The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

Music and Wine

A match made in heaven, but not in Boston

Recently, quite a few blog posts have discussed pairing specific wines with specific music, sort of along the lines of watching The Wizard of Oz and listening to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. There’s even one blog that dedicates itself to exploring the synesthetic relationship between wine and other sense stimulus. Synesthesia, or the crossing of sensory experiences, may seem really sexy—especially when it comes to wine—but I don’t necessarily buy it.

I admit that I don’t know how other people are actually pairing particular songs to particular wines. To me, whatever music or whatever wine you enjoy is what you should be pairing together. I don’t think there’s a particular song for a particular wine or a particular wine for a particular song.  I don’t understand that. I like both wine and music, so if I can put on some of my music and drink some wine I enjoy, it’s almost always perfect.

A lot of my beliefs about music and wine go back to many years ago when I was in the bar business. My partner and I got into the business because we were going out a lot in the city and rarely could we find the optimum combination of wine, food and music. So we said, “Hey, if we open up our own wine bar, we could have all our music, and just imagine how great that would be.” Turned out it was pretty great indeed.

All this was so long ago that CDs had just come out—the early ‘80s. We stocked the bar with all our favorite music—Frank Sinatra, Etta James, Ella, all kinds of British Invasion, The Beatles, The Stones, Hendrix, the Allman Brothers, and bands that were new back then like the Cult and U2. Our whole business was about the music. Our belief was that if you have good music on, you enhance the experience. And if you’re enhancing that experience, you’re going to prolong it. Our customers would stay and buy another round of drinks or another bottle of wine just because the music was that great. They stayed, they drank, they listened, they enjoyed themselves, they drank more and they stayed out later than they meant to.

Music helps you enjoy wine. But that’s not the same thing as saying that you need to plan your playlist to match your cellar selection.

I’ve been doing a lot of wine drinking and a lot of music listening for a long, long time, and I don’t get matching the “tonality” of wine to a song’s “tonality.” A beautiful wine can make you experience a song’s moment that much more profoundly. If you’re listening to some really good music and you’re drinking a really good bottle of wine, the wine might taste better at the moment; the music might sound better; but it’s not the Led Zeppelin playing through the sound system. It’s that you enjoyed that moment in time, that combination, that peak experience.

On the other hand, if you’re listening to some really bad music, you can really ruin a bottle of wine. That’s why I never drink and listen to Boston, one of the worst things ever to hit the airwaves. If I was drinking a good bottle of wine and Boston came on, and I couldn’t turn it off, I’d stop drinking the wine. I’d save it for when I could put on some Clapton or some Pearl Jam. Because that’s what I like, and because the point has always been to have good wine and good music.

So don’t worry about matching the Coltrane to the Brunello, or the Stooges to the Super-Tuscan. Give yourself the gift of your own taste—whatever you like to drink and whatever you like to listen to—and the peak experience is going to be there.

The Seven Layer Dip Challenge

Put down that beer and grab a glass of vino

I enjoy reading other wine blogs and seeing what the blogging public has to say about wine, food, and how they go together. One of my favorite blogs is Dr. Vino and in particular the section titled “food and wine.” As a wine retailer and Sommelier at heart, I strongly believe wine’s most important purpose is to accompany food. In this section of the blog, Tyler Colman, also known as Dr. Vino, asks the public for their opinions on what wines to pair with non-traditional wine foods (if there is such a thing). No matter how good, bad or truly awful I find the suggestions, I enjoy the challenge of difficult food and wine pairings and reading about other people’s ideas. In this week’s section, Dr. Vino queries his readership about the appropriate wine to serve with one of the most emblematic foods of armchair quarterbacks —the Seven-Layer Dip:

7_layer_dipFor those of you who haven’t enjoyed the dish, imagine a layer of refried beans imbued with chiles or other seasoning, then slather on a couple of ripe avocados (or guacamole), smother that in an inch of sour cream, then add an inch of salsa, some lettuce, cheese and possibly olives. Scoop it out with tortilla chips. Although it may sound gross to the uninitiated, it has an amazingly magnetic effect on those in the room.

So what would you pair with Seven-Layer Dip–or is it impossible?!?

This post got me thinking about food and wine pairing and how to pair an iconic snack like this with an Italian wine. It’s common practice for sommeliers to pair native wines with the food’s country of origin that the food. For example, a natural pairing would be Wild Boar Ragu with a Tuscan Sangiovese. I’m always a big fan of traditional pairings and agree that they should be utilized 99% of the time. However, when you’ve got a dish that’s as big a polyglot as Seven-Layer Dip, you’ve got a challenge on your hands—and an opportunity for me to play sommelier, to think outside of the cardboard box and to pair a dish that usually calls for beer with wine.

Initially, that makes this challenge difficult is that there are so many ingredients that scream for attention. The guacamole needs something creamy to accompany it. The chilies need something sweet to balance them. The entire dip as a whole needs something crisp and clean to refresh the palate. After considering a host of options, I settled on Hofstätter Bianco Barthenau Vigna S. Michele 2004 because of the blend of grapes used to make this white. Pinot Bianco comprises the majority of the wine and lends it a nice peachy fruitiness. Small amounts of Chardonnay and a limited amount of barrel aging add creaminess to compliment the avocado. And a small amount of Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc will complement the zing and the heat of the chilies as well as add a level of acidity to cleanse the palate. Finally, the whole package will provide sophistication to seven-layer snackatude.

I suggest you put your beer on ice and give the Hofstätter a spot on your coffee table when you watch this year’s Super Bowl in Miami. Or give the combo a try-out during the divisional championships—if it’s not to your liking, no harm, no foul.

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