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Synchronicity:  Music + Wine

There is an urban legend dedicated to the trippy notion that playing Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon in sync with the movie The Wizard of Oz yields an otherworldly, synchronized experience, affectionately dubbed, “The Dark Side of the Rainbow.”

Devotees of this synchronicity, found all over the Internet with a Google search, swear that the parallels between the music and the occurrences in the movie are uncanny.

Meanwhile, naysayers allege that the synchronicity only occurs if you are stoned to the bejeesus on da kine bud, at which point all coherent arguments and bets are off anyways. 

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In regards to this alleged magical movie and music synchronicity, the notion that music and lyrical content matches to the movie probably has as much to do with one’s interpretive skills and desire to believe in such things, as anything else.

In fact, members of the group Pink Floyd, no strangers to drug use, are on record as saying that the coincidences between musical and lyrical content are just that – coincidences.

Now, it should be noted that Pink Floyd SHOULD say it is a “coincidence” because the moment they say it was planned, the mythmaking comes out of the proposition. 

If you are so inclined, start the Pink Floyd album at the sound of the MGM lion’s roar on the movie intro and let the album repeat approximately 2.5 times, as prescribed by most believers.  You can also go to YouTube or Google Video and see a number of the movie segments with the music dubbed in. 

Given that the hardest I dabble in recreational mind alteration is a glass of red wine, legal, as opposed to northern California’s other cash crop, and with this Oz and music mythmaking in mind, I decided to experiment just a bit differently and listen to music and wine combination pairing.

The instigator, besides a school of thought that reappears from time to time indicating that music can impact the taste of wine, is Brigitte Armenier, a classical pianist (also featured in a blog post at MyDailyWine).

Several weeks back, after writing a Biodynamic focused blog post, I received an email from Brigitte asking if I would like to listen to her new CD, Analogos, a piano piece from compositions by Schubert and Brahms, a portion of the proceeds go to support non-profit biodynamic organizations.

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The CD comes with a 30-page booklet that principally highlights an interview with Armenier and her philosophical musings on Biodynamics and the linkage between music and agriculture. 

A French transplant to California, her husand, Phillipe Armenier, is also a Biodynamic consultant of merit, working with dozens of wineries and vineyards including Beckman Vineyard and Winery who supplies the fruit to Qupé for their Grenache, the wine I am enjoying as I write this.

Sourced from Purisima mountain vineyard at Beckman, the 2004 Qupé Grenache is technically not a fully biodynamic wine, having earned the official certification in 2006, but it is alive with an electric, crackling vitality, a mile marker on the road of progress towards Biodynamic totality.

In listening to the CD, drinking the wine and reading through the interview, a spirited and heady whole comes together, perhaps not transcendent, but definitely transporting.

In the cd booklet interview, Brigitte notes:

… Today agriculture also calls for a conscious awakening of our social forces.  Through time we have learned how to receive the gifts of nature then learned how to take them.  And now the time has some to learn how to give back and heal the waning forces of the Earth which longs for the warmth of our will.

Say what you will about Biodynamic wine, but the connection that Brigitte talks about and plays in her music, this linkage between music, agriculture and its natural result – wine - makes for a delicious, vital and delightful way to spend a couple of hours and that in and of itself is a gift.

The second music and wine pairing I chose is Mile Davis’ Sketches of Spain with a 2002 Campo Viejo Gran Reserva Rioja.  Primarily Tempranillo, the wine paired very nicely with the forlorn evocative sound of Miles’ trumpet.  The essence of the dusty fruit swept across the sonic and mentally sun dappled landscape. 

If you have yet to be indoctrinated into the Pink Floyd / Wizard of Oz school of thought, may I suggest a more classical pairing?

Go get Brigitte Armenier’s CD, Sketches from Miles Davis, or any music that is long on texture and short on lyrics, pair a bottle of wine that seems like a natural and fitting compliment, turn down the lights, block other distracters, turn up the music and soak yourself in the music and the vino.

It is about as close to a natural high you can get and damn near transcendent.

Thus, we end, just as we began, with an otherworldly, synchronized experience, though this time it is courtesy of wine and music, drugs and the Wizard of Oz not necessary.


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The Corporate Wine Outlier

The frequently negative tenor some people take regarding so-called “corporate” wine is always fascinating, if not occasionally misguided. 

Don’t get me wrong; I enjoy artisanal, small production wine as much as the next enthusiast does.  In fact, many of the revelatory, ponderous wines that have left a deep, indelible impression on me are of the, “never heard of them before now” variety. I am not anti-small wine.  Its just I am likewise not anti-big wine, either.  Just as I have had a 1/2 dozen wine epiphanies, I’ve had thousands of enjoyable quaffs that if not memorable, were at least enjoyable—kind of like sex on a Wednesday night.

I do not get my panties in a bunch because Constellation and Mondavi have stratified their wine line-up into price segments to serve different audiences.  That’s business.  That’s brand extension.  I get that.  In the same way, I get that The Gap, Inc. has Banana Republic, The Gap and Old Navy, something for every shopper at price threshold.

And, just like there is a difference in quality between a Banana Republic shirt and an Old Navy shirt, I have found that the Mondavi wines have an appropriate level of quality to the price and often times over deliver just as the Robert Mondavi Napa Valley Cabernet does for around $20, a steal if ever there was one.

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However, it is unfortunate when, in going through a personally imposed “better safe than sorry” exercise in securing approval so I can use the phraseology “Robert Mondavi Day” on my web site, I find myself veering into a side conversation with a representative from Constellation / Mondavi about ensuring that I keep it focused on Mondavi the man and not Mondavi the winery.  The reasoning behind this was pure and simple: please be true in honoring the man, but don’t stir up vitriol amongst the trolls that want to take jabs at the winery and its corporate ownership.  Yeah, well, this was couched in an honorable conversation about Mondavi the man, yet, the unfortunate side benefit is having to do preventive maintenance to stem flash mobs carrying torches.

Deep sigh.  I am not here to fight anybody else’s battles for them, but it still induces a resigned “sigh.” As a business person, I feel badly for the brand folks at Constellation because it can’t be easy to represent THE California wine legacy, but have people take shots at you with regularity—akin to being the kid three rungs down the social ladder in high school who turns 16 before everyone else.  Everybody wants to be your friend, yet they still talk about you behind your back.

I am pragmatic in my wine drinking.  If somebody asked me a reliable wine to buy that they could find without me having to sleuth out the actual buying spot, amongst the first to roll off my tongue would be a Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc, a Toad Hollow unoaked Chard, a Columbia Crest Riesling, a Castle Rock Pinot Noir and many others that are, well, corporate wines.  All of the mentioned and many more are large-volume, reasonably priced wines that you can find everywhere.

To solidify the point that big doesn’t necessarily always equal bad, I think it’s helpful to point out that the Top 30 wine companies as listed by Wine Business Monthly magazine represent over 90 percent of the U.S. wine market by volume.

Think about that one for a second – 30 companies, 90 percent of the market.

Despite this empirical sales truth, the conversation around corporate wine usually begins with a besmirching indictment of quality, or a lack of soul, true that may be in some cases, the fact remains that the vocal minority related to this poor quality, soulless wine will remain in the minority for the near future.

The numbers are against them.

Yet, perhaps more egregious is the fact that this anti-corporate wine thing has taken on a life of its own, turning into one of those “you know what they say” kinds of things; supposed wisdom that becomes implied fact, even if the wines are good.

In the spirit of alleged wisdom puncturing, I have listed 19 wineries/brands from the Top 30 wine companies and one winery that is independently owned and operated.  The first person to leave a comment correctly identifying the wine outlier, the non-corporate wine, will win a copy of Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine Guide, 2009 Edition – chock full of wines you will never actually be able to find or drink. Good luck, I have even lobbed in a couple of softballs, some easy ones. 

Anapamu

Concannon

Cupcake Cellars

Gary Farrell Wines

St. Chappelle

Stag’s Leap Winery

Erath winery

Edna Valley Vineyard

Cambria

Bonterra Vineyards

Geyser Peak Winery

Pine and Post

Ironstone Vineyards

Firestone Vineyards

Eberle Winery

Castle Rock Winery

Smith & Hook
 
Etude

Snoqualmie

Provenance Vineyards

Don’t forget to leave a comment with your guess.  The answers exist on the Internet and it’s a free book to the winner!


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Life is a Bell Curve

There are a couple of laws of nature that, if observed, help make life just a little bit more enjoyable because they are the keys that unlock the mysterious.

Now, this isn’t Murphy’s Law whereby whichever checkout line you choose will inevitably be the slowest. I wish I could crack that mystery, though.  Instead, these are laws that seem to prevail regardless of human intervention like the 80/20 rule, known scientifically as the Pareto Principle, a theory that says 80% of the effects of something occur as a result of 20% of the inputs.  Anybody that has been a part of any team-based project knows this one by heart. Another is the “Gaussian distribution” which is better known as the “Bell Curve” or “normal distribution.”  This basically says distribution of a large number of basic random processes follow a general and natural symmetry, akin to the shape of a bell.

Think about the normal distribution in terms of any pop culture item—a music band, an actor, a phenomena like the DaVinci Code, etc.  There’s a slow build up, there’s a peak (critical acclaim or popular opinion) and then there’s a descent.

That’s life. 

This becomes important because the Wall Street Journal article about Robert Parker today rekindled last months kerfuffle about Parker and his influence.  Now, mind you, on the surface, this was about Parker and ethical standards, but below the simmering surface this becomes an issue of anti-Parker hostility and sticking the shovel in the dirt to get the first toss of earth.

Is Parker’s influence on the wane?  Of course it is, he’s been at the peak of his game for 20 years.  Bloggers have nothing to do with it, if bloggers didn’t exist it would be some other form of communication that’s beginning its ascent up the normal distribution curve.  Yes, of course, Parker’s on the slide down the other side of the curve.  But, that’s where legacy comes in, and it cannot be understated—his legacy will prevail long after he’s gone.

Who the eff is Carl Friedrich Gauss?  I have no idea, but his normal distribution idea lives long after he does.

Methinks those that use Parker as a lightning rod and dump bucket for a larger conversation on his influence and the 100 point scale might be better off letting the law of normal distribution continue its natural course while assailing just the 100 pt. scale.  Parker will fade soon enough.

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Previous post on this topic: 
On Legacies, Music and the 100-pt Scale

What I Wrote About a Year Ago:
Vin de Napkin - R.I.P. Wine-ing 2.0

Elin McCoy, Author of The Emperor of Wine, on Parker:
Via Viddler and David Horowitz


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Low Money Down and No B.S.:  How to Accessorize Without being a Snob

It is time to take the “dandy” out of wine.  Let’s remove the affected, slightly peculiar, definitely effete nature of wine accessories and take it back to basics.

I implore you to ponder which occurs in greater numbers—the amount of people who claim to want to take the “elite” out of “wine elitism” or the number of people who drink wine using so many accessories and contraptions that it makes a San Francisco Castro District S&M dungeon master look like a novice. 

S&M dungeon masters aside, unfortunately, these two seemingly opposite wine people—the anti-elite and the fetishized accessory freak actually happen to be the same person most of the time.

Yeah, unfortunately, the proletariat wine enthusiast, crusader against elitism, is actually the person that tends to buy the most crap. 

How do I know this?  I know this because “we” are “they.”  How else to explain the mountains of wine swag that is sold?

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… The very people that do not like the snobbish nature in wine are sometimes the very same people that buy a different glass for every varietal … 

… It is these same folks who usually have ½ dozen variations of the corkscrew, a seemingly simple tool that entrepreneur’s make more complex while adding to the price in increments of $25 …

… Going a step further, when you break it down into practical terms, does using a crystal glass designed for, say, Pinot Noir, while also using a decanter that looks like it was blown by Murano glass blower after taking a tab of acid, really address a need for the expansion of wine culture without the artifice? 

We need to reverse trend.

There are a few ways to tackle the problem from within; it is an achievable goal, moving the normal wine enthusiasts back into responsible accessory use territory:

1) Anybody that considers themselves a wine enthusiast, but not a Bob Parker points chaser, needs to adopt a lower-key approach to drinking wine, leading the way towards a more sensible approach because, well, we have them out numbered and connoisseurs aren’t a savable segment—no amount of prosyletization will get connoisseurs to come back from discussing the finer points of drinking Right Bank BDX in their Riedel glasses.

2) Publicly backlash against and puncture our popular wine media – well-intentioned folks who are doing more harm than good selling an image of lifestyle that does not exist and in doing so creates an ever-smaller window of targeted audience, acting as a wine equivalent to the Robb Report.

Now, if #1 and #2 evolve, we move the needle back from propping up a wine accessory industry that sells stuff to people who do not need it for a price that is too expensive, the wine equivalent of “as seen on TV” for cost and overall utility.  Um, now that I think about it, however, I guess YOU could use a ShamWow to polish your Trebbiano glass …

The third aspect of toppling the elitist wine accessory crowd is:

3) Create a universe of product alternatives, thinking outside the box, er, glass, as it may be.

Demographically, now is also a good time to do so because Generation Y wants to be different, while feeling inclusive, and the easiest complement to their spirit of adventure is not to perpetuate the need to buy a bunch of crap.

With that in mind, here are my suggestions for a simple, but well-appointed set of wine accessories, everything you need to enjoy wine for low money and no b.s.

A)  Accessory box

eBay is the way to go – buy a used cigar box – search “cigar box” —$1.99

B) Corkscrew

The easiest, best and cheapest – the waiter’s corkscrew.  Just like everybody should know how to drive a clutch, every wine enthusiast should be able to open a bottle of wine with the simplest corkscrew possible. Nothing else is needed.  Find it everywhere as a “waiters corkscrew” for about $4.00

C) Tasting Notes guide

Skip the “official” style tasting notes guide and buying anything that you can write on, saving at least 50% in the process—my recommendation are the Field Notes Guides – a 3-pack for $9.95

D) Spit Bucket

The easiest thing to do is not to spit, the second easiest thing to do is use the sink, but if you must, forgo the overpriced spit buckets and bottle chillers and go to the hardware store. Amazon has a serviceable and attractive pail for $2.49

E) Decanter

Think laboratory flasks – good for a couple of reasons.  You can buy a 500 ml flask that will allow you to decant a ½ bottle, they come with stoppers so you can give them a good swish and swirl, and they clean like a jiffy in the dishwasher because they are made with Pyrex glass, saving the annoyance of hand washes and having to buy more special towels and crap to clean them – about $7.50

If this is too utilitarian for you, search restaurant supply sites and buy a glass carafe big enough to swish, but still dishwasher safe – about $4.50

F) Glassware

I am very functional in my wine glasses, but I do like a big bowl for aroma capture.  However, the delicateness of regular wine glasses drives me crazy – broken stems, broken bowls, hand washing, etc.  Whatever the gain may be with a specialized crystal glass is offset by the absolute pain the arse it creates in care.

I recommend café sized glass coffee mugs – find them everywhere, but get the 16 oz size.  Drink your vino to your hearts delight for pennies on the dollar and clean-up in a snap – about $2 per glass.

If you really want to get funky, go the Mason or Ball jar route.  Easy to use, easy to clean, big enough to enjoy a healthy size glass of table red wine, and cheap.  Free your inner Paisano. 

For dessert wines, I go with egg cups.  They are equally easy to find, and they are cheap.  You do not have to worry about glasses being clear because the pours are slight and act as an accompaniment.  Find something fun, with whimsy.  Around $2.00 per.

For Champagne or Sparkling wine, this is tricky, because the Champagne glass is a perfect form – go to the dollar store and buy on an as needed basis.  Adopt a variation of the Jewish wedding tradition and throw them into a paper grocery sack after use and stomp while yelling “Mazel Tov,” it’s easier than storing cheap, infrequently used champagne glasses and fun, too.

All told, all of our accessories cost a whopping total of $86 for service for 12, approximately the cost of eight stemless crystal wine glasses from a popular glass company. 

Be a sheep or be a Shepard, but one thing is clear, the money in your pocket in savings if you follow my program is going to allow you to buy more wine and that’s something any enthusiast can get behind.


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Where is our National Wine Holiday?

As the one-year anniversary of Robert Mondavi’s passing fades into the calendars rearview mirror for another 358 days, I have been giving some thought to the nature of wine culture in this country.  Or, I should say, the consciousness, or lack thereof, that we have created to celebrate wine.

The first thing that immediately jumps out is the fragmentation – precious few wine producers, marketers, distributors or retailers are on the same page and working for the common good, a shared goal.

Ayn Rand would be very proud of the objectivism that prevails in the wine world.  Now it is friendly objectivism, but rationalized self-interest just the same; make no mistake about that.

The second notion that pops out to me is that the wine industry does not have any unified effort to celebrate wine on a national level – something that raises the collective consciousness.

According to some published reports, there are 40 million Americans of Irish heritage; roughly, the same number of core and marginal wine drinkers in the U.S. – hmm, is there anything that goes on in the middle of March that raises the collective consciousness of the Irish?

Likewise, Valentine’s Day, a greeting card holiday, certainly moves a bunch of chocolate and occupies our shopping aisles for more than a month in the early winter.

There are countless other examples, as well—Cinco de Mayo and on down the line …

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Now, I ask – what is a holiday, or a day of meritorious mention that allows America to celebrate wine as a cultural vertebra in the spine of our life?

Seriously, the only time wine gets national mention is in association with the holy trinity of our other holidays – Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s.

Always a bridesmaid, never a bride …

As I have mentioned in the past, the world of wine wants many different things to happen, the least of which is for wine to be recognized in the French tradition as a companion to a life lived well, in moderation, and as a complement to the food on the table.

Yet, the thing that affords these large cultural shifts in mindset is one part cultural zeitgeist, which we are currently experiencing, and one part heavy lifting and marketing to capitalize.

The visage that we know of as Santa Claus was not conceptualized until commercial illustrators, including Coca-Cola, started presenting his image in a similar jovial rotund manner. 

Marketing is not always a bad thing.

Of the many different things that unified wine marketers could do in an effort of collectivism instead of Ayn Rand’s objectivism is to start to recognize and celebrate our wine roots.

Here are my three suggestions for days that can act as a first half of the year counterbalance to the holy trinity of wine holidays at the end of the year.  In doing so, these days act as a triumvirate of major milestones – founding of the domestic wine business, a celebration of a life well lived with a marked impact on the industry and, finally, the triumph of the California wine business:

1)  John James Dufour Day

Dufour is the founder of the North American wine industry having started the first successful grape growing and winemaking operation in Vevay, Indiana in 1807.  This would be celebrated in late March around bud break.

2)  Robert Mondavi Day

Celebrated on May 16th, the anniversary of the day of his passing.  Mondavi was wine’s brightest star, champion of quality, and visionary leader for the industry, carrying the industry forward on his back.

3)  Judgment of Paris Day

Celebrated on May 24th this holiday marks the triumph in Paris as California wine beat the French in a head-to-head tasting in 1976.  Recognized by the State of California as an official historical act, this day memorializes the ascendancy of domestic wine into the conversation as one of the worlds finest.

Overall, my point is simple – the domestic wine business is ruggedly iconoclastic, sometimes to its detriment, marketing is not a bad word, and wine needs a unified set of days in the first half of the year that raises the collective consciousness about wine for the right reasons – the history, the visionary leaders and the triumphs.

In doing so, over a period of time, as wine continues its ascent as a part of a normalized lifestyle, these days of recognition act as a reflection point with wine transcending niche enthusiasts and stereotypical boors becoming a part of the national conversation, where it belongs.


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