The definition of opulence?

The definition of opulence?

Published by Francis Elms on 9th Sep 2022

I've tasted some pretty amazing wines over the years, some expected to be great, others which were a surprise, but only a few have that magical "hit-the-spot" effect!

I can vividly recall a mature Trimbach Alsace "Cuvee Frederic Emile" dry Riesling (a blend of 2 Grand Cru vineyards) which was so good, on the nose alone that, when tasted, was truly mind-blowing. Price? Around £8 on clearance in a Bottoms Up store in Salisbury. It had probably been sat on the top shelf for years and could well have been way past its best, but no... a stunning bottle of wine for a ridiculously low cost.

Only one great bottle, but what a memory.

Another wine of the same standard was the Ruinart (I forget the year) vintage "Dom Ruinart" Blanc de Blancs Champagne. A £100+ wine which usually merits a score of around 96/100 and it certainly showed that it was worthy of such praise.

A tasting note from the Wine Advocate will give you an idea of the quality achieved for every release:

"I had very high expectations for the 2002 Brut Blanc de Blancs Dom Ruinart and was not disappointed. Actually, that is an understatement. The 2002 is a flat-out great Dom Ruinart. It is as compelling as any Champagne I have ever tasted from the estate. Layers of sweet, perfumed fruit emerge with no end in this subtle, sexy Dom Ruinart. The 2002 vintage generally yielded big wines, and of course, a significant amount of the Chardonnay for Dom Ruinart comes from the Montagne de Reims, where the wines are richer and broader, yet those are truly mere details. The 2002 convinces for its superb overall balance and sheer personality. It possesses striking depth and an endless, eternal finish. I imagine the 2002 will enjoy a wide drinking window that will stretch out several decades. Truth is, its pretty special even today."

I can only describe it as "floating" in my mouth. It didn't seem to touch the sides, but the complex flavours just kept on coming and I could still taste it for several minutes after drinking it... and I only had a small sip!

Who could forget a sublime tasting of the wines of Romanée Conti? Burgundy at its upmost pinnacle of quality and, these days, costing thousands of pounds a bottle. Much, much cheaper back in the 80's. Almost affordable. Each wine showcasing every nuance of a tiny Grand Cru vineyard plot. All using Pinot Noir, but tasting uniquely different from any other red Burgundy I'd ever tried.

All of these wines have their particular qualities which make them stand out from the crowd, but one characteristic of a top quality wine is often its texture. I'm really thinking about "opulence". Not just a richly textured palate, but one which offers an ethereal note. You'll appreciate it immediately if you come across it. A cliché would be describing its effect as "taking it to the next level", but it genuinely does do that.

One wine of note was a 2005 Clarendon Hills Onkaparinga Grenache

From dry farmed, bush vines planted in the 1940's in the Blewitt Springs area of the McLaren Vale, Australia, the Onkaparinga vineyard has very rocky soils with quartz, ironstone and shale deposits contributing minerality and concentration to the wine produced there. Unfined and unfiltered, aged in French oak, only around 6000 bottles are made in the best vintages. In lesser years the grapes go into the "Clarendon Grenache" blend.

Described by a certain Robert Parker as:

"Roman Bratasiuk’s newest baby looks to be fabulous. From the gravel/ironstone soils of the Onkaparinga Vineyard, the 2005 Grenache exhibits exotic notes of kirsch, boysenberries, blackberries, white chocolate, and flowers. This spicy, exotic, full-throttle Grenache should evolve beautifully for 10-12 years." (94-96)/100 points.

and by the Wine Advocate's Jay Miller as:

"The 2005 Grenache Onkaparinga has alluring notes of mineral, damp earth, and black cherry. Opulent and layered, it has great depth, intense flavors, and a long, pure finish. It will evolve for 6-8 years but, like most of the Grenache offerings, can be enjoyed in its youth." 95/100 points.

Both of the above tastings were done when the wine was still very young, but my own bottle was only consumed a few years' ago, so had around 15 years' bottle ageing. Talk about a smooth red. So subtle on the palate, but with so many flavours. It almost tasted sweet, but was technically a dry wine. An exotic and opulent mouthfeel with a finish lasting almost forever. Incredible wine!

Carrying on with my appreciation of the Grenache variety I would point out that many wines using this grape are very often blended with others. Chateauneuf-du-Pape is a "GSM" blend, consisting usually of Grenache/Syrah/Mourvedre as a base with many other varieties allowed in small percentages of the total make up of the cuveé.

I once had a Gold Medal winning bottle of Domaine Font Michelle's Chateauneuf which was stored away for many years in a box under the stairs. On opening, a glorious aroma of lavender burst from the bottle. I'd never come across this in a wine. It was so different to tasting young Rhone reds. What a difference the ageing made to the wine. It achieved its "Gold" on release, but there was obviously tremendous potential locked away to be discovered later. I'm very happy to say it passed the test for being a special occasion wine.

"Performing even better out of bottle than it did from foudre, the 2001 Chateauneuf du Pape is a sensual, sexy, lush, medium-bodied, dark garnet-colored offering with a rich bouquet of tapenade, plum liqueur, lavender, smoke, and Chinese black tea. Sweet, full-bodied, lush, and layered, it is a total hedonistic as well as intellectual turn-on."

The above tasting note will give you an idea of the style. Another wine fitting into the "opulent" profile.

Some wines are only richly textured, but one dimensional. A bit boring after a glass has been consumed. The best quality examples have so much more to them. I'd definitely recommend sticking to drinking those. You'll feel much happier about it in the long run!

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