Another year has passed and despite the leap year, the last Saturday night in February is time for - OTBN - Open That Bottle Night. This is the 21st year for the annual event wine bachanalia, originally conceived by Dorothy Gaiter and John Brecher, wine columnists for the Wall Street Journal. OTBN - Open That Bottle Night, is for those that have a special bottle of wine or champagne hidden away being saved for a special occasion that for whatever reason hasn't happened.
Every year since 2000, on the last Saturday night in February, Open That Bottle Night (OTBN) has been celebrated - the time to uncork and enjoy that cherished but here-to-for elusive bottle. Gaiter and Brecher realized they weren't alone - having that special bottle set aside for an occasion that just never happens. On this night, you don't need an excuse or a reason - just do it! Take advantage of OTBN to open that bottle and enjoy it! Enjoy it by yourself, or better yet, enjoy it with someone special, or even better, with a group of special friends. Have everyone bring such a bottle and let the story telling begin, because so often, every OTBN bottle has a story or some meaning, or not.
This year we passed the baton to Dan and Linda to host OTBN. All the 'Pour Boys' were in attendance along with Eric and Cathy from Indy and Bill and Beth coming back from their new winter haven in Charleston for the occasion. We were able to get together the evening before for a OTBN warm-up and preview. Thank you, Dan and Linda for hosting OTBN 20.
Dan and Linda put out a spectacular spread of bacon wrapped figs, shrimp scampi, a vast selection of artisan cheeses, olives, proscuitto, smoked salmon, candied bacon, fresh fruits and vegetables, truffles spreads, dips and other hors d'oeuvres.
For the pre-dinner wine flight there was a broad selection of Champagnes and white wines:
FontanaFredda Lazzarito Barolo 2008
Two Hands Lily's Garden Barossa Shiraz 2010
Cayuse "Bionic Frog" Walla Walla Valley Syrah 2012
As with most years, as the evening progressed we validated our initial lineup and only made but a few very minor adjustments. Getting it right is due to experience in tasting these wines over time and over their many stages of aging. Its somewhat amazing how close we get the tasting order right, how few adjustments we make over the evening, and what a remarkable difference it makes in the enjoyment of the wines.
We started the flight with straight up Cabernets, expecting them to be simpler, more singularly dimensional and less complex than the blends. We also started with the older vintages as their sprites would likely be more subdued from aging and thus harder to discern. Later in the tasting they would be overshadowed by the heavier more complex wines.
Some of the highlights of the evening:
Dunn Family Vineyards Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 1997
I brought this from our cellar as a classic OTBN wine, one that begs for an occasion that may never seem ready to drink.
Our Cellartracker records indicate we hold no less than thirty-one vintages of Dunn Vineyards cabernets dating back to 1981. We visited Dunn Vineyards estate high atop Howell Mountain and met the legendary winemaker Randy Dunn back during our Napa Wine Experience 2008.
My notes from an earlier tasting of this label: I opened and decanted this and a Howell Mtn about four hours before dinner. The Howell crumbled but the Napa cork was perfect, as it were a two year old! Neither this or the Howell showed any sign of aging. Very Bordeaux like with dark inky garnet/purple colored, medium to full bodied, complex and balanced black berry fruits with tones of lead pencil, tea, tobacco and hints of cedar and leather with acidity turning to modest tannins on the moderate finish.
I've written often about the much heralded '97 vintage for Napa Cabernets and how they seem to never be ready to drink. Alas, tonight this long-lived label was indeed showing its age and perhaps has reached a point where it is revealing its true character and profile. It may finally be the right time for this release.
Dark garnet colored, medium-full bodied, black fruits accented by graphite, tobacco, mushroom, leather and anise, firm but approachable tannins on a smooth acidic finish.
RM 89 points.
Caymus Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 1996
Ernie brought this as a mini-horizontal to compare with the '96 Opus that he also brought from his cellar.
We're longtime fans of Caymus and consider it a classic Napa Cab for consistent quality drinking and early gratification, although don't necessarily consider it one for long term aging. Linda and I visited the Napa Estate during our Napa Wine Experience in 2018.
In 2011, I noted this wine in a tasting note: "This wine was opened two and a half hours ahead of time and burst with floral on initial tasting. Dark garnet color and medium bodied. Predominant throughout in the tasting, the bright vivid floral perfume highlighted the soft delicate nicely integrated fruits, harmoniously balanced and polished - currants, black cherry, subtle hints of vanilla, oak, spice, milk chocolate and cigar box with a moderate tannin lingering floral finish. At fifteen years old, this wine showed no sign of deterioration or diminution. After initial moments of brilliance, the fruit later fell off to slightly tart black cherry with a subtle leather finish took over, still accented by dusty rose petals and floral." At that time I gave this 93 points.
Tonight, at 24 years, this seemed to be a bit past its prime and was showing a diminution of the fruit, devolving into more raisin and prune notes.
RM 88 points.
Diamond Creek Red Rock Terrace Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2006
Bill brought this from his cellar and we looked for a Red Rock Terrace singe vineyard designated label in my cellar for a comparison by I didnt have one that wasnt being held for special birthyear celebrations.
We visited Diamond Creek Vineyards with Bill and Beth for a private tasting back in 2011, then again at the Diamond Creek Open House and Release Tasting in 2017 with them and Dan and Linda for the Release Party and Open House at the Estate.
This release was awarded 93 points by Connoisseurs Guide.
Bills Cellartracker notes on this bottle: "Complex, layered and rich. Shared this on OTBN and it was spectacular. Deep indigo in color. Nose of damp leaves and earth...very Bordeaux like. On the palate, blackberry, blueberry and plum up front; coffee, chocolate and eucalyptus on the mid palate; medium, silky tannins, a touch of oak and leather on a lingering finish. This will certainly last longer but is certainly at peak right now."
My notes - This was elegant, bordering on exotic, dark garnet colored, medium full bodied, complex with concentrated black berry and black currant fruits accented with layers of coffee, vanilla, caramel and notes of cedar.
RM 92 points.
Godspeed Napa Valley Mt Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon 2004
Eric brought this along with a couple of whimsical labels. We visited Godspeed together along with Bill and Beth up on Mt Veeder during our Napa Valley Mt Veeder Wine Experience 2011 when we tasted and Eric likely acquired this label.
My tasting notes from a tasting back in 2016 for this label follow.
Dark blackish purple/garnet colored, medium-full bodied, aromatic, black berry and black raspberry fruit flavors, a bit tight and firmly structured with tones of truffle and spice with hints of cedar, tobacco and green pepper, turning to moderate tannins on the long finish.
RM 90 points.
Bill wrote a note on it back in 2012: "Nice quaffable wine. Evidences bright fruit typical of Mt. Veeder cabs. Medium bodied, garnet in color, a bit of clove on the nose but not terribly complex."
WCC 86 points.
This is one of Dan's signature wines in his cellar. Knowing Dan was going to serve an Insignia, I pulled from our cellar this aged thirty year old Insignia for a mini-vertical comparison. Our visit and private tasting at the fabulous Robert Phelps Estate was one of the highlights of our Pour Boys Napa Wine Experience in 2017.
This release was awarded 91 points by Robert Parker's Wine Advocate. I found and acquired several bottles of this release in the library cellar at Kahn's Wines in Indianapolis several years ago and had been waiting for the right occasion to serve - a perfect candidate for OTBN.
Some Cellartracker notes ...fellow tasters' notes summed it up well, similar to our experience.
Getting a bit lighter shade of garnet in the glass, no bricking at all. Cork was saturated to about 3/4 of the way and soft, glad to open this now. Slight earthy cedar on the nose, on the palate orange peel, slight honey, mushrooms, most of the fruit has faded Ito the background, with an extended finish.
Color: dark red core, a little bricking at the edges but not too much
Nose: aromas of mint, pencil lead, green bell pepper, a touch of leather and spicy currants and plums
Palate: the pencil lead and green bell pepper lead the way over the palate, with currants, spice, and earthy notes that trail and add complexity. The tannins were fine, but still present, especially at the end of the finish.
Garnet colored, slightly opaque, this was medium bodied, lighter than I expected, with dark berry fruits, notes of anise, spice, plums and currants. A mere shadow of the bigger, more concentrated and fruit filled 2006, not due to age, but likely indicative of a lesser vintage and perhaps lesser selection of the fruits.
The '89 release was a blend of 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc from 79% estate & 21% grower vineyards: 79% Banca Dorada Vineyard (Rutherford) and 21% Oakville growers.
Robert Parker gave this release 91 points in 2013.
RM 88 points.
Joseph Phelps Insignia Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2004
visit to the Phelps magnificent estate was one of the highlights of our Napa Wine Experience in 2017 when we did a private tasting together.
This is a Bordeaux Blend of 95% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Petit Verdot from 100% estate-grown Napa Valley vineyards: South Napa (33% Suscol Vineyard), Stags Leap District (17% Barboza Vineyard and 12% Las Rocas Vineyard), Rutherford (20% Banca Dorada Vineyard), St. Helena (10% Home Ranch Vineyard) and Oak Knoll District (8% Yountville Vineyard).
This vintage was awarded 95 points by Connoisseurs Guide, 94 points from Robert Parker's Wine Advocate and Wine Enthusiast, and 92 points by James Suckling and Vinous.
The winemaker's notes: The opaque, inky color of the 2006 Insignia is followed by concentrated aromatics of lush black fruit, graphite, coffee, dark cocoa powder, licorice, and cola syrup. The flavor density and tannin balance integrate beautifully for a long, layered finish.
This was dark garnet colored, full bodied, deep, concentrated, plush, ripe dark blackberry and dark currant fruits with complex but wonderfully balanced tones of mocha, tea, creosote and oak with smooth polished tannins on a nice smooth finish.
RM 94 points.
Opus One Bordeaux Blend 1996
Opus One was founded as a joint venture between Mouton Rothschild and Robert Mondavi, the two first growth brands of Bordeaux and Napa Valley respectively. The first release in 1984 was the its first vintage, the 1979. It has since become an international luxury Bordeaux-style blend cult wine, produced at the iconic landmark Napa Valley winery comprising 169 acres of vineyard on the Route du Cabernet, St Helena Highway Rt 29, across from the legendary landmark Robert Mondavi winery.
We visited the classic Opus Estate and Chateau in Napa, back during what at the time was billed as our fourth Napa Wine Experience in 1998. It was served as one of the feature wines of our winemaker dinner that year.
I must admit, I have yet to taste an Opus that has lived up to its lofty stratospheric reputation expectations. I can only link that underachievement to the fact we have drunk the vintages too young, and perhaps also didn't serve them with the proper reverence they demand and deserve, opening several hours before serving and decanting appropriately. Or, perhaps it is the lofty price that raises the expectations. Also, these super premium wines are noted not for their obtuse angles or highlights, but often by their uniformity and singularity as they tend to be flawless and thus highlighted by the moderation and lack of any distractions.We see this later with the Bionic Frog from Cayuse as well.
This vintage release was awarded 94 points by Robert Parker's Wine Advocate, 93 points by Decanter, 92 points Stephen Tanzer's International Wine Cellar and 90 points by Vinous.
The 1996 blend included Malbec, which first became a component of Opus One in 1994, and it was the last Opus One not to include any Petit Verdot, a grape that has been part of the blend ever since 1997.
My Cellartracker records indicate we drank our last bottle of this release back in 2013 when I wrote: "The '96 Opus was dark inky purple colored, medium to full bodied. It opened with a huge nose, reminiscent of a classic Margaux from the mid-eighties. Elegant, complex, smooth and polished it was a symphony of black fruit flavors accented by harmonious tones of leather, tobacco, lead pencil and soft tones of cassis and a hint of mocha. Decanted, over the course of the evening the fruit became slightly muted giving way to classic left bank Bordeaux earthy leather, but never losing its harmonious balance. The fragrant finish continued to linger for minutes." I gave it a 94 points rating then. Perhaps tonight we didn't serve it appropriately to so as to reveal its true potential.
Dark garnet/purple colored, complex, medium-full bodied, harmonious and balanced, silky smooth, elegant, polished but somewhat subdued blackberry and black currant fruits accented by cassis, plums, leather, with hints of mocha chocolate, tar, leather, tobacco and fresh herbs, finishing with dusty tannins and excellent balanced lingering length.
RM 92 points.
Billl is a big Cliff Lede fan and member of their club so he gets these limited production, single vineyard selections, which he kindly shares with special friends, Thank you. Our visit and private tasting with Bill and Beth at the Cliff Lede estate was highlight of our Napa Wine Experience in 2009.
WWC's notes on this release - Another contribution to OTBN along with an ‘06 Diamond Creek Red Rock Terrace. Very different from the RRT but delicious in its own way, Medium to dark garnet in color. Nose contains mostly floral notes with a hint of earthiness. Bright, jammy, red raspberry and blackberry up front; a bit of sharpness that I have come to expect from Stags Leap along with a bigger mouthfeel on the mid palate; a long, warm, oaky finish with grippy tannins.
This release got 93 points from Robert Parker's Wine Advocate and 91 points from Wine Spectator.
This was a blend of 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Cabernet Franc, 4% Petit Verdot, 1% Malbec and 1% Merlot.
This was my second wine of the evening behind the Insignia of the Bordeaux varietals.
This was dark garnet colored medium-full bodied with black berry fruits accented by notes of cassis, spice and earth tones.
RM 92 points.
Cayuse "Bionic Frog" Walla Walla Valley Syrah 2012
John always brings a most imaginative and rare label to OTBN and this year was no exception. This is one of the classic cult labels from the iconic Walla Walla producer Cayuse.
We stopped at the Cayuse tasting room during our Walla Walla Wine Experience last fall and there posted on the door a sign that said "Sold Out", with instructions on how to contact them if you were seeking to pick up your allocation.
This release got 99 points from Robert Parker's Wine Advocate, 96 points Wine Enthusiast, 95 points from Vinous, 94 points from Wine Spectator, and 17/20 points from Jancis Robinson.
Like another near perfect rated Syrah we tasted recently, the iconic Penfolds Grange from a classic vintage of the century, 1990, rather than being a blockbuster, this impressed us with its subtlety and level flawlessness.
Dark inky purple garnet colored, full bodied, intense rich concentrated black berry and black raspberry fruits accented by notes of pepper, cassis, smoke and dried meat or what one Cellartracker tasted noted as tapenade.
RM 93 points.
Two Hands Lily's Garden Barossa Shiraz 2010
Lyle brought this Aussie Shiraz from his cellar and it overshadowed the Bionic Frog with its bright brilliant bold fruit. The difference is it being more single dimensional. I describe the difference in such wines and being a foot wide and a ten feet deep versus the Bionic Frog being much more complex and multi-dimensional at five feet wide and five feet deep.
This was one of the biggest and brightest wines of the night, but a bit obtuse relatively, less polished and balanced than the other top performers, the Insignia, Cliff Lede and Cayuse.
This got 93 points from Wine Spectator, 92 points from Stephen Tanzer's Wine Cellar and 91 points from Wine Advocate.
Dark inky purple garnet colored, bright rich concentrated blackberry, black raspberry and cherry fruits with clove spice, mocha chocolate, expresso and menthol.
RM 92 points.
Grahams Vintage Port 2000
It is customary in these events that Lyle brings a vintage port from his collection. In recent years he has been disappointed by the showing of several labels, although the rest of us were not. Tonights selection was wonderful and met the highest expectations for the brand and the vintage. This may have been the best showing and best representation of a port in all our years of tasting together.
At twenty years this was clearly at its prime but is perhaps only half way through its drinking window. What fun it will be to monitor this label as it ages, if you're fortunate enough to have acquired several bottles.
This iconic release got 98 points from James Suckling and Wine Spectator, 94 from Robert Parker's Wine Advocate,
James Suckling of Wine Spectator said, "This is the greatest glass of Graham I have ever tasted, young or old." It was recognized in the Top 100 of 2003 at No. 9, Collectibles.
The 2000 vintage produced a very tiny crop, just 650 g per vine on average (they usually harvest 850 g per vine from Malvedos – their lowest yielding, most consistently cropping quinta). That said, the fruit was rich and concentrated.
Saturated black-ruby colored, full-bodied, superripe, powerful, huge, dense and rich black fruits, yet balanced and smooth, opulent yet elegant, notes of mocha bitter chocolate and licorice and cassis, the finish lasts for minutes going on and on on your palate.
This is what a vintage port is supposed to taste like and this is a benchmark standard bearer.
RM 97 points.