There’s a new wine-devoted restaurant in San Francisco called Pres a Vi, and the whole extended family walked over there the other night, after a glass of Ladera Sauvignon Blanc to celebrate the 70th birthday of my mother-in-law, Judy. It’s only a few blocks away from my in-laws’ apartment, across busy Lombard Street and into the groomed and peaceful parklike spaces of the former Presidio Army base, home to the new Lucasfilm headquarters among other things. Pres a Vi is a huge, attractive space, with that slightly stuffy air suggesting a desire to host corporate gatherings—it has two private rooms, in fact, that can host 32 and 40 people respectively, and one has an audiovisual hookup. The spot’s stated food mission—“Global Cuisine–Wine Bar”—contributes to the feeling. It’s hard to imagine a more generic, offend-nobody ambition.

The restaurant’s commitment to wine is clear from the moment you walk in the door: The first thing you see, beyond the podium where the reservation book is kept, is the big, climate-controlled, showcase wine cellar—sort of like in those massive Las Vegas joints that desperately want you to know how many wines they own (though not that extreme, to be fair). The wine showcase is all done in that fancy wood that cries out “Serious wine cellar!” and there are plenty of windows so you can see all the fabulous bottles inside, which raises the same uncomfortable mental picture as the “Global Cuisine” deal: that of corporate restaurant planners saying to one another in a boardroom, “OK, so I think wine is really in right now, and I think we should go big with it.”

And yet … the food was nice enough, the atmosphere warm, the service friendly, and the Oregon WillaKenzie Pinot Gris bright and fresh and a fine accompaniment to a dish of tuna tartare. As I mentioned in an earlier post, Judy’s 70th was looking very good: both daughters there with their husbands, her son out from New York, her sisters at her side, and her wine-loving husband, Doug, having bypassed the Pres a Vi wine list to uncork two bottles of a 1999 Lynch-Bages Paulliac Bordeaux to go with the cheese course. And there, sure, a curious wine experience: The Cabernet had a gorgeous, concentrated, complex nose, but less going on in the mouth. Not sure what to make of this—faded fruit, maybe—and we’re still talking about a first-rate wine, and yet, there it is. More curious still, as we all walked full and burbling together back through the Presidio, toward Doug and Judy’s apartment, it was the Ladera Sauvignon Blanc, from so much earlier in the evening—from the cocktail hour, in fact, in Doug and Judy’s living room—that surfaced through my memory of it, made the other wines fade away, and made me want to go looking for a case.

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