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Oysters, drool & a mule

A short-form San Francisco travelogue; part 3

by Thor Iverson

11 April – San Francisco, California

Hog Island Oyster Co. – This Ferry Building outpost is as perfect as always. People insist that there’s much else on the menu of worth, but really, why? They’ve got oysters. They come on big plates free of unnecessary adornments. You can order many, many dozens of them. Who needs anything else? I’ve got a big meal ahead, so I limit myself to a scant three-dozen (mixed) and leave hungry.

Métaireau 2003 Muscadet Sèvre & Maine (Loire) – I only get a glass, not the bottle, so I don’t notice if this is “sur lie” or not. In 2003, it surely wouldn’t need to be. (Sorry.) Ripe green citrus with still-sharp acidity – pretty good for an ’03 – yet also obviously fruitier and less mineral than in previous vintages. Still, if there’s one region that may benefit from the heft of this vintage, Muscadet might be it. Of course, come 2004 its new fans will go right back to hating it…

bacar – I’ve circulated among the various wine bars within striking distance of San Francisco’s metropolitan center, and always find myself returning to bacar as the best of the lot. It’s a little out of the way, especially now that SOMA is in transition from a ghost town of dot-com carcasses to a sort of extended gateway to “the house that Bonds built,” but it’s almost always worth the trip. What I’ve yet to do is eat here. Well, someday.

Proidl 2003 Grüner Veltliner Rameln (Kremstal) – Celery and lightly dusted wax with an acrid armpit sweat character, grapefruit-dosed tonic/soda water, quinine, and a frothy finish. A throwback to a more casual style of grüner, and while this sort of wine has its place, it’s probably not among the wines that are about to follow.

Nigl 2003 Grüner Veltliner Kremser Freiheit (Kremstal) – Ripe artichoke and asparagus dusted with white pepper on the nose, turning to dried apple, watermelon, and soft banana skin on the palate, then hollowing out on the finish. Really bizarre, like that strange guy at the subway station who’s clearly not homeless but who nevertheless drools on himself with shocking regularity. I’d probably avoid it in favor of a different vintage.

Bründlmayer 2003 Grüner Veltliner Kamptaler Terrassen (Kremstal) – Pepper and spritz, with wet leaves, dried rose petals, and some thin sheets of aluminum and steel with a flat, papery finish. There’s more weight and balance here than in the previous two wines, and thus more hope for age to turn this into something a little more conventional, but what is up with these wines? Yes, yes, I know: 2003.

Sighardt Donabaum 2003 Grüner Veltliner Atzberg “Smaragd” (Wachau) – Huge, ripe grass, melon rind, and kiwifruit with big, oily nut characters. Ah, this is better. There’s a worrisome midpalate hole, but then things kick back in, with a broadening complexity and an extended-play finish, showing mixed stone fruit essences and a hint of un-dryness from a floral, thick mineral/fruit stew. Almost excellent, though there’s that hole; I’d bet on it aging, but I’d go back for occasional checks.

Ehrhart 2002 Pinot Auxerrois Val St-Gregoire (Alsace) – I neglect to ask which of the Ehrharts this is, though by some deduction I gather that it is Domaine Ehrhart (Henri, a/k/a the one in Ammerschwihr), and that it is misspelled “St-Gregorie” on bacar’s list. Anyhoo, this shows sweet spiced pear and corrugated metal in a watery package, with drying vegetal greenness in the short finish. Just OK, no more than that.

Claude Kolm’s apartment – We’re invited to Claude’s strikingly beautiful abode (with a breathtaking view of the city), for dinner with a few of Claude’s friends and “guest of honor” Steve Edmunds, who sees me so often he must think I’m stalking him. Unfortunately – and I primarily blame myself for this – the conversation quickly turns so wine-geeky that I think we unfairly exclude Claude’s friends. Apologies all around…though no apologies necessary for the dinner, which is terrific.

Claude starts us with a little puzzle, presented in side-by-side glasses. All he’ll say is that they’re riesling and that they have something in common.

mystery wine #1 – Corked.

mystery wine #1b – Mature mushroom, nut, and white cantaloupe with a smooth baked earth character and good acidity. At first it appears on the shortish side, but soon expands into a second act of pineapple and a dry, ultimately quite lengthy finish. Pretty good, but not showing its full hand; whether due to lack of quality or lack of sufficient maturity, I can’t quite tell. Steve guesses German, and I halfheartedly agree, but am completely lost beyond that point as to origin, producer, or pradikat. F. Künstler 1997 Hochheimer Stielweg Riesling Spätlese “Trocken” (18 98) (Rheingau)

mystery wine #2 – Spiced gum, wet wool, spiced plum and a grapey/gooseberry character that takes me out of my comfort zone, though I’m soon returned to it but a huge minerality. I guess Trimbach, which is right, but get the site wrong, mostly due to shock over the early readiness of the vintage…which I’d not have guessed would be this open and this developed so soon, even from a year in which overripeness was a regional problem; anyone with sufficient store may want to check on one just to see how they’re doing. Trimbach 1997 Riesling “Cuvée Frédéric Émile” (Alsace)

In a completely different direction:

Edmunds St. John 2004 “Shell & Bone” (Paso Robles) – This is the white “Los Robles Viejos” with a shiny new easily-marketable name, or so Steve assures us. New name, same terrific wine; Steve muses that this might be his best yet. It’s roussanne from Tablas Creek and marsanne/viognier from the Rozet vineyard, and it shows floral spiced apricot, sweetly ripe hazelnut, and drying skin tannins. After the relatively restrained rieslings it comes off a bit hot – though just a bit – but this is hardly unusual for the white grapes of the Rhône, planted anywhere. As is typical, is has an upfront friendliness that will win easy friends, but some complexity and length for those looking for a little more from their wine. Yet another fine effort.

mystery wine #3 – Corked (not really a “mystery wine” in the sense of something served blind, but Claude tells us is that there was a wine in the on-deck circle, but it’s corked, so he’s not serving it).

Mönchhof 1990 Erdener Treppchen Riesling Spätlese (008 91) (Mosel-Saar-Ruwer) – Creamed corn, ripe nectarine and tangerine, big-shouldered with good acidity. Long and lovely, but to be honest a bit monolithic. It’s a niggling criticism, but it’s there.

JL Chave 1992 Hermitage (rouge) (Rhône) – Like the Bonnezeaux from two nights ago, this is a wine that’s been with me almost since the beginning of my cellar-building. I can’t even begin to express the dismay I feel when I see what I paid for it, vs. the going price of Chave’s rouge. Anyway, I fear the worst…and don’t get it. Funky smoked mule feet, baked and tarred blackberry, soy, black olive, and black peppercorn with a structured fruit-and-salt poise that builds to moderate intensity and then slowly fades away. If it can be said of such a wine, an almost “pretty” Hermitage (though entirely without the modern gloss that usually leads to such descriptors). Mature, but certainly not fragile, and pretty terrific. And yes: I wrote “mule feet.”

Edmunds St. John 1992 Syrah “Grand Heritage” (California) – Steve’s play on “Grange Hermitage,” though of course there’s only a passing resemblance. Baked hickory, plum, and green olives sprinkled with coffee grounds and old thyme, and showing just enough dried, leathery blackberry skins to out-fruit (though not quite out-complex) the Chave. It, too, is long and lovely with good acidity, but there is a very faintly watery note on the finish, and I think it’s closer to the end of its life than the Hermitage. I wouldn’t kick either of these wines out of bed, and while my personal preferences run towards the Chave, I think the ESJ proves that California syrah can gain complexity and tertiary qualities with age, if not prevented from doing any more than “lasting” by a modernistic prison of oak, overripeness, and glitzy structural management.

Gentaz-Dervieux 1991 Côte-Rôtie Côte-Brune (Rhône) – Gosh, what a surprise: Claude serving a Gentaz-Dervieux wine. You’d almost think he liked the domaine. OK, enough teasing: very restrained on the nose, elegant and silky, showing roasted leather, brazil nuts, thyme and tarragon, and black plum, but showing it all through a filter or perhaps (for you trumpeters out there) a harmonic mute, as if it’s struggling under the weight of…something…that’s holding back the full expression of the fruit. Not the best G-D I’ve tasted, but there’s certainly nothing “wrong” with it either.

Lefcourt/Charles Moncaut (Gentaz-Dervieux) 1983 Côte-Rôtie (Rhône) – This, however, is barely restrainable. First, there’s brett…or, more accurately, BRETT!!!…with earth and rotted tar. I suppose it sounds unpleasant, but it’s really not; I guess you have to be there. Anyway, George Clinton takes a holiday with the ascent of a soft, red fruit and dried spice-baked nut characteristic leading into bloody raspberries and a slightly metallic, iron filing texture that dominates the finish. Lovely and pretty, but growing larger-scaled and more complex well into its coda and fadeout, this is a rather monumental Côte-Rôtie.

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Copyright ©2005 Thor Iverson.