OTBN (story below) is kind of a cool idea. If you're like me, you have special or trophy bottles waiting to be opened, but the "perfect moment' just never seems to present itself. OTBN is the night to do it. Just because.
I'm leaning towards my last bottle of 1996 Pichon Longueville Comtesse. The others were glorious, and hopefully this will be too. Are you in? What's your bottle?
(Story credit: Wine Searcher, Feb 20, 2018)
Open That Bottle Night (OTBN), for those who haven't heard of it, is a concept pioneered by Dorothy Gaiter and John Brecher in 1999 in an attempt to get people to stop hoarding bottles or keeping them for a special occasion that might never come, and simply pull the cork and enjoy them. It takes place on the last Saturday in February.
"We started getting letters saying: 'I have this bottle of wine...is it ready? How much is it worth?'" she told Wine-Searcher. "Often it was a special bottle, bought for a special occasion or bought on a special occasion, and we'd get those letters so often and we'd say: 'We know that wine very well – open it this weekend.' We wanted people to make an occasion of it and that wine would be great, no matter how it actually tasted."
How they got to the stage of launching OTBN is a story in itself. Gaiter was born in New Jersey, but her family moved to Florida while she was a child. Similarly, Brecher was born in New York and his family moved to Miami when he was young. It was almost inevitable that when they both arrived in the newsroom of the Miami Herald on the same day that they would click.
"Everything happened in Miami, there was always an element of craziness – well we've all heard of the Florida Man, all those crazy stories that start with 'A Florida man...' It was a great place to be a journalist," she remembers. "I'd grown up with the civil rights movement in the segregated South; from the age of 12 I wanted to be a journalist. I knew that black people wanted the same things that white people did and I wanted to write about race. That was noble work and what I set out to do and John and I both did that."
There followed successful careers for both of them, who were by now a couple. In their 45-odd years in journalism they have spent all but four years working under the same roof, at such august journals as Newsweek, the New York Times and, crucially, the Wall Street Journal.
"A lot of people said we were crazy to leave news and start writing about wine," she says about the opportunity to start a wine column in 1997. "Monday to Friday, the WSJ would tell you how to make money and on the weekend we'd would tell you how to spend it."
The pair's simple, non-fancy approach to wine was a winner.
"Our first column went crazy – retailers were calling us asking what we were going to be writing about next week so they could stock up. We felt an obligation to source wines from all over the country, not just the stuff that was for sale in New York. The WSJ is read outside of NY too, you know."
The column, which featured reviews ranging from "Delicious!" to "Yech", became something of a phenomenon, and it was only a matter of time before the pair decided to turn their weekly outreach on behalf of wine into an occasion.
"My fondest memory is probably our first year. We drank Musars, we had a small vertical and they were just great. It was a great excuse to try them side-by-side."
The concept caught the imagination of readers in a way that neither Gaiter nor Brecher were really expecting.
"Oh my, the letters – it was like Miracle on 34th Street. We were drowning in letters from people wanting to share their experiences. We even had letters from Palmer Station in Antarctica. Mostly it was Americans – we were writing for the WSJ, after all, but we had international readers too. We did spots on National Public Radio and CNN and then it really went international. We've even been a $200 Jeopardy question."
While the wine column wound up in 2009, the OTBN beast has thrived, going genuinely international with public gatherings to open treasured bottles taking place as far afield as Europe, South America and Australia. This year, a restaurant in New Zealand is even getting on board. The occasion is celebrated this weekend.
For Gaiter, the main thing is simply that people get together, whether that's at a restaurant or in a private house. Oh, and don't worry too much about the wine.
"Hopefully the wine tastes as good as you expect it to, but you're really tasting is the story behind the wine," she said. "Open That Bottle Night says: 'I care for you, let's get together over a bottle of wine'. We've had rabbis and priests use OTBN as examples in their sermons. What we're saying is don't wait until the end of February or whenever to drink that bottle of wine. Do it now; tomorrow isn't promised."