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A purveyor of some of Italy's most famous wines, the Ornellaia estate is divided into 90 parcels, grouped by grape variety and soil type.Supplied

One of Italy’s most famous wines, Ornellaia is always expensive and often sumptuous. Delivering the pure hedonism of the best Napa cabernet with elegant Tuscan style, the winery dubbed its 2021 vintage La Generosità (Generosity) to help convey the character of estate’s flagship wine.

It’s about as opulent as Ornellaia can get with vibrant acidity to get the balance right. “You know Italians love their food, so wine without acidity wouldn’t make sense to us,” explains Alessandro Lunardi, who oversees Ornellaia’s sales in North America. “That tension on the palate is very important for us.”

One of the first “super Tuscan” wines, which were high-quality red wines made with grape varieties not permitted in local winemaking regulations, Ornellaia released its first Bordeaux-style red blend from Bolgheri on the Tuscan coast in 1985.

(At the time, making an Italian wine from cabernet and other French grape varieties would have been as common as Tuscan chefs using Dijon mustard in their dishes.) Prior to the wine boom, the coastal region wasn’t viewed in such glamorous light.

In the 1930s, the area’s marshlands and swamps were drained to combat malaria. The breeding grounds for mosquitoes became a home for cabernet sauvignon and other international grape varieties, marketed first by Tenuta San Guido, the makers of Sassicaia, in the 1970s and Grattamacco and Ornellaia in the 1980s.

More than 70 producers produce wine in the region today, focusing largely on red blends of cabernet and merlot. Surprisingly, the traditional Tuscan grape, sangiovese, represents only 1 per cent of the 1,365 hectares of vines planted in Bolgheri.

“Sangiovese was planted in Bolgheri previously, like it was in the rest of Tuscany, by default, but the best wine it could manage was rosato,” says Lunardi, referring to rosé. “When we planted our vineyards between 1980 and 1981, we were the first to introduce merlot with cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc.”

Petit verdot vines were a later addition to the estate vineyards, while sauvignon blanc, petit manseng, viognier, verdicchio and vermentino are propagated for Ornellaia’s white wines. (A sibling winery that had its debut in 1987, Masseto is based on merlot from a neighbouring vineyard. It has its own winemaker and winery. Like Ornellaia, Masseto is regarded as one of Italy’s most collectable wines.)

Wines form Bolgheri stand apart from the typically leaner red wines produced farther inland in the Chianti Classico zone. The cooling influence of the Tyrrhenian Sea helps to mitigate intense summer temperatures, with cooler nights slowing ripening and maintaining acidity in the grapes.

A team of 80 vineyard workers tends to the Ornellaia estate, which is divided into 90 parcels, grouped by grape variety and soil type. Each is harvested, fermented and aged separately before the final blend is determined. Such nth-degree management is possible when a bottle of your wine comes with a $275 price tag in Canada. And that attentiveness also shapes Le Serre Nuove dell’Ornellaia, which was introduced in 1997 as the second wine of the estate.

Produced with grapes grown on younger vines, Le Serre Nuove was established to be a ripe and approachable red, but in outstanding vintages, such as 2021, it can rival the potency and polish of its big brother at a third of the price. Ornellaia also produces Le Volte dell’Ornellaia, a blend bottled as a Tuscan red wine, which is appealingly supple, savoury and spicy, consistently enjoyable and sells in the $30 range.

Ornellaia 2021 is featured as part of the May 25 Vintages release online and at select LCBO outlets and will be released in the fall in British Columbia and Alberta. Another Ontario release is scheduled for late September. It is recommended alongside three other red wines with tremendous potential for aging.

Duckhorn Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2021 (United States), $94.95

Rating:92 /100

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Duckhorn’s classic cabernet expresses benchmark Napa power and generosity. There’s a core of ripe dark fruit that’s rounded out by cedary and spicy oak-derived flavours. Appealingly smooth and complete, this medium-bodied red wine checks all the boxes, but could use some drama. More time in bottle will see that sweet fruit character turn savoury and more complex in nature. Drink now to 2030. Available at the above price in Ontario, $98.99 in British Columbia, various prices in Alberta, $93.99 in Saskatchewan, $94.75 in Quebec (2020 vintage), $112 in Nova Scotia, $104.99 in Newfoundland (2018 vintage).

Henschke Keyneton Euphonium 2018 (Australia), $79

Rating:94 /100

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Originally launched in 1958 as Henschke Dry Red, this ripe and plush blend of shiraz, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and merlot is made with grapes grown throughout the Barossa in South Australia. Its full-bodied style makes the most of its core of sweet dark fruit, which gains complexity from peppery and meaty notes. Beautifully balanced and structured, this promises to age gracefully. Drink now to 2043. Available at the above price in Ontario, various prices in British Columbia and Alberta, $79 in Quebec, $82.49 in Nova Scotia.

Le Serre Nuove dell’Ornellaia 2021 (Italy), $78.95

Rating:95 /100

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Le Serre Nuove’s blend centres on merlot, with cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and petit verdot, to make the red wine more approachable when it’s young. It’s ripe and engaging with satisfying fragrance, flavour and freshness; a second wine that’s riding shotgun. Fine-grained tannins contribute to the supple texture and a long, expressive finish adds to the harmony and balance. Drink now to 2040. Available at the above price in Ontario, $79.99 in British Columbia, $79.75 in Quebec, $80.23 in New Brunswick, $71.29 in Nova Scotia.

Ornellaia 2021 (Italy), $276.95

Rating:98 /100

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Ornellaia always commands attention, but the 2021 vintage is sure to push collectors’ enthusiasm to new heights. There’s an immediacy of appeal here, with an intensely perfumed nose suggesting a mix of ripe dark fruit, mint, sage, mocha and spicy notes. The layers of flavours are rich and refreshing, making this structured and balanced red blend expressive and enjoyable upon release. There might be temptation to open now, but there’s more complexity to come. Drink 2030 to 2050. Available at the above price in Ontario.

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