If value is relative, then Opus One most definitely qualifies (as does a Sonoma Zinfandel at a somewhat lower price).
From $299, €329.90, £296.68, SG$450 and widely available around the world.
Most wines of the week are chosen with the bargain hunter in mind, bringing lesser-known bottles to the attention of those who would most appreciate them. Opus One, the famous Californian Cabernet, is neither in need of greater exposure nor, at £300 per bottle, of interest to the bargain hunter. Or is it?
Since Jancis recently asked if wine is becoming a luxury, observing that 'it is becoming increasingly difficult to find wines of real interest under £25 a bottle', a typically well-informed and thoughtful debate has been running on our Members' forum, citing many examples of the way prices for fine wine have increased so dramatically in recent years.
For many people, £300 for a bottle of wine is absurdly expensive, offensive even. Indeed, for the majority of British wine drinkers, anything above the average bottle price of around £6 must seem excessive. But surely readers of the world's best wine website are at least open to persuasion that Opus One is worth the asking price?
There are two ways I might convince you. The first is the quality of the wine itself. I tasted the newly released 2016 in Singapore in September and the impression was instant. It was like Pauillac in seductive soft focus: all the sun-kissed richness of Napa with all the savoury formality of Bordeaux. There is an impeccability to the fruit that sets such wines apart. I scored it 18++, and I see that Jancis was half a point ahead of me when she tasted it earlier this year (see Opus goes wild, which also reveals more about their winemaking philosophy).
Scores are important here, because it is almost unheard of for inexpensive wines to score above 17.5. The difference may seem marginal, but it is real, and it remains true that experiencing the truly greatest wines of the world is never cheap. Our database contains 39 tasting notes covering 24 vintages of Opus One with a mean score of 17.5, and a mode of 18.
Secondly, let's consider value and relativity. As Jancis mentioned in her article, Penfolds recently released a new, unproven Shiraz for £850 per bottle, in bare-faced defiance of the criticism it has faced over ever-increasing prices for its top wines (The 2015 of Grange has an RRP of £591). Even so, that is nothing compared to Opus One's Napa neighbours Harlan and Screaming Eagle, whose Cabernet Sauvignons sell for around £1,200 and £2,000 per bottle respectively. And even these prices are dwarfed by Liber Pater, whose 2015 vintage has been released at the laughable price of €30,000 per bottle.
Furthermore, the £300 price tag for Opus One isn't just buying you the wine. It would be disingenuous to ignore the role that the luxury experience plays for wine at this level. That doesn't just mean the packaging (although a wooden case of Opus One is a rather lovely thing), but the brand equity involved: the history and reputation of the estate, its status as one of the world's best vineyards – in a word, the all-important prestige.
All things considered, a wine such as Opus One, which consistently represents one of the best examples of its type and costs a fraction of the price of qualitatively commensurate wines, must be worth buying. For anyone who is willing and able to spend this sort of money on wine, the 2016 vintage of Opus One is a very smart buy.
For those for who are not, here's another Californian wine that might be more affordable. I tasted the 2015 vintage of Seghesio's Cortina Zinfandel from Dry Creek Valley at a recent lunch in Singapore. It is currently available at $27.99, €37.79 and £40.99 – still hardly cheap, yet good value, relatively speaking. I loved its bountiful blueberry fruit and serious garrigue herbiness, and scored it at a very healthy 17.5, which is the same score Julia gave the 2011 vintage. It has the same authentic Californian power as the Opus One, and while it doesn't reach the same heights of complexity, it gives a typically extrovert rendition of Zinfandel.
Both wines are fantastic, but it is the Opus One that delivers both exceptional quality and the full luxury experience, and in today's fine wine world, that would seem to make £300 per bottle a price worth paying. Because let's face it: top-shelf wine won't be getting cheaper anytime soon.