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.