Open That Bottle Night 2011: Table for Two by valleyfog
Open That Bottle Night 2011

The wines: Fleury Champagne and Vynfields Pinot Noir

It was dinner for two this year for us on Open That Bottle Night (OTBN) 2011. In the past, we have gathered friends together and shared multiple bottles of wine, but this year it was just Ms. Waits and Mr. Mast enjoying some good wine together. It had been a busy beginning of the year and we had just had Brian’s teenage nieces visiting for a week, so we didn’t have our act together this time around. Alas, there’s always each other and it was nice to sit down to a delicious meal, open some great wines and debrief on our week.

Jennifer has been very much on the sparkling wine track these days, so we knew that one of the wines would be Champagne. Jennifer’s choice was a NV Blanc de Noir Brut from Fleury, a smaller grower in Courteron, France in the Champagne region. Given that we are pinot noir lovers, we were excited that this was an all-pinot sparkler. This was a recent acquisition and Jennifer was eager to try it out. It was given to her by someone who was listening to her radio show (Jennifer’s alter-ego is a DJ at a local college/community radio station here in the Bay Area) when Jennifer was playing an old vinyl wine instruction record from winemaker/wine educator/UC Davis graduate Bern Ramey. We’ve written in the past here about the parallels and overlaps of wine and music, so this was just another example of that interplay.

Vintage Instructional Wine Record- "Bern Ramey on Wine"

Brian’s choice was a 2002 pinot noir from Vynfields, a small winery in Martinborough, New Zealand. We had visited Martinborough and stayed at Vynfields’ guest house when we were touring New Zealand in 2004. The Victorian guest house – not on the winery property itself – had a wonderful garden in the back with fresh fava beans, herbs and other produce and flowers growing in the back. We remember foraging for dinner fixings one afternoon and there was nothing more relaxing than shelling freshly picked fava beans for that night’s dinner.

We were also inspired by the owners – John Bell and Kaye McAulay – and their transition from previous careers to winemakers and winery owners. Little did we know that a year later, we would start our own winemaking venture. The Vynfields bottle was one of eight bottles we managed to smuggle back into the States from this trip (the limit is 1 liter). We’re not sure if they export to this country, so it was definitely special and waiting in the wings to be opened.

The meal: cocoa-dusted pork tenderloin

Wine must be paired with food, though, so on the menu was a cocoa-coffee-spice dusted pork tenderloin, served with a farro-bacon-arugula salad and green beans (yeah, just green beans…lost the creativity at that point.) As dinner was being prepared, we cracked open the Fleury. It had a wonderful nose – yeasty and toasty – and a brisk palate with hints of pear and light cherry fruit. It was a nice foil for the farro salad with its acidic and nutty components.

The Vynfields pinot noir, after the sediment settled once it was right-sided, was surprisingly transparent. Also surprising was its tartness and acidity. The nose was earthy and herbal and showed such New Zealand typicity with its aridn notes. The palate was brisk with light cherry and strawberry. This pinot has lots of layers and was enormously satisfying after all these years. Yes, we know, an 02 isn’t that old, but with new world wines, you never know. Its earthiness matched well with the warm spices of the seared pork tenderloin.

So why were we not drinking a Waits-Mast wine on OTBN? That is a question we often ask about other winemakers – don’t they drink their own wine all the time? Yes, when they’re being interviewed by Food & Wine magazine they say they had their latest vintage (hey, if we ever get interviewed by F&W we’d do the same!), but we all want to keep exploring and enjoying lots of different wines. And yes, we drink our own wines pretty regularly, but part of being a good winemaker is exploring the spectrum of senses to inform our ever-evolving palates. That, and we have a boat-load of wine in our basement and somebody’s got to drink it!

Thanks to Dorothy Gaither and John Brecher for coming up with the idea of OTBN, giving us an annual (if not more often) excuse to finally open that bottle we’ve always been meaning to. Remember, wine is for drinking, not saving forever. So, drink up and enjoy your bottles (and hopefully they include one of ours!)

2004: Brian foraging for dinner at Vynfields "villa," Martinborough, NZ


Open That Bottle Night 2009 by valleyfog
OTBN 09 lineup (L to R): Waits-Mast, Donnhoff, Williams-Selyem, Cornalin, Jackson-Triggs

OTBN 09 lineup (L to R): Waits-Mast, Donnhoff, Williams-Selyem, Cornalin, Jackson-Triggs

Open That Bottle Night (OTBN) is an annual event put forth by the Wall Street Journal wine writers John Brecher and Dorothy Gaither. The idea was to create at least one night per year that would provide everyone free license to open up that bottle of wine you’ve been saving for a special occasion. They had received too many letters from readers in the past who had waited too long to open such a bottle, only to see it go sour, or worse, who had not lived long enough to enjoy the bottle. So they conceived of this annual rite; in the columnists’ words:

Open That Bottle Night, a celebration of wine, friends and memories during which all of us finally pull the cork on that bottle and enjoy the aromas, tastes, tears and laughter that always spill forth. Open That Bottle Night… takes place on the last Saturday of every February — around the time we all need a break… You know that bottle of wine you’ve been keeping around for that special occasion that never arrives or because the wine is always going to be better tomorrow?

We think this is a great idea and we’ve been celebrating this event for years. We have each person bring that special bottle – doesn’t need to be old or super-swank, just special — and a dish to pair with the wine. Over a few emails, we manage to piece together a decent menu ahead of time and we’re ready to go.

In the end, there’s always great wine to drink and usually one or two interesting wines that spark conversation. This year was no exception. Here’s the lineup of wines, complete with food pairings:

Cheese course:

2007 Waits-Mast Pinot Noir, Wentzel Vineyard, Anderson Valley

Neal’s Yard Keen’s Raw milk cheddar, Istara Ossau Iraty (sheep), Graindorge Pont L’eveque

Acme Bakery Sweet Baguette

Appetizer (by Richard):

2004 Donnhoff Spatlese Riesling, Nahe, Germany

Yogurt, cumin & tumeric-marinated grilled prawns


2006 Williams Selyem Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley

Handmade ravioli stuffed with braised pork (by Justin and Deborah)

Winter salad of celery, escarole, frisee, arugula & toasted walnuts

2001 Caveau de Salquenen Cornalin, Valais, Switzerland

Cabernet-glazed carrots

Dessert (by Nikos):

2007 Jackson-Triggs Vidal Icewine, Niagara Peninsula, Canada

Peach Pie

Every wine was incredible and the food was amazing. Our Pinot Noir is drinking really well right now, with a nice combination of earth and fruit on the nose, and went particularly well with the Neal’s Yard cheddar. The Donnhoff Riesling was the perfect pairing for a grilled prawn dish that had Asian spices, a hint of heat from paprika and a splash of acid from squeezed lemon. The off-dry German white was luscious with loads of peach and tropical fruit flavors.

Justin and Deborah ponder the merits of German vs. Alsatian Rieslings

Justin and Deborah ponder the merits of German vs. Alsatian Rieslings

We excitedly returned to Pinot Noir, though, with the entree and the 06 Williams Selyem Pinot Noir. It was a rare, and for some of us our first, opportunity to enjoy a bottle of Williams-Selyem. The raviolis were large, hand-wrapped with a tender and savory braised-pork filling. This earthy dish paired well with the Williams-Selyem, which exhibited notes of cherry, strawberry and currants. We contributed the vegetables, with a crunchy celery salad that was a nice foil for the pasta, and a richer cabernet-glazed carrot dish that was meant to usher in the final red wine of the evening, the Cornalin.

The Cornalin seemed to spark the most interest due to its relative obscurity. Cornalin is a Swiss grape from the Valais region and can be quite tannic. This was a 2001 vintage in a 500ml bottle, so Brian thought that this year it would be ready. We received it from our good friend Dave, who lives in Lausanne, Switzerland, when he came to California for our wedding in 2002. He brought that along with a Petit Arvine (white) as a gift. The collective commentary on the Cornalin included “peppery,” “a bit rustic,” “black cherry with hints of cough medicine,” and “has some grip.” Jennifer thought it had herbal characteristics. This was probably the one point of the evening where we all stuck our noses into the glass a little further and peered at the color and body a little more philosophically.

The hard-to-find Swiss Cornalin: "peppery, rustic, black cherry, with a little grip"

The hard-to-find Swiss Cornalin: "peppery, rustic, black cherry, with a little grip"

Outside of a few wine-geek moments, the best part of the evening was — and always is — the good friends and conversation. In addition to the stories behind the wines and entrees, there was the usual discourse on neighborhood gossip, recent travels and the latest music downloads. In fact, one of our table topics was about wine and music, in part because Jennifer spent much of the week immersed in conversations about music during the Noise Pop festival in San Francisco. In particular, at one show Wente Winery was promoting their new Discover the Wine, Discover the Music series in which their winemaker is pairing musical artists with Wente wines. We discussed whether or not we felt there was a consistent connection between wine and music. Most felt that wine didn’t necessarily make them think of a song or musician, but agreed that an emotional response to the wine might call to mind thoughts of artists that elicit similar emotions.

Surprisingly, there was not much focus on the dour economy. It was a nice break from the gloomy headlines (and gray skies) and we all feel fortunate to at least be gainfully employed, let alone have a nice bottle of wine to share. We wound the evening down over a beautiful Jackson-Triggs icewine and peach pie…a comforting finish to a wonderful night.

The best part of the evening - great friends and stimulating conversation

The best part of the evening - great friends and stimulating conversation