Every time I open a book or flip the channel, another so-called “wine expert” is extolling the merits of food and wine pairing. But listening to snooty suggestions from pretentious experts won't enhance your wine knowledge.
Pairing food and wine is a simple process. You don't need an academic background to master this skill—in fact, I've met culinary school graduates and sommeliers who couldn't match a pair of socks. And many of these experts hide their lack of knowledge behind a front of superiority. If I read one more author pompously touting the joy of pairing foie gras and Sauternes, it may re-ignite my fantasy of taking the paper it's written on and force-feeding it down the author’s throat, the way they do those poor geese.
In a nutshell, light and delicate foods pair well with lighter wines, and heavier foods pair with fuller bodied wines. White wines high in acid are better for pairing with a larger array of foods than more neutral white wines. Here in Albuquerque, the golden rule is that Gewürztraminer, Syrah and Zinfandel are wines that best complement our spicy cuisine.
Learning about wine should be a pleasurable experience. Sample wine irreverently. You'll never learn about wine if all you sample are the perfect pairings you’ve been told about—deconstruct these ideal notions. Try bad pairings and determine why they're bad. It's only through experimentation that you master wine—taste, taste, taste.
A fun and unrestricted way to advance your wine understanding is to find a correlation between a large variety of wines from around the world and the best albums in your collection. This summer, as you’re lounging by the pool, crank up your favorite music selections with what may be appropriate wines—think abstractly, analyze the flavors and sounds and allow yourself to be transported. Here are some music and wine pairing suggestions to assist you.
By Joe Baca
Wine: Hennessy XOCognac
Album: Barry White's The Ultimate Collection (Mercury)
Hennessy's XO Cognac is as ultra-refined and polished as this pastiche of funk, smooth soul and disco, created by the multiple-award-winning artist known as “The Walrus of Love.”
Wine: Montes Alpha Syrah
Album: Rahim Alhaj's Friendship: Oud and Sadaqa String Quartet (Fast Horse Recordings)
Montes Syrah is an outstanding value at under $20, and has twice been selected a Wine Spectator Top 100 wine. Mr. Alhaj is one of the world’s greatest oud players, an Iraqi political refugee, a Grammy-nominated artist and longtime Albuquerque resident who combined with a group of Albuquerque musicians to create this gorgeous blend of East and West. If one may hear political oppression and tyranny in Friendship, this Chilean wine counteracts it with an aroma of hope and a bouquet of optimism, inherent in grapes grown in soils tilled by people rising up from years of oppressive dictatorship.
Wine: Gruet Blanc de Noir
Albums: LCD Soundsystem's Sound of Silver (Capitol), Hot Chip's Made in the Dark
Pop the cork, ’cause the party’s in the bottle. If you can maintain control of your feet through any of these combos, you best check your pulse. These are three of the hottest dance CDs on the market, and combined with this locally made wine, you’ll find a recipe guaranteed to bubble your blood and leave you “in a cold sweat.”
Wines: Night Train, Wild Irish Rose or MD 20/20
Album: Tom Waits' Small Change (Elektra/Wea)
Screw foie gras and Sauternes—this is a “classic pairing.” On Small Change, Waits sings about an assortment of subterranean characters and bowery bars in songs like “Bad Liver and a Broken Heart.” Combine it with a couple of glasses of any of these fortified wines and you too can experience “life in the gutter.”
Wine: Vinos Calixa Grenache
Album: Los Lobos' Del Este de Los Angeles (Fontana Mammoth)
Mexico’s Baja Peninsula is home to several great wineries, among them Monte Xanic, which produces a line called Calixa. Its Grenache-Rose pairs flawlessly with spicy foods, but better yet, try it with Los Lobos' fiery acoustic offering, created using traditional Mexican instruments. Del Este de Los Angeles is the first recording by these now legendary boys from the hood of East L.A. It's a manifestation of Chicano pride and a demonstration in how America’s cultural tapestry has been so gorgeously woven out of a variety of ethnic threads.
Wine: Kir Royale Cocktail
Album: Le Chat Lunatique's Demonic Lovely (Salad Bean Records)
A Kir Royale—made by combining Chambord and Champagne with a lemon twist—is as tasty and classy as the music of Albuquerque’s swingingest band. You can hear the ghost of Django Reinhardt throughout Le Chat Lunatique's first studio album, and you could possibly sense it in the cocktail: The vineyards of Champagne's illustrious wine region are smack between Reinhardt’s birth and final resting place.
Wine: Merry Edwards Klopp Ranch Pinot Noir
Albums: Feist's Let It Die (Interscope Records), Joni Mitchell's Blue <
This is a truly dazzling wine whose layers reveal themselves slowly, like the elegant introspective musical explorations found on these recordings. Both music and wine are perfect examples of artistry expressed in subtleties.
Wine: René et Vincent Dauvissat Chablis Premier Cru Vaillons
Album: Medeski, Scofield, Martin and Wood'sOut Louder (Indirecto Records)
Incredible musicians (including the great jazz guitarist John Scofield) created this monumental mishmash of music styles. Out Louder is at times atonal, cold and austere, then tempered with warmth and passion, creating a see-saw effect that draws you in, exactly like a Chablis.
Wine: Ravenswood Belloni Zinfandel
Album: Levon Helm'sDirt Farmer (Vanguard Records)
Zinfandel grows best on ancient vines. The earthy bouquet, the mouth-puckering astringency and complex flavors in this colossal Zinfandel are an expression of ripeness. Like the luscious fruit found on these elderly vines, the songs from this aging ex-member of The Band seem to become richer, and his artistry more clearly articulated, with age.
Wines: Bonny Doon Vineyards' entire catalog
Albums: Frank Zappa’s 60-plus album discography
What a chance to pair the outpourings of two eccentric geniuses— Randall Graham and Frank Zappa. Mr. Graham has been called whimsical, the Willy Wonka of winemaking, and is famous for creating terrific wines such as Le Cigare Volant and Cardinal Zinn. Mr. Zappa is distinguished for his masterful musicianship and guitar playing on albums such as Burnt Weenie Sandwich and Lumpy Gravy. These two mavericks’ epic works revolutionized their art forms–and how can you resist combining Cardinal Zinn with Burnt Weenie Sandwich?