Wine Rating: 93
The winery choice for this review is a top 5 favorite of mine. Why I haven’t written about them before is lost on me. It’s one of the most well-known California wineries in the world. The undertaking from the beginning is one of the most famous in modern winemaking history.
Founded in 1979, Opus One was a combined endeavor between Robert Mondavi and Baron Philippe de Rothschild from legendary Chateau Mouton Rothschild. The inspiration was a long-time vision of both winemaking families, and from Opus One’s first vintage in 1979, in Oakville, California, it was clear that the idea was to make a wine with appeal that signified the best of both Bordeaux and Napa Valley. Even the label represents an assembly of the two legendary families, since the label shows a silhouetted profile of both Robert Mondavi and Baron Philippe de Rothschild. Opus One has earned great acclaim over the years.
The ownership of my first Opus One comes from a very generous person I met. Through my college years, I worked for one of the most renowned California wine stores, Morry of Naples, located in Long Beach. The level of wine expertise one needed to help a customer was prudent. If you didn’t know anything about the varietal or region of a wine a customer needed, the policy was to find someone who did. This ego-deflating task would drive me to learn as much as I could, and as fast as I could, about the wines of the world. Through all of the training and helping customers who wanted the best wines that were produced, I always headed to Northern California. I also did my due diligence on the remarkable Bordeauxs and Rhones of France, the Shirazes of Australia, and to a discerning few the traditionally made Sakes of Japan, where the traditional method is putting rice in one’s mouth, chewing on it and then spitting it into a vat. The enzymes in the saliva help the fermentation process. It’s called chewing and brewing.
At Morry’s we also made deliveries to a discerning clientele. One evening I was on point to make all the night’s deliveries. This was not such a bad thing; occasionally the tips from posh residents were more than I made for the whole night in wages. You must realize that the area Morry’s was located in was very upper middle-class. The types of customers that walked into the store were doctors, lawyers, celebrities, and the like. When you were dealing with this level of shopper, they were always right. If they wanted something we did not have, we would make damn sure that the next time they came in we had it available. Their patronage was that important to the success of the business, and we obliged. We accommodated them as best we could because that is how we were trained. I’ve carried that business wisdom with me ever since.
On this night, I had to make a delivery to the famous Water Tower home. If you drive down the Pacific Coast Highway between the cities of Seal Beach and Huntington Beach, there is a small town in-between called Sunset Beach, a great little beach community that has great surf (I surf at Anderson St.) and old school eating joints like Captain Jack’s and Harbor House Café. Also there is an old, very large, water tower that in the mid-80s was converted into a 3-story house.
I parked below the tower, unloaded the van, and took the elevator up to the first floor where you enter a kitchen area that moves into a living room, and the view from the first floor is the ocean 500 yards away. Since the tower is higher than any home in the area, you can look north and south down the beach as far as the eye can see.
The bad thing for me was that the elevator only went to the first floor. This meant I had to carry three cases of wine, two cases of soda, a half keg of beer, and 50 pounds of bagged ice up two flights of a very narrow spiral staircase without dropping anything or scratching the wood railing. Once I was on the third level, the entire room was an entertainment floor. A bar rounded half the room, with a fire pit in the center, which could be raised by an electronic pulley to make the area a dance floor.
The view from the top of the tower was amazing as you have an unobstructed 360 degree view of California. As far as the eye could see were beaches, mountains, and the cities nearby. Even after so many years I can still picture that view. It was simply stunning. The owner of the home gave me a tour of the second level that I didn’t even notice as I was hauling up the items for his party. The second level was designed in a Yin-Yang shape, which had two bedrooms. Since the tower is round, the shape fit the room’s design perfectly. Each room had a large bed, a small bar sink next to it, two bathrooms, and of course the best views.
After I got the delivery upstairs, set the sodas in ice, tapped the keg, and displayed the wines, the owner realized he had no cash on him for a tip. I told him to just get me next time and it was not a big deal. He would not hear of it as I was probably there two hours carrying and setting up. Instead of money, he opened one of the wooden wine cases and handed me a bottle of 1985 Opus One. I was stunned because even back then Opus had a reputation of being one of the finest wines in California. A bottle was nearly a week’s pay to me. I thanked him and left with my gratuity.
I never drank that bottle. I gave it to my parents, as I wanted them to enjoy a really good wine. They never bought expensive wines, so it just made sense. Years later I did try Opus One and it was worthy of the high praises it receives. By then my tasting palate was more honed in and I knew what to look for. The hype was confirmed: Mondavi and Rothschild had created a stunning red wine. The structure and character was Bordeaux, but the balance of the fruit and the crispness of the finish was all California. I’ve never had a vintage of Opus One that ever disappointed. Year after year, they keep delivering the same caliber of wine they started with in 1979.
The wine I’m reviewing this month is not the famous Opus One, but rather their non-vintage, second tier red blend. I jokingly refer to this wine as Opus Nope. In 1993 the winery came out with Overture, a nicely made wine with the same style as Opus One. Since Opus One only uses the finest grapes from their estate for the process of blending their wine, some lots are not chosen for the final blend. They take the unused grapes and barrel them a little longer and blend years together. What this does is create a non-vintage wine that achieves a slightly different complexity than the original Opus One, but for half the price. Side-by-side in a blind taste test some people can’t tell the difference between the two wines. Aged in French oak, Overture is composed of the same five varietals that Opus One is made with: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet France, Petit Verdot, and Malbec. In 2004, for one billion dollars, Constellation Brands purchased Opus One Winery and added them to their extensive wine portfolio. The good thing is that the estate of Baron Rothschild negotiated with Constellation Brands for control of marketing, vineyard management, and administration of the winery.
Winery: Opus Wine Winery
Varietal: Red Blend
Appearance (Color): Bordeaux red
Aroma (Complexity): Black currant, plum, raisin and earth
Body (Texture and Weight): medium to full, silky on taste
Taste (Balance of Flavor): robust, slight tannins and heat
Finish (What lingers): fig, cherry and tobacco
Food Paring: Strong cheese, wild game meats, dark chocolate
Serving Temperature: 64°
Drink: now through 2024