Flashback: a shy Lorenzo Petroni.
Flashback: a shy Lorenzo Petroni.

You couldn’t ask for a better spot than Nick’s on Main. I could go there every week. An intimate bistro located in Los Gatos, the food is as impeccable as the service; thankfully there’s no pretension, despite the Lambo dealer next door and the understated Bentley showroom across the street (and, yes, there is an Apple store less than half a mile away on Santa Cruz). So when we went last night to meet up with family to celebrate a birthday, we decided to pull a bottle from the cellar. Why not? It was my wife’s idea. Pay the $20 corkage, and enjoy some good wine on a special occasion. That was her decision. Mine was choosing the bottle.

One of the things I love about wine — aside from the fact that it ignites conversation, and brings food to life — are the stories.

There are so many stories when it comes to wine. We all have memories of sharing a special glass, with someone we love, or possibly with someone we are trying to love (hint: el big pouro).

Some of these stories are fictional. Like Sideways. They can be poetic metaphors for life. Are we just all a bunch of soft-skinned Pinot grapes?

Others are the stories that wine marketing folks craft to differentiate their 2009 Cab from every other $40 bottle on the market. This is clever stuff: the old barn that burned down, the former TV star that bought a ranch, the globe-trotting heroine that invented a medical device that saved five million lives in a small tent village on the outskirts of Uganda. Okay, strike that last one. I might be thinking of Angelina Jolie again.

Then there are the everyday stories. Like dinner at Nick’s on Main to celebrate a 14th birthday.

I knew there’d be meat aplenty (with a few fish exceptions). Sure enough, a few hours later there was nary a veggie entrée in sight. Just six carnivore pleasing dishes: lamb, steak, ahi tuna, salmon, ribs, pork. On and on.

So earlier I pulled a 2005 Petroni Cabernet Sauvignon from Sonoma. And, of course that bottle had a story too.

It was Lorenzo Petroni (North Beach Restaurant in San Francisco), a man larger than life. When I found the wine on Cellartracker and then located the distinctive light blue topped bottle in the cellar, it was like Christopher Walken in The Dead Zone. When I touched the bottle, I could see us a few years back enjoying a crazy wine country lunch at Petroni’s — again, meat as far as the eye could see. He is a character to behold. Laughing, bellowing; and it was my first time seeing someone with a special shirt designed to attach a napkin. What a pro, I thought. I’m so naive when it comes to the Italian ways of celebrating friends, wine and food. I also remember him telling us the money came from the restaurant. The winery was about passion, not profits.

So when I think wine pairing with meat. I think Petroni. And my natural inclination is always Cab at dinner (how narrow, I know).

The wine itself was what you’d call firm. I suspect it will age well, there are strong tannins. Oddly, as others at the table pointed out, the finish had a strong mineral component (almost Chard like!). But after the bottle breathed a bit that led way to a nice spicy note. Come to think of it, the wine embodied much of the personality of the man himself. It was boldly different, almost un-Cab like, at least in the standard Northern California sense.

But I won’t remember the wine so much as I’ll remember heading back to Almaden Valley later and spending time with my cousins. Those follow-on stories involved Airsoft (all new to me… kids today!), a hole in the wall, and Hearts.

My California cousins.
My California cousins.