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A shortage of wine

A short-form San Francisco travelogue; part 8

by Thor Iverson

13 April – San Francisco, California

Acquerello – It’s been a few years since our last meal at this outpost of purity and perfection, and it’s also our first time here without Claude Kolm. Which, in the great offline tradition, means we talk about him all night. (All positive, of course; but next time, he deserves to be invited so he can participate.) Dinner is, as usual, majestic, as is our service…and, as has become our tradition, we’re the last people in the restaurant by something approaching an hour.

When we arrive, Giancarlo already has an empty side table set up for the many wines he knows are arriving with us. However – and this may be the surest sign of all that Claude’s not in attendance – none of the bottles we bring rise to extraordinary heights (there is one, later, that does…but it’s supplied by the restaurant). It’s an oddly combative lineup of wines, but we’re nothing if not hearty folk up for a challenge.

(Here, again, are included some of the better quotations of the night.)

Clelia Romano 1997 Fiano di Avellino Colli di Lapio (Campania) – Sweet coconut, creamed hazelnut, and roasted almonds with big, rocky minerality and stones dressed with lemon rind. Turns to dried apple on the finish. Quite nice, if a touch past fully mature; it seems a bit fragile.

Scott, our waiter, surveys the forest of bottles that surround us; deadpan – “You’re welcome to have the tasting menu with wines.”

Ansitz Waldgries 2003 Weissburgunder di Terlano “Riol” (Alto Adige) – After some consultation, we order this from the restaurant’s fabulous wine list to make up for a shortage of whites at the table. It’s a fun choice, showing hefty water-over-stone qualities with a sweetly ripe apple aroma. Short, but enjoyable.

St. Michel-Eppan 2003 “Sanct Valentin” Sauvignon (Alto Adige) – While the previous wine was marked, but not ruined, by an overly hot vintage, this wine has been destroyed by…I don’t know what. A failed attempt to avoid overripeness by picking early, maybe? Cat pee and ripe peas, hot and steamy minerals (like a natural spa without all the sulfur), and shockingly goopy. What an amazing disappointment from this usually-terrific wine!

Domaine de l’Arlot 1994 Nuits-Saint-Georges Clos des Forêts St-Georges “1er Cru” (Burgundy) – Lightly burnt and soft red cherry, pecan, non-acrid cranberry and aspirin; ripe yet light, short yet nice. It keeps threatening to show better, and then doesn’t…which can’t be all that surprising given the vintage.

F. Legros 1993 Chambolle-Musigny Les Noirots “1er Cru” (Burgundy) – The nose is completely dominated by strong fecal aromas, though there’s also strawberry and puréed morels. Still, the dung-averse should avoid this like the plague. Getting past the barnyard, one finds black cherry and an improving ripe-berry component that grows with air. It finishes high-toned and metallic; there’s that brett, again.

“Let’s hear it for Jesus units!” – Rob Adler

Hudelot-Noëllat 2000 Vosne-Romanée Les Beaumonts “1er Cru” (Burgundy) – Young and big, showing large-scaled cherry and strawberry fruit with mixed nuts (mostly hazelnut), big acid, and just generally big everything. Supersize it! It’s a little hollow, but gains complexity on the lengthy finish. Wait it out.

Sonoma-Cutrer 2002 Pinot Noir (Sonoma Coast) – Synthetic raspberry, black cherry, and powdered strawberry-flavored sugar. Soft and gulpable, but highly out of place after red Burgundy; it would probably do better amongst the sweet pinots of today’s earlier tasting.

Ruffino 1990 Chianti Classico “Riserva Ducale” (Tuscany) – Strawberry and roasted duck skin with Maraschino cherry, succulent acidity, and lingering traces of perfume. Too bad the wine’s not this good anymore.

“In the bathroom, they have a lineup of Vietti Barolo going from ’74 to ’90, and the alcohol levels started at 13.7% and went all the way up…to 14.3%! Can you believe it???” – Rob Adler

Château Grand-Puy-Lacoste 1994 Pauillac (Bordeaux) – Dark tannin binds this wine in a hard structural shell, from which it’s just barely starting to peck its way out with a little roasted tobacco. One can tell the wine is stuffed, but it’s all nails and large metal hammers at the moment. Back to bed!

So here’s yet another reason that Acquerello is such a fabulous restaurant: Giancarlo brings an assortment of hand-picked cheeses, describing them in passionate detail, and I comment in passing that there’s nothing on the plate from anywhere in the southern three-quarters of Italy. Moments later, Giancarlo returns with a lavish Sardinian cheese, which he details as if he was merely interrupted in his previous narrative. We all laugh. Then he brings us a half-bottle of incredible dessert wine to match with the late-coming cheese.

Donnafugata 2003 Passito di Pantelleria “Ben Ryé” (Sicily) – Sweet banana, mango, and spice-infused passionfruit; a dark ultra-sweet syrup with the necessary acidity to turn it into wine…and an extraordinary one at that. Just beautiful. And, a majestic pairing with the Sardinian cheese.

“That was orgasmic.” – Theresa Iverson “Do you need some extra napkins?” – Scott the waiter, in passing

Deiss 1995 Riesling Altenberg de Bergheim “Grand Cru” “Vendange Tardive” (Alsace) – It’s possible this was an SGN rather than a VT – my notes aren’t clear – but the palate would seem to indicate that VT is the right designation. Gas station soda, lemon, green apple, and ultra-ripe malic acid with light sweetness. Intense and zingy. And yet, disappointing for a VT. But what else would one expect from Deiss except disappointment?



Copyright ©2005 Thor Iverson.