Sure, tasting notes describe aromas, flavours and mouthfeel; touch on balance, length and sweetness; suggest food pairings and such. But that’s only ever part of the story. Where, when and with whom you drink a bottle of wine deeply influences how good it tastes.
The red Californian field blend you drank on that fabulous vacation to Big Sur that takes you back there when you taste it. The wine you shared on a memorable first date. Or that bottle you were given as a gift that you built a dirty weekend around. These are the kinds of bottles you probably remember most and recall tasting best.
If you’re anything like me, you buy bottles to recreate those special moments or generate new ones, setting them aside to drink when the right occasion comes along. But often, that occasion never comes because no moment seems quite special enough. So there those bottles sit, quietly, edging toward their vinous cliff. Violins optional.
Brilliantly, former wine columnists for The Wall Street Journal Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher created Open That Bottle Night to address this silent conundrum. OTBN was invented in the late ’90s and held on the last Saturday in February every year.
We launched a local version of OTBN last year and are celebrating our second annual one tonight. We hope you’ll participate. You can open that bottle with pomp and circumstance, or none at all. It can be uncorked alone, with one special someone, or with a room full of people. You can plan a meal around it or drink it on its own. In short, there are no rules — but the bottle should be meaningful to you. And meaningful doesn’t have to mean pricey or fancy. It should just evoke feeling, or at least a story. Here’s an example.
A couple of years ago, I attended a dinner with a clutch of fellow wine scribes that required us each to bring a memorable wine — an open-that-bottle-night of sorts. I brought a one-litre box of white from Kenya that was given to me from a friend who had travelled there. It was far from fancy, certainly a curiosity and a bit amusing.
None of the usual indicators of what it might taste like appeared on the packaging — such as the grape variety. Instead, the ironic words, “Foremost in quality” were scripted across the package — something this particularly seasoned crowd thought hilarious. This box of wine ended up being a source of good fun, generating many photo ops and laughs. There was even talk of bronzing the box to create an annual award for the most unusual wine.
So join the fun. Grab that crazy-expensive or crazy-cheap wine and open it. If you don’t have a bottle handy with which to participate, grab one of these wines and let me know what you think of it, who you’re drinking it with and what food you served alongside — if any. I’ll be right there with you at #StarOTBN on Twitter and Instagram.
Carolyn Evans Hammond is a Toronto-based wine writer. She is also a London-trained sommelier and two-time bestselling wine book author.
Show us your bottle
To participate in OTBN tonight, just grab that particular wine you’ve got tucked away and open it. Then tell us about it on Twitter or Instagram using #StarOTBN or email me at email@example.com . I’d love to see a picture of your wine bottles or boxes — even more so with you and your friends in the shot! We’ll publish letters and photos with my next column.
This week’s wine recommendations
NV Piper Heidsieck Brut Champagne, France (LCBO 462432 $60.15 in stores and online)
If you’re stumped for a special bottle to pour tonight, why not grab a bottle of this fine drop to gear up for tomorrow night’s Academy Awards. It is the exact same cuvée being poured exclusively at this year’s Academy Awards ceremony and Governors Ball, the Academy’s official Oscars after-party. It starts with aromas of cooked Granny Smith apples rolled in butter pastry followed by a creamy-fresh attack of the same infused with lemon and marzipan. Pour it with popcorn.
2015 Konzelmann Estate Winery Pinot Blanc, Lakefront Series, VQA Niagara Peninsula, ON (LCBO 219279 $12.95 in stores and online)
This lovely local Pinot Blanc slips over the tongue with silky flavours of white peach, apricot, honeysuckle and orange zest — all tightly knit and properly composed rather than too fruit-forward and overblown. This restraint makes it a versatile food wine — really, it goes with almost anything. I drank this wine recently with a homemade salmon tart and the pairing was gorgeous.
2015 Henri Bourgeois Les Baronnes Sancerre, France (Vintages Essential 542548 $26.95 in stores and online)
When I want something racy, delicate and restrained, I reach for this bottle of Sancerre that tastes great year-in-year-out. Fresh, clean aromas of green apple, lime oil and white flowers lead to a clean, bright attack of lime puree, gunflint, yellow plum and salted green apple all tightly spooled together. Quite classic and stylish. Goat cheese is a perfect match. I like it with goat cheese mozzarella melted on whole-grain crackers.
2013 Gerard Bertrand Grand Terroir “Les Aspres” Syrah, Mourvedre, Grenache, Cotes du Roussillon, France (Vintages 413245 $18.95 in stores only)
Love the way this French red combines rusticity with sweet, lush fruit. Like a hand-knit bulky knit, the texture is more chunky than polished, with flavours that flit from the sweet juiciness of wild field berry preserves to more savory notes of roasted meat infused with thyme, black olive and granite. It’s a great bottle to pour this time of year with a hearty meat and potatoes dish — or cheese fondue! This new release hit shelves Feb. 18 and won’t last.
2013 Monte Zovo Sa’Solin Valpolicella Ripasso, Veneto, Italy (Vintages Essential 650713 $18.95 in stores and online)
I’ve recommended this wine before and it’s still stellar value. Ripe, saturated flavours of black cherry, dried plum and black raspberry are edged with notes of black olive, truffle and grilled meat. Complex and concentrated, this is a resonant wine of richness and polish. Excellent buy at under $20. Pour it with a simply prepared but flavourful meat dish or a wild mushroom risotto drizzled with truffle oil.
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