Ornellaia Bordeaux Red Blends from Bolgheri, Tuscany, Italy
Stumbled on Ornellaia in 2000 at the Santa Cantarina in Amalfi. Ornellaia represents all the virtues of Bolgheri’s climate – abundant sunshine without excessive heat, dry summers to allow the grapes to achieve perfect ripeness and concentration. As there is no drip irrigation, there is enough rain to avoid stress. All these elements combine to yield a wine that shows lush ripeness and crisp firmness, opposing forces creating a certain raciness we like to describe as ‘tension’.
Ornellaia Bordeaux Red is usually available on wine.com >>
Ornellaia’s vineyards represented a typical mosaic of soils, to which Antinori and Tchelistcheff applied a variety of rootstocks. They cultivated the vines without chemicals, a progressive strategy for the region at the time. The resulting wines achieved critical acclaim from the debut 1985 vintage, and by the 1990s, the estate had become one of Italy’s great success stories.
The Ornellaia Bolgheri Superiore 1998 earned Wine Spectator’s Wine of the Year honor in 2001. Federico Zileri, Antinori’s cousin, owner of Castello di Bolgheri and the current president of the Bolgheri consortium, gives him a lot of credit for developing the region. “Lodovico Antinori was the one who understood the potential and realized the technicality of the area,” says Zileri.
Some of the Merlot on Ornellaia’s property was planted in an outcropping of clay close to the woods and hills on the eastern side of the region. In 1986, it was bottled separately, as an experiment. The result was successful enough to make a pure Merlot from the 1987 harvest, and Masseto was born.
In 2005, Axel Heinz took the position of senior winemaker at Ornellaia. Born in Munich to a French mother and German father, Heinz studied oenology in Bordeaux, where he then started his winemaking career.
High-profile names have been involved in Ornellaia’s production since its first vintage. Robert Mondavi acquired a minority stake in the estate in 1999, and then gained full ownership in 2001. Between 2002 and 2005, Mondavi co-owned the property with the Frescobaldi family. The Frescobaldis, another Italian family with more than 700 years of winemaking history, bought Ornellaia outright in 2005.
The proximity of Ornellaia’s vineyards to the Tuscan coast is vital for maintaining acidity in the grapes. During the sweltering summer months, the Tyrrhenian Sea moderates temperatures, providing cooler nights essential for slowing ripening.
Ornellaia’s vineyards are planted at medium-high density of around 12,000 plants per acre. The idea is that forcing the vines to compete with one another for water and nutrients increases the quality of the grapes, while keeping the vines small and allowing only a few bunches to grow per plant helps produce concentrated grapes.
Planting at this density is risky in Tuscany because of the low levels of rainfall during the growing season. Crucially, the estate’s vineyards are planted on soil that contains a lot of clay, which effectively holds water.