One of my most vivid memories from childhood was the sweet smell of cider emanating from our garage. It wasn’t I hasten to add because my father was a secret White Lightning drinker, it was caused by barrels of scrumpy that my father had bought in a moment of enthusiasm on holiday in the West Country. They were now dusty, neglected and slowly turning to vinegar. This rather sums up my father’s approach to alcohol, a strong interest in collecting without being a particularly heavy drinker. As a child I used to help myself to little draughts of fierce Somerset cider. Eventually the smell got too much and my mother chucked them all out.
My relationship with my father has been measured in alcoholic drinks. The moments when we have really got to know each other usually involved alcohol of some description. The first time I had a pint with my father, I must have been about 16 or 17 and I felt incredibly grown up. I don’t think you could get away with this now that age regulations for alcohol have taken on an almost-American strictness, which is a shame.
One Christmas Eve I came home from the pub plastered, I must have been in my early 20s, and rather than tell me off, he suggested we have some whisky. So he opened a bottle of Talisker and we made a sizeable dent in it before bed. I was so drunk I nearly offered him a cigarette.
Whereas some fathers and sons go to the football, we go to wine tastings. These aren’t particularly serious affairs, we do appreciate the wine but we’re mainly there to chat and to drink. He then buys a few cases which sit in storage at the Wine Society. He’s finally realised that at age 70, he now has far too much wine so we better start drinking the stuff otherwise it will go the way of the scrumpy.
So, here’s some drinks that my father will enjoy on Father’s Day. There’s nothing that needs keeping, just a few things that offer lots of pleasure now…
Talisker 10 year old (The Whisky Exchange, £37.50)
This is my father’s favourite single malt. I recently visited the distillery on the Isle of Skye and tried the entire range but came to the conclusion that the classic ten year old is probably best. It combines smokiness, black pepper and sweet fruity notes into an altogether harmonious whole. One of the world’s great whiskies.
Le Soula 2011 (The Wine Society, £20)
A cult wine from southern France, it’s a blend of almost every grape variety you can think of including Grenache Gris, Marsanne, Viognier and Sauvignon Blanc. It’s one of those wines that’s all about texture, it has the most wonderful feel in the mouth complimented by nutty notes and lemon zest. It will last and improve for years if you want to keep it but it’s hard to resist now.
Adnams Moulis-en-Medoc 2010 (Adnams, £21.99)
The prices of the best Bordeauxs have gone bananas in recent years but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t bargains to be had. Avoid the big names and remember that older vintages are usually cheaper than new releases. This is an exclusive to Adnams, a wine from an obscure part of the Medoc from a stellar vintage just beginning to come into its own: the tannins are melting and it’s taking on savoury earthy flavours. Absolutely classic claret for £22.
Greyfriars Blanc de Blanc 2014 (Lea & Sandeman, £24.95)
It’s a common complaint (not least from my father) that for the money of a Grand Marque champagne, say £40, you could have far more pleasure from a still wine. Well, I doubt any wine on the market offers as much pleasure per pound as this English champagne rival. It’s made from Chardonnay fermented and aged in oak like a baby Krug. And like Krug it’s full of yeasty, nutty and cooked apple flavour. All this for under £25!
And, if your Dad likes reading as well as drinking, he might enjoy my book, Empire of Booze: British History through the Bottom of a Glass, which has just won Debut Drink Book of the Year at the Fortnum & Mason Awards.