Why drink wine, if not for nights like this? Nothing special on the face of it, but, underneath, everything at the core of what makes life worthwhile: time with my beloved L in the late afternoon, while her mother took our eldest daughter (age five) to The Nutcracker and her mother’s sister took our youngest daughter (age two) to look at department-store Christmas window displays and Christmas trees downtown, and then a last-minute plan to pull everyone together for dinner at a restaurant. Already, we were in the realm of bounty, of lives blessed by good fortune, and the night had just begun. The restaurant was a San Francisco place called Farina, a fairly new Italian effort that, before it got a liquor license, had been BYOB. I didn’t get the memo, fortunately, so I brought a 2001 Argiano Brunello di Montalcino.

The restaurant was nice enough—a lovely new room with a white marble bar and big windows, an appealing menu, and a good feel—but the real news was the togetherness of family and the very particular role that wine played. The roots of my love affair with food and wine go back to the restaurant meals my mother-in-law and father-in-law treated me to in the early days of my engagement to their daughter: Discovering just how much I liked to eat well, and how strongly I responded to good wine, I began to feel two things. First, I began to wish that I could reciprocate; I knew it would be a long time, if ever, before I could treat large parties to fine-dining restaurant meals, so I thought I ought to learn to cook as best I could, so at least I could give at home once in a while.

Second, I realized that this pleasure was simply too great to wait for the odd occasion when I felt like a splurge; it was also too great to leave in the hands of others, with regard to the choices being made; learn to cook I must, and also to know the basics about wine. And here’s what this had to do with tonight’s meal: Purely by accident, having thought the place was still BYOB, I’d brought wine. As it happened, the wine I brought was very good, smooth and balanced and restrained in a way that appealed to everyone at the table. Even that would’ve been unimportant if it hadn’t appealed in particular to my father-in-law. I’m not saying he was knocked out, nor am I saying that I haven’t been able to give more substantially than this, over the years; I’m saying only that it made this son-in-law happy, after all these years, to have arrived at a restaurant with exactly the right wine, a wine that constituted a genuine contribution.

The Lowdown:
2001 Argiano Brunello di Montalcino
Grapes: 100 percent Sangiovese
Wood: Aged for one year in French barriques, another one and a half years in Slovenian oak
Alcohol: 14 percent
Price: $64.99 from Wine.com

Tasting Notes:
I detected a hint of sulfur in the nose, along with spice aromatics; I found the wine smooth and soft on the palate, in the way that is sometimes described in terms of “fine-grained tannins.” I thought it had a plush, fulsome fruit quality, but not with the kind of power that other tasting notes imply for this bottle. Other tasters, in fact, see this as a Sangiovese for the palate that prefers international-style wines. I guess I see the point, but I still think this wine is all about balance, restraint, softness, and a kind of purity to the raspberry and plum fruit flavors.

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