On the last Wednesday of each month, Whist is hosting a different Napa Valley wine producer for their “Viceroy Wine Dinner Series.” I was invited to attend the initial wine dinner and instantly accepted. Not only was it a chance to taste wines from one of California’s most revered wineries, the dinner was also a great opportunity to get to know new Executive Chef Taite Pearson. The adventurous chef and Opus One combined to produce a memorable dining experience.
Our progressive meal began on the enclosed poolside patio. Pearson prefaced his first course by saying, “We’re driven by the seasons and the start of what we do. We take it and bring it to the next level.” For the Opus One wine dinner, “The wines were taken in to deep consideration.” He also waited until the last possible moment to announce the menu, combing through market finds and tasting Opus One to build the best possible combinations.
laurent perrier brut 1999
To pair with Opus One’s sparkling wine, Pearson created a sampler platter of light, seafood-focused bites. We received (clockwise from the top) silky Taylor Bay scallop crudo with tangerine zest and juice, olive oil and salad Berné (an aromatic herb); a single Kumamoto oyster dredged in buttermilk and semolina, topping market apple slaw, verjus blanc and chervil; a Maine lobster claw set in sweet corn puree with petite market corn, caramelized shallot and corn shoots; grilled tamarind-glazed octopus tentacles with shaved Shunkyo radish and mint; and a square of brioche with uni, American caviar, preserved Meyer lemon, and a teetering cut of chive.
We transitioned to the Bristol Room, green and white, for two wines and food from two different stations.
opus one 2004
Steve Palumbo reps Opus One for the Western U.S. He believes that what separates Opus One from other wineries is their “attention to detail.” They only cull 4 tons of grapes pre acre at harvest “so the best grapes get into the blend.” They practice double sorting on the triage table to remove dried fruit, twigs and bugs. They also harvest grapes in small 45-pound boxes to reduce bruising, as opposed to most wineries, which use half-ton bins. “It’s the care that makes Opus One special.”
Palumbo said Opus One never uses less than 82% of Cabernet in any vintage. 2004 Opus One is treated to 25 days of maceration, which extracts more color, structure and flavor. Palumbo described the 2004 as a “muscular wine that has great fleshiness, great fruit.” He said to expect to taste “toffee and chocolate.” I’m currently working to understand wines at that kind of micro-level, and couldn’t pick up those specific tasting notes, but the 2004 did pair well with our second course.
Pearson plated earthy winter truffle and quail egg ravioli with slightly bitter celery leaves before shaving on fresh black truffle.
Outside of Italy, it’s not often that you’ll see a bowl of black truffles. Pearson said the impressive bowl would only last a few days at Whist.
opus one 2005
According to Palumbo, the ’05 has “beautiful balance, roundness, a longer finish, with aromas of sandalwood, leather and cigar box.” The 2004 received 17 months of barrel aging, and the 2005 luxuriated for 18 months. Both wines receive 18 months of bottle aging.
To pair with the ’05, Pearson prepared a California squab terrine with herb salad and intensely flavored saba, a concentrated grape must that played well off of the tannin from the red wine. The terrine was overall successful, though the squab loin in the middle of the terrine was chewy.
opus one 2003
Palumbo said the ’03 consists of 91% Cabernet, whereas the two prior selections were 88% and 86%. The ’03 was aged 100% in French oak barrels, following by 25 days of maceration. It was made by Michael Salacci, Opus One’s winemaker since 2001. He came from Stag’s Leap, hired to reduce the yield by 20%, leading to higher quality.
New chef Taite Pearson is willing to take risks, as evidenced by his assiette of lamb offal, huckleberry and roasted fennel. Pearson cooked 5 different lamb organs: fried sweetbread cooked in chestnut flour, a slice of grilled heart, a cube of sautéed liver, braised and pickled tongue, and minced kidney. He said, “It’s really important to show appreciation to the product that we use, and not use what everybody else uses…It’s kind of a dance through the animal.” Every part of the dish was successful. I really liked the seared liver, silky tongue, smoky heart, crispy sweetbread and mineral-rich mince of sautéed kidney.
Once again, Pearson displayed the raw ingredients for dramatic effect. I’d never seen a lamb heart before, but it’s important to know where our meal originated.
We transitioned to the main dining room.
opus one 2000
Opus One produces 20 3-liter bottles and 18 6-liter bottles annually. A 6-liter bottle of 2000 Opus One is equivalent to six 750 ml bottles and would retail for $4000 at a wine shop like The Wine House, if they even stock it. Palumbo explained that wine in a 6-liter bottle “ages slower than smaller bottle,” leading to more “brightness and freshness” with “more subdued vibrancy…It evolves into a potpourri, with dried fruit characteristics.” 2000 was the last vintage from Opus One’s original wine making team. “Stylistically, it’s very Bordelaise. You might as well be drinking Left Bank Bordeaux.” Opus One released the wine in 2003, and according to Palumbo, it now showcases “leather, tobacco, cigar box, a hint of cassis and wet earth.”
Red wine braised beef short ribs were cooked on the bone until ultra tender, sporting the sticky sweetness that comes from braising, served with tiny carrots, scallions and thyme.
For dessert, our Mocha Espresso Pot de Crème was dark as tar and nearly as rich, topped with candied tangerine and plated with two mini tangerine sugar-dusted donuts.
The next wine dinner is on February 25, when Whist hosts Quintessa, Faust, Veramonte. Considering how well this dinner worked out, book now.