Clash of the Titans – Ornellaia vs Sassicaia

Earlier this year I was at a tasting that in theory pitted Ornellaia against Sassicaia. 😉 I had tasted Ornellaia 2007 a few months earlier and were contemplating Sassicaia 2007 in the glass before me (as well as Le Serre Nouve dell’Ornellia and Guidalberto). And even though the two cult wines cost about the same Orneallia felt far better than it’s neigbhour.

Now I’m back after another tasting that really had the two alongside each other. And once again Tenuta dell’Ornellaia outshines Tenuta San Guido not only by a small fraction – in fact I felt that even Ornellaias second wine (at less than half the price) was at par with or even better than Sassicaia. How could that be?

Sassicaia is by birthright the firstSuper Tuscan (you can hate it or love it – but for me the “name” or designation signifies an expermentation outside the old rigid DOC-rules that not just led to better wines but also started the Italian wine revolution). The whole thing of course grew out of proportion as american consumers wanted nothing but those superwines that Robert Parker and other influential wine writers gave raving (crazy?) reviews. It even went so far that producers had to de-classify their wine in order to be able to sell them.

But Sassicaia was first. It is a blend of mostly cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc. The vineyards in Bolgheri were allegedly planted with cuttings from Château Lafite (but look at the commentary here below!). The first wine was produced in 1948 but the first commercial release came first 20 years later in 1968. Until then the wine was for private consumption. But soon after it’s public release it took some rather important wine critics by storm and more and more people started to realize how good the wines from the Tuscan coast (and in fact all over Tuscany) could be. Sassicaia set a new standard.

In 1971 Antinoris Tignanello followed with it’s blend of sangiovese and cabernet. Ornellaia, with vineyards just adjacent to Sassicaia, didn’t appear until 1985 (planted in 1981) but soon became an icon (as did it’s Merlot varietal Masseto).

But as times has went by it seems like Ornellaia has adapted itself well to the modern palate and still makes iconic wines. Yes the wines fall into the super-concentrated category but it doesn’t sacrifice elegance and balance for raw power. But what about Sassicaia? The wines are still elegant and really good – but are they great? They seem to lack the concentration of earlier vintages and in a blind tasting side by side with it’s neighbour it almost seems weak – like a third growth side by side with a premier cru.

After I now have had the opportunity to taste both the 2007 and 2008 vintages of both wines I have to say that Ornellaia today is by far the better wine. The wine has more fruit-concentration, more acids and tannins, more power but not in a “hit ya in the face kinda way” but with refinement and compelxity.

The same goes for both estates second wines Le Serre Nouve dell’Ornellaia and Guidalberto, both stunning wines but the former is much more concentrated and impressive. Why this is so I do not now – but here are my notes on the 2008 vintage!

Le Serre Nouve dell’Ornellaia 2008 (around €43 in Sweden)
Dark blue-red colour. A bit closed on the nose but I find dark berries, oak, grass and herbs. Medium bodied concentrated taste of dark berries (black currant and black berries) and with elements of liquorice and oak. Good tannins and long finish. 4/5p

Guidalberto 2008 (around €33)
Dark red colour. Also a bit closed with hints of dark berries, farm yard and oak. Young medium bodied and a bit acidic on the palate with cherries, tobacco and oak. Feels young. 3,5/5p 

Ornellaia 2008 (around €107)
Dark blue-red “blackish” colour. On the nose quite developed with warm spicy notes and elements of dark berries, vanilla, toasted oak, cherry and fudge. Full bodied superconcentrated and supertannic taste with loads of dark berries, new oak, vanilla and spices. Long young and complex aftertaste. Incredible concentration. 4,5/5p

Sassicaia 2008 (around €102)
Dark bordeaux red colour. Quite elegant nose with dark berries (black currant) and hints of pencil shavings, farm yard, cedar and herbs. Medium bodied concentrated and a bit acidic/astringent taste of dark berries, cedar wood, herbs and tobacco. Good concentration and good length in the finish. 4/5p

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4 comments

  1. Ruso · September 30, 2011

    Nice and interesting reading. Maybe i should not drink them back to back, as i do not compare my children. They are different , but i love them both. It is a myth that the Sassicaia cuttings came from Lafite. They came from a vineyard near Pisa, where they had grown Cabernet for a long time. The Marquee knew the owners of Lafite and wanted to make a wine like that. But it was a good story.

    • magnus ericsson · September 30, 2011

      You’ve got a point. Why should you compare them!? I also love them both! But it’s more of a question: Why isn’t Sassicaia better? It surely could (should?) be!
      Thanks for the intel on the cuttings. I’ve seen and heard it from time to time so I guess I also was taken in by the myth! I do my research better next time!

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