The little wine that could: Le Serre Nuove dell ‘Ornellaia

Twenty years have passed since the famed Tenuta dell ‘Ornellaia introduced the first true “second vin”

The Tenuta dell ‘Ornellaia estate in the Bolgheri region. (Courtesy Photo)

Twenty years have passed since the famed Tenuta dell ‘Ornellaia introduced Le Serre Nuove dell’Ornellaia, the first true “second vin” of any major Italian estate. Then and now, the term “second vin” refers to a wine made from grapes overlooked for the top flagship release. Beginning as a product of their younger vines, Le Serre Nuove dell’Ornellaia was introduced as a more accessible and affordable alternative to the classic grand vin, simply known as Ornellaia and considered one of Italy’s leading Bordeaux-style or Super Tuscan red wines from the Bolgheri DOC.

Differing from other parts of Tuscany where sangiovese is used to produce Chianti Classico, the unique terroir of the Bolgheri region, near the coast, allows Bordeaux varietals like merlot, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and others to thrive. Following years of obscurity with a reputation for ordinary white wines and rose’, Bolgheri gained international recognition in 1974 (two years before the 1976 Paris Tasting unleashed California wines to the world) when a six-year-old wine from Sassicaia, a sub-region of Bolgheri, was selected in a blind tasting over several releases from Bordeaux.

Tenuta San Guido Bolgheri-Sassicaia 2015, the 2018 Wine Spectator Wine of the Year. (Courtesy Photo)

In 2018, 50 years after the first vintage, the Tenuta San Guido Bolgheri-Sassicaia Sassicaia 2015 was named Wine Spectator magazine’s Wine of the Year and is now compared, vintage to vintage, with the top releases from Bordeaux, Burgundy and the Napa Valley. As a result, the sub-region is being upgraded to Denomination of Controlled and Guaranteed Origin (DOCG), the highest designation of quality among all Italian wines. All wines from Sassicaia now require a minimum of 26 months aging before release.

The last 20 years has been a “coming of age” for the Le Serre Nuove and a tribute to its sustainability. For reference, during the year of its inaugural release, Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule, the first Harry Potter book was published, Titanic was the hottest film and Steve Jobs, years after graduating from Homestead High School in Sunnyvale, returned to lead Apple for the next decade.

Maturing vines, better technology with the use of equipment like optical sorters and, in the later years, the touch of a woman, has enabled Le Serre Nuove to flourish on its own merits and develop, in the words of current oenologist Olga Fusari, “The distinct flavor profile of its older sibling.”

Another industry transformation since the first Le Serre Nuove release is that women have received more respect and opportunities to assume a larger presence among winemakers, CEO’s and sommeliers. One such person is Olga Fusari

Olga Fusari, Oneologist at Tenuta dell ‘Ornellaia. (Courtesy Photo)

Fusari is only 36 years old and has been with Tenuta dell’Ornellaia since an internship in 2005. She studied Viticulture and Oenology at the University of Florence and, through various experimental research projects, has helped to initiate a long-term collaboration between the university and the estate.

Olga is known as someone who enjoys experimentation which pairs well with the entire Bolgheri risk-reward wine-making philosophy that originally embraced the Super Tuscan movement. Since 2012, she had been an official taster for the Chamber of Commerce, charged with evaluating regional wines for the Denominations of Origin(DOC) designation.

Fusari joined the Ornellaia staff permanently in 2008 as Assistant Oenologist before assuming the position of

Oenologist in 2016. She doesn’t hesitate in boasting about the mature character of the 20th Anniversary Le Serre Nuove dell ‘Ornellaia 2017 [$82), a blend of merlot, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, and petit verdot, noting that it “expresses itself with outstanding elegance, combining great ageing potential with immediate enjoyability.”

The results were gratifying, but the 2017 vintage was a challenge. A recent study compiled by the World Meteorological Organization defined the years 2015-2019 as the planet’s hottest on record. The 2017 growing season in the Bolgheri region was the hottest and driest ever, causing the vines to bud weeks before the normal cycle. Then, a late April frost caused damage throughout the Tuscany region, but proximity to the ocean kept temperatures above freezing in Bolgheri vineyards, granting a reprieve. This resulted in a harvest that began with merlot in August and ended with the other varietals in late September, cooled by autumn rains.

The varietals used in Le Serre Nuove are vinified separately, then assembled after 12 months, reintroduced to the barrel for three months and finally aged another six months in the bottle. I found an expressive spice element with fresh berries on the nose, well-integrated flavors and a notably luscious mouthfeel that was soft on the palate. Finally, the finish, as purported, was long and lingering.

Guest columnist Lyle W. Norton is a wine enthusiast and blogger in Santa Rosa who has written a wine column for 15 years. Visit his blog at www.lifebylyle.com or email sfewine@gmail.com

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