Last night was Open That Bottle Night, the annual event that Wall Street Journal wine columnists John Brecher and Dorothy Gaiter created almost by accident a few years ago. The idea is for people who have been saving a bottle of wine with emotional or historical connections to their lives to stop hoarding it, just open it, and enjoy it. It was a golden opportunity for us to pull out the dusty bottle of the Schlossadler Gau-Odernheimer Petersberg Dornfelder Rotwein 1994 that we had originally intended to open on our 25th wedding anniversary in 2001. The bottle has a peculiarly effective sort of self-preservation instinct: We forgot and left it behind in Phoenix when we drove to Chicago to celebrate our 25th in 2001. (9-11 was only a week before we left, and other things than wine were on our minds.) We then figured we'd open it on the 35th anniversary of our meeting one another in July 2004, but again we were in Chicago. The following year we figured we'd open it on July 31, for the 36th anniversary of our meeting, but were famously foiled by my flop into a patch of poison ivy. We then figured we'd open it for our 30th wedding anniversary in 2006, but by that time the bottle had gotten so far back in our memories that we clean fergot.
That bottle was a survivor, heh.
So a couple of weeks ago, while reading John and Dorothy's column in the WSJ, Carol looked up from the paper and said, “We have to open That Bottle on February 23.” This time for sure, Rocky!
And so we did. David and Terry Beers were here for dinner, and we cobbled together a Polish feast, with some kielbasa, honey millet bread, and cheese pirogi. Although I was concerned that the wine might not have survived (like all dornfelders it's fairly light, with only 9.5% alcohol) 14 years isn't all that long a time, and just as several people reassured us, the wine was unbowed.
What I did find remarkable was how indistinctly I recalled it. (We had bought half a case in October 1996, for our 20th, and I would think it would have remained clearer in my mind.) Dornfelders are almost invariably off-dry to semi-sweet, and this one is about as sweet as any dornfelder I've ever had. I remember it being a little drier, perhaps because I've had numerous drier dornfelders since then. The fruit was explosive, with some of the most intense black-currant flavor I ever recall in a wine of any stripe. It went well with the kielbasa, and the four of us had a wonderful evening talking about life, relationships, dogs, writing, ebooks, and ultra-mobile PCs. (It's that kind of crowd.) I don't recommend dornfelders to everyone—sweet reds bother a lot of people—but this one was a keeper, and if you have an open mind, sniff around the odd corners of your larger wine shops and try one.
Alas, we have no bottles of anything even remotely that old, and certainly nothing with that memorable a run of brushes with consumption. So next February we may just go eenie-meenie-mynie-moe and pull something from the rack. The wine is the thing, sure, but more than that, it's about friendship and having history together. This July, Carol and I will have known one another for 39 years, and we're pondering a whomper party somewhere in summer 2009. I guess it's time to shop for That Special Bottle so we'll have something to pass around in celebration of friendship, ours and that of all the many people we value in this beautiful and extravagant world.