An Eye-Opening Tasting of Opus One

Opus One BottleWe were honoured to welcome David Pearson, CEO of Opus One, to our offices earlier this month and our boardroom was packed with staff keen to learn more about the property and, of course, to taste the wines. In terms of a selection it was a real treat: a vertical of Opus One featuring the 1980, 2004, 2005, 2008 and 2009 vintages. David was appointed CEO of Opus One in 2004 and is the first person to have complete responsibility for this iconic wine.



I am a great fan of verticals: there is no better way to learn about the characteristics of a property, how well the wine ages and how it varies from vintage to vintage. David added an extra dimension here; there are, in his words, three chapters of Opus One: 1979-1990, 1991-2003 and 2004 to the present day. In other words we could not only taste maturity and vintage variation, we could taste the development of the property itself.

A pioneering joint venture between Baron Philippe de Rothschild (of Mouton) and Robert Mondavi, the first vintage of Opus One was the 1979. The inaugural vintage wine was made by Mouton-Rothschild winemaker Lucien Sionneau and Robert’s son, Timothy. This in itself was a challenge – the decision on the final blend of the wine apparently necessitated locking the pair of them in a room together and refusing them exit until they could agree. This took some time, though the results spoke for themselves. Both this and the 1980 were released together in 1983.

Early Opus One was roughly 95% Cabernet, 5% Merlot and the style was very Bordelais. The 1980 was testament to this; indeed it even showed a hint of what I would call mature Mouton mintiness – it would have been very easy to miss this for a top, mature claret if we had tasted blind.

The second chapter of Opus One really begins with the opening of its own winery in 1991 – prior to this the wine was made in the Mondavi cellars – and Michael puts it very nicely: “Opus One found itself in the mid 1990s”. In that they had found their style, found their feet.

The third chapter, indeed the current chapter, begins at the beginning of the 21st century. “Modern” Opus is rather special. It has found its character, its style, and the winemakers have fine-tuned their art. And, of course, the vines are older. It takes time to found a winery and, even with the resources and experience of the Mondavi and Mouton-Rothschild teams, David was keen to emphasise that his peers in Bordeaux have had centuries of practice at what they do, whereas Opus have had just over twenty years.

This was an eye-opening tasting. Even amongst the three older chaps in the room, with 60 years in the wine trade between us, none of us had tasted a vertical of Opus One before.

1980 Opus One

“Still vibrant in colour, still very much alive. A cedary, herby nose; restrained. Very Bordelais in style. Quite sweet on the palate with a slightly burnt edge. There is depth and length here. Impressive and just 12.7%.”

Joss Fowler, FINE+RARE

2004 Opus One

“Intense and quite distinctive on the nose. Dark, very ripe fruit and spice. Lots of fruit – warm berries, raisins – and some development too; nutty notes. Ripe again on the palate with a firm, compact core of fruit. Underlying acidity. Still young, still some baby fat. Lovely and this will go far.”

Joss Fowler, FINE+RARE

2005 Opus One

“This is a little broader and more expansive though at the same time a little more restrained. There is a great deal underneath. Firm on the palate, more linear in style. Arguably the better wine for those that prefer a purer style, though the 04 is the more seductive.”

Joss Fowler, FINE+RARE

2008 Opus One

“Very intense, almost heady nose. Herby and a hint of mintiness. Very ripe fruit and a creamy texture in the mouth. This is a big wine. For me this is a cross between the 04 and the 05 and is very complete.”

Joss Fowler, FINE+RARE

2009 Opus One

“Rich dark fruit nose with some violet perfume. Tight. Quite herbaceous, though not so much so as the 2008. Structured on the palate with lots of grip and lovely seductive sweet fruit. Clearly very young. Perhaps the most serious wine so far and this will last and last. Very impressive. Excellent.”

Joss Fowler, FINE+RARE