Just passing through the dining room at Elway’s in the Ritz-Carlton, one understands where Tom Ripley was coming from. The merest snippets of conversation whisk you around the shadowy corporate boardrooms & echoing legislative chambers where shit goes down in milliseconds of inner turmoil that make you yearn for the rich & powerful so-&-so you meant to be.

Then again, I was just passing through because I was on my way to the private dining room for a wine dinner hosted by Elway’s extremely gracious young sommelier, Justin Jelinek, & Jack Bittner, the VP/GM of Cliff Lede Vineyards in Yountville, CA. So for all I know the VIPs thronging the place were jealous of me. Ha!

I’d have been jealous of me if I weren’t me, because the meal was terrific as well as revealing in terms both of the Napa winery’s portfolio aesthetic & what this kitchen is capable of beyond classic steakhouse fare. Seems to me that sous chefs Marco Ugarte & the excellently named Sayre Yazzle, to whom exec chef Robert Bogart handed over the reins for the evening, are capable of quite a lot.

The natural creaminess of scallops served al carpaccio with spicy guava drizzle (as well as frisée & red Fresno chiles) beautifully complemented a 2010 Sauvignon Blanc (almost wholly varietal, containing just a touch of Semillion) that downright startled me at first, so literally unctuous I could feel it clinging to my lips like balm. Tropical fruits & pink grapefruit were present in abundance, but the buttery mouthfeel remained almost to the finish.

Smoked over oak & napped with berry jus—primarily blackberry, I believe—over roasted new potatoes & sauteed chard, the duck breast wowed me such that I was hoping I’d see it on the regular dinner menu (not at present, sadly). Pinot Noir & duck is a classic pairing, & the 100% varietal from Cliff Lede’s sister label, Breggo—which, according to BIttner, “started in a 1-car garage with Soviet-era technology”—was no exception, its aromas of water flower, leather & spice mingling with the smoke off the meat. As Bittner observed of the winemaking process, “You’re almost worried that the fruit’s not gonna ripen. You kinda have to be on edge with cool-climate Pinot Noir”—but the results are “that bacon-fat quality” that highlighted the duck’s fat-ringed skin, crisped to mahogany.

Consisting of 75% Cabernet Sauvignon (the rest being a blend of Merlot, Malbec, Cab Franc, & Petit Verdot), Cliff Lede’s 2007 bottling from the Stag’s Leap District offered milk chocolate, dried plums & ripe blackberries in spades as well as a dash of cinnamon sugar—all apropos for the wild boar that filled two large ravioli topped with a chunky mixture of fresh heirloom tomatoes & herbs lightly sauteed in olive oil to yield a few exquisite final spoonfuls of juice (plus shavings of Mahon, Spain’s slightly subtler answer to parmesan).

As with the duck, I’m sorry to say lamb osso buco is not a regular item, because the giant shank, braised in wine & sprinkled with gremolata (a mixture of lemon zest, parsley, & garlic that’s integral to the original, veal-based, Milanese version of the dish) was near-perfect: fork-tender & velvety as well as deeply robust. Thoroughly crusty grilled bread made for a satisfying sop.

And the wine? A glass of 2007 Poetry, Cliff Lede’s Cab-dominant, single-vineyard signature wine, was likewise velvety & meaty—& actually not my favorite pairing of the evening, craving as I did a touch more acid to balance out the richness. In fact, close as it came to to evoking raspberry-chocolate truffles, the wine showed up even better against the single, bitter-edged lozenge of dark chocolate-almond bark with which the meal ended—

on a sweet note, in short.

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