Saturday, February 27, 2010

It's Time for Open That Bottle Night!

What's the most romantic holiday occurring every February? As opposed to that Valentine thing, I would make a case for Open That Bottle Night, which restaurants and couples throughout the world celebrate on the last Saturday in February. Created by former Wall Street Journal wine columnists John Brecher and Dorothy J. Gaiter, OTBN is their invitation to create a bond between a memorable wine bottle, and the special people in your life.

John and Dorothy generously agreed to an email interview describing the evolution of OTBN.

How did you come up with the idea for Open That Bottle Night?

We listened to readers. When we began writing our “Tastings” column in 1998, we received the same question over and over again: “I have a cherished bottle of xxx that I received for my wedding (or was left by the father, etc.). When do I open it?” We always said the same thing: Open it this weekend and celebrate the memories that splash out! But finally we realized, wow, we should just all bite the bullet and open those bottles together. We set a date for September 1999 and the response was incredible. It turns out that everybody has a bottle like that!

What are some tips you have for making your OTBN extra special?

Open a bottle that really is special to you in some way, that brings back very special memories, that you might not otherwise ever open. This doesn’t necessarily mean the “best” bottle in your collection or the one that was most highly rated by someone else, but the one that will bring back the warmest, happiest memories.

Have you heard from wine stores and restaurants, regarding if
OTBN has provided any bump in business on that day?

Many restaurants over the years have had special events for OTBN and some – even the great Windows on the World -- waived corkage on that night. We certainly hope it helped business, but we know it made people happy and that’s always good for business.

Can you share some memorable stories from readers about their OTBN (or your own?)

We have always had a soft spot for John Watson. He wrote us the very first year about his special wine and added: “Had we found an occasion last year to open this great ‘gift of the grape,’ my bride of over 50 years could have been present to enjoy this event in person rather than in spirit only.” We kept in touch with Mr. Watson after that and, because of wine, he ended up meeting a woman, Mary, and they ultimately married. They sent us pictures of their wedding, which really touched us.

Have you found that certain regions or specific wines make frequent appearances at OTBN? What are some of the more unexpected wines you have heard have been served?

It depends on the year. During the fat years, there were a lot of cult Cabernets from California and first-growth Bordeaux. Jordan Cabernet has always been big. The biggest surprises to us are the ancient Blue Nuns and similar wines. We mean, gosh, it’s great that people are finally opening these wines, but what were they waiting for? It just goes to show that some wines, whatever they may be, are always too special to open.

Do you think there is something intrinsic about wine that makes it such a catalyst for memories, storytelling, laughter, that I have read in your book are often the best part of an OTBN?

Absolutely. Smells and tastes spark memories in a way few things do. Far too much discussion of wine focuses on vintages, reviews and hints of leather, but what people really love about wine is how very, very personal every bottle is and how it connects us with people, places and good times in a very special way. OTBN is one way to reconnect with those good times.

Michael Bottigliero, who writes an excellent blog called Windy City Wine Guy, described his special wine he will be tasting with his special recipe for Farfalle al Salmone e Piselli (please email me for the recipe!)

"For this I will be opening a bottle of '01 Poderi Aldo Conterno Barolo "Cicala". Barolo wines come from Piedmont in the Cuneo province, just southwest of Alba. They are made from the Nebbiolo varietal and produce wines which are lighter in color, but higher in acidity and tannin, and full bodied. They typically have essences of earth, roses and tar, along with ripe red fruit flavors. They react well with heavy sauces and both fat and proteins and the acidity matches well with tomato sauce. They were traditionally cellar aged for many years, to mellow the tannins and acidity, but new style producers have been making them a bit more ready to drink upon release, though it still is better that they age. Since the Cicala is an '01 vintage, I feel tonight is a great time to open it! I will be sharing it with my wife and a few candles, while we eat and watch our baby. Sounds like a great Saturday night to me!"

Another blogger you should read is author/poetress Jacquee T, who writes A Romantic's Perspective. Her thoughts should definitely inspire your Open That Bottle Night:

"This is a fabulous celebration because we all have “that bottle” we’d purchased and earmarked for a special occasion. That we’d stashed in a place distinguished from other wines, to be opened “when ....”

We have visions of “when” that precious bottle is to be uncorked. A step up in the career, a new home, a homemade dinner by candlelight. Or we might rely on knowing when “when” arrives when we see it.

Either way we envision the occasion as grand, and quaint. And the wine set aside for it to be delicious, better with age, better with prolonged anticipation.

Yet the genesis behind “that bottle” is the initial purchase.

One of my “that bottle’s” is from a trip to Spain. I love it because I’d purchased it during a magical trip. It could only be uncorked for a special occasion. Without that occasion, the bottle remained in its special place.

“Open That Bottle Night” asserts permission I haven’t given myself to make the wine the occasion.

Given that, I realize the biggest anticipation behind “that bottle” is the people with whom I want to share it. When I do, I will tell them, with a toast, why I invited them."

Please share with me your Open That Bottle Night stories, and I will include them in an upcoming post. And check out the Open That Bottle Night website!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Talking Valentines and Pinot with Anthony Terlato

Anthony Terlato, the Chairman of Lake Bluff based Terlato Wines International has earned a reputation for quality wines sourced from vineyards throughout the world. Some of the brands he markets include Domaine Chanson from France, Santa Margherita from Italy, Angelo Gaja's wines from Italy, the classic Champagne house Bollanger and the Rhone based Michel Chapoutier. He produces wine at his family owned wineries Rutherford Hill in Napa and Chimney Rock in Stags Leap and Sanford in Santa Barbara. He also bottles under his own family name Terlato Family Vineyards, with grapes grown in Sonoma, Santa Barbara and Napa Valley.

In his book, Taste: A Life in Wine, Mr. Terlato engagingly wrote about his fifty year career. Like the late Robert Mondavi, Mr. Terlato is one of a handful of American winemakers and executives who have promoted wine as a lifestyle; a desirable, almost necessary addition to the American diner's table.

With Valentine's Day approaching and the release of Terlato Family Vineyard's first Pinot Noir, Mr. Terlato graciously agreed to a phone interview to discuss romance, Pinot, his career, and of course, more PInot!

He first mentioned his preferences about Pinot Noir, and how he decided where to grow the grapes for this project. "I am a Francophile; I admire the California style of Pinot Noir, but prefer Burgundy. I represented some excellent Burgundy houses early in my career such as Louis Latour and Domaine Chanson. Several of my winemakers spent time in Burgundy houses, studying rootstocks and clones. We want to make the most French style possible and believe that the regions of Santa Barbara and the Russian River Valley are the most similar."

This follows a pattern that he has applied to his other Terlato Family wines; finding the best region to cultivate a specific grape whether it's Stag's Leap for his Cabernet, Rutherford Valley in Napa for his Chardonnay and Dry Creek Valley for his Syrah.

He described Pinot Noir as typically having a strawberry or raspberry aroma; using adjectives such as delicate, elegant and voluptuous; especially praising the wine of Domaine Trapet for its soft elegance. The best have a potential for aging that may not seem obvious at first because of their light color. "I still have some 1955's in my cellar that are softer now but more flavors become apparent over time."

Mr. Terlato didn't specific recommend a Pinot Noir for a Valentine's Day dinner, but did mention that it might be a more appropriate choice than some more "vigorous" wines. He didn't give specifics, but (listen up, guys!) I suspect a Cabernet or a higher alcohol Zinfandel might work better on another occasion.

After tasting his Russian River Valley Pinot, he recommended both some Old World producers (Domaine Dujac, Domaine Chanson in the Cote - d"Or) as well as the New World (Rochioli Vineyards from the Russian River Valley).