My 40th birthday is today, and I spent it on an airplane, headed for a hotel room. But I had family over last night for a meal that made me feel I’d evolved in some important way, relative to food and wine. For years now, I’ve been so consumed with learning new skills and trying new dishes and wines that I would normally not have missed the opportunity to explore and experiment. It was my birthday, after all, and I’d have family over! And yet, this time, because I had just come back from a work trip to the Grand Canyon and was flying off on another one, to Manhattan, in the morning, I decided to give myself a break and simply do what I would find most comforting: oysters, pizza, and sparkling wine, followed by cake, with none of it prepared by me. That way I could simply relax, and enjoy.

My mother-in-law brought the oysters, and I opened a bottle of 2004 J. Schram brut sparkling wine, from Schramsberg, and we began eating and drinking even before the pizza arrived. That J. Schram had the fullness of fruit I’ve come to associate with California sparklers—no surprise, I suppose, given the nature of our grapes and our still wines—and in a beautifully plush and balanced package, with a frothing applelike acidity. The pizzas came from the Cheeseboard, an old-time collective bakery, near the Berkeley neighborhood where I was raised, and where my folks still live. And because they remain my favorite pies I reached for a pizza-worthy red wine, a Bordeaux-style blend of BV fruit that I had made in a blending seminar. I can’t say the night was perfect, but I hadn’t meant it to be: I’d simply realized, in the days before, that turning 40 was becoming a source of mild and predictable anxiety, life’s race halfway run (or at least close), and that I wanted to be with people I love. The girls were running wild with their cousins, and the oyster shells and scraps of pizza crust spread wide, and my mother and father stayed the longest. They’d brought the cake, from another neighborhood institution, and I ate far more than my share.

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