WHAT: When you look at Italian wines through history some family names keep popping up: Franceschi, Antinori, Frescobaldi. All have become known for great wine making over many years.
Two of those houses, Antinori and Frescobaldi play key parts in the development of Ornellaia, one of the best known producers of Super Tuscan wine.
Super Tuscans developed in the 1970s when sales of Chianti, the traditional Tuscan wine, declined because of poor quality. Some producers decided to ignore the wine regulations defining what wine could be produced in Tuscany to get the preferred DOC status.
Turns out the soil and climate of coastal Tuscany are ideally suited to growing traditional Bordeaux grapes. Instead of sangiovese, grapes such as cabernet sauvignon and merlot were blended. Even though they could only be labeled table wine by law, the wines were outstanding. Wine writers started calling them Super Tuscans and consumers paid premium prices.
Some of those wines are so valued they sell for $150-$200 a bottle. Today’s wine is a cousin of one of those great wines, Ornellaia.
The Le Volte dell’Ornellaia is made of 50 percent merlot, 30 percent sangiovese and 20 percent cabernet sauvignon. It is a beautiful wine, full of intense color, powerful aromas and fresh fruit. It is an easy drinking wine, with intense aromas and complex flavors.
The wine is a beautiful deep garnet in the glass, with powerful fruit aromas and spicy highlights. On the palate you get lush fruit flavors, especially ripe strawberries and currants, with a nice mix of tannins and acidity. Everything is in balance, although I suspect the wine will be even better in a year or two as the tannins mellow out. There is a nice long, fresh finish.
This is a nice blend of merlot’s softness, cabernet’s structure and depth and sangiovese’s lively personality. This wine gives you a hint of what the more expensive Ornellaia is like.
When the grapes are picked, they are sorted twice. The first table checks for quality of the bunches, while the second table removes all stems and leaves. Each varietal is fermented separately in small steel tanks to maintain the characteristics each vineyard. Malolactic fermentation in steel tanks follows the first fermentation.
The wine spent 10 months aging, partly in barriques used for Ornellaia and partly in cement tanks, to obtain a balance between tannic structure and an expression of fresh fruit.
Renowned winemaker Axel Heinz, who was trained in Bordeaux, was pleased with the results.
“The result of a cool year and a late harvest, Le Volte dell’Ornellaia 2013 stands out for its superior aromatic intensity and complexity,” he said. “This vintage is notable for its radiant fresh fruit and intense color. On the palate the smooth and silky tannins combine with a vibrant acidity to offer a very pleasurable and inviting experience.”
Ornellaia is planted next to the first Super Tuscan, Sassicaia, along the coast in Bolgheri. The area is warmer than the rest of the Chianti, so it is ideal for cabernet sauvignon, merlot and other Bordeaux grapes.
Cool breezes from the Mediterranean Sea let the grapes ripen longer, which brings balance to the wine.
Ornellaia’s 244 acres also have perfect soil for cabernet and merlot, ranging from volcanic to marine to alluvial.
WINERY: The Ornellaia Estate was founded by Marchese Lodovico Antinori in 1981, with the first vineyard plantings coming the following year. The land had been overlooked as a vineyard for many years
The first vintage, named simply Ornellaia, was released in 1985, and was a sensation. It is a blend of predominantly cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cabernet franc. Masseto, begun in 1986, is made entirely from merlot, full of rich, silky elegance and has rapidly become a modern classic. A modern winery was built in 1987.
The first vintage of Le Volte dell’Ornellaia was 1991, released in 1993. Since 1997, the winery has produced a second wine, Le Serre Nuove. This is the typical practice of Bordeaux producers. Grapes not considered of high enough quality for the main label go into a second wine, which usually is also of high quality. Last year the winery released its first Ornellaia Blanco from the 2013 vintage.
Robert Mondavi bought a minority share in the winery in the 1990s before acquiring full control in 2002. He transferred 50 percent of ownership to Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi that same year.
After the Robert Mondavi Corporation was sold to Constellation Brands, Frescobaldi acquired the rest of the Ornellaia winery in 2005. A new barrel room was completed in 2006.
The winery has an interesting art project, called Ornellaia Vendemmia d’Artista. Since the release of the 2006 vintage in 2009 a contemporary artist creates a work of art and a series of limited edition labels drawing inspiration from the single word chosen by the winemaker to describe the character of the vintage. An auction of the special bottles during an annual charity event raises money for the arts.
GOES WITH: We had this beautiful wine with a quick mid-week meal of spaghetti sauce served over angel hair pasta. This was another example of how an extraordinary wine can elevate a simple meal.
The sauce came out of a jar, but this fine wine brought out all kinds of taste highlights. The fresh fruit and spice notes of the wine played nicely off the tart tomato sauce, and the acidity of the wine matched that of the sauce. Again, everything was in balance, and the meal was heavenly.
This wine also would pair well with a juicy steak, a hearty beef stew, wild game and strong cheeses.
Serve it slightly chilled and let it warm up in the glass. I would open the bottle 45 minutes before drinking.