Decanter Magazine’s Fine Wine Encounter master class features Sassicaia vs Ornellaia: no contest
December 1, 2011
What can I say?
These two super stars from Tuscany are already legends. Super Tuscans. Sassicaia is the original bien sûr, while Ornellaia came later.
After tasting both wines, in several vintages side-by-side, I can understand, thoroughly, why legend status is more than appropriate for the former. Legend status escapes me for the latter.
While Sassicaia is elegant and claret like, Ornellaia is heavier, more extracted, oakier, sometimes alcoholic … One can talk about stylistic differences, sure. But I think Sassicaia can objectively be described as more balanced. That’s my honest opinion, based on an objective tasting – at yet another superb master class organised for Decanter Magazine’s Fine Wine Encounter in November 2011. I recall having tried Ornellaia before and not liking it as much as it was built up to be, but never in a double vertical with Sassicaia.
Furthermore, two highly respected wine experts who attended this tasting – Charles Chevalier of Lafite Rothschild and Maggie Henriquez of Krug – both clearly preferred the Sassicaia. I agreed with them, but with no pressure from them. We talked about the tasting afterwards and found common feeling.
I will post links to my text that will be published on the Decanter website, but here my individual tasting notes (once again in bold if I liked the wine; in red and bold even more, and when underlined, the most)
Already the second wines offered clear clues of where we were heading…
While the the second wine of Sassicaia, the Guidalberto, exuded sap, freshness and fluidity (drinkability) the Le Serre Nuove, the second wine of Ornellaia, was heavier and harder. Already, high alcohol Merlots seemed over prominent in this second wine…
Ornellaia 2008: Sweet nose of high alcohol and slightly over-ripe. There is a pleasing graphite aspect. But the palate tastes over extracted, with a drying feel to the finish that reminded me of a somewhat poor vintage ( 2005) of the otherwise famous Trevallon domain from the southern Rhone…
Sassicaia 2008: Michel Bettane called this and the 1998 the two best ever vintages from Sassicaia. The nose exudes iodine freshness and the palate shows the polish of sheer balance, even though it is quite tannic and powerful now… but it is not drying, it is not over the top. And it gets better in glass, almost an underline is warranted here.
Ornellaia 2004: Candied fruit nose, some graphite again, very opulent nose… promising much. The palate is better here than the 2008, more disciplined, and yet, again, sweet. Very New World. I guess I liked this, somewhat, given the style.
Sassicaia 2004: Lighter in color. “I am against wines with too much concentration,” commented Sassicaia owner Marchese Nicolo Incisa della Rochetta. “I am against too much oak,” he added. Again, a fine saline nose precedes a more evolved style of the 2008, with burgeoning tobacco leaf. I feel like the 2008 has more potential though, but this is drinking already rather well.
Ornellaia 2000: Here I was wondering if this had brett. It had a very über concentrated aspect that I found simply cloying – and annoying.
Sassicaia 2000: The increasing heat of global warming clearly favors Sassicaia: no Merlot in the mix and higher elevation terroir (up to 400 meters above sea level, as opposed to 150 max for Ornellaia). Once again, the difference is crystal clear: this is a wine to drink, but with complexity and elegance. A point for now, if not really the star of the show.
Ornellaia 1998: Perhaps the best nose of all the Ornellaias. But the palate reveals an oaky aspect that will probably not go away, already almost 14 years old: a very drying finish.
Sassicaia 1998: Much more complex and sap filled, this wine is balanced, not drying out. It has vivacity, and elegance. I can understand why Bettane likes it so much.
The proof was at the end of the tasting. I drank most of the Sassicaias by the end of the tasting, so that my glasses of Sassicaia were near empty, while those of Ornellaia were still fairly full.