Wine as gift, as gesture: Up in Tahoe for the week, my wife’s extended family has gathered in a pair of lakeside condos. This kind of thing is not always easy, what with all the transit, the schedules, the tensions and complications present in the life of every family, everywhere.

And yet: Here we all are! The sky is blue, the grand lake is even more blue, the Jet Skis are roaring past, and the old retrofitted paddle-wheeler is wowing the yokels and an exquisite teak Chris-Craft is puttering slowly from one private dock to another. So many kids with us—two each from me and my wife, my wife’s sister, and her brother—and they’re all running around barefoot, making up games, feeling free in the way that makes a parent smile.

And how about dinners? Well, hey, we’re here four nights, so it makes sense to assign one couple (wife’s parents included) to each night. First two, easy enough: Wife’s parents make the great grilled sturgeon dish I’ve mentioned already; wife’s sister makes a bread salad with grilled peaches and a chicken salad (pairing for which requires two wines drunk simultaneously, a Bokisch Tempranillo just right with the bread-and-peach deal, and a De Loach Gewürztraminer working with the chicken salad).

But then, then … the final two nights. Here’s the issue: I’m not always the easiest guy to get along with—lot of ego issues, etc.—and I caused some friction with my wife’s brother in the early days of my marriage. Did he play a role? Sure, he’s human, too. Works in financial services, high stress, high tension. But who cares, tales many times told, brothers-in-law … anyway, his night to cook finally comes, with mine to come last, and when I arrive at the dinner table to find that after flying clear out here from New York, with his wife and two great boys, he’s had the energy to hit the Tahoe City farmers’ market and bring back wild-caught king salmon, fresh as can be; gorgeous tomatoes; and succulent corn. Already, in other words, this man is speaking my language! And by poking around at the Tahoe City Safeway, he and the wife have dug up a 2006 Mer Soleil Central Coast Chardonnay, a 2006 Chalk Hill Sauvignon Blanc, and two bottles of a Robert Sinskey 2005 Pinot Noir (is this not a changed world?! When such things are available at a noncoastal Safeway?). “My goodness,” I’m thinking, “things are looking up already!” But the clincher is sitting next to my brother-in-law, well into realizing that he’s a damn good cook (the salmon’s perfect), and noticing that he’s reaching over to refill my glass with more and more of that Sinskey. Better yet, as he finishes topping off my glass, he tops off his own, and so when we drink, we drink together.

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