Gaja Grappa di Barbaresco (Piedmont) – Extremely elegant and smooth, which is (to my mind) a dangerous thing for a grappa; complexity must be there in force when the edges of this otherwise fiery elixir are shorn. There’s a surplus of floral and spice aromas but a general absence of a definitive foundation, to the extent that it’s highly reminiscent of some of the more internationalized Langhe blends from this house. In the end, elegance remains its primary quality.
24 April 2006 – San Francisco, California
Quince – One of the more difficult reservations to make in San Francisco quickly becomes one of the most difficult to keep, as our group stands around the restaurant’s cramped front section, generally feeling as if we’re intruding on everyone’s dinner, for a full thirty-five minutes after our scheduled time. The blame can’t be laid entirely at Quince’s doorstep – if a table won’t leave, it won’t leave, and there’s no call for Manhattan-style deadlines on what should be a leisurely dining experience – but a little more consideration and, at the very least, apologizing would be nice. We receive little of either.
Once seated, we set to the dual tasks of deciding which of the many wines we’ve brought should be opened, and what to eat with them. Quince sets a two-bottle limit on BYO, which is stringent but obviously works to the benefit of their excellent wine list, and their $25 per bottle corkage seems fair given the overall setting. Choosing the food, however, is more difficult, because for a small restaurant there are almost too many enticing options.
A first course of fried fish with favas and an herbal sauce is fine, as are small pieces of halibut on toast, but a pasta course with razor clams is more of a mixed blessing; tart and delicious in its crisply acidic sauce, but featuring slightly overcooked pasta that too-closely mimics the texture of the clams. My main dish of salt-encrusted pigeon is flawless and brilliant (though the squeamish will want to quickly dispense with the head, which is included in the presentation), but its accompaniment of peas is, like the pasta, somewhat overcooked…or maybe Quince is trying for an English approach to the vegetable. I eschew dessert, but an evening-capping coffee is simply world-class.
Once we’re finally seated, our service – and especially our wine service – is excellent.
Boxler 2002 Gewurztraminer “L60P” (Alsace) – I forget precisely what the “P” stands for, but it’s a site designation…though not a grand cru. The wine shows – big surprise – intense aromatics, featuring lychee and spiced white plum. It’s full and rich, yet somehow carries a delicate balance through its long, persistent finish. Gorgeous wine, though unquestionably on the very sweet side.
Bründlmayer 2004 Grüner Veltliner Langenloiser Berg Vogelsang (Kamptal) – Celery root and ripe Meyer lemon with good, grapefruit-like acidity. Perhaps the dominating crispness attenuates this wine a bit, but the finish feels shorter than it should. This probably suffers from following the Boxler, though plenty of palate cleansing and food interruption does little to change the impression.
Gaja 1985 Barbaresco Costa Russi (Piedmont) – Murky, silky and sultry all at the same time, with spiced dried fruit, spicy plum, red cherry and strawberry seed over a steaming bed of hay…a strange wine, seemingly dominated by its spice (from which one makes inevitable deductions about wood), with a lot going for it, but not a lot of coherence. However, after an hour everything has snapped into focus, with exotic floral notes and a rich complexity coming fully to the fore. The first version of the wine is good but odd, the second is inspired. I recommend drinking the second.
Aldo Conterno 1985 Barolo Bricco Bussia Vigna Cicala (Piedmont) – Sexy, but a bit rough, showing S&M strawberries and a succulent, balanced finish. As with the whites, this may suffer in comparison to the bigger, richer and more “worked” Gaja…but it also definitely improves with time and distance from its regional counterpart. This is a wine that deserves a little more quiet contemplation that it probably receives here.