Wines Of the Week: Father’s Day Edition

Food & Drink

Father’s Day weekend, in my family at least, is a time for grilling meat, eating too much cheese, and trying the best we can to pair it all with wine, whiskey, vodka…whatever we think will work alongside the frankly ridiculous range of foods we tend to consume to mark the holiday.

This year, however, we will be employing a different strategy, and focusing on bottles that have some sort of tie-in to the holiday itself, to the themes of fatherhood or family, or, in the case of one of these, that will serve to keep the whole family well-hydrated.

Here, then, are my Father’s Day weekend Wines of the Week—with some standout spirits added for good measure.

The Drouhin Vaudon Chablis Premier Cru 2017 (approx. $45) is a great place to start: Upon walking into the winery itself, you’re greeted with countless photos of the Drouhin family stretching back through the generations. It all began back in 1880, and since then, the illustrious house of Drouhin has been helmed by successive members of the family. Today, Veronique Drouhin is in charge, and the wines are, in my opinion, utterly delicious across the range. This one seems particularly fitting for the holiday weekend, with its distinctly chalky and lemon-flecked aromas and crisp, linear palate carrying flavors of lemon flesh and pith, hard stone fruit and apple, chalky mineral, and slight hint of fennel bulb. It’s refreshing, food-friendly, and beautifully crafted.

Coming over to this side of the Atlantic (and then across the country to California) are the wines of Jamie Kutch, a father himself. His site-specific Pinot Noirs are, in my opinion, some of the best in the country, and his Sonoma Coast Chardonnay is reliably of the same elevated quality. The Kutch Chardonnay 2014 (approx. $40), from the Sonoma Coast, is transporting with aromas of nectarines, baked yellow apples and, unexpectedly and charmingly, corn nuts. The palate is a study in precision, with successive waves of nectarines, crisp apples, hazelnuts, and very subtle spice, all of it cut through with impeccably balanced acidity that carries it all along to a deeply mineral finish.

Switching to reds, the Frank Family Patriarch 2014 ($225) was crafted as an homage to Hy Frank, the late father of owner Rich Frank. Hy was a World War Two veteran and hit Omaha Beach just four days after D-Day. The wine itself is a fitting honor for a man of such accomplishment: Sourced from specific rows chosen from within Rich’s own Rutherford estate vineyard, this 100% Cabernet Sauvignon is dark and rich aromatically, with melted black licorice, star anise, and black plum and berry aromas paving the way for generous, licorice-flecked flavors of plum cake, Chinese five-spice powder, and a toasty, mineral-seamed finish that lingers for nearly a full minute with a deeply savory quality.

Earlier this year, John Shafer passed away. He was a giant in the world of wine who left his mark not only on the entire industry, but he was also a great philanthropist. His vision and determination are still being felt today. The Shafer Hillside Select 2014 ($295) is a monumentally delicious wine that speaks volumes about the business he and his son Doug built and the impact that they and winemaker Elias Fernandez have had. It rises from the glass with mixed-berry coulis, a hint of rhubarb compote, and Amarena cherries, and boasts a powerful yet beautifully balanced palate of blackberries and blackberry liqueur, baker’s chocolate, scorched earth, and a hint of herbs that amplifies the freshness quotient on the finish. This is as savory as it is generous with its fruit, and it’s remarkable what a unified, thoroughly integrated whole this substantial wine is. It’s haunting and powerful and utterly fantastic.

John Shafer, left, passed away earlier this year, but his legacy is carried on by his son Doug, right. Their Hillside Select 2014 is a wine of power, detail, and serious aging potential (Credit: Robert Holmes).

Robert Holmes

Finally, though there’s no explicit paternal connection per se, I’m a big believer in large-format bottles for large gatherings—nothing, after all, says family celebration quite as dramatically as opening up a bottle that’s bigger than a newborn. For that, I recommend the Mount Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon 2014. In a world where magnums are often pricey, this one rings in at less than $45, and with its notes of wild strawberries and subtle vanilla spice turning to a palate of generous mixed berries, savory spice, and a finish that’s flashed through with hints of scorched earth and vanilla pod, it’s a perfect wine to enjoy alongside the hamburgers and steaks that are so typical of the holiday, especially if they’re cooked over an open flame, which will pair particularly well with this magnum.

Then, of course, there are the spirits. Dad’s Hat is the obvious choice for the holiday, and their 4 Year Old Pennsylvania Straight Rye Whiskey (approx. $55) is a stunning expression from the ascendent Keystone State distiller. With aromatics tending in the direction of graham crackers, spice cake, warm honey, and clove, and flavors of sweet spice that carry at their edges a hint of something unexpectedly floral, as well as notes of apricots, tarte tatin, and honey tuille, it’s a winner, and a phenomenal addition to the already excellent Dad’s Hat lineup of ryes.

Heading down to Kentucky, Angel’s Envy Rye Finished in Rum Barrels (approx. $90)  is going to be the base of nearly every Old Fashioned I stir up this summer. Founded by Bourbon legend Lincoln Henderson and his son Wes, and now involving a wide range of the family, including Wes’s sons Kyle and Andrew, Angel’s Envy produces whiskies that have always spoken to me in particularly exciting tones. Their Port Barrel Finished Bourbon is excellent, and a staple in my home bar, but the Rum Cask Finished Rye has recently stolen my heart. The spice of rye is countered by a distinctly maple-like sense of sweetness from the cask finishing, and in the context of sugar and bitters in an Old Fashioned, the classic cocktail is transformed into a riot of butterscotch, graham crackers, cooked honey, and more. I’ll take two. And then probably a third while I’m at it.

Each year, Booker’s—under 7th generation Master Distiller Fred Noe—releases four Batch Collection bottlings, and number two for 2019, the “Shiny Barrel Batch” (approx. $80), is incredible. Uncut and unfiltered, this 124-proof Bourbon was aged for nearly six and a half years, and despite its power (62% alcohol is nothing to sneeze at, as the old cliché goes), this is a whiskey of serious nuance. Marcona almonds and pistachios lend savory depth to aromas of cooked honey and toast, and precede flavors of preserved lemon, Sumo mandarin oranges, white peaches, and honey. There’s a hint of cinnamon stick on the finish, which lingers on the tongue for a seeming eternity. This is a remarkable whiskey.

George Washington, the father of the country, was a whiskey producer at his Mt. Vernon home. Today, whiskey is produced there under the name George Washington’s Distillery and using the old methods, with wood-fired stills, hand-worked mash tuns, and more. It’s worth looking for, because the whiskey is delicious. I was skeptical the first time I heard about it—was this a ploy to capitalize on Washington’s name, with industrially sourced spirit and a clever label?—but it turns out that I had nothing to worry about: It’s stellar. The whole small-production lineup is. The Rye Whisky (375ml for $98) presents with sweet spice and red berries on the nose, and then flavors of cereal grin, more of that sweet spice, roasted corn, a hint of flowers, Chinese five-spice powder, and maple. The Straight Rye Premium Whisky (375ml for $225), on the other hand, was aged for four years and three months, and smells of toast and molasses, with flashes of sarsaparilla, spice cake, and plums, and tastes of berries, honey tuille, hazelnuts, grilled stone fruit, and black licorice. Both are available at Mt. Vernon, which, during a recent visit and tasting, proved to be one of the most edifying, educational, and downright fun days I’ve spent on the East Coast in a long time.

Because my father is a serious vodka fan, we will be opening a bottle of the Chopin Family Reserve Extra Rare Young Potato Vodka (approx. $130) tonight. It’s one of those rare vodkas that is more suited to sipping on its own than in a cocktail: The delicate balance of sweet root vegetables, lemon oil and other mixed citrus, and the long, white-licorice-leaning finish make it absolutely perfect on its own, chilled but without any ice, and sipped at the table with loved ones. This is the vodka I’d pour for every single person who comes to my house and says they don’t drink vodka because it doesn’t taste like anything: This, I’m confident, would prove them deliciously, deliriously wrong.

And finally, from the non-liquid Father’s Day gift department, the Riedel Performance Series ($59.99 for a set of two glasses) are a great option. When I first read about these, I wasn’t so sure: Over the years, I’ve seen so many different wine-glass trends come and go only to discover that most of them are just that: Trends that are quickly forgotten. So when I read about what Riedel called “the optical effect” that’s been incorporated into these glasses—essentially subtle waves in the glass that, they say, increases the surface area and therefore the potential space for the wine to aerate and be agitated when swirling occurs–I figured it was just another trend in the making.

But then I tried them, and here’s the thing: I love these glasses, especially for younger wines that would otherwise benefit from decanting. Some nights, after all, I just want to pour a glass of wine using my Coravin and can’t justify putting it into a decanter. These glasses actually accomplish something very similar, allowing the wine to open up more quickly than it otherwise would have. I’ve done a dozen side-by-side comparisons using the same wine in standard Riedel glasses and the Performance Series ones, and the effect is pronounced. For both high-end and entry level wines, I’m definitely a fan. The optical effect works! Just one word of warning: That extra aeration can be a bit too much with older, fragile wines. For those, I stick with my standard glasses. But for younger ones? Or wines that need some vinous CPR to open up? Absolutely.

Happy Father’s Day.

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