September 26, 2015
In case you haven’t heard, a pretty big wine dinner is happening at Charlotte’s own The Fig Tree Restaurant on October 1. Famed Napa Valley winery Opus One will be unveiling their newest wine, the Opus One 2012 Vintage during an amazing dinner put together by Fig Tree Executive Chef and owner Greg Zanitsch and his wife Sara, a certified sommelier. What is so significant about this event? Why is it such a big deal? The dinner is being held on the actual release date of the 2012 vintage, making it a huge honor for Fig Tree and Charlotte to host the event.
According to Chef Greg, “October 1 is one of the most highly-anticipated wine dates in a long time. We couldn’t be more thrilled that our diners here in Charlotte will be some of the first in the world to taste the Opus One’s 2012 vintage—and that we will be part of such an exciting release.”
I had a chance recently to sit down with Chef Greg and Karen D’Amour, the Southern States Regional expert at Opus One to discuss everything Opus wines and Chef Greg’s menu plans for the 2012 release dinner…one of two planned in the entire country on October 1.
CLTure: Tell me a little bit about the background of Opus One. When did you all start making wine?
Karen D’Amour: Opus One was founded in 1979 by Baron Philippe de Rothschild, proprietor of Chateau Mouton Rothschild in France and Napa vintner Robert Mondavi. The men wanted to combine the traditions and winemaking skills of both of their families to create an exceptional wine. The wine was made and barrel aged at Robert Mondavi Winery in California to start, but in 1991 Opus One had their very first harvest and grand opening at their own, brand new facility. Opus One then hired and trained its own vineyard personnel, including a vineyard manager and viticulturist. We also established a sales team to sell our wines directly to distributors in the U.S. market. Originally we were employing folks from Robert Mondavi’s vineyard team, so this was a big step.
CLTure: If you had to describe an Opus One wine to me, what would you say?
KD: Elegant. Our wines are simply elegant– this is the hallmark that people who drink them take away from wine dinners or events where the wines are served. Opus One wines are built to have both grace and elegance; from the moment you open the bottle through the lifetime you choose to age it, the wine maintains its integrity. Opus is one of the most collected wines in the world and Wine Searcher consistently ranks our wines in the top 10 most sought after in the world. To show you where the worldwide demand is, we export 50-percent of our wines to Europe each year.
CLTure: The dinner at Fig Tree showcases the 2012 vintage. In your mind why does this particular vintage stand out?
KD: It’s one of the most coveted. The demand and excitement about this vintage is just amazing. It’s one of the most highly anticipated wines I’ve ever seen. Especially coming off the 2011 vintage, which should not have been aligned the way it was. Buyers have been waiting for ’12.
CLTure: Why were the 2005 and 2009 vintages chosen for the dinner, as well? What were they like? I’ve heard the 2005 vintage is one of the best. Do you agree?
KD: Yes. For sure the ‘05 was one of our best. We made a conscious effort to rebuild our library starting with the ‘05 vintage. We began putting aside cases so we would have a true library offering. The ‘05 and ‘09 were really chosen because we started with the ‘05 and had quite a bit of ‘09. This spring we will be offering the 2006 and 2008 vintages.
CLTure: Your other wine, Overture, will also be served at the dinner. Can you explain what the difference is between Opus One and Overture?
KD: The grapes are harvested exactly the same way. We don’t know when we start fermentation if the grapes will ultimately go into Opus or Overture. It’s when we start the blending that we determine what will go into Opus One. If the grapes are not going into Opus we take what’s left and blend it with other vintages to make this house style of wine. Overture is then aged in 1-year-old oak vs new oak to make the wine more approachable. Opus One is an expression of time and place, Overture is an expression of place over time.
CLTure: For a long time Overture was only available for purchase at the winery itself. Is this still the case?
KD: No, not anymore. It is now available in a handful of select markets in the US. It is not available in mass retail, but any fine wine shop can order it if they don’t already have it.
CLTure: Charlotte is one of two cities hosting an Opus dinner on the 2012 release date. Where is the other dinner being held and why Charlotte instead of a bigger city?
KD: Because you all asked us! On the same night it is happening here it will be held at Del Frisco’s in Chicago. We love Charlotte and were thrilled to come and do this here.
CLTure: When you review a wine dinner menu or talk it over with the chef, what do you look for?
KD: One of the first things I do is I always look to see if there is fish on the menu. It just doesn’t pair well with Opus, yet each time someone somewhere says they will make it work. It never does. That’s really the most important thing I look for: fish.
After talking with Karen I turned to Fig Tree owner Chef Greg Zanitsch for his input on the menu he has in store for October 1. He had this to say about his menu planning process when it comes to wine dinners:
CLTure: When planning a wine dinner menu, how do you adjust the flavor profiles of your food accordingly to complement the wine?
Greg Zanitsch: I’ve known the wines for a decade and they are definitely elegant. I’ve tried to use for the proteins things that are elegant and not quite as bold as say, a ribeye. I’ve chosen rabbit and duck confit to truly complement the wines.
CLTure: How much input and or influence does your wife, Sara, a certified sommelier, have in the menu planning?
GZ: It is completely a collaborative effort with my wife, Sara. I start by putting down an outline and she critiques it heavily, absolutely. She looks at both color and flavor and gives me feedback, and more than once.
CLTure: What can we expect to see on your Opus One dinner menu?
GZ: We will start with an Opus One Overture pour and serve it with roasted parsnips, watercress and Parmigiano Reggiano churro over charred venison carpaccio with black walnut sherry vinaigrette and date puree.
Next up with the ’05 vintage, is duck confit over house made pumpkin tortellini in butternut squash veloute with chanterelle mushrooms and toasted pumpkin seeds. The next course is a prosciutto, fontina and spinach stuffed saddle of rabbit over sweet potato spaetzle which will be served with the ‘09 vintage. The 2012 vintage will be served alongside braised wild boar and chestnut ragu over house made handkerchief pasta with ricotta. Dessert is fantastic – a dark chocolate fried banana napoleon with roasted pecans and coffee reduction. An Inniskillin Cabernet Franc will be the dessert course selection. Should be a truly wonderful event and evening, and the wines will shine.
1601 E 7th St, Charlotte, North Carolina 28204
More info on Opus One Winery.