On Valentine’s night of 1997 I donned my best black vintage polyester shirt and pair of black skinny jeans in reverence to being single yet another year and joined my untethered friends at a lively irish bar in SOMA. This is where Liz and I first met over a few pints (me) and cocktails (her) and conversations of music, travel and…her boyfriend. Luckily for me, her boy moved to the East Coast, never to be heard of again, and we started on our journey that has continued for 13 years.
Our fledgling relationships with each other and wine began over heaping piles of pasta at Sodini’s Green Valley Restaurant in San Francisco’s North Beach. An old-timer establishment that has Frank, Sammy and Dino on a constant loop, signed pictures of every retired SF police captain and mayor of SF instead of celebrities and a menu with every kind of noodle you could want…as long as it’s drowned in red sauce.
On my first-job-out-of-school paycheck I splurged on a bottle of wine. A 1995 Rabbit Ridge Winery Zinfandel cost about $25 (we found it later down the street for $12 retail), and since we didn’t really know much about wine at the time we went by its charming name. It turns out Rabbit Ridge was making one hell of a red out of the big juicy Russian River Valley grapes that bounced off our tongues and gave that marinara sauce a run for its money. A perfect ‘first’ bottle of wine to share as Dean Martin played our song. Soon we started our weekly treks to Sonoma and Napa and made it a point to visit the Rabbit Ridge Winery as many times as possible. It kept our makeshift wine fridge full of cheap and delicious Zin and our memories of that night at Sodini’s fresh.
Now, about that wine. I decided for our tenth wedding anniversary last summer that I’d track down a bottle of Rabbit Ridge OVZ Reserve from 1997. This was one of our all-time favorites. A huge black fruit flavor bomb. This was pre-‘let’s oak the hell out of everything’ times and this thing was just jammy and beautiful. After a rather short search on the interweb, I found a bottle at Owen’s Liquors in Myrtle Beach, SC for a savory $29.99. Of course, a 12-year old bottle of Zin moved cross country and living in the sweltering thong capital of the New South is a bit suspect. It could be a very nice bottle of vinegar – but it would make our salads even that more special.
I planned on surprising Liz with the bottle at a dinner in Portland, ME on the night of our anniversary. I packed the bottle in the suitcase hidden amongst our wedding garb (our friends were getting married the following day on an island close to the city). Thanks to new and unpublished regulations by Delta, we missed our flight by 5 minutes and had to eat our celebratory dinner at a mediocre Todd English establishment at the airport while the bottle languished in the bowels of JFK.
The bottle came back from that trip with the cork intact and was placed back in the fridge until last night. I made a Coq au Zin – a playful adaptation of a french classic from Sid Goldstein’s book The Wine Lovers Cookbook, braised brussel sprouts (2009 Ingredient of the Year) and a loaf of SF sourdough.
The wine had cooked a bit (as I had predicted) and the cork was nearly 100% deep purple throughout. Tentatively, I poured the first glass and took a sip. The berry jam was still there and balanced by a nice bit of acidity at the end. A perfect complement to the rich and tangy Coq a Zin (made with a Primativo, ha!) as it turned to berries and chocolate with every sip. While it wasn’t the big powerhouse I remembered, it still brought back fond memories of those romantic trips up to Healdsburg. Time to go again. – J F Grossen, Chief Executive Oenophile