Ornellaia 2014 ~ Exceeding All Quality Expectations For the Vintage…

I recently had an incredibly interesting tasting Masterclass with Ornellaia winemaker Axel Heinz as he launched the new bottled release of their Bolgheri red blend 2014 in the UK. The tasting took the format of a deconstruction component tasting Masterclass for barrel samples from the upcoming 2015 vintage.


The point of the tasting was not specifically to explain the 2014 vintage per se, but to illustrate the analysis, tasting, micro-vinifications, and terroir analysis that goes into the construction of the Ornellaia flagship blend every year. We tasted nine Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot single varietal vinifications that illustrate the jigsaw of terroirs that are analysed to create the perfect completed wine jigsaw within any given vintage. Fascinating.



2014 was considered a very challenging vintage with a warm and wet winter followed by a mild and dry spring, allowing for normal vegetative growth with punctual and regular flowering. Perfect July weather was followed by a cold and rainy August, creating very difficult conditions for ripening and greatly increasing the risk of vineyard diseases.


Meticulous work in the vineyards was required to keep the canopy and fruit healthy. But this work was rewarded with two successive months of mostly dry, sunny weather creating excellent conditions for ripening. It was at harvest time that the intricate analysis of various plots really came into its own. The result was one of the longest, most delayed harvests on record ending on the 22nd October.


Tasting Note: 

Ornellaia 2014 Bolgheri DOC Rosso Superiore, Italy

Having already tasted and scored most of the Bolgheri 2014s, it was with great anticipation that I finally got to taste both the Ornellaia 2014 and the Le Serre Nuove 2014. This is a very impressive expression of Ornellaia, blended from 34% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32% Merlot, 14% Cabernet Franc, 20% Petit Verdot. Born out of a very difficult vintage, winemaker Axel Heinz has exceeded expectations producing a rich, opulent, yet classically proportioned wine that overflows with black berry fruits, cherry, liquorice stick, damson plums, bramble fruits and dusty graphite notes. The palate is bright and pure with a real sense of textural precision. There is wonderful cut and freshness, but also superb black and blue berry fruit intensity and linear, mineral definition. This wine is the ultimate surprise package. With 20% (instead of the usual 4-5%) of late ripening Petit Verdot in the blend, you’d expect this vintage to feel a little different. It is a true testament to the obsessive commitment winemaker Axel Heinz has committed to this challenging vintage. Drink from 2020 to 2040.

(Wine Safari Score: 95+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)


“This year represents the heart of the estate, Ornellaia’s ‘Essence’: its natural style, the exceptional quality of its terroir, and the competence of those who work in the vineyards and the cellar.” ~ Axel Heinz, Winemaker, Ornellaia

Prepping For “Montalcino March” with Some Gaja Pieve Santa Restituta Brunello di Montalcino 2011…

Burgundy En-primeur has taken ownership of months January and February, Bordeaux April and May. So the gap in between had to be filled by Montalcino March. This region’s new releases now command more interest with drinkers than almost any other Italian releases including Bolgheri, Barolo and Barbaresco. Their quality, wine style and importantly, release prices, have struck a cord so loud and true that demand continues to grow year on year and demand is now outstripping supply. 


With our own Brunello EP tastings in London just days away, I thought I would start getting into the mood properly with a sexy bottle of last years Gaja Brunello di Montalcino 2011 release. Here’s my Wine Safari verdict…


Tasting Note: The Brunello di Montalcino 2011 is made from a blend of fruit from different vineyard parcels in the north west of Montalcino. The sites have more cooler northerly exposures than those of the Cru vineyards Rennina and Sugarille located further south around the winery, where warmer south and south easterly exposures dominate. The aromatics are dark, broody and spicy with a melange of dried herbs, tobacco, oregano and thyme and an overtone of aniseed root, raisined cherries, blood oranges and vermouth spices. You can taste the slightly cooler, spicier taughtness of the northerly sites which are crisper, fresher and more linear and angular on the palate. There are no over ripe fruit notes despite the 15 Abv, with the crisp fresh acids keeping the palate taught and slightly fours-square. The mid palate fruit is beautifully seductive and silky, spreading out across the palate to leave a long, pithy, graphite laden black cherry and aniseed finish. There is more frame, more angles, more spice than riper southern Montalcino wines. This wine is unashamedly youthful and minerally grippy but also vibrantly fresh. It does not possess the depth and power of the epic 2010, nor the sweet opulent generosity of the 2012, but it’s a thoroughly pleasing wine to swirl and savour. Start drinking in 3 to 5 years time.

(Wine Safari Score: 93+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Tasting the Superb Limited Release Val di Toro T3 Special Reserve 2010 Maremma Toscana IGT…

Today one of my favourite Italian producers popped in for a tasting of their new vintages. Hugh Maxwell and his wife Anna have been producing beautiful wines in the Maremma at Val di Toro since 2006. If my memory serves me correctly, I was the first wine merchant to buy their wines in the UK.


But today I was in for a big treat as Hugh brought along a very special bottle to taste. Having bought and sold a lot of Val di Toro’s 2010 estate wine, what a surprise to be given a bottle of the T3 2010! Standing for Tonneau No.3, this batch was identified at the time of production as possessing extra special qualities and so it was decided to separate out this tonneau and age and bottle it separately.


A blend of 80% Sangiovese and 20% Montepulciano, this wine would require at least 85% Sangiovese to qualify as Morellino di Scansano DOC, however that was never Hugh and Anna’s intention, hence the Maremma IGT classification. Here is my verdict…

The site of Val di Toro, near Grosseto

Tasting Note: As you raise the glass to your nose, it becomes evidently clear this is a special wine. Brimming with lifted perfume and aromatic complexity, this wine seduces from the outset. Lashing of caramelised cherry, kirsch liquor, raisined cranberries, vanilla pod and clove spice flow out of the glass. It’s hard to move past the opulence and extrovert character of the nose. Another swirl and yet more aromas waft out the glass… sweet tobacco leaves, cedar wood spice and aniseed root.


The palate certainly does not disappoint either. Richly textured, the layers of liquorice, sweet caramelised cherries, vanilla pod spice, sour plums and salty black currant are tightly woven together with just a hint of volatile acidity adding a mouth watering vibrancy. The finish is long, pithy and super intense, with sweet creamy tannins and lingering notes of plump sweet blood oranges, tart maraschino cherries and liquorice stick. Wow! This wine really reminds me of a top notch Brunello di Montalcino from a ripe vintage with extra complexity from a few years in bottle. This is indeed a profound wine that unfurls over the hours and builds to an epic crescendo. I don’t know who’s decision it was to separate out this single tonneau, but congratulations. You raised an Adonis of a wine! 

(Wine Safari Score: 94/100 Greg Sherwood MW)  


Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia 2014 from Bolgheri – Reviewing The New Release of One of Tuscany’s Most Successful Fine Wine Brands…

Over the past decade, the Sassicaia Bolgheri estate has done a sterling job cementing its status as a “must buy” fine wine on release. One thing you can be assured of if you pay the opening release price for this wine is that you’ll never find the same vintage on the market, 3 to 6 months later, for cheaper. 


But how is this achieved year after year? Well, for starters, the wine is always offered at a very reasonable opening release price, or in the case of 2014, at £545 per 6 Under Bond (US$675). Admirably, despite demand growing yearly,  this release price has remained nearly unchanged for 2 to 3 years. This modesty and “un-greedy” positioning has found great resonance with fine wine consumers and earned the estate a solid amount of continued loyalty.


After the spectacular 2013 release, the 2014 was always going to have a tough act to follow and was characterised by a late growing cycle with Sassicaia’s last grapes only being harvested on the 31st of October, and was generally considered to be a difficult vintage, along side the likes of 2005, 2004, 1999, 1998 and 1988…(challenging years which all scored 93/100 points or below).


Recent tastings of some of the above vintages reveals some of Sassicaia’s prettiest wines with 1988 often touted by the Marchesi as possibly a finer vintage than even the mythical 100 point 1985. And what not to love about the dense, powerful 2004 or the elegant, finesse laden 2005. This all bodes very well for the 2014. 


Tasting Note: Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia 2014 Bolgheri ~ The 2014 has a dark ruby plum colour and the most charming lifted aromatics of dark black plum, bramble berries, and spicy peppery graphite notes. Also plenty of sweet broody raisined black cherry, dried herbs, tobacco leaf and dried mint. The palate is bold and plump with a sweet fruited entry showing exotic hints of tart Victoria plums, dried peaches, and red apple Bon Bons. Plenty of fleshy, suave textural puppy fat on this young wine but also a core of subtle tension lurking below the overt fruit layers. This is one of the most forward and accessible Sassicaia wines in many years, and a genuine extrovert offering wonderful overt generosity. This beautiful wine is going to make a lot of friends. (Wine Safari Score: 94+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Tasting the Sassicaia 2002 from Magnum along side the 2014. The 2002 from a “difficult” vintage was once regarded as the ultimate “restaurant vintage”.