Gabe's View

Wine: Reviews, Thoughts & Culture

Visiting Opus One in Napa Valley

Posted by Gabe on December 1, 2010

Expectation can be a heavy burden to live up to. Whether it’s a film, book, a bottle of wine or an athlete’s performance, anything perceived as less that the anticipated result comes off as a let down. The same of course can be true for winery visits. Producers of all shapes and size the world over open their doors and invite folks in to taste their wares and perhaps tour their facility. Sometimes it’s easier to be wowed when you know nothing of the wine or the producer in question. Again, with a lack of expectation it’s somewhat easier to impress people. Folks in all lines of work do this all the time; under promise and over deliver, it’s a classic time honored technique. But with many of the world’s wineries, particularly the well known ones, their reputation is known and the expectation level exists. Such is the case with Napa Valley’s Opus One.

Last month I paid to Opus One with some friends. I’d been their once before and recalled it fondly, but it had been about 7 or 8 years so the details were dull. The wine itself is of course the stuff of legend. Founded in 1979 by Robert Mondavi and Baron Philippe de Rothschild the goal from the outset was simple, greatness. These two legends of their respective wine worlds came together in Napa Valley to make one wine that would compete with the best of the best. It was to be an offering in the great Bordeaux style using the classic varieties which also flourish in Napa Valley. Pretty much from the outset the wines have been praised, setting the bar even higher.

So as my friends and I approached Opus One each of us had different ideas about what we’d find inside, but certainly we all had lofty expectations. Keeping that in mind it’s impressive to say the least that we were all knocked out by the experience. Our tour guide Yasko was part of the greatness of our visit. She’s been with Opus One for a few years and knows the history of the project amazingly well and answered every question we had. But well beyond that the grandeur of the facility is hard to miss. Everything about Opus One is as precisely as it was masterminded, regal and impressive. If I had a nickel for every barrel room I’ve seen on winery tours, well I’d have quite a few nickels. They come in all styles and sizes but at the end of the day not many of them make my jaw drop. I’d seen the barrel room at Opus One before, but still it was a sight to behold. The same came be said for the tank room and other pieces of the wine making facility. The entrance, the tasting area and essentially every last square inch of Opus One is on a different rung than most wineries. It’s intended to be both a working winery and a knock your socks off showplace and it succeeds admirably at both of those things.

At the end of the tour, right after being wowed by the barrel room we had the opportunity to taste the current release of Opus One, the 2007. I was left with a similar impression that I’ve had each time I’ve tasted a new release of their wine. It was impressively structured and tasty, but ultimately tight and in need of some time in the bottle to really resolve itself fully. Hopefully most of the folks who are spending the money to invest in this wine ($195.00 SRP) are also patient enough to give it a few years of time. A few minutes later tasting the 2005 vintage proved to be a revelation in itself. While I believe it still has quite a few years ahead of it, the 2005 Opus One is performing phenomenally right now. It’s a showcase wine and if you want to bowl your wine loving friends over and you can locate some 2005, it’s sure to do the trick.

Touring and tasting at Opus One is neither the least or most expensive proposition in Napa Valley. However it’s an incredibly impressive display of greatness that actually lives up to the hype; something my entire group of four could attest to. So if you’re heading to Napa Valley and you want do something nice for yourself and maybe for your friends too, book a tour at Opus One, you won’t forget it. The cost is $40 and you should book in advance. I for one know that I won’t let another 7 or 8 years pass until my next visit. How could I, I don’t want to forget what the experience was like. Sometimes expectations as grand as they are can be met and exceeded.

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