I’ve been thinking about the pleasure of wine and the precise moments I’m most aware of it—not just the drinking moments, but also the passing instances of reflection. For example: the minute a recent dinner party ended and it was time to take out the garbage. The guests were gone, and most (though not all) of the wine bottles were bone dry and bound for the recycling bin. Stepping onto my dark front porch, in the cold San Francisco night, I felt this terrific wave of well-being. It was the contrast: from the bright light and warmth and close air of my dining room, with all its clatter and noise and aroma, to the fresh, cool darkness on the street. Somehow it isolated the satisfaction I’d found in eating and drinking with family and friends—a Corbières red, a Sonoma Coast Pinot—drawing a frame around the feeling so that I could see it more clearly, and see, also, the peaceful beauty of yet another clear night.
Here’s another one: Sunday afternoon in a heat wave, I made a picnic of a wild nettle frittata, sautéed black chanterelles, broccoli di ciccio sautéed with garlic and red peppers and then cooled and tossed with Parmesan, as a salad. Packing all that in a big bag, along with some plates and forks and a tablecloth and some strawberries, I drove L and our little girls a half mile away to a neighborhood park. The day was waning—the shadows long and the light pale gold—but the air was still warm, and we spread everything on the green grass. The girls—3 and 5 1/2—ran and ran and laughed and then came back to eat. I’d brought some box wine that I’d received as a sample, little single-serving deals. If ever there was a moment to drink it, I’d figured, this was the one. So that’s how it went: a good meal on a big lawn, a small drunk coming on, hour after hour with my family.
The elegant evening wines:
2004 Fort Ross Sea Slopes Reserve Pinot Noir
Grapes: 100 percent Pinot Noir
Wood: 23 months in French oak, half new
Alcohol: 14 percent
Also: Unfined, unfiltered
Price: $49 from the winery
My Tasting Notes: The main thing I have to say about this wine, despite the fact that it was absolutely gorgeous, is that it was a slow reveal. It was a little tight at first, quiet, not saying much; notably more beautiful an hour out; astonishing by the next evening, when I polished off a remaining half bottle. A contemplation wine—where you sit there holding the taste in your mouth, letting it light up your mind, and marveling at the complex pleasure wine can bring.
2004 Domaine de Fontsainte “Réserve La Demoiselle” Corbières
Grapes: 70 percent Carignane (100-year-old vines), 20 percent Grenache, 10 percent Mourvèdre
Wood: 12 months in French oak barrels
Alcohol: 13 percent
Price: $15.95 at the Kermit Lynch shop in Berkeley
My Tasting Notes: This is a pretty darn rustic and interesting wine. A lot going on, fruit and leather and musk, and I thought it had a curious herbal bitterness in the finish. It’s the kind of thing I like, because it’s so distinctive, and so not Californian. But harmless and soothing it is not.
The casual picnic wines:
Bandit Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay
Grapes: Who cares, right? They’re both straight-up California varietal wines, mostly the one on the label with a little blending.
Appellation: 100 percent California
Wood: You’ve got to be kidding
Alcohol: 13 percent for the Cabernet, 13 percent for the Chardonnay
Price: $6.99/$7.99 at many liquor stores
My Tasting Notes: The wine was unpretentious, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say it was delicious. I liked it. I liked the fruitiness, the acidity, and even the packaging. I liked also the ice cream we got afterward.