Le Serre Nuove dell’ Ornellaia 2020
Le Serre Nuove dell’ Ornellaia is sometimes known as LSN. It’s the official “second wine” of the now iconic Ornellaia estate. They say it’s “made with the same passion and attention to detail as Ornellaia; it reflects the estate’s pedigree”.* Does it live up to this billing? Let’s travel together to the Bolgheri region of Tuscany to discover the latest vintage from 2020.
The history of Bolgheri wine excellence is dominated by two rival aristocratic neighbours: Tenuta San Guido (makers of Sassicaia) and Ornellaia (with Ornellaia). This isn’t the place to go into detail, but these two wineries led Bolgheri from a marshy coastal backwater with no wine tradition to become a vinous El Dorado. Millions of words have already been written about the twists and turns of these Bordeaux-inspired estates. For now, suffice it to say that the Frescobaldi family owns Ornellaia, with Axel Heinz as the estate director, since 2005.
Their flagship wine, also called Ornellaia, is one of Italy’s most revered and expensive, so it appeals to investors, collectors, and wine drinkers. Le Serre Nuove dell’ Ornellaia is the “second wine” of the estate. And this is no “boutique” estate; the 97 hectares of vines, predominantly red, are all French. The reds are Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot. There’s also a tiny proportion of white Sauvignon Blanc and Petit Manseng. The estate was founded in 1981, and Ornellaia debuted in 1985. LSN first appeared in 1997 and immediately boosted the quality of Ornellaia.
Le Serre Nuove dell’ Ornellaia
LSN, just like Ornellaia, is a Bordeaux-style red blend using the four red grape varieties; Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. While both wines include the same varieties, their proportions will vary according to the vintage conditions and the selections made at harvest and blending.
However, while Cabernet Sauvignon generally leads Ornellaia, Le Serre Nuove has Merlot as the dominant partner. That fundamental difference requires Ornellaia to age longer and allows LSN to be enjoyed on release.
Nevertheless, some refer to Le Serre Nuove as a “mini-Ornellaia”. That description does no favours. It sounds disparaging – after all, this is an expensive luxury wine in its own right from the estate’s vineyards, with a distinct identity.
The “second wine of the house” is a more accurate epithet and one long used in Bordeaux and at Bordeaux-inspired wineries**. Like at those estates, it makes the estate more accessible to wine enthusiasts and shows insight into the top wine.
As the second wine, LSN is designed to be released first, and while ready to drink, it will also develop for many years. So what are the differences between them?
Differences and similarities between LSN and Ornellaia
Hand-picking, sorting tables, and an optical sorter ensure an exceptionally rigorous grape selection. The best fruit from all four grape varieties is reserved for Ornellaia, usually sourced from the oldest vines. The “best of the rest” is for LSN.
Yet the fruit for LSN is still what most wineries would consider top class; it’s usually from younger vines grown on sandier soils rather than the heavier clay. Nowadays, even the term “younger vines” is relative, as the average vine age is over 20 years old. As the vines have aged, the selection is also based on the performance of individually vinified base wines at the blending stage.
The Ornellaia and LSN grapes are destemmed, with fermentation in stainless steel tanks and concrete vats using selected yeasts. These tanks are relatively small in size. That’s less efficient, but this allows for 70-80 different base wines made according to grape variety and vineyard location.
After 12 months of maturation of the base wines, the blending of both wines is when a final selection is made. However, though both wines see oak barriques, the regime used for each wine differs.
Ornellaia typically uses 70% new and 30% once-used French barriques, while LSN uses 25% new and 75% once-used.
Ornellaia gets 18 months in wood and then 12 months in the bottle. LSN maturation is shorter, with 15 months in wood and six months in bottle. Bottling of both wines uses cork. Annual production is around 140,000 bottles of Ornellaia and 190,000 of LSN.
Both wines are classified as Bolgheri DOC, though Ornellaia also carries the term Superiore, reflecting more extended ageing. Perhaps surprisingly, there’s no DOCG for Bolgheri, despite the stellar reputation that this area and these wines enjoy.
As for sustainability, look at their Ornellaia Sustainability Report 2021 for credentials. In addition to sustainable viticulture (with some plots now organic), it’s pleasing to see many other initiatives, such as reducing glass bottle weights. That’s never easy to do with luxury wines because some markets still erroneously equate bottle weight with quality.
LSN 2020: Tasting
2020 saw changeable weather with cold spells and heat waves. This meant a more prolonged harvest than usual during September and October to pick each variety at optimum ripeness, starting with Merlot and ending with Petit Verdot. In the 2020 vintage, the proportions in Le Serre Nuove are 44% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Cabernet Franc and 13% Petit Verdot. The result is a complex, rich and powerful wine with 14.5% alcohol.
The tasting of this new 2020 vintage of Le Serre Nuove dell’ Ornellaia was from the bottle “en primeur”, ahead of its expected UK availability in February 2023. It’s ready to drink, especially if decanted for an hour or two for some aeration. If kept, it will develop more complexity over the next fifteen years.
There’s one word to describe this wine: opulence. What’s immediately striking is the retention of balancing and refreshing acidity despite the ripeness of the fruit and the resultant potent alcohol. That acidity is a real hallmark of the Bolgheri terroir, thanks to the proximity to the sea. This ensures freshness and polished precision rather than blowsiness.
Aromas are black cherry and cassis, with toast and tobacco. There’s also a graphite note, probably from the Cabernet Franc. The palate’s dark fruits suggest damsons, sloes, and cassis. There’s lingering complexity from herbal undertones (perhaps Cypress?), plus a brief and intriguing note of olives. As for the tannins, they provide that high-sheen silken structure. More will develop with time, but elegance and poise are already hard to resist.
Lamb and Beef are the perennial classic matches, as are mushrooms. Traditional British Sunday roasts, plus steaks and stews, are perfect. The ripeness of the primary fruit in LSN makes Duck a good bet too. Italian fare would be pasta, say Pappardelle, combined with a rich ragù. Want simple? Try tapenade and fresh crusty bread.
Thanks to importers Maisons Marques et Domaines, LSN has wide retail availability from UK wine merchants, though most often in cases of six bottles. However, single bottles are available from Lay & Wheeler at £50.68 (pre-order for estimated availability in February 2023). As a comparison, a single bottle of Ornellaia 2018 is £182.68 from the same source.
Le Serre Nuove dell’Ornellaia is a super SuperTuscan in it’s own right. It may be the second wine, but it’s no second fiddle. Drink it for what it is, not what it isn’t.
Località Ornellaia, 191
57022 Bolgheri (LI)
*Stated on the back label on the bottle. “LSN è il secondo vino di Ornellaia. Realizzato con la stessa passione e attenzione ai dettagli di Ornellaia, riflette il pedigree della Tenuta”. Italian always sounds so much better.
**a few examples to illustrate the point: Châteaux Margaux has Pavillon Rouge, Châteaux Cos d’Estournel has Les Pagodes de Cos, Vega Sicilia Unico in Spain has Valbuena 5°, while Tenuta San Guido has Guidalberto. So it goes.