With prices going up for just about everything, I quickly scrapped my idea of recommending expensive red wines for Father’s Day. Maybe next year will be different, but right now, not many people can really justify spending in the high double-digits for a bottle of vino when a tank of gas costs at least as much.
Fortunately, wine, unlike gasoline, gives us many choices, and so I decided to go for something frugal and fun for Father’s Day. If you look back at my columns, you’ll see that much, if not most, of what I recommend falls in the under-$20 range, which is what I think most wine lovers feel comfortable spending on a day-to-day basis. And there’s no shortage of good stuff in that category.
In fact, I recalled a wine I enjoyed tasting the other day, one that I thought many wine-loving dads would get a kick out of. It’s called The Slammer, and yes, there’s a jailhouse theme. Now at this point let me remind you that, when it comes to evaluating wine, labels and packaging are all but irrelevant to me, although I realize that the industry — and many wine drinkers — place a great deal of importance on them.
But back to The Slammer. It’s the name of a 2006 California syrah (with a little petite sirah mixed in), from the retooled Big House line of wines that was sold a couple of years ago by Randall Grahm and his Bonny Doon Vineyard to Underdog Wine Merchants.
The old wines, led by Big House Red and Big House White, were Rhone-style blends priced under $10 and were runaway successes for Bonny Doon. Underdog thought it could capitalize on the brand and, in fact, has pushed it to a level bordering on silliness, shedding the subtlety from the labels and sending along a foot-long file with its press kit (a DVD of “Birdman of Alcatraz” or “Cool Hand Luke” might have been, well, cooler).
But again, back to The Slammer. This is appealing Central Coast syrah and the best of the new Big House line. It should please many palates and serve (time) as a versatile food wine with everything from steak and spicy grilled chicken to barbecue and pizza. There’s a core of dense, jammy blackberry fruit and some nice minerals on the finish.
The newly released wine keeps the screw cap closure, eliminating the need for potentially dangerous sharp objects like corkscrews. Underdog has raised the ransom a bit, saying the wine is “usually under $15,” which is not quite the “criminally low price” touted in its press release or the bargain that the old Big House wines were.
Still, the wine is a good value, and dad will get a kick out of it when you present it, along with his day pass, on Father’s Day.
Edward Deitch is the recipient of the 2007 James Beard Foundation Journalism Award for Best Multimedia Writing. He welcomes comments from readers. Write to him at