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Sprucing Up for Wine’s Night – WSJ

My friend Chaz sent this WSJ article to me….take a look.

January 26, 2007




Sprucing Up for Wine’s Night

Many Ways to Fete

Open That Bottle;

Italy Tour, at Home

January 26, 2007; Page W4

Next month, Loni and José Represas will fly from Mexico City to Atlanta with a mission: to help John T. Whaley open a bottle of wine.  It’s not just any bottle. It’s a 1990 Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame Champagne that Mr. Whaley’s son, Wyatt, gave him in 1999 when Mr. Whaley was made a captain for United Airlines. Mr. Whaley knows it should be opened. He just can’t stand to do it. So on Saturday, Feb. 24, Mr. and Mrs. Represas and Mr. Whaley and his wife, Nancy, and Wyatt and his wife, Dawn, will grit their teeth and, together, finally pop the cork. It will be Open That Bottle Night 8, when many of us, all over the world, finally open that bottle of wine we’ve been saving forever for a special occasion that never comes.

For OTBN 5, Mr. Whaley, who is now a CPA, opened "the first bottle that got me interested in wine: a 1971 Mirassou Cabernet Sauvignon. To my surprise, it was still drinkable after surviving a divorce move and two moves precipitated by two airline bankruptcies." In each of the past two years, he opened a bottle of 1976 Chateau St. Jean Cabernet Sauvignon that he’d purchased at the winery many years ago. "The wine was in great condition and received rave reviews from our guests," recalled Mr. Whaley, who also may open two other cherished bottles next month, long-held gifts from appreciative friends: a 1974 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon and a 1983 Dom Pérignon.

Something Extra

This is why we invented OTBN, which is celebrated on the last Saturday of February every year. Whether it’s the only bottle in the house or one bottle among thousands, just about all of us have that very special wine that we always mean to open, but never do. On OTBN every year, thousands of bottles all over the world are released from prison and enjoyed. With them come memories of great vacations, long-lost loved ones and bittersweet moments. The whole point of our wine column is that wine is more than the liquid in the bottle. It’s about history, geography, relationships and all of the things that are really important in life.

In Forest Hills, N.Y., Barrie Stern plans to open a 1948 Rioja she found when she was cleaning out her mother’s house. "It was probably a gift from my uncle for a special occasion and never opened," says Ms. Stern. "Too bad they didn’t have Open That Bottle Night then." In Lexington, S.C., Mandy Ackerman, celebrating her second OTBN, is deciding whether to open a Sawyer Cabernet or a Freemark Abbey Cabernet with 16 friends. Andrew Rosenthal is planning an event in Philadelphia at a bring-your-own-bottle restaurant with an alumni group from the University of Pennsylvania. The Geneva Golf Club outside of Chicago is celebrating OTBN with a special dinner for 60 to 80. Main course: pork loin with apple-cranberry chutney.

Restaurants are getting into the spirit as well. Some restaurants drop corkage fees for OTBN. Occidental Restaurant in Washington, D.C., is having its OTBN on Feb. 23, the night before the world-wide celebration, as part of its own centennial festivities. It’s planning several different menus (for $130, including tax and tip) to pair with the wines people will bring. The restaurant’s wine guru, Daniel Hennessey, will ask diners what they plan to bring so they can be assigned to tables with appropriate menus. Some distributors have agreed to kick in Champagne and dessert wines. Mr. Hennessey said the $30 corkage fee will go to a charity that helps homeless people.

While OTBN has become a time for parties, large and small, don’t forget that it also is about romance and intimacy. In our case, for instance, we’re going to stay home — and travel to Italy together. Many years ago, long before we wrote about wine, we visited the Piedmont region and, through a series of happy accidents, were virtually adopted for a week by the Cerettos, one of Italy’s legendary winemaking families. When we were leaving, with tears all around, they handed us a signed bottle of grappa, the distilled firewater. We don’t often drink serious alcohol and we had never even tasted grappa, but the next year, on a very cold day, we opened it and we each took a sip. One sip was enough for the whole winter.

Memories, and a Mystery

Winter after winter, we took a sip of that grappa, usually while standing knee deep in snow in Central Park or outside our country cabin, until, inevitably, we have come to the last few sips. On Open That Bottle Night, finally, we will finish the grappa and remember the hills and fog of Piedmont and the generosity of strangers. And, yes, of course we’ll open a special bottle of wine, too, but which one? Part of the fun is figuring that out, so we don’t know yet. Mr. Represas also is trying to decide what wine he will bring to the Whaleys’ home, even though he said bringing wine into the U.S. from Mexico City "is a real nightmare."

A few years ago, he was on a flight from Bogata to Mexico City that experienced hydraulic failure and had to fly in circles to burn up fuel before attempting to make an emergency landing. "It was a good opportunity to review my life," Mr. Represas said. "It was comfortable to find out that I was pleased with most of the things I’d done and the way I left things — the wills, the properties. But the one thing that I was really upset about was all of those bottles of wine that I had left in the cellar that I would never drink and didn’t know who would eventually do it.

"It was a tough landing. All of the tires of the airplane blew out. The pilot did a really fantastic job," he recalled, adding that he had to drink "a couple Scotches before I could even call home." So when the Whaleys, whom he had met on a barge trip through Burgundy, told him about OTBN, "I knew this was something I must do. It is a way to commemorate the importance of not leaving this world without enjoying what you have in this world."

If you plan to participate in Open That Bottle Night, here are some tips to help you make the most of it.

1. Choose the wine. This is the all-important first step. You don’t necessarily want to open your "best" wine or your most impressive wine, but the wine that means the most to you, the one that you would simply never open otherwise. Maybe it’s Grandpa’s garlic wine. You’re looking for a bottle full of memories. On the other hand, if you have, say, a 1929 Lafite that’s just sitting there, we certainly couldn’t argue with that.

2. Stand older wine up (away from light and heat, of course) for a few days before you plan to open it — say, on Wednesday. This will allow the sediment, if there is some, to sink to the bottom.

3. Both reds and whites are often better closer to cellar temperature (around 55 degrees) than today’s room temperature. Don’t over chill the white, and think about putting the red in the refrigerator for an hour or two before opening it if you’ve been keeping it in a 70-degree house.

4. With an older bottle, the cork may break easily. The best opener for a cork like that is one with two prongs, but it requires some skill. You have some time to practice using one. Be prepared for the possibility that a fragile cork may fall apart with a regular corkscrew. If that happens, have a carafe and a coffee filter handy. Just pour enough through the coffee filter to catch the cork.

5. Otherwise, do not decant. We’re assuming these are old and fragile wines. Air could quickly dispel what’s left of them. If the wine does need to breathe, you should have plenty of time for that throughout the evening.

6. Have a backup wine ready for your special meal, in case your old wine really has gone bad.

7. If you are having an OTBN party, ask everyone to say a few words about the significance of the wine they brought. This really is what OTBN is all about, sharing.

8. Serve dinner. Open the wine and immediately take a sip. If it’s truly, irretrievably bad — we mean vinegar — you will know it right away. But even if the wine doesn’t taste good at first, don’t rush to the sink to pour it out. Every year, we hear from people who were amazed how a wine pulled itself together and became delicious as the night wore on.

9. Enjoy the wine for what it is, not what it might someday be or might once have been.

10. Drop us a note at wine@wsj.com1 about your evening. Be sure to include your name, city and phone number, in case we need to contact you so that we can share your account with other readers.

Copyright 2007 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved

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