Super Tuscan - Ornellaia

Henry Yuen

Back in the seventies something happened in Tuscany. A number of winemakers conglomerated that certain wine-making rules under DOC or DOCG were hampering their efforts in crafting better wines to give them edges to compete in the world stage. Take Chianti as an example. To earn that “Chianti” label, the wine must contain 70% or less Sangiovese and 10% being one of the white grapes indigenous to that region. Wines that did not follow this regulation could neither be called ‘Chianti’ nor ranked in the table wine category.

Those who determined to rebel against DOC or DOCG’s restrictive limitations initiated an assertive move. They began planting international-known grape varietals modelling those in Bordeaux - Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Syrah. Soon, these grape varietals dominated hills in Tuscany. Renegade winemakers even blended them with local Sangiovese. Since these wines could not use “Chianti” and DOC or DOCG in their labels, the term “Super Tuscan” was coined to identify these wines of exceptional qualities. Before long, the world took notice. However, it took years for these globally recognized “Super Tuscan” wine to eventually gained the IGT designation. Two decades later in the nineties, the ruling bodies finally modified the regulations for these “Super Tuscan” wines to be included within the Chianti and DOC or DOCG classification.

Cab Sauv sample

A recent tasting of Ornellaia wines was a great way for me to understand and appreciate the “Super Tuscan” movement. 

Single vineyard Can Franc

First established in 1981 by Antinori, Ornellaia now has over 220 acres in Bolgheri in Toscana region of Tuscany under the ownership of the Frescobaldi family. The tasting was not conducted in the usual straight forward manner. Instead of guiding us through a series of wines one by one describing the terroir and winemaking, Axel Heinz, the head winemaker at Ornellaia since 2005 adopted a different wine-tasting approach. He had us tasting each of the unblended wines first before finally tasting the finished products and heightened our appreciation of the blending effort.

We first tasted two each of the single vineyard, separately crafted Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot. The average aging of these wines before blending was no less than 12 months and put in French Oak to preserve individual characteristics. Alex Heinz then perform his magic and blended them, bringing them to another elevation. My palate told me each individual unblended wine displayed high quality with lovely mouth feel, yet a sip of the final products retold the story.  The capturing finesse expressed with flows and structures was simply exceptional. The tasting indeed confirmed the paramount quality and fine craftmanship of what “Super Tuscan” was all about, and without any doubt, played an imperative role in re-shaping and re-defining Italian wines.

Tasting Notes:


The Ornellaia L’Eleganza 2013 is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot in the ratio of 45/38/10/7. First fermented in stainless steel tanks and aged in 70% new and 30% used French oak for 18 months and another 12 months in bottle before release. This outstanding wine offers dense dark fruit notes of dried plum and black berries. Balanced tannin and toasted herb ending brings in an elegant finish. 96 points from Wine Advocate

The Ornellaia L’Essenza 2014 is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc (ratio: 34/32/20/14). A wet August followed by warm and dry September and October allowed the fruits to develop and ripe fully with late picking. The entry is silky smooth with generous red fruits and vivacious berries aroma ending with a dash of barnyard and earthy note. A wine that is well-balanced and caressing.

The Le Serre Nuove Dell’ Ornellaia is considered the younger brother in that the fruits were from younger vineyards. Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot in the ratio of 50/34/9/7. Aged in 25% new and 75% used French oak for 15 months and a further 6 months in bottle before release, this wine has medium density, juicy and jammy, soft fruity texture, a polished tannin and earthy note with a lengthy finish.