sangiovese and Syrah to a lesser degree. The DOC regulations for a Bolgheri Rosso are quite unique, with a minimum requirement of 10% Cabernet Sauvignon; there can be as much as 80%. The amount of Merlot  and Sangiovese is up to 70%, while other red varieties can be as much as 30% of the blend. Needless to say with regulations such as these, the red wines of Bolgheri differ as to the style and blend preferred by each producer. 

Note that a Bolgheri Rosso has until now always been required to be a blend. The DOC regulations are now changing so that a monovarietal wine made from grapes grown in the Bolgheri DOC zone can be labeled as such. This means that wines such as Scrio, a 100% Syrah or Paleo, a 100% Cabernet Franc, both produced by Le Macchiole in the heart of the district, will now be able to be labeled as Bolgheri DOC instead of Toscana IGT. (Several of the best estates of Bolgheri also produce a white wine, often made from Vermentino and/or Sauvignon.)


Leading estates of Bolgheri include the following:

  • Tenuta San Guido (Sassicaia)
  • Tenuta dell’Ornellaia 
  • Grattamacco
  • Le Macchiole
  • Guado al Tasso
  • Guado al Melo
  • Campo alla Sughera
  • Tenuta dei Piniali (Tenuta di Biserno/Coronato)
  • Poggio al Tesoro
  • Enrico Santini
  • Campo al Mare


The most famous wines of Bolgheri are the Bolgheri Superiore such as Grattamacco, Ornellaia and Sassicaia. These wines have shown the ability to age for 20-25 years and as vine age increses in this area, the wines will only improve. 

While these wines have become world renowned and thus costly (more than $150 per bottle), there are many fine examples of Bolgheri Rosso in the $18-$25 range; these include wines from estates such as Guado al Melo and Campo Alla Sughera.



Sebastiano Rosa, winemaker, Tenuta San Guido (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Sebastiano Rosa, winemaker, Tenuta San Guido (Photo ©Tom Hyland)


The quality of the red wines from Bolgheri is unquestioned. The debate continues on whether these wines are Tuscan in nature or not. Some believe they are not, as Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, two historically non-Tuscan varieties, are the focus. This has lead to a comparison between Bolgheri and Bordeaux. “The wines have similiarities,” says Lodovico Antinori, former owner of Tenuta dell’Ornellaia and currently owner of Tenuta di Biserno, located in Bibbona, only a few miles from Bolgheri. “But they have different personalities. The terroir here is not found in Bordeaux.”

The wines of Bolgheri have only been DOC-designated since 1994; the first commercial vintage of Sassicaia was the 1968. In just a few decades, the wines of Bolgheri have joined the ranks of Italy’s finest. They will only improve in the coming years.




I have just put together a collection of my reviews of the latest wines from Tuscany. These reviews can be found in a special Tuscan issue of my newsletter, Guide to Italian Wines; this is a 30-page pdf document. This issue contains reviews of 50 different Brunellos from the 2004 vintage, as well as reviews of wines from six different estates in Bolgheri (including three vintages of Sassicaia), as well as 40 new bottlings of Chianti Classico, a dozen examples of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and even a couple newly released bottlings of Vin Santo.

The price for this special issue is only $10 US. I will email the issue to you upon payment (either check or Paypal), so if you are interested, please email me and I will reply with payment instructions. This is a must for a Tuscan wine lover!




July 3, 2009 at 12:20 pm Leave a comment

tom hyland

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 674 other followers

Beyond Barolo and Brunello


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 674 other followers