To celebrate my mother's 80th birthday, I returned to my hometown of South San Francisco, where she still lives in good health and high spirits. I gathered a group of friends and relatives for a birthday dinner close to home. One of the most entertaining restaurants in South City is the Basque Cultural Center. Basques have played an important part in the agricultural history of California and the adjoining high desert country of the Great Basin. They like good food, and are proud of their cultural traditions.
The restaurant focuses on hearty and healthy portions at reasonable prices, serving dishes like duck confit, magret du canard, veal forestière and, of course, cassoulet, among others. What's more amazing are the wine prices—they appear to be just slightly above retail. Along with the bottlings from California, the wine list also has many good French, Spanish and Basque country wines, offering plenty of room for discovery for a group of died-in-the-wool Northern Californians.
A particular favorite of the evening was a white Côtes du Rhône I selected: La Bastide Saint-Dominique 2006. I had to order a second bottle to please the crowd. "Let me see that wine," said one dining companion. "It's different," he added. When I queried, he said it seemed to taste lightly of almonds. I tasted this note as well, which was joined by concentrated white fruit flavors and a delicious minerality and creaminess. The wine is a blend of about 50 percent Viognier, with the remainder split between Grenache Gris and Clairette. I rated it 88 points, non-blind, and it was a steal at just $18 a bottle.