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Open That Bottle Night

By Gil Kulers, Kulers Uncorked

By Gil Kulers, Kulers Uncorked

I recently got a letter from Pete Guidotti, who lives in Flowery Branch, Ga. It went, in part, like this:

Dear Sir,

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.

Gil Kulers with Amanda Farahany, who hosted an OTBN party in her Buckhead home. Kulers holds his contribution to the celebration, a bottle of Peter Franus Cabernet Franc he received from a grateful stranger. Photo by Philip Shone, www.pshone.com.

Gil Kulers with Amanda Farahany, who hosted an OTBN party in her Buckhead home. Kulers holds his contribution to the celebration, a bottle of Peter Franus Cabernet Franc he received from a grateful stranger. Photo by Philip Shone, www.pshone.com.

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.

]Two of the oldest bottles shared at Amanda Farahany and Ben Barrett's OTBN party. Both the 1961 [ACCENT AGU OVER “e”]Père Anselme [CARROT ACCENT OVER FIRST “a”]Châteauneuf-du-Pape (left) and a 1958 Gaja Barbaresco were in remarkable condition despite their five-plus decades in the bottle. Photo by Philip Shone, www.pshone.com

Two of the oldest bottles shared at Amanda Farahany and Ben Barrett's OTBN party. Both the 1961Père Anselme Châteauneuf-du-Pape (left) and a 1958 Gaja Barbaresco were in remarkable condition despite their five-plus decades in the bottle. Photo by Philip Shone, www.pshone.com.

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 gil.kulers@winekulers.com.

11 comments Add your comment

Tuna

March 10th, 2011
9:43 pm

Snobs. Give me a bottle of Lindeman’s anyday.

Spare me

March 10th, 2011
11:59 pm

Whether Pete is a real person or not you absolutely meant to call out him out and vilify him. Wine snobs can’t miss an opportunity to put someone in their place.

David

March 11th, 2011
1:41 am

Any or every night should be “Open That Bottle Night”.

Ted Striker

March 11th, 2011
3:34 am

Gil — Totally agree with you that the best thing to do is open some of the wine with friends and family and/or gift the rest. Will be fantastic if he does. Great advice.

You should have left it at that. The guy asked several questions — only one of which was a general question about “value” — and then you start off with “I don’t mean to vilify Pete….”

If you don’t intend to insult someone — especially in print — it’s a bad idea to lead with “I don’t mean to vilify…” or “I don’t mean to insinuate you are a liar…” or “I don’t mean to suggest you’re guilty…” etc.

To be fair, you didn’t “vilify” him. However your overall tone throughout much of the column was a little churlish and clearly implied this 80 year old gentleman was at least a little infected with greed. The bit about “running to an antiques store for an appraisal” for a 30 year cardigan was an over the top (and unnecessarily rude) attempt at comparison because that wasn’t what he was doing with his wine at all. Was it?

He’d had wine stored for 30 years and as he was getting older he was trying to become more educated on all facets (first and foremost the existing quality) of what he had. There’s nothing to suggest he won’t give every single bottle away — based on your advice — that he doesn’t drink with his family or friends. He’d already talked about giving wine away.

Here were some things you said about Pete that simply didn’t line up with how you initially described his email questions. (And granted I didn’t see the email)

“Let me just pose this question to Pete, who could be anyone of thousands of other folks who suffer from eno-torpor…” (Suffers from eno-torpor? You really feel it was fair to say this about him based on very limited information?)

“Why’s it always got to be about the money with wine?” (A guy asks one question, the very last question — the ONLY ONE you really choose to focus on — and suddenly it’s “always about the money with wine”)

Gil, you hit an absolute home run with your fine advice. Kudos for that. However there could have been a little more grace in your public response.

Tim

March 11th, 2011
9:33 am

Thanks for chronicling the party this year. I had a great time chatting with you and sharing all those great wines, I can’t wait for next year!

Nancy

March 11th, 2011
10:01 am

Gil – So glad we could share our birth wines with you – and you are right, wine does excite people and creates lots of great memories. Here’s to many more……and to Pete, enjoy what you have with friends and family – that is where the value is in wine. After all, it’s really just grape juice.

Emily

March 12th, 2011
4:29 am

Tell us about the wines!

The Real Foodie

March 13th, 2011
3:54 pm

Is there a reason that the wine blogs are so few and far between?
It’s a dis-service!

Gil Kulers

March 14th, 2011
12:40 pm

Hey, Tuna and Spare Me. Thanks for taking time to write and there is no reason why a bottle of Lindemans can’t be special. The Bin 45 Cab and the Bin 50 Shiraz are wonderful.

And, Striker, Thanks for writing and thanks for sticking up for Pete. And I didn’t mean to call Pete out in public, I meant to call out all people who hold on to special (not necessarily expensive) bottles forever and not letting the wine perform its no. 1 job: to be enjoyed and to make people happy. (OK, that might be jobs no. 1 and 2). And as far as Pete goes and his public flogging by me, I think he’s taking it OK. I will let Pete do the talking, however:
Gil,
Thank so much for your reply.

My daughter and I are going to take your advice and open the 77 Latour on Oct 3rd of this year to celebrate my 80th birthday.

We will use this vacation to honor the memory of my late wife, who passed away 12 years ago. I will toast my two daughters, four grandchildren and my great grandson. We also will make a toast to you Gil, for this wonderful suggestion. By the way, please give your wife my best regards. She has a wonderful sense of humor! May the Good Lord bless you both.

Sincerely,
Pete Guidotti

kp

March 14th, 2011
3:45 pm

So what do you do when there are not enough OTBNs to go through all of the special bottles that you feel guilty opening by yourself?

Gil Kulers

March 17th, 2011
6:34 pm

KP,
A valid question, although it seems that most people who even have passing interest in wine have a bottle or two permanently stashed some place. That’s actually a great question for me because I really don’t have a lot of really old special bottles any more. I observe OTBN throughout the year. You don’t have to twist my arm to open just about any bottle that I may have, even special, favorite bottles. The thing is, most wines come with a story, so it’s not hard to bring a bottle of Burgundy that I may have kicking around to remember my amazing trip to the region three years ago. Poof! Special bottle. If you don’t have any bottles kicking around, a visit to your local wine shop to pick up another bottle that spurs a fond memory is your best bet. That’s the cool thing about wine. Its ability to evoke (and re-evoke?) memories.