Super Tuscan Wine at Ornellaia Vineyards in Bolgheri
In 1944, on the hillsides just outside Bolgheri in Toscana, an event took place on the famous estate of Tenuta San Guido that would change Italian Wine making forever.
Mario Incisa della Rochetta planted the first Cabernet Sauvignon on his vineyard. This ”unholy act” in the Sangiovese and italian grape dominated wine region of Tuscany; sprung from an idea he had nursed for a long-time.
The Bolgheri climate was very simular to the Bordeaux climate and Mario wanted to make a Italian red wine closer to the full-bodied red wines he had come to love from the famous France region of Bordeaux.
Cypress Avenue, just outside the Italian village Bolgheri in Tuscany
The result became Sassicaia; his brainchild and marchese’s personal wine for many years, until the 1968 vintage was produced. The wine Sassicaia is credited to be the very first Super Tuscan Wine and became commercial in 1971. Little could Mario Incisa Rochetta imagine he had started a small Wine Revolution: The creating of Super Tuscans in one of the most famous Italian wine regions.
In the middle of the 70’s, more wine makers in the wine region followed his example and today the Super Tuscan Wines have gained quiet a reputation and have become world famous for their overall high quality of Red Wine.
What is Super Tuscan Wine?
So what are Super Tuscan Wines, easily explained? Shortly, the use of non-indigenous grapes to Italy, especially French grapes like Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, is essential in blends that allows the winemakers to produce red wines with more body, deepth and higher quality. Super Tuscan Grapes like the non-indigenous above varieties is the key for making wines we know as Super Tuscan Wine.
Who invented the term Super Tuscan Wine?
Some think it was the italian wine critic Luigi Veronelli that came up with the phrase "Super Tuscan Wines", other say it was coined by David Gleave; an UK Wine Master and expert on Italy and Tuscany. Or was it the writer Burton Anderson who moved to Toscana to write about wine? Or the american wine critic Robert Parker?
The epiteth ”Super Tuscan” came around in the early 80’s and are probably a mix up from many sources and it doesn’t really matter? The Super Tuscan-label is a perfect one anyway to describe these type of wines.
Harvest time of Merlot Grapes at Ornellaia Vineyards
The Ornellaia Wine Estate in Bolgheri
Adjacented to the Tenuta San Guido estate you’ll find the Ornellaia Estate, which I had the privilege to visit early September, during the harvest period of Merlot grapes, for a vineyard and wine tasting tour. Ornellaia is one of the most interesting Tuscan and Italian Wineries today. Being blessed with a fantastic weather and the astonishing sourroundings of Ornellaia, we visited for a Ornellaia Wine Tour with the Ornellaia Vineyards, the beautiful Masseto Wine Cellars and a wonderful wine tasting of Super Tuscan Ornellaia wines at the Ornellaia Winery. When it comes to Super Tuscan Wine, Ornellaia is considered as one of the best Super Tuscan Wineries, both in Italy and worldwide, producing high quality Italian wine.
The Ornellaia Vineyards is divided by the famous Cypress Avenue that leads to the picturesque village of Bolgheri in the italian region of Tuscany and Bolgheri is without doubt one of the best wine regions in Italy.
The two main areas of Ornellaia vineyards; Tenuta and Bellaria, with almost equally hectares on both sides of the Cypress Avenue sums roughly 100 hectares of their main four super tuscan grapes viarities; Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and smaller lots with Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier and Petit Manseng. These grapes are essential for the production of Ornellaias super tuscan wines and are Super Tuscan Grapes for sure.
The Estate of Ornellaia is located at the hillsides just outside the Tuscany village Bolgheri, beautifully protected from cold winter winds by the hills during the colder winter months and refreshed by the welcome cooling breeze from the Mediterranean on hot summer days. A perfect location for producing Toscana Wine and a Toscana Winery.
These weather conditions are also exceptional to grow the selections of grapes that is the foundation of Ornellaias Super Tuscany Wines, made mostly from French indigenous grapes.
The Estate on the top of the hill in the background belonged to Mario Incisa Rochetta and he planted the first Cabernet Sauvignon on the other side of the same hill.
When arriving to Ornellaia Estate, the first sight I saw was the well-managed fields beneath the hill, bathing in the sun with a smaller group of grape pickers between the rows of Merlot vines. So lucky to arrive in harvest time! The guide was a little late but that was just perfect to get the extra time to imbibe this unique athmosphere.
It was actually my first visit to a Vineyard in Italy and elsewhere, so this was going to be an exiting Wine Tour!
The guide arrived and started telling the interesting history of the first Super Tuscan Wines and the captivating Ornellaia story so far.
The Ornellaia History – Ornellaia Wine Tour in Tuscany
The vineyards of Ornellaia was planted 1981, and the first vintage of Ornellaia Wine hit the market in 1985. Ornellaia is considered to be one of the best Bordeaux styled red wines and wine brands in Italy. Wine critics around the world love the italian wine area of Bolgheri, Tuscany and have rated Ornellaia Super Tuscan wines with top scores since the very first vintage!
Marchese Lodovico Antinori established the Ornellaia Vineyards. Through the following years Robert Mondavi Winery took some interest in the estate back in 1999 and became the full owners of Ornellaiai by 2002.
In 2005 Robert Mondavi Winery decided to become partners with the Frescobaldi Family, who bought the remaining 50% shares from Constallation Brands after a asquisition of Mondavi holdings. The result is that the Frescobaldi Family now is the owner of Ornellaia Estate.
With Ornellaia, the Frescobaldi Family added one of the world’s most iconic Wine Estates to their comprehensive portfolio of Tuscan Wineries such as Masseto, Danzante, Luze delle Vite alongside the six Frescobaldi Estates of Nippozzano, Castel Giocondo, Pomino, Ammiraglia, Castiglioni and Remole.
The Ornellaia Winery and Masseto Wine Cellars melting into the Nature of Tuscany Hillsides
A top modern Winery was built on the estate in 1987 at Masseto vineyards and that was where we were headed next. The Ornellaia Winery and Masseto Cellars is beautifully incorporated with the sourrounding nature. In fact, when you stand above the winery, looking down from the parking, you can clearly see that the talented architects of ZitoMori carefully have taken the environment in consideration.
ZitoMori is founded and based in Milan and Avellino, Italy by the architects Maurizo Zito and Hikaru Mori.
The Masseto Winery have an underground wine cellar and is an architectural beauty of a winery, in perfect harmony with the Tuscan landscape around it. In the middle you get a glimpse of a several hundred of years old tree, that the architects left completely intact, building the winery around it. The Winery and Cellar complex is a fantastic building, capturing the Philosophy and Soul of Ornellaia so well.
And inside you will find an even more extraordinary interior as you walk through the winery working areas, the Wine Cellar, Wine Storage and the Wine Tasting room on the top floor.
But your first impressions, both outside and entering the Ornellaia Masseto Winery, will be Art.
Because Art goes hand in hand with the Ornellaia Wine Philosophy, and that’s probably why the Wine Producer started the Ornellaia Vendemmis d’Artista Project with the release of Ornellaia Superiore Vintage 2006.
Wine Art at the Ornellaia Masseto Winery
Ornellaia Philosophy and the Wine Art Project
Ornellaia Vendemmia d’Artista
At Ornellaia, every step in making a Vintage Super Tuscan is about excellence, details and vinification technique.
Anything excellence in every step of making the wine is out of the question.
All grapes at Ornellaia Estate is picked individually by variaities, at optimal harvest conditions in the vineyards and at different times to assure the highest possible quality in every grape variety.
Grapes then go through a double selection process and are fermented on individual steel tanks. There’s more then 60 individual base wines, all with their own unique specific character depending on grape variety, vineyard area, climatic exposition, soil type etc that go through a continuous analysis during the whole growth period of the grapes – but it’s only after 12 months on French Oak Barrels that the Wine Maker can select and blend a new vintage, using the base wines unique components to create another wine masterpiece. Making Ornellaia wine is, truly, a work of Art!
The very first collaboration in the Ornellaia Vendemmia d'Artista Project
It’s not that surprising then, that Ornellaia celebrates every new vintage of wine with a work of art, is it? Contemporary artists have designed each limited vintage label since the start of the Ornellaia Vendemmia d’Artista Project and the release of the Ornellaia 2006 Vintage Superiore! The artists inspiration is sprung from one single word; choosen by the Winemaker, to describe the unique, new vintage of Ornellaia.
The Vendemmia d’Artists Project is also an Annual Charity Event to raise money in support for the Arts. Each year a limited amount of wooden cases with the new edition is sold. This wine auction event is highly coveted by Wine Collectors and Wine Connoisseurs from all over the world of wine.
Artist Shirin Neshat have made the label for the limited edition of Ornellaia 2016 La Tensione
Each Project of Vandemmia d’Artista includes wooden cases of Ornellaia with the artists designed label on 6 pieces of 750 ml bottles and Ornellaia also release a special limited edition of 111 large size bottles all in all; 100 pieces of 3 litres Double Magnums, 10 pieces of 6 litres Imperials and 1 piece of 9 litre Salmanazar.
All the bottles are numbered and personally signed by the artist and will bring in some of the highest prices for Super Tuscan Wine on the Wine Auction held every year to celebrate this beautifulmarrige of Wine and Art.
Ornellaia Masseto Winery Wine Press and Steel Tanks where each individual grape is fermented
Ornellaia Masseto Winery and Wine Cellars
As we took the Winery Tour, it strucked me that it didnt look any older then a few years! Every section of the Ornallaia Winery is perfectly maintained and it was hard to imagine that this Tuscan Winery was built already back in 1987!
The steel tanks, the press, the bottling area looks brand new. And especially the design of the Wine Cellar and Wine Storage Room with Ornellaia Vintages have a fantastic interiour.
French Oak Barrels filled with Ornellaia Red Wine at Masseto Winery
The story behind the pieces of Arts in the Cellars is really poetic and tells a story both of the artist and the Ornellaia Wine Philosophy.
Inside the Cellar, in the middle of rows of French Oak Barrels above, you can see a lamp which actually have moving light cones. This represent the moving of the sun which is essential for the grapes to grow, but it’s also a metaphor for ”Time”. Time is what the pressed wine needs on these Wine Barrels to mature and blossom.
L'Infinito by Photographer Artist Rodney Graham for Ornellaia 2011 Vendemmia d'Artista
The upside down photo of one of the trees on the Ornellaia Estate in the Wine Room where all vintages of Ornellaia so far is kept, is called ”Infinity”. With the branches and crown of the tree turned and growing downwards this represent the roots of the Ornellaia grapes, growing towards the sky…which of course, with this piece of Wine Art, is a symbol for the roots of Ornellaia Vines growing into infinity.
All the Vintages of Ornellaia the very first Vintage of 1985 in the Masseto Winery Wine Storage Room
In the Wine Storage Room, all vintage wine from Ornellaia is kept. There’s just a few bottles left of the very first vintages, which have made the owners of Ornellaia wanting to keep more bottles from each new vintage here for future purposes. One amazing thing is that the Ornellaia 1985 vintage still is ”alive” and enjoyable!
A wine with 32 years on French Oak Barrel and bottle! This Ornellaia Wine is the true essence of a Super Tuscan!
Wine Tasting at Ornellaia Masseto Winery
After the visit in the Wine Cellars we moved to the top floor and the Wine Tasting Room of Ornellaia, where we had a great introduction to their Super Tuscans and wine philosophy.
Our guide and Sommelier held a perfect Wine Tasting with so much facts on each wine, covering everything from the years climate, when the grapes were picked to insights of the complexity in making wines the Ornellaia way.
My own Wine Tasting Notes of Super Tuscan Wine is in italic, so remember I'm a Wine Layman and no Wine Professional.
Wine Tasting at Masseto Ornellaia Winery
Poggio alle Gazze dell’Ornellaia 2017 – Toscana Bianco IGT
Poggio alle Gazze is an Ornellaia white wine. Our first impression is that this is a typical Sauvignon Blanc wine, the aroma gives it away that this blend contains a lot of this grape. But then the wine reveals deepth, fruity aromas and a refreshing mineral finish, which makes it well-balanced and highly enjoyable. I'm not a big fan of white wine but this wine have some really pleasant tones and I really would like to taste it together with some savory seafood dishes!
81% Sauvignon Blanc, 10% Vermentino, 6% Viogner, 3% Verdicchio Grapes
Wine Ratings: Wine Advocate 89, James Suckling 93, Antonio Galloni 91 on a scale to 100
Le Volte dell’Ornellaia 2017 – Toscana IGT Rosso
A complex, rustic body in this red wine with high tannins, but also fragrances including a lot of red fruit tones and spices. Even though I think it has to much roughness for my own taste right now, but you sure can taste that this wine have a quality that will match well with the dishes famous for the Tuscan Cuisine and the italian region.
Wine Ratings: Wine Advocate 92, James Suckling 91
The Stars of our Wine Tasting at Ornellaia Winery
Le Serre Nuove dell’Ornellaia 2016 – Bolgheri DOC Rosso
The bouquet of this Super Tuscan was big, deep and wonderful and packed with intense red fruit aromas. Really rich on the palette too with a strong and long-lasting after taste. A wine I reckon will need a few years…like 10?...to evolve fully but sure could be enjoable today as well with the right food and wine pairing.
As a Chef, I get all these imaginary series of prepared ingredients I wished I had infront of me to combine with wine I drink. I always intend to get pictures of Food as a first impression instead of what the wine actually sense or taste like. So this was an instant favourite of mine, with lot of Food imagine to go with it.
Even if Ornellaia call it their ”second wine” – this potential long-ageing Super Tuscan still is made with the passion and attention to detail as any Ornellaia Wine.
44% Merlot, 26% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Petit Verdot, 12% Cabernet Franc
Ornellaia 2016 ”La Tensione” – Bolgheri DOC Superiore Rosso
After tasting La Tensione, I quickly changed my mind about my favourite Ornellaia Wine! This was something completely different and extraordinary! Remember I love wine, but is an amateuer and layman so my lack of knowledge and wine vocabulary limit my description here - but it was simply amazing. So deep flavors, and levels of aromas and taste!
I think the words of Wine Maker Olga Fusari captures it spot on: “A particularly dark and young colour is the prelude to a complex nose of black berries, spices and cedar. The palate is rich and dense, balanced by a refined and firm tannic structure, lifted by a juicy and bright acidity.” Couldn’t have said it better myself ;)
51% Cabernet Sauvignon, 27% Merlot, 18% Cabernet Franc, 4% Petit Verdot
Wine Ratings: Wine Advocate 98, James Suckling 98, Wine Spectator 96, Antonio Galloni 96+
Wine Tasting with a view at one of the Best Tuscany Wineries - Masseto Winery on the Ornellaia Estate
List of Super Tuscan Wines and what Super Tuscans Cost
Of course, your personal taste of wine will defenitely decide which types of red wine you’ll prefere. Maybe Super Tuscans isn’t for you? I know though that I will try to taste and experience the wines from Ornallaia and other Super Tuscans as often as I can. Life is to short not to drink great wine!
However, there’s some inofficial lists of Super Tuscan Wine and Tuscany Wineries that are common to be known as some of the best Super Tuscans in the World today.
Are Super Tuscan Wine expensive? You can presuppose that they will be as Super Tuscan Red Wines is highly covoted by Wine Connoisseurs and Sommeliers all over the world.
But lets dig into a short list with some of the Top Super Tuscan Red Wines and what these Super Tuscans cost to buy right now.
Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia
The First Super Tuscan that even have it’s own DOC, seperate from Bolgheri DOC! So, if you are lucky, you can find some of the recent vintages for under $150. If you are lucky to get your hands on a 1985 Sassicaia, be prepered to pay $4000. Yes, per bottle!
Grapes from one of the best Wine Makers and Italian Wineries today, and grapes from a single Vineyard will result in some high prices as well. The 2002 Vintage of Solaia can be bought for anything between $120 to $280 but if you prefere an older vintage like Solaia 1978, be prepared to pay between $340 to $650 per bottle!
What about Ornellaia’s high-end Super Tuscan then? Even without the limited labels from artists on vintages you’ll pay between $125 and up for a 2007 Ornellaia Bolgheri, and up to $450 for a bottle of the 1990 release. One of Ornellaia’s most expensive Super Tuscans was a 9 litre bottle; also known as a Salmanazar, of Ornellaia 2005. It was sold at Christie’s New York for a staggering $33,600!
Tenuta dell’Ornellaia Masseto
We need another Ornellaia Wine on this list! The Masseto is made from solely Merlot grapes grown and harvested from a single vineyard. Limited, exclusive, extreme quality and small production mean you’ll pay some top dollars for a single bottle of the best vintages! The 2001 will cost you $850 or more while you pay a ”modest” price of $350 to $450 for a bottle of 2005 Masseto!
What Food should you pair with a Super Tuscan Wine?
The healthy kitchen of Tuscany is well-known for their braised and grilled meat dishes made from lamb, pork, veal and beef. Seasoned with loads of herbs and the earthy tones of farmers produce will match perfectly with the bold, intense and deep taste which is significant for many of the Super Tuscan Red Wines found here.
Of course, french food would match perfectly with wines from french grapes even if they grow in a Tuscany Wine Region!
So the earthy meat dishes from France Cuisine would do great with a Super Tuscan Red Wine as well.
When matching wine with food, one of the most easy and fool-proof wine and food pairings is to go for local food with local wine. So meat dishes, charcuterie and cheese from Toscana will without doubt be a well-matched food and wine pairing. Or even a simple Pizza!
Nduja Pizza and Truffle Pizza in Bolgheri, Toscana
After the Wine Tasting and Wine Tour of Ornellaia we went to the village of Bolgheri, where we ate some fantastic food and had another great wine from Tuscany and the Bolgheri region; Villa Donoratico Bolgheri 2017.
My choice of food was a Salami and Nduja Pizza but I also tasted a Truffle Pizza; rich, flavourful and matching this wine perfectly.
Food Travel to Tuscany
This was my third visit to Toscana but my first Wine Tour at a Super Tuscan Winery. Vineyard and Winery Tours will be my new thing!
If you want to buy cheap flight tickets to Italy and find the nearest airport in Tuscany; you can search for flight tickets on Skyscanner.
You’ll find Tuscany Airports in the Italian cities of Pisa and Florence; or Firenze as the italians call it.
Beside some of the finest Wineries in Italy, Tuscan Cuisine is fantastic. Tuscan Cuisine is famous for it's simplicity but use of really high produce like legumes, bread, cheese, vegetables, mushrooms and fresh seasonal fruit.
Food Travel in Italy is really simple if you are headed for the Tuscan part.
Tuscany is also known for the wonderful landscapes, it's history - the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance, with great artistic legacy making influences on high culture, history of art and science. Some of the world's most famous museums, historical and architectural sights will satisfy any traveller with a lot of sightseeing to go between food and wine! So if you're into all that I'm pretty sure you will love Tuscany and this part of Italy!
Hotel and Accomodation in Tuscany
Enjoy your stay in Tuscany!
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