Ornellaia. We know the name and it resonates with power. But do we know the wine? Like a celebrity judged by the gossip pages of Hello, the true depth of personality is hidden behind the reputation. Who is the wine behind the label?
The opportunity to taste the single terroir wines prior to blending that might (or might not) come to embody the famous Ornellaia was an extraordinary opportunity to discover just that. A person’s character is only truly comprehensible when you understand the experiences that have shaped them and the same can be said for understanding how individual terroirs shape a wine. It is a tasting which provides a glimpse into the soul of the wine before it is born.
Axel Heinz, the cellar master of this awesome estate flew to London to host this historic tasting, bringing with him 9 single terroir wines that would likely become the beating heart of Ornellaia 2015. Each year they harvest and vinify between 80 and 90 individual terroirs and blend later than most so they can understand the evolution of each wine and thus ascertain more fully its potential contribution to the final blend. Axel’s fastidious work fly’s in the face of the generally held assumption that Super Tuscan’s are a winemakers wine and not an honest expression of terroir.
Bolgheri’s climate forms a unique enclave in Tuscany. It is a sub-region bathed in warm Mediterranean sunshine mitigated by the all-important cooling influences of the sea lying just 8km from the first of Ornellaia’s vineyards. The rugged hills provide both freshening altitude and shelter to the vineyards while the diverse soils comprised of varying degrees of blue clay, clay, polygenic rubble and sand contribute to complexity and vine health. The clay is the secret ingredient responsible for the vital retention of water protecting the vines from hydraulic stress in the warm summer days.
Vineyard 1 – Bolgherese – young Merlot on red sand with limestone pebbles at low altitude makes for an early ripening site.
A plush yet spicy plum nose leads to a mid-weight, peppery wine with velvety good looks, a chalky undertone and a cheerful freshness. This lighter wine lacks the depth and gravitas one would expect from Ornellaia and as such is rarely as yet included.
The lighter style produced from these soils justifies a more conservative vinification approach to preserve freshness and to enhance rather than smother the aromatics. A very gentle handling of the tannins further prevents any bitterness or austerity.
Vineyard 2 – Ginestraio – relatively young Merlot on pebbly clay over limestone
Immediately there is more concentration, weight and depth to the wine; dark powerful fruit is firmly encased is ripe yet firmly structured tannins leading to a savoury spicy finish. Richness is offset by freshness and the beautifully integrated oak makes for a charming wine. A restrained hand was used on the oak treatment as Axel waits to see if it will make the cut for Ornellaia.
Vineyard 3 – Bellaria – old vine Merlot on deep pebbly clay over limestone at low altitude but direct exposure to the sea.
A restrained power greets you on the nose, as yet giving little away. The palate shows a wonderful coiled concentration, a powerful core of black cherry and plum fruit and a rich Christmas cake spiced breadth. There is a sense of completeness to the wine with fragrant floral notes and some redder fruit emerging from the glass to compliment the intense dark fruit depths. This is truly a lesson in what Merlot can achieve in the right site.
Vineyard 4 – Bellaria Alta – Old vine Cabernet Franc on pebbly clay over limestone
A classically beguiling floral, herbal nose enhancing the perfumed red berry fruit. The palate shows darker fruit and spice with a hint of graphite beneath the floral notes, it is beautifully open with fine grippy tannins, beautifully concentrated fruit and high toned aromatics supported by a vibrant freshness. Aromatic yet powerful; the signature of the limestone and clay soils are clear in the wines profile.
Vineyard 5 – Bellaria – Old vine Cabernet Franc on clayey sand
A poised nose with crunchy red fruit and a more lifted nose of complex garrigue herbs. The fine silken black and red juicy fruit has a more linear, pure profile with great freshness and persistence.
Vineyard 6 – Olivino – young Cabernet Sauvignon on deep pebbly clay on limestone.
A powerfully concentrated nose with a ripe cassis perfume. The palate is just fabulous; supple, concentrated and powerful with silken yet structured tannins. The fruit is ripe and sweet with a subtle dusty note while the freshness lends it huge energy leading to an effortless elegance. It is already showing authority and poise despite the youth of the vineyard.
Vineyard 7 – Bellaria Alta – old vine Cabernet Sauvignon on pebbly clay over limestone
A more open nose greets you with a complex array of red and black fruit. The fine grippy tannins support the perfumed cassis giving the wine beautiful aromatic lift, freshness and a juicy elegance. This vineyard, a stalward of the Ornellaia blend, shows the importance of blending, for it is not always power that Axel is searching for, in this case it is taut purity and aromatic lift.
Vineyard 8 – Ornellaia Old Vine Cabernet Sauvignon on deep sandy clay
An earthier, dusty character melds into the rich, dark, powerful fruit reflecting this warmer site. Concentrated cassis and plum is complimented by spicy oak and a hint of chocolate and mint. The wine is beautifully structured with silken tannins and a long, compact finish.
Vineyard 9 – Bellaria Alta – old vine Petit Verdot on deep sandy clay
Intense purple colour with crunchy damson, sloe and violets. The fruit is dense yet fresh and exuberant and the lovely fine ripe tannins lack the rusticity often associated with this variety thanks to the long slow growing season and ample sunshine.
The art of blending could not have been made more apparent as each wine, so distinctive and unique in its personality, could be woven together to form a multi-layered complex mosaic harnessing power from one vineyard, aromatics from another and freshness from a third. Axel’s single minded pursuit to understand every inch of his soil and how it can contribute to the greater whole has resulted in an extraordinary wine which is going to grow and evolve as the land reveals more of herself through the grapes.