Lorenzo Petroni is a blessed man. As owner of the North Beach Restaurant in San Francisco, Lorenzo’s talent in bringing the freshest quality ingredients together in classically simple combinations has resulted in his restaurant being the #1 Italian restaurant in the Italian neighborhood of America’s greatest city for food over the last 40 years. In 1992, Lorenzo and his wife purchased 37 acres of south facing, rocky, seriously sloped Sonoma County land right below the famed Monte Rosso Vineyard in the Sonoma Valley. Over a period of years, the land was transformed into vineyards, planted largely to Sangiovese Grosso, and the 1998 was the first vintage that saw the Petroni Vineyards name gracing bottles of wine. Lorenzo’s talent, hard work, and passion have seen him rewarded with success in two different fields; in addition to incredibly delicious food at the North Beach Restaurant, he is making delicious wines at Petroni Vineyards.
Lorenzo hosted me for a midweek lunch time tasting of his wines, paired with foods, at his North Beach Restaurant. After a tour of his restaurant, including a trip to the kitchen that had me wanting to jump behind the line to cook, we sat down at a table overlooking his restaurant and bar; Lorenzo told me, “this is my office.” Joining us was one of Lorenzo’s sons, Peter Petroni. Peter, a good son, is clearly proud of his father and it was nice to share time with both the elder and younger Petroni.
Throughout the generous lunch and wine tasting, a stream of people would stop by the table to say hello to Lorenzo, shake his hand, to pay their respects, and his multiple phones would ring as the demands of running two businesses continued while we broke bread. Lorenzo kindly gave me over 2 hours of his time, and during our time together, I listened to a very happy man talk with passion about the land, the grapes, the wines, and about the land, the ingredients, the food.
A monochromatically matched necktie loose at his lilac colored shirt collar, a gold watch peaking out from one sleeve, a gold ring on each hand, well groomed graying hair, expressive eyebrows above intelligent eyes, a happy man, Lorenzo is easily given to smiling as he tells the story of each new taste treat, be it wine or food. Protecting his shirt and lap, he wears his napkin in what I consider the Italian way, spread from the neck downward.
A fun feature: the linen restaurant napkins feature a sewn in buttonhole in one corner, allowing the napkin to be fastened to the top button of a man’s shirt. I am of ample girth, and a napkin worn in such a manner protects the belly from falling food that could never make it to the lap anyway. Similarly, I remember a gal pal of more than ample bust who complained that a lap napkin was largely useless.
Lorenzo hired a winemaker from New Zealand’s Stonyridge Vineyard, Martin Mackenzie, and together they make the wines at Petroni Vineyards of uniformly high drinkability; smooth, round, lush, fruit forward, with elegance and balance. “Wine is made in the vineyard. A great winemaker preserves what happens in the vineyard,” explained Lorenzo.
During our tasting, Lorenzo poured a wine or two of high alcohol percentage, but they didn’t taste like high alcohol wines, instead showing great balance. Lorenzo explained, “we pick by flavor, not sweetness,” laughing at the vineyard and winery folk out in the fields looking through refractometers, looking like lost sailors, trying to gauge when to pick by sugar level. Lorenzo talked of a family dog, Emma, who would spit out unripe grapes fed to her, but would eat them off the vine herself when they were ready and tasted right.
With Lorenzo as a perfect host, the tasting bounced from wine to food to a new wine and and a new food with constant retestings of different combinations of food and wine. I will recap the wines and the foods in a far more orderly fashion than the manner in which I tasted them.
2009 Petroni Vineyards Estate Rosata di Sonoma $12 – 14.1% alc. 50-55% Sangiovese, the rest split roughly evenly between Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. Round mouthfeel. Flavors of strawberries and cream, barest hint of honey. A Rosato/Rose/Blush with balls, great body, texture, nose, mouth, and finish. Neutral oak adds body and texture without imparting flavor.
2008 Petroni Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc Sonoma County $23 – 14.1% alc. Wow! Barrel fermented, 50% new oak, the rest in 2nd and 3rd year barrels. Minerally. Honeyed stone fruit. Lemongrass. Citrus. Mouth coating roundness. Delicious. Supple.
2007 Petroni Vineyards Chardonnay Napa County $35 – 14.5% alc. Light, bright, floral nose. Clean cream, light oak, apple and tropical fruit mouth. Smooth, round, fruit forward. Gorgeously textured.
2006 Petroni Vineyards Rosso di Sonoma $28 – 90% Sangiovese Grosso, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% other. Floral, sweet. Deep chocolate covered fruit. Dark rich cherry, Earthiness. Scrumptious. Such a nice body.
2006 Petroni Vineyards Estate Syrah $48 – 14.5% alc. Cedar spice box, cinnamon, dark cherry nose gives way to a lush smooth forward blueberry cherry fruit mouth. Just opened and beautiful right away. What round ness!
2004 Petroni Vineyards Estate Brunello di Sonoma (Sangiovese Grosso) $65 – 15.1% alc. but doesn’t taste hot or overblown. We are tasting a bottle decanted the previous day at 5:00pm. Perfumed. Rich garnet color. So delicious. “Oooh.” Oak, cherry, berry, leather.
As a child, the adults used to enjoy a small glass of after dinner grappa, and would give cherries that had soaked in the grappa to the children – perhaps to hasten their bedtime. I remember the burn of the grappa cherries. More recently, I have enjoyed duck cooked in a grappa soaked cherry reduction, first at McCormick’s in San Francisco, and then at home. I do not know enough about different grappas, but I tasted two that Lorenzo makes from his grape pomace, and found them as different as could be:
Petroni Vineyards Estate Grappa di Lorenzo (Brunello) – 80 proof. Open. Fruitier, like a Johnny Walker Scotch. I greatly enjoy Scotch from the House of Walker.
Petroni Vineyards Estate Grappa di Cabernet Sauvignon – 80 proof. Restrained. Mineral. Clean, and direct, like a Talisker Scotch. Talisker Scotch, the one aged a mere 10 years, is my favorite single malt I’ve tasted – ever.
Because I don’t have a frame of reference handy from years of grappa tasting, I compared the grappas to two scotches I do have more than a passing familiarity with. Both were absolutely crystal clear, and possessed the heat I remember from childhood, but sipping first one, and then the other, made me realize that I have missed an entire world of experiences in not paying more attention to grappa.
Petroni Vineyards Estate Extra Virgin Olive Oil $30 – Leccino, Pendolino, Carotina, Moraiolo, and Frantoio olive cultivars – In 1992, Lorenzo air freighted 10,000 tiny olive plants from Italy to his vineyard estate. Fresh, flavorful, bursting with floral, herbal, and spice notes.
Hand cured Prosciutto with melon. Salt and sweetness. Beautiful.
An Insalate Caprese made of Tomato, Basil, and Burrata, a wonderfully creamy fresh Italian cheese made from mozzarella and cream, with Petroni Vineyard Extra Virgin Olive Oil.
Green Radicchio and Spring Onion picked that morning from the gardens at Petroni Estate, Salt melted by a spritz of Vinegar, Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Pepper. This just screams of freshness.
Lorenzo had Sand Dabs. I had Veal Osso Buco with Peas, Polenta, and Swiss Chard. Let me say that my Osso Buco was amazing, and I loved alternating bites with sips of the Syrah, Rosso, and Brunello. OMG Yum, just sayin’.
We shared some Walnuts from Livermore that had red colored nut meat, naturally dried Figs, and Pecorino cheese from Cortona, Italy.
Proving there is no such thing as too much of a good thing, Lorenzo had both a Lemon Sgroppino and Raspberry Sgroppino placed before me, deliciously refreshing alcohol fruit sorbet ices, absolutely delicious intensely fruit flavored dessert beverages, made from fresh fruit.
Everything we ate at the North Beach Restaurant was delicious; it was the ideal of Italian cooking, a few fresh high quality ingredients per dish in classically simple combinations, perfection. Noth Beach Restaurant is located at 1512 Stockton Street, San Francisco, CA 94133, (415) 392-1700, and has reasonably priced valet parking available at the front door which in San Francisco is exceedingly rare.
Similarly, the wines of Petroni Vineyards, made from organically grown grapes (“We didn’t use poison growing up, why start now?”), are each and every one an example of simply beautiful deliciousness; round, great fruit, expressions of terroir. The wines are available in some wine shops in northern California, Illinois, and Texas. Wines can be ordered winery direct by email firstname.lastname@example.org or phone (707) 935-8311.
Lorenzo extended an incentive to my readers to join the Petroni Vineyards wine club; if you order 12 bottles per year, all the same or a mix/match combination, then all the wines and olive oil will be discounted 20%. There is no fee for joining the wine club, and you can choose 6 two bottle, 4 three bottle, 3 four bottle, 2 six bottle, or 1 twelve bottle shipment. Drinda Petroni, Peter’s wife, runs the wine club, and if you are going to join the club, let her know you are a JohnOnWine reader to get the 20% discount Lorenzo extended (under $10 for the Rosato di Sonoma). I loved each of the wines, so I am passing the offer on for your consideration.