Created by Robert Mondavi and Baron Philippe de Rothschild, Opus One wines are some of the most coveted in the world. William Kelley gives us his top five examples of this cult Napa Valley wine...

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Opus One was conceived as the joint brainchild of Robert Mondavi and Baron Philippe de Rothschild, after they first met in Hawaii back in 1970.

Their vision was to combine their expertise in Old World and New World winemaking, to pioneer a blend that was greater than the sum of its parts.

A decade later, Robert Mondavi gave 35 acres of his famous To Kalon vineyard, in the Oakville AVA, over to the new venture – and Opus One soon became a cult Napa Valley wine. The esteemed Château Mouton Rothschild winemaker Lucien Sionneau, and Robert Mondavi’s son Timothy joined forces to create the 1979 vintage.

Despite being a signature Napa Valley wine, the Opus One vines are planted five times more densely than is usual in the region. This encourages the growth of smaller berries, which – the winey argues – sets the wine apart by heightening the intensity of its aromas and flavours. Grapes are hand-harvested and sorted, followed by long maceration periods in stainless steel tanks.

The blend is created using 95% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Merlot, which is barrel-aged in new French oak for 18 months, then bottle-aged for the same period of time before its release.

Mondavi and Rothschild made the decision to hold back their first vintages, and the 1979 and 1980 were not released onto the market in 1984. The early success of Opus One at auction was influential in forging a new price bracket for Californian wine, a ultra-premium level of quality and repute. Opus One claims to be the first California wine to be sold at $50 a bottle.

Since then, Opus One has become a mainstay of collectors. Our expert taster, William Kelley, has sampled a range of vintages from 1979 to 2012 to determine which are worth the price tag…

Top five Opus One wines