2009 Rocca di Frassinello "Ornello"
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Rocca di Frassinello Vineyards A Rothschild in Tuscany

Hindsight is 20-20. Still, in retrospect, it's difficult to understand what only Paolo Panerai seemed to intuit about these undulating Tuscan hillsides. Set smack in the middle of what's best described as the geological "foot" of Maremma -- nestled between prized Bolgheri and Scansano -- Panerai's studies revealed soil types that mimicked Montalcino. While temperatures were 5-10 degrees warmer than Brunello's namesake, the cool, dry maritime breezes seemed to temper the Tuscan sun, offering a rare microclimate perfectly suited to both Cabernet Sauvignon and Sangiovese.

Panerai was captivated by the 85-acre property, only one of which was planted to vines. The owner, anxious to work at his son's side in a local butcher shop, was a motivated seller. As Paolo negotiated the purchase, lightning struck -- in the form of the world's most storied winemaking name.

When your name is Rothschild, the wine world is your oyster. You can buy what you want, develop it as you please. Such is life with a portfolio that includes Lafite and Mouton. So when Eric de Rothschild was first told about Paolo Panerai's discovery, he was more than a little bit intrigued. The Cabernet elite of Bolgheri were already garnering 97-point scores that didn't go unnoticed in Pauillac. As much as the Bordelais were inclined to pooh-pooh the Tuscan coast, the dark, rich, polished concentration of Sassicaia and Ornellaia were eye catching -- if not threatening. Eric, always looking for an opportunity, scheduled a trip to Maremma. Not long after, the first Franco-Italo winegrowing partnership was inked.

If you visit Rocca di Frassinello, you can't help but be overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of the endeavor. When Rothschild first saw Panerai's 40-hectare discovery, he was impressed. When he felt the maritime breeze and did a once over of the soil studies, he recognized the opportunity. But it wasn't until he trekked to the top of the Terminuzzo hill, eyeballed the magnificent geological amphitheater, bracketed and protected by fine cork oaks -- spotted the sea in the distance above Marina di Grosseto -- that Mr. Rothschild understood the magnitude of the opportunity.

In the end, Panerai and Rothschild would purchase not only the butcher's 85 acres, but 1,000 more. Following more rounds of rigorous soil studies, just seven acres were planted in 2000. After the release of the first brilliant reds, and a rapid-fire trip into the Wine Spectator Top 100, the partners pulled the trigger, transforming that amphitheater into a viticultural oasis, catapulting Rocca di Frassinello into the Brunello and Bolgheri limelight.

Some of you were lucky enough to get your hands on Robert Parker's 93pt 2009 "Frassinello" last year, a bottle that retails for $50 -- and may well be underpriced. Today, we're back with a more 'proletariat' look at Eric de Rothschild's Rocca di Frassinello. The cuvee is called "Ornello." If you're looking for the more sleekly modernistic, polished side of Tuscany, this 2009 has no match.

We spent three DAYS with this bottle. It didn't lose a thing. Not its deep purple color. Not it's marvelous chiseled, lush black fruit/dark cherry tones, nor its wonderfully vibrant, sweet herb aromas. The rich, juicy, black fruit attack still seemed locked in suspended animation, lush and almost New World juicy, all braced by the fine acid backbone that comes only from these Montalcino-esque soils.

We're not high on this one. We're sky high. So, first we pushed our importer 'friend' as far as he would go, then we sharpened our pencils, if only to give a couple hundred members a shot at the superb 2009 Ornello.

Tasting Notes

2009 Rocca di Frassinello "Ornello"
"Deep ruby/purple in color with juicy aromas of black fruits and black cherry, laced with sweet Tuscan herbs. Rich and polished on the attack, infused with blackberry and plum, beautifully focused and delineated, all bracketed by fine, high-toned coastal acidity. Drink now for its primary fruit lushness, but don't be afraid to drink this one over the course of two nights -- or lay it down for 3-5 years in a cool cellar."
-- WineAccess Travel Log

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