Ornellaia Dinner at Bernardi’s with wine maker Axel Heinz

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November 12th 2015

The great Tenuta dell’Ornellaia in Bolgheri on the Tuscan coast, is now lead by Axel Heinz. It was a pleasure to attend a dinner at the newly opened and delicious Italian restaurant Bernardi’s on Seymour Street – their food matched the wines beautifully and their wonderful private dining room gave a relaxed friendly atmosphere to enjoy a wonderful evening and speak to the winemaker himself.

Ornellaia is a blend of two-thirds Cabernet Sauvignon and one-third Merlot, with hints of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. This ‘classic’ Bordeaux blend has been made by Axel since 2005. Its first vintage was in 1985. Axel was formally of Ch La Dominique in St Emilion, and identified the similarity in soils between Bolgheri and Bordeaux; clay-gravel and clay-limestone soils. The key to the quality and consistency produced by the estate is attributed to its maritime climate with the vines enjoying the warm winds that roll in from the Mediterranean only two miles to the West and the protection gained from the hilly terrain behind them to the east.

The climate and soils deliver a fresh opulence and sensuality. In its youth it is accessible, fleshier and more opulent than youthful Bordeaux; with age it possesses Bordeaux-esque fruit expression and character.

They have also started to make two white wines and a sweet, two of which we tasted that evening.

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The Tasting and dinner:

White: Poggio Alle Gazze 2012 – 90% Sauvignon Blanc 10% Viognier
2012 was a hot dry vintage, this has produced a white that is deliciously rich and creamy, yet kept alive and fresh with a lovely zip of acidity. It has fresh oxidative nuances, with notes of sherry oak. Lots of exotic fruits; jasmine, orange flower, peach and a creamy texture. This will not be everyone’s favourite, but I found it a really interesting wine to drink and one that matched the ‘Cicheti’ beautifully, especially Bernardi’s outstanding Arancini and fennel salami. 1998 was the first vintage.

Severed with Cicheti – Arancini (probably the best in London!) – Salumi – Crostini

Reds: Le Serre Nuove dell’Ornellaia 2012 – 52% Merlot 28% Cabernet Sauvignon 12% Petit Verdot 8% Cabernet Franc – Primarily produced from the younger vines used for Ornellaia.
Axel heralded 2012 as a ‘classic vintage’ with wonderful growing conditions; a hot July and August followed by a cool September. This gave the wines from 2012 a lush fleshy opulence, while retaining the fruit and freshness. Lovely fine grainy sweet tannins. They first made Le Serre Nuove in 1997 – production around 16,000 cases.

The 2012 was youthful, but after being double decanted and open for 2 hours was beautifully approachable with food. Dark red fruits, dark cherry, plums with a delicious silky mouthfeel. Tobacco, spice and chocolate truffle notes, gave a great depth, complexity and richness to the overall structure of the wine. A brilliant wine, offering exceptional value.

Served with Antipasti – Burrata, with caponata – Rose veal tonnato- chargrilled squid

Tenuta dell’Ornellaia 2006 – 56% Cabernet Sauvignon, 27% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Franc and 5% Petit Verdot
Aromatically beautiful; an elegant and polished wine. Flowers, minerals and dark fruit are all intermingled and singing in harmony on the nose, all unveil themselves more and more given time. It is a wine of great beauty. On the palate this is youthful and still quiet tight but showing very fine, high toned, polished and elegant pure fruit expressions of dark fruits, cassis, smoke and graphite minerals. Axel explained that this elegance and fine structure came from the intensity of the small berries that were harvested that year. They gave a deep concentration, acidity and freshness. I found the 2006 a little elusive at the moment, however I think this will evolve into a great wine with lots of life ahead of it. 2006 is an extremely fine vintage all over Italy that is now known for its high acidity which is currently keeping the fruit wrapped up in a glove of fine tannins, but also gives the fruit its elegance, aromatics and freshness.

Axel arrived in 05 so this was his first proper vintage. He has mixed emotions about the vintage as the growing season was very mixed. He noted it was a very particular vintage to pick, ‘they say the wine made itself’. Axel said it started out a ‘big robust’ vintage, but has softened out well after nearly 10 years, it is showing more refinement and has aged in a classical way, which is more than he could have imagined and what he loves about the wine. Axel also thinks the slight austerity shown could integrate given a little more time. One to look out for in the future!

He spoke about how stunning 2004 Ornellaia and le Serra Nuove are. Pick them up if you can; as Axel said, a stunning vintage for both.

Served with Primi – Guinea fowl tortellini in brodo

Tenuta dell’Ornellaia 2001 (served from Magnum) – 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot and 5% Cabernet Franc. The wine spent 18 months in French oak (70% new)
Wow! This is a stunning example of Ornellaia at its best. Very intense and opulent. Axel enthused about the vintage saying it was pre his time, but an excellent ripe opulent vintage. 2001 was a brilliant vintage all across Tuscany.

The 01 from magnum was aromatic; fruit flavours leaping from the glass to meet your nose! What a heady inviting nose, so complex. The fruit on the palate was vibrant and lush, with dark fleshy berry flavours in abundance; violets, cherries, plums, cassis with layers of smoky mineral complexity. Velvety texture and tannins. Ripe opulence, showing right bank Bordeaux nuances in abundance, intermingled with the kisses of warmth the Tuscan sun gives the fruit makes a majestic wine with beautiful freshness. Bravo, stunning right now!

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Tenuta dell’Ornellaia 1998 – 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot and 5% Cabernet Franc is 5%. The wine spent 18 months in French oak, 50% new
This was served from bottle which was opened 2 hours before. Took about 15 mins in glass for the bell pepper herb nose to blow off and reveal sweet fruit notes. Axel said 1998 was not as blessed as 01, not good everywhere, especially for Sangiovese, as the vintage started out in the wet and cold. However as Ornellaia contains no Sangiovese, and all of the Bordeaux varietals, they work well in this vintage, which for the rest of the growing season gave perfect conditions.

Bordeaux left bank in style, side by side, I really think they would be hard to tell apart. Sweet ripe cassis fruits are integrated well into the body and structure of the wine. Tobacco, cedar and graphite minerals add to the delicious complexity, this is a very elegant wine. Medium-bodied. This should be enjoyed now, especially if you are a claret lover, it lacks the opulence or majesty of the great vintages.

Served with Rib of beef and Braised Shin, wild mushrooms, served with a selection of contorni

Ornus 2011 -100% Petit Marsanne
This was another very interesting wine, from a grape variety that was not typically Tuscan. Axel inherited it from a previous winemaker. It was started in 06, not made every year; not made in 2012. Sweet, opulent with tropical notes and lots of apricot! This is rich and delicious with fresh acidity giving balance. Beautifully hedonistic.

Served with a selection of artisan Italian cheeses

On 2015 vintage: Axel enthused excitedly, he said it was going to be a sensational vintage, an easy vintage, were everything came naturally. Even though Sangiovese is not grown at Axel’s Domaine he said it was a great year for this grape varietal too, especially in Bolgheri due to the late ripening and sun into October. Not only that, his other top tip was that 2015 was a great vintage for olives!