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Food & Dining // Vino Sense
Roberto Viernes

Plying Opus One, Playing The Red Violin

The best Cabernet for $10 packs plenty of fruit

Not all wine dinners are created equal. There are some good ones, some great ones – and then there are the unforgettable ones.

I was more than fortunate to be present at one such unforgettable evening that featured the confluence of Opus One, one of California’s greatest wine estates, Four Seasons Resort on Maui and virtuoso violinist Elizabeth Pitcairn with the “Red Violin,” also known as the Mendelssohn violin, which was made in 1720 by the world’s greatest luthier and crafter of string instruments, Antonio Stradivari, in Cremona, Italy.

The dinner held en plein air featured five vintages of Opus One paired with Four Seasons executive chef Roger Stettler’s menu inspired by the origin and travels of the famous violin. We naturally began in Italy with Lobster Ravioli, Lobster Cream, Tamimi Farm Cherry Tomatoes, Butternut Squash and Basil Oil with the 2000 Opus One. The wine is a dead ringer for Bordeaux from Pauillac. It screamed of pencil lead and graphite along with black fruit and coffee grounds. It had old world elegance to it in the palate with very pretty secondary flavors and a persistent finish of earth and dried flowers.

We then went on to a Montreal-inspired Wild Rabbit Terrine with Pickled Winter Vegetables, Sage Mustard and Aged Port Wine Gelee paired with the 2009 Opus One. The 2009 is the current release and is in itself a hedonistic experience. Being so young it is still showing plenty of oak influence but backed up by loads of perfectly ripe fruit. This has a bigger and wider footprint on the palate with flavors of cassis, vanilla, plum and a hint of tobacco. Despite being decanted two hours prior to service, it had full structure. This wine will repay years of cellaring and has tremendous potential.

Shanghai was next on the itinerary with a Xiao Long Bao, Shanghai Steamed Soup Dumplings with Blue Crab, Duck Soup and Black Fungus. The 2004 Opus One was seamless. It still had opulent fruit of both red and black colors as well as a sweet-smelling note of vanilla. The palate was gorgeous, as it simply melts into your palate with a luxurious and sensual texture with the fruit, oak and earth blending into harmony. The balance of this wine is remarkable as it combines strength and elegance. I really enjoyed the way this vintage was showing.

The next course was taken from England with Braised Oxtail, Barrel Cut Veal Tenderloin, Fried Quail Egg, Parsnip Puree and Black Winter Truffle. With it came the 2007 Opus One. It is still a “baby.” It is equally intense as the ’04, but with darker fruit more to the front. It plays more to the bass rather than the treble with notes of dark chocolate and savory herbs along with cedar and vanilla. This is another beauty that will certainly need time to blossom.

Before we got to dessert, we were regaled by Elizabeth Pitcairn and her Strad. She played virtuoso pieces from Brahms, Paganini and Williams. Each piece not only played beautifully but expressed through the gorgeous tone and timbre of the Red Violin. It was like nothing else I have ever heard. I’m afraid my description falls short of the actual experience, but it was as if this instrument has its own voice, one that speaks of a place and time unlike any others. And Miss Pitcairn is a lovely lady, so genial to take questions about the violin and even let another musician from the audience play it!

Finally, after being lifted to musical heights by Elizabeth and the Red Violin – and now that it has visited Hawaii – dessert was a variety of Island-inspired sweets accompanied by cheeses – and the 1995 Opus One. The 1995 was a mature statesman. Secure in itself, masculine, stately with everything in the right place. It was not as showy as its younger siblings and had more to do with the old world than the new. Dried cassis, spices, potpourri and softer, velvety tannin caress the palate. It was wonderfully complex and a more than fitting finish to an unforgettable evening.

For more information about the Red Violin, go online to elizabethpitcairn.com/html/redviolin2.asp. Recommendations: 2008 Scherrer Russian River Pinot Noir ($39) Sexy, sexy stuff here. Beautiful and complex aromatics include spices, red berries and sandalwood. It is pure silk in the mouth and really sings on the finish. 2010 Cellar No. 8 Cabernet Sauvignon ($10) My candidate for best Cabernet for 10 bucks! Plenty of fruit, richness and it delivers a whole lot more than the money.

Roberto Viernes is a master sommelier. Email rviernes@southernwine.com or follow him on Twitter @Pinotpusher.

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