Our latest trip in Napa centered around a birthday present for my boyfriend Andy. It was tickets to a Robert Cray show at the Uptown Theatre. Once I found out about the concert, I obtained the seats, and then immediately started planning the rest. I knew just the show and possibly getting a place to stay would be more than enough, but I wanted to plan some wine tastings the day of the show.
There are literally hundreds of wineries from which to choose when you visit Napa, Oakville, Rutherford, St. Helena, etc, but I wanted to choose an extra special tasting. Last time we visited Napa, we went to Nichelini Winery for their Rosé of Cabernet release. We talked to one of the tasting room managers, Doug, at length about the area wineries and which ones were the best. Andy brought up Opus One and asked Doug if he thought that Opus One was worth the hype. And he said it was. He urged us to visit. Andy’s eyes widened and he promised Doug we would go there.
Of course, seeing Andy’s reaction… that curiosity and wonder…I wanted to make sure the visit happened sooner than later. I won’t lie. I had never tried Opus One, and I too was curious. I wanted to learn more about the classic wine and the history behind it. So, even before I booked a place for us to sleep for the night, I set our tasting appointment at Opus One. A full two months from the day we were set to visit. I was so excited about the tasting, but I kept it to myself for as long as I could! Eventually, none of the Napa Valley trip I had lined up as a birthday present would stay a secret. I had to begin promoting the Robert Cray concert, the Best Western Inn at the Vines, Opus One, Far Niente, and Tarla Mediterranean Grill. I wanted the first birthday that Andy spent with me to be extra special, and I think it was!
We met our host Adrian at the front desk inside the Opus One facility. We checked in, and then Adrian took us outside to the vineyards out front. He began to tell us the story of how the wine was born. It was a joint venture of Baron Phillippe de Rothschild (of Château Mouton Rothschild) and Robert Mondavi. They started making the wine in 1979 and in 1984, released the 1979 and 1980 vintages simultaneously. Phillippe chose the “Opus” (a musical term) because he wanted the name to have a Latin origin and be easily recognized in different romantic languages.
As soon as 1985, Opus One became known as America’s first ultra-premium wine, establishing a category of wine priced at $50 and above per bottle. In 1989, a year after Baron de Phillippe’s death, ground breaking for Opus One Winery takes place (July). Construction of the winery is finished by 1991.
I didn’t even come to California until 2004. That’s when the winery’s board of directors placed CEO David Pearson in charge and wholly responsible for Opus One. Michael Silacci is named the winemaker, the first winemaker that would oversee both viticulture and winemaking. That same year, Constellation Brands, Inc. purchases Robert Mondavi Corporation and with it, 50% ownership of Opus One.
In 2005, an agreement between Baroness Phillippe de Rothschild and Constellation Brands allows Opus One to uphold operating independence in the areas of: vineyard management, sales and marketing, and administration.
And in 2012, there we were. Standing in front of the magnificent structure and looking out across the vineyards. The fruit was nearly ready to be picked and a deep purple. I was intoxicated by the experience without yet having a sip! Adrian led Andy and I into the lab where corks are tested for TCA (the compound responsible for a “corked” wine). The testing done on the cork samples is so successful in detecting TCA, that less than 1% of all Opus One wine produced ends up “corked”!
We went on to tour the production facility, and saw some of the machines used to de-stem the fruit and kick out any less than perfect fruit. Then we were taken to another room where the barrels are laid out several single rows. It reminded me of a theater, only instead of seats, barrels lined the ground. And then, it was time to taste the wine. We were led into a little boutique with a table and three chairs, and six glasses poured for the three of us. Two vintages of Opus One each. The 2004, and the 2008.
The 2004 is a blend of 86% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Merlot, 4% Petit Verdot, 2% Cabernet Franc, and 1% Malbec. It has 25 days skin contact and was barrel aged 17 months in new French oak barrels. (PS: The barrels used to age wines at Opus One are not re-used for Opus One. They are used once and then sold to other wineries.
The 2008 is a blend of 86% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Petit Verdot, 4% Merlot, 1% Cabernet Franc, and 1% Malbec. It has 22 days skin contact and was barrel aged 17 months in new French oak.
I could list the tasting notes written in my press kit, or even list some of mine, but I really believe wine tastes different for everyone. I will tell you that I preferred the 2008 over the 2004, even from the first smell. Even as both wines oxidized in the time we were sitting there. From beginning to end, for me, 2008 won hands down. I won’t go as far as to say that the 2008 Opus One was the best thing I have ever tasted, but I will definitely put it in the top 3. I will put the experience and the tour and how thrilled I was to be there with Andy as my favorite so far.
Another point I want to make is that this wine is so balanced and brilliant, it doesn’t need food. In fact, food would definitely mess things up.
We sat in our tasting room and sipped the wines and reflected on them. We had containers in which to pour any wine we didn’t want/like, etc. Who ever uses those? Especially tasting Opus One? 😉
At the end of the tasting, Adrian directed us to the terrace on top of the building. We stood there and enjoyed the view, and then Adrian brought us another tasting! This time it was the 2003 vintage of Opus One. The 2003 is a blend of 91% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot, 2% Merlot, and 1% Malbec. I liked it the least of all the vintages I tried, but even at that it was still divine!
I highly recommend the tour and tasting, as it is only $40 per person at the time of this column. It’s one of my best memories in the Napa Valley/Oakville area. 🙂 Cheers!!