Opus One tasting - All wines

Opus One winemaker Michael Silacci claimed that the high alcohol in California wine today is a concern that is voiced 'mostly in Europe' (writes Beverley Blanning MW). Speaking at a vertical tasting in London last week, organised by the Institute of Masters of Wine, Silacci was responding to questions about the marked rise in alcohol levels since the wine's first vintage in 1979.

He attributed higher alcohol to healthier vines, warmer vintages and yeasts that are more efficient at converting sugar to alcohol in the winery. He also acknowledged that when making decisions about when to pick at harvest time, 'skins are more important than sugar'. This focus on the flavour and texture ripeness of grape skins results in fruit that is picked when riper than in years past, when the primary or sole measure of ripeness was sugar.

Silacci, whose first vintage at the winery was 2001, said that he aimed to 'enhance tradition and maintain innovation'. He pointed out that the relative rise in alcohol levels in Opus One was moderate in the context of other Cabernet-based wines from California (12.9% in 1979 compared to 14.4% for the 2006 vintage), and that this is a trend that is not limited to California but extends to other regions, including Bordeaux.

Opus One was born of the shared vision of two of the wine world's most legendary figures: Baron Philippe de Rothschild, owner of Château Mouton Rothschild, and Robert Mondavi. In 1981 a case of the first vintage of Opus One became the most expensive California wine sold to date, at $24,000. The Robert Mondavi Winery's 50% share in the company passed to Constellation Brands on its acquisition in 2004. Today Opus One remains jointly and equally owned with Baroness Philippine de Rothschild.

The tasting highlighted Opus One's evolution and included a selection of Silacci's favourite vintages.

Wine name Producer Country Region Vintage

Opus One, Napa Valley (magnum)

Opus One United States California 1979

Opus One, Napa Valley

Opus One United States California 1987

Opus One, Napa Valley (magnum)

Opus One United States California 1991

Opus One, Napa Valley

Opus One United States California 1995

Opus One, Napa Valley

Opus One United States California 1997

Opus One, Napa Valley

Opus One United States California 2001

Opus One, Napa Valley

Opus One United States California 2005

Opus One, Napa Valley

Opus One United States California 2006