Turning it up to 11: Pairing music and wine

Something that we here at Wined Up love to champion is the pairing of music and wine. I personally love music, so many aspects of it, and there aren’t many genres that I don’t listen to. Lily shares a similar passion for music and, as we both have backgrounds in theatre, we place tremendous value on making something, whatever it may be, an engaging experience.

You might be reading this and think that I’m just trying to be ‘edgy’ or ‘artsy’ for the sake of it but I’m really not*. Wine is an experience. The whole process of opening a bottle is an occasion. I love cutting the foil, twisting the corkscrew, pulling the cork out, smelling the cork end, pouring a sample, smelling the bouquet (aromas) and then tasting the wine. My enthusiasm for this experience is why I have chosen to pursue a career in the wine industry: I want others to get the same satisfaction as I do from opening a bottle. I open about 10 bottles of wine a day and get the same enjoyment out of it each time.

Lately I have been exploring ways in which to combine music and wine, and how each of these things should complement the other.

We directly and indirectly consume music on a daily basis, whether it’s in the background or the main event. Generally though, when we open a bottle of wine, we use focus on our other senses. We touch the bottle and glass, smell the cork and the bouquet, look at the colour of the wine and then taste it and examine its feel in our mouths. When wine tasting, we even swirl the wine to let more oxygen get into it, thereby releasing more aromas to enhance the experience. So I ask, “Why do we overlook our aural sense when it comes to wine?” (I narrated that in my head and then typed it in the style of Carrie Bradshaw in Sex and The City… I mean, I’ve never watched Sex and The City).

Wine tasting is completely subjective. Yes, there are general characteristics of certain wines that are commonly agreed upon. Chardonnay is renowned for having a buttery taste, Sauvignon Blanc made from less ripened grapes carries notes of lime and Pinot Noir almost always has a light essence of cherry. This is great when initially learning about wine as a broad topic and its characteristics. However each individual wine has its own identity and when people taste, they make up their own minds about the flavours they detect in the glass.

The same principle applies when pairing music with wine, if not more so. When a song is associated with a good memory, it enhances the emotional connection to that song/the memory. If you are listening to it and having a glass of wine, it makes sense that it enhances your whole drinking experience. However, there are also unemotional connections to be made.

I’m a firm believer that the right song paired with the right wine can enhance the whole experience, so much so that I am hosting an event in July doing just that (tickets will be available soon via the Luckett Vineyards website). Through research and taste testing I have found two ways in which to effectively pair wine with music. One is through likening certain flavour characteristics to certain musical qualities, the other is through terroir and essence of an area.

Understanding a location and its history really helps because it allows you to make links between the wine and the area. Tidal Bay – Nova Scotia’s appellation wine – represents NS in a glass, but what do we know about Tidal Bay and Nova Scotia?

Well we know that the primary grapes used are L’acadie and Vidal. Both grapes with French heritage, much like Nova Scotia. Nova Scotia has a lot of French influence, as it was originally settled by French colonists, ‘The Acadians’, who were then forced out by the English settlers. So we have a traditionally French province whose citizens speak English. NS is also surrounded by a huge stretch of water known as The Bay of Fundy and this part of Canada is nicknamed ‘The Maritimes’.

This gives us our basis for a music pairing. I found a song called ‘River’ by a French musical duo called Ibeyi. This song has aquatic themes, as well as metaphorical sentiment and, although they are French, they sing in English. This is a great example of the history and terroir of a place mirroring a musical outfit; they compliment each other.

I also paired the Luckett Vineyards 2016 Tidal Bay by linking the characteristics of the wine with musical qualities. Tidal Bays should be light, crisp, aromatic and full of character so this should match a light sounding song with a crisp sound which develops character as it progresses. I normally liken crisp flavours with a clean sounding snare drum and an electric guitar plucked with a plectrum and the light wine characterises indicate to me a piece of music that is light on the bass. I judge a wine’s character on the basis that it should keep developing; it should entertain you from the first sip to your last. This is the same with a song.

A song should tell the listener a story, either through the music itself or the lyrics. Using this approach, I came across a song called ‘Poplar St.’ By Glass Animals, an alternative quartet from Oxford, U.K. This song tells the story of generic streets and places, and the weird and unique relationships forged in these places. I know this next sentence will make me sound like a pretentious twat but I don’t care… As I inhaled the bouquet of the Tidal Bay, the song kicked in and I got a shiver down my spine.

Tapping into the history of a place and producing region, letting the inner emotion out that music can evoke – these things are so important when it comes to enhancing an experiencing a bottle of wine. And I tell you what; it’s bloody fun doing the research too!

*Disclaimer: a large portion of this article was written in any artsy/edgy cafe-bar in the hipster district of downtown Halifax.

-James

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