Living Vicariously Through Your Wine Columnist’s Adventures

We are part of The Trust Project
Nick Antonaccio
Nick Antonaccio

Last week I reported on the latest trend in wine sales in the United States, the proliferation of offerings of red blends. Winemakers have become alchemists, toiling in their laboratories of vineyard and winery, crafting personal expressions of wines that reflect the land.

Surveying barrels of fermented grape juice maturing in their cellars, they painstakingly assemble wines from multiple grape varietals and multiple plots. At times, they may pair dozens of individual expressions of their vineyards in order to achieve an end product that best expresses their imprint on a wine.

This artisanal approach is at its epitome with those vineyards that have the financial capital to invest in the finest land, buildings and equipment. Recently, I had the good fortune to attend an exclusive wine tasting and luncheon by one such winery.

The proprietors of Tenuta dell’Ornellaia presented the latest vintage of their signature wine, Bolgheri Superiore. The winemaker, Axel Heinz, led the attendees in a tasting of the individual wines that comprise the Ornellaia blend.

This week I invite you to join me on a virtual tour of my experience.

Before me at the tasting table were nine wines to be sampled. Heinz walked the assembled group through each one, providing his comments on the terroir of each wine and his logic in utilizing a particular grape, from a particular plot, in a particular quantity, for blending the 2014 Ornellaia.

Envision yourself sitting with me, as mesmerized as I was, delving into the very essence of the creation of a wine as expressed by the alchemist himself.

Together we sample as Heinz does, seeking the best expression of local terroirs and Italian winemaking sensibilities. Here are the individual wines and a synopsis of my tasting notes.

We first taste three Merlots: the Bolgherese plot wine is a lighter style, fresh and rich in fruit; the Ginestraio plot produces greater concentration and more body; the Bellaria plot is the best of the Merlots, more balanced and complex than the others.

Next, we indulge in two Cabernet Francs: Bellaria Alta is a soft, silky wine with light tannins; Bellaria is also a lighter style, but nicely balanced, bringing forth the best expression of the grape.

On to the three Cabernet Sauvignons: Olivino amazes me with its supple, velvety texture; Bellaria Alta is more balanced and has pure finesse and balanced tannins and is very feminine; Ornellaia Old Vine plot has a fuzzy mouthfeel, nice balance and a strong backbone.

And then, the ninth wine, Petit Verdot, from the Bellaria Alta plot. Unctuous and inky, this is an exceptional full-bodied wine, with significant but balanced tannins. Heinz comments this was an exceptional vintage and influenced him to add a high percentage to the overall blend.

As we progress from the first to the last wine, we listen to Heinz express the winery’s philosophy:

“Our goal is to produce a fresh wine with fresh aromas and taste.”

“Each vintage has a different story to tell.”

“In good, but more so, in poor vintages, the basis for success is in the lowest common denominator – this is the essence of our wines.”

As we contemplate how we might blend these and other wines into the 2014 vintage, Heinz provides the big reveal: 2014 was a beautiful vintage: 34 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 32 percent Merlot, 20 percent Petit Verdot and 14 percent Cabernet Franc. This blend differs from previous vintages, reflecting the essence of each grape varietal and plot. “(It) represents the heart of the estate, Ornellaia’s ‘Essence.’”

As we walk away from this memorable event, we begin to realize the rationale behind the high price that such an outstanding wine commands. But even if $200 is more than we are able or willing to spend, we now know the process and investment necessary to produce such a unique wine.

Not to fret over price. There are many examples of blends that fit every budget.

Next week, local wine merchants will recommend red blends from around the world that are sure to please the most discerning palate.

Nick Antonaccio is a 40-year Pleasantville resident. For over 20 years he has conducted wine tastings and lectures. Nick is a member of the Wine Media Guild of wine writers and offers personalized wine tastings and wine travel services. Nick’s credo: continuous experimenting results in instinctive behavior. You can reach him at or on Twitter @sharingwine.

We'd love for you to support our work by joining as a free, partial access subscriber, or by registering as a full access member. Members get full access to all of our content, and receive a variety of bonus perks like free show tickets. Learn more here.