Mr. Pearson’s Opus

David Pearson has been the CEO of Opus One since February of 2004. His job is both simple at heart and complex of mind. Two legendary wine men, California’s Robert Mondavi and Bordeaux’s Baron Philippe de Rothschild combined (in 1978) to create one of Napa Valley’s most iconic wines. “At its core, Opus One is an idea,” relates Mr. Pearson. The wine is a blend of Mondavi and Mouton, a reflection of the character of two families.

Pearson is responsible for all production, marketing, sales and administrative activities at Opus One. He is the caretaker of a single bottle of wine. Can there be another brand, anywhere in the world (not called a First Growth) that carries such weight or specificity of concentration? The job requires serious moxie and intuition. The soft-spoken David Pearson is Opus One. That much is clear. Thirty-five years later “we’re just at the beginning of the process,” explains Pearson, “In evolution, of developing this great marriage.” For the uninitiated, Opus One is a Bordeaux table blend of the traditional five varieties, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Malbec, made in a “California style.”

Opus One Vineyard Photo: http://en.opusonewinery.com/

Opus One Vineyard
Photo: http://en.opusonewinery.com/

It started as a pure concept, with no actual vineyard, in the Baron’s bedroom back in the 1970’s. “The wine is a child that resembles its parents,” notes Pearson. He sees its growth has now reached a maturity stage for individual vintages to be judged as either that child or as an adult. Pearson, Craig de Blois and Mark Coster of Noble Estates brought four vintages of Opus One to Luma Restaurant on March 27th. Pearson asked that the group of sommeliers and wine scribes decide which of these wines have left their parent’s home. The exercise seemed simple enough, especially with a level of clarity made readily available by the fact that all four vintages poured were fostered and nurtured by current winemaker Michael Silacci. Silacci joined Opus One in March 2001 as director of viticulture and enology and became winemaker in January of 2004. After tasting a stunning set from 2010, 2009, 2006 and 2001, the solicited clarity was revealed.

All natural acidity, an ever-earlier picking stratagem and less frequent racking define the Opus direction. The Opus team considers their winemaking “minimalist” and though in wine-speak that is certainly a relative term, as a group the wines do present with a meritorious level of fruit purity. That can’t be said for many Napa Valley brands that seek more hedonism than is often necessary. Saying that the price of a bottle is inflated by a historical elevage of personality and fashion branding neither does Opus One an injustice nor does it relegate the commenter as a castaway to a deserted island. Opus One is a brilliant and gorgeous red. It’s also very expensive.

Opus One Tasting at Luma Restaurant Photo: Eric Vellend

Opus One Tasting at Luma Restaurant
Photo: Eric Vellend

In September of 2012 I had the pleasure of tasting the Opus One 1989. My tasting note:

Opus One 1989 Unbelievable. A lesson in Napa iconoclasm. What every great 22-year old New World wine should strive to become. In harmony with every part of itself; fruit, tannin, acidity. Beauty within and without. Dark, sultry, full of all things berry and oak. The full gamut of red and black fruit, vanilla, mocha and chocolate. Like walking into your childhood and being handed the keys to Charlie’s factory. Another M gem.

Notes from the March 2014 tasting: Opus One, Napa Valley (26310, $399.95 – 2009 vintage)

2010 (WineAlign) The blend is Cabernet Sauvignon (84 per cent), Cabernet Franc (5.5), Merlot (5.5), Petit Verdot (4) and Malbec (1). Fiercely approachable, a rope of gemstones falling effortlessly into the palm of a velvet glove. Imminently modern, reeking of toothsome Napa and working without Old World parental support. Dense texture, high acidity and exceptional length. Layers upon layers of fruit powered by audacity and prowess. Even this formidable ’10 will struggle to find immunity from the weird vintage. It’s ripe, anything but green and manages an admirable level of elegance. Lives for today. Will it age like its older siblings? Yes, but not as long.

2009 (WineAlign) The blend is Cabernet Sauvignon (81 per cent), Cabernet Franc (9), Petit Verdot (6), Merlot (3) and Malbec (1). The immediate and obvious cerebration is all about its incredible sense of balance. A garden of perfume, the most Bordeaux-bent of the tasting and a mineral reverberation carried on through a seemingly never-ending finish. Blessed by a long and sweet chain of tannin. This ’09 has that Mediterranean brush stroke of garrigue and black olive smothered by a smear of sun-drenched California fruit. Another challenging vintage where picking time was so crucial. That September 21st to October 20th window must have been the right one.

Opus One Bottle

2006 (WineAlign) The blend is Cabernet Sauvignon (77 per cent), Merlot (12), Cabernet Franc (5), Petit Verdot (3) and Malbec (3). A kinaesthesia with age is sent forward by the tertiary complexity of its make-up. Dusty, still marked by acidity, along with a note of toffee and a raisining of the fruit. Savoury too, in gentle middle-age, it gives away strange sensations and aromas that suggest a potpourri of powders; rose, bacon, espresso and Filé. Full of grace and contentment. A cool year that saw no end-of-year heat spike, this is a most unique Opus one.

2001 (WineAlign) The blend is Cabernet Sauvignon (87 per cent), Merlot (6), Malbec (3), Cabernet Franc (2) and Petit Verdot (2). The ’01 conjures up instant funk and “the beat is really soothing.” The Bretty streak stretches, dissipates and is cleansed as the wine aerates, but the groove lingers on. An Opus that clearly states “I got my mind made up.” Of the vineyard and for the vineyard, with a note of wet forest. The Bar Mitzvah boy is acting as one would expect, as an agent to a coming of age law, like a leather satchel filled with dehydrating, concentrated fruit. Swirl some more and that jerky is then drizzled by a Mickey of berry liqueur and dusted by 13 year-old dirt. A vintage defined by 14 per cent alcohol, still vital, powerful and neo-gritty. Forty-five minutes in, the lingering funk is fading but the thought, the chalk and the grain sends this Opus One back across the Atlantic, to the world of Mouton.

Good to go!

https://twitter.com/mgodello

Two dinners, 16 diners, 18 wines

The Gilead Café and Bistro’s Jamie Kennedy and Ken Steele (photograph courtesy of Jo Dickins)

as seen on canada.com

This memory goes back a bit in time. Here are two wine and food out-of-body experiences. Vine and dine encounters of the fortunate kind. The Gilead Café and Bistro’s Jamie Kennedy and Ken Steele worked an enticing concomitant seven-course tasting menu alongside 11 superstars, including a First Growth and two legends of Napa vinolore. Less than a week earlier Chef C and Sous E prepared the simplest, most extraordinary dishes to reign in seven stellar and all together unique bottles.

The Gilead Café and Bistro (photograph courtesy of Jo Dickins)

Le Mesnil Blancs de Blancs Brut Champagne (88) Sweet citrus nose, delicate and fine mousse, tart apples on a finessed palate. A NV to sip with food, though we downed the splash pour before any arrived.

WHITEFISH ROE & ORGANIC EGG TORTE, chervil, crisp toast

Flight One

Creekside Estates Viognier Reserve Queenston Road 2009 (89) Citrus slides straight from the bubbly into this limited production (80 cases) St. David’s Bench beauty. Pale yellow as if Clare Valley Riesling. The scent of Sevilla orange blossom. Organza of downy acidity. A unique local savoir-faire. Thin and tin, as in contrary viscosity and subtle minerality. Like petals falling from the flower almost before the touch of the hand.

Norman Hardie Pinot Noir Cuvee ‘L’ 2007 (86) The candied Sonoma nose and beguiling scents of spice islands made lift for heights great. A Prince Edward County celebrity so imagine the long faces when the fruit was absent at the first sip. Time is a recently opened wine’s friend so waited we did but never the twain did meet. More cogitation, then a vacuum of acidity in a flat finish. If closed down, reprieve on a round globe awaits. If lost, a flat Pinot pre-Columbus earth.

GRILLED ASPARAGUS, yam, white mushroom sauce

Flight Two

The general origins of these three wines were blindly determined but each not in the speculated glass. How is it that eight wine geeks can have their seasoning shattered by a single flight? “All the things I thought I’d figured out, I have to learn again.” The heart of the matter.

Oyosoos Larose Le Grand Vin 2003 (91) One of three in a variable flight to confound. Black cherry in clusters, a power forward fruit first step then backed by biting tannins and striking acidity. Could have sworn it was the Napa. Held its own against two serious contenders. Eye opening as to the power of BC.

Von Strasser Cabernet Sauvignon Diamond Mountain 2000 (90) The cigar box and mineral tone threw me in front of the train with the surety I was nosing a Cos ringer. Smoky, distinct graphite and fruit half hidden suggested a 2000 Left Bank not nearly in its prime. Wrong!

Château Pontet Canet, 5th Growth, Paulliac 2000 (93) Was the best wine of the three, even when I thought it was the Larose! Poise, balance, length, insert fourth cliché here. Still youthful, a beautiful teenager before the awkward years. Will be seamless at 20.

LAMB, new potatoes, herb paste

J.K. BEEF SHORT RIB, marrow sauce

Flight Three

Château Haut-Brion, 1st Growth, Péssac-Leognan 1990 (98) Are there words to describe a wine so sublime? The essence of fresh picked berries from the edge of a forest so silent. The embodiment of still life beauty, as a bowl of plums and cherries just picked from the tree. The vehemence of the Haut-Brion in prime will remain entrenched as memorabilia for as long as I can produce cognitive thought. Why do I wax sentimental? “How can love survive in such a graceless age?” I thank CL for the opportunity and no man who partook should forget.

Dominus 1990 (93) Incredulous thought. Could it be? Is that dank and dour odour the beast within? Patience, patience. Now five minutes in and the wet duff smell vanishes. The wafting emergence of a cracking covey of nose candy. Heavy sigh of relief. Without warning the fruit eddies out and it’s gone. What the Sam Hill is going on here? Then 15 minutes later it oscillates again, scrambles from the depths and treads water effortlessly for the duration. Exhausting. Thanks M for providing the skiff.

CHEESE, pied de vent, sieur de duplessis, goat taurine, cow’s creamery cheddar

One More Red

Opus One 1989 (95) Unbelievable. A lesson in Napa iconoclasm. What every great 22-year old New World wine should strive to become. In harmony with every part of itself; fruit, tannin, acidity. Beauty within and without. Dark, sultry, full of all things berry and oak. The full gamut of red and black fruit, vanilla, mocha and chocolate. Like walking into your childhood and being handed the keys to Charlie’s factory. Another M gem.

APRICOT BEIGNETS, dulce de leche ice cream

Inniskilin Riesling Icewine 1998

Hugel Riesling SGN 2000

CROSTINI, goat cheese, honeycomb, fleur de sel, olive oil

Charles Baker (Stratus) Picone Vineyard Riesling 2008 (89) “Whoo-ahhh” Mojito, green apple skin scent of a Riesling. Seductive to sip, a bodacious body of influence, then back-end bite. A wolf pack in sheep’s clothing.

FRESH TAGLIATELLE, morels

Domaine Leflaive Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Les Folatières 2008 (92) Restrained but tropical nose. So far from show time. In rehearsal the acidity is followed by fruit. By late decade opening night will display impeccable balance.

Closson Chase Iconoclast Chardonnay 2005 (90) Antithesis of the Leflaive; fruit first, acidity last. Bananas and I’m curious as George to behold PEC fruit yielding such a determined, complex specimen? Fortuitous choice to open now as I fear oxidization is around the bend. Still in a state of aggrandizement. Plaudits for Paskus.

Foxen Sea Smoke Vineyard Pinot Noir 2005 (93)  Classic Santa Rita Hills candied red apple, sugaring pomegranate and fresh ground spices. A Michelin three-star complex dish with layers of fruit, spice and finished with a rosy-red rhubarb sauce. Full of life. Finishes long and true. Terrific example.

BRISKET AND FLAT IRON SLIDERS, american cheese, wonder buns, side of grilled raddicchio and belgian endive

Château Cos d’Estournel, 2nd Growth, St Estèphe 2003 (92-94) You could set your alarm clock, for tomorrow morning or after a cryogenic freeze, by the Cos ’03. A reasonable practicum suggests opening it, have a night’s rest, to wake six hours later and be told its story. Smokey, gripped by graphite and tannin, impossibly structured out of the 2003 heat. Showing no signs of age and despite warnings to drink up, the ’03 Cos will deliver for years to come.

Ca’ Bianca Barolo 1997 (91) Not the rose petals and violets of your zio‘s Barolo but bigger than your head cheese. Funky resin, more than raisins yes, raisins with a college education. A Pudd’Nhead Wilson moniker getting figgy with it. Barbaric and fantastic.

CHEESES, monforte dairy

Gaja Sito Moresco 2008 (89) A tale of two Cabs (Sauv and Franc) was my first thought but cut the Dickens out of my finger if that impression was way off the mark. The Langhe blend is Nebbiolo/Cab Sauv/Merlot and only Gaja would have first dared to trod such territory. Smooth, easy to consume and could have suffered as an admonished follower to the line-up previous. Stands tall, welcoming the tang of the formaggi.

MACERATED ONTARIO STRAWBERRIES, vanilla ice cream

Good to go!

Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Desert island wines?

Vertical Restaurant

Vertical Restaurant

 

http://blogs.canada.com/2012/05/02/napa-valley-cabernet-sauvignon-desert-island-wines/

 

Comparative 2008 Napa Cabernet Tasting

By Featured Writer Jascha Baraness

Vertical Restaurant, 100 King Street West, (416) 214-2252

 

The comparative/competitive tasting event was hosted by Merryvale winery of Napa Valley, California.  An assembly of 30 Sommeliers sat down to a blind tasting split into two flights. We were to rank our favoured wines from most to least.

The first blind flight consisted of five Napa Cabernet Sauvignons from the 2008 vintage, all from houses of great repute.

Before I continue, I’d like to mention that I started out by taking detailed tasting notes (sight, nose, taste, finish and overall impressions) but that after the 4th wine, I realized that the differences in the notes were so minute. It became abundantly clear that notes were going to be futile in helping me pick my favourites.

All the wines were very young, taught, with firm tannins and could certainly use another ten years in bottle.  I’d like to also let you know that my red wine preference tends to lean towards the old world. I look for high acidity, austerity and fruit as secondary, so, although I could appreciate the quality of the winemaking, I wouldn’t take any of them to a desert island.  This was an afternoon that tested even the most discerning of palates.

Duckhorn Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2008

Duckhorn
Napa Valley
Cabernet Sauvignon 2008

 

 

 

The wines of the first flight were: (listed in my order of most to least favourite – retail prices attached)

  1.    Duckhorn ($80)
  2.    Merryvale ($90)
  3.    Caymus ($80)
  4.    Cakebread ($99)
  5.    Joseph Phelps ($75)

     

 

 

 

 

 The second flight consisted of six prestige cuvées, all from great Napa houses.  Once the wines were revealed, I was pleased to find out that my palate had not let me down, and that the Napa prestige cuvées that I’ve always felt an affinity for, were the ones that came out on top of my list.

Merryvale Profile 2008 - Business Wire

Merryvale Profile 2008 - Business Wire

 

 

  1. Profile, Merryvale ($180)
  2. Dominus ($150)
  3. Insignia ($199)
  4. Quintessa ($120)
  5. Opus One ($365?!)
  6. Caymus Special Selection ($120)

 

It was an enlightening tasting that showed similarities, yet subtle differences in wine making techniques.  Like all great Napa wines, there were no issues with grape ripeness, however the challenge remains balancing fruit and acidity and the better examples were able to negotiate that tightrope seemingly with ease.

It was a purple-toothed farewell as I thanked the organizers and made my way home.

 

Thanks Jascha, good to go!

 

 

Seeing Red on a Green Day

 

Friday March 16, 2012

 

http://blogs.canada.com/2012/03/16/seeing-red-on-a-green-day/

 

A link to the March 17, 2012 VINTAGES release:

http://www.vintages.com/circular/circ_main.shtml

 

If only it were just the reds of Spain falling mainly on these VINTAGES pages. Kudos to our very own Friendly Wine Giant David Lawrason for calling out the LCBO by noting that something is amiss in the land of the monopoly. The catalogue does indeed look like a Food and Drink issue, minus Lucy and Nancy’s journalistic integrity. Perhaps it’s the social responsibility stance that drives the heavy food component but this is the business of wine promotion and selling. So the question begs. Who’s penning this plane crash with no survivors? Poor Bob Homme must be rolling in his grave. That said, four big picks for Pattys everywhere.

 

Bodega del Abad Dom Bueno Crianza 2001 (244699, $14.95) the red is my 2nd Abad reco and Godello abides. My favourite Wine Ponce exclaims “…most $15 wines are not built to last, but this red still has the good stuff.” From Bierzo, a Mencia munificent spice box of aromas and flavours, savoury, herbal, smoothed out by its age. Great IVR* I say.  mjg 88

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

San Filippo Le Lucere Brunello di Montalcino 2006 (146175, $49.95) is the better of the two ISD Brunelli. Suckling (95) calls it “…refined and gorgeous.” Sanderson of WS (93) says “…dense and tannic, with a long spicy finish.” Kyle Phillips-IWR (2 stars) writes “…it’s an austere wine, in a traditional key, and very young.” Biggest shout out comes by way of Jonathan of the Grape Life (97), “…excellent finesse. Balanced fruit, acidity, tannins…rather moreish.” Entrenches me in that recurring dream, the one inside Enotecca La Fortezza, tasting through an endless sea of Brunelli.

Lucere Brunello 2006

 

St. Hallett Blackwell Shiraz 2009 (535104, $29.95) bests Barossa at this price point and on that limb for matter, anywhere in the land of Oz. From lands Ebenezer, Seppeltsfield and Greenock, receives extended elevage (20 months) in American Oak and shows off like a multi-coloured bruise. A favourite of Aussie writers from Perth to Sydney. RJ (96), JH (96), GW (94), JL (94), KG (93) and Sarah the Wine Detective, “…well-defined and bright, it’s a thoroughly modern Barossa bruiser!”

Hallet Blackwell Shiraz 2009

 

 

Other Wines Of Note:

Opus One 2008 (158063, $364.95) is what? 

Quintarelli Valpolicella Superiore 2002 (986117, $79.95) price is spot on

Concha Y Toro Don Melchor Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 (315176, $79.95) tag has burst through the roof. I paid $42 for the 2001!

 

 

 

IVR* – Vintage Direct Intrigue-to-Value Ratio

 

 

 

 

Good to go!