It’s no secret the heart’s soft spot will gladly make room for fine and expensive wine, but not all will walk through that open door. Much Bordeaux intimidation vicariously hectors by way of outlandish collusion in en primeur dictation and so hardens the arteries. Though less so, the Burgundy intimidation relegates the lesser earthling to hide, cower and tense up in circulatory distress. Champagne can be quite kind. Even more so is the Bolgheri.
Tenuta Dell’ornellaia is the benchmark for Super Tuscan solicitude. It pours with pleasure. It reminds us of what was once good and approachable in the pretentious and obnoxious world of expensive wine. It resembles its patriarch, a man who comes to Toronto as a patron of the arts and as a steward of his wine’s goodness.
After tasting through mind-altering back vintages of Ornellaia I am typing away on my laptop in the Art Gallery of Ontario where the Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi and winemaker Axel Heinz are generously sharing their wares with a group of journalists, sommeliers and restaurateurs. Ferdinando leans over on a knee, like Brando in the garden of the grand film and smiles at me. “Perché non mangi?” he asks. “Si accende, anche una piastra. Si prega, si mangia.” I may as well be in his home, in Tuscany, in his kitchen, snacking on formaggi. But I am in Toronto and contemplating $1000 worth of exceptional red wine.
One of the softest spots is for Ornellaia. It’s a gorgeously perfumed principessa. Both the previously tasted and reviewed 2010 and 2009 perpetuate the notion.
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Facilitated by Authentic Wines and Spirits and Sherry Naylor and Associates, the Marchese Ferdinando Frescobaldi and Mr. Giovanni Geddes da Filicaja came to represent Ornellaia for a vertical tasting presented by Axel Heinz. The visit coincided with the 2011 vintage and its association with “Vendemmia d’Artista.” Beginning with the 2006 vintage, the Estate launched the special art project, purposed to celebrate the unique character of each new vintage matched by an artist’s interpretation of that vintage.
For 2011, the “Infinity” character or “L’Infinito” was interpreted by Canadian born artist Rodney Graham. Graham created a work of art and a series of exclusive labels for large format bottles. Each one individually signed and numbered and adorned 100 3-litre Double Magnums, 10 6-litre Imperials and a unique 9-litre Salmanazar. An auction was held at the AGO and raised $126,000 for the institution.
There are vertical tastings and then there are vertical tastings that bring you up. One such as this makes just cause to say I am down on Ornellaia. “People come from all around to watch the magic boy…Bring a nickel, tap your feet.” Here are my notes on the Ornellaia wines tasted at the AGO.
Le Serre Nuove Dell’ornellaia 2011, Doc Bolgheri Rosso, Tuscany, Italy (606194, $59.95, WineAlign)
Produced since the 1997 vintage, from younger vines and with the intent to produce a ripe and approachable wine. Agefd in barriques (25 per cent new and 75 per cent one year-old). Left for 15 months though assembled after 12 and returned for the last three. The practice induces settling and approachability. Cleary focused with an Ornellaia intent, with the goings on of deep, dark fruit and dusty hedonistic, mulberry fruit. Not quite the Da Vinci muscled cherub that is the big brother renaissance wine, but still the Serre Nuove can’t help show an uncanny resemblance as a younger sibling to Ornellaia. Rich, vanilla mocha, thick and mildly tannic. A three to five-year full-on gamut of pleasure awaits. Tasted twice, October 2013 and June 2014
Ornellaia 2011, Doc Bolgheri Superiore, Tuscany, Italy (SAQ, 11973238, $189.25, LCBO, 722470 (2010), $189.95, WineAlign)
The blend of the 2011 Rosso Superiore is Cabernet Sauvignon (51 per cent), Merlot (32), Cabernet Franc (11) and Petit Verdot (6). From a near-sweltering vintage, tempered by a cooling spell in June and July. The late August heat spike brought on early ripening which explains the intense aromatic waft that fills the AGO’s tasting room air. Though following the same (post 12-month) assemblage and return to barriques for a further six months, the richesse in fruit quality and 70 per cent new oak envelopes this ’11 with so many structured layers there remains many years to see where it will go. The rose petal meets violet florality can elicit no parochial parallel, the anxiety in hematological ooze neither. A consideration of the phenolic exceptionality follows suit. Chalky tannins follow chains in a world spinning ’round in lush circles. This is the reference point for such assemblage in Bolgheri. The breakdown will not begin for a minimum 10 years and evolution will continue comfortably, gently and effortlessly for 15-30 after that. Tasted June 2014
Ornellaia 2006, Doc Bolgheri Superiore (722470, $189.95, WineAlign)
The blend of the 2006 Rosso Superiore is Cabernet Sauvignon (56 per cent), Merlot (27), Cabernet Franc (12) and Petit Verdot (5). Tasting its not yet developed charms, what is most clear is its strength and vigor. A different Ornellaia, with perfect conditions to ripen Merlot and Cabernet Franc so that their characters have combined to speak their peace. Rolling huge but cool, mint-spiked, black currant and stone emotions come across the aromatic profile. Those right side of the river brain varieties and the Cabernet Sauvignon dominant fruit were clearly all picked at such levels of ripeness as to put the ’06 at harmonious level of sugar, alcohol and rich fruit likely never before seen from this grand vin. The ’06 was fashioned with each vineyard block fermented separately, for a total of 66 different base wines. “So stealthy, so animal quiet,” give this Ornellaia 15 more years of time and it will come to your emotional rescue. It will whisper in a falsetto voice, “I’ll be your savior, steadfast and true.” Tasted June 2014
Ornellaia 2001, Doc Bolgheri Superiore (Agent, $189.95, WineAlign)
The blend of the 2001 Rosso Superiore is Cabernet Sauvignon (65 per cent), Merlot (30) and Cabernet Franc (5). Though strange to say and admittedly a retrospective comment, the minute quantity of Cabernet Franc and not yet inclusion of Petit Verdot result in a more straightforward and not as heavily layered Ornellaia. The structure is more linear and understandable, the fruit not as variegated. Complexity and Tuscan spiritualism are not compromised by the Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot dominant line, in fact, assessing the evolution at 13 years on reveals the Bolgheri terroir in ways the magnanimous and opulent more recent vintages just don’t reach. There is a refreshing acidity in this young and developing ’01 in a streak that again, the baby Superiore do not seem to possess. This is a striking Ornellaia, a wine that would work with exceptional cuisine of varied cultures. It can be enjoyed now and will respond with grace and thanks for 30 plus years more. Tasted June 2014
Good to Go!