The Wine Whisperer: By Lorn Razzano — Last week was a friend's birthday and I found a rare treat in the cellar.

Last week was a friend's birthday and I found a rare treat in the cellar. Hidden away with all kinds of treasures, such as old tennis rackets, kids toys and fading posters from the '60s, was an empty bottle of wine. The thing had been sitting there for exactly 20 years, dust caressing its brown label and faded writing sitting under the dust, which I had forgotten had been written on the label those many years ago!

Curiously, Tess and I had been invited to Peter and Karen Hawes' house some days earlier for this 70th birthday and I was going into the cellar to get a bottle of wine for just this occasion. Peter thought it would be fun to have everyone bring a special bottle to the dinner and the wines would be judged by all attending, with a winner announced at the end of the evening.

These kinds of tastings can be really fun and very interesting. Peter and Karen had done it right by putting paper bags on each bottle so that none of the Vino Guests could guess which wine was theirs as the judging went on throughout the evening.

Karen had segregated the red, white and rosé wines to different parts of the dining area and living room with wonderful food items to nibble on as the evening went on.

Their table was also filled with delicious foods so that we could all make our way around the rooms, taste wine and munch on the goodies.

This is also a great way to do a tasting/judging, as there would be no backup of guests hovering around one spot to get at the wine or food.

Another plus to this type of tasting is that the wines were able to get progressively room temperature, which is a good thing when tasting all of the wines of the evening.

Rosé and white wines are typically served far too cold. This intense coldness masks a variety of flaws, should there be any, and also can dull the palate for the cuisine. A cold palate is not unlike putting a bag of ice on your fingers; the sensations become dull and unresponsive to sensation. We know that the palate is all about absorbing sensitivity and flavors and just a few degrees of colder wines or foods can really flatten sensation on every level.

There is a happy medium, and I think the Hawes did it just right.

Second, since the birthday party lasted for a few hours, the red wine was allowed to "open" and breathe, much to the credit to some of the lovely wines brought for the birthday.

I went back more than a few times to each bottle (I think there were seven reds from all over the world) and the changes in the flavors of the wine in that period of time was profound. One wine I kept tasting got more complex seemingly every 15 minutes!

This was a fun way to taste wine over an evening with nice people for a very kind and lovely man.

It turns out that the dusty bottle of wine that I stumbled upon in the cellar as I was finding a birthday bottle for the evening had been a bottle from Peter's cellar that we had at our house in January, 1989 with a fettucine dinner!

On the label, Tess had written what had been served and who was at the dinner (us, the Hawes and Judd and Shiela Holtey.) The wine had been a 1967 Chateau Neuf Du Pape-Cuvee' Du Vatican from the southern Rhone and it had been divine! I suspect this dinner had been in honor of Peter's 50th birthday! I think the guy is livin' right!

See you next week!