Ornellaia Vertical Tasting Experience {NJ Food & Wine Festival}

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To say that the Ornellaia vertical tasting experience was a treat would be an understatement. The opportunity to sip and compare bottles from eight different vintages of the Ornellaia vineyard is not one that most people get everyday. Located in Tuscany near the coast, Ornellaia occupies an interesting crossroads between Italian and French wine traditions. In Bolgheri, where Ornellaia Estate resides, the low hilly landscape only a few miles from the sea lends itself more to Mediterranean maritime vegetation than traditional Tuscan grapes. The area was long eschewed by vineyards for this reason, but the discovery that Bordeaux varieties could thrive in this terrain proved pivotal for Ornellaia’s success, starting at its founding in 1981.

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The wine possesses a strong Mediterranean quality, even with French Bordeaux grapes, highlighting Ornellaia’s production philosophy that wines must be the most faithful expression of the terroirs that produce them. Alex Heinz, the Ornellaia winemaker who headed up this tasting, explained that Ornellaia’s location a few miles from the sea helps keep the climate mild and even, and the light reflecting off the sea reflects and helps to ripen the grapes.

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As we walked our way through the different vintages, clear favorites emerged in the audience that often differed from the favorites of the wine makers. Axel astutely reminded us that good vintages are a gift of mother nature, which the wine makers feel they can’t take as much credit for. Tougher vintages, where the climate and weather didn’t lend themselves to easy winemaking, better showcase the wine makers’ skill, and induce more of their pride and favor. Understandably, the wine makers showed favoritism towards the wines they had the most hand in smoothing out and turning into something balanced and drinkable. Axel further explained, “a bad vintage is like a child you’re raising that never reaches his full potential, even after an extended adolescence,” making the parent (or winemaker) all the more proud when their underachiever finally grows into something of merit.

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On the topic of blending, Axel explained that “blending out of grape varieties helps express the best characteristic in the grapes, and helps them adapt to the vintage. The blending carries to catch the best flavor out of each vintage.” The wine makers stated emphatically that blended wines are always superior to single vine wines. They have more depth, flavor, and balance. And though blending is crucial, expertise must be exercised. An art rather than a science, blending, according to Axel, “is not arithmetic. You can lose quality and character with a blend,” making a light and seasoned touch all the more important.

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If you’re a wine collector, Ornellaia is the ideal wine to add to your collection. With aging potential up to thirty years, and even longer potential with the newer vintages, Ornellaia would save beautifully for a special occasion years down the road, if you can avoid the temptation of drinking it straight away. The wine makers explained that young wine highlights the skills of the winemaker, while older aged wine highlights the characteristics of the land and the grape. With an average suggested retail value of $220 in stores, and presumably much more in an NYC restaurant, Ornellaia probably isn’t your go-to bottle for a regular Friday night, but rather an ideal choice to save and celebrate with a few years down the road.

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For the full post and more photos, visit Devil Gourmet. 

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