I have thought about writing a piece on special wines for a long time. For some unknown reason I have really struggled with where to start and what is their importance. So after numerous wadded up attempts going in the wastebasket, here you go with my thoughts on special wines.
The very first question I thought that I needed to answer was, ‘how does a wine become a special bottle of wine?’ Only you and I can determine that a wine is special to us regardless of the price, vintage, etc. I do believe that there is a “rite of passage” that when you finally possess your special bottle of wine you have crossed the threshold from being a casual wine drinker to a full-fledged wine lover. Sometimes recognizing that moment is difficult, but it happens. You have, in my judgment, become passionate about wine.
What is special to you and I may not be special to another person or vice versa. Here is an example of a special bottle of wine that wouldn’t be special to me (assuming I had the dough). The most expensive bottle of wine ever purchased was at the 2000 Napa Valley Auction: a 1992 Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon valued at $500,000. It was an extremely rare six-liter bottle, and, fortunately, all the money from the purchase went to charity. Some bottles of wine are so valuable they will never be opened.
I have done a fair amount of research with friends and other wine drinkers about what a special bottle of wine means to them and, most importantly, when do they drink them and with whom.
When I mention special bottles of wine it can and does have multiple meanings. A bottle of wine doesn’t have to be expensive or exclusive to be special. It could also be:
- A gift from someone
- A certain vintage with special meaning such as years of births, marriages etc.
- It could be rare bottles/limited production wines
- Highly rated bottles: a 100 point wine
- Expensive bottles: everyone’s definition of expensive is going to be different
- A special wine can also be a wine that you just enjoy drinking
My research indicated that about 50% of the people I questioned do have special bottles of wine. Two people had vintages of the years their daughters were born. Another has a wine served at his wedding. Yet another has a wine in the vintage of the year he was married. Several have plans on when they will open these, others do not.
A couple folks fired the question back at me by asking me about my favorite or special bottles in my wine cellar. My answer was I have a number of special bottles. My family doesn’t (believe it or not) drink wine. Mrs. Tiedemann only drinks white sweet wines, if she drinks wine at all. My son Ben will drink wine occasionally as he is a Scotch drinker and my daughter Elizabeth has been sober for two years and no longer drinks anything. So having special wines to do with birthdays, anniversaries, etc. would be of little value. I would have no one in the family to share them with.
All of my special bottles are based on types of wine, vintage or wine ratings. I have classic French Bordeauxs, highly-rated California Cabernets and some older vintage wines such as a 1938 Chateau Villargeil Rivesaltes Dessert Wine.
So my question to all is when will you open these special bottles? If you’re anything like me, you buy bottles or have been given bottles that will recreate special moments or create new ones…memorable times with family or friends. We set these bottles aside for just that right occasion or special dinner. But often, for most of us that occasion never comes because no moment or occasion seems quite right or special enough. So the bottle continues to lie quietly in our wine cellars, storage cabinets or storage area as they edge towards their vinous cliff. We all seem to tell ourselves this isn’t the right occasion or group of people to open this wine for.
I have also decided that where, when and with whom you drink a special bottle of wine deeply influences how good it tastes.
I have done some research on where, when and with whom people open their special bottles. Here is what my friends say.
“I definitely will open one of my special bottles of wine but only with friends whom I think can appreciate the wine.”
– Alec Dille, CEO Federated Media
“My special bottles: I’d want to share it first, with a friend, as opposed to drinking it alone (although I suppose I would if I had a lot more of them) and with someone who really loves wine to be able to talk about it. Or possibly I would share with a group of not necessarily experts as the high point in a tasting of several wines of a certain type but of different levels of quality.”
– Tom Welsh, Certified Sommelier/General Manager Tapastrie Restaurant
“The occasion is more important to me that the type of wine or the cost. On my son’s recent 21st birthday we opened a magnum of French Bordeaux. It was an older vintage wine but it wouldn’t have been classified as a special vintage. However, it was special to us as we don’t normally drink Bordeaux and it was a special occasion. We still talk about the evening and my son still has the bottle.”
– Brad Richards, President Hi-Spec Wheel and Tire
I am as guilty as anyone can be about not opening those special bottles of wine. Or in some cases I have wines I have been purchasing and never tried a bottle. My theory on those wines is that they are “big” Cabernets or Red Blends and are really only beginning to get their best flavor profile after aging five to six years. The problem is, as I acquire other wines I tend to drink those and the others collect dust in my cellar.
Drink it now? Drink it later? Here are my thoughts on special bottles of wine: The fact is 95% or more of the wines produced are made to drink now. So waiting too long to open that special bottle may be a mistake.
- I have come to believe that “Drink It Now” is the proper attitude to have.
- I also believe that you may have to create those special occasions to force yourself to open those special bottles – wine tastings, dinner parties, etc.
- I think that sharing your special bottles with knowledgeable wine friends and/or family makes the special wine taste better and the occasion more memorable.
- Have a backup bottle in case the one you opened isn’t really special any longer or never was to others.
- Finally, if you are still stymied on when to open that bottle let me tell you there is a special “Open That Bottle Night” (OTBN). Back in 2000 two tasting columnists for the Wall Street Journal, Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecker, created OTBN. The night is always scheduled for the last Saturday in February. It was created to motivate wine folks like all of us to reconnect with each other over that special bottle of wine and to create good memories with family and friends. So you can mark your calendars. OTBN #19 is February 24, 2018, and OTBN #20 is February 23, 2019.
One of the things I have discovered on a personal level is that special wines are real and that it’s a recurring phenomenon. If that is true for you and you keep coming up with those special bottles of wine, I can tell you, “You’re a wine lover.” Welcome to the club.
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Until next week,
Calendar of Upcoming Events:
May 25 – International Chardonnay Day (Thursday before Memorial Day)
June 21 – Lambrusco Day
August 1 – Albariño Day
August 14 – International Rosé Day
August 18 – Pinot Noir Day
August 31 – International Cabernet Day (Thursday before Labor Day)
September 15 – International Grenache Day (3rd Friday in September)