Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust

Ornellaia derives from two Italian words.

‘Orn’ refers to ‘ornello’ or ‘ornielli’ meaning ash tree or ash trees in Italian. The Ash was prized in Tuscany as the tree’s wood was both very resistant and flexible, and so farm tools were made out of it. ‘Aiai’ is a Tuscan suffix for a ‘field of something’. Here it is a field of ‘ornielli’ or ash trees in Italian.

Ornellaia Bianco 2013-2019

At a vertical tasting of seven vintages of Ornellaia Bianco, estate director Axel Heinz explained that he’s “still learning a lot” from Bolgheri.

“There are a lot of paradoxes about Bolgheri: it is in Tuscany, but isn’t known for Tuscan varieties, it is near the sea, but is better known for red wines, and it is a relatively new appellation, but has already acquired a big reputation.”

While Ornellaia did produce a white wine before 2013, Heinz said that it was more akin to a New Zealand or Loire style, rather than what he strove for, which was: “[a white wine] that would speak more of its place and more of Ornellaia.”

“It may seem a little bit early for us to do a vertical tasting for a wine that has only existed for 10 years,” Heinz explained, “but, even if it’s only a first phase we thought it would be good to explore.”

This “first phase”, with vintages from 2013 to 2019 available, has seen production oscillate between 4,000 and 10,000 bottles and Heinz experiment with the varieties and techniques used, though Sauvignon Blanc remains front and centre. For Heinz, one of Sauvignon Blanc’s great advantages is that it can ripen “to a level of richness without losing acidity”. He also likes that it “doesn’t reach extravagant levels of alcohol”.

However, 2013, the inaugural vintage, contained 30% Viognier, a variety that was left out entirely from some subsequent vintages because of its temperamental nature: “Viognier can add weight and richness – but there’s a very fine line between being oppullent and being heavy, and it’s just a matter of a few days.” Despite being nine-years-old, the 2013 has retained much of its freshness, even though that year had a hot, dry summer.

For 2014, the blend was changed, with 74% Sauvignon Blanc, 13% Viognier and 13% Petit Manseng. Heinz summarised this as “a cool, rainy vintage, not particularly favourable to the reds. But it was more interesting for the whites as we could let them ripen for longer”. As a result, picking began in September, rather than late August. “’14 is the vintage I would love to see in a few years, confesses Heniz, “it’s certainly a vintage that came a bit early, when we were still trying things out.”

One thing that was tried out was opting to produce single-varietal whites. Both the 2015 and 2016 were made from 100% Sauvignon Blanc, both were fermented in oak barriques (30% new, 70% old) at 22°C, and both were lees-aged for 12 months.

However, the 2015, “a much warmer year” than 2016, has what Heinz called “an element of surprise”: “’15 is evolving slower and more in the way we would expect…’16 is more advanced than what we would have expected.”

2017 was “as challenging as one might think for the whites”, with conditions so hot and dry that Sauvignon Blanc picking began on 7 August. “I was still on holiday,” joked Heinz. “[2017] is never going to be the greatest vintage,” said Heinz, “but it’s ageing much better than what we imagined.”

By contrast, as 2018 was a cold year, the harvest was much later: “[It was the] vintage where we felt we had the possibility to find out how late we could harvest…We felt comfortable in letting the grapes hang.” That year, Sauvignon Blanc picking concluded in mid-September, while Viognier was harvested at the end of August. It was also the first year where the wine was lees-aged for 10 months, rather than 12.

2019, on the other hand, is when Heinz believes that Ornellaia Bianco 2018, when we maybe went a bit far in terms of hang time…I very much like the ’19, because it is fruitier and crisper.” The 2019 is also 19% Viognier, the highest percentage of the variety since 2013.

As for this year’s harvest, Heinz noted that intense summer heat caused “crueller conditions” than were experienced from 2018 to 2021, but that the eventual rain resulted in a vintage of “two halves…before and after the rain”.

It isn’t just the weather that has pushed the 2022 vintage into “unfamiliar territory”, this year is also marks the first time that Sémillon was harvested. “We shall see what that does,” remarked Heinz.

Ornellaia Bianco in stock today:

2013 @ £315bt

2014 @ £315bt

2015 @ £295bt

2016 @ £295bt

2017 @ £295bt

2018 & 2019 ‘en route’ P.O.A.

Prices are in GB£ per bottle Under Bond ex taxes/shipping, LCB VT

Toscana Bianco IGT, Ornellaia Bianco: Ornellaia Bianco is a blend with a majority of Sauvignon Blanc coming from three small vineyards that have demonstrated their capacity to express the unique character of Ornellaia. (North facing vineyards planted on sandy clay-rich soils). 

2015 vintage: 100% Sauvignon Blanc

After an unusual year in 2014, 2015 proved to be a very normal wine-making year, almost textbook. After a standard winter, wet and mild but with some days below 0°, germination happened on time during the first few days of April. Spring was characterized, by dry and sunny weather, ideal conditions for normal vegetative growth that led to quick and full flowering at the end of May. From June water stress steadily arrived. July will be remembered as being particularly hot and dry, with peaks in temperature consistently above 30°C on every single day of the month. The heat wave, together with the lack of rain gave rise to the fear that ripening would stop and that an early harvest would be necessary. Fortunately rain arrived around 10th August with heavy rainfall that unblocked the ripening process, bringing with it some much fresher weather during the final phase of ripening. In this way, we could harvest in perfect conditions during the last 10 days in August.

The grapes were hand-harvested in 15kg bins in the early hours of the morning and immediately cooled on arrival in the cellar to keep all their aromatic potential intact. Following careful selection the whole grape clusters were subjected to slow and soft pressing with maximum attention to protection against oxidation. After static decantation lasting approximately 24 hours, all the must was placed in barriques, 30% new and 70% used, for alcoholic fermentation at temperatures no higher than 22°C. No malolactic fermentation was carried out. The ageing continued for 12 months on the lees with periodic batonnage over the entire period, and concluded in steel vats for 3 more months. Before bottling, blending of the various batches was carried out, along with light fining.

2015 vintage ‘has an intense but bright colour, classic aroma of mature and lively citrus fruits, subtle toast and vanilla notes. A full-bodied and juicy palate reflects the sunny season, but at the same time its vibrant acidity and crisp fruity character leave a very fresh and elegant impression in the mouth. Finishes with a classic touch of saltiness and subtle toasty notes’