Behind the scenes of Ornellaia 2015

Behind the scenes of Ornellaia 2015

Transparency, this great unknown in the wine world. Normally there is concealment. If the barrique is no longer fashionable, it will disappear from the conversation. Or else it will always be “second-fill”, insignificant. Therefore an applause for the winemaker who doesn’t hide behind the uncertain veil of trends and who shows self-assurance in his way of interpreting wine. Self-assurance, not arrogance. And the courage to measure himself against everything else.

The winemaker’s gamble

It was a big test for Axel Heinz, technical director of Ornellaia, who invited restaurant owners and journalists (very brave!) to taste some base wines with him that make up the 2015 blend of Ornellaia – now blended and undergoing ageing. About five months ago, small amounts of these base wines were bottled separately, to show behind the scenes how a wine with such a strong identity is created.

Difficult vintages like 2014

Now we can find the 2014 on the market, called L’Essenza, based on the idea of looking for a concise definition for every vintage. Certainly a difficult vintage. And L’Essenza is, once again, a declaration of honesty, to say that in the vineyard that year they had to sacrifice a lot, and to select in anguish in the cellar, to maintain the intense spirit of Ornellaia. “In difficult vintages,” explains Axel Heinz, the Bordeaux-school winemaker, “we rediscover the vineyards that make up the structure of the wine.”

Merlot, Cabernet, Petit Verdot are the key players

Some of them are here before us, numbered from one to nine. It is as thrilling as rehearsing for an important show, where the masterpiece is taken apart, but the humanity of the players that embody the deepest meaning of the text remains, each with the marked personality of their character. On stage the poet laureate appears dressed in damask cloth, Sir Merlot; the whimsical, refined Prince Cabernet Franc, in search of glory, and the King Cabernet Sauvignon, the austere and authoritative patriarch. The apparent supporting actor, Petit Verdot, the introverted but practical royal architect, who knows the foundations necessary to construct a building that will stand forever.

Ornellaia 2015: harmony is the key to everything

And though the assembled Court appears so tight-knit and complete, taken individually the characters reveal their shortcomings: the poet lacks the monarch’s attitude, who in turn lacks the touch of poetry, the prince lacks the calm strength of the father. All of them need a solid floor to move on, but a pedestal without a column is always boring.

The expressions of Bellaria Ginestraio, Olivino and Ornellaia

The good thing is that, being actors, these grape varieties actually behave differently in different environments. The Merlot from the Ginestraio vineyard, for example, at 110 metres above sea level, is more exposed to the sea breeze and lies on clayey-stony soils on a calcareous substratum, which contribute to making the wine soft, but concentrated and mature, not lacking in liveliness and grip, accompanied by a full-flavoured finish; Bellaria’s Merlot, on the other hand, among the first planted (1991, 26 years) makes such a close-knit and vibrant vermilion red that it can handle brand new barriques (compared to 50% of the Ginestraio) and releases notes of chocolate, blackcurrant and raspberry compote. It is no longer muscular, but more balanced and complex.

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