All across the land, the last Saturday in February is Open That Bottle Night.
“Wait, what?” you may be saying. “Is this a real thing?” For the last 24 years, indeed it is.
The idea was born in 1999 by then-Wall Street Journal wine columnists, Dorothy Gaiter and John Brecher, after fielding a multitude of questions from readers about the right time to open a special bottle. Their answer: Now. Open it now.
Of course, there are a multitude of benefits to saving certain wines. When done in the proper environment the flavor and texture will in all likelihood improve, knitting its youthful parts into the mature creation it was meant to be. Its aromas, too, will become more interesting, but still with the presence of the beautiful fruit with which it was born. To experience a wine that has aged to that just-right moment is a special, wondrous sensory experience, hands down.
But there’s a limit to saving things because, in the end, everything and everyone has an expiration date. If we’ve learned anything over the last few years, it is—hopefully—that time is precious and finite.
This week’s New York Wine of the Week was dusted off from its chilly, 19-year slumber. There was a moment of hesitation: Should we wait for a round number like 20? Hang on until next year? Gaiter and Becher’s wisdom compelled the gentle shimmying release of the cork from this bottle’s slender neck. Made by then-Lenz winemaker, the very talented Eric Fry, it’s a 100 percent merlot, unfiltered and unfined. In his days at Lenz, Fry was a fan of single-varietal wines, especially merlot, the red grape most widely grown on Long Island. “I prefer varietal wines. I think merlot is wonderful,” he told former winemaker and writer Louisa Hargrove in this 2014 article she wrote for Northforker. “I enjoy that little constraint of keeping to the nature of the grape itself.”
We checked with current Lenz winemaker, Tom Spotteck (“I could write a book on his mentorship of me,” he says of Fry), and the wine doesn’t even exist in Lenz’s own library. You can’t even calculate its cost, really; a quick Google of the vintage, and it’s nowhere to be found, adding to this bottle’s lonely mystique.
Was it worth opening? Unequivocally, yes. After two decades, it was beginning to show just the right signs of age, like tiny little streaks of gray around the temples or a few laugh lines that add a certain distinct kind of beauty to a face. It was still vibrant, though, and so full of rich, ripe black cherry fruit, a vibrating hum of zippy acid, and a reverberating, concentrated finish that lingered long. A reassuring testament to the age-worthy potential of the wines grown and made in our own backyard. It was enjoyed among friends, who clinked and talked and spent an awfully nice evening together.
So this weekend, even if there’s no special occasion in sight—actually, especially if there’s no special occasion in sight—listen to the very wise Gaiter and Becher, find that bottle you’ve been saving and open it. Your special occasion is now.
(And if you feel compelled, let us know how it went: [email protected].) Cheers, friends.