Wednesday Wines – Episode 146 – A Preview of 2020 Ornellaia

2020 Ornellaia, Bolgheri Rosso Superiore DOC, Tuscany, Italy Released for sale on 1st April 2023

I was honoured to be invited to join the world online launch of 2020 Ornellaia yesterday. This was the first time that the 2020 vintage was tasted, and it was also the moment when the art collaboration for this vintage was announced.

First, here is some blurb from Ornellaia regarding the vintage and this year’s artistic announcement – The year had its share of cold and rain, alternating with extended hot and dry periods. After an almost perfect summer, the defining moment came with the late September drop in temperatures, which produced a wine of finesse and aromatic richness. “Ornellaia 2020 is vibrant and well-structured”, says winemaker Olga Fusari. “It arcs through the palate with dense yet elegant tannins, leading into a persistent finish and lingering freshness”.

2020 also marks the fifteenth edition of the Vendemmia d’Artista project, in which the unique character of the new vintage is celebrated through an artist’s interpretation. “This year”, says Axel Heinz, “nature and man have combined to form a perfect relationship between the vine and thought in the just proportions of elegance, power and complexity”. American artist Joseph Kosuth, one of conceptual art’s great practitioners and thinkers, was chosen to interpret this relationship. Interrogating its conventional techniques and definitions, it was the language of art that Kosuth focused on, aiming to present the complexity of cultural codes in visual form. He interprets the character of “La Proporzione” (Proportion) – which evokes the perfect balance between the sum and its parts – with a series of intellectually powerful works centred around the word “wine”.

Kosuth’s interpretation expresses itself through his design of the labels, both for the 750 ml bottle and for larger formats, and culminates in the site-specific artwork designed for the estate itself. Some of the larger, individualized bottles will go under the hammer at Sotheby’s online auction, to be held from the 7th to the 21st of September 2023, before becoming valued additions to the cellars of the winning collectors.

One artistic label designed by Kosuth can be found in each case of six 750ml bottles of Ornellaia 2020, “La Proporzione” (Proportion). This label is printed with a quotation, in English, from Vitruvius (De architectura 3.1.3), while the labels on the 100 Double Magnums show an etymological tree of the word wine. The 10 Imperials, no two of which are the same, have the same etymological chart etched onto the glass. Each Imperial shows a different branch of this tree highlighted in white, with Vitruvius’ quotation translated into that language or one of its modern descendants: Albanian, Serbo-Croat, Latin, Italian, Hindi, Hebrew, Modern Greek, Irish, German and Armenian. Meanwhile, the highlighted branch and Vitruvius’ surrounding words are in English on the unique Salmanazar.

Speaking about his work on Ornellaia 2020, Kosuth said: “I think that language is an important part of the experience of everything, and those experiences are formed in a way linguistically. The architecture of the experience through language was, of course, always in play, and I think that Vitruvius was a great source to understand a concept like proportion. Proportion is not only the balance of elements for the eye but also the balance of all the elements that make it an entity of perfection of what it means for the world, thus forming it as a conception”.

The Vendemmia d’Artista initiative was born in 2006 with the aim of supporting cultural projects. For the last five years, Ornellaia’s proceeds from the Sotheby’s auction have been donated exclusively to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum’s innovative “Mind’s Eye” program, which allows blind and low vision people to access art.

My thoughts on the wine – An long-forgotten image flashed into my mind when I first tasted this wine.  It took me back to a visit, as a child, to a stately home.  Goodness knows where this place was, but I remember walking down a long corridor when a huge door opened to my left.  As I walked past, I caught a glimpse of the most glamorous and beautifully decorated room beyond the person holding the door ajar.  The door closed, and I passed by, but this image has stuck with me ever since.  This momentary glimpse of incredible splendour is echoed in this magnificent wine.  It starts midnight black in the glass, then as one focuses on the surface, can one see stars?  Interestingly, it finishes black, too, in the form of ultra-fine sooty tannins that caress the taste buds as the flavour senesces.  Between these two moments of perfect calm, there is layer upon layer of splendour and magnificence.  The keyword for this vintage is ‘proportion’, as I found out half an hour through the presentation.  It is an inspired choice because every element of 2020 Ornellaia is in scintillating proportion.  2020 Ornellaia represents more than harmony or balance and more than composure and equilibrium – it is truly in perfect proportion.  In fact, I have never tasted a vintage of Ornellaia like it.  There is a sense of greatness here, both in the intensity of the fruit and also its freshness and lift on the nose and palate – it is astonishing.  The Cabernet theme (the blend is 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32% Merlot, 13% Cabernet Franc and 5% Petit Verdot) is dominant both in the primary fruit notes but also in the signature flavours.  Merlot adds glossiness and also traction, while Cabernet Franc appears to add grace and also crispness and aromatic flourishes. Petit Verdot acts as the invisible welds that pin this magnificent structure together – a complete three-dimensional flavour with no apparent flaws whatsoever.  This wine will undoubtedly drink early in its life, given the silkiness and generosity on display, but it will not genuinely get into its stride for a decade, and I feel it will take another decade for it to blossom fully.  My childlike fascination with today’s glimpse into the glass will no doubt grow into a full-blown stroll around this wine with the door flung open wide in years to come.  This wine will prove to those with the good fortune to own it that its best is yet to come, so be patient in spite of its early allure.  Until then, I do not doubt that it is a work of perfect proportion, so I am delighted to award it my first-ever perfect score for Ornellaia.  20+/20 (Drink 2032 – 2050)