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stirring the lees with james molesworth

A Few Gems to Celebrate Grandpa's 'No Work Day'...

Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: May 30, 2007 2:43pm ET

Last week my father retired. Forty years as a professor at Queens College was enough—I don’t blame him. For his first week in official retirement, my dad (along with my mom) went up to our weekend house in the Hudson Valley for some quiet R&R.

When I got up there on Friday night to join them, I was greeted with an empty bottle of 2000 Aldo Conterno Barolo Vigna Cicala that my dad had pulled up from my cellar. Suddenly I realized what retirement meant: My dad now gets to get me back for all the times during my teenage and college years that I purloined something from his liquor cabinet or wine cellar whenever he was away.

I didn’t let the glaring empty bottle of Conterno deter me from the task at hand, though, which was to pull up a bunch of wines to help celebrate “Grandpa’s no work day,” as my eldest daughter Brittany called it all weekend.

On our first night, I pulled up two wines that are probably at the opposite ends of the wine spectrum—a 2000 Henri Bonneau Châteauneuf-du-Pape Réserve des Célestins and a 1996 Harlan Estate Napa Valley.

The Bonneau was slow to open, but with time in the decanter, it eventually yielded its iron, prune, brick dust and game flavors all on an amazingly silky palate. I eschewed decanting the Harlan, which turned out to be a good idea despite the sediment, as the wine was spot on from the get go (and at peak for me, by the way), with rich layers of coffee, currant paste and cedar.

Both wines were served with a butterflied leg of lamb that I grilled—the Bonneau just melted into the food and vice versa, a perfect marriage of rosemary and glycerin. But the Harlan was no slouch with the food either, and stood tall through the end of the meal as we made our way through the cheese course. I could tell my father was into it, since he didn’t speak much about the wines—he usually peppers me with questions.

On our second night, the wine theme was more about similarity than opposites; I opened a 2001 Jean-Louis Chave Hermitage along with a 2003 de Trafford Shiraz Stellenbosch. At first glance you might claim that pairing these two wines is a mismatch, but I have the de Trafford in my own cellar for a reason. It’s a powerful wine, loaded with terrific mountain fruit—loam, briar, dark cocoa and plumcake flavors. The Chave proved to be more of a counterpoint than a dominator, with racy red and black currant fruit and a super tangy minerality that really stretched out the finish. It’s still very young, too.

My dad commented that he liked the pairing so much, because the wines were clearly made from the same grape, yet they were so different. Both were ideal with burgers and vegetables off the grill, proving the great-wine-and-simple-food axiom to be true.

Now that he’s retired he’ll have plenty of time to ponder wine pairings and things like that. While I had to bring the family back on Monday night—work for me, school for the girls—my parents stayed behind to spend another week.

Come to think of it, I wonder what will be in the recycling bin after a few more days of my dad working his way through my cellar. But after 40 years of service and a few missing bottles from his cellar, I guess he’s earned it.

Brad Kanipe
Atlanta —  May 30, 2007 3:57pm ET
I really enjoyed this post. It made me think of my father and all the same things I did while in HS and college. My dad doesn't drink anymore, but he'd be welcome to anything in my cellar and all I could do would be the smile at the payback.
Jason Thompson
Foster City, CA —  May 30, 2007 8:49pm ET
So true. It's payback for the High School parties and stealing of beer and Playboy mags from Dad's stash...Good post and congrats to your dad for retiring with a number of good wine drinking years left...
Alejandro Duclaud
Mexico City —  May 31, 2007 9:14pm ET
Jim: ¿Can you adopt me as your second dad?
Ashley Potter
LA, —  June 1, 2007 6:10am ET
James,Cheers to your father on his retirement!You didn't mention what you had to eat the second evening, so notwithstanding that, I was wondering your thoughts on the possibility of pairing the de Trafford with the Bonneau, perhaps?
Whit Thompson
Rochester, NY —  June 1, 2007 10:17am ET
My father retired about 6 years ago and now spends his days travelling the world. We only get to see him once or twice a year, but when he does visit, his first order of business is to give our son a big hug and a kiss. His second is to head straight to the basement to make his wine selections for the visit. (I've learned to buy an extra bottle or two of the wines I know will catch his eye.) At least this kind of payback is delicious! Great post, James.
James Molesworth
June 1, 2007 4:53pm ET
Ashley: It was burgers on the grill - is there a better match for Syrah on Memorial Day weekend ;-)!

The de Trafford could handle the Bonneau in terms of strength, if they were side by the side, as the de Trafford has that much power. But the range of Bonneau's Celestins does set it apart from just about any other wine out there...

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