Sacramento Bee/ Lezlie Sterling
Open That Bottle Night is coming up Saturday, but we couldn't wait, and over the weekend retrieved from the barn a special wine we'd been saving for just the right occasion. Sunday night with no work Monday other than the rebuilding of a rock wall seemed special enough. The wine was the Beringer 1991 Napa Valley Howell Mountain Bancroft Ranch Merlot, which if you are in the mood for merlot is where you generally want to go.
The wine showed its age, but that wasn't a bad thing, age in this sense being more truffles and tar than fresh plummy fruitiness. The wine still was refreshingly wiry and sharp, and kept our attention for the same sort of reason we found "Pan's Labyrinth" interesting - earthiness, darkness, surprise.
But we almost didn't get there. The soggy cork broke in half just as we started to pull it from the bottle. This isn't uncommon with older wines, and others could face this same problem on Open That Bottle Night. This worked for me: Use a cork puller with a long screw, long enough to pierce gently the remaining cork, seizing it just enough to ease out.
Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher, the Wall Street Journal wine columnists who invented Open That Bottle Night to encourage wine enthusiasts to drink up special bottles they just never seem to get around to opening, recommend using one of those two-pronged openers to get a grip on an old cork. That's another possibility, but I've had more luck with more traditional corkscrews.
If neither works and the cork falls apart, with a chunk of it lodged in the neck, don't fret. Take a chopstick or the handle of a thin wooden spoon and tap it into the wine. Use this same utensil to keep the cork from blocking the flow of wine as you pour it into a decanter or another bottle, preferably through a funnel lined with a clean coffee filter. Then enjoy.
Gaiter and Brecher have another timely bit of advice for people planning to join Open That Bottle Night this weekend: About four days before you are to open an older bottle of wine, stand it upright to let the sediment sink to the bottom. That's right about now.