Tenuta dell’Ornellaia, established 1981, currently has a total of 97 hectares under vine comprising plantings of Cabernet Sauvignon (38ha), Merlot (38ha), Cabernet Franc (12ha), Petit Verdot (7ha), Sauvignon Blanc (3ha), Petit Manseng (1ha) and Viognier (0.5ha). The flagship wine, Ornellaia, is dominated by Cabernet. Separately, a 7ha plot of clay soil, previously planted with olive trees, produced its first Merlot in 1986 that was bottled ‘Merlot di Ornellaia’. The following year it was bottled as Masseto, a name which has now attained a global reputation and which might be considered more of a ‘sister wine’ than a ‘second wine’.
Masseto has achieved higher point scores than Ornellaia, for example vintage 2006 received 99 points from Antonio Galloni in Wine Advocate, whereas Ornellaia holds a maximum of 97 from Galloni. As an exceptionally high scoring 100% Merlot, Masseto is often compared to Petrus (often 100% Merlot) which regularly trades over SFr40,000- per case – over four times the price of Masseto, and Ornellaia is often a quarter of Masseto’s price. With these ratios, it’s easy to see why the Super Tuscans are consistently good performers in Liv-ex indices.
Charted above are the returns for the last ten vintages of Masseto against their point scores. In light grey we see the initial return in the first year since release; vintages 2001 and ’03 produced returns beyond 80% in their first year. Dark grey shows the return to date, a highlight being the 2001 which has appreciated 373% in 10 years (annualised 14%), and recent vintages showing a quick catch-up: the 2010s are up 25% since September 2013 release.
With the exception of 2006, Masseto is not released with anything like the aggressive pricing of Bordeaux, leaving a good consumer surplus; for example the 2008 was trading at SFr 585- per bottle as the 2010 was released at an average list price of SFr 548-. The 2006 does serve to put a good line in the sand for the top price for a Masseto not yet in its drinking window: the Liv-ex mid-price is SFr 740- per bottle and the average merchant list price SFr 880-.
Ornellaia, on the other hand, has provided a more consistent run of high scores, averaging 97 points in the last four vintages (although perhaps this creates a glut of 97 point wines). The returns are also more consistently positive for the great vintages, as shown below:
These are modest returns when compared to Masseto, although +14% for the 2010 is not to be sniffed at when compared to most wines in Bordeaux (for example, Lynch Bages 2010 with 96 Wine Advocate points has come down 20% over the same period). Ornellaia 2011, released on 1st May, has 96+ points from Antonio Galloni and each six-pack contains a limited edition gold label bottle, which may or may not become a collectors’ item in years to come.
When put side by side, the price difference to quality ratio would imply that Ornellaia is hugely undervalued in the market. The main economic difference between Masseto and Ornellaia is the volume of supply: Masseto’s 7 hectares yield an average of 2,500 cases each year, whereas Ornellaia is up at 12,000 cases. The wines often have similar predicted drinking windows despite the differences in composition, but Ornellaia will really only make significant appreciation once the quantity is reduced by increased demand for consumption.
The signals are that Masseto intends to become further separated from Ornellaia, with Decanter reporting that a Masseto winery might have construction started on early next year. This continued separation could be a move to make Masseto a real luxury brand, commanding a price closer to those found at the top of Bordeaux, and Ornellaia could focus on increasing the price distinction to its real second wine: Le Serre Nuove, which regularly scores in the low 90s and sells under SFr 50- per bottle.