Friday, May 20, 2011

Tenuta dell'Ornellaia Visit

The first winery we were scheduled to visit in our Bordeaux Index Taste of Tuscany was Tenuta dell'Ornellaia, one of the stars of Bolgheri DOC.  We set off at 9:15 am from our hotel on a bright, sunny morning and this made for a beautiful drive through the countryside.  We headed west on Strada di Grande Communicazione, then south along A12 and SS1, then east on Localita San Guido -- noted for the serene and stately cypress trees lining both sides of the street -- before making a right turn into Via Bolgherese and then a left turn into the Tenuta dell'Ornellaia entrance.  We were let in through the gate and met on the other side by Viola, our winery tour guide.  Viola showed us where to park and after we disembarked she began the tour with remarks on the history of the estate.

The winery was founded in 1980 by Lodovica Antinori.  In the late 1990s, Robert Mondavi took a minority stake in the enterprise and owned it fully by 2002.  Mondavi brought in the Frescobaldi's as 50% partners shortly after gaining control and they acquired full control by buying the Mondavi shares when Constellation Brands bought Robert Mondavi's holdings.

According to Viola, the estate encompasses 180 hectares, 97 of which are planted to vine, and are divided between two properties.  The facility on Via Bolgherese has 37 hectares of vineyards and the winery and is the location of the original estate.  This particular property backs up against the Sassicaia property and shares many of its characteristics.  There is another 60-hectare property called Bellaria which is located to the north of Bolgherei.  Our tour plan called for visiting both vineyards and the winery after which we would lunch in the winery dining room.  So we piled into the van and made our way to Bellaria.

We drove back the way we came on Via Bolgherese to "Cypress Avenue" and turned right to continue our transit of this wonderful thoroughfare.  We turned left into the road at the end of the Castello di Bolgheri vineyard and continued along that road until we arrived at Bellaria.  Once on the property we drove to an elevated wooden platform from which we could view the entire vineyard and the sea in the distance.  Breathtaking.

As we took in the view, Viola peppered us with vinous tidbits.  The vineyards are planted at elevations ranging between 50 and 120 meters above sea level on slopes ranging between 5 and 20 degrees.  Here at Bellaria, the hills above the vineyards protect the vines from cold winds while the sea moderates the temperature and reflects sunlight, a boon to grape ripening.  The soil composition changes every 500 meters or so and dictates the estate's planting strategy: Petit Verdot on sandy soils; Cabernet Sauvignon on clay-limestone soils; and Merlot on clay soils.  The average age of the vines at Bellaria is 8 years.

At the conclusion of the Bellaria visit we retraced our course to the original property.  The main property is divided into a 30-hectare vineyard dedicated to Ornellaia fruit and 7 hectares dedicated to fruit for Masseto.  The soil in the Ornellaia vineyard is reddened by the presence of iron and yields high-tannin, age-worthy wines.  The first parcel was planted in this vineyard in 1982.  The Merlot grapes for the Masseto are planted on clay soils.  The average age of the vines on this property is 15 years.

The Tenuta dell'Ornellaia winemaker is Alex Heinz and the winery's philosophy is "quality without compromise."  The quality begins in the vineyard and continues throughout the winemaking process.  Grapes are hand-harvested and subjected to a three-part selection process which ensures that only the best berries make it to the fermentation tanks.  Grapes from the estate's 60 parcels (37 hectares of Cabernet Sauvignon, 38 hectares of Merlot, 12 hectares of Cabernet Franc, 10 hectares of Petit Verdot) are vinified and stored separately prior to the construction of the final blend.

The estate's first wine is Ornellaia, a Cabernet Sauvignon (60%), Merlot (25%), Cabernet Franc (12%), and Petit Verdot (3%) blend.  This wine is fermented (natural yeasts) and macerated in stainless steel tanks and then transferred to oak barriques (70% new, 30% second year) where malolactic fermentation occurs.  The wine is aged in oak for 12 months before final blending after which it is bottled and aged for an additional 12 months.  The 1998 vintage of this wine was named wine of the year by Wine Spectator in 2001.

The second wine is Le Serre Nuove, a Cabernet Sauvignon (35%), Merlot (50%), Cabernet Franc (10%), and Petit Verdot blend.  This wine is made from grapes that did not make the Ornellaia cut as well as fruit from the Bellaria vineyard.  It is fermented in stainless steel tanks and macerated for 30 days.  Malolactic fermentation occurs both in the tanks and in barriques.  The wines are aged for 12 months before final blending and are then aged in oak for an additional 6 months before bottling.

Le Volte is a 50% Sangiovese, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 30% Merlot blend, with the Sangiovese fruit sourced externally.  Alcoholic and malolactic fermentation take place in stainless steel tanks before the wine is transferred to 2- to 4-year-old barriques for 10 months of aging.

The jewel in the Ornellaia crown is the 100% Merlot Masseto.  This wine has received both critical and pecuniary acclaim.  It is fermented in oak vats and stainless steel tanks with malolactic fermentation in new oak barriques where it is aged for 24 months.

At the conclusion of the winery tour, we tasted some of the wines and then repaired to the dining room for lunch.  The traditional Tuscan lunch was pleasing to the eye and, especially so, to the palate and was paired

impecably with examples of the estate's offerings.

All in all, a super Tuscan day.


  1. Sounds lke the tour was mazing! I have a few questions. How did you organize it? How long did it last? What was the cost? Were you able to taste Ornellaia and Masseto? Is there anything else you think I should know. Would love to hear from you.


    1. Went on this tour with Bordeaux Index of the UK. This was their initial foray into guided tours in Tuscany. Including time spent in Forence, the tour spanned 5 days. We tasted Ornellaia at the winery but no Masseto (that is my favorite wine, by the way). This tour was definitely worth the trip for me. We also visited Altesino, Biondi-Santi, and Valdicava, among others.