When I met with Opus One CEO David Pearson (see my previous post) and winemaker Michael Silacci, they had arranged for a select vertical of their wines.
I had also asked Pearson, partly in jest, if we could taste the wines blind with a few ringers. Many winemakers and winery owners are reluctant to put their wines into such situations outside of private staff tastings.
So he set up two tastings. The first was a flight of seven vintages of Opus, dating to 1980, and the second was a flight of six Napa Valley competitors.
The Opus tasting was revealing on a couple of counts. The 1980, the winery’s second release, was in magnificent shape—the best I’ve tasted from this vintage. Not long ago I had a bottle of 1979, the debut vintage, and it too was in great shape.
The 1980 is still dark-colored, with a perfumed aroma, ripe currant and a hint of raisin; it turned to tobacco and tar on the finish. We all agreed it was in superb shape. It could easily last another decade.
The next wine, the 1997, really fooled me. Its initial loamy earth and currant aromas and its deep, plush concentration and thick tannins had me thinking this was a great 1997. When it was released, I rated it 96 points—one of Opus’ best vintages ever. But it became apparent with a few minutes of aeration that this wine, or at least this bottle, had a serious problem with brettanomyces. It became progressively dry, leathery and bitter. I found it sadly disappointing and, for me, undesirable.
Pearson said that the 1997 vintage is one of the years that fell in the middle of the winery’s brett problems, which occurred in the 1990s. The wine can show well, he said, but we all agreed that the brett in this bottle was over the top. I imagine some people will either love it for its density or be put off by its brettlike character.
The 2001 (89 points on release) showed better than when it came out. Intense, rich and balanced, with spicy currant and a hint of mocha. The finish was a bit clipped, but overall I thought it was borderline outstanding.
The 2002 (86 on release) also showed well, though it clearly needs time. Intense, firm, tight and compact, with the same flavor profile of spicy currant. May surprise with age.
The 2003 (87 on release) tasted a little better than when I reviewed it earlier this year. Like the 2002, it was tight and compact. A very good wine, but it left me hoping for more depth on the finish.
The 2004 (which I have previously tasted from barrel) was my favorite—rich, supple and plush, with currant, chocolate and ripe, fleshy tannins. It should be the best Opus since 1997, when the brett took over.
The 2005 (also not yet rated from bottle) was sleek and elegant, with great balance and depth and fine-grained tannins. Many 2005s I’ve tried are a shade less opulent than 2004 or 2002, and they are lower in alcohol as well. This wine impressed me for its elegance and balance. Should be outstanding.
The second flight was totally blind for me; not even the vintage was revealed until after we tasted the wines and discussed them. Pearson knew which wines were included, but not the order. It turned out to be a flight of 2002s.
Wine No. 1: Very dark, rich and seductive. Plush, with layers of earthy currant, spice, cedar and tobacco. Great depth and a long, persistent finish. We all agreed this was a terrific wine in that bold, assertive style, power with finesse. From Bryant Family.
Wine No. 2: Restrained, elegant and compact, but very complex and deliberate, with spicy currant and fine grain tannins. I guessed Opus, and it was.
Wine No. 3: Very rich and expansive, plush and deep, with loamy currant, hints of toffee and a long, persistent finish. The group favorite. From Araujo.
Wine No. 4: Ultraripe, rich and floral aromas, though not as showy on the palate. Seemed closed down and didn’t compare with the other wines in the flight. "An off bottle?" I wrote. From Colgin IX.
Wine No. 5: Very dark in color, rich without being heavy. Deeply concentrated, intense mocha, currant and vanilla bean notes, turning elegant on the finish. From Merus.
Wine No. 6: Excellent aromas of red currant, earth and spice, with a touch of herb. Fine balance and depth. It seemed to lose a bit on the finish. From Rubicon.
The first of the two tastings left me impressed by the 1980 Opus and its ageability, along with the thought that the 2004 might be a tremendous wine.
The second tasting showed that the management team is still game to face the stiffest competition, and that it is determined to prove Opus' critics wrong. The price isn't about to change, but the wines could and should be better.