Saturday, February 25, 2012

Open That Bottle Night 2012

I had an inkling that Open That Bottle Night was either just around the corner - or that it might have actually passed us by for 2012. Good thing I checked online because it turned out that OTBN2012 was this weekend. For those that aren't familiar with Open That Bottle Night, the event was the brainchild of Dorothy Gaiter and John Becher back in 2000 when they were the wine writers for the Wall St. Journal.

They regularly heard stories from people who held onto that special bottle of wine, just waiting for the right occasion to open it. Problem is, the occasion never seemed to actually arrive or it came along long after the wine had turned to vinegar. Gaiter and Becher urged their readers to make the last Saturday in February a special occasion in its own right and plan an evening around that bottle that was hidden away. What makes a bottle special to us will differ from person to person - maybe it was a gift from someone special, or you picked it up while on a memory-packed vacation or perhaps it's simply a bottle with a price tag that you rarely agree to. Regardless of the reason, Gaiter and Becher's response to the perennial question, "When should we open that special bottle of wine?" was "now, with the people who make it special."

Boo's and my special night was rather impromptu, with no special planning, but I realized that today would have been my brother's 50th birthday - were he still around to celebrate it - so, I decided to pull out a bottle we easily could have left tucked away for years to come. I just thought that this would be the type of bottle that would have turned Ronnie's crank. Besides, with the No Buy Leash firmly tightened around my neck for the foreseeable future, we're going to have to start opening some big ticket bottles. Might as well start here.

1070. 2005 Château Palmer - Alter Ego (AOC Margaux - Bordeaux - France)

I had to do a little reading on this wine and winery. I definitely can't say that I'm a pro when it comes to classified Bordeaux wineries. I know the whole "classification" concept goes back to 1855 and Emperor Napoleon III's desire to classify the best of Bordeaux wines for display at the world exposition about to take place in Paris. The top estates were ranked in "importance" from first to fifth growths ("crus") based on the winery's reputation and trading price. As controversial as that classification has been, it has remained in place - with only two changes - since that time.

Obviously, to even be ranked, a winery has to have been around long enough to have a history that pre-dates 1855. Château Palmer is such a winery, having been named after a Major General in the British army who had purchased a property from a young French widow in 1814. The resulting winery enjoyed success in both French and British society; however, Charles Palmer was known for his life in the fast lane as much as he was for his wine and he fell on hard times, having to sell the winery in 1843.

The estate was purchased in 1853 by the Pereire brothers from the financial institution that had operated the winery during the intervening years. Although the brothers quickly took to rebuilding the estate's reputation, their short control at the reins before the 1855 classification wasn't long enough to garner them a higher ranking higher than the Third Growth or Troisième Cru. The fact that there were only sixteen estates named to the First and Second Growths still says something as to the status of the winery at the time, but, nowadays, Château Palmer is widely recognized as ranking among Bordeaux greats.

Alter Ego is a relatively new wine for Château Palmer as this second label was only introduced in 1998. The winery looked to take a different approach to selecting and blending fruit to capture the vineyard's terroir. When compared to the first label, Alter Ego is generally seen as being a little more intense, with juicier fruit on the palate. I don't think anyone would be so bold as to call it a New World wine, but it does skew to a New World palate a bit more than traditional classified Bordeaux wines.

Château Palmer is also regarded as somewhat unorthodox in the Médoc - where Cabernet Sauvignon rules supreme. Palmer vineyards are planted almost equally with Merlot and Cab Sauv and the 2005 Alter Ego sees a blend where the Merlot has a higher percentage than the Cab - 57% to 43% - a fact that took both Boo and I a bit by surprise.

Of course, the 2005 vintage is one of the most heralded from Bordeaux. Drought-like conditions through the summer in the Médoc resulted in lower yields, with more concentrated fruit. The estate's website says that 2005 saw the highest sugar levels that anyone at the winery had ever seen up to that point.

All I know is that there's no doubt that we can do our own little classification of this bottle and easily confirm that it meets our criteria for "special." Full bodied with elegantly integrated tannins, fruit and acidity, we worked hard to squeeze out the last few drops from the bottle. The website says wine will peak between 2010 and 2025; so, we might have been a bit early with our pop of the cork, but you'd never have known it. The wine was drinking beautifully.

I can honestly say that Boo and I rarely open $100+ bottles of wine. It sure is nice when the wine lives up to the price though. I tip my glass towards Gaiter and Becher for envisioning Open That Bottle Night. I'm sure that we would have postponed our enjoyment of the Alter Ego for some time had it not been for this special event. If they can all be this enjoyable, I might have to look to having a few more, unscheduled, Open Those Bottles Nights.

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