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Wine Legend: Ornellaia 2001

'Suave... very concentrated' - just one of the reasons Ornellaia 2001 is a wine legend...

Wine Legend: Ornellaia 2001, Bolgheri Superiore, Tuscany, Italy

A legend because…

Throughout the 1970s and early 1980s, the most admired Super Tuscan wine was Sassicaia, from grapes grown in Bolgheri near the Tuscan coast. Other producers were quick to copy the trend. Piero Antinori launched Tignanello and Solaia, and in 1982 his brother Lodovico planted his own estate, Ornellaia, in Bolgheri, with Michel Rolland as consultant.

Ornellaia differs from Sassicaia in that it contains a significant amount of Merlot, which gives it an opulence contrasting with the more reticent Sassicaia. It is also aged in a greater proportion of new oak. Lodovico Antinori’s ebullient personality helped to promote the wine, establishing its reputation. The winery releases small quantities of outstanding back-vintages, labelled Archivio Storico; the 2001 is one of them.

Looking back

By 2000, Ornellaia was in a state of flux. Lodovico Antinori was, according to his winemakers, brilliant at setting up new projects, but less keen on running them. Robert Mondavi took a share in the property, and by 2002 had acquired a joint controlling interest with Frescobaldi. In 2001, winemaker Andrea Giovannini was replaced by Thomas Duroux, later the director of Château Palmer. When Mondavi was acquired by Constellation Brands in 2005, Frescobaldi became the sole owner, which it remains today.

The vintage

A mild, damp winter and spring led to an early flowering. Over the summer, the climate was normal and consistent, allowing the grapes to ripen evenly, assisted by some judicious bunch-thinning. Merlot was harvested from early September, while the Cabernet Sauvignon was picked in good conditions from mid-September to early October.

The terroir

The soil at Ornellaia is varied, but is mostly a mixture of clay, gravel and sand near the winery. The vines are planted to a density of 6,000 vines/ha. The main vineyard, Bellaria, lies to the north. Here, the soil is stonier, although the site is essentially alluvial, with marine and volcanic traces. Planted on gentle slopes, Bellaria’s 70ha enjoy excellent drainage. Current winemaker Axel Heinz finds the grapes here give fresher, more vibrant wines than those closer to the winery.

The wine

Grapes were harvested manually, sorted, destemmed and lightly crushed. Fermentation took place both in steel tanks and in large wooden vats at up to 30°C. After a post-fermentation maceration, the wine was placed in 70% new barriques, where the malolactic fermentation and ageing were completed. After 12 months, the final blend was created, and the wine was aged for a further six months in barrels. Just before bottling, it was fined, then aged a year in bottle before release.

The reaction

In 2005, Jancis Robinson noted: ‘Inky, flattering, full and smooth, though it does belong more to Bordeaux than to Tuscany! Great freshness – great intensity – great wine. Still very thick.’ And in 2013, Stephen Brook was impressed: ‘Spicy, oaky, blackberry nose, with vanilla tones and great intensity. Quite rich and suave, very concentrated and still displaying firm tannins. Fairly youthful, this remains persistent and balanced on the finish.’

In 2015, Falstaff editor Peter Moser felt it needed time: ‘Seductive cherry fruit, delicate notes of tangerine peel, a floral touch, a hint of mint. At the moment it is quite closed. Juicy and elegant on the palate, showing a fine extract sweetness, silky yet firm tannins and delicate notes of chocolate and nougat. Lean yet with extraordinary length… Lock it up!’

Then, in 2017, Antonio Galloni wrote in Vinous: ‘Exotic, rich and decidedly flamboyant, the 2001 [Ornellaia Archivio Storico in magnum] is at its peak, where it is likely to remain for a number of years.’

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