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FICOFI: Opus One 2012, ’09, ’07, ’05 & 1996

March 13, 2016

When one speaks of the influence of terroir on the style of wine, the focus is usually on the geological elements of soil composition and weather or micro-climatic changes. However, a third factor is often overlooked: the Human element in winemaking. No matter where the location or what the weather pattern may have been, Man must always decide on which appropriate strategy to adopt in winemaking.

Le Club FICOFI Opus One Dinner 7 March 2016 Sing_0532

With David Pearson

And as the behaviour, tastes and preferences of Man are inevitably shaped by the cultural influences of individual Lands, the style of wine made will always reflect the intrinsic nature of the Land and its people. This is the fundamental reason why any attempt to compare a New World Bordeaux blend with an actual claret always breaks down. When tasting a wine, one must always accept this individualistic streak that is part and parcel of terroir. Thus, a claret will always reflect the French taste for subtlety and balance in its cuisine, as much as an Italian vino would incorporate its colourful culture, a Spanish red the outward passion of its people, the brawn of Down Under in an Australian red, the methodical, industrious and frank exposition of the American in a Napa cabernet. I was reminded of the above during a dinner of Opus One vertical organised by FICOFI on 07 March 2016 at Prive Grill, Keppel Marina Singapore, when David Pearson, its CEO since 2004, spoke about its mission to find the Californian expression in its wines. For me, it was great to be able to meet up again with David, whom I had been acquainted with since a lunch at Club 33, OCBC Centre, back in 2006 that was washed down with a trio of Opus One. Since then, David and I have never failed to exchange greeting cards every year, with Opus One now printing its very own Chinese New Year cards.

In the world of exquisite fine wines, Opus One is a relative newcomer, having been formed only in 1979 as a joint partnership between the great Robert Mondavi and the flamboyant Baron Philippe de Rothschild of Mouton Rothschild. IMG-20160307-WA0008While the initial releases were, indeed, a conjoint collaboration, Opus One has long since been 100 percent made in USA since 2005, when the Opus One Accord was reached between its parent company and the Rothschild family, allowing Opus One full independence in its winemaking and administration. Opus One is a true Bordeaux blend farmed in four vineyards totalling 68 hectares, although the proportion of cabernet sauvignon is considerably higher (more than 80 percent) than a true claret. An attack of phylloxera (ironical, since it was the phylloxera-resistant rootstock from America that had resurrected Bordeaux in the 19th century after this deadly bug had inflicted vast damage) mandated extensive replanting of its vines, such that the present average age of the vines is only 19 years. While tasting these wines, what struck me consistently was how well they reflect the American character: solidly crafted wines with bold structures and powerful masculine lines, yet capable of giving way to a softer, brighter orchard-driven complex that quite perfectly defines the energetic sun-soaked Californian disposition. In that sense, Opus One truly fulfils its mission of capturing the Californian terroir in its wines.

2007 Delamotte Brut Blanc de Blancs. Made by the sister house of the legendary Salon, this champagne from the Côtes des Blancs of Le Mesnil-sur-Oger fleshes out with ample overtones of clear citrus and white flowers with a forward balance, fairly smooth, broad and gentle on the palate with notes of morning dew, its verve and vibrancy enhanced by understated chalky minerality, never too dry. Quite excellent.


2012 Opus One. This wine opens with a brilliant fragrance that suggests sweet blueberries, violets and enamel, concentrated with fabulous intensity and forward balance on the palate with traces of graphite and earth, framed by tight but very well-managed tannins, finishing with great persistence. It became more open as it sat in the glass, exuding a sharp exciting glow of ripe berries that leapt out of the glass whilst it grew more gentle and lush on the palate. Superb.

2009 Opus One. Arresting aromas of red and dark roses and camphor with a dense core of ripe fruit of excellent depth and intensity, tarry with a mild medicinal and graphite trace, the vanilla from the new oak still evident. Still primal, developing a thrilling silkiness but it began to fade a little after some time. May be the beginning of an awkward period for this wine.

2007 Opus One. Dark roses and raspberries dominate on the nose, leading to dark chocolate, mocha and sweet incense of fabulous intensity on the palate, tapering towards a minty, spicy finish. It became more placid and relaxed after some time as dusty forest tones and wild berries took over with further notes of violets amidst a mild herbaceous trace. Needs more time in bottle.

2005 Opus One. This wine is developing very well, marked by a welcoming tone of warm red fruits, ripe and rounded, very well balanced and proportioned and gentle as well, layered with violets and plush red fruits, more lush, open and minerally over time, just a tad short. Distinctly feminine without being too engaging.

1996 Opus One. Quite a different style of wine, much more in the spirit of the Old World, the only one in tonight’s line-up that represented the conjoint effort then and the only one without petit verdot in its blend. The 1996 is marked by an attractive earthy pungency on the nose with some degree of muskiness, though definitely not corked nor tainted. Dark berries dominate on the palate with some bright spots, sporting a rich vein of fabulous currants and violets with excellent linearity, totally harmonious, beautifully proportioned and balanced. Will some of the later vintages develop into this refined and elegant beauty? I’ll put my money on the 2012.

1996 Ch d’Yquem. This beautiful Sauternes is imbued with an abundance of apricot and cinnamon of outstanding depth with a dash of jackfruit and pineapples, enveloped in a heady bouquet of rich petroleum fumes though it is fairly relaxed on the palate, underscored by powerful tones of nectarine, remarkably balanced, finishing with great persistence. Outstanding.


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