The irony is its grapes grow in an area that for centuries was considered incapable of producing fine fruit. Yet today this wine ranks among the greatest Italy has ever produced. It is Ornellaia, made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, classic Bordeaux grapes grown in the westernmost part of Tuscany.
Tuscany’s vinous reputation dates back centuries, much of it resting on Chianti and other red wines made from Sangiovese. But that grape never counted for much in this coastal region. It is the Bordeaux-style reds, with a far more brief history, that brought it fame.
It began in the village of Bolgheri in 1968 with a wine called Sassicaia. It quickly received worldwide accolades, and other Italian winemakers took notice. Ornellaia, recognizing the climate and varied soils around Bolgheri were just right for Bordeaux grapes, followed in 1981.
Italian-made wines from French grapes, however, did not fit any legal Italian wine category. And so they were called Super Tuscans. Since then, however, Super Tuscan has described every conceivable Tuscan wine, not just Italian-Bordeaux wines. Happily, they no longer need it; with their success, original Super Tuscans have been granted their own legal definition, D.O.C. Bolgheri.
My notes from a tasting on a recent visit bear witness to the exceptional quality of these wines. Ornellaia 2005: mature, ripe, aromatic, deep-flavored and fascinating. Ornellaia 2006: full, concentrated, elegant and ravishing. Ornellaia 2010: equally elegant, complex, well-integrated with finesse and silky tannins. Ornellaia 2011: powerful and bright with a long aftertaste — delicious. Ornellaia 2012: young, deep-flavored and intense, with substantial body and finish.
Befitting its high quality and relatively low production, Ornellaia costs $225–250 a bottle.
Le Serre Nuove dell’Ornellaia, a more affordable wine, made from grapes of younger vines, is blended with more Merlot than Cabernet Sauvignon ($65–75). Far less expensive, Ornellaia Estate Le Volte offers a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Sangiovese (about $25).
All exceptional wines, with Ornellaia the king. No wonder, with a world of fine red wines at his disposal, George Clooney chose Ornellaia to serve at his wedding.
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