By Dan Rhodes
A small group of lucky imbibers were treated to a sumptuous meal and superb array of wines on Saturday, January 4 at Ushuaia, one of LA’s hottest new restaurants, courtesy of Ian Blackburn and his Learn About Wine program. Specializing in Argentine cuisine, Ushuaia was the ideal setting for this event which pitted Cabernet and Meritage-styled wines from the Napa Valley against any number of heavy-hitters from France’s renowned Bordeaux region. It goes without saying that Argentine beef was the perfect foil for this Cabernet extravaganza! The tasting was conducted blind in conjunction with Ian’s succinct presentation which was both informative and well-planned.
Basically, all of the wines poured (with the exception of the 1990 Talbot which was corked) showed well and the home Napa team more than held its own against a bevy of top notch Bordeaux. Nevertheless, to my palate, Bordeaux won the match despite the incredible showing of the 1987 Opus One. For me, this was the wine of the night! In the Cult-Cab era in which we reside today, it’s easy to “pooh-pooh” Opus One as “yesterday’s news” but the reality is such that, in a very real sense, Opus One was the very first Cult Cab dating back to its inception in the late 1970s by Robert Mondavi and Baron Philippe de Rothschild.
The 1987 Opus One captured exactly what both of these seminal figures had in mind when embarking upon this historical collaboration: the sophistication, polish and nuance of an Old World wine along with the fruit exuberance and energy of the New World. Upon tasting, I initially felt the wine was from Bordeaux. However, upon re-visiting, the wine’s Napa Valley identity became increasingly apparent and it became clear to me that it was kind of a hybrid --- given the overall superb quality at hand, Opus One was the obvious choice! The wine is a tribute to the genius of Robert Mondavi as well as his ongoing and dedicated commitment to quality. In today’s post-modern era of Napa winemaking --- ultra-ripe fruit, high alcohol percentages and misuse of oak, Opus One stands the test of time and, ironically, is now one of California’s more traditional, old school wines.
Bordeaux’s northernmost commune of St. Éstephe did very well. For my money, the region’s “Big Three” of Calon Segur, Cos d’Estournel and Montrose dominated the second quality tier after the Opus One. All three of these estates are perennial overachievers and are usually available, by the way, at Spectrum Wine Auctions sales at bid prices which are well-below the pleasure/quality quotient which they regularly deliver. It was a three-way run to the finish with all three wines at one point taking the lead. In an upset of sorts, the 1983 Cos d’Estournel won by a nose. As the evening wore on, the wine simply soared exhibiting all of the classic characteristics of great Cos along with the distinctive specificities of terroir that are so readily identifiable as St. Éstephe. I’ve always regarded 1983 to be a much underrated Bordeaux vintage and this wine proved the point. This was a great effort from Bruno Pratts. The 2000 Calon Segur has just entered its prime window of drinkability and will provide an enormous amount of pleasure over the next decade or so. It’s one of the last great wines made under the direction of the late Madame Gasqueton. The 1982 Montrose, while holding the early lead, began to fade as the evening wore on and was ultimately surpassed by both the Cos d’Estournel and Calon Segur. Nevertheless, it delivered a great ride that lives up to the reputation of both the estate and the vintage.
Two honorable mentions are worth nothing: the Rosenthal 2002 Meritage Blend (Malibu Canyon) and Château Lagrange 1996 (St. Julien). Both of these wines delivered superb drinkability at a price point (even today!) well below their actual quality niveau. Should you find either bottle at one of our auction sales, don’t hesitate to press the “bid” button! All in all, a superb evening of food, wine, fun and conversation was enjoyed by all. Thanks again, Ian!