Updated: Jun 10
Ornellaia was originally the brainchild of Marchese Lodovico Antinori, of the famed Antinori wine producers and vintners. The estate is situated in Bolgheri on the Tuscan coast.
Marchese Lodovico, the younger brother of Marchese Piero Antinori purchased the estate in 1981, after receiving a substantial inheritance from this mother’s family.
His vision was to make quality wines from Bordeaux grape varieties. A further land purchase called Bellaria was added a short time after, again planting using Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc.This parcel of land was a very important purchase, because today some of the oldest vines are situated here, naturally making an invaluable contribution to the Ornellaia of recent and past great vintages.
One can only be speculative as to what the motivation for this adventure, but consider adjacent to the estate of Ornellaia is Tenuta San Guido, better known as the estate of Sassicaia, owned by Marchese Nicolò Incisa Della Rocchetta, his cousin. So with brother and cousin making names for themselves in the newly revived Italian wine industry, perhaps the urge to join in the family business spurred Lodovico into action, another way to describe this is amicable ‘sibling rivalry’.
As Ornellaia’s reputation grew around the wine world, the American wine mogul Robert Mondavi went a little further than most interested parties and purchased a stake in the Italian winery.
This initial investment grew substantially in 2001, when Lodovico was forced to sell Ornellaia to Mondavi, because of financial pressures. Mondavi then set up a joint venture with the Frescobaldi family on a 50/50 basis. The Frescobaldi family being another great wine power house in Italy, as well as the main rival to the Antinori brand.
Mondavi a businessman first, and artisan winemaker second, sold his share of the Ornellaia stake to Constellation Brands, a giant in the beverage industry in America, and a Fortune 500 company.
This move left the Frescobaldi family in a difficult position to say the least. In particular, was this new partnership going to work? the short answer was No! and the Frescobaldi family took a huge business risk and purchased the other 50% of Ornellaia from Constellation Brands in 2005.
This same year a new winemaker was interviewed by Constellation Brands and took over as senior winemaker from Thomas Duraux. Born of a French mother and a German father, Axel Heinz, leant his profession in the Bordeaux region of St.Emilion on the right bank, famous for grape varieties Merlot and Cabernet Franc, as well as world class wineries such as Chateau Cheval Blanc.
To this day Axel can be found at Ornellaia bringing his own particular brand of genius to the winery. It has to be said that Olga Fusari, is the official oenolgist since 2016. Graduating from the Faculty of Agriculture in Florence, joining Ornellaia in 2005 with an internship. Courses in Terroir and Vineyard Management at Bordeaux Sciences Argo and in 2016 assisted in winemaking at Bodega Rolland, a winery owned by the highly esteemed enologist Michel Rolland in Argentina. Monsieur Rolland has occupied the role of consultant winemaker for Ornellaia and Masseto since the early 90’s.
Axel Heinz was given the title of Estate Director of Ornellaia and Masseto in 2015.
Since 2006 the Frescobaldi family has commissioned a world famous contemporary artist to create a work of art for the estate that is inspired by the winemaker, to describe the particular features that prevail in the new vintage. This artwork is found on special large formats of Ornellaia and on the labels of the smaller bottle sizes.
These unique limited edition large formats are auctioned, by Sotheby’s, in aid of art foundations and museums around the globe.
A very important cause is to support the innovative Mind’s Eye program at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, this program created by Guggenheim’s education department, helps individuals who are blind or have impaired sight, experience art through all their senses.
The wines of Ornellaia:
Ornellaia Bolgheri DOC Superiore
Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc.
Ornellaia Bianco Toscana IGT Bianco
Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier.
Le Serre Nuove dell’Ornellaia Bolgheri DOC Rosso
Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot.
Le Volte dell’Ornellaia Toscana IGT Rosso
Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sangiovese
Poggio alle Gazze dell’ Ornellaia Toscana IGT Bianco
Sauvignon Blanc, Vermentino, Viognier, Verdicchio.
It is almost impossible to talk of Ornellaia and not mention Masseto, and yet this is the case at hand, I was informed that Masseto is now a separate part of the Ornellaia estate, totally independent, with a different appointment structure.
I was kindly offered two wines:
62% Cabernet Sauvignon,31% Merlot, 4% Petit Verdot, 3% Cabernet Franc.
Opaque ruby red in colour. Dense and slightly reticent at first, then starts to drop its veils, showing natural richness. Full bodied and yet rounded texture gives a sense of lightness. Nuances of expected black cherry, blackcurrant, blond pipe tobacco and dried Mediterranean herbs all dusted with fine powdered black pepper and brown spice. Ultra fine tannins vie with translucent acidity, crushed shell minerality. A whiff of lavender assisted with faint sour cherry notes coming off mid palate, allows a juicy, fresh and progressive articulated close. This wine is elegance personified in a liquid form. Needs several years of bottle age to redefine itself on a higher level.
Points 98+ TW
Le Serre Nuove Dell’Ornellaia 2019
54% Merlot,28% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Cabernet Franc,4% Petit Verdot.
Intense ruby red in colour. Long focused and youthful. Showing crushed blackberry, ripe black cherry, plum, mace, liquorice, pink pepper and faint camphor notes. Secondary waves of juicy, pulsing blackcurrant, cedar and cake spice raised by a band of complex minerality. Silky textures are warm and inviting. The purity of flavours are tangible. Tremendous symmetry. Seamless and unwavering linearity to the close. Needs a couple of years to relax and come together.
Points 94 TW
With my sincere thanks to Axel Heinz for graciously agreeing to partecipate to my “ High Five with Tony Wood” video interview series.
© Tony Wood Italian Wine 2022