Getting Hip At The Washington Post, And Raiding The Wine Expense Account With Ornellaia At

Vinted on September 20, 2012 binned in commentary, kick-ass wines, Wined Down (

A couple of weeks ago, I cropped up in two totally unrelated places on the “Global Interwebs” – (which you expected, right?) and The Washington Post (which, admit it, you didn’t expect).

The Washington Post article, titled Some wineries adding a little hip to swirl, sniff and sip routine, was one of those rare instances where I was interviewed for a wine piece and then was actually quoted in the finished work. The quotes I’ve given to reporters have been so… well, probably so damned odd that my contribution to most wine-related article interviews seem to hit the cutting room floor more often than they do any column space. [ UPDATE: the original WP article link is DOA, but looks like Yahoo! News also picked it up so changed links to point to that version. Sorry! ]

I thought it worth mentioning because this particular AP article focused on wineries that were bucking the status quo in order to make trips to their tasting rooms more fun (imagine! the audacity!); the author had nice things to say about recent efforts in that space by Raymond Vineyards, Judd’s Hill and Brooklyn Winery, and at one point quotes me:

“The wine world’s about eight years behind everything with the exception of bottling lines and production techniques,” he says with a laugh.

The thing is, I don’t really recall laughing about it (at least not on the inside); if I did, it was I-work-in-an-office-and-this-Dilbert-strip-is-funny-but-it-also-really-hurts-because-life-in-my-office-is-really-like-that funny. I honestly believe that the wine world generally functions that far behind most other industries, and as amazing as the wine biz is, that lag is one of the most painful things about trying to get anything moving in the biz.

Anyway… on to happier topics…

Back in April I penned a piece for my column, based on a retrospective tasting of Tenuta Dell’Ornellaia’s “Super Tuscan” blends, arranged for the media at NYC high-end audiophile equipment purveyor EarsNova (you really need to hear the stuff there to believe it… not only is that stereo equipment gorgeous, it reproduced the sound of a solo piano piece from CD so clearly that I thought someone was playing an actual piano in an adjacent room until I stepped in and saw a wall of high-end speakers… and that’s coming from someone who’s been playing in rock bands for the last 20-some-odd years). My thoughts on that tasting of very expensive Tuscan red juice is the subject of my latest Wined Down column, which you should read over at PB (if you can manage not to get too distracted by the other things going on there… which I know isn’t easy, I can barely do it and I wrote the damn thing!).

The short version is that I was impressed by Ornellaia winemaker Axel Heinz’s down-to-earth attitude about making wines that ought to be pleasurable to drink (for more on Axel, check out my video interview with him from the same event), and I was floored by some of the standouts in the tasting.

As you might imagine, tasting high-end Tuscan wine at a high-end audiophile shop brought a not-insignificant number of attempts at creating parallels between the acts of tasting and the acts of listening, not all of which felt authentic. But one of the EarsNova staff said something during that tasting that stuck with me, which was this (when describing how they approach creating a sound system):

“We want everything to be in balance so you can pay more attention to what you’re feeling than to what you’re hearing.”

That’s a great way to describe wines of real character, isn’t it? That they ultimately make you feel something beyond a list of taste descriptors. And those three Ornellaia vintages are like that; complex wines, balanced, fresh, and amazingly consistent across the vintages while still allowing the variation to create personality that is clearly expressed. Which is ultimately why they’re wines worth raiding the expense account for, if you get the opportunity.

2009 Tenuta Dell’Ornellaia Bolgheri Superiore Ornellaia (Bolgheri)
Price: $250
Rating: A

This is a wonderfully textured, complex beast, with fantastic tension and balance; at turns big and bold and brooding,  it’s also, somehow, slightly…. relaxedThink Charles Bronson, all cleaned up and dressed in a finely tailored, Italian-cut suit, and you’ll be getting close. Which seems an odd thing to say about a true Super Tuscan that for several minutes is tighter than a walnut’s ass in the glass. But give it time and it absolutely sings, throwing off aromas of sweet spices, graphite, gourmet sausage, dark plums, olives, dried herbs, dark chocolate, and clay-like earth. The mouthfeel is beautiful, with acids that are vibrant, and expressive, giving life to the wine’s huge structural components and drier fruit characters. A big boy, who happens to also be carrying a tray full of fine black tea to serve you at the end of this vinous meal time.

On the whole, I thought the 2009 was every bit on-par with the floral, fresh but ultimately demanding and moody (as well as highly-celebrated) 2007 release (a “textbook vintage” according to Axel) and it also fare welled when I compared it to the savory, smoky, earthy, and lush-but-tangy 2001 at the same tasting (a wine that gave off a vibe like someone who’d spent their youth daydreaming but ended up becoming a successful businessperson in middle age).






  • Joe Power

    Dead on about wine making us feel something. I find it increasingly frustrating to write about food and drink for just that reason, and reading about it sometimes is completely impossible. If we write about how we were made to feel we might entertain and engage with our audience, but in the end they are left knowing that we liked the wine and what our personal experience with it was, but couldn't possibly have the same one. Or we can use all of the same descriptors we used in the last review and bore ourselves to tears before we even inflict our opinion on our poor readers. Striking a good balance between the two approaches is key, which you have done nicely here, but gets tougher and tougher to do all of the time, imo. Sometimes we hear a song, see a painting, or watch a film so evocative that we are inspired to tell everyone we meet about it, but truly conveying what we felt is as elusive as trying to describe the love you feel for your child. It may be moving, it may be inspiring, but it ultimately remains personal and unshared. Our task is like that, and I think the best in our midst keep tilting with that windmill over and over again no matter how often we fall short. But now and then we might get close, and it is all worth it.

    • 1WineDude

      Joe – Wow. You are expressing EXACTLY what's going on in my heart and brain right now when it comes to wine features! It is getting progressively more difficult, there is a lot of good wine out there but not a lot of great wine out there… Thanks for the kind words, I'm trying to live up to them; as you say, we don't always succeed but hopefully the journeys are entertaining for all involved. Cheers!

  • Todd - VT Wine Media

    If wine writing were only about critics navel gazing during solo tasting of wines unattainable to many, for the benefit of some voyeuristic audience that enjoys seeing such reflection, we'd all be doomed. It's great to write about great wines, and how they make us feel, but if just a rarefied few can share that experience, and maybe a few more relate to it, only offering such content could serve to alienate rather than to include.
    What about the accessible good wines that should be on everyday tables? Folks need to be equipped with better navigational tools than this bottle or that bottle.
    Regional information, differing wine styles, and wine culture?
    Show a man a bottle, he might buy it, and probably drink it that day.
    Show a man how to discover wine, and he'll taste forever.


    • 1WineDude

      Todd – I think we should do both, actually.

      What I mean is, show how to better enjoy and discover, and also show the really, really good/expensive/unattainable stuff. Maybe even at the same time, sometimes.

      I actually broached the topic of whether or not covering unattainable wines should even be done, and people voted overwhelmingly in favor of it. The general spirit seemed to be "yes, talk about that stuff, because in the modern world you never know, you may get in front of that bottle some day even if it seems unattainable now."

      To your point that wines don't really have to be so exclusive to be worthy of mention, or even to stir the soul, I completely agree. It's just MUCH more difficult to find those wines at lower price points generally (I know, because I do that nearly every friggin' day! ;-).


  • Julie Brosterman

    A few years ago I had the privilege of attending a retrospective tasting for the 25th anniversary of Ornelia at the Zegna store on Rodeo Drive. Same idea – gorgeous custom tailoring was available – as well as the other clothing in a sexy hushed setting with thick carpet. We got so excited about the wine that my husband (almost) bought a custom tailored suit!

    There's 'thinking wine' and 'drinking wine' and the wonderful part about these wines is that they are both. You can just sink back into a deep chair and enjoy.

    Thanks Joe – always love your writing.


    • 1WineDude

      Thanks, Julie – most appreciated. Love your description… thinking and drinking… we geeks like to indulge both! :) Cheers!

  • Fork and Whisk

    Thanks for the nice post. Enjoyed your reviews from other posts as well.

  • Red Wine Diva

    Joe, know exactly what you mean. North Carolina wineries are really far behind on social media and the way they communicate with the public. Most (not all) still think that sending an email is the most effective way to communicate. Some don't even have websites, let alone events at their wineries. I guess they serve/sell wine to their closest friends, but will never attract new people to their tasting rooms. Occasionally a local winery will come up with a new, fun event, but mostly they all do the same things. I tried suggesting a winery lunch out in the vineyard to a couple of wineries, but nobody can get past thinking they have to do a winemaker dinner because XYZ Winery does it that way.

    • 1WineDude

      Red Wine Diva – I hear you. I know that a lot of smaller places in those regions sell out every year, so the incentive to change for the future isn't that strong for them… yet…

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