16 Vintages of Ornellaia - from 1985 to 2008

29 June 2012
Author: Jeannie Cho Lee


This Ornellaia vertical held about a year ago, really made me appreciate the wines in a different way. Ornellaia’s winemaker Axel Heinz led the tasting of an impressive line-up of sixteen vintages cleverly grouped under ‘Fresh’, ‘Charming’, ‘Opulent’ and ‘Structured’, and tasted in this order rather than the traditional young to old. Whilst I did not always agree with the classification given to each wine and found some, like the ‘Fresh’ 2005, more opulent than fresh, this was still a useful framework with which to understand and appreciate the wines.


The ‘Fresh’ wines were tasted first and included the 2007, 2005, 2002 and 1985. In this flight the 2005 and 2002 shone brightly, both leaning toward elegance and delicacy rather than density and concentration. The 1985 was intellectually interesting as Ornellaia’s very first vintage, but it was lacking depth on the palate. 2007 was also not as impressive as I expected given the reputation of this vintage in both Bolgheri as well as the rest of Tuscany. This wine was more ‘Structured’ than ‘Fresh’. 


The ‘Charming’ vintages – 2004, 2000, 1995, 1990 – were definitely lighter in weight than the two flights which came after it. There was plenty of charm in the 1990 and 2000, with the former at its apogee showing the depth and complexity that Ornellaia can reach. The last ten vintages of Ornellaia, since 2001, could easily be classified ‘Opulent’ given their richness and body but this set included only 2006, 2003, 1999 and 1997. Of all sixteen wines, the 1997 was my most disappointing wine. Ornellaia 1997, a vintage with excellent harvest and growing conditions in Bolgheri, was dried out and the finish surprisingly short. The 2006 on the other hand was the epitome of opulence while the 1999 was crafted in the same vein and had the additional benefit of more than a decade of bottle age.


The last ‘Structured’ flight was by far the most impressive and contained my favourite wines of the tasting – the 2008, 2001 and 1998. These wines had power and incredible depth combined with precision and balance. The 1998 is a wine just reaching its peak and the completeness of this wine along with its alluring flavours made it the most enticing wine in the tasting. The 2001 and the 2008, both impressive wines, were very youthful and would require much more time before they are ready to be enjoyed. Michel Rolland, who has been consulting to the property since 1985, commented during this flight, “In these great vintages, we are not responsible for the great wines.


The two highly regarded vintages, 2007 and 1997, were disappointing relative to their vintages. And the two oldest wines from the 1980s were less layered and complex than their modern counterparts and past their prime. Can Ornellaia age for more than two decades? 1990 says yes while the 1985 and 1988 says no. However, the younger, recent vintages are clearly built in a different way; they are richer, more concentrated, rounder and less Cabernet Sauvignon-based (55% and 65% compared with up to 80% in the past). These new wines will evolve and age differently than its predecessors. Interestingly, during the period from 1999 to 2005 when the property changed hands from Lodovico Antinori to Mondavi to Constellation then to Frescobaldi, the wines produced reflect very little of this turmoil. 


Despite its youthful status in the world of fine wines, this tasting reveals the multi-faceted personality of Ornellaia, which continues to be a pioneer forging its own unique identity. The recent vintages of Ornellaia are more confident and bold, clearly embracing their philosophy of ‘quality without compromise’. However, it is in the lighter, fresher and older vintages that one can glimpse the quality of its terroir. In the best examples, it’s not difficult to imagine Ornellaia’s home – the lush landscape of towering cypress trees and medieval castles, the smell and feel of the breeze from the Ligurian Sea and the diverse soils of the undulating land.  

‘Fresh’/Freschezza vintages


2007 Tenuta dell’Ornellaia, Bolgheri Superiore, Tuscany, Italy

Odd that 2007 is in ‘Fresh’ category since this is anything but fresh. Dark, tannic, savoury flavours with moderately long length but little generosity in the mid palate. Aroma is attractive with dark cherries, tobacco, and cedar notes but palate is unyielding with hints of dried Chinese red dates and herbs. May be going through dumb stage. (92)

Peak: 2016-2025


2005 Tenuta dell’Ornellaia, Bolgheri Superiore, Tuscany, Italy

From the nose to the palate, this wine exudes opulence – exuberant plum, spices and dark cherry flavours with velvety tannins and firm acid backbone. A gorgeous young wine with great complexity and depth, one that will age beautifully. (94)

Peak: 2013-2027


2002 Tenuta dell’Ornellaia, Bolgheri Superiore, Tuscany, Italy

An unusually light and elegant style for Ornellaia but perfect to enjoy now. Bottle age has shed its fat and the tobacco, dried herbs and plum notes linger long in the finish. A beautifully balanced wine that has grace and charm. (94)

Peak: Drink now


1985 Tenuta dell’Ornellaia, Bolgheri Superiore, Tuscany, Italy

This historical first vintage for Ornellaia is past its prime. It’s lightly scented with spices, dried herbs and dried flowers. While the wine has grace and elegance and can bring plenty of drinking pleasure with food and friends, it lacks the gravitas of the more serious vintages. (90)

Peak: Drink now


‘Charming’/ Charme vintages


2004 Tenuta dell’Ornellaia, Bolgheri Superiore, Tuscany, Italy

Flavours are closed and tannins very tightly wound. The nose exudes black cherries, plums and Chinese red dates but the palate is overwhelmed by a dense layer of tannins. The quality of the tannins show promise that a few more years in bottle should allow the wine to open and unfurl its flavours. Don’t approach for another 3-5 years. (92)

Peak: 2015-2025


2000 Tenuta dell’Ornellaia, Bolgheri Superiore, Tuscany, Italy

This is a graceful, medium bodied Ornellaia that lacks the depth and complexity of vintages like 2001 and 1999. However, there is plenty of charm and elegance and this vintage proves that even in less advantageous conditions, Ornellaia can produce attractive, balanced wines.(92)

Peak: Drink now


1995 Tenuta dell’Ornellaia, Bolgheri Superiore, Tuscany, Italy

At 16 years of age, this wine is at its peak and the flavours are just starting to fade. The nose displays evolved bottle-aged characters such as dried Chinese mushrooms, leather and dried roses. Fairly simple wine, not complex with modest length. (90)

Peak: Drink now


1990 Tenuta dell’Ornellaia, Bolgheri Superiore, Tuscany, Italy

This is the perfect example of how beautifully Ornellaia can evolve. At 21 years of age, this wine has a seamless palate texture, lovely, complex layers of flavours and a lingering finish. A wine in peak form. (95)

Peak: Drink now


‘Opulent’/Opulenza vintages


2006 Tenuta dell’Ornellaia, Bolgheri Superiore, Tuscany, Italy

A classic opulent Ornellaia filled with plums, cedar, tobacco and cassis flavours. Tannins are velvety and rich with accessible, ripe flavours. Very young, give it another five years to reach its best. (94)

Peak: Drink 2016-2028


2003 Tenuta dell’Ornellaia, Bolgheri Superiore, Tuscany, Italy

The fruit in this wine is cooked and jammy. The mid palate flavours of prunes and blackberry jam lack freshness. A big wine with chunky tannins that lacks precision and detail. (90)

Peak: Drink now


1999 Tenuta dell’Ornellaia, Bolgheri Superiore, Tuscany, Italy

This is a classic Ornellaia with a wonderful array of flavours such as blackberries, dried herbs and cedar. On the palate, the flavours are subtle, elegant, nuanced and the finish fairly long. A balanced, understated wine at its peak. (93)

Peak: Drink now


1997 Tenuta dell’Ornellaia, Bolgheri Superiore, Tuscany, Italy

Very disappointing to find the 1997 already dried out. Both on the palate and nose the flavours echo a much older wine exuding flavours of dried herbs, dried mushrooms and leather. Fairly short, dusty finish. (88)

Peak: Drink now


‘Structured’/Struttura vintages


2008 Tenuta dell’Ornellaia, Bolgheri Superiore, Tuscany, Italy

A monumental, very impressive Ornellaia. Filled with a wide array of flavours including cocoa, plums, herbs and blackberries, this powerful Ornellaia possesses concentration without heaviness. The flavours unfold gently and the abundant tannins are velvety and round. A gorgeous Ornellaia with the potential to age for decades. (96)

Peak: Drink 2018-2033


2001 Tenuta dell’Ornellaia, Bolgheri Superiore, Tuscany, Italy

A very youthful wine, despite being 10 years old. The flavours are full, generous with layers of nuances. The mid palate is filled with plums, blackberries, cedar and cocoa. An explosive wine with a long finish that has yet to reach its peak. (94)

Peak: Drink 2014-2027


1998 Tenuta dell’Ornellaia, Bolgheri Superiore, Tuscany, Italy

This is a complete Ornellaia, one that has made the journey from youth to young adult and to middle age. A complex wine with plenty of alluring flavours like herbs, spices and violets to entice and excite. Wonderful length and depth. A wine at is perfect, peak maturity. Enjoy now but it will keep for at least a few decades. (97)

Peak: Drink now


1988 Tenuta dell’Ornellaia, Bolgheri Superiore, Tuscany, Italy

A disappointing wine after three very impressive vintages. In comparison, this wine tastes emaciated, thin and barely alive. After about 30 minutes, the wine started to fade quickly in the glass. (89)

Peak: Drink now