Friday, 13 March 2020

What we opened for Open That Bottle Night 2020

As some of you will know, I have been participating in “Open That Bottle Night” for the last few years (I’ve covered the premise extensively in previous articles - such as this one, if you’re not familiar with the concept), but this year I decided to make more of an event out of it. 

Eight wine-lovers assembled, all issued with the challenge of bringing over a bottle (or more) of wine that they were excited to open in the company of other wine-lovers. This motley crew (actually it was quite a well-dressed crew, but that doesn’t read quite as well) was made of up me and my wife, my brother and his wife, along with wine Twitter big hitters James Hubbard (@jameshubbard113), Lee Isaacs (@wineman147) and Peter Dickens (@pietrosd) and his partner Margaret. As we lined up the wines that we had brought with us to sacrifice in tribute to Bacchus on this fated day for the obligatory photo session, there was a palpable sense of excitement in the air - this was going to be a good day!

We started with one of my (I will say my, but they were jointly offered by my wife and I) wines, it felt like a good way to start this epicurean journey would be with some bubbles and if you’re going to do bubbles then you can do a lot worse than a 2009 Dom Perignon. This was everything that you’d want it to be: poised, elegant, fresh, exciting, but also with a real depth and presence to the wine. Equal measures of delicate and powerful. A real delight and the perfect way to get us into the mood for tasting great wine.

 Next up we started with our white wines. The first up was one of Lee’s offerings, a 2012 Weingut Wagner-Stempel Riesling Kabinett (Rheinhessen). Rieslings are always going to be a hit for me, but aged Riesling from a top-notch producer is a recipe for heaven. The additional age on the wine had given it a lovely colour in the glass and really helped with giving it some additional texture and weight. The typical petroleum waft came through, but the steely minerality and lovely fruit notes gave it a brilliant balance.

Time to move to the first of Peter’s offerings, a 2015 Pieropan Calvarino (Soave) - from magnum (everything tastes better from a magnum)! The first thing to notice is what an impressive bottle their magnum was - it looked fantastic, but was quite the challenge to pour from… The wine itself was a wonderful example of how elegant and delightful well-made Soave can be. Lee exclaimed that Soave was Italy’s white Burgundy, quite the claim but on this evdience he was quite right.

I was up again next and we were sticking with our old-world theme, as we moved across to Alsace for one of the region’s premier producers - Domaine Zind Humbrecht with their 2013 Clos Saint Urbain Rangen de Than Grand Cru Gewurtztraminer. This wine was exactly the kind of wine that I wanted to show at this event, it is a complex, beguiling wine that asked more questions than it answered and I was serving it to the perfect group to appreciate it. The colour of the wine in the glass was an almost electric amber, but the nose - oh, the nose! It was fruity, spicy, rich, decadent, exciting all at once. It had a just off-dry presence and was not quite as in-your-face as other Gewürztraminers can be. This was precision wine making as you would expect from a top-notch wine maker and a Grand Cru vineyard! Gewürz can be somewhat of a marmite wine, but the majority decision was that this was a corker of a wine.

James was up next with his first wine of the afternoon and what a wine - he casually pulled out a 1989 Domaine de Pouvray Demi-Sec (Vouvray)! This was like sipping liquid gold, the wine a mere 31 years old retained remarkable freshness and acidity which helped to balance out the sweeter notes. A salient reminder of how elegant Chenin Blanc can be and the ageing potential that it has.

Wow - so that was the whites. By any measure this was already a successful tasting, but we weren’t even half way through!!

We had been slightly remiss in the white wines as we only visited the Old World. We flipped that on the head in the reds, by leaning heavily on the New World. We started with Lee’s second offering, a 2016 Hermandad Malbec (Uco Valley). Lee explained that this wine was from the vineyard nearest to where his wife lived when she was in Argentina and that he drank this wine the night before his wedding; what a wonderful story! The wine was excellent, I am a little sceptical about Argentinian Malbec as there is a lot of pretty nondescript stuff out there, but this was the antithesis of that - cool, precise, elegant, balanced. This was a wonderful wine and really showed how it is worth remembering that just because something is ubiquitous it doesn’t have to be dull (see also NZ Sauvignon Blanc).

Next up my brother and I put on a mini vertical of Cabernets from one of Napa Valley’s most famous producers - Chateau Montelena. Montelena famously beat all of its much-vaunted Burgundian opposition to win the best Chardonnay in the the 1979 “Judgement of Paris” tasting, but their Cabernets are equally good. We compared a young wine (a 2012) against an older wine (1983 - which turned out to be the birth year vintage for three of the attendees, modesty prevents me from identifying them). The older example had matured wonderfully, it had remarkable life and vigour to it, but also possessed those fantastic tertiary characteristics that you expect from an aged Cabernet, more savoury and smoky notes. Still plenty of time on its side, but this was certainly at the peak of its powers. The younger example exuded the cocksure confidence of a banker who’d just been given a rather large bonus - bags of fruit and power, with quite a bit of weight to it. In a way it was quite simple in its offering, although this isn’t to say that it was one-dimensional or boring. There are plenty of people who prefer their wines at this stage of their development, it can be a more pleasurable drinking experience, and indeed some of the group declared it to be their favourite of the two. What a treat to be able to try two wines at different ends of the ageing spectrum in this way.     

We stayed in Napa with our next wine, which was James’ second offering, a 2008 “Relentless” Shafer, which was made from Syrah. This was an absolute blockbuster of a wine. James explained that this had been voted Wine Spectator’s wine of the year in 2012, which is a pretty impressive title. This wine had all the power and structure that you would expect, but with a good waft of finesse to it too. Think of a rugby player wearing a tuxedo. The finish on this wine went on for minutes. In truth this wine could have been cellared for another 10 years or so, but it was an absolute privilege to be able to try this wine - by this point we were grateful to the cheese and charcuterie that my wife had presented so nicely, as we needed some vittels to soak up the wines consumed thusfar.

 If we thought we were going to have a break from the heavy-hitting reds then it was not to be! Peter pulled out another magnum (it seems he only deals in magnums!), this time for something truly unexpected. A 2009 “Two Worlds” wine, which is a fascinating concept of a wine that I hadn’t come across before. The wine is made 50% from Shiraz sourced from Two Hands Wine vineyard in Barossa Valley, which is then sent to Napa Valley where 50% of Cabernet Sauvignon is added from Egelhoff Wines in Napa Valley, which is where the name of the wine comes from - two hands reaching together across the world. A totally unique experience. The result was a wine that left you in absolutely no-doubt that you were drinking it - so much weight, so much texture, so much fruit. This really was a Goliath of a wine, probably too much for us by this point in proceedings if I’m being honest! This was had with some nice, posh chocolate that we’d put out and went down far too well...  

Well. Time for a break! Only joking, time for Lee to pull out a 2016 Corte Sant’Alda Campa Magri Valpolicella Ripasso Superiore. This wine had lovely rich notes of black cherries and strawberries, with a slightly smoky hint from the nicely integrated oak. On the palate there was a great concentration of pretty red fruits and dried raisins, bright acidity and supple tannins which gave rise to a long finish. Actually quite a bit more sophisticated and refined than some Valpolicella that I have tried.

By this point in the evening, it was time to move to something sticky. We did this by going with the “king of wines“ (Rex Vinorum, if you’re into your Latin…), a 2008 6 Puttonyos Tokaji Aszu. Drinking top level Tojaki is one of wine drinking’s greatest and most hedonistic experiences. This had a bit of age to it, so the wine had that familiar marmalade colour to it, as well as also having that marmalade like profile to its tasting experience coming from the botrytis. We’d saved some blue cheese (Stilton) for this wine, which went wonderfully with the wine due to its slightly saltiness which contrasted against the decadent fruit / honey notes that the wine was giving off by the bucketload. 

There’s no point mincing my words here. By this point in the proceedings we were fairly well lubricated. This probably explains why at this point I ran down to my cellar and decided that we couldn’t finish the evening without breaking out a sherry. To this end I pulled out a Bodegas Tradicion 30 year old VORS Amontillado which I picked up when I visited the Bodegas a couple of years ago. This wine was an absolute delight, it is fresh and elegant with some slightly off-dry notes, which are accompanied by really pleasing savoury, nutty and saline notes. The finish on this wine was exquisite - it went on for minutes and minutes.

So there you have it. 13 wines tried over the space of one extremely fun afternoon (and evening!). The wines were beautiful, memorable and everything that you would want them to be - but even better, they brought a group of people together who had a damn good time with each other. A salient reminder that perhaps instead of leaving that special bottle you’ve got lying around for some mythical special occasion; invite some friends around and open that bottle with them!

Now to start planning on 2021’s Open That Bottle Night!