February is filled with fun and festive holidays. There is Valentines Day which if you are lucky involves lobsters and champagne, and maybe some sweet love by the fire. You have Mardi Gras which involves, well, we don’t have to get into the lascivious details. Purim is the Jewish drinking holiday even though there are some who play down that aspect of the festivities.
But don’t forget that the last saturday of the month is also Open That Bottle Night.
If you’ve been a regular reader of the FLB for the past few years, this is old news. But we pick up new readers all the time. And even the well seasoned ones could probably use a reminder. At its core, this holiday was invented to do one thing: open that bottle of wine you’ve been holding onto for a really special occasion that never seems to come.
It’s not your fault. It’s part of the human condition. Almost all of us have bottles like this, whether it’s the last of a case from your wedding, a gift from a loved one who is no longer around, a memento from a special trip that you never want to forget, the list is endless. It does not have to be expensive, but it could be. You may worry that it is past its peak, or perhaps no longer even drinkable.
But wine was meant to be enjoyed. It deserves to be opened. And OTBN can help. Here’s how.
I’m digging all the way back to 2010 when I wrote up ten steps for enjoying OTBN XI. This Saturday will already be OTBN XIV. Where does the time go. The Fussy’s may well celebrate a day early on Friday so it doesn’t get in the way of Purim. But I think John & Dottie would be okay with that.
John & Dottie are the creators of this holiday. They invented it while they were writing one of the best damn wine columns ever in the Wall Street Journal. One day they mysteriously left. For far too long they were a missing voice on the wine scene. And even now I wish they could find a home to bring their clever approach to wine reviewing. But their methods aren’t cheap. So they need some publisher who is willing to underwrite the enterprise.
But back to the holiday. If you want to join people around the world in celebrating this weekend, here’s what you need to do.
1. Choose the wine.
I have to confess, OTBN kind of caught me off guard this year. The bottle I think we should open isn’t mine. So I will need to compell Mrs. Fussy to open her bottle. It should be a no brainer. I can’t recall the producer, but it’s an old French red from Pauliac. We happened to spy it on a shelf in a Pennsylvania state store. It stood out then because of its age. But this was an ageworthy wine. It also wasn’t cheap. The idea was that she would open the bottle if she hit one of two possible work milestones. Here’s the funny part. She hit one of the milestones, but yet we still haven’t opened that bottle. This is exactly the kind of behavior that OTBN was designed to thwart, and that makes this our top contender. I hope she’s ready to open that bottle.
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.
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.”
4. Cork cautiously.
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 were holding onto 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 seeing that they are no longer at their old media job I suggest leaving a comment on their story about OTBN XIV on Palate Press.
10. Start thinking about OTBN XV.
Because now, you are an expert.