Wine Talk: Drink that wine!

Don’t wait for a special event – make a special event around wine and enjoy it with friends.

Wine (photo credit: Courtesy)
(photo credit: Courtesy)
It is a constant beef of mine that many wine journalists write to show off what they know instead of writing for the regular consumer. They tend to write exclusively about trophy wines, focusing on the more expensive ones that win prizes and awards. Two notable exceptions are Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher, a husband-and-wife team who wrote the Wall Street Journal’s “Tastings” column for many years. They wrote about wines that people actually drink, not talk about, in an easy, informal way designed to make wine accessible. They were the ultimate representatives of the consumer searching for tasty wines in a totally unpretentious way.
Their most brilliant campaign was “Open That Bottle Night,” when they encouraged readers to open that bottle they had been saving for a special occasion. They chose a date and asked people to report back with their experiences. It was a rip-roaring success.
The germination of the idea is described in their beautiful book Love by the Glass, published by Random House.
I have taken their idea for this article and changed the title to “Drink That Wine” so I won’t be accused of plagiarism, but I admit straight up that the idea is taken from them.
The point is that we all have special wines we are keeping for some special occasion. The wine might have been a gift from someone, a souvenir from a good holiday or a special purchase. The danger is to keep these wines too long while waiting for the special occasion, but it never comes. Then, when you finally open the wine, the cork is wet through, the wine is oxidized, and what should be a celebration turns out to be a massive disappointment.
People collect wines for a number of reasons. Some buy young wines that will improve over the years. Others buy wine to speculate. There are some, I suspect, who buy wine even if they have no intention of drinking it. I will never forget when an enthusiastic wine collector, like a strutting peacock, took me to his private cellar and proudly showed me his wines. I was amazed to see that many were not only mediocre in quality but also old and past their best, even undrinkable. I suppose there are those who collect wine to show off, but this particular “expert” missed the point. Wine is to drink with like-minded friends.
The best Israeli wines will last 12 to 15 years; the best Bordeaux wines, 20 to 40 years.
I have discovered a few things. Firstly, Israeli red wines last longer than we expect.
It is true that they gradually become more oxidized and the fruit balance changes.
They will lose their up-front fruit flavors, and secondary flavors will develop. Older wines may gain a dried-fruit character, be more earthy and more complex. Many people prefer a wine with a little bottle age, but to many Israelis used to fruit-forward, concentrated, jammy wines, an older vintage is an acquired taste.
Secondly, we are taught that wine has to be in a wine fridge or temperature-controlled cellar, and in Israel’s climate it is certainly worthwhile and recommended.
However, rest assured, all of you without wine fridges. I have tasted some great wines not kept in a wine fridge that have proven to be wonderful surprises. Of course, the wines in question were kept horizontal in a place without heat, sunlight or undue vibration, but they had not been kept at cellar temperature. My conclusion is that wine is hardier than we think. So don’t assume anything. Open that bottle and see for yourself.
So echoing Gaiter and Brecher, I say don’t wait for a special event but make a special event around the wine. Invite your friends who will appreciate it. Prepare a meal to showcase the wine. Remember, with an older wine, the food should not be too exotic or intricate. Keep the food simple to show off the wine. Always, as a precaution, have another bottle in reserve. If that special bottle is shot, a replacement nearby will ensure that the meal can continue without embarrassment.
Alternatively, invite a number of wine drinking friends. Ask them all to bring a “Drink That Wine” bottle. Ask a reliable friend to act as honest broker. He (or she – no sexism in wine enjoyment!) should open the bottles, wrap them in silver foil and remove the capsules, which often give too much away as to reveal the bottle.
He should then put the bottles in rough order. Young before old, dry before sweet, white before red, and light before heavy. Provide everyone with a good wineglass and a water glass. If you don’t have enough glasses, you can rent some from a local wine shop at low cost or ask everyone to bring a glass for their own use. (The water glass can be a disposable.) Put some crackers or a cut-up baguette in the center of the table. Also you will need large receptacles that people can pour their wine into, ideally an ice bucket, but anything will do (a saucepan, for instance). You can also ask each guest to bring a course for a meal after the tasting.
You then taste each wine blind and discuss it around the table before unwrapping the silver paper to reveal the label. The person who brought the wine can then explain a bit about it before repeating the process with the next wine. The virtue of doing it this way is that if one bottle is a disappointment, another will excite, so there is safety in numbers.
So in the spirit of Gaiter and Brecher, I want to encourage you to “drink that wine.” Organize an event, create an occasion and open that bottle.
Adam Montefiore works for Carmel Winery and regularly writes about wine in Israeli and international publications.