The Wall Street Journal

Well, I finally made it into the WSJ, and it was for drinking with friends rather than anything having to do with business..This is from the wine column.  Check out the bolded paragraph, a few scrolls down!



To Simple Pleasures
March 19, 2004

Whit and Kelly Wright of Fayetteville, N.C., missed Open That Bottle Night last year because Capt. Wright was in Afghanistan with the 82nd Airborne Division. When he got reassigned to Iraq, they were determined not to miss it again, even if they had to celebrate early. "We loved the idea so much that before Whit left again, we had our own OTBN," says Mrs. Wright. "A few nights before he deployed, my parents came in town for a goodbye dinner and Whit decided it was time to open that bottle."

It was a 1987 Chateau Plagnac, a Bordeaux that had belonged to his father, who died in 1992, a year after his mother. "We prepared a special meal and savored the bottle. Whit reminisced about his folks, telling funny stories and sharing touching memories." How was the wine? Not that good anymore, they wrote in their tasting notes, but they added: "This wine has fought like hell."

On Feb. 28, thousands of people joined us in celebrating our fifth Open That Bottle Night, when we urge everyone to prepare a special meal and finally open the wine that always has been too precious to drink. It seems that all of us have that one cherished bottle -- from a wedding, a vacation to wine country, a departed friend -- that we keep forever. On OTBN, we urge everyone, together, to take a deep breath, grab the bottle by the neck and finally uncork the memories inside. OTBN was celebrated in restaurants from Calgary, Alberta, to Shreveport, La., and at parties everywhere. In Melbourne, Australia, Kimberly Fravil and Steve Waldmeyer made paella and opened an Alsatian Gewurztraminer, while in Barbados, Joseph E. Smith and friends ate curried kingfish with a Cabernet. In Fairbanks, Alaska, Pete and Phyllis Haggland threw an OTBN party and served moose stew. How do you make moose stew? "First one needs to find the moose -- that's Pete's job," explained Mrs. Haggland.

With a rocky economy, troops in Iraq, widespread terrorism and a world full of uncertainty, the theme this year, even more than the past, was seizing the moment to enjoy the simple pleasures of life. The food of choice was good old beefsteak, usually grilled. Even the wines themselves, while sometimes decades old and among the world's greatest names, were often more notable for their history, reflecting the spirit of OTBN. Susan and Joel Mindel of New York City opened a homemade wine that was a bit cloudy but brought back great memories, leading Mrs. Mindel to call it "a sedimental journey." Karen Petriano of Huntington Station, N.Y., who is nervous about traveling in the post-9/11 world, opened a bottle of "Two-Buck Chuck" that was special to her simply because she picked it up on a recent trip to California and was just so happy to return safely to her family. Amanda Toms of Boca Raton, Fla., celebrated OTBN with an inexpensive bottle of Ecco Domani Pinot Grigio, special because her mother gave it to her as a house-warming present for her first home.

World Events

World events both provided a backdrop to and helped shape OTBN 5. Erin and David Richardson of Alpharetta, Ga., shared eight bottles -- from a 1993 Taittinger Champagne to a 1994 Dow's Port -- with 10 friends and reported that the conversation and laughter were at least as good as the wine. "The dominant topics were 'The Passion of the Christ,' which no one present had yet seen, and Cialis vs. Viagra, which no one present would admit to have any personal knowledge of." And with her husband getting ready to return from Iraq, Mrs. Wright of North Carolina went on a shopping spree at the base store in Fort Bragg and spent $240 on wine for a very special Open That Bottle Night to prepare for Capt. Wright's homecoming.

OTBN is always, to a great extent, about family, but in such difficult times, everyone seems to be holding loved ones a little more tightly these days. Bill Kox and Debra Moderson of Madison, Wis., bought a bottle of Beaulieu Cabernet Sauvignon 1981, their daughter's birth year, to open when Amanda turned 21, but the birthday came and went and "it just never seemed like the right time." For a special meal with Amanda, they finally opened the bottle for OTBN -- the day before she left for a two-year stint in the Peace Corps.

Wrote Debra Tula of Hartford, Wis.: "I planned a roast duck dinner for OTBN and left the rest up to my husband. Richard set a beautiful table that even the 'Queer Eye' boys would ooh and aah over -- lace placemats and our wineglasses from our first Valentine's Day together. The dining room table was filled with 13 antique glass candleholders for the 13 years we were married. The wine he selected was a 1995 Chateau Saint-Pierre, from the year our daughter was born. My husband claims the year leading up to her birth was his most exciting year. At 58 years old he had become a grandfather, gone to his first Rolling Stones concert, and I was pregnant! While we savored the wine, I looked at my husband and thought how fortunate I was to have him. He retired to raise our baby girl, and now at 67 he looks his sexiest playing 'Barbie' with her."

Kyle Blumenstock of Penfield, N.Y., celebrated with his mother, who flew in from Colorado, and wrote of his 1985 Beaulieu Private Reserve: "I was able to share it with the three women who mean the most to me in my life: my wife, my mother and my new daughter." Wrote Rosie Lucchesini-Jack, of Sacramento, Calif.: "For Open That Bottle Night, 2004, my husband and I invited my mom over to open up and celebrate some special bottles that have been in my family for over 37 years. The bottles didn't carry a fancy label; hell, they didn't carry a label at all. My father, at the age of 17, came to the United States from Lucca, Italy, in 1957. My parents were married a few years thereafter and that is when my dad started making his own wine. My fondest memory is hanging out downstairs with my dad, being given sips of wine from his oak barrels, with a little bit of salami and bread to help wash it down.

"My father passed away over two years ago but whenever I go wine tasting with my husband and enter a dark, musty old cellar or cave, the smell immediately makes me reminiscent of my dad and his basement. My mother and I always wanted an excuse, once and for all, to try what was remaining in those bottles, so I thought this year's OTBN would be the perfect opportunity. My mom helped me prepare a very decadent roasted vegetable lasagna with bechamel sauce. My husband uncorked the bottle with ease and we poured the first glass for my mom. Quite honestly, the taste reminded me of the wine that you drink at mass on Sundays. But my mom said the taste was exactly as she remembered it many years ago."

Long-Awaited Honeymoon

Carol and Barry Sachs of Longmeadow, Mass., were married on Dec. 23, 1961, at the MIT chapel in Cambridge, Mass. All these years, they saved a bottle of Mumm Cordon Rouge Champagne from their wedding. On Feb. 28, Open That Bottle Night, they returned to the chapel with their bottle. "We walked across the street, right to the MIT chapel," Mrs. Sachs wrote. "It was open, so in we walked with our cooler with the Champagne, crackers, and glasses. Seeing the chapel for the first time since our wedding was an incredible feeling. Suddenly we were back in our 20s and entering the chapel to get ready for our wedding. The building is still beautiful, but the walk from the back to the front seemed much longer then to this 23-year-old bride, so filled with anticipation, excitement, ready to marry the love of her life. Being back here as a 65-year-old and a 68-year-old did not diminish at all the meaning of this structure. We opened the Champagne, toasted each other and life, and, most unbelievable, the Champagne was still good."

Unfortunately, wine isn't always about happy memories. "In 1991 I was in the midst of an unpleasant divorce," wrote Susan Silver of Chicago. "My ex-husband had a small wine cellar, and while I was in the process of moving out of the house, I took a few bottles with me (what the heck). I gave a couple away as gifts but, for whatever reason, one of those bottles has stuck with me like a burr. That 1985 bottle of Chateau Tour de By moved with me four times. I was pretty sure it was a decent bottle of wine, but with its slightly sordid history, the right occasion never seemed to come up. (What is the appropriate occasion for a bottle pilfered during a divorce? "Here, sweetheart, let's have a romantic drink courtesy of my ex-husband"?) This year, OTBN coincided with an annual skiing reunion trip with some business-school friends. I took my bottle. While we each only got about a half-glass apiece, I can't think of a better way to finally get that damn bottle out of my wine rack and onto appreciative palates."

As usual, OTBN was also a time to mark victories large and small. Bill and Jean Dill of Cumberland Foreside, Maine, opened a long-cherished 1934 Noval Port to celebrate OTBN and "finishing our 2003 tax returns in less time and with fewer arguments about misplaced records than in previous years." Other OTBN nights marked somewhat more notable accomplishments: "Three years ago we met our now dear friends Rob and Marianne Engle while sitting side by side in a small restaurant," wrote Michael and Susan Barr of New York. "Who better to spend Open That Bottle Night with? This year, we had something extraordinary to celebrate -- Rob had just won the Nobel Prize in Economics. A suggested OTBN dinner for four soon escalated into a five-course dinner party for 10, with Marianne, an accomplished chef, buried for a week in a mound of cookbooks and the rest of us rummaging in cellars for that special bottle. Rob and Michael weighed whether five or six bottles was the right number (seven proved more accurate). It was a five-hour whirlwind of food, wine and merriment, capped by a mouth-watering veal loin with imported morels and three sensational Cabernets. Then, over cheese and with a Yalumba Cabernet/Shiraz blend, we watched a video of Rob receiving his Nobel Prize from the King of Sweden."

Sometimes it seems to us that every person in America has a bottle of wine bought on vacation, often at a winery, and kept forever -- and not just from Napa and Sonoma. Paul and Andrea Frederick of Midland, Mich., opened a bottle they brought back from Australia 25 years ago. Karen and Tom Vandenberg of St. Charles, Ill., opened one from their days in Argentina. Marilyn and David Fayram opened a cherished bottle from a trip to Chile. Andrew and Margo Mershon of Brush Prairie, Wash., opened a special present from their son: a bottle of Great Wall 1995 Cabernet Sauvignon that he'd bought in China. The label described it as "limpid," they reported, adding: "We kid you not, it really says limpid."

Better than Ripple

Many of those older wines were still terrific. Bruce and Stephanie Anderson of Sunnyvale, Calif., finally opened a 1934 Chateau Margaux that he had bought in 1965, before they met. With a toast of "good friends, great wine and fast cars," they sipped it and wrote, "It still had lots of fruit!" Mike and Terry Vulpio of Media, Pa., opened a 1965 Louis Martini Cabernet, which, Mike said, "had been put in the bottle when I was a college freshman and the only wines I was drinking were Ripple, Wild Irish Rose and Royal Host Sauterne (we actually mixed the Royal Host with beer)." They declared the Martini Cabernet "a complete pleasure."

The strangest things happen on Open That Bottle Night.

In our column announcing the date of OTBN this year, we wrote: "In Niskayuna, N.Y., retired physicist Dr. James B. Comly and his wife plan to open a 1983 Chateau Puy-Blanquet given to him in 1988 by Lise Pfau, an intern who worked with him in a software-technology program at General Electric. Her father had brought it back from one of his annual wine trips to France. 'I have been looking up old friends for the last two or three years in general and was reminded about Lise Pfau when I reviewed my OTBN candidate bottles,' Dr. Comly told us. 'I'm going to try to find her. I'd like to tell her about this.' "

After reading this, a former colleague told Dr. Comly how to contact Ms. Pfau. Now married, Lise Pfau Ciolino left her career in the computer industry three years ago -- to start a winery in Sonoma with her husband, who also worked in the computer industry. Her father instilled a love of wine and winemaking in her, she told us. "You're living from the earth and you get to share something that you produce. I always loved the lifestyle, the vineyards, the travel. People were always really nice."

Now her husband, Vincent, is in charge of the vineyard and Mrs. Ciolino is the winemaker of Montemaggiore (and they live right down the street from an old friend of ours from the Journal). They have five acres of Syrah and five of Cabernet Sauvignon. They are bottling their first wines this year -- a Syrah and a Cabernet/ Syrah blend -- and expect to ultimately produce about 2,000 cases a year. Said Dr. Comly: "I have asked to be put on their order list to buy a case of each."

Some wines, sadly, were over the hill. Susan Haberman of New York called her 1979 Bordeaux "muddy in color. I expected vinegar, but surprisingly it was not terrible." In the end, though, she pronounced it "interesting and mature but not good." But it didn't matter to Mike McGuigan of Maple Park, Ill., who finally opened a 1979 Brunello di Montalcino that a friend in Italy gave him years ago. "The wine was not fit for drinking," he wrote, "but it really wasn't a problem. Isn't that part of the unknown and the excitement you have each and every time you open a bottle? There are a lot more 'wows' and 'goods' than 'awfuls.' "

Indeed, life is really all about enjoying the simple pleasures of the moment, the good times and the tough times. "My husband Matt and I took your advice this weekend and opened that luscious bottle of wine we have had on our shelves for more than 10 years," wrote Michele DeMatteis Adams of Gladwyne, Pa., "Despite a wonderful ride together thus far, including the births of our three daughters, we had yet to have a big enough reason to celebrate and open our 1988 Chateau Lynch-Bages. We grilled filets and savored every sip of that wine long after we put the kids to bed. We agreed it was the most delicious wine either of us has ever tasted. We rehashed our years together -- highs and lows -- and despite how less-than-glamorous life is for us right now, we manage to find laughter in every day. Amazing how an ordinary night and an extraordinary bottle of wine can really make you live in the moment. Given how satisfying our evening ended, my husband thanks you from the bottom of his heart!!

"Looking forward to OTBN 6."

Why wait? As Lisa Gemmell of Newington, Conn., wrote: "Good wine is meant to be enjoyed and shared, not saved and forgotten." OTBN is all about celebrating every day. No one brought that home better than Julie Weisman of Newtonville, Mass.:

"A couple of years ago we spent a great few days in Sonoma. We had the true pleasure of spending one night at Landmark Vineyard. Of course, we bought a case of their wine. My husband would never let us drink it. "No, no, it is too special. We have to save it..." It was too special for my birthday, our anniversary, our kids' birthdays and more. I actually forgot we had it -- that is how special it was. Last week, our house burned down. The next day, we went to the house and salvaged a few clothes and the case of Landmark, which was unharmed in the basement. Last night, Open That Bottle Night, we had dinner with friends and opened those bottles. We did enjoy the wine, the company, and the thoughts of our stay at Landmark, but most of all we realized that every day is a good day for that special bottle. After all -- you just never know when your house is going to burn down."

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