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Bottle of Wine for Father's Day : Selecting Right Vintage Need Not Be a Costly, Exhausting Experience

June 05, 1986|NATHAN CHROMAN

It is not too early to shop for a good bottle of wine for a Father's Day gift. Store shelves are overflowing with bargain selections from throughout the world; so much so that making the right selection may be both intimidating and exhausting.

The key is to find something he will truly enjoy. That is not as easy as it sounds as some dads like complex, mature and expensive wines, whereas others may prefer the straight forward uncomplicated pleasure of an inexpensive California generic Chablis or Burgundy. Be careful about overspending--some fathers will not enjoy a costly bottle no matter how complex or high in quality it is. Those not into the grape, except for an occasional bottle or two, probably will not appreciate the refined glories of an expensive first-growth claret. A decent red or white at $5 or $10 may be more enjoyed.

I recall an incident with my own father, who enjoyed a glass of red wine with meals. To describe it as red wine was really a euphemism, for it was a very inexpensive, overly tannic generic that would not soften even if left permanently exposed to air. During cold weather days, my dad found it warming, and I must confess I did too. The wine generally came in a several-gallon jug and came to less than 20 cents a fifth.

One day at a family holiday dinner, I brought out a bottle of Mouton Rothschild, 1945, which I was saving for just such a moment. There could not have been a better time to serve it, nor for better company.

I decanted the wine carefully, allowed it to breathe for about an hour and then poured the brilliantly red, luscious liquid into my father's glass and impatiently waited for an enthusiastic nod of approval. It came quickly since he adored the wine. "Oh, by the way," he asked, "what does such a wine cost?" I told him it cost about $200. He spat out the wine, exclaiming that I was a spendthrift to pay that much money on wine, that I would never amount to anything and that I didn't know how hard it was to make a buck. I never served him expensive wine again.

For fathers with a penchant for red wine, there are good choices of California Cabernet Sauvignon at $20 or less. Try Jordan 1981, at $15, Caymus 1982, at about the same price and Ridge, York Creek, 1982, at $12. The Jordan is the least hearty of the three and more likely to appeal to those looking for an earlier, mature, softer, more generous taste.

Two other Cabernets also make sense. Eberle, 1981, at 13% alcohol, is an excellent Paso Robles representative in a softer than usual style with in-depth flavor and with sufficient structure and tannin to age nicely. I enjoyed it now, as I did Beringer, Private Reserve, 1981, which is a blend of two prime vineyards: Lemmon Ranch and State Lane. There is more intensity here in a leaner style with some complexity already developing.

Chardonnay always finds favor. Eberle's, 1984, with 12.4% alcohol is a big-tasting, barrel-fermented, modestly rich wine with good delineated flavor for early consumption. A new entry is better yet: Ashley Chardonnay, 1984, from Monterey County is superb and should please even the most sophisticated wine lover. In a lean, intense, sweetish style, reminiscent of older Hanzell wines like 1974, it displays great flavor without showing aggressive fruit. It has non-sugary sweetness and a pleasant characteristic described as toasty or smoky that is derived from barrel fermentation in 500-liter Vosges puncheons. An exceptional buy at $18.

For Chardonnays with a bit of age, try Hacienda, Claire De Lune 1981, at $25; Robert Mondavi 1980, in magnums at around $40, and Chateau Montelena, Centennial, 1980 at $30.

For those who prefer sweetness in a wine, softer lighter German wines with a touch of complex sweetness may be just the right thing. From the fine vintage of 1983, try Bernkasteler Badstube Auslese (Gold/Weiss Kapsel); S.A. Prum at around $14; Erdener Treppchen, Auslese Stephan Ehlen, $10, and Graacher Himmelreich, Spatlese (Fuder No. 11), J.J. Prum at $11.

There should be plenty of good '83s at less than $10, such as Ockfener, Bockstein, Spatlese, Staatsweinguter at $7, and Kaseler Nieschen, Spatlese, Bischofliches Priesterseminar at $7.50. For an everyday drinking wine, Piesporter, Michelsberg, Kabinett, Bollig Lehnert at $5. If your local store does not have the exact label, try others of a similar label and price standard, but only from the 1983 vintage.

Vintage Port will do nicely for those who enjoy a glass of warmth at the end of a meal rather than during. Older vintages are expensive, such as Taylor, 1963, at $75, whereas younger vintages like 1977 can be found at $45, or Graham, 1980, at $18.95 and Sandeman, 1980, at $22. A half bottle of Sandeman, 1980, is available at $11.75, which makes sense for the occasional consumer.

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