Posts tagged ‘ornellaia’

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

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

The Decade’s Best Producers – Part One

Falanghina Vineyard of Mastroberardino (Photo ©Tom Hyland)


For my final post of 2009, I want to salute some of the finest Italian producers of this decade. Each year in the Spring issue of my Guide to Italian Wines, I list the year’s best wines and producers. I’ll be working on that shortly, but for now, let’s focus on the most important producers of the decade. There is no way I can do this with a single post, so this is part one. I’m juding not only on the quality of the wines, but also the influence these producers had in the marketplace and media and among their peers.



If Luca Currado at Vietti only made Barolo, this winery would have made the list, but there are also gorgeous bottlings of Barbera, as well as a sleek, delicious offering of Arneis. The wines are beautifully made and sell through in good order.


This family-owned winery makes the list for maintaining its traditional winemaking methods, as the great Barolos are aged in botti grandi – no barriques here. Is there a more graceful and ageworthy Barolo than the Bricco Boschis San Giuseppe Riserva?

Roberto Voerzio

Very modern Barolos here, aged in barrique, but amazing concentration and style. You may or may not like this style of winemaking, but you cannot help but admire the class of the offerings here.

Produttori del Barbaresco

Ultratraditional wines that show what the local terroir of Barbaresco is all about. An excellent Barbaresco normale and outstanding (often stunning) cru bottlings from the town’s best sites, including Asili, Rabaja and Montestefano. General manager Aldo Vacca is as classy as his wines!


I am saluting Gian Luigi Orsolani for his outstanding work with the Erbaluce grape, an indigenous white variety from northern PIemonte. Orsolani is the finest producer of this grape type in my opinion, crafting first-rate examples of dry white, sparkling and passito versions.

Braida – Giacomo Bologna

Splendid bottlings of Barbera d’Asti, from the humble to the sublime, especially the Bricco dell’Uccellone and the Bricco della Bigotta. Still one of the finest and most influential producers of Barbara d’Asti. Also a superb Moscato d’Asti (Vigna Senza Nome) and arguably the finest bottling of Brachetto d’Acqui. Raffaella Bologna is continuing her late father’s work in fine fashion.

Raffaella Bologna, Braida (Photo ©Tom Hyland)


This gorgeous estate in the heart of the Barolo zone has been improving dramatically for the past decade, thanks to the efforts of general manager Giovanni Minetti and winemaker Danilo Drocco. A few years ago, Oscar Farinetti, the owner of the gourmet food store, Eataly, became the prinicpal owner of the winery and has already shown his influence by introducing value-priced Barbera and Dolcetto. There are so many excellent wines produced at Fontanafredda; this is an estate that has numerous wines for a wide consumer base and any producer that wants to grow their business in the coming decade should be looking at this model.


Tenuta San Guido/Tenuta dell’Ornellaia

I am putting these two estates in Bolgheri together, as they both produce outstanding examples of local reds that not only are beautiful wines on their own, but are also known around the world. These estates, along with Grattamacco and Le Macchiole continue to be the identity for Bolgheri, Tuscany’s new light.

Bottles of Ornellaia and Masseto, Tenuta dell’Ornellaia

(Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Il Poggione

Brunello di Montalcino has been in the news as of late, and not for all the right reasons. So let’s salute Il Poggione for making Brunello the right way – the traditional way. Winemaker Fabrizio Bindocci has a gentle winemaking hand, as he prefers to let the local terroir shine through in his wines. I’ve tasted examples of Il Poggione Brunello from the 1970s that are still in fine shape. As for the recent controversy about the possible inclusion of grapes other than Sangiovese in Brunello, well, there was never any doubt about that at Il Poggione; so the respect for the land and the wine as seen here (as well as at dozens of other local estates such as Biondi-Santi, Col d’Orcia, Talenti and Sesta di Sopra to name only a few) needs to be saluted.


Federico Carletti has done as much as any producer in Montepulciano to revive the fortunes of its most famous wine, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. The regular bottling is always very good, but it is the Vigna Asinone bottling is the star here. Deeply concentrated with new oak and sleek tannins, this is a modern, but very precise wine that is one of Tuscany’s finest.



Campania’s most historically important winemaking estate, this winery continued to improve after a family split in the 1980s (some of the family members established a new winery in the Avellino province) and the change in leadership from Antonio Mastroberardino to his son Piero. Clonal research became an important factor here, and today, the family is producing the best examples of Greco di Tufo, Fiano di Avellino and Falanghina they have ever made. Of course, Taurasi is still the most important wine here, and if today’s bottlings are not as staunchly tradtional as those from the 1960s and early 1970s, they are still first-rate and just as importantly, are not covered up by the vanilla and spice of new oak that other Taurasi producers seem to prefer these days. How nice that this defender of the local winemaking heritage is doing so well these days!

Feudi di San Gregorio

This estate made a splash with its entrance on the scene in the mid 1980s and they are still one of Campania’s most important producers. Rich, deeply concentrated bottlings of Taurasi, but even more impressive white wines, especially Cutizzi Greco di Tufo and Pietracalda Fiano di Avellino. Now there are even beautifully made single variety sparkling wines in the classic method produced from Greco, Falanghina and Aglianico. Congratulations to owner Antonio Capaldo on his innovative efforts at this great estate!

Luigi Maffini

Luigi Maffini is making some of the most brilliant white wines in all of Italy as his small estate in the province of Salerno, south of Napoli. While his reds made from Aglianico are nicely done, the whites made from Fiano are routinely outstanding. There is the non-oak aged Kratos and the French oak-aged Pietraincatenata, an age-worthy Fiano. There is also a sumptuous Fiano Passito, which in my opinion, is one of the greatest dessert wines in all of Italy (the 2004 is particularly exceptional).

Cantine Marisa Cuomo

This small estate, located in the town of Furore on the Amalfi Coast, is set in an exceptionally beautiful seting, as the pergola vineyards cling to steep slopes a few hundred feet above the sea. Marisa and her husband, winemaker Andrea Ferraioli, are best known for the exceptional white, Fiorduva, a blend of indigenous varieties (Ripole, Fenile and Ginestra), but I think the Furore Rosso Riserva is also an important wine. This is extreme viticulture at its finest!

Pergola Vineyards in Furore, Cantine Marisa Cuomo

(Photo ©Tom Hyland)

December 30, 2009 at 3:55 pm Leave a comment

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

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