This year’s function is a bit different, to be sure. Dearest friends we have enjoyed this occasion with are gone on their annual trip south to warmer climes. They started a little earlier this year however, because they went on a cruise beforehand. Other friends with whom we’ve celebrated this occasion have been transferred to other jobs out of state. With other friends; this, that, and the other thing seemed to get in the way. We do try to rotate attendees to “keep things fresh” but we do like the comfort known relationships provide too. So, we try to get a good mix of both for Open That Bottle Night (OTBN). It is sort of the same with wine. It is good to have the known, consistent quality some vintners provide, but it is good to inject new wines we haven’t experienced yet into the mix just to keep life from getting mundane.
An earlier posting covered how beneficial it is to step out of comfort zones and we’ve been doing that, it seems, with increasing regularity these days. Not only is getting out of the routine (spelled another way is “rut”) good, it is good to cherish each and every day. As if we needed any incentive for that. V is a recent cancer survivor herself and early detection was important in that regard, to be sure. It goes without saying; we were reminded of cherishing each and every day again this week due to the Americans hockey club “Pink Ice Night.” This annual hockey game is played on pink colored ice to raise awareness for breast cancer and the players wear specially designed sweaters (old school hockey talk for “jerseys”) during the game and auctioned afterwards along with other memorabilia, to benefit Tri-Cities Cancer Center.
V&I realize we don’t know how many days we have allotted here on earth, so to take a moment to “Open That Bottle” is one of the highlights of the year for us, and was made even more significant this year because of the “bump in the road.” This was and continues to be the concept, exactly, behind OTBN. Thanks John Brecher and Dorothy Gaiter, for the genius of that idea. V&I miss your writing by the way, but that is another story for another time.
These days it seems life gets more and more complicated with people taking less and less time to enjoy moments. Good bottles of wine get squirreled away for a special occasion which doesn’t ever seem to be the “right” one because of some overriding excuse. Weeks roll into months which roll into years which roll into decades. It has been said, “Life picks up speed as you roll down hill.” By making the last Saturday in February that special day, we, and other like-minded people, make sure that life doesn’t get in the way of what is important. No matter what and that means even if we miss a hockey game to host this dinner party.
“So, love of my life, what are we going to serve our guests?” I ask. “The options are endless.” I add.
V replies, “Let’s do a Barefoot Contessa.’
“Well, you have got three of Ina’s books. That will, without a doubt, narrow down the options tremendously.” V has been formulating a plan all along, I am now starting to realize. Hopefully there is some role in it I can play other than that of the Irishman who gives a toast at the beginning of the meal.
V looks at me and says, “Let’s pick and choose a menu we can do together with something out of all three of the books.”
I am relieved. I get to be a willing participant. Obviously, the wine we pull out of storage will depend on the components of the meal so it is imperative to get the menu cast in concrete. There is not too much more time to spare as the grandbabies, and their parents have returned home after a great holiday visit, and it is now Monday evening. Additionally, getting the menu set will serve to give me a sense of security knowing what we are going to foist upon our unsuspecting guests.
As luck would have it, there was quite a bit of 2008 Barnard-Griffin Syrah which was left in the bottle from the previous evening’s meal. At this point I am wondering how there was any leftover. That hardly ever happens in our household. I think to myself, “It is best not to question Providence; we have enough wine to peruse the books with and perhaps gain some inspiration from as well. So, let’s go with that.”
For the protein we decide on a Prime Rib, seasoned generously with finely chopped rosemary from right outside in V’s little herb garden, salt, and pepper. I was going to say “But, we’ve not ever cooked a Prime Rib” but the sense of adventure overcame that spurious thought. We agree on basil smashed potatoes with parmesan for the starch and Tri-Color carrots roasted with fresh squeezed orange juice, thyme, and red pepper flakes for the vegetable. Appetizers of mixed nuts roasted with a little orange juice, maple syrup, rosemary, salt, and chipotle powder, and puff pastry sticks with gruyere cheese and mustard inside should be good enough to get the evening’s festivities well underway. We also decide that instead of a horseradish side sauce for the prime rib we will put together a Stilton cheese sauce from one of the books. I am salivating now and looking for the nearest napkin to tidy up. It is not an understatement that books like these make you look like a veritable mastermind.
At this point our glasses are empty and V says, “Will you let me look later for the dessert?”
“Let you?” I then add, “Certainly!” It was the better part of valor at that moment.
Saturday arrives. We get an early start and the day is filled with sprucing up the house, pulling the menu together into a cohesive whole, and the smells of food in various stages throughout the house. It is all about time management and V&I are nothing if not a great team at that.
The guests, R&R and A&C, arrive with their special bottles. Good conversation, as well as the two appetizers has gotten the function started well.
The special bottles for this evening are:
What a lineup! The Cab is special because it was from the first time R&R visited that Walla Walla winery and they wanted to share it with us. Our wine, the Boudreaux Merlot, is special because two friends had given it to us as a gift and we haven’t tasted wine from this winery before. The Bollinger, A&C’s bottle, is special because it is a visible part of the 007 franchise (Bond, James Bond) and it is synonymous with the expertise and history of French Champagne houses.
The Clink comes first, as it should, then on to the event! The Cabernet is everything one would want in a Walla Walla Cabernet. Dark in color, fruity, but not sweet and a finish that was as long as the 2008 spring and harvest. The Boudreaux Merlot is a Wine Advocate 91 point merlot. Dark, velvety and I get a wiff of tobacco when I am swirling the glass. V&I nod at each other, without saying a word we are in agreement both the wines are going to work well with the appetizers and the entree.
Is it just me? It seems as if the basil, thyme, and rosemary are all that a trio of herbs should be. They, and the wine, worked marvelously together and provide a depth of flavor transitioning us perfectly and seamlessly through the entire meal. What a blessing to get to know friends, the herbs, and these two wines better. For us, cooking the prime rib was great fun and for the first time out we felt like it was a success. I am indeed looking forward to getting to know this cut of beef better as well. At this moment all I can think of is Ina smiling, looking at us though the television screen, and saying “How Easy Is That?” I can see myself responding back to her in kind, “It certainly isn’t nuclear science, now is it Ina…”
The conversation is sparkling and I am anticipating that champagne immensely. I have been hearing the easily recognizable 007 theme (I know you can hear that guitar now, can’t you?) throughout the evening in the back of my mind, and it is getting louder now. If I had a tuxedo, I would be excusing myself for a wardrobe change.
During a brief moment during the small-talk at the beginning I excused myself and quickly jumped on the internet to look up the champagne and I discovered the cellar master’s advice to serve the champagne at 10 to 12 degrees Centigrade. After a quick calculation to convert the Centigrade to Fahrenheit, (that was one of the few calculations I seemed to pay attention to while in school, F=Cx9/5+32), I calculated the perfect temperature for the Bollinger is 50 to 54 degrees. I must add here it didn’t hurt either that math skill was honed by years of hockey travels to Canada with my son. I digress yet again. I left the Bollinger out of the refrigerator to make sure it was off cool for the desert round. It was really my idea to serve that with desert instead of the appetizers. Really it was.
V decided on a cranberry apple cake. It was layered like a trifle with the fruit on the bottom then the cake batter poured over the top. The cake cooked light as a feather and was truly unlike any I have ever experienced prior to this moment. The closest comparison is an especially-soft sugar cookie, not crumbly like a cake at all. Coupled with that Bollinger, the desert was a match made in heaven. I remember thinking, “I wonder if Ina has tried her cake with Bollinger. She thinks Jeffrey loves her now. They could play a game where he would be James and she could be the ultra Bond girl.”
The OTBN evening was as good as any we have had, yet bittersweet in some respects due to the medical events in the past couple of months and the absence of some of our friends. Thanks R&R and A&C for choosing to spend the last Saturday in February with us. We were made incalculably richer by that gift you gave us.
Thanks John and Dottie and Ina and Jeffrey for your inspiration and the love you share with each other and us. If you ever find yourselves in our area sampling Yakima, Columbia, and Walla Walla wines, our home is yours…
Cheers – B&V