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A tip of the hat

A 2004 Sonoma/San Francisco travelogue; part 12

by Thor Iverson

[ship & SF]

We’re gonna need a bigger boat…
18 August 2004 – San Francisco, California

Chez Adler – We (Theresa, me, Larry Stein, and Claude Kolm) gather at Rob & Ilene Adler’s nth apartment in as many years for pre-dinner drinks. This has become a pleasant little ritual of the last few years’ visits to the Bay Area, wherein we mindlessly drink the Adlers’ wine before moving on to a ridiculously over-the-top dinner. This time, though, we’re not going to Acquerello. A shocker, that. No, we’ve got bigger cabernets to fry.

Vranken 1989 Champagne “Demoiselles Brut” (Champagne) – Tart, showing green apple, lime, and grapefruit with a fading, sweaty complexity that really only emerges on the finish. I’m not particularly enamored of this wine.

Ca’ de’ Medici “Terra Calda” (Emilia-Romagna) – A sparkling red wine with the profile of a good Lambrusco: purple grape soda and light-to-moderate tannin, dry and only half-fun (but that other half is not at all unpleasant). Interesting. Purple. “And what have we learned about ‘Terra Calda,’ Thor?” “Foamy!

Chapeau! (1408 Clement St., San Francisco) – Despite a zillion trips to San Francisco, I’ve never eaten at this Richmond District bastion of traditional bistrohood, though I have walked by it a few times. Chapeau! is chaotic, crowded, and always on the edge of disaster, yet it works in the way that really good locals-only restaurants all over France do. The menu is nearly-indecipherable insanity, the wine list is classic French (both a good and a bad thing), but everything is just loads of fun. I inhale a majestic cassoulet – the best I’ve had on this side of the Atlantic – and banter with Philippe (the owner) about the tiniest of improvements he could make to what is, after all, one of my favorite dishes on the planet.

Kreydenweiss 1988 Riesling Kastelberg “Grand Cru” (Alsace) – Wet steel and wet limestone in a triangular, purely rock-driven wine resting on its elbows; a beautiful face with less substance behind it than one might wish. It just lacks a little bit of…something.

Zind-Humbrecht 1988 Pinot Gris “Vieille Vigne” (Alsace) – From the days when Zind-Humbrecht made decent wine. Slightly burnt smoked quartz, moist and leafy pear, and a delicate, lovely finish. But also, clearly on the downslope.

Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande 1983 Pauillac (Bordeaux) – At most dinners, this would be the wine of the night. Incredibly balanced, this mixture of dried black olives and dried black cherries with still-strong tannin characterized by a touch of green pepper is juicy, firm, and lovely. A dusting of espresso powder emerges on the finish. An enticing, classic Bordeaux (well, maybe not the olives) not yet done developing, and certainly nowhere near its eventual decline.

Ridge 1974 Cabernet Sauvignon Monte Bello (Santa Cruz Mountains) – Larry and I have sourced this for an early celebration of Theresa’s 30th birthday. We are, understandably, nervous about the contents. Will it have held up in unknown storage conditions? Is the cork OK? Are the often variable reports on the ’74 going to manifest themselves tonight?

As it turns out, we needn’t have worried about anything. This bottle is flawless, strong and majestic and seemingly much younger than its thirty years. It’s like Theresa, in that way. The nose is hugely fruity, showing smoked plum, black cherry, blackberry, and earth that are fully resolved yet full and forceful, with a gorgeous, warming texture that lingers and dances on the palate. Beautiful, soul-stirring wine, with the sort of completeness and confident power that only the best cabernets in the world are able to possess.

Donaldson Family “Pegasus Bay” 1999 “Finale” (Waipara) – Corked.

Thunder Mountain Raspberry Wine – Unbelievably intense raspberry liqueur and syrup notes, with some of the spicier, leafy notes one expects from maturation (this is, after all, more than a few years old). A lip-smacking end to a most enjoyable evening.

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