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Livin' large with Marge

Part 6 of a 2005 California travelogue

by Thor Iverson

15 November 2005 – Palo Alto, California

Lavanda – Searching for a place with good food that would allow some recalcitrant wine geeks to B a little of their O, I finally settled on this upscale establishment at one end of Palo Alto’s main drag. I’m a little early, and so I wander the streets for a while, finally entering to find that John DeFiore is equally early, and enjoying a drink at the bar. I wish I’d thought of that.

Lavanda has the usual California mix of suit-and-tie folk mixed in with casual, jeans-wearing students. It’s a restaurant that attempts to be formal, but is a little noisy and frenetic to really achieve it, with high quality but occasionally uneven food; order wisely. My meal is very nice, except for a buttery dish of truffled pasta in which they’ve severely overcooked said pasta, but my fellow diners seem well-pleased with their meals. The wine list is long and extremely interesting, and if one isn’t bringing wine there’s no lack of solid options. Service depends on who you have; one waiter is dismissive and cold, others – including, at one point, one of the owners – are warm and welcoming.

The highlight of the night, however, is supplied by Bill Futornick…in the form of his mother, Marge. She’s about fifteen pounds and four feet of pure sarcastic energy, and an absolutely hilarious dining companion. An example of her repartee:

“Winemakers always say to me ‘every wine is different because their soul is in it.’ That’s crap.”

She keeps us laughing late into the night.

Couly-Dutheil 1996 Chinon Les Chanteaux Blanc (Loire) – Beeswax and candle wax with lavender, white flowers, light oxidation and high acid. It seems quite faded, yet every once in a while there’s a surge of aromatics. Perhaps, rather than too old, it’s actually too young. That would be expected for chenin, but I’ve no experience with aged Chinon blanc.

Graillot 2001 Crozes-Hermitage La Guiraude (Rhône) – Leather and smoked nuts with dried berry skins, evaporations of sweaty horse, salted pork and some of that classic Northern Rhône meat liqueur. Soft and fading, then re-energized, then well-knit; a very good wine in the variable throes of adolescence.

Verset 1997 Cornas (Rhône) – Animalistic and sweaty more than actually funky (though there’s a bit of Bootsy Collins as well), showing firm but roughly-hewn and earthy blackberry, graphite and leather. Significant, but not unpleasant, tannin provides backbone. Impressive.

Baumard 1995 Côteaux-du-Layon “la queue de Paon” (Loire) – Beautiful, silken-textured sweet chenin cream, with lovely balance. There’s fruitspice and pungent, chalky apricot, but ultimately this marvelous beverage is all about its gorgeous texture.

16 November 2005 – Menlo Park, California

Sharon Heights Golf & Country Club – As a golfer, one doesn’t pass up invitations like this. The course itself is nice, pleasant, and not all that difficult (though it’s very much the off-season for me, and I don’t play that well), but the awe-inspiring clubhouse and the general amiability of the people makes for a most enjoyable afternoon. My host’s locker is right next that of Jerry Rice (“serious about golf, but not that good”), and during the round we cross paths with Bill Walsh, which completes a year of unexpected celebrity sightings…for whatever that’s worth.



Copyright ©2005 Thor Iverson.