The heat had sucked so much energy from the winemaker who was walking through the vineyards, surveying the grape bunches hanging from the vines. She was shocked how so many of the berries looked like blueberries as they were so tiny due to the sweltering conditions brought in by a hot spell that many in Europe had nicknamed “Lucifer.” The summer of 2017 had been a grueling growing season with the sun beating down like a fiery flame thrower, with no real reprieve from the hot punishment. Yet when one takes the oath to work for one of the greatest Italian wine producers, she knows that not only does the job need to be carried out under any circumstance but it has to have an even higher level of meticulous care as many of the grapes would have to be sorted out at various stages. And after the grapes have gone through the long and involved process of being turned into wine meant for an Italian iconic producer, it can still be sold off if it doesn’t make the cut, even if tons of sweat, blood and tears went into the creation of that barrel of wine; that is the life of one who works for one of the best.
And so, although the heat tried to suck all the energy from the workers on the ground with months of the unrelenting heat that enveloped every human body like a heavy blanket, making every task that much more laborious, the workers triumphed as even the most horrific of circumstances can’t completely drain the fierce passion in those who are dedicated to making fine wine. As the winemaker at Ornellaia, Olga Fusari remarked that 2017 was the “hottest and driest” in the history of this grand estate and it was one of her biggest surprises in the 18 years she had worked there.
It was a surprise because the 2017 wines were fresh with lots of acidity and pure fruit expression and Ornellaia’s second wine, Le Serre Nuove dell’Ornellaia, known as simply Le Serre Nuove, was especially fresh with uplifted fruit – a hallmark of this little brother of Ornellaia.
Becoming the Aspiration for Others
When Ornellaia decided to release the first vintage of Le Serre Nuove in 1997, it was very much following the steps of the great estates of Left Bank Bordeaux. It is a way to add an even stricter selection for the “grand vin,” the top wine of the estate, and make a less expensive version of that top selection that was only a few steps down in quality.
Ornellaia, like the other famous “Super Tuscans” tucked away in the village of Bolgheri along the Tuscan coast in Italy, had first crafted its foundation on the outstanding wines of Bordeaux, like Latour and Lafite, as the marriage between Bordeaux grape varieties and the prime vineyard areas of Bolgheri created an exquisite union yet with its own expression of terroir, aka sense of place. These wines were nicknamed “Super Tuscans” as they took the world by storm with their superior quality yet the prices were anything but super as compared to their contemporaries in Bordeaux; the pricing was, and remains today, relatively reasonable.
And so, as Olga notes, “Le Serre Nuove was born as a classical second wine,” following in the footsteps of the greatness of the Bordelais. But through time, Ornellaia started to make a name for themselves and even though they still don’t command First Growth Bordeaux wine prices, they certainly have their own strong following that prefers Ornellaia above all others. Hence, a new chapter of this great Italian wine estate started where Ornellaia found its own identity. Today, some wineries don’t emulate the top Bordeaux estates but aspire to be like Ornellaia.
Amazingly, Ornellaia is a young estate – the first vintage was released in 1985 and so, through time, they have learned so much more about their precious vineyards. Over the past several decades there has been a deep dive into learning about all aspects of their soils which has informed them how to manage their vineyards better, significantly raising the quality and expression of a sense of place.
Its Own Voice
But according to Olga, through this long process of analyzing all the components of their soils, they realized that Le Serre Nuove shouldn’t just be made up of the youngest vines, which was the main original criteria but that the more sandy soils gave a lot more freshness and finesse which were qualities that formed the foundation of Le Serre Nuove’s identity. In the past, it was intended to be a more accessible version of Ornellaia at an earlier stage yet through time, it had become valued as expressing a particular quality of the vineyard.
So, just like Ornellaia getting out of the shadow of the Bordeaux greats, Le Serre Nuove has gotten out of the shadow of Ornellaia.
2020 was another vintage that Olga revisited and it was another challenging vintage but for different reasons than 2017. As the world has mostly gone back to embracing living life to the fullest, it is hard to completely remember how it felt during the fall of 2020 when COVID-19 took over the world. There was a mixture of sadness and fear balanced by gratitude and hope and not much came out regarding vintage reports in Tuscany during that time as people were overwhelmed with the new world of COVID forced upon them. The summer of 2020 growing season was hot and warm, still not to the degree experienced in 2017 and cool nights helped to retain a higher amount of acidity while developing an enchanting aromatic profile that is distinctive in the wines. Even though the 2020 Le Serre Nuove wines have plenty of concentration to give them longevity, the ripe tannins create a silky texture with the lovely aromas making the wine a great pleasure to consume now.
Looking back on those two difficult vintages of Le Serre Nuove, one cannot help when drinking the wines but to be amazed that something so refined, refreshing and stunning, wrapped in an overall quality of elegance, could have come from such nightmarish conditions. But, just like humans, wines will show what they are made of during the worst times and Le Serre Nuove has undoubtedly demonstrated that a ferocious heat wave cannot compromise its graceful quality, or even a worldwide pandemic.
The below is a vertical of Le Serre Nuove:
2020 Le Serre Nuove dell’Ornellaia, Bolgheri Rosso DOC, Tuscany: 44% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Cabernet Franc and 13% Petit Verdot. Intriguing aromas of granite, rosemary and tarragon with spices in the background with a stunning mouthfeel that has an ideal balance between plush, ripe red fruit and an overall brightness with subtle flavors that slowly reveal themselves over time.
2019 Le Serre Nuove dell’Ornellaia, Bolgheri Rosso DOC, Tuscany: 54% Merlot, 28% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Cabernet Franc and 4% Petit Verdot. Charming nose with lifted aromatics of Mediterranean scrub, hints of lilacs and a slightly firm structure giving shape with a prolonged expression of forest floor on the finish.
2017 Le Serre Nuove dell’Ornellaia, Bolgheri Rosso DOC, Tuscany: 54% Merlot, 26% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Cabernet Franc and 6% Petit Verdot. Ripe red cherries on the nose are laced with an intense minerality that has a touch of lushness along the palate’s texture, filling the mouth yet still keeping a reserved elegance as notes of fresh leather and cigar box slowly unravel.
2015 Le Serre Nuove dell’Ornellaia, Bolgheri Rosso DOC, Tuscany: 64% Merlot, 17% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc and 9% Petit Verdot. Complex nose of tobacco leaf, broken earth and shaved black truffles that is a wine of all finesse on a generous body that gives lots of delicious fruit yet is still so refined and elegant that it is mesmerizing.
2014 Le Serre Nuove dell’Ornellaia, Bolgheri Rosso DOC, Tuscany: 50% Merlot, 34% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Cabernet Franc and 7% Petit Verdot. Pristine red fruit, such as strawberries and raspberries, with hints of savory spice, crisp acidity with fresh sage and very fine tannins that caress the palate.