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Open That Bottle Night XVI

February 27, 2015

Amazingly, it looks like I can copy and paste much of last year’s post on today’s subject. I guess that’s what happens with an annual event. But I have made a few changes, so if you’ve read this before, just skip to the middle. The end should still be a good refresher on how to celebrate the pre-spring wine bacchanal.

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.

This Saturday, I’ll still be drinking wine, but it won’t be my own. Here’s a little more about that and what you can do to celebrate this holiday at home.

Could it be that I’m cured?

The truth is that we haven’t hoarded any wine for years. Part of that had to do with the sabbatical and making two moves in two years. But I’ve really stopped buying special-occasion wines for “someday” and only buy special-occasion wines for specific occasions.

In some ways, I helped my father-in-law celebrate Open That Bottle Night early on a visit to the farm around Christmas. He had been holding onto what may have well been one of the last bottles in existence from one of his favorite Northern California wineries. And from all critical perspectives on the grape, the region, and the vintage, he had held onto it for too long.

No worries. Open That Bottle Night is all about drinking that wine on its own terms. Sure, it may be over the hill. But there are people who are over the hill, and dammit, they still have value. There are things you can learn from those over the hill. And I have to say that while this wine may have been a shadow of its former self, I still enjoyed what life it had left in it and the memories of how it came into our lives.

In this case, I think having patience with my glass of too old wine paid off, because after letting it sit for the better part of two hours it got better. I took teeny tiny bird sips every ten minutes or so, just to track its progress. That kind of discipline is harder than it sounds. But it’s worth the effort if you can do it. Of course, sometimes a very old wine may present beautifully in the first few minutes only to fall flat and never recover. So it’s a crap shoot either way.

This Saturday, I’ll be drinking some wine with my favorite cheesemonger, Eric Paul. And I’ll be learning by tasting, which is really the only way to do it. Maybe if I’m exceedingly lucky, someone at the event will bring some wine from their cellar in honor of the holiday. But I’m not going to hold my breath.

If you want to celebrate this at home, I rewrote and updated 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 XVII
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.

Have a great weekend. Don’t forget about the cider thing. Maybe I’ll see you at the cheese thing too. But whatever you do, remember to open that bottle on Saturday.

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