Last night, I was reminded of what it's all about. Great people, great food, great wines make great memories that last a lifetime.
It took the hostess Jocelyn and her friend Peter all week of planning and all day of shopping and prep to put together an understated meal that a perfectionist foodie like myself so fully appreciates. It wasn't about haute cuisine or cooking techniques. It was about picking the best ingredients that exist in the Bay Area, and letting them speak for themselves, with minimum intervention, and just a gentle but precise touch of the chef. And let the wines stand shoulder-to-shoulder with those ingredients, like a husband-and-wife, supporting each other, making the whole better than the sum of the parts, and yet allowing each to shine on their own.
We started off with a shot of Stoli Elite vodka (!!!) paired with Russian black and red caviar. Then followed with one of my favorite Champagnes - a 1988 rare vintage Veuve Clicquot - a beautifully energetic, late-disgorged 22 year old Champagne, full of almonds, brioche, yeasty bread, and savory zest that just lifts everything you pair it with, especially the caviar, and the platters of impeccably pure Kumamoto oysters, prawns, and crab claw meat from the classic San Francisco seafood institution Swan Oyster Depot.
The more I experience wine, the more this sort of format appeals to that happy place in my brain and my heart. I don't want a lot of wine. Less is more. It's not about "tasting" through as many bottles as possible. No, it's about picking a wine for each unhurried phase of the meal, and really getting to know it, letting it unfold and tell its intimate story, as it finally concludes its 20-30 year old journey from the earth and the vine, and the hand of the winemaker, through your lips, tongue, and belly to your soul.
The 1989 Ducru-Beaucaillou 2nd Growth Grand Cru Bordeaux was spectacular. Medium body, pure sour cherry and dry flowers and herbs, impeccably balanced between earth and fruit. A beauty, the wine was at its absolute prime. I think I can still smell and taste the memory of it, a day later.
The 1982 Chateau Pavie (which I have written about before) was gorgeous, and very different from Ducru. A right-bank Bordeaux from Saint-Emilion, the legendary Pavie is primarily Merlot. 7 years older, it was noticeably more mature, darker and muskier, evoking images of graphite and pencil lead, forest and mushrooms, perhaps beginning its downward curve now, but still very close to the top. This was a beautifully intellectual as well as gastronomic wine. Both were low 12.5% alcohol -- boy!, they sure did make wonderful Cabs and Merlots in those days without pumping up the alcohol and the density of the wines. The 3rd wine - the 1985 Chateau Lynch-Bages - was kept in reserve. I am sure it would have been another beauty from the successful 1985 vintage. Next time!
Deeply flavorful with melt-in-your-mouth texture, medium-rare herb-crusted grass-fed beef prime rib on a bone. Served with au jus and creamy horse radish, with a side of creamed spinach and baked potato.
The sweet finish came in the shape of two gorgeous, classic San Francisco cakes. The coffee crunch cake from Yasukochi's Sweet Stop was a masterpiece, recipe copied from the original Blum's bakery - an SF legend long gone. Yasukochi's is the only place in town that still makes it, and who knows what happens when the old Japanese owner goes. So hurry - the cake is well worth a drive to Japantown. The second cake - Sacripantina - is the house specialty of the historic San Francisco bakery called Stella Pastry & Cafe in North Beach. The multi-layered creation made with a vanilla sponge cake, zabaione (a delicate custard made with egg yolks, sweet butter, marsala and sherry wine), and rum just melts in your mouth!
The cakes were accompanied by 1977 Fonseca Vintage Port - as great a port as I've ever had (100 points by Wine Spectator, and in this case, I won't argue!) Light bodied yet deep flavored (like a great aged Barolo), incredibly complex yet completely integrated with all the sweet and sour black cherry and blackberry fruit, licorice, and gentle wood and walnut. The port was particularly amazing with the coffee crunch cake.
All four wines we enjoyed that memorable evening were clearly objects for special occasion, with price tags to match. In this holiday season of 2010, what better time and place to splurge than in the company of friends who can truly enjoy and appreciate these gifts of life! Don't think the winemakers would have wished for better fate for the fruits of their labor of love.