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Tonight is Open That Bottle Night

For the last ten years, the final Saturday in February has become an important night for wine lovers around the world. Each year, this particular Saturday provides the excuse to open that special bottle of wine that you've got tucked away for that special occasion that never seems to arrive.

Open That Bottle Night was invented by Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher, the husband-and-wife team that writes the wine column for the Wall Street Journal. Here's how they described their invention of this night in their memoir, Love by the Glass, after writing a column about how people should age their wines:

The response to "aging your wines" column was surprising. We received dozens of heartfelt letters from people who had one special bottle of wine. They all wanted to know whether their particular bottle of wine was still good and, if so, when it would be ready to drink. (The usually added, shyly, "How much is it worth?") We answered all these letters the same way. Your bottle is priceless. It's impossible to know if it's still good until you open it. Stop waiting for a special occasion to open it and make the wine itself the special occasion. Make a special meal and celebrate the wine itself.

After we'd written this letter dozens of times, it struck us that if so many people wrote to us about this issue, it must be a widespread question. Instead of telling everybody individually about celebrating their bottle, why not just write a column with that advice for everybody.... We decided we'd set a date when we could all make a special dinner and open our bottles together. Saturday seemed like a good bet because people could spend the day preparing....Because we wanted people to open that bottle they'd kept forever, we decided to call it, simply, Open That Bottle Night.

The next week [after the column had run] was one of the most extraordinary of our lives. Remember that scene in Miracle on 34th Street, in the courtroom, when the mailmen come in with sacks and sacks of mail addressed to Santa Claus? Well, that's what it was like. Kids from the mailroom kept arriving at our desks with stacks of mail. The tops of our desks were filled with envelopes. We took them all home and read. After the girls were in bed, we opened them and read them to each other. Each one was moving, or funnier, than the last. People from all over the world were sharing what was in their hearts with us, all because of wine. Most of the letters were long. Many were handwritten. Quite a few included menus and recipes and labels from the bottles. We responded to every one. John sat at the computer and composed letters. Dottie addressed the envelopes until her hand hurt so badly she had to stop. For almost two weeks we stayed up until two A.M. every night answering letters.... By the time the flood ended we had more than a thousand letters.... The Wall Street Journal nominated the column for a Pulitzer.... The ripples from "Open That Bottle Night" seemed to last forever.

They say good ideas only come around once in a blue moon. Ideas that can fundamentally change people's relationships to wine come around even less frequently. Open That Bottle Night is one of those ideas. In its own small way, it achieves what wine writers toil over every day -- removing the barriers to enjoying wine.

Every wine writer in existence has probably been asked about that "special" bottle that someone has, and the answer that Dorothy and John came up with is precisely the right one. Wine should be enjoyed with the people we love, whether it is a $10 bottle or a dusty treasure that we've been hoarding for the "right time" that never quite seems to arrive.

So if you can, grab one of those bottles you've been saving for a while. You know, the ones you always pass over in the rack because they're a little too good to bring to that party, or a little to expensive to open with pizza, or a little too close to that perfect memory of your Tuscan vacation. Pop that sucker open with people that mean a lot to you and celebrate the fact that wine makes the world better.

I'm using the occasion to help a friend inaugurate his new restaurant in San Francisco, and Ruth, Sparrow, and I, along with our friends Jack and Joanne and their son Trent, will be opening a few bottles that have been crying out for drinking, including a late 90's vintage Champagne, an old bottle of California Pinot, a strange bottle of southern Italian white wine made by a crank winemaker, and if we're in the mood, an old Riesling as well.

If you're reading this entry on Sunday, or even Monday, don't worry. The event works just as well on any day of the week. Grab that bottle and something good to eat, and enjoy yourself.

Read more about the occasion.

Comments (6)

Uzi wrote:
03.01.09 at 9:16 AM

Great idea. I have been saving some bottles from our first vintage for a while. It will have to be the first Saturday in March.

nowino wrote:
03.01.09 at 2:02 PM

Not too many years ago a friend answered the age-old question re: when to drink that special bottle you've been saving. His answer was drink it now. The special occasion is when you open, drink and share that wine with someone special. Since then I've drunk up all my 29's, 45's and 70's. Still drinking my 82's tho. Yeah right. Don't wait. That wine will probably never get any better, but may fade. Drinking a fine wine a little bit early is NOT infanticide, but it can give much pleasure.

Brian Mast wrote:
03.02.09 at 12:17 AM

We love OTBN and every year have great wines and even better stories. By having people over for dinner, we end trying a number of different and interesting wines and we enjoy a festive evening w/friends. One of the most interesting wines we had last night was a Swiss Cornalin - probably pretty difficult to find in this country. Feel free to read our recounting of the evening, replete with menu and tasting notes!

Randy Watson wrote:
03.02.09 at 8:00 AM

I was just curious as to which CA Pinot you chose to open?
How was it?

Alder wrote:
03.02.09 at 8:04 AM

Actually we didn't get to that bottle (1996 Williams Selyem Hirsch Vineyard).

Dylan wrote:
03.03.09 at 6:40 PM

That is such a neat story! Tradition has to start somewhere and what a great way to start. I'm impressed with the way Dorothy and John touched so many people. From the depths of fiction it seems they created something real and liberating for wine lovers all over the place. If you don't have an excuse for celebration, sometimes you just need to make your own.

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Required Reading for Wine Lovers

The Oxford Companion to Wine by Jancis Robinson The Taste of Wine by Emile Peynaud Adventures on the Wine Route by Kermit Lynch Love By the Glass by Dorothy Gaiter & John Brecher Noble Rot by William Echikson The Science of Wine by Jamie Goode The Judgement of Paris by George Taber The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil The Botanist and the Vintner by Christy Campbell The Emperor of Wine by Elin McCoy The World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnson The World's Greatest Wine Estates by Robert M. Parker, Jr.