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Ornellaia & Masseto: 1995-2010 From Magnum
BY ANTONIO GALLONI | JANUARY 19, 2017
David Bouley’s Test Kitchen was the setting for this remarkable retrospective featuring Ornellaia and Masseto across eight iconic vintages. All of the wines were served from magnum for what turned out to be a truly unforgettable evening. Winemaker Axel Heinz was on hand to share his insights over the course of dinner.
The striking dining room at the Test Kitchen
At Vinous, we aim to host events that deliver educational value, are of historic significance, and that, of course, are also fun. We don’t do many events, but we have hosted some pretty special evenings over the years, including complete verticals of Solaia and Masseto along with the Monfortino magnum vertical we put on in London a few years ago. Some years had passed since our last Masseto vertical, so I thought it might be time to revisit some of the wines.
Ornellaia and Masseto are both produced at Tenuta dell’Ornellaia in Tuscany’s Maremma. For more on the estate’s history, readers might like to revisit this article from a few years back. Ornellaia is a Bordeaux-inspired Cabernet Sauvignon-based blend, while Masseto is 100% Merlot made from a few select blocks on the large, sprawling property. In recent years, the estate has worked towards the goal of establishing Ornellaia and Masseto as two separate wineries. For that reason, Ornellaia and Masseto are very rarely shown together.
So, that is exactly what I thought would be interesting: a side-by-side comparison of Ornellaia and Masseto across a number of reference-point vintages. And to make the evening more special, why not taste the wines out of magnum? In order to ensure perfect provenance, all of the wines were purchased directly from the estate. Most of the Ornellaias came from the winery’s Archivio Storico program.
Tenuta dell’Ornellaia, Bolgheri
From the moment we started opening the bottles and checking for cork taint, I knew it was going to be an incredible evening. Every single bottle was superb. Many were utterly profound. With one exception, the 2001 Masseto, I chose not to decant the wines because I wanted guests to taste the extraordinary purity of fruit the wines showed when they were just opened. All the bottles were stored standing to allow for a natural decantation of sediment, but some bottles had accumulated quite a bit of sediment on their shoulders, so the sommeliers pre-poured every glass before service.
And now, I must share some not so good news. I first started tasting and drinking the Tenuta dell’Ornellaia wines in the early 1990s. Over the years, I have had a chance to taste virtually all of the wines that have been made at the estate. But nothing could have prepared me for the wines I tasted on this evening. With perhaps one exception, the wines were stratospherically beautiful.
The difference between the same wines in bottle and magnum is truly remarkable. That wines age more slowly in magnum than in bottle is well known. What I did not expect was how much more finessed the wines from magnum were. There are a lot of adjectives that come to mind in describing wines from Maremma. Finesse is rarely one of them. And yet that is the word I kept coming back to as I tasted through the bottles before the event, especially with Masseto. Based on this tasting, I am not sure I will ever be able to buy either Ornellaia or Masseto in a standard 750ml bottle. My advice to Vinous readers is simple: if you have an opportunity to buy the wines in magnum don’t miss it.
After a few last-minute preparations, the room was set. One of the things I like most about the Test Kitchen is the open, loft-like space that allows guests to move freely between the foyer, kitchen and dining room areas. On this night, for whatever reason, guests bypassed both the foyer and kitchen and moved straight into the dining room. Perhaps they had a sixth sense as to what awaited. There was a level of energy and anticipation in the room that was palpable.
David Bouley and his team prepared a fabulous meal to go with the wines. Service was impeccable. We could not have asked for more. A Champagne Bar with a selection of hors-d’oeuvres got things started, but guests were eager to taste the wines, so we sat down quickly.
Flight 1: 2010
Ornellaia, 2010 Masseto, 2007 Ornellaia, 2007 Masseto
Forager’s Treasure of Wild Mushrooms; Sweet Garlic, Special Spices
How many dinners anywhere start with a wine on a level with
the 2010 Ornellaia? I imagine not
many. But that’s exactly the way we get going. Super-expressive aromatics soar
out of the glass as the 2010 shows off its personality. Sweet herbs, tobacco,
licorice, mocha and tar wrap around a core of intense dark fruit. Racy,
powerful and majestic, the 2010 is a total stunner. A wine of extraordinary purity, silkiness and finesse, the 2010 Masseto has it all. The flavors
are bright, precise and exceptionally pure, but it is the wine’s total balance
that is utterly compelling. What more can I ask from a wine? Absolutely
nothing. There is often something magical about cooler, later-ripening vintages
at the estate. The interplay of more moderate conditions with the inherent
power of these sites can yield wines of profound beauty and brilliance. The
2010 is all that, and more.
The 2007 Ornellaia is a wine of texture above all else. What the 2007 lacks in aromatic intensity it more than makes up for with its sumptuous, generous personality. Silky and inviting, with soft contours and seemingly endless layers of dark red-fleshed fruit, the 2007 is absolutely delicious today. Rich, explosive and powerful in the glass, the 2007 Masseto dazzles from the very first taste. Layers of dark fruit, mocha, chocolate, black cherry and spice build into the huge finish. This is a tremendous showing from the 2007.
Flight 2: 2006 Ornellaia, 2006 Masseto, 2004 Ornellaia, 2004 Masseto
Organic Millbrook Venison; Wild Pawpaw Fruit
The second flight is a comparison of power versus finesse. A towering, vivid wine, the 2006 Ornellaia bristles with power, depth and intensity. Broad swaths of tannin support the vibrant, youthful flavors in a captivating, breathtaking wine of the highest level. From magnum, the 2006 is an infant. Those lucky enough to own it are in for a treat. I still remember where I was the first time I tasted the 2006 Masseto. Since then, I have tasted the 2006 several times. It has never been anything less than utterly profound. That is once again the case on this night. Readers who are cellaring the 2006 Masseto in magnum will want to wait at least a few years for it to be at its very best. Still, it is magnificent tonight.
I have always adored the 2004 vintage in Tuscany. The long, moderate growing season produced wines of exceptional finesse. Silky, perfumed and polished, the 2004 Ornellaia is a fabulous example of the vintage. From magnum, the 2004 is exceptionally youthful and super-finessed, with expressive, floral aromatics and layers of finely-knit fruit. What else can I say? The 2004 is tremendous. As hard as it may seem to believe, the 2004 Masseto is even more expressive. It, too, is incredibly silky, bright and polished, with captivating aromatics, nuanced red cherry fruit and stunning overall balance. The mid-weight, gracious style bears some resemblance to the 2010. From magnum, the 2004 is a showstopper.
Winemaker Axel Heinz shares his insights
Flight 3; 2001
Ornellaia, 2001 Masseto, 1998 Ornellaia, 1998 Masseto
Organic Colorado Lamb; Organic Snow Peas, Sweet Peas, Fava Beans, Okra, Organic Rosemary-Perfumed Quinoa
If there is one vintage I enjoy less than the others in this tasting, it is 2001. Both wines are quite ripe and a touch alcoholic as well. It is not a style I am especially fond of personally. When they were first released, the 2001s garnered considerable acclaim. Since then, though, the estate’s wines have entered another level of quality.
The 2001 Ornellaia is deep, unctuous and very ripe, with plenty of dark stone fruit, mocha, chocolate, licorice, black cherry and plum flavors. Exotic, rich and decidedly flamboyant, the 2001 is at its peak, where it is likely to remain for a number of years. Another huge wine, 2001 Masseto is intense, super-ripe and unctuous. Dense, voluptuous and dark, the 2001 is a heady wine built on serious concentration. This is an especially ripe, opulent vintage for Masseto. Relative to prior tastings, the 2001 did not show as well as it has in the past.
One of the highlights of the evening, the 1998 Ornellaia is not the most profound wine on the table, but it is among the most pleasing because it is in such a perfect place for current drinking. The aromatics are super-refined, but everything about the 1998 speaks to total polish. Hints of cedar, tobacco, licorice, mocha and savory herbs give the wine its nuanced personality. From magnum, the 1998 has another decade of fine drinking ahead of it. Exotic, ripe and voluptuous, the 1998 Masseto is another wine that is in the zone today. The 1998 is an especially flamboyant Masseto. There is no shortage of richness in the cherry jam, mocha, plum and spice flavors. This is another gorgeous wine to drink now and over the next decade.
Flight 4: 1997 Ornellaia, 1997 Masseto, 1995 Ornellaia, 1995 Masseto
Chef’s Selection of Mature Artisanal French Cheeses
The 1997 Ornellaia is another wine that is in the zone today. Soft, sensual and inviting, the 1997 has aged gracefully and also maintained a good deal of freshness as well. Wild flowers, spice, mint and red stone fruit continue to open up as this sumptuous wine fleshes out in the glass. Soft contours and layers of plush fruit give the 1997 Masseto much of its personality and feel. A rush of juicy red cherry and pomegranate appear first, followed by more subtle notes that develop over time. At nearly twenty years of age, the 1997 is peaking, yet it also has enough depth to drink well for another decade or more.
One of the biggest surprises of the night, the 1995 Ornellaia is superb. The 1995 has long been one of my favorite vintages of Ornellaia. It is also a wine I have followed since the beginning. Over the last few years, though, the wine has begun to fray and show its age. The 1995 was made during an earlier era, before Ornellaia introduced Le Serre Nuove, the estate’s second wine, and increased the selection for the flagship wine. On this evening, from magnum, the 1995 is superb. Lifted, gracious and remarkably fresh, the 1995 is utterly sublime. Time has also been kind to the 1995 Masseto. Still quite rich, deep and pliant, the 1995 offers up a compelling fabric of sweet dark cherry, plum, licorice and mocha. Now gently softened by the slow passage of the years, the 1995 is mature but also has enough depth to drink well for another decade or so.
See All the Wines from Youngest to Oldest
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