A few years back, Susan Johnson and I ate at Kuletos off Union Square in San Francisco. We were enjoying a special meal on the Windsor Vineyards corporate credit card as a reward for doing a special two day tasting in San Francisco for a corporate client.
We brought a bottle of our 1994 Windsor Vineyards Carol Shelton Signature Series Merlot. Both Susan and I are big red fans, generally preferring the power and strength of a Cabernet Sauvignon or Zinfandel to a the softness of a Merlot, but this wine had taken four gold medals, including a double gold/best Merlot award at the California State Fair, and we knew from several previous tastings that this was a monster of a Merlot.
As the Windsor wine was not on the wine list, we asked our waiter about a corkage fee, agreed to it, asked the waiter to bring a glass for himself, and let him do the honors of opening our bottle to breathe.
We noticed that there was a Matanzas Creek Merlot from the same big 1994 vintage that had earned some of the highest ratings for a ’94 Merlot from Wine Spectator or Wine Enthusiast, 97/100 or above, on the wine list and available at $60, a very fair restaurant price, and as we were staying in San Francisco overnight, we ordered a bottle to taste against the Windsor Merlot.
For our meals, we chose a roast duck breast in a grappa soaked cherry reduction special that seemed made to be paired with our wines.
If you have never eaten at Kuletos, the restaurant is warm and inviting, an upscale yet comfortable Northern Italian restaurant, rich with wood and marble, professional yet friendly service staff, and consistently well turned out food that can be paired with wines by the glass, half bottle or full bottle from their more than adequate wine list.
Having snacked earlier in the day, we chose a selection of cured meats and salumi to start us off, and a deconstructed Caesar hearts of romaine salad dressed in an anchovy and garlic dressing with croutons to share before our duck dinner.
Carol Shelton’s Windsor Merlot opened with a rich ruby red color, and the nose of warm cherry was echoed in the mouth and joined by notes of plum and berry against spicy French oak. There was even a hint of bacon fat, and everyone loves bacon fat. Not overpowering, but perfectly balanced, the iron fist in a velvet glove, this Merlot had loads of gorgeous fruit hanging on a well structured backbone of firm tannins and good acidity, and the finish kept each note in balance with the others as it disappeared over time.
Our waiter was pleased to be invited to taste our wine, and surprised that a wine he had never run across before was so good.
The 1994 Matanzas Creek, reserve something or other, Merlot, Sonoma Valley was simply gorgeous. It is heaven to have two beautiful and delicious wines, at once similar and very different, to experience and enjoy with a good friend, also wine knowledgeable, over foods perfectly matched to the wines.
The Matanzas Creek Merlot showed a garnet color, the nose more like Cabernet with Blackberry and Cassis notes against oak in the front with perfumed floral notes behind. Again, this was a power Merlot, more iron, less velvet, and the tannins were big for a Merlot. Flavors of candied cherry, toast, oak, and creamy vanilla. A Merlot you can eat, thick and chewy, with a long and powerful finish.
The salumi and cured meat plate was a treat, popping bits of tasty meats into our mouth to be joined by a small sip of wine and swallowed.
I don’t know if inviting your waiter to taste two remarkably wonderful wines will have the same effect it seemed to have on our waiter, but that night he made a slew of errors, or helped the kitchen out of their slew of errors, because long before our duck hit the table, we had a soup and two more appetizers, all unordered, find their way to our table. All mistakes, we were told, could we possibly help the restaurant by consuming them?
Susan and I are great friends, we have worked together twice, almost thrice, and have helped each other on our separate employments. We enjoy each other’s company, conversation is never difficult for us, we both love wine and have remained in the industry for many years, and we both love food and have cooked for the other on a number of occasions.
While all of the food was good, and it was nice to taste each course with first one wine and then the other; the highlight of the evening was tasting the wines against and with the grappa soaked cherry reduction sauced duck breasts, crispy skin, and delicious fat, juicy meat and two great wines, either of which would have been perfect. Wine and food flavors marrying delightfully, the union richer, more delicious, than the individual flavors alone.
Susan and I communicated through this course largely by shared moans of pleasure.
We shared a chocolate and cherry cake torte for dessert, and I risked ruining a perfect meal by ordering coffee. Don’t you hate a bad cup of old, unattended, burnt coffee at a meal’s end?
Have no fear, oh blog reader, the dessert and coffee were both perfect. I don’t really recall the salad, or the numerous unordered appetizers, except to say that they were uniformly good. This was one of those perfect meals.
We even saved a glass of the Windsor Merlot and had the waiter prepare a plate from our leftovers for a homeless man who had asked us for change on our way to the restaurant. On that night everyone ate and drank well.