Every son knows how hard it is to impress his father. It’s a definitional part of that fraught male relationship. Generally, important life advice flows one way, from the top down, and so it was with me and my dad.
But we all have ways of making our mark. For me, knowing something about wine was one way I earned my dad’s respect, though I wouldn’t say it exactly impressed him. He was more tickled, surprised, and pleased that I ended up writing on the topic for part of my living. In his mind it was an odd but admirable thing to be doing. So in the days since my dad passed away unexpectedly last month, quite a few of the memories that have come back to me are related to wine.
My father didn’t have much to do with wine, other than drinking it casually, for much of my life. But when I got a job at a wine magazine, he began to call me from his office in Milwaukee and ask things like: “Now, what’s all this I’m hearing about Pinot Grigio?” Well, Dad, you see, it’s this refreshing white from Italy, but elsewhere the grape is called Pinot Gris….
He started to buy wine more methodically — he didn’t collect, per se, but he began to acquire more than he needed right away and put it in a designated room in the basement that had proper wine shelving.
At restaurants, he didn’t want to cede control of ordering wine from the list entirely — he thought it looked bad for him not to know what was going on, especially since he was always paying the bill. Dad was an attorney, and he liked to do things by the book. But after a cursory perusal, he’d slide the list over to me and say, “What do you think of this Merlot from California?” If I didn’t like one he picked, I would steer him gently to something else, and he’d usually take my advice.
I tried to get him to appreciate my favorite wine types, like Chinon (an underappreciated red from France’s Loire valley) and my beloved Riesling (as it happens, our last name is very close to that of a well-known producer in the Mosel region). He was quite open to sampling anything. In the end he probably liked California reds the best, particularly Cabernet Sauvignon, but he also seemed to enjoy Pinot Noir, Pinot Grigio, and quite a few others. Mom is a big Chardonnay fan, and that worked for him as well.
No single thing about my job held more fascination for him than the flood of unsolicited wine samples that arrives at my desk daily. He thought it was some kind of wine miracle — loaves and fishes for the sophisticated set. (For him, the equivalent might have been new packs of Titleist golf balls.) “You might want to share some of those with your father,” he’d joke. When I got around to mailing him some extra samples, he stuck with a humorous response: “Finally I get to see some of this wine you’ve been getting.” But when my mom got on the line she reported that he actually thought it was “quite a kick.”
Right after my father’s memorial service in July, my mother, sister, and I had some relatives over for supper, and I went down into dad’s cellar to pick out some wines to serve. There was more down there than I had imagined: a nice Barolo, some serious Cabernet, even a choice Riesling.
But I was most surprised to see some bottles of Foley Pinot Noir, a favorite of mine that I had written about a couple of years ago. Evidently, Dad had seen the piece and had acted on my recommendation. I brought two upstairs and opened them up. Since I have spent my life taking his good advice, and plan to continue doing so, it pleased me that we could toast his memory with a tip of my own.
Ted Loos, executive editor of Art+Auction magazine, is the former features editor of Wine Spectator and has written on wine for Bon Appétit, Town & Country, and many other publications. He's the author of Town & Country Wine Companion: A Tasting Guide and Journal (Hearst Books; $12.95), published in fall 2007. "In the Cellar" appears on ARTINFO every other Wednesday.