Nov. 23, 2014: I have tried, over the years, to pinpoint why I
prefer certain wines at certain times. But, as with many things, the answer
Since I often seek to pair wines with food, it’s helpful to let
the food be my guide: pinot noir and salmon, for instance, or Grenache-based
blends with pork chops. Steak with cabernet sauvignon is an old, reliable
standby. I find homemade beef stew often blends well with Petite Sirah.
Zinfandel is a good general pairing with grilled hamburgers, cheeseburgers and
Then, there are the changing seasons. The chaos of spring can be
offset by a smooth, silky, reliably centered chardonnay. Evansville’s hot,
humid summers call out for the jolt of a crisp, refreshing sauvignon blanc.
Autumn’s fluid temperatures can mean lighter-bodied pinot noir (if it’s still
warm), or a rough, flavorful Grenache-based Cotes-du-Rhone (especially when the
mercury drops to below zero.) Heavier-bodied, densely flavored Australian
Shiraz can be comforting in the middle of an unpredictable ice storm.
These are the methods I came to on my own. Yet considerable
study has been devoted to the relationship between music and fine wine.
It turns out that people don’t experience and enjoy wine in a
vacuum. Like a tune playing inconspicuously in the background, they are
constantly inundated by what they both know and don’t know, acknowledge and
don’t acknowledge, notice and don’t notice. There is, in other words, a subtext
even to wine.
Charles Spence et. al. published “Looking for crossmodal
correspondences between classical music and fine wine” in the December 2013
issue of Flavor Journal. The study concludes that social drinkers often rely on
interactions between two or more sensory modalities (like sound, smell or
taste) to describe, appreciate and better understand wine. Furthermore, certain
music can enhance the overall experience of drinking wine.
“I have tasted first-attempt Chardonnays that were like Dizzy
Gillespie’s solos: all over the place. And the color of his trumpet, too,” Hugh
Johnson wrote in “Wine: A Life Uncorked.” “Robert Mondavi’s Reserve Cabernets
are Duke Ellington numbers: massed talent in full cry. Benny Goodman is a
riesling from Joseph Phelps, Louis Martini’s wines have the charm and good
manners of Glenn Miller. Joe Heitz, though, is surely (Louis) Armstrong at the
Sunset Café; virtuoso, perverse and glorious.”
Nonsense, some might say. Wine is wine. It doesn’t sing, or
shout, or even mumble. It has no conductor, and it certainly can’t evoke the
sounds of an entire orchestra. It’s just a substance in a glass that’s better
to some, worse to others.
I disagree. To really appreciate wine, you need able translators
to act as ambassadors bridging one genre with another — people who can pull the
metaphoric wool from your eyes, call a spade a spade, and yet also know enough
to say what’s really of value.
That’s why Johnson’s words are a notable part of Spence’s study.
Johnson uses metaphor to reach an audience that may understand wine, but that
also may not. He relies on what music requires (hearing) to describe what music
lacks (smell, flavors, and tactile texture.) Additionally, he helps to round
out, and lay the groundwork for, wines that you may not have even experienced —
but that you may now choose to, just because they were compared to someone, or
something, you respect or admire.
I’m far from a capable musician, but I know the power of a
skilled maestro. The best way to get me to try a new wine is to tell me that
vintner Dave Phinney had something to do with it. Winetree East now sells two
of Phinney’s Locations series: The E (for España, or Spain) and the F (for
France). Readers may know of Phinney from his creation, The Prisoner. I’ve
written about his Locations series before. He seeks to use the most capable
vineyards to make the best wines possible, and to have fun while doing so. It’s
a good mission statement that can be applied to many endeavors. In the case of
the E, it works especially well.
A blend of Grenache/Garnacha, Tempranillo, Monastrell and
Carignan/Cariñena, the E-2 hails from the growing regions of Priorat, Jumilla,
Toro, Rioja and Ribera del Duero in Spain. Since it’s predominantly
Grenache-based, you’ll likely experience some blackberry and white or black
pepper on the nose. The E offers red fruits and cedar flavors and a dark red
color. But its most impressive quality is its texture. I can’t get over how
soft and gentle this wine is. Grenache-based French Cotes-du-Rhone can billow
roughly, scraping, hard-edged, against the curves of your mouth. The E is
round, light, tender and almost weightless, like a scarf undulating in the
wind. That makes it unique and worth a second, third and, maybe, a fourth try.
$16.59. 14.5 percent alcohol.
Victoria Grabner is a freelancer who has blogged about wine for
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this column runs as "bottle by bottle" in the evansville courier and press twice or so a month. the focus is on wines, food and how they intersect. if i receive gifts, i'll tell you. photo credits are noted. i buy most of my wines from winetree, varsity liquors, schnucks, the fresh market, kwik liquor and winestyles (in evansville, ind.); big red liquors and sahara mart (in bloomington, ind.); vecchio's italian market (in newburgh, ind.); whole foods (in st. louis); and binny's (in chicago.) also, i do try a number of wines that i don't necessarily mention in the column, through travels to france and other markets (germany, hungary, italy, etc.) that don't sell wines i can find here. those experiences factor into my tasting descriptions, even if i don't mention them in the column, so keep all that in mind. i write the column to tell my readers in the evansville, ind., area what i consider to be flavorful, balanced and good-value wines for sale in this area.