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.