Located in Tuscany’s Bolgheri region, Ornellaia was founded in 1981 and has been fully owned by the Frescobaldi family—whose expertise spans more than 700 years—since 2005. The winery is known for its elegant super Tuscans, beginning with its 1985 flagship cuvée. And all of its creations are a testament to its dedication to one principle: that wine should be the “expression” of its terroir.
Here, that means a Mediterranean coastal climate (the estate is about 2 miles from the shore) and a mixed landscape. One plot could be deep silty clay, another sandy clay soil; elevations and temperatures vary, leading to different flavors in each vineyard’s fruit.
Equally important is how the hand-picked grapes are cellared. The fruit from each vineyard ferments separately in tanks, and each base wine adds its own layer to the final product. (According to Estate Director Axel Heinz, there are typically 60 to 80 base wines after harvest.) During the aging process, the wines are tasted daily until they are deemed at their prime for blending.
That yields wines like Le Serre Nuove Dell’Ornellaia 2019 ($82)—a blend of 54 percent Merlot (the base), 28 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 14 percent Cab Franc and 4 percent Petit Verdot partly from vineyards on sandier soils, at an elevation between 30 and 60 meters above sea level. It spent about 15 months in barriques (25 percent new and 75 percent used once) and remained in the bottle for another six months before release.
The result is gorgeous—it feels like a late summer day in, yes, a coastal vineyard. The color is deep and intoxicating, with a nose of red fruits (cherry, strawberry) followed by savory notes. Comforting spices and vegetal expressions like olive tree leaves and fragrant eucalyptus mix on the palate. And there’s something else; I couldn’t put my finger on it until I read what oenologist Olga Fusari (who made the wine alongside Heinz) describes as a “balsamic vein.” Indeed, it is a unique and surprising element that I appreciated, particularly when savored with crusty bread and tangy hard cheese.
The wine is dry, with bold tannins, which again brings me back to an Italian vineyard on a late summer day—warm breezes, the smell of earth and soon-to-be ripe fruit, and a mild heat on my skin.
It’s quite transformative, and the Poggio Alle Gazze Dell’Ornellaia 2019 ($82) has a similar effect. It’s predominantly Sauvignon Blanc (78 percent), with 16 percent Vermentino and 6 percent Verdicchio, harvested from vineyards with soil similar to the flagship—deep sandy clay on limestone—though for the whites, Heinz says, “we tend to privilege exposures to the north that shelter the wines from too much heat and sunlight.”
I tend to be picky about sauvignon blancs—I have a penchant for Marlborough-grown iterations, with their abundant tropical citrus fruit. But Ornellaia’s version has a distinct approach and an enticing appeal.
Take the nose: While I did experience tart lemon, lime, and papaya, vegetal aromas were predominant—cut grass, tree trimmings. On my first sip, I tasted apple, perhaps some honeysuckle and a flowering citrus tree. It is bright and clean, with a full mouthfeel and presence that makes you pay attention to the layers, to the flavors, and the expression of the climate upon which its grapes grow—terroir, beautifully expressed.