Great wines from a great Italian producer

In a relatively short time Ornellaia has become recognised as one of the great red wines of the world. A vertical tasting in Hong Kong has emphasised that point.

The focus is producing quality wines, noted Giovanni Mazzoni, who markets the wine in the Asian region.

The estate – whose full name is Tenuta dell’Ornellaia – was founded in 1981 by Marchese Lodovico Antinori. Marchese Antinori planted cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and merlot because these varieties were suited to the estate’s terroir.

The marchese (count would be the English equivalent) comes from the Antinori family, one of Italy’s most famous negociant companies. He wanted to create an exceptional wine estate on a property inherited from his mother’s side of the family.

Ornellaia is located on the Tuscan Coast, overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea, in the section of the northern Maremma between Livorno and the island of Elba. The vineyards extend over two adjacent areas for a total of 99 hectares – 41 surrounding the estate, and the other 58 in an area known as Bellaria.

The property is next to Tenuta San Guido, producer of Sassicaia, which is probably the best-known “Super Tuscan” wine. This term, coined by famous American wine critic Robert Parker, describes any Tuscan red that does not adhere to traditional blending laws for the region.

The vineyards of the Ornellaia estate were planted in 1981, and produced the first vintage in 1985. A modern winery was built in 1987.

The 2006 Ornellaia is the current release. Robert Parker awarded the wine 97 points out of 100. The wines have developed such a reputation that they are difficult to find, and the 2008 vintage is already sold out.

The estate supports the arts, not by buying art but by selecting a word or phrase to describe each vintage of Ornellaia and commissioning an artist to do a work featuring that theme. The word for 2006 was “exuberance” and the wine fits that description.

It did not rain the summer of 2006, but the heat was not too powerful, which ripened the grapes superbly. This produced a wine of considerable grace and harmony combined with unusual structure and power.

The 2006 offers intense aromas of mint and eucalypt, and flavours of vanilla from the oak and dark-berry fruits like cassis and blackberry. The tannin and acidity have integrated superbly so that this wine is dinking beautifully now but would be even better in years to come. The excellent acidity is a result of the relatively cool summer.

The 2007 Ornellaia is more feminine by comparison, the result of a cooler vintage. All wines are typically stored for 18 months in new and one-year oak and then aged for 2.5 years before release. All Ornellaia are Bordeaux blends with cabernet sauvignon the main partner, at about 52 to 56 per cent of the whole, with portions of merlot, cabernet franc and petit verdot.

The 2007 has smooth tannins and classic structure, with hints of spice and wild herbs on the nose. In the mouth the wine tastes of dark berries with a touch of balsamic, and elegant length.

The 2009 is another exuberant wine that Parker also awarded 97 points, perhaps a reflection of the combination of new oak and ripe fruit, which give a sense of power like a young thoroughbred racehorse galloping in the early-morning mist.

The nose suggests mint and chocolate and aromatic herbs, and the wine tastes silky in the mouth, the tannins glossy and shiny like fresh paint (without any suggestion of the aromas of fresh paint, merely the glowing image).

This wine needs time for the acid and tannin and fruit to integrate but when they do, in about a decade, this will be a superb wine.

The estate also produces a second Bordeaux blend, Le Serre Nuove, which Parker also rates highly, and a merlot called Masseto from the Masseto vineyard.

More details can be found at the estate’s website: http://www.ornellaia.it

* Published in China Post, 18 October 2012, page 10. Find a link here.

Categories: Not home, wine

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