Wait no longer than Feb. 23 to uncork that special memory

Published2/13/2008 12:17 AM

On Feb. 23, Carolyn Pearce of Kerrville, Texas, is finally going to open a bottle of wine she calls "Nancy."

It's a Corbett Canyon Chardonnay that was served at a salute to Nancy Reagan during the Republican National Convention in New Orleans in 1988. After the event, a Secret Service agent gave two bottles of the wine, specially marked for the occasion, to his girlfriend and her roommate, who were both medical residents at the time. The girlfriend soon opened the wine and forgot it, but the roommate, Dr. Pearce, saved it. And saved it. And saved it. This month, Pearce and her husband will open the wine to have with Caesar salad, scallop risotto -- and, if needed, a backup bottle.


After all these years, what finally has moved Pearce? Feb. 23 is Open That Bottle Night 9, when all of us, world-wide, finally uncork our own "Nancy" wines and celebrate the memories that flow from these cherished bottles that have always seemed too precious to drink.

Imagine if an evil genie took some of your very best memories and hid them in a wine bottle. That's what so many of us do to ourselves. These dear bottles have a special way of retrieving warm and often-forgotten memories, but you have to pop the cork to release them. That's why we invented Open That Bottle Night. So very many of us have that special bottle -- from a departed loved one, from a visit to a winery, from a vacation -- that we're always going to open for just the right moment, but, of course, that moment never comes. So the wine sits and sits and sits and becomes more and more precious, so it sits and sits some more.

From the casual wine drinker with a single bottle in the house to wine lovers with massive cellars, this pretty much happens to everybody. Bruce and Birgit Anderson own a winery themselves -- Sunset Winery in Burleson, Texas -- but this has happened to them. Their special bottle is from a 2002 visit to a winery in Bordeaux. "By any standard it was a small winery, producing at most 12 barrels -- 300 cases -- in a bountiful year," Bruce Anderson told us. They bought a bottle of the 1995 despite the misgivings of the chateau's gracious owner, who worried that her American visitors would not appreciate a bottle with, as she put it, "things in it." Bruce Anderson vowed that they will celebrate OTBN -- "sediment and all" -- by opening that bottle.

Even we have this dilemma. We can never decide until the last minute what we'll open because we have so many precious bottles, though, with Pearce in mind, we do have our own "Bill and Hillary" bottle, but we'll get back to that.

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Indeed, OTBN has become a time to gather family and friends all over the world. Arne Kalm of Arcadia, Calif., is inviting six longtime friends to help him open at least three bottles of 1973 California Cabernet Sauvignon. He bought the wines when he had a business in Napa in the 1970s. Why hasn't he opened them until now? "In the early years I was trying to put some age on them and then later there was never an occasion to open them," he told us. We know, we know.

So what will we open? We've had our eyes on a special bottle of bubbly, L'Ermitage Brut 1991 from Roederer Estate in California. In 1998, we wrote a column about the wines that the Clinton White House served to visiting dignitaries and we bought a couple of bottles of each from the wineries so we could taste them. When we received the bubbly, we were surprised that it included this special label: "Prepared as Extra Dry especially for the White House." That's right: The Clinton White House had a double dosage of sugary mixture added to its Brut sparkling wine to make it sweeter (Extra Dry is sweeter than Brut). As you can imagine, this is a bottle we could never stand to open, but maybe now, with the confluence of OTBN 9 and election season, is just the right time.

Melanie Grayce West contributed to this column. You can contact us at wine@wsj.com.


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