The Discerning Lush : Only Opus One
This week, being a bit of a Napa noob, I was thrilled to have been extended an invitation to attend an Opus One mini vertical at the Dynasty Club organised by Joseph Luk and Simon Mccarthy from Hong Kong wine retailer, Cuvees, and Opus One representatives, the enigmatic Laurent de Lassus, and a very knowledgeable Yvonne Chiong Mougin.
Opus One is a Napa heavyweight, the carefully crafted product of Mouton Rothschild’s Baron Philippe De Rothschild and Robert Mondavi’s endeavours to produce a top red Bordeaux blend in the vineyards of Napa. Napa’s trademark juicy Cabernet Sauvignon is the backbone of this wine, with other classic Bordeaux varietals, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and surprisingly Malbec, making up the rest of the blend. Opus One’s first vintage was in 1979, with miniscule quantities; production now stands at around 25,000 cases per year- still relatively small. What struck me immediately in the evening’s lineup was the power and finesse of the wines, the silky tanins, and the consistency through vintage variations, as well as the ability to be drunk relatively young and enjoyed at various points in its timeline as it matures. As the evening opened with the 2011, we commented on how surprisingly drinkable such a powerful young wine was, though ideally I’d give it a few more years. By comparison, 2011 cru classe Bordeauxs are likely to offer considerably less pleasure at this stage in their drinking life.
A note on decanting- if you have read my previous post on Rioja, you will know that I firmly believe that decanting decisions for powerful wines can significantly alter the aromas and flavours. I have included the decanting treatment below each note.
Striking aromas of luscious and juicy dark fruit, damson, plums, blackberries, sweet spice and sweet vanilla. On the palate- velvety texture, round soft tannins, quite mouth filling, and noticeable sweetness of spice and ripe (maybe overripe?) fruit, though backbone of acidity still keeps things fresh; pronounced cedar. Laurent says this was a challenging vintage- well this is pretty excellent outcome. This wine is effusive, and very young right now. Give it another 3-5 years for the various elements to meld together and for its power to start moderating into elegance. Interesting to see its development in 5 years.
Decanted for around 2 hours.
2009 – magnum
Served immediately after the 2011, the 2009 Opus clearly trades boldness for greater finesse. The 2009 Opus is silky, succulent, and powerful. It displays that trademark core of juicy black fruit, vanilla and sweet spice, supported by almost technically crafted structural elements- soft soft tannins, balanced acidity. Seems very balanced, integrated even at this stage of development. Good finish. Two words to describe this wine- power and elegance.
Decanted for around 2 hours.
2008 – magnum
2008 saw some very challenging weather conditions with 50% of the crop being lost to disastrous frost. The resulting wine is clearly a more restrained Opus One, slightly lighter in body (though bearing in mind all Opus Ones are fairly full bodied) with a certain freshness. Tannins are noticeably firmer and less svelte. While the core flavor profile is similar to the previous wines, the emphasis is more floral than fruity. Long, persistent finish. I like this wine for its freshness and elegance.
Invariably, our discussion veers towards whether this is a Bordeaux-style of Opus One. I think its relatively restrained nature, less velvety tannins and bright acidity all lend to that, but this is still an Opus One- a fair comparison would probably be to a post-2005 modern style Bordeaux. It does remind me of some of the more fruit driven riper Bordeaux vintages, such as 2009.
Opened, left to stand and decanted immediately before drinking.
1999 – magnum
After the 3 younger post-2000s vintages, the savoury, earthy and leathery aromas on the nose of the 1999 were fairly obvious. On the palate, this was complemented by a good concentration of juicy black fruit, sweet vanilla, black plum and iris; soft but structured tannins like the wines before it. Much more evolved than the last wine (you would expect with 9 years ahead of it), and well integrated. Very expressive, and a long finish. Seems mid-weight for an Opus One. Comparisons were invariably made to Bordeaux, and as the wine evolved in the glass there were some notes of coffee, smoke, wood shavings starting to emerge, but at this stage the Opus 1999 is still more about fruit and leather with more complexity to evolve. (I wonder if we had decanted it longer, the profile may have been quite different?) This wine has a good decade ahead of it.
Opened and left to stand. Not decanted and poured straight out of bottle. (I felt this one could have done with a bit of air through decanting. The Opus ’99 is still a very robust wine, and decanting it would help to open up some of tightness on the nose and palate.)