“…if Ravel’s “Bolero” was a wine, it would probably be the 2007 Ornellaia”
From the day the London based wine merchant Armit Wines and the world famous Tenuta dell’Ornellaia had announced a competition earlier this year to win a trip to Tuscany to visit the Ornellaia estate, I was on a mission. The challenge was to take a creative photo of one’s enjoying Le Volte (the entry level wine of Ornellaia) and to share it on social media with the hashtag #LoveLeVolte.
I got obsessively dedicated to win this challenge. To make the long story short, I created a series of photos involving food, flowers, football and even my then one year old daughter. Finally the winner was announced … and there I was, doing the happy dance in my living room! 🙂
Fast forward to the end of September and I was on the flight to Pisa with my other half, full of excitement, despite the 5:45 am wake-up. Upon arrival and in just under an hour car drive from Pisa, we reached the Ornellaia estate. I felt like a Michael Jackson fan approaching Neverland – I remember taking photos of the gate, driveway, reception in the fever of excitement and posting it on Instagram as if the world was eagerly awaiting these shots and no second could be wasted. We were warmly welcomed by the staff and shown to our room where we had time to relax and refresh before our tour of the estate and tasting.
Before I come to the tour and tasting at Ornellaia though, I would like to give you a preview of what to expect from this rather long post. And also I will say a few words on the history of the magnificent Bolgheri wine region. So, read on!
Since I came to such a special wine producing region, I certainly couldn’t limit myself to just one winery visit. Following the most memorable first day at
I also had the pleasure of visiting the charming and rebellious
and the on-so-many-levels-impressive Bolgheri project by the legendary Angelo Gaja of Piedmont
Of course, the wine was the purpose, the focus, and the highlight of the trip, but how could one not mention the delicious Tuscan meals! Prepare for some mouth-watering action in the
And lastly, you can take a
by browsing through the photo gallery to get a glimpse of what this unique area is like.
Click on the respective links above to jump to the various sections.
For a long time the region around the town of Bolgheri was better known for its fruit and olive oil agriculture rather than for wines. In 1941 Mario Incisa della Rocchetta started planting Cabernet vines and for about 20 years the wine was consumed privately. Eventually his relatives from the Antinori family convinced him to release his wine commercially; and when in the 1970s the six year old Sassicaia (1968 vintage) won in the tasting event organised by Decanter magazine against Bordeaux wines the region started gaining international attention for its wine production. The term Super-Tuscan has since been in use for the best wines made in the region. Today, the most influential and well-known producers are of course Ornellaia and San Guido (the makers of Sassicaia), along with many other masterminds who craft exceptional wines in this beautiful region.
Bolgheri winegrowing area runs along Tuscany’s Tyrrhenian coast, and due to this proximity to the sea the climate is more moderate than in the central Tuscan hills. The combination of the varying soils and the Mediterranean climate influenced by sunshine, sea breeze as well as the chains of hills offering protection from winter winds from the East, create a unique environment for the Bordeaux varieties to develop their exceptional character here. I can say without exaggeration that in this region even a complete layman will understand how the climate determines the wine.
Matteo, who looked after us throughout our stay and was our guide, was very kind to share some history of the estate while we enjoyed the view of Bellaria from the observation point hiding in the shade of the century-old oak tree.
Ornellaia was founded by Marquis Lodovico Antinori in 1981 and the first vineyards were planted the year after. As it takes about three years after planting for a vine to produce fruit, the new winery started its operation with the 1985 vintage. After the takeover by Robert Mondavi in 2002 and periods of shared ownership with the Frescobaldi family and Constellation Brands, Tenuta dell’Ornellaia has been fully owned by Marquis de Frescobaldi since 2005. Alex Heinz has been the head winemaker ever since.
On our way back to the estate we drove past a very special vineyard – the patch of land that is home to the vines used for the epic Masseto wine. This 100% Merlot is so unique and rare that it retails at £500+ a bottle.
The exclusive nature of Masseto didn’t get unnoticed by some locals – I was told that just a few days before our arrival wild boars invaded the vineyard and polished away quite a lot of fruit. These boars had some balls, considering that the annual production of Masseto is only 32000 bottles!!
Back at the estate, walking through the perfectly manicured garden with its magnificent cypresses you can’t help but sense in the air the majestic quality of the wines crafted here.
Our tour continued in the winery where people were very busy processing the freshly harvested grapes and even though there was no access to certain areas, you could catch a glimpse of the highest quality equipment used to produce these world class wines.
Notably, grapes from each of the over 60 parcels of land are vinified and aged separately. Only thereafter are they tasted and blended into the final wines by Alex Heinz – first the flagship wine Ornellaia and then the Le Serre Nuove (2nd wine), Variazione In Rosso (special blend) and Le Volte (3rd wine).
Further to the cellars, the heart of the estate, the 2014 vintage of Ornellaia and Masseto wines are peacefully ageing in French oak barriques, set beautifully in dedicated temperature and humidity controlled rooms. It is normally 2.5 years after the vintage that the Ornellaia and Masseto are released to the market – the 2013 wine just got released earlier this year.
In 2009, with the release of the 2006 vintage, the estate launched the Vendemmia d’Artista (=artist’s harvest) project. Every year since the launch the winemaker defines the character of the new vintage of the flagship wine in one single word. An artist is then commissioned to express this word, the unique character of the vintage, in a piece of art. The artist’s work includes a special label for the flagship wine (only one bottle carries this label in a wooden box of six) and 111 large format bottles (3-9L) designed and signed by the artist. These bottles are highly sought after by collectors and some of the revenue from auctions goes to charities supporting the arts.
Following the tour of the winery and the “museum” room we reached the bright and airy tasting room with a floor-to-ceiling glass wall opening the views on the beautiful gardens. The much anticipated tasting of the estate’s wine range was about to begin.
WINE TASTING – Tenuta dell’Ornellaia
A line-up of four wines was expecting us:
2014 Le Volte: The blend of 70% Merlot, 15% Sangiovese, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon is the 3rd wine of the estate and the one that makes Ornellaia approachable and affordable. It is designed for early drinking and is easily paired with a variety of foods (I had my winning bottle with a juicy sirloin steak.) Medium ruby, with a backbone of black fruit, very fine tannins and refreshing acidity. (~ £20)
2013 Variazione In Rosso: 65% Cabernet Franc, 20% Merlot, 13% Cabernet Sauvignon and 2% Petit Verdot. This special blend is only available to taste and purchase for visitors of the estate, therefore it is quite a rarity! Deep ruby in colour and very fragrant due to the impact of high percentage of Cabernet Franc in the blend. Delicious yet still youthful and has great potential to age gracefully. (EUR 35 at the estate)
Interestingly no other wines are available for purchase at the winery, as Ornellaia prefers to allow the wine shops in the area to be the main retail channel in recognition of the key role they played historically in establishing the commercial success of the wines.
2013 Le Serre Nuove: 36% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc, 12% Petit Verdot. The excellent second wine of Ornellaia of which current vintages are claimed to be even better than early vintages of Ornellaia itself. Deep ruby, pronounced intensity, black fruit, toast, vanilla and pencil shavings notes, firm yet elegant tannins which I believe will soften further over time. Fantastic wine which will certainly take up some space in my wine cabinet for the years to come. (£33-40)
2013 Ornellaia: 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 38% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, 7% Petit Verdot. This is the latest vintage released to the market earlier in 2016. Deep ruby and still a bit closed, like a young flower. By tasting it, you get an idea of what it will be like when it’s ripe and ready but already admire its beauty and elegance, with great anticipation of what it will become. Exceptional despite its youthfulness. You clearly see that this wine is a player in a different league. I believe no one can describe it better than the man who created it…
[the weather conditions of the vintage] “…resulted in slow but complete ripening with great balance and a delightful aromatic quality, which we like to define as “Elegance”. Ornellaia 2013, with its dense, vibrant colour, has a nose of splendid aromatic complexity built around a limpid and brilliant fruitiness, underscored by refined spicy and balsamic notes. The mouth develops vibrant and complex fruity nuances framed by a dense, slender structure with tannins that attain a rare harmony between firmness and fleshiness, concluding with a long balanced and fresh finish.”
THE EVENING… An unforgettable part of my experience was the dinner at the estate. A personalized brochure containing the menu and the wines paired with each dish was expecting us at the beautifully set table.
Matteo was very kind to astonish us with another fantastic line-up of the estate wines…
… and the Portuguese family who for many years have been working at the estate and running its kitchen dished out an exceptional four course meal for us.
I remember very well the moment I tasted the 2007 Ornellaia: Maurice Ravel’s “Bolero” started playing in my head. I am not sure what triggered this association in me and I struggle trying to put it into words. I just know that it was a fascinating moment. I guess, if Ravel’s “Bolero” was a wine, it would probably be 2007 Ornellaia, L’Armonia – gentle and smooth, yet incredibly powerful at the same time.
I would like to thank Matteo and the hospitality team at Ornellaia for arranging this wonderful trip for us, for looking after us, making us feel so welcome, bringing across the spirit of these magnificent wines and for all the recommendations on what to do and explore in the region. This was an unforgettable journey. Nelson and Emilia, muito obrigado for treating us with your exceptional food.
Also huge thank you to Armit Wines for launching the competition and giving me a chance to win this trip in the first place.
“I feel the urge to make wines that breathe the sea in and out” Michele Satta
We arrived for our tour of the Michele Satta estate on a sunny late afternoon and were warmly greeted by the energetic and passionate Massimo. He shared interesting insights into the estate and Michele’s philosophy, took us through the tasting and was very patient to answer the hundreds of questions we had.
Signore Michele Satta, the mastermind of the estate, seems to be a bit of a rebel, doing everything his own way, for example growing Sangiovese grapes following his firm conviction that Sangiovese can thrive in the region indeed. He is regarded as one of the pioneers of quality winemaking in Bolgheri, with his first harvest going back to 1983.
We started our tour in the vineyards to take a close look at the few remaining bunches of Cabernet Sauvignon awaiting their perfect day to be harvested.
In contrast to other large producers, the Michele Satta winery is smaller and has a very artisan feel with parts of its equipment placed outdoors and their use of the organic approach.
Due to some significant construction ongoing during our visit part of the winery was in a work-in-progress state, so I guess next time I come it may look a lot larger!
Further to the cellar, a remarkable thing about it is that one of its walls is exposed natural rock.
It is moist to the touch and covered by a very fine deposit full of natural yeast.
This indigenous yeast supports fermentation of the wine and accentuates the organic approach of the winemaker. Quite clever!
Once it was time to taste, Massimo presented a line-up of six wines made by the estate, of which one was an unannounced bonus at the end.
WINE TASTING – Michele Satta
2015 Costa di Giulia: 70% Vermentino, 30 % Sauvignon Blanc. Pale lemon colour, very fruit forward wine with citrus, green apple, peach and a hint of pineapple. Refreshing acidity, touch of creaminess, recommended drinking window is within 2-5 years after release. (~€12)
2014 GiovinRe: 100% Viognier. Beautiful golden colour, intensely aromatic, ripe peaches and apricots, vanilla, cooked fruit (think fresh warm apple pie and poached pear). Full bodied with a long lasting finish. This would be a great match with spicy foods or even delicate meat dishes. (~€30)
2014 Bolgheri Rosso: Sangiovese 30%, Cabernet Sauvignon 30%, Merlot 20%, Syrah 10%, Teroldego 10%. Medium ruby, light-medium bodied with soft tannins and plenty of fresh red fruit (red cherry, cranberries, strawberries) and cassis, along with hints of leather and tobacco. (€16)
2013 Piastraia: equal blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and Sangiovese. Medium purple with black and red fruit, chocolate, black pepper accompanied by earthy notes and pencil shavings. Firm tannins which are likely to smoothen with age. Big wine with long ageing potential, one of my two favourites of the tasting. (€30)
2012 Syrah: 100% Syrah. Medium ruby, with a parade of intense red fruit and delicate spices, vanilla. Lush and rich, yet very elegant, smooth tannins. My other favourite of the tasting and certainly one of the most impressive Syrahs I’ve tasted in the last two years.
Michele says about this wine that his aim was “to represent to the maximum the own aromatic complexity of our Mediterranean terroir, as well as to realize a personal identification with some great wines from the Rhone.” In my opinion this wine is a serious competition to the Rhone counterparts, especially considering its value. (€27)
2011 Cavaliere: 100% Sangiovese. This wine is Michele’s response to all Sangiovese skeptics in the region. Pale garnet, intense with a dazzling array of cherry, dark berries, prunes and leather along with thyme and rosemary. Firm tannins indicating further aging potential, long lingering finish. (€30)
Unfortunately we did not get to taste Michele’s flagship wine called I Castagni which is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Teroldego, but isn’t this the most perfect excuse to go back?! Massimo, if you are reading this make sure you have a bottle ready for me! 😉
It is an absolute delight to see what a mastermind and skillful pair of hands can do when given a place to start something from scratch! Angelo Gaja, an established and prominent winemaker from Piedmont, came to Bolgheri about 20 years ago having been thoroughly impressed by the quality of local Supertuscans. He purchased a piece of land where there used to be an olive orchard and built a perfect winery. However the journey to his success was quite a challenging one. It took Angelo a total of 18 (!!) trips to Bolgheri to negotiate the purchase of land which was finally completed in 1996. At times his family advised him to give up as they felt it was a Ca’Marcanda, which in Piedmontese dialect means “a house of endless negotiations”. This is where the winery has got its name from…
Our tour was given to us by the extremely knowledgeable and charming Valentina, who seemed to know everything from the history of Gaja’s family, to winemaking and business operations.
She walked us through the state-of-the-art winery, which is hidden in the depth of a hill, adorned by the old olive trees, perfectly blending with the surrounding nature. Remarkably, not one olive tree was destroyed during construction; they were all replanted along the perimeter of the estate.
Only one of three winery levels is visible above ground.
Recycled materials (e.g. stones excavated from the soil, old railway tracks, parts of a decommissioned gas pipeline) have been widely used not only for construction, but also for the interior design of the winery and the hospitality area.
Colour schemes used in the winery’s interior design are perfectly reflected in the labels of the bottles which shine through their simplicity and elegance.
The mirrored triangles on the label of all Ca’Marcanda wines represent the view of the famous Cypress Alley leading to the town of Bolgheri.
Valentina kindly offered us to taste the three red wines produced at the estate.
WINE TASTING – Ca’Marcanda
2013 Promis: 55% Merlot, 35% Syrah, 10% Sangiovese. Pronounced intensity from the very first sniff packed with cranberries, cherry, cassis and plums; hint of spice (clove, black pepper), vanilla and tar add to complexity. On the full bodied side, powerful tannins. Can be enjoyed now but will certainly age well for a few more years. (£27+)
2013 Magari: 50% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Cabernet Franc. Lushness of Merlot in the background, with black fruit, violets, sweet spice and cigar notes of the two Cabernets in the focus of the picture. Full bodied with smooth velvety tannins and an impressively long finish. (£32+)
2012 Camarcanda: 50% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc. The estate’s flagship wine is clearly the king – layers and layers of rich black and red fruit, floral notes, sweet spice. Perfectly integrated oak, elegant minerality, long finish. Absolutely delicious. (£85+).
Lastly, I would like to mention the remarkable social commitment of the Ca’Marcanda estate. The Gaja family decided not to produce olive oil from the large number of olive trees on the estate. Each year the entire yield is given away to the locals for free. Also, they chose not to charge private visitors for winery tours. Instead, wine lovers wishing to visit the estate are asked to donate to one of the charities supporting different causes prior to their visit.
No trip to Italy is ever complete without indulging into the local food. Every time I am in Italy I am astonished by how much food my stomach can actually take. But seeing, smelling and tasting the fresh local ingredients makes the food there taste a million times better than in any fancy London restaurant!
Throughout the trip we have treated ourselves with delicious foods and I would like to share some of our favourites with you. I highly recommend all three restaurants featured here if you happen to be in the area. (Follow the hyperlinks to get to their respective websites)
Ristorante Il Poeta, a simple beach restaurant and bar so don’t expect anything fancy. But the food was good quality and tasty. I think the grilled squid there was probably the best I ever had. After we enjoyed our lunch a peaceful walk along the shore of a late-September sea was the best way to work off some calories and replenish our vitamin D before the long London winter …
Enoteca Tognoni was recommended to us by our hosts at Ornellaia. It turned out to be a clear local’s favourite! An amazing neighbourhood place with walls lined with shelves presenting hundreds and hundreds of wines for immediate consumption. There is no printed menu, just a daily board outside at the entrance and whatever the waiters can remember. 🙂 Even though the tiny town of Bolgheri appears to have 14 restaurants the food at Enoteca Tognoni was so exceptional that we went back there two nights in a row.
Osteria Magona, another recommendation from Ornellaia, is a place we will definitely be returning to when back in the region. Freshest produce, creative preparation and a highly sophisticated presentation, all that for a price we Londoners consider an absolute bargain (EUR 60 a la carte for 2 starters, 2 mains, 1 dessert, 2 glasses of wine, 1 beer and bottle of water). And if you don’t take my word for it, just hop on the plane and go see for yourself, you will not be disappointed!
One place we did not get to try out is Osteria Enoteca San Guido, run by the winery producing the famous Sassicaia wine. This one is definitely on our To Do list for the the next visit. However we did stop by their shop to feel the Sassicaia spirit 🙂
The town of Bolgheri is in fact tiny. It takes about seven minutes to walk around it (without stopping at any of the 14 restaurants that is). The road leading to the medieval gates of Bolgheri is the famous 5 km long cypress tree alley – Viale dei Cipressi – which is so imposing that it alone is worth a trip to the region.
We also visited the town of Castagnetto Carducci which has some restaurants with amazing views (to do for next trip), a most picturesque Gulf of Baratti and Populonia, a medieval place with breathtaking views of the sea from a hilltop tower. Enjoy your virtual tour!
Italy is beautiful. This is just a fact not to be argued with, right? This beauty is a concerto of landscapes, architecture, colours, smells, flavours, music and the sexiest language in the world. Each region contributes to this concerto in its own unique way. The Bolgheri region for me will always be a memory of the saline sea breeze, crystal clear waters, majestic cypress trees, gentle hillsides and most elegant wines …