Ornellaia paves the way for white Super Tuscan

Tuscany’s Ornellaia, known for producing some of Italy’s most collectible red wines, has released its first serious white wine as part of an effort to explore the potential of white varieties in Bolgheri DOC – a region dominated by reds.


Axel Heinz, Ornellaia’s winemaker since 2005

A blend of 70% Sauvignon Blanc and 30% Viognier, Ornellaia Bianco 2013 was not “necessarily planned”, explained winemaker Axel Heinz at a tasting to mark its release, but a spontaneous decision which has taken seven years to reach fruition.

“Tuscany is not recognised as a great area for white wines, obviously, we are in a Mediterranean climate”, said Heinz. “We would expect the reds to fair much better than the whites. But we realised more and more that there’s space for interesting whites if you are selective and choose the right places. That’s what guided us when we started to rethink making white wines at Ornellaia again.”

Just 4,000 bottles of Ornellaia Bianco 2013 have been produced, barrel fermented in 30% new and 70% used oak barriques, aged on its lees for 12 months and finished in steel vats for a further three.

While Ornellaia Bianco is not the first white to be produced by the Tuscan estate, based in the Bolgheri DOC, it is the most serious to date. Poggio alle Gazze dell’Ornellaia is typically a 100% Sauvignon Blanc and has been produced by the estate for many years. However its 2013 release was a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Vermentino and Verdicchio. 

“In 2008 we decided to have a break and think about what white wines Ornellaia wanted to do”,  explained Heinz, winemaker at Ornellaia since 2005. “We had been very successful with what we thought of as a simplistic varietal of Sauvignon Blanc [Poggio alle Gazze]. That was not what we wanted to do anymore, so we took a break with the aim of finding out what we could achieve. Bolgheri isn’t somewhere anyone was thinking of as a potential place for white wines, so we are very happy to be on the forefront of exploring white wines, with what we have been doing with Poggio.”

The team began working on its Bianco seven years ago, experimenting with several white varieties including Viognier, Vermentino and Verdicchio, with the former chosen by Heinz for the final blend.

HIGH-OB13-750-PACKSHOT-CUTOUT“As a blending component I felt it was an interesting one to explore”, he said. “There was already some [Viognier] around in Bolgheri. We had tasted some there and we saw that it was performing quite well”, he said. “We wanted to explore the various possibilities of more modern varieties that would be rich enough to support the Sauvignon Blanc but which was aromatic in a warm vintage, so we thought Viognier would be a good choice, although we didn’t know how will its would perform with the Sauvignon Blanc.”

Ornellaia Bianco 2013 has already been described by wine critic James Suckling as “the best dry white from Tuscany I have ever tasted”, albeit from the relatively few winemakers in the region currently working to produce serious white wines.

“The idea is to do this every year”, said Heinz of Bianco. “We know that the whites are a little bit tricker than the reds in Bolgheri and we wouldn’t hesitate to withhold a vintage, but at the same time we would feel a little defeated at not being able to bottle a wine like this in such small quantities. I’m excited to see what will happen with the 2015. We know that 2013 was a very favourable vintage. The 2015 Bianco vintage was high quality, but the profile might be a little bit different to what we are tasting with the 2013.”

Established in 1981 by Marchese Lodovico Antinori of the Antinori family, Ornellaia’s first vintage was released in 1985. The estate quickly established a reputation with its Bordeaux-style Ornellaia Bolgheri DOC Superiore becoming known as a “Super Tuscan”. The estate also produces a second wine, Le Serre Nuove, Le Volte – a blend – and Masseto, a Merlot varietal.

Of the 4,000 bottles of Bianco produced the majority have already been sold or allocated, with a limited supply still available at select retailers including Hedonism Wines in London. Ornellaia Bianco 2013 is expected to retail at the same price as its Ornellaia red counterpart, around £125.

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