As a tribute to the first men we ever loved, this column is dedicated to dad.
The way they are and the way they were, and everything they taught us. Maybe we lost them long ago or never even knew them. Yet for some, the lessons take years to manifest. Like tertiary aromas in a vintage Bordeaux, they emerge with time in all their beautiful complexity.
As a typical child I rejected most lessons from my father, not least of all his appreciation for wine—from its role as a cherished ritual to the tradition and artistry of its production. I wouldn’t discover this passion of mine until years after his passing. I guess you could say I’ve always had wine in my blood.
In excavating memories—or perhaps rebuilding them based on stories people tell me—there are several undeniable qualities attributable to my father, and admirable in fathers (and mothers) everywhere.
Complexity & Curiosity:
Books and newspapers littered my childhood tabletops. Every decision from our sensible sedan to our State Senator was well researched. My dad was curious about everything he loved and we were taught to ask ourselves “why?” and to appreciate an origin story. Be curious about what you are drinking, where it comes from and what it says.
If there is one distinction between a good wine and a fine wine, it is complexity. Beauty, balance and length make a good wine. A fine wine continues—like the best version of ourselves—to open up and evolve over hours and years. Look for wines with something to say over the course of an evening. A well-made wine contains citric acid, a natural preservative that functions as a backbone to support its aromatic evolution over time.
WHITE: Garofoli Verdicchio Castelli di Jesi ‘Podium’ 2011 – 100% Verdicchio from the sunny central Marche (Italy) region. Over time, the warm straw and summer-in-the-countryside quality gives way to balsamic and herbaceous notes of rosemary tarragon, and fennel. Try it now at a picnic, or store it safely for another 5-10 years.
RED: Cordero di Montezemolo Bricco Gattera DOCG 2010 – Nebbiolo is a notoriously age-able grape. Fresh ripe cherry in its youth, and licorice, violet, anise seed and cola as the years go one. It also changes color, profoundly maturing to a bronze-tipped garnet red. Fascinating now, extraordinary in 10 years (La Morra, Piedmont, Italy).
Steadfastness & Follow-Through:
This is one lesson I’m still struggling with. They say that all writers have trouble with deadlines, but my dad pushed for publication, and a clever uncle (and dad in his own right) once pointed out that writing isn’t literature until people read it. In our house, every project started was a project completed—from a shitake mushroom farm in the garage to murals on the laundry room wall. In wine terminology we call it length or finish. You want the wine to linger long after it is gone, and not just in shaky legs and shakier decisions. A wonderful wine should invite you in with a luscious bouquet, play on your palate and return in exhales with warmth and a recollection of that first fruit.
RED: Jean-Louis Dutraive, Domaine de la Grand’Cour Fleurie Clos de la Grand’Cour 2011 (Beaujolais, France)
WHITE: Rafael Palacios Louro Godello, 2013 (Galicia, Spain)
Harmony & Elegance:
Among my earliest memories is one of my dad lying on the couch and listening to classical music after work. Sometimes he would conduct along with it. Other times he would close his eyes and just get lost in it and invite me to do the same. Other times, when he couldn’t quite tear himself away, he would turn up the stereo so loudly that the kitchen walls shook with Beethoven while my mother plated roast chicken. Call it harmony, symmetry or balance. Whatever it is, it is innately appealing. Maybe there’s so much disharmony in the world that we find ourselves attracted to that which falls so pleasingly into place.
Through music I was taught to find beauty in balance. In fine wine, the same is true. Aroma, acidity (brightness, crispness), texture and body, and finish all play a role in the symphony of a wine. Take for instance your most stunning Riesling. A nose that is sumptuous and impactful, dripping with honey and ripe fruit drapes your palate first in satin and finally in clean citrus and salinity to wash away any trace of heaviness. A continual play of weight and light.
WHITE: JJ Prum Zeltinger Sonnenuhr Spatlese 2007 (Riesling, Mosel, Germany)
RED: Agit Optima Pinot Nero Oltrepo Pavese 2012 (Lombardy, Italy)