Sunday, December 11, 2016

Antonio Galloni and Vinous Ornellaia and Masseto Retrospective (1995 - 2010), from Magnum

Antonio Galloni had had to work overtime in order to convince Axel Heinz (the Ornellaia and Masseto winemaker) to agree to a wine tasting that would, essentially, allow direct comparison of the estate's two major wines. Antonio's powers of persuasion carried the day and now here we were, at Bouley Test Kitchen on December 5, 2016, ready to participate in the Ornellaia and Masseto Retrospective (1995 - 2010), from Magnum.

As early arrivals stood around the dining area chatting, or searching out their appointed seating, we were served 2008 and 2009 Pierre Peters Champagne. The Champagne was then followed in short order by a number of passed Hors-d'Oeuvres, each, in its own manner, pleasing to both vision and palate.

We were eventually called to order and grudgingly took our seats with longing, backward glances towards the origin point of the Hors-d'Oeuvres. Antonio shared the particulars of the tasting with us:
  • The wines would be tasted in flights arranged from the youngest to the oldest
  • Every wine was to be poured from magnum
  • Each magnum had been sourced directly from the winery
  • The wines had been opened at 5:30 pm that day and were all in good condition
  • The tasting included all of the significant vintages falling between 1995 and 2010. 
From an operational point of view, the tasting would be broken into four flights, each flight containing two vintages and each vintage having both an Ornellaia and Masseto included. Each flight would be paired with a course, but the wines would be presented at the table prior to the associated dish being served.

Amouse Bouche

Flight 1: 2010 and 2007 Vintages
Axel was called upon to introduce the first flight. He characterized the 2007 vintage as an early year with cool conditions during harvest while the 2010 was the latest ripening vintage he had ever seen up to that time. 2010 was not, he said, the most typical vintage of the estate.

Both of the 2010s were still very young to the taste. The Ornellaia showed powerful, intense dark fruit, some structure, and a licorice coating on the palate. I found the Masseto to be unyielding on the nose. Full finish with a hint of green.

The 2007 Ornellaia was broader-based than the 2010. Dark, ripe fruit. The 2007 Masseto was perfumed with hints of balsamic and licorice. Tight. Rich dark fruit and some green on the palate.

Forager's Treasure of Wild Mushrooms with
Sweet Garlic and Special Spices

Flight 2: 2006 and 2004 Vintages
According to Axel, 2006 was a strange wine. It had not been easy to make but turned out well having, as it did, a richness, high tannins, high acidity, and concentrated fruit. The 2004 was a textbook vintage with ideal conditions yielding grapes that had ripened evenly and uniformly (

The 2006 Ornellaia was the first of the wines tasted to exhibit any noticeable acidity. Rich and intense, with juicy acidity surrounded by a beautiful core of fruit. Good levels of fruit and acidity in the 2006 Masseto. Rich, structured, powerful, and balanced. This wine is a buy.

The 2004s were the first wines to show really well on the nose. This illustrated the relative youth of the previous wines. The Ornellaia had floral notes along with tea, licorice, and olives. Full-bodied. Heavier than the earlier vintages. The Masseto was a beautiful wine. Classic older Merlot. Granny's attic, spice, and a dankness. Weighty and structured.

Organic Millbrook Venison with Wild Pawpaw

Flight 3: 2001 and 1998 Vintages
The 2001 and 1998 vintages are two of the most important reference points for the estate. Michel Rolland, the long-time consulting enologist for the estate, calls 2001 the best vintage that he has ever seen in Tuscany.

The 2001 Ornellaia presented cigar box, cedar, cocoa, and coffee. Diminished fruit levels and pleasing acidity. Classic Bordeaux nose. The Masseto had been decanted earlier in the day due to "tightness." It presented green pea, a mustiness, curry, and tobacco. Sweet ripe fruit on the palate. Axel feels that the 2001 is the most opulent Masseto that he has tasted.

The 1998 Ornellaia was a beautiful wine. Cigar box, tobacco leaf, and black fruit on the nose. Textured and structured. A "come-hither" wine. The Masseto presented cigar box, tobacco, orange peel, and spice. Textured and balanced with a long finish. Axel remarked on the "smoky tobacco leaf character" of both of the wines in the 1998 vintage.

Organic Colorado Lamb with Organic Snow
Peas, Sweet Peas, Fava Beans, Okra, and
Organic Rosemary-Perfumed Quinoa

Chef's Surprise: Eggs and White Truffles

Flight 4: 1997 and 1995 Vintages
According to Axel, 1995 was a cool-climate vintage while 1997 was the year that the estate introduced a second wine at Ornellaia.

The 1997 Ornellaia was a desirable wine with still a lot of life ahead. A little green pea and coconut on the nose along with a restrained orange peel. Fresh on the palate. Fine-boned and elegant. Long finish. The Masseto was all Grandma's attic, black fruit, cedar, cigar box, tobacco, and talcum powder. Elegant. Great weight on the palate along with tobacco, dark fruit, a savoriness, and spice. A lengthy, slightly pruney finish. This is one of the vintages where I distinctly preferred the Ornellaia to the Masseto

The 1995 Ornellaia was unyielding on the nose.  A little blue fruit. Tired. The 1995 Masseto showed tobacco and Granny's attic. Great acidity and sharp red fruit. Lengthy finish. An excellent wine.

Chef's Selection of Mature Artisanal French
Cheeses by Maitre Affineur Rodolphe le Meunier

Axel Heinz signing bottles
My memento

This tasting more than lived up to expectations. I went in looking to taste as much Masseto as I could and came away with  a new-found respect for Ornellaia. I will be buying that label in a more studied fashion going-forward, rather than reflexively, as I do today.

The dishes that accompanied the tasting were all of exceptional quality. The standoiut for me though was the Organic Millbrook Venison. It had a nice spicy undertone and was so tender that the knife glided through. Great texture.

This was a memorable evening. And I made a bunch of new friends at my table.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme


  1. What was your WOTN?

    1. Aaron, I liked the '06 best. Even though still relatively young, it clearly showed what it will be 4 or so years down the road