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Spitting into a stupor

A short-form San Francisco travelogue; part 5

by Thor Iverson

13 April – San Francisco, California

A16 – The ever-elusive Frank McCormick joins me at this vivid little joint, where we split a terrific pizza bianca preceded – at least on my side of the table – by a silken and luscious burrata, which is quite possibly the supreme expression of milk on the planet. Frank laughs, upon ordering a glass of wine, that this is possibly the only place in the U.S. where a request for a glass of aglianico is met by the response, “which aglianico?” from the waitstaff. Even at a hurried lunch, this is a compelling establishment, and I look forward to returning for a more complete assessment.

Bastianich 2001 “Vespa Bianco” (Friuli) – Crushed seashells on a windy salt beach, graceful and intense and ever-expanding on the finish. Quite impressive.

West Coast Wines – Frank has invited me along for a portfolio tasting at Fort Mason, with the nervous caveat that it will be mostly California wines. I promise not to start any fights on the premises…though I make no promises over what follows. It’s revealing that, though I have enough time to taste the entire selection on offer, I eventually just give up and walk (across Russian and Nob Hills; gotta work off that burrata) back to the hotel, feeling that further tasting is just going to be more of the same.

Notes – despite my early departure, there are a lot of them – are split into several sections for readability; the rest are forthcoming.

Tremani 2003 Pinot Gris (Russian River Valley) – Funky leather and presenting somewhat sour on the nose (also, not lacking in mercaptans). The palate shows ripe, smoky pear, raw cedar, and a pleasant finish with a hint of bitterness, but there’s just not enough right here to recommend it.

Tremani 2003 Pinot Noir Hansen Vineyards (Russian River Valley) – Smoked hickory and thick boysenberry syrup. Extremely overwooded.

Pierre Morlet Champagne Brut “Grande Réserve” Aveney-Val-d’Or “1er Cru” (Champagne) – Very leesy – too much so – with rotten geranium, big lemon zing, and overripe apple.

Pierre Morlet 1997 Champagne Brut “Millesime” Aveney-Val-d’Or “1er Cru” (Champagne) – Mint, burning paper, grapefruit and herbed apple; a more complex, gentler wine than the Grande Réserve, but not lacking in somewhat intrusive (for Champagne!) acid and still a bit weird.

Pelerin 2003 Pinot Noir (Santa Lucia Highlands) – Kumquat, rhubarb, artichoke, and other not-worth-identifying vegetables. Really weird.

Pelerin 2003 Pinot Noir Rosella’s Vineyard (Santa Lucia Highlands) – Bark on the nose, synthetic dark cherry on the palate, water on the finish. “Balanced,” I suppose, though it turns hot with swirling. Still, it’s better than the previous wine.

Pelerin 2003 Syrah (Monterey) – Blackberry liqueur fades away into…nothing. A completely absent palate. The finish is nice, showing dried leather, tar, and some reasonably firm tannin. But where’d the palate go? Big Sur?

Pelerin 2003 “RTW” (Monterey) – A blend of zinfandel, syrah, and pinot noir. Lightly smoked blueberry, thyme, and drying tannin. A thin, simple quaffer at best, but I like it better than the rest of the lineup.

I’ve met Mat Garretson a few times, and so he recognizes me (with the expected surprise, and possibly some trepidation) when I approach his table. Especially in a somewhat dark room, these wines stand out for their garish, wildly-colored labels (which I like a lot, because they virtually scream “fun”). Also, and to Mat’s great credit, he’s made the switch to screwcaps.

But…if there’s one thing on which most would agree, it’s that Mat has a terrific sense of humor. I fear that I’m about to test that humor.

Garretson 2004 “G White” (Central Coast) – 14% alcohol (I’m including these numbers here for a reason). A blend of roussanne and marsanne. Ultra-thick nuts, peach, and honeysuckle without noticeable acidity. And this is the easy-drinking white? Uh-oh…

Garretson 2004 “The Chumhra” (Central Coast) – 15.9% alcohol, viognier/roussanne. Very, very sweet in a sticky, children’s’ syrup sort of way, showing spiced stone fruit and pear with a suede texture, but it’s so sticky I’m worried that I won’t be able to rinse it from my glass. Ever.

Garretson 2004 Viognier “The Saothar” (Paso Robles) – 16.1% alcohol. No, I didn’t make that up. An acrid, nutty nose and terrific (I mean that in the size-related way, not as a qualitative adjective) palate weight, honey and honeysuckle, ripe flowers, and the whole fruit basket put in the blender and set to purée. But Jesus, 16.1. This is probably the best of the whites, but more than a glass and everyone but John Daly will be blotto.

Garretson 2004 Rosé “The Celeidh” (Paso Robles) – 14.4% alcohol, syrah/grenache/mourvèdre/roussanne, and much darker than many reds. The first opaque rosé I’ve ever seen. Thick herbed strawberry, sweet and clumsy. Better as a dessert topping than a wine. Seriously.

Garretson 2003 “G Red” (Central Coast) – 14% alcohol. I think Mat says this is syrah, but by now I’m getting a little tipsy just from the fumes. Chewy blueberry, sweet and short. Fun, but a very brief sort of fun.

Garretson 2003 Grenache “The Spáinneach” (Paso Robles) – 15.2% alcohol. Strawberry, mushroom, nut, and big cherry bubblegum on the palate. Incredibly dense. And is it lightly sweet? I admit that it’s almost impossible to tell at these alcohol levels, as alcohol can “taste” sweet on the palate. Massive, but tasty in its idiosyncratic way. If there’s one grape that I think can handle these sorts of alcohols, it’s grenache.

Garretson 2003 Mourvèdre “The Graosta” (Paso Robles) – 14.8% alcohol. Coconut, thick and earthy blended herbs, and blackberry, with a syrupy finish. This shows a little more structure than the previous wines, and actually approaches something that, in this context, might charitably be termed balance. Certainly it’s the only red so far that seems to have a future in an industry other than bourbon…

Garretson 2003 Syrah “The Craic” (Central Coast) – 15.4% alcohol. Fragrant violet, herbs (especially tarragon), anise, and thick, sludgy blueberry. Mouthfillingly sweet alcohol dominates. This may last forever, much in the way spirits do.

Garretson 2003 Syrah “Mon Amie” Bassetti Vineyard (San Luis Obispo) – 16.8% alcohol. No, I’m not making that up either. Nose-burning, sweet, thermonuclear blueberry and sticky blackberry fruit finish long, goopy, and hot. I’ve had vins doux that tasted less fortified. Hell, I’ve had Alsatian mirabelle liqueur that tasted less alcoholic. But thank God for engineered yeasts, eh? You know, I hear Sam Adams has developed a yeast that can take things up to 22% or so before giving up the boozy ghost. Certain winemakers might want to look into borrowing the little critters.

Garretson 2003 Syrah “The Bulladóir” (Paso Robles) – 15.9% alcohol. Less overtly hot, but so frickin’ big I think it might be the most massive wine I’ve ever tasted (that didn’t rely on 300-year burials in barrique for size and palate weight, the technique I swear certain Barossa producers must use). Blueberry, plum syrup, black tar, and gallons of unidentifiable liqueur. Somebody get me a tissue…

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Copyright ©2005 Thor Iverson.