Thursday, May 21, 2009

the girl, the fig, the guy, his wines...

the girl and the fig has always been a hangout for me, as far back as the Glen Ellen days. On the Sonoma Plaza it clicked: right location, right feel, right crowd and right cuisine focus.

Now it’s been there for a few years and it’s gotten to the point where it’s dancing the fine line between a dependable and comfortable hangout and a settled-in-the-rut, take-it-for-granted, do-what-we-do-every-day kind of sameness.

There are still some outstanding dishes that define this place, and thank god they are there: the pastis scented mussels in broth, almost always the best in town; the fig and arugula salad, one of their trademarks and justifiably so; the Croque Monsieur. And over the years they’ve upped the ante on the cheese selections with their in-store fromagerie that always features outstanding selections. But my favorite place, the bar, has become quietly predictable and unimaginative of late and could benefit from a little boost in the mixology department. And I get the feeling, at times, they are coasting just a bit.

Still and all, on a pretty Spring day with winemaker and friend Steve Edmunds in town, the girl and the fig can still put down a good meal. And with Steve providing the wines, we certainly had no shortage of the good stuff there.

Since I had previously raved about the ESJ Heart of Gold from our Cyrus dinner, Steve brought the 2008 release---this one with a tad more Vermentino in the Vermentino/Grenache Blanc blend. It was a bit fatter, a bit richer, perhaps not quite as eagerly aromatic as the previous vintage, but nonetheless enticing, with restrained fruit and alcohol (and if you don’t have your winespeak decoder ring, that means Steve picked the grapes when they were in balance and not raisiny-overripe, then he allowed the wine to reach its own expression without forcing it into being some steroidal monster), and no mask of oak to hide the freshness and zestiness. I love this wine. It’s almost like a two-stage rocket, with instant appeal as it enters with its pure expression of fruit, then an almost explosive expansiveness, a fullness in the back palate, with a refreshing tinge of puckery bitterness right at the finish.

And because there’s nothing masking the essential nature of the wine, it will be fascinating to observe the development curve; you can already see some pungent elements, like muskmelon, beginning to emerge, and I expect those will both intensify and develop some intriguing complexities with time.

With Steve’s duck confit omelette (which frankly needed a bit of salsa to perk up the flavors) and my standard grilled cheese sandwich (richly buttered sourdough filled with gooey cheese and fresh tomatoes, with some Dijon on the side, and garnished with some awesome bread and butter pickles), Steve popped open the 2007 ESJ Porphyry Gamay Noir Barsottti Ranch, El Dorado.

Once again, Steve shows his essential style: find the right location, work with the growers to develop the right fruit for it, don’t overdo either the grapes (no reason for raisins in this man’s wine; no brown seeds either) or the winemaking, avoid anything that might mask the flavor, and let the wine find its expression without goop or gabbiness or artifice. This Gamay Noir is a quiet little Loire-ish charmer, zen-like in its less-is-more way, with nothing but pure, clean fruit and bright, lean acidity and seamless line from beginning to end.

It’s an endlessly satisfying wine, pure pleasure for sipping but more than adequate with the food flavors (hello, acidity), and it encourages the slow diminution of the bottle (I ask Steve to let a little remain so I can take it home for Roxi; I want her to experience these two wines, as she is a fan of the ESJ as well).

The wine is so good, the conversation so delightful and stimulating and far ranging, the afternoon disappears before we know it, and we look to find the restaurant virtually empty around us.

This time the girl and the fig turned out to be in its comfortable, sustaining mode, providing the right food and the right feel, and the right place on a sunny Spring day to sample Steve’s unique wines. And, hey, isn't that what a local place is supposed to do?


  1. The Porphyry is beyond anything gamay I have tasted from CA and at cru level in Beaujolais. A remarkable wine with a lot of life in it.
    The Girl and the Fig and The Fig; two of my favorite places.
    Best, Jim

  2. Agreed, Jim. The Porphyry is a wine apart. There's nothing like it---literally---in Ca. Who else is making, or even attempting to make, Gamay Noir of this style and quality? And while at least equal in quality to the best of the Cru Beaujolais, it is distinctly different.

    One reasonable question would be: why isn't anyone else doing this...or just attempting it? The disappointing answer, I suspect, would be that if there is no volumetric appeal (large volumes with large profits) there is no motive elsewhere in CA. It's left to those who are lonesome on the ground.

    The eternal mystery to me is that wine of this ilk is not automatically snapped up upon release. This wine, by rights, should create a groundswell and start a trend, dammit.

    The irony, of course, is that if it did that, it would get totally mucked up and warped out of what it was intended to be. At least we get to enjoy it!