When is the Best Time to Open Your Special Wine?

William S. Shepard, Wine Editor | Tuesday, Aug 29th 2017
special wine

When is the Best Time to Open Your Special Wine?

Many wine lovers have a good supply of wines that they enjoy drinking on a regular basis. One thinks of Chablis, for example, or Chateauneuf du Pape. Some fine Sauvignon Blanc wines from the Loire Valley, and some half bottles of Sauternes, give pleasure in the tasting – and in the anticipation of tasting them. Perhaps you have put aside some special wine: bottles of red Bordeaux for special dinners or possibly some white Burgundy as well.
Then there is that bottle that you splurged to buy, or received as a present. If you have enjoyed a tour of French vineyards, it may be a reminder of a tasting at the wine producer’s estate. The pride of your collection, it now seems to hide behind other bottles. Those that are more likely to be drunk sooner than that rare, special wine. You may even find a bottle that you had forgotten, towards the back of your storage area! So when is the best time to open that special wine?
Wines are a great pleasure, and they are meant to be enjoyed. Let’s trace a few of my prized wines, noting when they were acquired and when they were enjoyed. You may well have comparable wines in your own cellar.

1983 Chateau Margaux

The first wine was a 1983 Chateau Margaux. I recall tasting it in 1984 at Chateau Margaux. I remember thinking that it was even better than the heralded 1982. This bottle was a Christmas gift from our daughter Stephanie 30 years ago. It had stayed in cool storage since then. Last year we decided to serve it at a New Year’s Eve dinner. I took the wine out of storage three hours before the dinner. I removed the cork an hour before we ate. And since we were going to enjoy this special wine, we decided not to serve any hard liquor (gin, Scotch) before dinner. I had been told at Chateau Figeac in St. Emilion that Chablis or sparkling wine should be served first. This ensures that one’s palate remains fresh for the dinner wines to come. It’s a good rule.
The 1983 Margaux was a revelation. The smooth and distinctive taste of Margaux was full of flavor. All conversation stopped as we enjoyed this grand wine. I told the story of tasting it from the barrel at Chateau Margaux many years ago. And our guests joined us in thinking that a rare wine can become the finest wine in the cellar – if only we could taste it!

1986 Latour Batard Montrachet Grand Cru

Our bottle of Latour Batard Montrachet Grand Cru 1986 had intimidated me for years. I had bought it for $90 in 1992 in Washington, and it was said to be tasting well in 2016. Yet, the right occasion never seemed to present itself.
Finally I decided that it would make a fine wine for our wedding anniversary dinner. What to serve it with then became the issue. It had to be a strong flavored fish. Since we live on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, rockfish (striped bass) was a possibility. I finally decided on swordfish. I broiled it on the patio grill on a perfect early summer evening. It smelled delicious simmering in a teriyaki marinade. The wine was a revelation. After decanting, to my surprise the wine assumed a gold color, with rich, layered flavors. I wished that I had bought more than one bottle back in 1992!

1983 Chateau Suduiraut

My chapter of the Compagnons de Bordeaux wine fraternity used to have members supplying wines for our dinners. I served half a case of my favorite Sauternes, the elegant Chateau Suduiraut from the 1983 vintage. The color had begun turn a light brown, and served with dessert, the wine’s flavor seemed to come in waves. So did the applause for the wine!

1982  Chateau Brane Cantenac

The larger format wines have always been a sign of special welcome for guests, it has seemed to me. Back in the days when one could take wine with luggage on flights, I brought a double magnum (the equivalent of four bottles) of 1982 Chateau Brane Cantenac to a family reunion dinner in London. I was told that the wine was unobtainable there. The rare double magnum, purchased in Washington in 1988 for $75, helped make this an occasion that we have all favorably recalled for decades.

1985 Chateau Lynch Bages

And last year, I volunteered to bring the wine for a dinner in Boston with our daughter Robin and her friends. This gave a chance to serve a bottle that I had long wanted to taste. It was a magnum of Chateau Lynch Bages, a Pauillac wine that was Wine Spectator’s wine of the year for 1985. Served with various courses, the wine pleased all the guests. It had matured well over the years, with fine character.
None of the wines served had been kept too long, and each was old enough to have fully developed.
If you want to plan on opening your special wine, remember these tips:
  1. Do a little internet research on your wines, and see how they are aging.
  2. Plan which course would best complement the wine. You’ll find that a special wine can help create an occasion that your guests will long remember.
  3. Gather a few friends and family members for a special occasion or perhaps just because it feels like the right time. Your delighted guests will appreciate your sharing your treasured wine with them! And who knows, it is possible they have a rare bottle or two that you may get to savor in turn!