Sassicaia and Ornellaia Masterclass at the Decanter Fine Wine Encounter in November 2011

Yep, it’s time for another “tasting notes lost and found” entry. I can’t really understand why I never got around to posting this in English a lot earlier. This was a Masterclass at the Decanter Fine Wine Encounter in London, in November 2011, but perhaps the notes are still of some reading value, and for my own reference it seems like a good idea to put them on Cellartracker. By the way, during the same weekend I attended two other Masterclasses, featuring respectively Krug and Ridge Monte Bello.

The two quite prominent Tuscan wine producers Sassicaia (the producer is actually called Tenuta San Guido, with Sassicaia being the same of their top wine) and Ornellaia had joined up to present six wines each, two matching vintages of their second wines (2009 och 2006) and four matching vintages of their first wines (2008, 2004, 2000 och 1998). If I’m allowed a remark as to the selection of vintages – something that can come across as nit-picking when we were allowed to taste wines of this class in the presence of the persons behind the wines – it would be that I had preferred that at least one of the vintages of the second wines was chosen so we could have taste both the first and the second wines of one and the same vintage.

Sassicaia, which premiered with the 1968 vintage, is the original “Super Tuscan”, an informal designation of high-end wines from Tuscany produced using other winemaking methods and (most of the time) other grape varieties than those that used to be used for Chianti etcetera. Often, Super Tuscans are some version of a Bordeaux blend, but Sangiovese or Syrah can also be present, and some more or less pure Sangiovese wines  will sometimes also be called Super Tuscans. In the case of Sassicaia, the composition today is 85% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Cabernet Franc, and it is kept for 24 months in French oak. Once upon a time, these then non-typical wines were classified as simple table wines, but that was a long time ago. Many of them are IGT Toscana, but since a number of years, Sassicaia is a DOC Bolgheri.

The “second wine” is called Guidalberto, but it isn’t a true second wine since it has a rather different composition, with quite a proportion of Merlot, which is never found in Sassicaia. The purpose of this is to produce a wine that is more accessible when young. Tenuta San Guido’s website indicates the composition in general to be 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 45% Merlot and 10% Sangiovese, but at the tasting the two vintages we tasted were said to be 60% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40% Merlot. Guidalberto sees 12 months in oak.

Ornellaia premiered with the 1985 vintage, and after having been started by Lodovico Antinori, and owned by Mondavi for a period, they are now owned by Frescobaldi. Ornellaia is also a DOC Bolgheri, and the varietal composition for the last five vintages (when I checked them up last year) has been 52-60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22-27% Merlot, 12-21% Cabernet Franc and 3-5% Petit Verdot, which is very similar to a Bordeaux from the Médoc region.

The second wine is called Le Serre Nuove dell’Ornellaia, and has been produced since the 1997 vintage. It is a “genuine” second wine which in principle is produced from the same vineyards as the first wine, but in recent vintages it has always had a higher proportion of Merlot (40-60%) than Ornellaia.

Le Serre Nuove 2009

Deep red colour. Nose with sweetish fruit including blackcurrants and some other dark berries, coffe and eucalyptus. More than medium bodied on the palate, blackcurrants, some blackberries, rather sweetish attack, some spice and tar notes, medium+ tannins, but tannins of a soft and polished nature. Young but accessible. 89-90 p

A wine with a very serious nose in modern style, but one that give me rather much New World vibes, more than Guidalberto. It was said about 2009 that it was a hot vintage, but with elegance.

Guidalberto 2009

40% Merlot, 60% Cabernet Sauvignon.

Deep red colour. Nose with ripe and sweetish fruit including blackcurrants and some red berries, mint and eucalyptus, spice and some coffee, and a well integrated oak note. More than medium bodied on the palate, black and red currants, some other red berry notes, medium+ tannins, polished tannins but with some bite, a hint of herbs. Young but rather accessible. 89-90 p

Slightly sweeter nose than 2009 Le Serre Nuove, but fruit notes of a lighter colour with more red berry focus both in the nose and on the palate, and slightly less obvious oak. I could imagine that Guidalberto is the wine of these two that has a little more potential for development.

Le Serre Nuove 2006

Deep red colour with some hints of brick at the edge. Sweetish nose with ripe berries including blackcurrants and other dark berries, spice, chocolate and coffe, some eucalyptus, some hints of barnyard aromas. More than medium bodied on the palate, blackcurrants and some red berries, medium+ tannins and rather noticeable tannins, a hint of alcoholic fire, and a hint of herbs. Young but reasonably accessible. 89-90 p

Stylistically rather similar to the 2009 in the nose, but with some notes of maturity. More structured on the palate than the 2009, but slightly less concentrated. Judging from the tannins, I would guess that the 2006 would gain more than the 2009 from cellaring.

Guidalberto 2006

40% Merlot, 60% Cabernet Sauvignon.

Deep red colour with hints of brick at the edge. Sweetish nose with ripe berries including blackcurrants and red berries, a touch of raspberry liqueur, some flowery notes, eucalyptus and mint, some chocolate and coffee, a tiny hint of barnyard aromas. More than medium bodied on the palate, black and red currants, other red berries, medium(+) tannins and tannins of a reasonably softened type. Young but accessible. Could gain from further cellaring. 88-89 p

Slightly more developed than the 2006 Le Serre Nuove. Just as was the case for the 2009s, Guidalberto shows mer red berries and lighter-coloured fruit notes in the nose than Le Serre Nuove does.

The second wines in summary

Summarising my impression of the second wines, I’d say that in principle I appreciate Guidalberto slightly more from a stylistic point of view, since it is slightly less New World-styled. However, for the 2006 vintage, Le Serre Nuove was a slightly better wine. I’d also say that there is a larger difference between Guidalberto and Sassicaia, than between Le Serre Nuove and Ornellaia. Both second wines are good wines, and I would say that they are sold at a reasonable price, unlike some of the second wines of the top Bordeaux producers, that exploded in price a few years ago.

After this start, we continued with the real stuff…

Ornellaia 2008

Deep red colour, almost purple notes. Very ripe dark berries in the nose, hints of tar, spice, cedar, chocolcate, som eucalyptus. Concentrated and serious nose with well handled but noticeable oak, comes across as a serious “New World style”. On the palate ripe dark berries, blackcurrants, slightly sweetish attack, noticeable tannins of the polished kind, mint, very faint hints of alcoholic fire. Young, but after all rather accesible. 92-93 p?

What will happen to the fiery element with cellaring? I see a potential for a higher score if it integrates, but it is difficult to judge if that will happen.

Sassicaia 2008

Deep red colour, light red edge. Ripe blackcurrants in the nose, some flowery notes including violets, some tar and other very dark notes, some mint and eucalyptus, chocolate and coffee. Varm norse and a lot of oak, but well handled. Palate with ripe blackcurrants, other dark berries, noticeable tannins of a rather polished kind, spice, some tar, some herbs, fruity and herbal aftertaste. Young, needs cellaring. 93-94+ p

Much lighter in colour than the 2008 Ornellaia, and definitely more Bordeaux-styled in the nose. On the palate it comes across as younger and in more need of cellaring than Ornellaia, but I would characterise the tannins as less tough than those of a young Bordeaux, in particular regarding the tannic structure.

Ornellaia 2004

Deep red colour, medium red edge. Nose with very ripe berries, black and red currants and other red berries with some liqueur hints, some tar, chocolate and coffee, noticeable spice, some barnyard aromas, slightly developed. The nose is elegant and nuanced. Palate with rupe dark and red berries, the attack shows sweetness of fruit and is almost sweet as such, rather noticeable but polished tannins, spice, fruity and tannic aftertaste. Young, slightly developed notes. 93-94 p

The 2004 is actually darker in colour than the 2008 Sassicaia. The nose shows more red components than the 2008, and the oak is better integrated which gives it a less pronounced New World impression. Actually comes across as slightly younger on the palate than the 2008 Ornellaia with more noticeable tannins, and better structure.

Sassicaia 2004

Deep red colour with rather brick-tinged edge. Nose with ripe blackcurrants, a hint of red berry liqueur, rather noticeable flowery notes with violets, tar, some eucalyptus, cedar, chocolate, some hints of barnyard aromas. Slightly developed notes, well handled oak, very nuanced. Palate with ripe blackcurrants, some tar, quite noticeable but polished tannins, some sweetness of fruit but within bounds, good structure, balance and elegance,  some mint and sour berry notes. Aftertaste with fruity, sour and herbal notes. Young, but reasonably accessible. 94-95 p

The nose of the 2004 Ornellaia and Sassicaia are more similar than those of the 2008s, and the same thing is true for the palate and the degree of maturity. Sassicaia, both 2008 and 2004, shows more flowery notes.

Ornellaia 2000

Medium to deep red, brick at the edge. Nose of blackcurrants, plum compote, hints of red berry liqueur, slightly flowery with violets, some barnyard aromas, some eucalyptus, some coffee. Clearly developed, the oak notes are rather well integrated. The palate shows dark and some red berries, some plum compote, rather noticeable sweetness of fruit, rather soft but present tannins, spice. Rather ready to drink, could possibly develop slightly more, but can take long cellaring. 92-93 p

Sassicaia 2000

Medium to deep red, some brick at the edge. Nose of ripe blackcurrants, slightly sweetish notes, hints of blackberries and tar, flowery and aromatic notes, hints of eucalyptus, spice. Elegant and nuanced. Clearly developed, noticeably spicy. Palate with blackcurrants, slightly sweetish attack with red berry liqueur, medium(+) tannins, rather softened tannins, noticeable spice, some tar. Reasonably ready to drink, but would likely benefit from some more cellaring, and could take long cellaring. 92-93 p

Actually slightly darker in colour than the 2000 Ornellaia. Comes across as slightly more foursquare than the 1998 Sassicaia.

Ornellaia 1998

Deep red colour with brick at the edge. Rather sweetish nose with blackcurrants, some plum compote, some flowery notes and noticeable eucalyptus, some barnyard aromas, a hint of leather, coffee. Developed and nuanced nose. On the palate very ripe dark berries, some tar, noticeable tannins of a rather silky structure, noticeable spice, discrete notes of alcohol. The aftertaste shows fruitiness of dark berries and some tannins. Reasonably ready to drink, 94-95 p

Elegant New World styled nose, but not unsimilar to a right bank Bordeaux, at least from a hot vintage. More tannins left than in the 2000, and definitely shows darker fruit than the 2000. The producer believes that the 1998 could be more long-lived than the 1997.

Sassicaia 1998

Medium to deep red colour with brick at the edge. Nose with ripe blackcurrants, some tar, some flowery notes with violets, some mint and eucalyptus, some barnyard aromas, spice. Definitely an elegant and nuanced nose. On the palate ripe blackcurrants, some tar, discretely sweetish attack with sweetness of fruit, noticeable spice, noticeable tannins of silky structure, very good fruit and aroma concentration. Aftertaste with dark berries and tannins. Reasonably accessible, 94-95 p

Some New World notes, less developed than the 1998 Ornellaia and more packed with tannin. However, the two 1998s are not too dissimilar. They are more similar in style and degree of maturity than the two 2000s are.

As a final comment I must say that Sassicaia is produced more in “my style” than Ornellaia is. This is perhaps not too obvious from the scores, since I definitely am impressed by the very well made and ambitious Ornellaia. Interesting enough, the best vintages of Ornellaia comes across as closer to Sassicaia in style, but Sassicaia demands more cellaring.

Have a look at a video about Ornellaia from Wine Spectator with pictures from the vineyard and a tasting of the 2004, which I also tasted.

Another video of James Suckling, then still with Wine Spectator, where he tastes the 100 point 1985 Sassicaia together with two wine merchants. Robert Parker may on occasion release bomb carpets of 100 point scores – such as over Bordeaux in the 2009 vintage and monster-sized Châteauneuf-du-Pape in the last several vintages – and he has also scored the 1985 Sassicaia 100 points. But I don’t think anyone is more keen than Suckling in telling about when he has awarded a high score (100!… 100!… 100!…), and to score Italian wines highly… 🙂

The Swedish version of this post can be found here.

This entry was posted in Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Tuscany and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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