Vinyl & Wine 32: Imelda May + Belle Glos Meiomi Pinot Noir

The gypsy in me yearns to pack it all up and roll on to the next town with my wild woman from time to time. Blasting thumping upright bass rhythms, and fast-paced engine revving melodies out of the exhaust pipe and doing just the right amount of wrong. Unfortunately, always around the bend is Uncle Sam waiting for me. He enjoys taxing the piss out of me and the little pixie on my shoulder tells me to slow down and stay put. Need to stay cool and not slip of the tracks. To get my kicks out, I converge into my own hellfire club with my vinyls and let the needle drop. Pour a glass of wine and put on my Imelda May records, including her newest release Tribal.

It’s no secret why I like Imelda May so much, the combination of her beauty, sultry voice, and whiskey fueled songs cut right to my core. I’m also a sucker for Irish ladies. Heck, I married one. Born in Dublin, Ireland, May first started playing the clubs in Dublin in the early 1990’s, eventually moving to the UK in 1999. As a kid, she fell in love with blues and rockabilly listening to legends like Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent, and Buddy Holly. Eventually, May released her first album in 2003 under her birth name, Imelda Clabby. Over the next handful of years, she married her guitar player, released two more albums under her married Imelda May, toured, toured, toured, and performed with some of the greats like Brian Setzer, Lou Reed, Bono, Meatloaf, and Elvis Costello, and may more. She has played all over late night television circuit, and in 2012 had a baby girl. In late 2014, she released Tribal. It is my favorite of her four releases. The wicked way about Tribal is that is contains much of what I loved about early Imelda songs, but with a bit more of maturity and playfulness. Not outshining the rest of the band, May lets the guys get technical with the instruments.  Putting this vinyl on is always a treat and each side seems to play through quickly. Opening a bottle of wine with this can be tricky, but a nice fat pinot noir seems to do the trick.

Belle Glos makes fantastic, distinctive Pinot Noirs from some of Californias finest growing areas. The Meiomi pinot is a blend of juice from Santa Barbara, Monterey, and Sonoma counties. Like Imelda Mays music, the wine has attitude, history, and the blues. Track 9 on tribal, Wicked Way, is the best comparison. It is deeply bluesy, sweaty, with muted horns and thumping tom toms. Imagine the middle of the night, driving a car with the swampy forest in the middle of the Louisiana bayou arriving at a bar in a house with lit torches, and Imelda May on the microphone singing her sultry songs and pompadour piled high. The 2011 Meiomi gives the feeling that would hit me walking in to that bar. It is rich as far as pinot noirs are concerned, and more in your face than you expect. Most Pinot Noirs are loaded with red fruit flavors and subtle earthiness, but this takes those fruits and stewes them down, really concentrating them with herbs, and a kiss of oak and cocoa. It has low tannins, leaving with a voluptuous mouthfeel.

 If you have extra $40 dollars burning a hole in your pocket, go pick up Tribal by Imelda May, and a bottle of Meiomi Pinot Noir by Belle Glos and turn the lights low. Shut your eyes and daydream about Imelda May singing a solo concert just for you in your living room. 

Vinyl&Wine 31: Murder By Death + Girard Artistry

A movie was released in 1976 titled, Murder By Death, featuring Peter Falk, Truman Capote, Peter Sellers, and of course, Eileen Brennan. It was a classic murder mystery spoof comedy. The most recent movie I can think of that is similar would be Clue with Tim Curry. Almost 25 years later a band had begun to take shape in the college town of Bloomington, Indiana who would eventually take on the same moniker as the 1976 cinematic classic, Murder By Death.

In 2000, the band Little Joe Gould was up and running featuring guitarist Adam Turla, and Sarah Balliet on Cello. Drums and bass guitar would round out the band playing a unique version of indie rock with distinct surges of whisky-laden alternative country, and rock n’ roll. Adam is a small left handed guitar player with the huge voice of a rock n' roll monster. In 2003, Little Joe Gould was touring with some major people in the indie rock world, releasing EPs, and appearing on soundtracks. They officially adapted the name Murder By Death around this same time. It may just be a coincidence that 2003 is the same year Johnny Cash died, because Adam Turla’s voice is eerily similar to the man in black. I would like to believe that Cash was left wandering purgatory long enough to find someone to give his haunting voice to. Turla was an easy find because for the next few years Murder By Death toured and wrote the album, In Boca Al Lupo, which brought their sound to a greater audience and larger shows. I saw them in support of this tour on the small club stage at Waterstreet Music Hall, in Rochester, NY to a sold out crowd. This amount of power that came off the little stage was awesome, even when the band played acoustic, the deep resonating frequencies from Turla’s voice, and cello would ripple through my body and ears. It was over before it even started in seemed to me, but was one of the most memorable concerts I can ever remember.

After a few more albums, and major label releases, Murder By Death released Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon in 2012. Of course, I purchased this on vinyl and added it to my collection of the previous releases on vinyl. I listened to this vinyl a lot when I got it. It was a very stressful time for me when I was listening to this. We just moved into a new house back in Rochester to help take care of my dying father, busy working in a field I was not happy with, but sacrifices needed to be made. With everything going on the days fell off the calendar quickly, sometimes by weeks at a time. In February of 2013, Dad died, my taste for wine was gone, and I couldn’t play Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon anymore. It felt weird, and like I was cheating myself. Only within in the last few months, this vinyl has made it back into rotation. I don’t know who the last track, Ghost Fields, on the album is about, but it hits home for me. It is a about the loss of a relationship as far as I can tell. If I open a bottle of wine, most of the time I forget what I am even drinking and I find myself staring off out of the big front bay window of my house with Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon spinning behind me. When the track ends, I come to my senses and top off my glass.  The last bottle I was pouring from was a Bordeaux-style blend from the obnoxiously good grapes of Girard, called Artistry.

Girard is constantly hailed as one of the best wineries in the Napa valley. They are small in comparison to a lot of the other Napa Valley giants and make a handful of Cabernet based wines and a few whites. The Chardonnay in grown in Sonoma, while everything else comes from vineyards in the Napa Valley. I visited Girard a few years ago with a group from work and out of all the wineries we visited in Napa, the Girard team was by far the coolest and most laid back of the bunch. Napa valley has really become a land of lawyers and investors and a lot of the old time farmer’s traditions are not very transparent to the naked eye anymore. A lot of hospitality, showing off, and money being spent on showing off. Don’t get me wrong, the wines are all fantastic, I just like getting to hang and get to know the people, not the same rehearsed stories over and over again. Girard was cool. We arrived at their tasting room in St. Helena. It was a small facility with a main typical tasting in the front and a private room in the back with a large table and a few lounge couches. We sat down and I crashed on the couch. We were asked what we wanted to try, just a full glass, or full line up of wines. I was cool with just a glass, but the team chose the full line up. When the bottle of Artistry and I took a sniff as soon as I poured, I grabbed the bottle back from my neighbor and filled my glass. The aromatics were just layered with everything under the sun, but showed lots of blackberry, savory herbs, cocoa, plums, and old leather. As weird as it sounds to a beginner wine student, I just couldn’t stop smelling the wine. It blew me away. Upon tasting it, I quickly realized it wasn’t going to disappoint following the nose. It was layered with bright fruit flavors, intense tannins, dark and deep tones, wrapped into and overall perfectly balanced wine, much like music on Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon.

 I can’t say enough about Girard Winery, Artistry, and band Murder By Death. The essence of both mirror each other and balance out to perfection. You can order Girard wines from their website if you can’t find it at your local retailer. You know how to find music. You won’t be disappointed. 

Vinyl&Wine 30: Norah Jones + Fidelitas

One of the first jazz voices I fell in love with was from the angelic tonality of Norah Jones. At the time, I was heavily into harder music, but her voice drew me in like Homer to the Sirens. I was no secret I loved good country/ blues and bits and pieces of jazz had made it into my collection, but in 2002 when the first Norah Jones album, Come Away With Me, hit the airwaves, I was hooked. She subsequently won Grammy’s for artist of the year and best album that year. I bought every album from then on. As Norah is a brilliant pianist, her latest album have been heavy-handed on the guitar, especially the 2012 release Little Broken Hearts.

I purchased this on vinyl a little while back full well knowing it was going to be not as jazz-based as all her others. On noticed on the cover Little Broken Hearts was produced by Danger Mouse and my ears perked up. It was wasn’t the combination I would have guessed, but after listening to the album over and over, it makes complete sense. This vinyl is more atmospheric and layered than any Norah Jones album prior. Her vocal demeanor is darker and edgier, but she still maintains the tonality I have come to love from her. The double vinyl when played through in its entirety is more pop/ indie sounding. Littler Broken Hearts shows hints of music groups such as Modest Mouse, Jenny Lewis, and Stars, but wrapped in a “girl next door” vibe. Frankly, choosing a wine to drink while listening to this album is more of a challenge then understanding the album itself. Sometimes I feel in the mood to go dark and deep with the wine choice, or light and airy. More often than not, I end up in the red zone and will choose something with layers. That’s is when I call on Charlie Hoppes and his winery, Fidelitas, located in the Red Mountain AVA of Washington State.

Washington is known for making a lot of under $10 wines, and some very high scoring Cabernet Sauvignons. Besides being a beautiful state spanning from the pacific coastline to arid desert area along the Idaho border, the land provides great soils for all different types of grapes. Charlie Hoppes makes a number of different wines under the Fidelitas label, one of my favorites is called the M100. After reviewing the Fidelitas website, I don’t see it on there. I hope they are still making it, but in case they aren’t, my stash is stocked. It is a Bordeaux style Cabernet based blend with grapes sourced from the Columbia Valley. It retails around $12-15 and is well worth it. It is layered with gobs of dark cherry, plummy, chocolate, and raspberry flavors with thinner layers of sage, cedar, and leather sprinkled intermittently in every sip of this wine. Charlie is making a respectable assortment of single vineyard Cabernet Sauvignons that are priced higher but worth every penny.

I don’t always choose reds from Washington State, but when I do, I always ask myself why I don’t pop the corks on them more often, just like when I spin a Norah Jones vinyl. Both are amazing and deeply layered with pristine moments of a creativity and joy. If Fidelitas M100 is not made anymore, first off; that’s a shame, and secondly; seek out another Bordeaux style blend from Washington to pair with Little Broken Hearts.

Vinyl&Wine 29: Sallie Ford and The Sound Outside + Pellegrini Petit Verdot

I spend 40 hours a week, 650ish miles a week in my car as a wine and spirits specialist. I visit over 50 accounts a week selling magical snake oils and stories. The weather has been cooling, leaves are warming in color, and my ear candy has been stuck on soulful women. You can tell from Vinyl&Wine 28, my music preferences turn soulful in the fall. Sometimes I wake up and need a little more grease in my day. I’ll spend the day listening to some of the legends of Rockabilly, Roots, and Steady Beat Driving Music, but when I arrive home, the first vinyl to land on the record player is Untamed Beast by Sallie Ford and The Sound Outside released just last year.

Sallie Ford, known for her Bessie Smith, Tom Waits, Janis Joplinesque voice, brings a unique blues based sound reminiscent of the surf rock/ rockabilly days of the 1950s and 1960s. Originally from North Carolina, Sallie Ford transplanted herself to Portland, Oregon where her band The Sound Outside was formed in 2007.  Upon first listen, Sallie Ford and the Sound Outside has a fun, clean throwback sound. As you listen to her lyrics you realize the rebel inside. The raw lyrics show emotional intensity, clever phrasing, and deep angst. The Sound Outside is like a beauty queen winner with hidden skull and crossbones tattoos; quite enchanting and surprisingly dangerous. Their recent Untamed Beast release is a vinyl I spin, pour a glass of wine, and just sit back in my large loveseat and just listen to the vinyl solo. Untamed Beast calls for a wine that may be a bit of a loner, feminine yet brooding, and deceptively precarious. I’ve had a few bottles in the cellar for a while, but one of my favorite wines in from Long Island, New York, produced by Pellegrini Winery, the North Fork Petit Verdot.

I traveled to the North Fork to visit wineries in 2006 and though I was already a fan of many wines from there, I was blown away by the vast amount of wines that were above average. I was really impressed with the sauvignon blancs and merlots of the region, but the winner for was at Pellegrini Winery and Vineyards. The petit verdot grape itself is typically a minor blending grape and it is very rare to see a 100% labeled varietal bottle. It is typically a grape used in Bordeaux style blends in very minor percentages. Its main objective is to add color and strong tannins, like the drummer in a swinging jazz band would add; firm backbone and pizazz. The reason not many people even attempt to produce a petit verdot is because what it has in tannins in color, it lacks in acidity and overall fruit flavors. Pellegrini, situated in the maritime climate, has figured it out and found out that it can stand on its own. Pellegrini makes a full bodied, medium acidity, rich in black fruit flavors, herbaceous aromas, and intense length. Every sip seems to change on the palate and fruit flavors come and go. It is the Untamed Beast of Long Island and is a perfect match of drink while listen to Sallie Ford sing her soul out from song to song.

When listening to Untamed Beast and drink some Petit Verdot, you can lose yourself in reverb, rasp, and tannins. You will flip from side A to side B then back to side A and B again. If you can’t find Pellegrini where you, try and have them ship you some. If that won’t work, then look for one from Australia, or Virginia. Those are about the only other two regions in the world where you will be single varietal Petit Verdots with style. 

Vinyl&Wine 28: Lake Street Dive + Mouton Noir Oregogne

I haven’t found much new music that I really enjoy in a while. I can’t say I have actively been searching for it either. That said, in the past few weeks, I have come across two groups that have been making me really happy in the otherwise dull and slow moving month of August. Earlier this week, my wife played me a clip on Youtube of an amazing vocalist named Rachael Price. I didn’t think anything of it at the time, but it was later in the evening and I was pretty focused on a television show; though I did recognize the talent. Her voice sounded a bit reminiscent of Amy Whinehouse, Fiona Apple, and Diana Krall. It was easy to tell she is naturally a great singer, but must have had some strong jazz training. I looked into her music the next day and realized she is the lead singer for an amazing band out of Boston called Lake Street Dive. They are a pop band, with hints of blues, jazz, and gospel. I give credit to my wife and finding this one. I called my local record store to see if they had their newly released album on vinyl. Sure enough, they had a few copies left. It is called Bad Self Portraits.

It has been three days straight now, and I cannot stop listening to this band. The sultry and playful sound of Price’s vocals has me hooked from start to finish on this vinyl. The four piece is comprised of drums, guitar, upright bass, and vocals, with the addition of trumpet frequently on this records titled, Bad Self Portraits. On any given song, you can call out hints of music giants from yesterday, like The Cure, Carol King, The Supremes, Norah Jones, and The Beatles to name a few, but Lake Street Dive is uniquely original and a breath of fresh air. The great part about the band is when you can just visualize them at band practice, and on the road, they are having fun. For anyone who has never played in a band, that statement sounds a little dumb, but most working musicians know that fun isn’t always fun and is very tiring and stressful. I can’t imagine Lake Street Dive feeling that way, and that makes me happy. As this record has been seeing its fair share of rotation in the short few days I’ve owned it, wine has been opened and opened again. Lake Street Dive is so fresh and a relief to my ears among the many of acts in this musical era of over-produced pop singers and electronic dance music. It deserves to be paired with a wine that that mirrors its creativity, freshness, and sultry attitude. That, for me, immediately rules out most offerings from the old world regions Europe. I thought about popping an Australian wine, and there are a lot of choices from the Southern Hemisphere, but I went with a new world Pinot Noir. I happened to get a bottle of an Oregon Pinot Noir produced by the fairly young winery, Mouton Noir.

Mouton Noir was created in 2007 by Sommelier, Andre Mack as a fantastic Oregon wine label and lifestyle operation, which is pretty self-evident if you visit their website. I opened a bottle of the Mouton Noir Oregogne, from the Willamette Valley. I loved the liveliness of this wine and its freshness. The name “Oregogne” gives a shout out to the best region in the world for Pinot Noir, Burgundy. What I loved about this wine is the subtle kicks of blueberries, and ripe cherries on the attack, great acidity, and a long lasting, but not too heavy finish. The aromas are sweet and very floral. If I had a green thumb I would tell you just what flowers I was picking up, but I am not good with flower names; hydrangeas? Chrysanthemums?  The Oregogne is so much like the Bad Self Portraits record it is uncanny. Lake Street Dive and Mouton Noir should do some sort of project together, or at least play a show in Oregon at the winery. As many new world pinot noirs are, it goes down with a little bit of playful mystery and a lot of love.

Both Lake Street Dive and Mouton Noir have risen to the top of my music and wine playlist. Do yourself a favor and go get Bad Self Portraits and a bottle of Mouton Noir. You can thank me later.

Oh, and for the other group I mentioned in the introduction; that is coming next week.


Vinyl&Wine 27: Minus The Bear + Can Blau

I first fell love with the truly unique sounds of Minus The Bear just over ten years ago. I was in an indie rock band at the time, well into the scene, and also working as a floor salesman at a wine and spirits shop. My hopes at the time were to become as famous as the bands I was listening to, tour all over, and not really have to do any real work at all for the rest of my life. Even though we were moderately well received locally, and somewhat regionally, I quickly saw the downfalls in my youthful dreaming. As the band broke up, and playing in a band fell out of fashion for me, a few things stuck with me: my love for the bands I was listening to then, and the story telling style of writing some of those bands explored.

Minus The Bear was one of the first bands that took a uniquely creative approach to two guitars dancing together in songs, and their use of the keyboards was a foray into the synthesized digital loops and dubs on certain songs. It hooked me in; as well as many rabid fans around the world. I own four vinyls released by Minus The Bear, one of which entitled Acoustics II. At first I didn’t even realize they had released an all-acoustic album entitled Acoustics I. For a band that was so unique and amazing when plugged in, I thought it would have to be amazing stripped down. I had gone online to find another vinyl from them, but came across sound clips for the first acoustic released and quickly changed my search for that album on vinyl. Not to my surprise, it was a limited pressing and sold out everywhere. To my surprise, the asking price on EBay and other such places was in the hundreds. I love Minus The Bear, but not enough to spend that much on a Vinyl. I am not at that level of collector yet. A few months later, I saw they were releasing Acoustics II, so I pre-ordered it and got my copy at a normal newly released vinyl price. I believe it is still available at decent prices now. This is one of the rare occasions I feature a band I haven’t seen live and it may be one of my biggest failures thus far in my music fandom, but I know someday soon I will catch them live and up close. Acoustics II ended up including two of my favorite Bear songs, Absinthe Party at the Fly Honey Warehouse and Riddles. In reality, all songs are amazing. Minus The Bear is definitely a wine drinking listen for me. I think it is because I love listening to them so intensely. I love listening every guitar note and the interwoven storybook melodies from the vocals, keys, and other strings. Minus The Bear stripped down does not disappoint, and I feel their melodic lines become even prettier.

When I do spin Acoustics II, I always drink red wines. The creativity and depth of the music is just too strong from most white wines. I usually drink Olde World reds, a lot of French and Spanish ones at that. In fact, in the first of the aforementioned favorite songs of mine, they speak of a night in France. The drinking of red wine is a line in the song. A bottle I constantly fall back on is a blended red from Spain by Can Blau from the region of Montsant. It is a blend of 40% Mazuelo, 40% Syrah, and 20% Garnacha. If you’re a constant reader of this blog, you know that Syrah and Grenache are my favorite reds, when blended together, their power and complexity is unrivaled. Can Blau adds the addition Mazuelo to the mix and it gives the wine a distinctly more supple texture and subtle chalky notes. It has more red fruit flavors, whereas the Syrah and Garnacha are loaded with black fruits like Black Berry and Blackberry flavors. It is not a unique use of these grapes in grapes, in fact, it is very common and rightfully so; they all grow extremely well there.

On a mellow day, even overcast and rainy like the day it is as I am writing this, Minus The Bear and Can Blau can perk all your senses away from the grey. You can get lost in the falsetto vocals, pitch perfect acoustic guitars, deep hues of the red wine, and intense aromas and long lasting flavors on your palate. I recommend buying Acoustic II while it is still fairly affordable, when it’s gone you’ll be out of luck. The good thing is, the wine won’t be gone for a long time and even if it does disappear, there are plenty of other Spanish wines available. 

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Vinyl&Wine 26: Common & Chateau Bouscaut

I recently came across a vinyl online that I wasn’t on the hunt for, but when I saw it, I had to have it. It is one that may be one of the most creative albums made by a master poet. It’s Be, by Common. As soon as I saw I instantly started humming the bass line to its opening track, Be. It is infectious, jazzy, and produced with lots of soul. Its full of hooking beats, keyboards, and a bunch of walking bass.  

This album sent me back almost 10 years ago when it was released in 2005. Among many other styles of music, I was into classic and poetic hip hop. The kind of rap that doesn’t use made up words to rhyme and has personal storylines and is full emotional arcs. Common has been put into the same class of artist like Tupac Shakur, Saul Williams, Black Thought, The Roots, Lyrics Born, De La Soul, Eryka Badu, A Tribe Called Quest, and Blackalicious (See V&W#5). I spent a lot of time with friends driving around blasting this album with the windows down on night time drives after work. Almost like a scene the television sitcom That 70’s Show, we would hang out in basements lounging on couches while we played this CD until we played it so much, it started skipping. After a few drinks, we would even start singing along and air-playing the drumbeats and other instruments on the album. This album was a soundtrack to a lot of fun nights shared with good people. I recently spoke with one of these friends who now has a young son. He told me that his son knows how to move through songs on his itunes and always finds Be by Common and when he does, he always stops searching and dances to the songs. I thought it was a true sign that good music will always please accepting ears regardless of age, race, or whatever else divides the masses. Common began his career in 1992 and continues to put out albums almost every two years. Today he may be more recognizable for his film and TV career, but underneath his great acting work on AMC’s hit show Hell on Wheels, his voice and lyrical prowess shines through. As this album spins with regularity on my turntable pairing wine with it can be difficult, but I tend to settle on Bordeaux.

Like Common whose deep voice, deep lyrics, and layers of soul, Bordeaux is rich in those characteristics as well. Always a blend of grapes layered in to achieve a certain dominance and derived from fundamentals passed down from generation to generation, it is a wine truly at the top of the poetic spectrum. One of my favorites that I recently dug out of my cellar was a 2003 Chateau Bouscaut from the Bordeaux region of Pessac-Leognon. At 11 years old, I must say it is drinking incredibly and is a perfect match for Common. It is a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Malbec. 53% is Merlot and it is evident in the sultriness of this red. It adds romance and mystery. 40% is Cabernet Sauvignon, the ship carrying this wine along its storyline through maturity. 7% of the wine is Malbec which brings depth and backbone, that grit and extra muscle.

…Be, be here, be there, be that, be this
Be grateful for life, be grateful to life
Be gleeful every day…” 

Vinyl&Wine 25: Grateful Dead + Wente Chardonnay

It’s been far too long since I put out a V&W blog. My job has me traveling some serious miles weekly and when I get home at night, the brain cells have all gone mute. 

When thinking about a band and a wine that have traveled millions of miles and are also a great pairing, I landed on the Grateful Dead and Chardonnay. The proliferation of each is astounding and a natural pairing. I first really listened to the Grateful Dead as a kid while riding in a Ford truck. My parents owned a restaurant supply business and cooking school all through my middle and early high school years. I began helping out around the shop from the time almost as soon as they purchased the business. I was about ten years old. I would sweep and mop, break down cardboard boxes, and do pretty much anything I could do as a youngster without breaking anything or hurting myself. As I grew older, bigger and stronger, my father would take me out on equipment deliveries with him. Sometimes one of his employees, TC would join us, if necessary.  Some jobs were big like, large pieces of equipment for new restaurants, or sometimes the deliveries would be lots of small orders that needed to get to places around town. My favorite was going out just with TC. As the oldest child with no brothers, TC was kind of like my older brother and 20 years later we still have lunch and hang out.

When TC and I would go out on deliveries, we drove around in my father’s giant Ford F250 with an iron tie rack. I called it “Big Red”. TC was a huge Grateful Dead aficionado. Every time we went out, he would have another bootleg cassette of the Dead “live” from wherever. For years, that is pretty much all that was played in the truck on deliveries. Mile after mile, “Ripple after Dark”, “Star after Tennessee Jed”, the miles and shows tallied up. I can’t say I was ever as big of a fan as TC, but the songs slowly became rooted in my musical index, filed under “alright”, (with a big grin). The Grateful Dead may have the most number of miles under their belt and are still touring as The Dead sans Garcia. They are a well-traveled band. A few years ago I added a double vinyl set to my diverse collection of vinyls, The Best Of The Grateful Dead, What A Long Strange Trip Its Been. I can’t begin to tell you how pleasing it is to lay down one of these vinyls and sit back and relax with a glass of Chardonnay, and just listen from start to finish.

Thankfully, this is one of the pairing that I share with my wife because she is a big Grateful Dead fan as well. As far as I am concerned, the Chardonnay grape has traveled just as far as the Grateful. It originated in the hills of Burgundy, France as a cross between Pinot Noir and Gouais Blanc. Everyone is familiar with Pinot Noir, but Gouais Blanc is believed to have traversed Europe from Croatia by the expanding Roman Empire. Today, wherever wine is grown you will find Chardonnay, from France to California, South Africa to England and every place in-between. It is truly an all-inclusive varietal and regionally can be made into a decent style. One of my favorites is from California and made by Wente Vineyards. Wente makes some of the best Chardonnays in California and rightfully so, they are known as the First Family of Chardonnay. The Wente family started the emersion in Chardonnay over 100 years ago in the Livermore Valley and today, their Chardonnay vineyards have grown to more than 100 acres of plants and it is their number one most sold wine. Commercially, they sell four different labels of Chardonnay and I am sure you can find a few special bottlings at the winery if you visit them. Today, Karl Wente runs the show and keeps the tradition going strong. I think it helps that he is also a Grateful Dead fan. I’m sure he could tell some great stories of seeing the Dead live, back in the day. (Please Karl, if you are reading this, feel free to share any stories you want to in the comments.)

Wente Vineyards most accessible Chardonnay is their Morning Fog Chardonnay. It ranges in price from $12-16 and is pumped full of the classic California Chardonnay characteristics we have come to love, but not over done in any sorts. It has notes of green apple, pears, vanilla bean, toasted brioche and citrus. It tends to rate well in the press, but for $15 and under, who cares. It is just a great wine and when paired with a great band like the Grateful Dead, life is good. When we are talking distance traveled and getting mileage out of good thing, The Dead and Chard are a perfect pairing.

The picture below is a drawing of Jerry Garcia done by my wife Erin Baldwin. I had no idea it was her drawing when I first saw it. 

Drawing done by my wife, Erin. 

Vinyl&Wine 24: Phish + Paraduxx

It was sixteen years between seeing Phish live. Back in 1997, I saw Phish for the first time at the Rochester War Memorial. It was my very first major concert in a major venue. It was in December and we went for my friend’s Birthday who was a much bigger fan of Phish at the time. I was more into old school rock n’ roll and rockabilly styles as you can tell from previous posts. When attending an arena concert, there are expectations of heavy crowds, waits, and bad visuals of the stage if you are sitting far away. At a Phish there is the added anxiety of all general admission seating, hippies, lots of hippies, and various kinds of organic smokes. We fought through a sea of hippies outside of the arena, because the police had closed the street in front of the venue and there was what looked like thousands of hippes just hanging out front playing drums, smoking, dancing, and selling various random goods. It was eye opening, but I later realized that was very Phish show specific. I remember one hippie started dancing with me as we shoved past them to enter the arena and then just pushed a whole half rack of ribs into my hands from the BBQ joint down the street. I was pissed about all the BBQ sauce on my hands, but licking them clean tasted awesome. We made it in and found seats off stage left. Then the lights darkened, the crowd screamed and cheered as Phish took the stage and played the song, Punch You in the Eye. They played two sets, both about an hour long, and closed with Chuck Berry’s Johnny B. Good, a throwback the 50’s style rock n’ roll that I adore so much. They crushed it and won my admiration.

I had never forgotten that show and always listened to random Phish shows I collected throughout the years, though I was never the biggest of Phish fan that went out of my way to see shows and buy every new release. I did pick up the double vinyl release, Joy, and it’s awesome. It was all the classic Phish sounds. My wife is a big fan of Phish and even spent a week following the band when she was younger, so playing the Joy vinyl is always a favorite one in our house. Recently, Phish came back to same arena I saw them at in 1997, now named the Blue Cross Arena. Naturally, I bought tickets and we were both excited to see the show. Only one thing could make this show better and that was getting upgraded seats from the crappy general admission non-sense seating to private box seats. My sister worked for the AHL hockey team that plays in the arena and frequently when concerts come through, if there are extra tickets, or boxes aren’t being used, the staff gets dibs. Well, we got a call the day of the show from my sister and got the hooked up. I didn’t even care about the tickets we already had and we gave them to a friend in need of tickets. Seeing Phish play songs from the vinyl record you had been jamming at home for a year is only trumped by having free booze, seats, food, and bathrooms to your group and not sharing it 15,000 hippies. They didn’t have wine in the box, but at home, wine is always our choice. As versatile as the band Phish is, our choice of wine varies as well. White or red, it all seems to work, and I think it is because of the happy mood of the vinyl. Joy is not only the title of the album, but all the theme. Naturally, being in a happy state of mind is what usually leads my choosing of this vinyl to play when I do, and for me, when I am in a happy mood, I tend to choose fun, exciting, zippy wines.

One of my favorite bottles of wine to drink while listening to Joy by Phish is Paraduxx by The Duckhorn Wine Company. It is hard to argue that any juice out of the Napa Valley is bad. Some are better than others, but the Valley produces amazing wines and Paraduxx is one of them. I’ve always been drawn to anything by the Duckhorn Wine Co., because I remember a story of my father told me about traveling to California with my mother and visiting Duckhorn Vineyards in the 1980’s, then going to dinner with proprietor Dan Duckhorn. I won’t write about that story now, but it was one I always remembered about the winery from my father. Like a child picking a favorite sports team because it was their fathers favorite, the same can be true for wines. I saw his passion for Duckhorn wines and as I grew into the business, when Duckhorn is poured for me, I get excited,  joyful. Duckhorn Wine Co. began in 1976 with a focus on merlot. They have successful carved a name in Napa history as one of the best Merlot producers to ever land in the Valley. Today they produce so much more and make great Cabernets, Sauvignon Blancs, and other labels, like Paraduxx. The Paraduxx is a fun blend of Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc. Basically, they took the big four red grapes of the Napa Valley and bottled them all up. It has classic Bordeaux style structure with the added pizazz and jamminess of the Zinfandel. A lot of wines make me happy and some vineyards can take my happiness from 10 to 11, Duckhorn is that wine for me.

Sometimes our mood just calls for nice long happy jam. As all Phish fans know, the band can bring the jam every time. Paraduxx also brings the jam and with force. I highly recommend both and as often as possible. Keep the needle droppin’ and the cork poppin’.

Vinyl&Wine 23: Drake Bell + Cline Dry Rosé

Like a psycho stocking up on Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, I buy anything that has Brian Setzer’s name on it. I bought a vinyl at the record store by Drake Bell called Ready Steady Go! because I noticed it was executive produced by Brian Setzer on Surf Dog Records; and even featured him on guitar on a song. I thought out loud to myself, “it’s gotta be good, right?” I wasn’t wrong at all. Ready Set Go! Is a collection of well written songs including, guitar solos, jazz fiddle, thundering upright bass, blues/ Dixie piano, and covers from Billy Joel, Stray Cats, and Elvis. The record is reminiscent of the 1950s and 1960s rockabilly and rock n’ roll styles.

Though the vinyl is great, I still didn’t know who Drake Bell was and to my surprise, he is freaking huge. With millions of fans around the world, I was curious why I hadn’t heard of him before. Turns out, Drake Bell is TV/ Movie from the show Josh and Drake, and the Amanda Bynes Show on Nickelodeon. Yes, I said the Amanda Bynes show (Insert Amanda Bynes joke here.) His fans consist mostly of youngsters who followed those shows. Well I am happy to say I am now a fan for his music and choice of music style. I watched a Youtube video about the making of this record and he and I had a lot of similarities when we first heard the Stray Cats as children. We both wanted to go out and buy a big orange guitar. He did. We both wanted to pile our hair high. We both did. We both wanted to play in a band. Both did it. We both wanted to be good at it. He is, I can just barely get by. On Ready Steady Go! Bell channels the vibe of many artist including the Stray Cats and a little bit of Django Rhienhart on the song Bitchcraft, Gene Vincent, and many more. The stand out song for me is his cover of I Won’t Stand In Your Way a classic Stray Cats cover that was my favorite song as a kid. Bell crushes it. It made me happy. When I listen to this vinyl it makes me happy and jealous at the same time. It is an uplifting and a breath of fresh air to play this vinyl and with it, you need to pop the cork on a glass of something inspiring and full of summer freshness. It’s the spring time and the only wine that will do is a Dry Rosé.

I love dry Rosés from all over the world. The best come from the old world, Southern France and a close second for me is California, though they tend to be a little richer with less acidity. I have had rosé from Argentina, New York, Virginia, Italy, Austria, Australia, and New Zealand, and they are all pretty tasty. Made at the historic Oakley Ranch in Contra Costa County, the Mourvèdre Rosé by Cline Cellars is a perfect pairing for Drake Bell’s Ready Steady Go! Vinyl. The wine is made in a true “blanc de Noir” fashion where the juice is pressed from the skins before the fermentation process begin making a mostly white wine, though small amounts of color do bleed out into the wine giving it its soft rosé hue. As the folks at cline noted, ““A fun and festive rosé, with floral raspberry and vanilla aromas and user-friendly watermelon, cherry and spice flavors.” I wouldn’t disagree and the good part is that it is sold all over. The wines from Cline have always been great and sold at great values, but the Rosé is young, lively, and fresh just like Drake Bell.

Ready Steady Go! Is a great record and I highly recommend it with a glass of dry rosé. There is young energy pouring out of both using old vessels; the sounds of the 1950s and wine styles from the old world. Is it nice to see the youthful exuberance take hold of older styles. So do yourself a favor and go out and pick up both at your local shops and keep the needle droppin’ and cork poppin’.

Vinyl&Wine 22: Scott H. Biram + Hy.Brid Pinot Noir

If you have ever purchased music online, Itunes, Amazon, and other sites always make recommendations based on your current purchases and searches. So if you buy a Britney Spears album, they will recommend Shakira or some other pop princess. This is how I came to love the music of Scott H. Biram. I believe I was searching for a Cory Branan vinyl and fell into a music suggestion blackhole eventually landing on Scott H. Biram’s release entitled Nothin’ but Blood.

Also known as the Dirty Old One Man Band, Scott H. Biram is just that, a one man band whose songs are the soul child of the ghost of country icon Waylon Jennings and Heavy Metal legend Dave Mustaine. He plays soulful and solely on his acoustic 1959 Gibson guitar, with a raw unadulterated style. His grit an attitude may possibly be attributed to growing in the heart of Texas. His solo style was first recorded while stuck at home for a period of time while recovering from a devastating head on collision with a big rig truck in 2003 that completely totaled his car and nearly himself. When I listen to Nothin’ but Blood, the image of Scott H. Biram playing his guitar in a sweaty, smoke-filled church in the deep south leading his fanatic followers in his punk rock energy fueled sermons. He would be singing and yelling into an old-timey radio host style microphone or even a megaphone. The roots rock/ folk style comes from this strange almost demonic organic place, which he seems to harness perfectly. I can’t say I always drink wine while playing this record, it is mostly whiskey, but when the occasion is right there is only one choice for me, it is a Hy.Brid Pinot Noir by Peltier Station from Lodi, California. (Yes, Hy.Brid is spelled this way on the label.)

Hy.Brid Pinot Noir by Peltier Station is a fantastic find if it is available at your local wine shop. It’s too bad you can just download wine from the internet with the click of a button like you can with the music of Scott H. Biram. This Pinot Noir is also organically grown like Biram’s sound is. I really enjoy California Pinot Noirs, but I can’t say I have had that many from Lodi. The region is mostly known for its Zinfandels and other high ripening grapes. It is a warm climate region and Pinots are usually grown better in cooler climates like in coastal Sonoma county areas. For a wine that retails for about $10, it took me by surprise and had my palate hooked at first sip like the album Nothin’ but Blood. It is not a Pinot that is strictly following the standard Pinot Noir “guidelines.” This one is outside of the box, and has some grit and attitude, like a cowboy in a western who shoots a fiery smug smirk to his opponent in a duel to the death and then shoots his pistol first. I dug deeper into the wine, because I knew it wouldn’t be 100% Pinot Noir juice in the bottle. Legally to label a wine as a 100% varietal, there only needs to be 75% of that label grape in the bottle, the other 25% is allowed for other grapes to help balance wines and give the winemaker room to maneuver to achieve their desired goals. My first guess was that Hy.Brid Pinot Noir had 25% Syrah in the blend, but I was wrong, and I was surprised and really happy with what I found out. The current release is a blend of 75% Pinot Noir, 20% Petite Sirah, and 5% Viognier. It made so much sense, because it does have the attitude of Petite Sirah, exuberance of Viognier, and sensibility of Pinot Noir. It is my new favorite wine under $10, it is my dirty old one man band of a wine.

Sometimes just like people, grapes can find their strengths and character from their upbringing and their roots, through hardships, characters will emerge. Scott H. BIram has found himself in his music and with each release, the nitty gritty raw attitude has emerged as his own, and reinventing old solo blues and country styles from decades ago. I have never had a wine that has ever shown off as much nitty gritty attitude as the vinyl Nothin’ but Blood until I sipped Hy.Brid Pinot Noir by Peltier Station.

To quote Scott H. Biram, “Can I get and amen?” from the song, Been Down Too Long. 

Vinyl&Wine 21: Galactic + d'Arenberg Laughing Magpie

If there is ever a specific time to let go of all your inhibitions and go with the flow, it is at a Galactic concert. I have seen them on three occasions. Once at the Rochester International Jazz Festival, another as an opening act for Les Claypool’s Flying Frog Brigade (of Primus and Claypool Cellars Winery in Sonoma), and the last time was a headlining show at Washington D.C.’s famous 9:30 club.

 The first time I saw them, I had no clue what I was about to see. I had never heard them before. It was a hot night on a closed off Downtown Street and the funk just went off through the city streets. The words, “Holy Shit!” crossed my mind more than a few times. Unfortunately, it was over as quickly as started it seemed. The second time was a quick show as well. When you are opening for Les Claypool, it is probably best to play a short set, because Claypool/ Primus devotees can be a tough crowd. It wasn’t until I saw them in D.C. did I really see how this New Orleans based jazz/ funk/ fusion/ hip hop/ electronica/ blues band really sounds. They played for nearly two hours plus encores and from note one til the last, the energy level never dropped below eleven on a ten point scale. The crowd was sold out and a second show the following night had been added. With over ten guys on stage dancing, playing their horns and other instruments, the volume was at critical mass. I left the concert like I did when I was in high school, drenched in sweat and dehydrated, except instead of moshing to a punk band, I had been dancing to funk band. The music is infectious and lively. It is a collaborations of many styles, and great players. When I try to recreate that night at home, I put on their vinyl Ya-Ka-May.

The band is led by famous New Orleans drummer, Stanton Moore. He can be found playing at the famous Tipitina’s in New Orleans weekly with numerous groups. They formed nearly eighteen years ago as a collaboration for Mardi Gras events. The popularity grew with local and slowly, they began playing together more often until Galactic became an institution. Their 2010 release, Ya-Ka-May, is a great example of what you will get in a full Galactic concert. It starts off with a punch of energy with the song, Friends of Science and even has a song entitled, Bacchus, the Roman God of wine. The album is loaded with other familiar New Orleans names like, Trombone Shorty, Allen Toussaint, Rebirth Brass Band, Cheeky Blakk, and others. Pairing a wine with this isn’t always easy. It takes a wine that is full of lively energy, pizazz,s it leaves a smile on your face, and possibly even exhausted by the end of the bottle. I usually decide on a blended wine, a single varietal just won’t cut it. A white wine could work, it has lively acidity, and depending on the grapes, it could have snappy flavors, but it may be missing the punch you need to hold up to trombones, and kick drum of Galactic.

I find one of my favorite pairings for Galactic is an Aussie import, from the vineyards of d’Arenberg. They are known for their blends and have a really awesome line of wines under $10 named The Stump Jump. Those aren’t the specific bottles I choose for this pairing through. When I can grab a few bottles, the d’Arenberg “Laughing Magpie” Shiraz/Viognier is my number one choice. Yes, you are reading that correctly, a red and white grape blended together, and no it isn’t pink after blending. They only use upwards of 10% viognier in certain years and it is just enough to make a completely different wine then there standard Shiraz. Australian Shiraz is a powerhouse of a wine to begin with. It has high alcohol levels, rich fruit flavors, and gobs spice. With the addition of Viognier to the already powerful wine, the lively bright acidity and extremely floral aromatics change the wine into something completely fantastic. The addition of viognier to syrah isn’t an Aussie original though, winemakers began doing that in Northern Rhone to their Cote-Rotie’s years before. Syrah’s color tend to fade rather quickly compared to other big red grapes, but the wines last for a long time. The wine makers found that the addition of some white wine and its acidity helped save the color from fading as quick. In addition, to saving color, it also makes some fantastic tasting wine, a true collaboration of completely opposite grapes. This method as translated well to Australian wineries.  

Much like Galactic’s Ya-Ka-May, d’Arenberg’s “Laughing Magpie” is loaded with unexpected flavors, zippiness, and punch. Opposites do attract, each filling the void of what the other doesn’t have. This pairing is one of my favorites and it isn’t just on the palate, you feel it in your whole body, so turn the volume up. 

Vinyl&Wine 20: Weather Report + Tegernseerhof Riesling

I don’t always watch the news every morning. For the most part, the local news is boring in the morning. It is filled with traffic updates every five minutes, quick blurbs about late night mischievous, and the weather report. Lately, I have been watching the weather report a lot. It seems lately this winter just won’t go away. Last weekend, the sky dumped almost 10 inches of snow on us and was 60 degrees a couple days later. It is beginning to feel a little frustrating. My face every morning is becoming reminiscent of Bill Murray’s in the movie Groundhogs day. When going fingering through my vinyls this week, I came across a vinyl that made me laugh. It was Heavy Weather by Weather Report. “Finally, a forecast I want to see,” I said to myself. It has always been a favorite of mine. Weather Report is one of the best jazz fusion groups from the 1970s and early 1980s.

As a Miles Davis fan, I have explored all of his music, even into his weirder fusion albums like the famous Bitches Brew. Weather Report creator, Joe Zawinul (keyboards) and Wayne Shorter (saxophone), were integral in the early days of Miles Davis’s fusion binges backing him and collaborating with him on many occasions. Zawinul and Shorter soon went full time with their own concept of jazz fusion, free jazz, or exploration jazz. The first song I ever heard by Weather Report was called Birdland. It is one of their catchier songs and most popular. It is a great introduction and full of grooves with a lot of bass. Right off the bat it has at tempo that gets your blood moving and little unexpected fills and licks that make you smile, maybe are even a little humorous. Heavy Weather isn’t all catchy, it does go into deep atmospheric jams, and even some hard to grasp fusions that may just sound like a lot of noise to non-fusion music fans. When played straight through on my record player, Heavy Weather sounds like a motion picture soundtrack with ups and downs, and a full range of emotions. It is actually very similar to outrageous weather we have been experiencing in upstate New York this past month. When we are stuck inside on these everlasting snow days and there is nothing else to do, pop a bottle of wine and enjoy a good Weather Report for once. Like the versatility of the Weather Reports music, Riesling makes a great pairing and a wine we always have in cellar.

In my eyes, Riesling is the most noble of all grape varietals for a number of different reasons. It can be made in many different styles from dessert, to off-dry, to the far opposite of bone dry. It is a cool climate grape and grows well in regions like France, Washington, Germany, Austria, and New York. Rieslings age very well, and is my preferred bottle. As they age, they show more nuances of petroleum and concentrated apricot flavors. My taste buds lend themselves to the most extreme of flavor profiles, bone dry and ice wine. The best Riesling I have ever drank was a 1997 Trimbach clos St Hune from France. I drank that bottle with a roasted vegetable terrine and roasted tomato Riesling aioli. Recently, my favorites have been the Lake Dana Vineyard releases from Fox Run Vineyards, Boundary Breaks Vineyards, and Austrian Rieslings. When I can get it, Tegernseerhof Vineyards located on the Danube River in what I consider the most beautiful part of the country I have seen, is my absolute favorite. Like founding member of Weather Report and Austrian, Joe Zawinul, the Rieslings from the Wachau region are complex, deep, rich, and sometimes airy and catchy. Owner/ Winemaker Martin Mittlbach is at the top of his game and winning awards all over Europe and receiving great scores in publications like Wine Enthusiast and Wine and Spirits. He has been able to a wide range of complex flavors and the unique versatility of the grape itself across his lineup of single vineyard releases.

Heavy Weather and Tegernseerhof make a great pairing, especially with the chaotic weather we have been experiencing. If you cannot, find Tegernseerhof where you live, I suggest trying any Austrian Riesling you can get your hands, or your favorite one in general. I promise you won’t be disappointed with the overall experience. 

Tegernseerhof Vineyards and Danube River

Vinyl&Wine 19: Weezer + Charles Smith Boom Boom Syrah

One of the first CDs I ever purchased when I was in middle school was the Blue Album from Weezer in 1994; 20 years ago. For years, I played that album out, broke it, bought another, lost it, bought another, left it in a friend’s car in high school, bought another, you get the picture. In 1996, they released their second album entitled, Pinkerton. I bought that too, liked it, but didn’t love it like I did the Blue Album still. It wasn’t until freshman year of college that Pinkerton found itself into permanent rotation in my dorm room and teal-colored Pontiac Sunfire. It was an ugly car that had just slightly more power than a power wheels kid’s toy, but it was my first car and I liked it. I now own both Weezer’s Blue Album and Pinkerton on vinyl and know that someday I will play both of them out. Weezer has just announced a 2014 tour date in my home town and I am contemplating buying tickets for it. As a huge fan of these two album, the choice should be a no brainer, but it is difficult, because there is no way to guarantee any of these songs will get played. I checked their full list of current dates and they are playing specific shows that feature the full Blue and Pinkerton albums, but this show in my home town doesn’t specify that. It is a toss-up. Maybe sitting at home playing both of these records straight through with a bottle of wine would prove to be a better use of money and personal space.

Recently, my Pinkerton vinyl has been getting pricked by the needle most often. The album is one that comes from deep within lead singer/ songwriter Rivers Cuomo. I don’t know the full story or the truth behind the rumors in the bands life at the time, but it is said, that Rivers was going through depression, long distance relationships, band member stresses, deaths of friends, and much more. This was also the last album bassist Matt Sharp would be involved in. He then formed the band The Rentals. Pinkerton has deep storylines, creative melodic progressions, and clever backing vocals. The production is much different than the Blue Album, or anything else to be released afterwards. They broke away from the catchy side of garage rock for Pinkerton. The sound of the band was maturing and sources for writing material was strengthening. It is sad, but after this album came and touring began, it took a toll on the band. They stopped touring and all but seemed to break up. After years of collecting themselves, they began touring again in the early 2000’s and put out their 3rd album, which I did not like very much. The only thing I did like about that album was the addition of bassist Mikey Welsh. He proved to be too rock n’ roll for the band and was asked to leave after one album. He has since passed away of an overdose. Like I said, he was pretty extreme. The third album was in no way anything like Pinkerton. They had become a poppy hit machine with no real deep connections in their songs. For many years after that, Rivers refused to play any Pinkerton songs on tour. To distant fans like myself, the reasons were and still are a mystery why it was so. I still become giddy when I listen to these albums, or hear a song on the radio by chance. There are certain wines that do that do me too.

Weezer’s Pinkerton fans are a strange demented cult of people themselves. Many times, the fans of Weezer are in two camps, lovers or haters of Pinkerton. As you can tell, I am in the minority group of lovers. The same can be said for cult wines. I am in no way saying that people either love or hate cult wines, but some people hate the idea of cult wines and how it drives pricing to enormous amounts. All the wines are good, okay they are really good, but at prices in the hundreds of dollars, they can be very unattainable for most people. As a resident employee of the wine business, I do have the fortune to try a lot of these wines on someone else’s dime from time to time, and when I do, I get giddy. Some of my favorites are from the producers of Sin Qua Non, Kistler, Seavey, Dominus, and Charles Smith wines. All of them sell wines into the hundreds of dollars, but Charles Smith also makes great wines that are much more attainable. Sure I love their Royal City Syrah, but at $100 a bottle, maybe once a year is good enough. For much less, their Boom Boom Syrah is a far better value from his Washington State vineyards. It retails for around $20 and it well worth. Charles Smith is a self-taught wine maker, ex-band manager for the Ravonettes, and a true gritty rock n’ roller at heart. He has made it big in the wine world, even winning accolades like “Winemaker of the Year,” “Best new winery,” “Best new winery of the last 10 years,” by publications like Food and Wine, and Wine & Spirits. He specializes in Syrah, my favorite grape, and he does it well. They are all rich, concentrated, and chalk full of flavor. The depth, creativity, and passion reminds me a lot of Weezer’s Pinkerton release.

From garage band, to sold out stadiums, Weezer has come full circle and left a lasting impression on me and my musical sensibilities.  Charles Smith came from humble beginnings early on in 1999 in the wine business. He did it because he has a passion of it, and the unwavering gumption to jump in head first. Only passionate people tend to work like this; myself included. Passion and creativity are the first ingredients for Rivers Cuomo and Charles Smith and I urge you all to explore the worlds they have created for us all to enjoy. The pairing of their music and wines is cult classic in my household. 


Vinyl&Wine 18: Frank Sinatra + Cozzo Mario Barbaresco

When I was in my early twenties and working in my first wine job, myself and many of the other folks at work would frequent a local bar after hours. New York state law prohibited wine and spirits from being sold after 9pm. The bar we would head to many nights was a beer, sports, shots, and darts kind of bar with greasy floors; a pretty typical rendezvous point for a 21 year old. It was pretty raucous most nights, even early in the week. One thing always stood out about this bar to me, and was the selection of music in the jukebox. There was about ten current albums and then every recording Frank Sinatra ever released. I was always a fan of the big band crooner sound, but initially it felt out of place when you are pouring shots down your throat and yelling at the TV when your favorite team is losing the third period of a hockey game. After a while, the Sinatra sounds became common place to me and I would become angry when a newcomer would put something else on the jukebox. It wasn’t just me, all the patrons would get upset and the bartender would usually pull the plug on the jukebox to cut the song off. I always wondered why they just didn’t take out the other music, but I think it was bait to weed out the people who didn’t fit in. I listen to Frank Sinatra all the time and own many vinyl records from him. I love to listen to him when I am making dinner and drinking wine, especially Italian nights.

There really is too much to say about Frank Sinatra, so I am not going to. If you don’t know who he is, you should just close this webpage now and go do a YouTube search for him and enter into a black hole only to return in a week and reread this. One of my favorite vinyl records is This is Sinatra! It is a release of B-sides and singles including, I’ve got the world on a string, From here to Eternity, and My One and Only Love. It was released in 1956 and probably cost way less than a dollar back then, but I came across it in a $1 bin at the record store and I couldn’t have been happier with the quality and the songs. There is something about the Frank’s crooning voice that gets my head nodding and finger snapping to his songs. He exudes confidence and class, which I try to match with my wines when listening to his music.

One of the best perfect pairings I have found is Sinatra, Italian wine, and Italian food. Okay, well that is almost common sense, but it really does work every time. Luckily for me, I work for an Italian wine importer and get to try a lot of Italian wines, one of which is Cozzo Mario Barbaresco from the north Italian region of Piedmont. Cozzo Mario is a vineyard that has been around for a very long time. They actually have a symbol of the “town key” on it, because it is supposed represent the key the Cozzo Mario patriarch gave to Napoleon Bonaparte when his campaign marched through Piedmont. I don’t believe they really wanted to give him a warm welcome, but they didn’t want their village and vineyards destroyed either. Today, their wines hold up well and present themselves with the same class and confidence as Sinatra. Barbaresco is made from a grape called Nebbiolo and is a fairly big wine, yet Cozzo Mario makes theirs with a little touch of restraint. It is that bit of restraint from the winemakers that shows their trust in the grapes themselves and their confidence in the product.

Wines from the small sub region of Barbaresco can range in price from $35 - $100+. If that price is out of range for you, I recommend looking for any wine labeled as Nebbiolo and it should be about half of the price. Better yet, just find any wines from Piedmont, they are all pretty damn good. Make some pasta and meatballs, spin a little Sinatra, and have yourself a fantastic night. Ciao!

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Vinyl&Wine 17: Nada Surf + Pierre Gaillard Saint Joseph

Creative types of people have a tendency to become in their own thoughts, stuck in their heads, and distracted by their form of self-deprecating abuse. I find myself lost in thought many times when I am writing these blogs or working on other projects and it can become pretty frustrating. Many times I just have to quit the work and return later to finish it. Sometimes, I just scrape the whole thing all together. When my brain gets scrambled, that is when I tend to listen bands I used to listen to in high school. Many of those bands have long been defunct, but I have a handful that I are still playing to mid-size venues all over and have cult following. One of my favorites is Nada Surf. I always thought their band name was a bunch of nonsense, something the guys just came up with and probably only has meaning to themselves, but when I briefly referenced their Wikipedia page it states the following quote from founding band member Matthew Caws: “it's actually referring to something much more existential, it's just surfing on nothing. Being lost in your head or in your imagination but you know, whenever I listen to music I always find myself off somewhere. Somewhere in space. You know, in mental space and it's a reference to that.”

I recently purchased their newest release on vinyl, The Stars are Indifferent to Astronomy. Without any hesitation, I can say I was extremely pleased with the vinyl. It takes me back to their critically acclaimed 2002 release, Let Go, which had been my favorite release to date. It was such a favorite record of mine that one of it tracks made it on to my wedding playlist. The Stars are Indifferent to Astronomy has a very similar tone and passion to it. Most people will only remember the band from their mid-1990’s summer anthem hit, Popular. You can probably hear the chorus in your head now. Nada Surf has such a classic indie rock trio sound to them, but with further examination, their lyrics are extremely deep and well written. They pair the vocals with music that is fairly simplistic to the ear and a production quality that brings each aspect of the songs to hit the perfect peaks and valleys to draw your emotional chords back and forth. Right now, this vinyl is on the top of my stack of records meaning, I have been playing this a lot and I have been on a French wine kick. I often imagine spending a month or two traveling Europe visiting vineyards and century’s old cities. Nada Surf is one of the bands I imagine being on my soundtrack to the journey. When I dug deeper into the band, I learned that Matthew Caws and Daniel Lorca spent their childhood in Belgium and France, which has solidified itself into my taste buds and ear buds when playing this vinyl. For me, Nada Surf paired with French Wine will always be combined in my household.

If you have read any of the previous posts, it is no secret that one of my favorite wines are syrah’s from France. It doesn’t really matter where it is from, they all seem to have characteristics that strike a chord with me like music of Nada Surf. The wine growing region of the Rhone Valley makes some of the best in the country and in the world. Cote Rotie and Chateaunuef-du-pape are arguably the most famous of the appellations of the valley, but one of my favorites it the AOC of Saint Joseph and my pick is from the producer Pierre Gaillard. This region is the second largest under vine and primarily makes red wines with Syrah as the regions superstar. Under AOC regulations, the wines are allowed up to 10% viognier into the blend, a white wine varietal. It sounds a little strange to blend a white wine with a red wine, but there are specific reasons to do so. As brooding and intense as the syrah grapes are from the region, they sometimes will fall short in certain years with aromatics and the color may fade quicker than desired over the years. The properties of the viognier really add extra aromatics to the syrah and helps stabilize the deep, rich, violet hue of the wine; I like to call that, adding pizazz. I like to think that the reason the early wine makers started adding this white varietal to an already proven red wine was because they were lost in their creativity and weren’t sure which way to go after years of producing wines and fending off their own “nada surf.”

As prim and proper as the wine world is these days, the absurdity of the varietal collaboration could have been done out of the creativity to either solving a problem or creation of something new. Now it is the standard. The members of Nada Surf seem to do this with every new album they release. They already have such great pieces of work, but the 10% of something a little extra, a little absurd, a little against-the-grain, makes Nada Surf 22 years strong and still going. I cannot wait for the next Nada Surf release and vinyl. 

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Vinyl&Wine 16: The Black Keys + King Estate Pinot Gris

There is a certain power and creativity that comes from duos. It doesn’t matter whether the duo is involved with arts, sports, business, you name it. When it comes to music, you don’t typically think of a band as a duo. They are more typically trios or more, purely to have enough hands to play all instruments required. But occasionally, groups of two have been successful, and with a stripped down presence, their true creativity shines through. They are forced to use different tactics to amplify a lack of rhythm or melody from extra band members. The rawness and shallow sounds are appealing and show off deep roots and soulful passions. One of the best duos playing today is The Black Keys from Ohio.

Formed in 2001, The Black Keys have elevated to elite rock n’ roll status now in 2014. It wasn’t always that way for the band. Even though they had released recording throughout the years on their own or on small labels, it wasn’t until 2008 that the Black Keys released Attack and Release, that the band brought in the help from an outside producer and created a full on studio album. The producer was Danger Mouse, the creative genius behind many collaborative projects including Gnarls Barkley and many other hip hop acts.  It was at this time when I moved to Virginia in the early summer two months after the Black keys released Attack and Release. If you live anywhere in Northern Virginia or south, you know how incredible uncomfortable the summers are with high heat and sticky humidity. I have upstate New York in my blood and that Virginia weather felt like kryptonite to me, so I rarely went outside that summer. Occasionally there would be cooler nights and I was would sit on my balcony of my first apartment sipping a glass of white wine listening to Attack and Release from inside. I would listen to it on repeat and loudly. I have a distinct association with this album and hot summer nights. If you listen this album, you can almost imagine the band playing inside of a hot and sweaty house with now air condition, singing their soulful songs to a small group of friends barely moving because all their energy has been sucked out of them by the day’s last rays of sun. I recently purchased the album on vinyl and with a little bit of extra crackle from the needle, the production is launched into a unique realm of another hallucinated world. With this vinyl, I need a counter balance like the King Estate Pinot Gris.

I was and still am into the richer styles of Oregon pinot gris. They have less acidic bite than a pinot grigio from Italy or leanness from an Alsatian one. One of my favorite is from King Estate. Located near Eugene, Oregon and not far from the Pacific Ocean, King Estate is set up in an ideal location to produce an aromatic and mildly viscous style of pinot gris. The grapes are stainless steel fermented and sur-lie aged for five months. If you don’t know what Sur Lie means, it is when a wine is aged without filtering out dead yeast cells after fermentation which creates a creamy/ viscous mouth feel.  (Dead yeast cells sound like the name of a Black Keys song.) On a hot summer night, wines like this are perfect by themselves, with food and friends, or with music like the Black Keys. As the heat and raw emotion from the band can boil your blood, the crisp and creamy aromatic King Estate Pinot Gris will act as the contrast and bring you back down to a level of comfort and happiness.

I have never been able to visit the wineries of Oregon, but it is on my winery bucket list. I know someday I will get there and I will be sure that have the Black Keys in my headphones as I travel through the Oregon hills. There are many rules when pairing foods and wines. One of them is a rule of contrast like with a salty food, try a wine with more sweetness, so each part of your palate is in balance. I.e. cave-aged blue cheese like Maytag Blue pairing with a sweeter style Riesling, port, or Sauternes is amazing. It works the same way with music pairing. Sound has a way of affected your whole being, whether its lyrics are connecting with an emotion or tones are elevating your energy levels and excitement, sometimes to stay in balance, finding a contrast is a necessity to maintain the experience. 

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Vinyl&Wine 15: Ben Kweller + Kunde Sauvignon Blanc

My love for the music of Ben Kweller goes all the way back to my first year in college. I stumbled upon a song called In Other Words on his Sha Sha release of 2001. It is piano ballad with country tinge to it. I was, and still, am into many different kinds of music. In all honesty, I am attracted to songs that can reel me in, with a crazy guitar lick, catchy chorus, anything that grips onto some feeling or emotion  in me. That song got me hooked on Ben Kweller.

I saw Kweller a lot in the years following. Most of the time, he was on some sort of indie tour playing the northeast. He was born in San Francisco, but family moved to Texas when he was only one years old. It is still where he resides today after some time living in NYC. It is easy to see where Kweller takes his influences from when listening to any one of his releases, including his most recent release called, Go Fly A Kite, which I picked up on vinyl over the summer. There are distinct overtones of Dylan, the Beatles, and many other greats from the 1960s, and all held above water with his Texas country dusty road pick-up truck traveling rhythm. Watching Kweller perform as a solo act and with a full band are both equally impressive. The amplified music from the full band brings energy to songs that work just as amazing when played solo and are lyrically deep. Listening to Ben Kweller on vinyl and hearing his new release is like meeting up with an old friend for a drink after years apart. You may be nervous that your old friend has changed and are not the same person that drew you to them in the past, but luckily; after minutes of listening to stories, you find yourself right back in the old routine, not missing a beat. I feel the same way when I open a bottle of Kunde Sonoma County Sauvignon Blanc when listening to Ben Kweller.

I have always had a strange relationship with sauvignon blanc. I am not a huge fan of the grassy, herbaceous, cat piss aromatic, and highly acidic styles like many new world regions tend to exploit. I like when producers show a little restraint and let the grapes speak for themselves. Kunde Vineyards does just that. Kunde is a huge mountain side estate. They produce numerous different varietals and sell a bunch off to really upper echelon producers like Duckhorn (I was told this when visiting a few years ago, not sure who else they are still selling to.)  I like all their wines and always have, but their sauvignon blanc as had this clean and crisp flavor that is attractive for night on the patio with friends, or sitting in front of my record player listening to Ben Kweller. When I open a bottle of the Kunde sauvignon blanc, I find comfort in consistency just like when I picked up Ben Kwellers Go fly A Kite on vinyl.

As humans, reflection is something we all do whether we practice with meditation or whatever sort of decompression methods we individually choose. I personally like using aids to take me to a memorable place. Listening to Ben Kweller and drinking a glass of Kunde sauvignon blanc transports me to a time and places that always makes me happy to remember. I suggest this practice for people in need of reflection or who just looking for an escape from the daily frustrations we all have. If you have a favorite long time musician and glass of wine that works for you, go for it, but if you don’t, you’ll find it when the pairing spontaneously happens. If you are looking for a great vinyl to check out and a great winery to visit and taste, Ben Kweller and Kunde vineyards are my recommendations. Both are full of soul and deep roots. 

Vinyl&Wine 14: Stray Cats + Penfolds Bin 28 Shiraz

The year 1982, my birth year, was an historic year in ways. In the wine world, 1982 produced some of the world’s greatest wines ever tasted, especially in Bordeaux. Those bottles are fetching some of the highest prices at auction ever right now. In the summer of 1981, MTV was introduced to the airwaves creating the prolific following year of the video music star. There was a short, yet extremely severe, economic recession that sent the financial world into an uproar. It was also the year my favorite band on earth release their second hit record, Built For Speed, by the Stray Cats. A lot of friends have asked me when I was going to write a Vinyl&Wine piece featuring the Stray Cats, and I never really have had a great answer for them. They all thought it would have been the first one written. Truth is, as a fan and Stray Cats geek, I’ve thought about this for a while and never thought I could do it properly. I love the music so much and know so much information about the band, that I couldn’t possibly figure out how to keep it scaled down to the format I’ve developed for these. So I have just decided just to keep it simple and straight to the point.

 I own multiple Stray Cat vinyl’s, but Built For Speed is the one that keeps coming back into rotation. Formed in Massapequa, NY by Brian Setzer, the Stray Cats were a rockabilly/ new wave band following in the footsteps of Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent, Chuck Berry, and Carl Perkins, but with a somewhat faster tempo and pronounced edginess. Built For Speed was the album that catapulted the band into rock n’ roll history. It was there third major release, first on EMI America. It was the first appearances of songs such as Rock This Town, Stray Cat Strut, and Rumble in Brighton. I have no doubt that you have heard of at least one of those songs. The album rose quickly to #2 on the charts and took the band around the world many times playing shows, television appearances, talk shows, stadium shows, and the band enjoyed the party that came along with it. Over the next ten years, the partying kept going strong, but following releases never had as much of a footprint on the music industry as Build For Speed ever did and subsequently broke up right around 1992. They did fully reunited for a tour of Europe in 2004. The story and timeline of the Stray Cats is pretty typical of many bands. They had a quick rise to fame, only to decline in popularity, and with their own personal relationships until it all eventually broke apart. What is interesting about the Stray Cats and, lead singer and guitarist Brian Setzer most importantly, is that they were able to reinvent a classic form of music and bring it to a younger new age audience.  Rockabilly was a popular form of music in the 1950’s and had all but died out because of the 60’s peace movements, and 70’s disco and anathematic rock movements. After the Stray Cats broke up and all members went on to solo projects, Brian Setzer was again able to revitalize an even older kind of music just like he had done before, swing and big band, with the Brian Setzer Orchestra.

Built For Speed is somewhat of a comfort vinyl for me. It is one I can put on; know all the lyrics and guitar licks by heart. Sometimes I play it as background music, or sometime I will sit right in front of my record played with vinyl sleeve in my lap listening. Many times, this is an afternoon vinyl for me, but at night when it comes on, it is usually when I am in a good mood and want to keep the “happy high” going. That kind of mood deserves a glass of wine.

Now I could easily pair this vinyl with a bottle of vintage 1982 Bordeaux, but frankly, I have only had one in my lifetime. It was a Leoville Barton.  It was extremely superb, but I just can’t afford a bottle like that these days.That is one of the downsides about being born in a fantastic wine year; buying a birth year wine when you are of age to drink is almost impossible unless you paid extremely well. I could pair it with a nice bottle of Long Island sauvignon blanc; Paumanok Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc comes to mind as a favorite of mine, but I don’t know if that is the best fit for this vinyl. Instead I am going to choose a grape that is a favorite of mine, Syrah or Shiraz. Penfolds Bin 28 Kalimna Shiraz is one of my favorites. From Australia, Penfolds is by far one of the overwhelming heavyweights of wine making and shiraz. The Penfolds Grange is typically regarded as the best of all Aussie wines. Like the Stray Cats and Brian Setzer reinvented a classic into something new, Penfolds was able to do the same with syrah. Penfolds has been around since the 1870s, so saying they “reinvented” anything is difficult, maybe reinvigorated is a more appropriate term. Wine is made in pretty much every country around the world with methods brought with early explorers and settlers. In 1844, Dr. Christopher Penfolds purchased the property where the vineyard still operated today. 100 years later, in 1945; Penfolds bought the Kalimna Vineyards in the Barossa Valley now being used to make the Bin 28 Shiraz. Along with the wide line up of wines produced at Penfolds, by the 1990’s, they were on the forefront of all Australian wine making and people all across the globe were taking notice and sales were skyrocketing. In 1995 famed wine critic Robert Parker said that Penfolds Grange, “is a leading candidate for the richest, most concentrated dry table wine on the planet,” solidifying its reinvigoration of the mighty shiraz among some of the world’s finest wines and leading grapes.

As I listen to Built For Speed by the Stray Cats, there is no question I have tried a lot of wines while enjoying their guitar licks and dancing beats. Penfolds Bin 28 Shiraz makes a beautiful pairing. It is an amped up Shiraz full of punch and pizazz, but its class and sophistication is validated by its years of training and technique like Setzer. Both the Stray Cats and Penfolds are lifelong hall-of-famers in my eyes. 

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Vinyl&Wine 13: Mose Allison + Burgundy

For as many genres of music that exist, we have as many favorite musicians. When it comes to jazz music there is only one musician that over takes my record player and my record collection, his name is Mose Allison, The Sage of Tippo. One of my favorite vinyl records released from him is Seventh Son. I recently went to Mose Allisons website and was disappointed to read the following on his tour page: “After 65 years of touring Mose Allison has retired from live performance.” I feel honored to have seen one of my favorite jazz/ delta blues musicians perform twice in my life, one of which was the most epic performance I have ever seen.

In the summer of 2007 I attended the Syracuse Jazz Festival with a friend who shared a mutual love for jazz and Mose Allison. It was a free two day event and that day the headliners were Dave Brubeck, Mose Allison, and Toots Thielemans. I had never seen any of them perform and was pretty excited. By the time we arrived, Toots was taking the stage and his chromatic harmonica skills blew me away. Mose was next. We found a great spot to watch the show and after waiting for thirty minutes for the stage crew to change the equipment, Mose took to the stage. He performed with a guitarist, bassist, and drummer. He was amazing and played many songs I knew. It was around 6pm and from behind the stage, dark clouds were rolling overhead and they were looking pretty ominous. It looked like a scene from a horror film and demons were coming to take over the earth. A perfectly sunny day was about to disappear in an instant. Mose and the bands backs were to the clouds. The winds began to pick up then small rain drops began to splash. The inevitable was about to happen.  The speakers shut off and the lights flicked on and off a few times settling at off as the rains began to fly harder from the side. The winds picked up so much I thought we were in the movie Twister. The entire audience took off and headed for shelter, and their cars. My friend had went to the car already. I didn’t want to miss Mose’s performance and decided to stay while he was still playing. The rain did not let up and hell was upon us. I took shelter under the sound engineer’s tent. They gave me the look as if to say, “Get the heck out of here,” but let me hang back because of the weather. This had all happened in a short few minutes, but Mose did not stop playing. We watched the rest of the band, who were all playing electric instruments and metal things, looking at each other probably wondering why the heck they were still playing. Mose, despite getting drenched and pelted from all angles with razor sharp rain drops, kept on playing his piano and singing into a microphone with power. It was unbelievable to watch. His clothes became heavy with water. All I could hear from my vantage point were the drums and faint piano, without electric amplification, all else was lost. As fast as the hell storm came rolling over, it began to pass. The rain slowed and breaks of sun began to drop rays on the stage. People began to break from their hiding places and venture back out to the stage, the lights came on, and after about 6 songs, the amplification burst back on in the middle of the song, seventh son. The crowd that had assembled exploded cheers for Mose and the band. Any smart stage manager would have dragged a performer off the stage for liability reasons, but Mose kept playing like Eminen kept rapping a capella-style at the end of 8 Mile when they cut off his music. His true delta bluesman color showed that day and I will always remember watching that old jazzmen punch a hell storm in the face.

His music has been covered by everyone from the Clash to Elvis Costello and Van Morrison to the Who. Mose is known as the Sage of Tippo, Mississippi where he is from. He is a wise grandfather to musicians all over the world. I play his music a lot in the house and the only fitting pairing for Mose is Burgundy wines, old Burgundy wines from France.

Burgundies can range in price from affordable to astronomical, and be very daunting to tackle, but ask any sommelier or wine geek and they will tell you their favorite wines are burgundies. They can be some of the most frustrating wines to confront in today’s market for a lot of reasons, but when you have a good one, you know why they are so coveted and why new world pinot noir and chardonnay producers try to emulate the wines from Burgundy. I will not pair my Mose Allison vinyls with a specific burgundy, because frankly, I am not tied down to just one favorite pairing. Some of the easier and more affordable ones on the market are Louis Jadot and Louis Latour. Emosin and Tollot-Beaut are some of my personal favorites and all age extremely well. I have always compared burgundies to wise grandparents. They work hard, have deep roots, and never disappoint. I could write a whole thesis on the beautiful wine region of Burgundy, France, but I will spare you and make the simple suggestion of visiting your local wine shop and having a conversation with your wine professional about Burgundy and their selections.

From one wise old sage to another, Mose Allison and the region of Burgundy will tell you some of the greatest stories you’ve ever heard. Their music and wine sounds simple, but in its raw form is more complicated than any of its followers. Enjoy this pairing and the company of these two greats.