Let Your Senses Guide You
Music soothes and satisfies just as wine does. Some bad music is hard on the ears just like poorly made wines can be rather hard on the palate. It's not uncommon to see wine publications matching a particular artist or CD to a specific wine. Problem is, no one ever explains how they come up with such random pairings.
Music comes in many forms. Amongst many others, there is the emotion and complexity of classical, the syncopation and stimulation of jazz, the searing guitar riffs and deep bass of heavy metal and the gentle and soothing appeal of folk.
Wine too comes in many forms, so how does one decide which music to listen to whilst sipping a glass of wine? I suspect most of us just choose what we are in the mood for based on the selections we have at our disposal. Do we choose the music first and the wine after, or vice versa? Perhaps there is actually no connection between the two and the individual chooses music based on one desire, and wine based on another entirely separate need. I wonder, however, if like wine and food, there is an opportunity to reach deeper into the pleasure centres of our brains by pairing music and wine more consciously and dare I say, correctly?
For the sake of argument, let's say that wine & music moods might be connected and when properly matched, like food, the resulting combination can enhance the overall enjoyment of both. Here are some basic observations I've made when considering the music and wine partnership:
Low Frequency Sound (e.g. bass, deep synth) = Full Bodied Wine
High Frequency Sound (e.g. violin, falsetto vocals) = High Acid or Sparkling Wine
Rich Satisfying Sound (e.g. a powerful symphony) = Complex Dry (or Sweet) Wine
Simple Satisfying Sound (e.g. acoustic guitar, solo adagios) = Mellow, Smooth Wine
Abrasive Loud Sound (e.g. rock guitar solo, screaming voice) = Tannic or Bitter Wine
Fast Paced, Energetic Sound (e.g. disco or upbeat jazz music) = Fruity, Easy-Drinking Wine
Using these parameters, I've chosen the appropriate wines to match the following musical selections:
A. Tesla - Forever More requires a full bodied, tannic wine. Examples might include an Italian Sagrantino di Montefalco or traditional French Cahors or Madiran. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4iOWRLsOyKw
B. Ralph Vaughan Williams - The Lark Ascending requires a high acid or sparkling wine, however one with complexity. Examples might include good quality Rheingau Riesling or young NV Champagne. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZR2JlDnT2l8
C. Pat Metheny - Last Train Home requires an easy drinking wine that slips down the throat with ease and delivers instant pleasure. Examples might include a good quality Cru Beaujolais or Valpolicella Ripasso. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sq5oqY3-vhg
D. Moby - God Moving Over The Face of The Waters requires a somewhat complex, mature easy-drinking wine with some bright fruit and balanced acidity. Examples include a 5 year old Martinborough Pinot Noir or 3 year old Wachau Gruner Veltliner. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u_2i7ziBcZ4
E. Wagner - Ride of The Valkryies requires a relatively straight-forward but powerful wine that makes an instant impact on the palate. Examples include a young Amador Zinfandel or Mendoza Malbec. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V92OBNsQgxU
Clearly this is not a complete assessment of all music and all wine. My goal is simply to open your mind to the unique possibilities that exist when considering the two together. If it gets you thinking a little more about the wine you consume and the pleasure you seek in those few moments life affords us to do so, then I've achieved my objective.
Try this wine & music matching tool and share your comments in the section below.
I remember the story of a newly appointed food critic arriving with friends at a brand new, über high‐end restaurant in New York City and after pondering the menus, he felt certain he had uncovered the perfect wine to match the chosen dishes. When the selection was suggested to the sommelier as a possible pairing, the sommelier simply responded with a single word, “No”. As rude as this might seem, the sommelier really did know his stuff and demonstrated as much by steering the group towards an even more appropriate selection, thus bringing their dining experience to another level.
Great sommeliers make no apologies for being confident and direct in restaurants of this caliber. The clients expect nothing less. Give us sound advice, don’t beat around the bush and demonstrate your knowledge through actions rather than by trying to impress (and confuse) us with fancy terms and excessive information. In the minds of many, the word sommelier brings to mind images of uppity, tuxedo‐clad wine waiters sauntering around the dining rooms of top European hotels and restaurants telling the wealthy diners what they should or shouldn’t drink. They look down their precious noses at the clients. They wield their corkscrews and silver–chained tastevins as if they were medieval weapons rather than tools. It would be a lie to say these types of sommeliers don’t still exist. However, the truth is the vast majority of today’s sommeliers are more accessible, dress less preposterously, and make for genuinely pleasant company.
The other truth is that there are countless sommelier organizations across North America popping out graduates by the dozens year after year. The only problem is that far too many of these graduates couldn’t run a restaurant wine program if their lives depended on it! I tell my students in the International Sommelier Guild Diploma Program that in order to be considered true sommeliers, there are several steps they must be prepared to take. First, clearly they must excel in their studies. After that they should try to find work as sommelier assistants working alongside inspiring and passionate mentors in wine savvy restaurants. With every chance they get, they should travel the world to explore the various wine regions and immerse themselves in the cultures and traditions found there. Finally, they should taste as much wine as possible. I also suggest entering, once good and ready, sommelier competitions so they can put their skills to the ultimate test against their peers. Then and only then, when their CVs demonstrate they have a rare depth of knowledge, have shed their proverbial pound of flesh working in several restaurants, and have become sensitive to the demands of the hospitality business, should they consider themselves sommeliers.
A restaurateur looking to hire a good sommelier must be on the lookout for a broad range of skills and attitudes. Whereas knowledge of wines of the world, their manufacture, proper storage and service is of paramount importance, this study is a lifelong one. When interviewing sommeliers, a restaurateur should ensure candidates demonstrate that they are hard working, passionate about service, appropriately confident and even a little extroverted. They should be excellent communicators capable of speaking about wine and food in layman’s terms and even better listeners able to discern the needs of all manner of clients. In addition to wines, they should also have an above average understanding of other alcoholic beverages and possibly mineral water, tea and coffee, and they must be able to use the principals of pairing with food to bring out the best in these varied beverages. A good sommelier is also an excellent businessperson and will be able to work within set budgets, achieve sales goals and generate appropriate levels of revenue and profit from their wine program. They must know how to monitor and maintain inventories so stock levels are always as close to ideal as possible and they should know how to work with suppliers, agents, retailers and their fellow staff members. Good sommeliers are great mentors too, demonstrating excellent work ethic day in and day out, willing to bring service staff under their wing, advising, guiding and educating them about the vital role that beverage alcohol plays in the dining experience. Finally, a great sommelier understands that the wine program they are building and managing is not ‘theirs’, but the restaurant’s at which they work. The wine list should mirror the styles and price points of products that will appeal to the clients of the restaurant, not exclusively to their own palates. Liking a particular wine and knowing how to sell it are two entirely different things and a clear grasp of the difference is of vital importance in order to be successful.
In the end, a sommelier who is both humble yet confident, knowledgeable but always keen to learn more, willing to work hard and one who can generate appropriate levels of margin whilst building an ever growing base of loyal, repeat customers, is one we might consider a true sommelier ‐ just the kind of sommelier we will happily give our trust, our faith and our dollars.
Recently, I had the pleasure of hosting my inlaws for a celebratory birthday dinner. This is a great group of generous and kind people who love wine and food as much as I do. Like many Europeans, they eat and drink with plenty of zest and share non-stop conversation around the table, generally but not always, between mouthfuls. They are, however, less likely to spend the kind of money I might spend on a good bottle of wine on a celebratory evening such as this. They are mostly accustomed to drinking their own home made wine, which is often boozy, sweet, slightly oxidized and generally a guarantee for a hangover the day after. With that in mind, I decided to purchase a few magnums of inexpensive red wines from the LCBO to go along with my 4 hour slow-roasted (and lightly smoked) mature chickens and risotto. My wine selections included the Sogrape Grao Vasco from Dao, Portugal ($15.95 - 1500ml) and the Trapiche Astica Merlot-Malbec from Argentina ($13.95 - 1500ml). Much to my surprise and delight, both wines were actually quite good for the price. Both were soft and ready to drinnk, and simple enough to pair well with the food. The Dao, a blend of native Jaen and Touriga grapes, was full of sour cherry, light peppery spice, hints of strawberry and leather and was quite succulent and alive on the palate with very delicate tannins and moderate alcohol. The Argentinean wine was darker and offered sweeter, softer dark berry fruit with subtle hints of chocolate and smoke in front of a little green leaf and earth in the background. Although there were mixed opinions around the table, I'm not sure I would say that one was ultimately better than the other as both offered pretty solid value.
The following night almost exactly 24 hours later, with roughly 500ml left in the Dao and 800ml or so in the Argentinean, I sipped a little of both to see how they had held up overnight. Not surprisingly, the Portuguese red was still full of life, juicy and fruity and even a little gentler and expressive that it had been the night before making it even better value. The Merlot-Malbec on the other hand had all but disappeared. The boisterous fruit was gone, the flavour seemed blah and what little structure it had had the night before had all but dissolved. Clearly, like so many wines from the new world at these price points, this was a wine made to drink immediately. It was an interesting discovery, especially given that I might have purchased it again if I hadn't had the opportunity to see just how short a life it would have. Valuable lesson learned and without a doubt, good justification to splurge and spend the extra $2 on my in-laws!
How often do you decide what to eat based on your mood? What about letting your mood help you to decide which movie to watch or which TV program to tune into? And when your partner wants a little fun…are you in the mood? The mood we're in is a result of so many factors. How was your sleep? What is the weather like? What’s your stress level? How are things at home and at work? How’s your health?
Fact is, mood is one of the most important influences on the decisions we make day after day. It should also have an influence on the wine we choose and even how it tastes and satisfies. Mood will affect the way food tastes when matched with wine and even though there are rules of wine and food matching to follow, the ultimate consideration must be your mood. None of us can imagine drinking a wine that we aren’t in the mood for just because the rules suggest it will pair well with our lunch!
At WineFoodMood.com we will explore the role that mood plays in our wine and food experiences and how we can utilize it to make our wine and food experiences better!