Wine Wednesday

Tasting Notes: Open That Bottle Night

An annual tradition provides a lesson in aging.

By Julie H. Case February 15, 2012

The wine: 428 Wines’ 2005 Boulevard, "table wine" (aka: red blend)

Introductions: Every year, on the last Saturday in February, wine lovers the world over pull a bottle of wine they’ve been holding on to for some special occasion that never happened, and open it as part of Open That Bottle Night, a tradition begun in 1999 by two Wall Street Journal wine columnists to encourage readers to open a bottle that might otherwise linger unappreciated and unenjoyed. This year it falls on Feb. 25, and the forthcoming event was the perfect excuse to open a bottle I’d purchased years ago, on a Walla Walla trip with friends.

Admittedly, I didn’t remember much about the wine, other than that we liked it, and it had a fair amount of deep red fruit. I do remember that we fell in love with the winemaker, who stood behind his bar and poured out as many stories as wine, including one about uncovering—while renovating the old military building-cum-tasting-room near the Walla Walla airport—a vaguely pornographic sketch of a woman. That drawing went on to hold a position of honor on the tasting room wall.

But stories don’t make me open bottles. I knew I had been holding the wine for about the maximum time it could handle and I wanted to know if it had aged well. Had the tannins retained their structure, perhaps even softened a little? Had a bouquet—those non-fruit scents, such as lavender and licorice and heather—developed? Most of all, was the wine still tasty, or if it had lost its joie de vivre? And if I ever bought another Boulevard, should I hold it, or drink it?

Wines That Age Well: typically have a lot of tannins (imparted when the grapes have been pressed and the juice has lots of contact with the skins, or from being aged in oak barrels), are high in acidity, and have very concentrated fruit. Barolos, with their high tannin structure, actually become more accessible with time. Top Bordeaux age well, as do top white Burgundies. The effects of cellaring a red and a white wine differ. White wines deepen in color, perhaps even taking on a dark gold, or amber tone. Reds tend to lose some of their color, many fading to an almost orange color. The tannins usually get softer and the wine typically acquires bouquet.

Some people might think not think of aging as anything less than a decade, but six or so years seemed a good test of whether this particular wine had the ability to lay down longer still. Besides, if it wasn’t going to age, I didn’t want to let it sit in my cellar any longer.

Tasting Notes: About an hour before seven of my closest friends arrived (some who’d been with me in Walla Walla and some with their own bottles in hand) I opened the Boulevard and let it breathe. Then, we poured. On the upside, there was still a fair amount of fruit on both the nose and palate, but the wine did seem a little tired. It had lost a bit of vibrancy, and while it was nice and fruity at the front of my mouth, it disappeared at the back of the palate. It wasn’t exactly flabby, but it didn’t have the kind of robustness and complexity I hope for in a wine that has aged well.

Drink Now vs. Drink Later: I might buy the wine again (though I can’t because 428 is no longer in business) but I wouldn’t hold it. From the start, this was a drink now wine, not a to-be-cellared wine.

Pouring Next: Open That Bottle Night continues next Wednesday as we look at how a few other Washington wines held up.

Now, what will you uncork for Open That Bottle Night?

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