The Fifth Floor, Palomar Hotel, San Francisco

This is one of my favorite restaurants on the West Coast. Chef Laurent Gras fashioned a spectacular meal with one creative and tasty dish after another. My favorites included the sashimi, foie gras, lobster cappuccino, hamachi, and short ribs of beef and lamb in two services along with the Niman Ranch pork belly. We started with a brilliant Henriot 1990 Brut Champagne, a top vintage from a great house that seems to be under the radar screen for most Champagne enthusiasts. We then moved into the blockbuster, mineral-dominated yet impressively endowed 2001 Châteauneuf du Pape Les Quartz from Clos de Caillou. While not their most famous cuvée, it is a brilliant wine. With the foie gras dish, we had a glass of the beautifully rich yet wonderfully crisp, refreshing, sweet Quartz des Chaumes from the Domaine des Baumards.

Next we enjoyed a duo of older Zinfandels from Ravenswood. I do not think this estate is currently making wines at this quality level, although I am sure their affable winemaker/co-owner, Joel Peterson, would disagree. These two wines, conceived during Ravenswood's glory days (the mid-eighties through the mid-nineties), were both in prime form, proving that even at age 13, some Zinfandels can stand the test of time. Both wines performed brilliantly with full-bodied, full-throttle flavors, and loads of pepper, spice, earth, and garrigue notes. In a blind tasting, they could pass for a southern Côtes du Rhône. Ravenswood's stature as one of California's two or three finest Zinfandel producers was clearly merited between the mid-eighties and mid-nineties, but it has been replaced by one of the newer boys on the block, Robert Biale, who produces outrageously rich Zinfandel. His two 1997s were terrific, with the Aldo's Vineyard a bit more port-like, and the Monte Rosso a classic, great Zinfandel, the likes of which can only be produced from California's old vine Zinfandel vineyards. Both of these wines are fully mature, but are capable of lasting another 4-5 years.

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