Sometimes the opening wine carries the night—like at Judy’s 70th birthday. She’s my wife’s mother, and life’s looking good: Recently relocated from the family home in Massachusetts to a San Francisco apartment to be near her daughters, she greets the guests atop the stairs while my wife’s father, Doug, opens the 2006 Ladera Howell Mountain Sauvignon Blanc. Her two sisters and their husbands—one of the pairs in from Omaha—laugh and talk in the spacious living room, and her two daughters, also with their husbands, wrangle the four kids they’ve got between them. Best of all, her son, who lives in New York City, has flown all this way with one of his two healthy little boys. And perhaps all that played a role in the wine’s bright, fresh fruit—call it melon, citrus, whatever, but be sure to imagine the acidic freshness, giving it a zing I find only in better Napa Sauvignon Blancs. But wine, in my life, is always in a context like that: always drunk alone with a steak on a night with too much anxiety; or together with my wife, on a warm evening; or standing there in Judy’s home while the kids run and whirl and scream and giggle through the room, happy to be with cousins, with family.