Axle Heinz of Ornellaia

Ornellaia winemaker Axel Heinz

The Ornellaia 2011 ‘Infinito’ does not suck. At all. In fact the only trouble with the famous ‘Supertuscan’ wine, apart from being young, is that it might tempt certain food and wine writers to get used to tasting wines far out of their price point. (The 2010 Ornellaia was offered through the LCBO for $189.95.)

Yes, the 2011 Ornellaia tastes good. Really good. My notes say it there is dark fruit flavours of black currants and berries, and a touch of earthy leatheriness. My notes say the the tannins are firm but not too gripping and there’s lots of bright acidity to carry everything along. My notes say this wine is perfectly in balance and its name, ‘Infinito’, could almost describe the finish. My notes might possibly have been stained by my tears.

Ornellaia 2011 InfinitoI tasted the Ornellaia 2011 Infinto (the winery gives a different name to each vintage, last year (2010) it was ‘La Celebrazione’) on a recent Thursday morning with winemaker Axle Heinz who led a structured tasting of Ornellaia’s 2011 release at The Art Gallery of Ontario. In attendance was the Marchese Ferdinando Frescobaldi, whose legendary Tuscan family owns the winery in Bolgheri near the Mediterranean coast and who has worked in the wine business since 1964. The Marchese is adamant that Bolgheri is the perfect terroir for the Bordeaux grapes that make up the wine (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot), and it’s hard to argue with him or what was in my glass.

For fun, the attending wine journalists and I tasted the 2011 Ornellaia beside the 2006 and 2001 vintages. They were good in ways that can’t be described in polite company. From similarly hot and dry years, it was a bit like tasting through an instantly aging wine. There was not a lot of spitting during the tasting.

The 2011 Ornellaia release in Toronto this year was of particular note. Every year Ornellaia commissions an important artist to design the labels for the large format bottles of the release. This year (i.e. for the 2011 vintage) they chose Vancouver-based Rodney Graham, who hangs at the AGO. The occasion of a Canadian artist leading the release, as it were, led to a gala dinner at the art gallery the evening of the tasting. There Graham’s work was revealed. A collection of light verse poems on hand-cut labels of irregular shape. The poems are quite funny – mostly. The event, which was attended by the Italian Ambassador, raised $126,500 for the AGO. One couple spent just under $40,000 for a Salmanzar, which at 9 litres is the equivolent of a standard case of wine.

Axel Heinz, who grew up in Munich but spent summers with his mother’s family in Bordeaux, selects grapes from 60 different blocks to make Ornellaia, and I imagine has access to the world’s best tools to craft his wines. It shows. They’re really good.

Malcolm Jolley is a founding editor of Good Food Revolution and Executive Director of Good Food Media, the company that publishes it. Follow him on Twitter or Facebook.