Open That Bottle Night XV
This saturday is the last saturday in February? That’s preposterous.
Holy cow. I just looked at a calendar, and it’s totally true. That means I’m horribly delinquent in reminding you that it’s Open That Bottle Night. I’ve been writing about this brilliant wine holiday since I started blogging.
Here’s what happened. Dorothy J. Gaiter & John Brecher wrote the Tastings wine column for the Wall Street Journal. While there, they came to realize almost everyone was holding onto at least one bottle of wine that was too precious to drink. Given that wine was meant to be enjoyed and not hoarded, the pair decided to create an occasion explicitly to celebrate these super special wines.
For ten years, they celebrated the holiday at the Wall Street Journal, and the paper would share the tales of how readers spent OTBN across the world. The first such recap even includes a fellow from Clifton Park.
A lot has changed over fifteen years, but one thing remains the same. People still are reluctant to pull the corks on wines they’ve put aside for a special occasion or are in some other way too meaningful to drink.
Our situation is a little different this year, but I’ve got a bottle. Let me tell you about it, and what you can do to celebrate.
When we moved from New York to New Jersey this summer, we only brought one bottle of super special wine with us, and it’s already gone. So we’re starting from scratch. However, I did pick up a special bottle for Thanksgiving that never got opened. It was from one of my favorite importers Kermit Lynch.
Kermit’s store in Berkeley is the stuff of legend. I’ve mentioned it before. We’re lucky that there are small wine distributors in New York who make sure we have access to some of his wines. But these minor players are under attack. Incidentally, there is a Kermit Lynch bottle available as part of the Cork Tax protest.
Anyhow, that’s probably the most special bottle in the apartment right now. It has a California connection, a New Jersey connection, a New York connection and a family visit to Connecticut connection.
Wine is about more than just the juice in the bottle. It connects us to loved ones, it brings back memories from cherished parts of our lives. It gives us a chance to reflect and appreciate where we are and from where we have come.
Maybe that sounds silly. But if you can get past some of the pretension that surrounds wine, it can be the source of great enjoyment.
You may have a bottle that is even more special. I met a woman recently whose father had put aside a bottle of Dom Perignon to celebrate her graduation from Harvard. One thing led to another and the bottle never got opened. Now it’s just languishing, because what occasion could possibly be that momentous in the near future.
Open That Bottle Night is the answer.
Just so you don’t have to click through to a previous year’s post, I’m going to rewrite and update the 10 step plan for enjoying OTBN that I adapted from one of John & Dottie’s Wall Street Journal columns.
1. Choose the wine.
It doesn’t have to be old. It doesn’t have to be expensive. It doesn’t even have to be good. But it should be imbued with some meaning. Maybe it’s from a winery you visited years ago, or perhaps it’s a bottle you pilfered from your ex-husband’s wine collection before the divorce went through. I think you get the idea.
2. Get the bottle on its feet.
If it’s an older wine, there can be some sediment in the bottle. You want that sediment to be on the bottom, so it won’t muddy up your wine. Saturday is tomorrow, so let’s do this as soon as possible.
3. Cool it down.
Put the wine in the refrigerator for two hours before uncorking. That should produce a temperature of about 55 degrees. If you prefer your red wine a bit warmer, 45 minutes in the refrigerator should bring it to “cellar temperature.” White wine should not be served ice cold unless you don’t want to actually taste it.
4. Be prepared for a cork calamity.
Old corks can be crumbly corks, and may just disintegrate at the sight of a traditional corkscrew. You could practice with a two-pronged opener in preparation for the big day, or you could prepare yourself for the worst and have a carafe and a coffee filter handy. These tools will allow you to pour the wine, cork bits and all, without drinking mouthfuls of woody pieces.
5. Otherwise DO NOT DECANT.
Here is what John & Dottie said on the subject, verbatim, “Do not decant — at least at first. Many OTBN wines are old and fragile. Air could quickly dispel what’s left of them. But if you are opening a younger wine, taste it first; if it seems tight, and especially if you don’t plan to linger over it for a few hours, go ahead and decant.” Claro?
6. Welcome to your wine.
Hopefully you will enjoy your wine for what it is, and not bother yourself with what it might have been or what it could have become. If you do not enjoy your wine at first, give it time. There have been stories of some older bottles that have improved as the night wore on, but on the flip side also tales of wines that started marvelously only to come crashing into banality.
7. Remember what made this special.
You have selected this bottle for a reason. Share the memories with your friends and loved ones. This is what the holiday is about: remembering the things that make a wine special, because those things rarely have anything to do with what is inside the bottle.
8. Have a contingency plan.
If you’ve run out of patience, and the special meal you made is getting cold, it may be time to open a slightly less special bottle of wine that might actually taste good with the food. Still, I beg of you, do not dump the old wine. It may get better as you are putting away the last of the dishes from the evening.
9. Tell people about it.
John & Dottie used to encourage people to write them a note about their OTBN experiences. But now they are on Facebook. Seriously, let them know. I’m sure they would be thrilled to hear from you. This is not a joke.
10. Start thinking about OTBN XVI.
Because now, you are an expert. But hoarding wine just to break it out at OTBN is counterproductive. Learn something from this experience and drink life to the lees.
Oh, and I should mention, that if you happen to be in the D.C. area, this year you can actually celebrate with John & Dottie in person. I wish I could be there. Maybe next year.