I posted a while back about my 40th birthday, how I spent it on an airplane and in a New York hotel, traveling for business; the following night, I found a good meal and a lot of good wine at Artisanal, in Manhattan, but was, again, on my own. Last night, to make up for this, and to satisfy a hunger to draw close people I care about, I finally had a proper party, with lots of family and friends and about six pounds of pork from a Devil’s Gulch pig I’d butchered with the help of Staffan Terje, chef-owner of Perbacco in downtown San Francisco. I put out pots of throat-searing aioli, too, with vegetables to dip and a platter of stewed octopus—this latter business taken from Richard Olney’s classic Lulu’s Provençal Table. And although wine did not occupy the night’s emotional center—thank heavens—it did figure more prominently than I’d expected, and in surprising ways.

The first was simply a wine discovery that was also a small revelation about some friends: Katie and John, who live in our neighborhood and have kids the age of ours (under five), brought a bottle produced by John’s sister. They brought it offhandedly, as if everybody knew John’s sister was a winemaker. But I hadn’t a clue, despite having shared many, many glasses with Katie at the neighborhood wine bar (more on this later). Even more surprising was the bottle itself: a Schulz Cellars Lampyridae Vineyard Zinfandel, from a family property atop Napa’s Mount Veeder. At the night’s end, when my guests had all gone and our girls were asleep, and I sat happy in the wreckage with L, I noted that the Schulz was uncorked, so I poured a glass with nothing in mind but sampling a friend’s offering. I was completely knocked out. John’s sister doesn’t just make wine, it turns out; she and her husband make a densely concentrated, chewy, spicy, and positively terrific Zinfandel—the kind of Zinfandel I’m thinking might just be my favorite California wine. It evokes the best Seghesios and Ridges, and also the chewy, non-Zinfandel, Mount Veeder cuvée from the Hess Collection. It’s a wine I’ll seek out, again and again.

As for the other role played by wine in my belated 40th-birthday celebration, I’ll describe it in my next post.

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