After recovering from the full day and night festivities of the ‘Palio di Siena’ the day before - it was time to jump into my rental car and make my way from San Gimignano across to the tiny walled village of Bolgheri on the coast of Tuscany. Where I had a special invitation to visit the estate of Tenuta dell'Ornellaia.
As with many wine regions in Europe, there are few cellar doors that you can simply stroll up to unannounced and enter for a visit and tasting. Especially an estate of this iconic stature, only an invitation will get you through closed gates of the property.
Tenuta dell'Ornellaia is located on the Tuscan Coast in Italy, overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea, in the region of the Northern Maremma.


Tenuta dell'Ornellaia was founded in 1981, in a beautiful, unspoiled part of Tuscany. From the outset, their mission was to produce outstanding wines, with passion and dedication, coupled with a unique terroir and an extraordinary microclimate; have brought Ornellaia great success and recognition as one of the most important wineries in the world.
The vineyards cover two sites only a small distance apart - separated by Bolgheri's famed Cypress Avenue, which leads you to the old, walled village of Bolgheri. With 100 hectares of vineyards, 40 surrounding the Tenuta, and the remaining 60 in an area known as Bellaria. The vineyards are planted at altitudes ranging from 50 to 120 meters above sea level, on a range of soils and gentle slopes. Tenuta Dell'Ornellaia's vineyards are divided into 70 parcels planted with four main red varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc & Petit Verdot, and a small parcel of Sauvignon Blanc.


Well known as a producer of 'Super Tuscan' wine, Ornellaia is considered one of Italy's leading Bordeaux-style red wines. The estate also produces a ‘second wine’, Le Serre Nuove, the blend Le Volte, the a 100% Merlot varietal wine called Masseto, in addition to a small estate production of grappa and olive oil.
Tenuta dell'Ornellaia was established by Marchese Lodovico Antinori of the Antinori family, with the help of winemaker Tibor Gál. The property is adjacent to Tenuta San Guido, producer of Sassicaia which is considered the inspirational 'Super Tuscan', and Ornellaia has been suggested to be Lodovico Antinori's answer to his cousin Nicolò Incisa's Sassicaia, and his older brother Piero Antinori's Solaia.
In November 1999 Robert Mondavi took a minority interest in the estate and full ownership in 2002, while initiating a partnership with the Frescobaldi family. In April 2005, Frescobaldi bought the remaining 50% shares of Ornellaia from Constellation Brands after their acquisition of Mondavi holdings, coming to own the entire estate. Axel Heinz is the current chief winemaker with Michel Rolland, involved with the estate since its beginning, and is retained as a consultant.


For a little over 25 years, Ornellaia has been in search of absolute quality. With wine production dictated to by the nature of the vintage, hand-harvesting only when the grapes are fully ripe, the grapes of each individual vineyard fermented separately, in respect of a unique and precious terroir. These are just a few of the choices made by Ornellaia, following a philosophy that aims for quality from the beginning and the results can be seen in the glass. Tenuta dell’Ornellaia’s winemaking philosophy is based upon the belief that wines must be the most faithful expression of the terroir that creates them. Their respect for the estate’s unique territory guides all aspects of wine production: limited quantities to ensure maximum quality, with incredible attention to every detail.
After several hours of visiting the winery, cellars and vineyards - it was time to find some shade and taste some of these stunning wines. The tasting was held next to the original home that gives its name and image to the flagship wine label. With tastings of this quality the hardest decision to make will be - do you professionally spit each wine, so as to appreciate and respect the following wine, or as this maybe the only opportunity I get to visit the estate and be guided in such capable hands through each wine, shall I change a habit of a lifetime and swallow each wine in turn, not knowing it I have time to go back to each wine.


The first wine in the tasting was the 2010 Le Volte - an expression of a carefully crafted blend of 40% Merlot, and equal parts Cabernet Sauvignon & Sangiovese. The blend brings together the best terroir of Tuscany and combines the Mediterranean expression of richness and generosity with structure and balanced complexity. The softness of the Merlot, with the firm structure and depth of the Cabernet Sauvignon supported by the vivacious personality of Sangiovese, creates a wine that reflects the integrity that inspires the philosophy of the Tenuta dell’Ornellaia Estate.

The second wine was the ‘Second Label’ wine of Ornellaia, the 2009 Le Serre Nuove dell’Ornellaia (a blend of 51% Merlot, 24% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Cabernet-Franc and 10% Petit Verdot) - which was first produced in 1997, resulting from the decision to carry out an even more rigid selection during the blending phase of the base wines which give life to Ornellaia. Produced primarily from the younger vineyards on the estate, the wine combines the pedigree of the flagship wine with bright, rich flavours, accessibility and softness together with a structure, balance and palate weight typical of the terroir of the property.

The third wine in the flight was the 2009 Ornellaia, Tenuta dell’Ornellaia’s flagship wine, which was first produced in 1985, from an extremely careful selection of the vineyards grown on the Estate. A blend of 51% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Merlot, 21% Cabernet-Franc and 6% Petit Verdot. Produced in limited quantities, hand-crafted and vinified with the utmost care and attention to detail, Ornellaia has constantly received top ratings from the most influential and knowledgeable wine authorities around the world.
The colour in the glass doesn’t quite prepare you for the explosion and sensory overload. The palate has exceptional balance between its ripe, defined fruit, its warming alcohol, honest acidity, and its velvet tannins. Delicious hints of mocha chocolate, Tuscan terroir and crusted herbs, entwined with oak notes - it is the wine’s ability to caress your taste buds that stays with you. An exceptional wine that’s drinking for another 18-20 years, likely longer if you have the patience.


An additional wine in the tasting - was a Variazioni in Rosso dell’Ornellaia 2009 - produced from the estates vineyards and the wine blend changes with each vintage, basing on characteristics from the growing season and how best to express them. Its name reflects this theme of variation. Each vintage blend will offer a different expression while the terroir remains one and the same - this particular blend being; 70% Petit Verdot, and then equal measures of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet-Franc. The wine is produced in extremely limited quantities and available for purchase to guests who have had an invitation to the winery & delivery to special wine people - though exclusively in Italy.