If you’re me, when you get an invite to attend a guided tasting of Ornellaia’s 2012 “L’Incanto” release (and some past vintages) with Giovanni Geddes da Filicaja and winemaker Axel Heinz at 620 Loft and Garden in NYC in May, you accept.
Because, well, that’s how you spend a Monday when you’re me, alright? And it’s been a couple of years since I’d had an opportunity to get up close and personal with Ornellaia’s wares.
Also, if you’re me, when they name a wine “L’Incanto” (“the Enchantment”), you expect them to put pixelated references to Minecraft on the label. I am sad to tell you that didn’t happen, my friends. I know, right? C’mon, even first graders know the Minecraft references now (not that those consumers should be Ornellaia’s market…).
I am not sad to report, however, on the wines that we tasted during that session, most of which were excellent (as you will read in a few moments). I am sad to think that several of you reading this will flame me for liking these wines, though I am quite sure that will happen. Having said that, I incite you to consider the following insight:
Some of Ornellaia’s releases are every bit as high quality (and age-worthy) as high-end Bordeaux reds, yet (while certainly expensive) rarely reach the lofty, scale-K2-with-oxygen-tanks price points of those First and Second Growths.
Without a doubt, this was the wine that had me most excited at the tasting. It happens to be Ornellaia’s Tuscan white wine, a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Vermentino (yeah!), and Verdicchio. Ornellaia has continually produced a white with “a little break for five or six years” (as Axel put it) beginning in 2001, when they decided to retool it with “a more Mediterranean twist.” In terms of Tuscan whites not exactly being the thang, Axel noted that “much of it is psychological; in Italy, ‘wine’ is ‘red.’ There just hasn’t been enough focus on white wine [in Tuscany].” The thing with this white is that it’s both deep and delicious; the nose is jumping with limes and gooseberry, white flowers and jasmine. The palate is both pithy and rich, with excellent length (and a wonderful passion fruit flavor dominating throughout).
Ornellaia’s “second wine,” produced since 1997. Given that the oak regimen was only 25% new oak and 75% first year, this currently comes off as oaky as all get out. But it’s also rich, ripe, earthy, and inviting. The palate is broad and structured, the fruit is dark and grippy and tight-fisted. Despite that reticence, there’s a nice freshness, and a pleasing dustiness to the tannins. Lots of people will love it, and you could do much worse for fifty clams.
Well… fine, alright, alright, it does kind of smell enchanting, ok? Red and black fruits, dried herbs, cassis, with spices bringing up the rear; it’s oakier on the nose than I’d prefer, but still young with plenty of time to grow into it all. The texture is fantastic, just a real pleasure to turn over in your mouth. Subtle? Well, not really. Boorish? No way. Sexy? Yeah, dead sexy.
2007 in Tuscany featured more-or-less a dream September from a harvest perspective, with “similar, similar picking dates” (according to Axel) for all of the red varieties going into the final blend. The result? Currently cola, cloves, clay and cedar, with a reserved, elegant nose that has just a teeny tiny hint of balsamic on it. A smooth mouthfeel, with softness but also a bit of grip. Interestingly, I found the small (4%) of Petit Verdot to really stand out on this wine, particularly on the mid-palate and the finish: grip, leather, and violets galore. The finish closes out in a very pretty way, despite the sweetness of the ripe red and black fruits, and it’s very, very, very long.
2004 presented yield control issues, and as Axel put it was “fairly easy to harvest, absolutely gorgeous; but required massive crop thinning.” Of all of the reds we tasted, this was far and away the star of the lineup. Leather, earth, cassis, and overall the most ‘Bordeaux-like’ in presentation (meant in a good way). It’s dense and ripe, but also refined, with the oak spices settling in nicely on the nose now. The herbal notes are becoming more prominent, as is the tobacco, and the palate is soft, approachable, and starting to relinquish its grip. The fruits are soft, the presentation in laden in silk, the booze is powerful, and the finish is long. Which is to say, it’s got more layers than a Taco Bell burrito.
Ah, the much maligned 2002 vintage from Tuscany. A rain fest from about mid-August, requiring “severe” vineyard selection (and a second sorting table installation after destemming to remove damaged grapes). As Axel noted, it “produced the worst press ever” for Tuscany. I am not going to go that far, but I am not going to get effusive over this vintage, either. The wine is excellent, though not profound. There are more cloves and funk, but also black olives, minerals, cola, and ripe, lush cassis and plum fruits. In the mouth, it’s initially quite a pleasure: opulent, generous, energetic, silky, refined… BUT… the finish is noticeably shorter here, which is a bit of a let-down given the price tag. Overall, though? A sexy red.
The obligatory appassimento dessert wine required traditionally of just about all Tuscan producers, whether that get it right or not. In this case, they do, in fact, get it right. Honey, dried apricots, intense tropical fruit notes, and a lovely hint of caramel, all delicious, but equally importantly, all underscored by just enough lively acidity to support the lusciousness. Whether or not you think it’s worth 140 bones is probably a matter of personal opinion, but my money would be on this aging pretty well.