By Dan & Krista Stockman
Our favorite thing about wine is when we have a chance to slow down and share a good bottle with family or friends over a delicious meal. Open That Bottle Night – it was Feb. 27 this year – is the perfect occasion to do just that, so we did.
We already had plans to celebrate the wine holiday by enjoying Coq au Vin and opening some great wine – just the two of us – when Krista’s sister asked for help with the kids that day. Instead of scrapping our plans, we expanded them and decided to make dinner at Kara’s house and share some great wine with our brother-in-law, Jason.
We’d share with Kara, too, but she typically doesn’t appreciate good wine – we often bring her wine that we would never drink, such as peach Moscato or some other overly-sweet and simple wine product. She loves them, which proves once again that taste is subjective: What does it matter to Kara that a wine is rated at 96 points if she hates it? Likewise, what does it matter to us that she loves wine we think would be better poured over pancakes? Drink what you love and love what you drink, period.
We brought over a 2014 Old Ghost and a Semi-Sweet Black Raspberry Mead from New Day Meadery (now called New Day Craft). We were a little worried about the honey wine, since we had bought it 10 years ago at the meadery in Indianapolis, but we hoped that the honey would allow it to age gracefully – well-made sweet wines, such as Sauternes, age very well. So did this one.
We opened the Mead first as a sort of aperitif, and were surprised to find it had just begun to age, despite a decade in the cellar. The nose was heavenly with blackberry (or black raspberry if you prefer), and the wine was just sweet enough to bring out the fruit flavors.
New Day’s meads always had very subtle fruit, with much more on the nose than the palate, and this was no exception. The result is instead of a heavy, cloying sweet fruit-blasted wine, you get an ethereal, whispered fruit in a wine that is light and complex. They were also easy on the sweetness, so semi-sweet was usually about as sweet as they get, and most of them were either semi-dry or dry. For the past several years, though, they’ve concentrated on their incredible hard ciders and make few meads.
Usually, older wines like this will evolve in the glass or in the bottle once it’s opened, but this one stayed largely the same, as we had half the bottle before the meal and half with dessert. You have to be careful pairing dessert wine with dessert: You can easily pile sweetness on top of sweetness and be overwhelmed, but this semi-sweet mead was the perfect complement to the raspberry mousse Kara made. It was just sweet enough that even Kara liked it.
Then there was the 2014 Klinker Brick Old Ghost Old Vine Zinfandel. Longtime readers will know the Old Ghost is one of Krista’s very favorite wines, and this one was just nearing the end of its peak, so there was no better time to open it. And that, of course, is the point of Open That Bottle Night — some wines are so good, the bottles so precious, or the memories surrounding them so important, that no occasion ever seems important enough to open them. And so those precious bottles fade, the wine inside slowly passes its prime and declines — wasted. Open That Bottle Night is your excuse to pop the corks on those wines, and for us, the Old Ghost is one of them: It tastes so great, Krista is hesitant to drink them because then they’ll be gone. The last few we’ve opened were just past their prime — still wonderful, but they would have been even better a year or two before — and she is resolved not to let that happen again.
This one seemed to be right at its peak: Still powerful and fruity, but smooth and graceful from the aging. As Old Ghost always does, it had lots of blueberry in the nose and on the palate, and in the mouth it was somehow both laser-focused and luxurious and lush. Amazing. Old Ghost is one of those wines that evolves in the glass, with every few minutes a different showing of fruit or creaminess or intensity, making you want to just sit and sip and explore all it has to offer.
Normally, a huge, dry red Zinfandel would overwhelm chicken, even Coq au Vin, but the grace and smoothness the time in the cellar had given this one made it work. And no, we didn’t share with Kara (though of course we let her try a sip), but that was just fine with her (the sip told her all she needed to know). Not sharing was even better for us and Jason, since we got her portion.
As wonderful as the wines were — and they were both truly wonderful — the company and the moments and the memories were even better. And that is the real point of Open That Bottle Night: Wine, whether it’s a (gulp) pineapple Moscato or a Dom Perignon, is about who you share it with. It’s about slowing down and thinking about the flavors in the wine and the food, and the love you share with the people enjoying it with you. Sure, we had planned an intimate dinner for two, but we can have those almost anytime we wish. Instead, we had a loud, hilarious, rapturous dinner with Kara and Jason and their three wonderful children ages 4 to 8, plus our two teenagers who would often rather be anywhere than with us — and it was far better than anything we could have done on our own.