This ambitious estate was launched in 1981 by Lodovico Antinori, the cousin of the owners of the nearby Tenuta San Guido (of Sassicaia fame). Tenuta dell’Ornellaia is based near the Tuscan village of Bolgheri, with vines covering the nearby hills above the coastal plain, as well as a separate vineyard, Bellaria, to the north-east of the village.
In 2002, after successfully establishing the high reputation of the estate’s Supertuscan, Ornellaia, Lodovico passed the estate to Californian winemaking giant Robert Mondavi and Marchesi de’Frescobaldi, the latter of whom acquired full ownership in 2005.
There are 97 hectares of vines, made up mostly of cabernet sauvignon and merlot as well as cabernet franc and petit verdot. The vineyards, which are almost all south-west facing, enjoy a Mediterranean climate with moderating influence from the coast, and are between 50 and 120 metres above sea level. There is a variety of soil types, from alluvial to volcanic, to suit each of the different grape varieties grown here.
Ornellaia, the estate’s most famous wine, is created from vines planted in 1982, whereas its second wine, Le Serre Nuove, is sourced from younger vines. The grapes are all hand picked, and the various vineyard plots are vinified separately for greater precision, however both Ornellaia and Le Serre Nuove are made in exactly the same way.
The blend is usually two-thirds cabernet sauvignon and one-third merlot, with small splashes of cabernet franc and petit verdot. First, the grapes are fermented in stainless-steel vats, before the wine ages in French oak, usually for around 18 months. During this time, the wine is blended: the first selection becomes Ornellaia and the second Le Serre Nuove.
The estate is also famous for its single-vineyard merlot, Masseto, which is made from one seven-hectare plot of vines and spends 24 months in French oak barriques.