I recently got a letter from Pete Guidotti, who lives in Flowery Branch, Ga. It went, in part, like this:
On special occasions, a friend of mine kindly presented me with gifts of wine. These wines have been stored in my cellar for over 30 years or so.
I will be 80 years old in a few months and I would very much appreciate your advice on what to do with this small collection.
Have I waited too long to drink them?
Are they worth continuing to age?
Have they any true value?
And Pete went on to describe several well-know Bordeaux wines and a 1928 Rioja from Spain.
I’ll take up his last question first: While he did not say specifically, I’m pretty sure Pete was asking about monetary value. Why’s it always got to be about the money with wine? I’m sure if Pete’s friend had given him a nice cardigan, he wouldn’t be running to the antique clothes store 30 years later to get an appraisal. Pete’s friend wanted him to drink and enjoy those lovely wines.
I don’t mean to vilify Pete, who sounds like a decent guy, but the value of a wine should be more correctly measured by how much enjoyment and mirth it provides you and, more often than not, your guests.
Let me just pose this question to Pete, who could be anyone of thousands of other folks who suffer from eno-torpor: What if your 1970 Château Mouton offered a singular pleasure unequaled by any wine you have ever had? It’s really hard to measure the value of that experience, but one would be hard-pressed to prove those types of experiences are worthless.
I’m not saying all old wines need to be sopped up immediately. In fact, I like Pete’s plan for his ’28 Federico Paternina Rioja. He wants to give it to his grandchildren with specific instructions to open it in 2028. Whether or not the bottle is kept so there is a chance it will still taste like wine is irrelevant. I’m sure Pete’s grandkids will have a joyous evening opening up a century-old bottle and maybe even reminiscing about ol’ Grandpa Pete (or hopefully share it with him. It’s only 17 years, Pete!).
That’s what wine is all about: creating and commemorating special times.
Which, believe it or not, finally brings me to my point. You gotta open dem bottles!
Here’s what can happen when you do. Late last month, on the wine holiday Open That Bottle Night, I showed up at Amanda Farahany and Ben Barrett’s house with a bottle of Peter Franus Cabernet Franc in hand. (For the uninitiated, OTBN is the designated day of the year to open the bottle you thought you never would. It was started 10 years ago by Dottie Gaiter and John Brecher, former wine columnists for The Wall Street Journal.)
The cabernet franc was an unexpected and generous gift from a complete stranger for a favor I did. Once I arrived, I was met by Amanda and dozens of interesting people, wines and their accompanying stories. Tales of special winery visits, anniversaries, birthdays. Some wines were quite famous and rare, some were young and some quite old, including a 1958 Gaja Barbaresco and a 1961 Père Anselme Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
All were delicious in their own way, but the spirit of the night far exceeded any complex layers of flavor swirling in the glasses. I don’t know exactly how to describe it, but when you pop a cork of a really cool bottle of wine and share it with friends, you can feel their excitement. It’s not in their words of appreciation or complimentary descriptions. It’s a face thing.
I’ve noticed that often as not when we’re opening a most anticipated bottle, people make a cup shape with their lips as if mouthing the word “Alright!” Their eyes brighten and focus sharply on the bottle. They may be talking, but eye contact is thrown out the window. If they’re standing, they may bend a little at the waist and raise their glass a little as if to hurry the pouring procedure just a bit. Exhilarating stuff.Of course, stories sprout like spring weeds when we’re talking about special bottles. “A man I fell in love with gave me this as a gift,” read the story underneath a 1985 bottle of Silver Oak. “Galante is one of the first high-end cabernets that Lisa and I started drinking together. We bought this three-pack on our honeymoon in Carmel, [Calif.] in October 2007,” wrote another attendee of the three single-vineyard Galante cabs on the table. “We had an unforgettable dinner at Le Bernardin with wine pairings from Burgundy,” read another chronicle underneath the bottle of 2008 Raymond Dupont-Fahn Meursault.
So, Pete, you get my point here. Wouldn’t you like to hear the story of that benevolent grandfather who gifted his grandchildren 17 years ago? Maybe they’ll clink glasses to your health…or memory. The best thing you can do with those bottles, though, is hatch a plan to share them, rekindle some memories and cement friendships or family ties. Next year’s Open That Bottle Night is Feb. 25.
Gil Kulers is a certified wine educator with the Society of Wine Educators. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.