World-class thumb-lickin’ pizza and a first-class wine from home in a backpack: Twenty-five bucks in Sausalito

Parcel 41 Napa Valley Merlot, 2010

Since you’re reading a wine (and food and travel) blog — let’s start with a brief note on an extremely delicious wine. Nephew-in-law Ron sought it out precisely to enhance a four-hour lunch staycation his wife Sherry (my niece) and I enjoy more or less monthly in Sausalito, California. This town manages to one-up even the fabled crescent harbor of Naples. People take pictures of all the upscale stores and the multi-million dollar mansions on the precipitous cliffs . . . but, like Napoli, Sausalito has its real-people side – our side.

Oh yes, the wine. I’d never heard of this one. Now that won’t happen to you. It’s super-delicious. Ron figured it would please Sherry and me because it’s really, really good. He gave extra special thought to it this time, I think, because it was possible that Judy would be with me — a rare day off from her supposed-to-be relaxed life in retirement. (It could have been relaxed, but now she’s free to say “yes” to every request for help or offer of a work-party of some kind. And she does; that’s who she is!)

Ron knows Judy likes a red wine with a good sturdy body, brooding but also brilliant color, packing some kind of distinctive “punch” from something other than high alcohol. (At the piker prices Judy and I pay for house wines one doesn’t get all that.) But Ron was going for something special. And he got it.

Let me share the words I wrote as I tasted: Thick. Very Dark. Heavy legs. Jammy. Modestly tannic. Cassis — lots of it. The label had said “blackberry, currant, mocha.” I’d agree with those terms but it was the concentrated currant cassis that wowed me.

Sherry turned this lovely offering into a backpack bootleg gig so we could sample it in a discreet banquette in the coffee shop where we always meet before going to the Neapolitan back-street style pizza place with a handful of tables and big windows looking out on Angel Island, San Francisco and Berkeley-Oakland. (I must absolutely deny that this little fact might have influenced my enthusiasm for the wine!)

We didn’t need the backpack scam in order to enjoy the wine in the place we always go, with a combo pizza at noon. In our experience (maybe as long-time regulars?) there’s no corkage charge for wine we bring. All done in the open, much to our liking.

Our long-beloved host is just two tables wide and not very deep. When a tourist asked Judy, yesterday, to suggest a good place for lunch, Judy described the back-street Naples ambiance in the place we love. Oops! Evidently she’d shocked the visitor who was bent on sampling obviously upscale Sausalito into making a quick quiet retreat! Our bad! We love  our Neapolitan hole in the wall for the pizza crust, not for any appeal to the upper-crust.

Our combo pizza, by the way, was one-half “Georgio’s Special,” for the historical name of the restaurant: Greek elements like pesto and Kalamata olives and an alfredo-like sauce; the other half was a multi-meat and veggie bounty. Including tax and tip we left, very comfortably bloated, for the princely total price of $25.

That whole experience feels just the same as when Judy and I visited a shop for bread, meat and cheese, consuming it on a hilly curb in Napoli, watching the water far below us  start its race 25,000 miles all the way around the world. (Well . . . Naples and Sausalito do stimulate the imagination!)

We brought our little toy fox terrier, Jackpot, and Judy took him for a walk. Of course along the water they encountered a couple of fishermen — one with a pointed stick and an attached fishing line, the other much more seriously using standard gear. It seems that the spear fisher happily consumes ugly bottom fish, but the guy Judy talked with affirmed he doesn’t bother with them. The perch are what he’s after.

The rocks at water’s edge were crawling with crabs. Judy was surprised. “Are they edible?” she asked. Her new fisherfriend said yes, but they really don’t have enough meat for him to want to bother with them. The two guys gave her a neat little cameo of the American Dream, in a way. Land of wonder, land of choice. This is not a land of scarcity, even though many USAmericans love to act like it is. Wondrous lesson, right there for the learning if one just ventures out and asks. — Bob Cramer, The Fearless Taster, .

Dry, citrusy pleasure in a bold green Gruener Veltliner bottle from Austria

Gschweicher Klassic 2011 Gruener Veltliner showed up at our house a few days ago — in the latest shipment from the Food and Wine magazine wine club.

I thought of it yesterday as I was preparing wild sockeye salmon with creamy pesto. I planned to juice up short grain brown rice risotto with capers, chopped fresh cilantro, and raw red onion. A simple green salad wouldn’t pose a challenge as I considered a white wine, but the wine would need an assertive personality to complement the main dishes.

The wine club shipping carton was still parked on a chair (furnishings in our place have graduate degrees in multitasking). I knew two white wines were in there. One is a Potter Valley, Mendocino County, California Chardonnay. Perhaps unfairly I took a pass on that for now . . . but the other bottle was very, very promising. Estate bottled in an area known for fine Gruener Veltliner, it was billed as fragrant and fresh with crisp acidity and green-herb notes. What a timely delivery this promised to be!

And that wine did deliver. Clear light gold in color, with white stone fruit aromas along with the lemon balm scents the wine club promised, it was clean, bright, citrusy and steely. A long “Li’l Cuties” tangerine aftertaste lingered after some lurking lemon zest disappeared. The mouthfeel from the first sip was round and somehow soft — in spite of the prevailing citrus and hints of pepper.

The marriage of food with wine was perfect. With a typical European alcohol level of 12 percent, we could ignore the fact that we weren’t leaving very much in the bottle. Yum!

The wine estate can be found at , and the wine club can be reached at — Bob Cramer, The Fearless Taster.