Spin the Wheel: Indie Music Wine Pairings, Reverse Edition

This week I’m going to pick the music to pair with given wines. This first one was inspired by Brian from Norcal Wingman, who suggested on my previous pairing post that my Jeniferever music video, what with all the snow and the chilly-looking guy trudging headlong through it, would pair well with an Eiswein. I had to agree, but it got me thinking about reversing this process.

Instead of choosing the wine to fit the music, I want to try to find a song that is the aural equivalent of a certain specific style of wine. I approached this idea briefly when I paired a Tokaji with “And You Lied to Me” by The Besnard Lakes, using the complex layered-guitar outro as a metaphor for the finish of a fine wine. Consider this an expansion of that line of thinking. First up? The Eiswein. If Eiswein were a music video, what would it be? I’m thinking “A Jagged Gorgeous Winter” by The Main Drag.

First of all, I just want to point out that the lead singers in the band are dressed as Calvin and Hobbes, and the rest of the guys are dressed as Snow Goons. That sets the stage for one of the silliest music videos I’ve ever had the privilege of watching. The music combines whimsical guitar, subdued bass, and electronic drums with a playful synth backdrop. The fact that they have people playing real instruments even though much of the music is very obviously programmed gives it that adorable sort of playing pretend feel that just accentuates the childishness of the video.

The lyrics themselves are a stream-of-consciousness jaunt through various childhood winter activities juxtaposed with college drama. There is absolutely nothing dark or mysterious about what they’re singing. Sure, they’re singing lines like “all the lies you told about me they were totally totally totally true,” but the general feel is more that all these relationship problems can be cured by a snowball upside the head, Susie Derkins-style.

Because of the sweetness of the music and the winter theme, of course I’m picking this song to match the Eiswein. Since I’ve been encountering a lot of white wine pairings with these music posts lately (not surprising, since the majority of my work music is uplifting and light-hearted), I’m going to strike out into red wine territory with a Primitivo. Let’s find a song that can embrace the juiciness that is a big red ripened in the long, hot Italian sun. My money’s on something from Alkaline Trio. Let’s try “Stupid Kid.”

Alkaline Trio is one of those bands that never quite settles with you. They play such gleeful, energetic music with fairly innocent lyrics, but there are always these ridiculously dark, almost ungodly undertones to their music. This music video is an absolutely perfect example of their music. Matt Skiba, the lead singer and lead guitarist, seems just a bit too manic as he sings about making relationship mistakes as a youth. The music video begins innocently enough with a child who struggles to fit in and develops a crush on his teacher. The last 30 seconds of the video, however, are a kick to the gut with how twisted it becomes.

A Primitivo is a bright, juicy, potent red wine, but there are always dark fruits present that keep the flavor from being too giddy. The ample Italian sun offers a fantastic ripeness to the wine that differentiates it from its Zinfandel cousin in other regions. It still has the ability to creep up on you with a high alcohol content, and it’s just a bit heavier than its rustic red fruit flavors would suggest. I’m actually drinking one as I watch this video!

DIY Ethics in Punk and the Wine Blog Movement

Josh: Today, it is my great honor to welcome Matt Mauldin from Wineheimer, veteran of both the DIY punk scene and the wine industry. I’m calling on his unique perspective to help me flesh out some recent thoughts I’ve had on music and wine (which, as you know, I often blend together even without reason). Specifically, I’ve noticed a certain parallel between the evolution of DIY punk and the rise of wine blogging.

Punk used to be a cultural curiosity, small sects of closely-bound performers who amassed a dedicated, hardcore following in their various scenes (D.C., London, Richmond, Pacific Northwest, etc). At some point, and I almost want to blame the emo movement for this, even though it’s still my favorite musical movement, bands such as Rites of Spring and Embrace began softening the punk sound and inviting bands like Texas is the Reason, Sunny Day Real Estate, and The Promise Ring to appropriate the sound for a much more pop-friendly style. For example, compare Fugazi, circa 1988, to Brokencyde, circa an era that should soon be forgotten:

As soon as these bands achieved commercial success, the genre rather suddenly morphed into a widespread pop culture fixture that is an utter mockery of the DIY ethics that founded the punk movement. As someone who was a member of the punk scene during those years of upheaval, what was your experience?

Matt: The way the DIY culture morphed into the mainstream in the late 90′s and early 2000′s was just a link in a long chain.  Just as early psychedelic rock morphed into commercial arena rock in the 70′s; glam rock, heavy metal, and hard rock into hair metal; punk rock into commercial new wave; hardcore punk into crossover metal- then eventually leading to commercial crunch-core; grunge and 80′s indie into commercial alternative; DIY into commercial pop-punk and commercial “emo”.

Emo band Still Life

Whatever the subgenre is, no matter how radical the sound- it’s only one or two steps removed from commercialization.  The key event in this chain is how the original movement adapts to the commercialization.  With punk, after the original wave was commercialized it went underground with hardcore.  After the hardcore style more or less morphed into metal, “hardcore” became DIY.  DIY was a plethora of styles- mostly based in in the original tenants of punk and hardcore.

The two leading styles commercially that grew out of this were melodic or pop punk, and emo (with its various incarnations).  Both of these styles were easily commercialized once fanbases was established.  Since then, music on the underground level has mushroomed- there are so many styles and there is so much going on… I don’t see central movements anymore as much as I see loose collections.  What I’m saying is that with any of these movements, the sound can easily be manipulated.  It’s the aesthetic that makes it real.

My experience being a part of the 90′s DIY scene was more or less about refusing not to be a part of it.  When I played in Car Vs. Driver, we believed in the infrastructure.  It was a fulfilling way for us to operate.  There was no worrying about where we were going, or about much of anything other than communicating our music through our aesthetic.  We shunned most any potential entry way out of that world.  The business of our band was done on a very primal level.  And when it was time to move on, we ceased to exist.  We could have played just about any style of music; it was our aesthetic that made us a part of that movement.

Josh: So what you’re saying, then, is that, like any innovation, it didn’t take long for people to figure out ways to commodify your music scene. The irony, of course, is that a movement in music that was expressedly built around self-reliance and purity was becoming diluted in order to bring in outside support.

Screamo band Suis La Lune

Because I grew up during the last throes of the DIY scene’s “death,” I experienced this music in the other direction. I began listening to the commercialized bands, then working my way back through their influences until I reached the Guy Picciotto and Ian MacKaye braintrust.

The reason I brought up this music history, of course, is to compare it to what is happening to wine writing today. Now, more than ever, wine is becoming an everyday consumer’s alcoholic beverage of choice. With the internet aiding the spread of hype for certain brands, with shipping so simple and prevalent, any consumer or any shop can get their hands on just about any wine, if they have enough money and willpower. This has taken the appreciation of fine wines from a “club” mentality spearheaded by a few centralized experts to a disorganized wave of bloggers who, though they don’t have the world experience of professional writers, still offer up reviews and opinions for mass consumption on the internet.

This isn’t to say that either side is right or wrong, or that either group will be phasing out of power. They still serve their separate purposes, just as bands still exist that are dedicated to the original DIY ethics while their pop compatriots proudly dumb down the spirit of the music in the name of a dollar. Obviously, I have an opinion on which one is better, though I understand that both serve their purpose and can even appreciate certain pop bands. It seems to me that a similar attitude exists in the wine-writing world. Again, I was not around in the wine world when internet writing really took hold, so I’m deferring to your wisdom on this. How would you say this current trend of wine-writing compares to the punk scene 20 years ago? Any conclusions we can reach as to the future of wine-writing based on this phenomenon of commodification?

Matt: Your perspective on coming into the music in interesting.  As much as my peers may lament some of the more commercial directions of that music, how bad can it be if it brings new people back to the roots… where it all came from?  I should appreciate the fact that there are probably people like yourself somewhere out there who appreciate what happened during that time because they were exposed to it commercially and had the interest to get to the core of it.  Nothing stays the same forever- emo either commercialized and moved out of the underground, or the movers and shakers stayed underground the music grew and changed.

Screamo band I Would Set Myself on Fire for You

I’m still pretty new myself when it comes to the wine-blogging thing.  Obviously, the DIY aspect of blogging is comparable to the underground music scene of the 80′s and early 90′s.  People are creating viable information sources out of informal projects.  Real and credible sources of information are born out of people’s creativity and initiative.  In wine, I think it’s already carved out a niche as being a nice compliment to traditional and professional information sources.  What will be interesting to see is what new identities are created for wine information.. what will stick.  Do people want wine to be de-mystified?  Or is the beauty of wine the complexity and details of the story, cultivation, production, and enjoyment.

Will wine blogging uncover some new region, previously unknown, because of that voice in the wilderness?  It definitely brings up new ideas and interesting questions.  I think ultimately, the biggest and brightest voices will consolidate and figure out a way to commercialize it to the extent that they can make a living from it.  At that point, I think you’ll see the original waves of blogging appear more closely resembling the traditional sources.  But with the accessibility of the internet to the masses, I’m sure there will always be a reinvention of wine and other forms of blogging going on beneath the established surfaces…

Josh: My original perceived outcome was less rose-tinted; my initial concern was that wine blogging would become commercial shilling by part-time writers who make spare cash by accepting corporate sponsorship with certain caveats as to which wines they should review, not unlike chain wine sellers who require their employees to suggest certain brands over others. By asking you to draw these parallels, though, I now see the artist’s perspective of it:

Wine bloggers write because they are passionate about their wine, and while some may stray down the road towards being “friends with benefits” with distributors, that independent streak that made DIY punk so pure will also continue to drive the wine-blogging community.

I especially like your “voice in the wilderness” message. There are underrepresented regions in the US that are gaining publicity because of bloggers who have a pure passion for local wines. Virginia, Michigan, Texas, Georgia… these states (and dozens more) all have collections of wine bloggers who strive to make their region’s product internationally respected. As long as there are aspects of the wine world to be discovered, there will be discerning, dedicated wine writers who will fight to get the word out.

As a parting gift to all the discerning punk lovers out there, I’d like to present a live video of one of the bands keeping DIY alive today: Suis La Lune from Sweden:

Matt Mauldin is a Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW) and has been in the wine and spirits business for over 13 years.  He enjoys all things wine, as well as sharing his thoughts and ideas about wine.  He also is into punk rock and disc golf.  Please check out www.mattwineheimer.net for more.

Getting my Summer Addiction Fix: More Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc

The Back Story:

I like to think I’ve had a decent amount of wines in my day. I’ve had wine from 5 continents, almost 50 varietals, and I have in stock several wines from regions and varietals I haven’t tried before. So why, why WHY the hell do I keep drinking Sauvignon Blancs? Not just any Sauvignon Blanc, either, but New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs. Not just New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs, but Marlborough, New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs.

To feed my addiction, I had my local wine shop, Hillsborough Wine Company, special order me the rest of the Sauvignon Blancs produced by Barker’s Marque, the producers of which have been fairly dedicated to seeking out mentions of their product online. Thus, earlier this week, I picked up the Barker’s Marque 2009 Arona and 3 Brooms. I’ve already blogged twice about the ranga.ranga, so I didn’t need to order that one.

You’ve had a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, so you know what to expect, right? If not, the ranga.ranga post can serve as a reminder. Basically, grapefruit, puckering acidity, citrus, crisp flavor, clear color, a touch of herbs and grassiness. Residual sugar is typically 2 to 4 grams per liter, strictly in the dry, dry, DRY range. That combined with an acidity somewhere around the 3.30 pH mark makes it really feel like biting into a grapefruit.

The 2009 Barker’s Marque Arona adds 6% Riesling to a base of 94% Sauvignon Blanc to shoot all sorts of holes in that perception. I can honestly say I’ve never had a Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough that tasted quite like this. Quite like what? Well…

The Results:

Arona Sauvignon Blanc pouredThe appearance of the wine is a very pale straw. It’s not quite as clear as the ranga.ranga was but it’s definitely got the Sauvignon Blanc clarity.

The nose of the wine couples citrusy and tropical notes with a very cool alcohol scent. Lime, sage, and passion-fruit leap forward from the glass, pungent and ripe.

The mouth feel of the wine is fantastically smooth. The alcohol (13%) gives it a very light, delicate feel, which combines with the crisp acidity (3.30 pH) for a very active, tangy sensation. It just feels alive.

The flavor of the wine is where things get interesting. You know that typical Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc flavor? Yeah, forget about it. This wine has a hint of that citrusy grapefruit and grass, but the real show here is some soft, sweet, ripe tropical goodness. Rich flavors of nectarine and passionfruit dominate the palate, aided by a comparably potent sweetness (5.3 g/l residual sugar). The flavor is wonderfully juicy, like tropical fruit nectar. The finish brings us back to the terroir, with lime and sage lasting and lingering.

As the wine develops in the glass, coming closer to room temperature, the tropical fruits open up on the nose and become even more pungent on the palate. This is a very, very active wine.

For the Casual Drinker:

For those of you turned off by the aggressiveness of Sauvignon Blancs, especially New Zealand’s, you’ll want to give this guy a try. It’s remarkably tame compared to its local compatriots, though it still has a decent zing to it. The flavors are much less overwhelmingly acidic, providing a soft tropical base and a pleasant sweetness. Because the sweetness has increased, the pairing options differ from the typical exotic fare that a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc would match. You could handle a white meat or seafood entrée with a bit of spice, though the structure isn’t quite there for Asian cuisine.

The Conclusion:

There are many, many Marlborough Sauvignon Blancs out there. Most of them are very, very similar to each other. If you want to try something different, the Arona is a good place to start. It’s only $13, and it’s a bargain at that price. 8/10

In Case You Missed It:

Wine: Arona

Producer: Barker’s Marque

Varietal(s): 94% Sauvignon Blanc, 6% Riesling

Vintage: 2009

Residual Sugar: 5.3 g/l

Alcohol: 13%

pH: 3.30

note:: After I initially failed to list the vital stats on the wine I reviewed on Monday (i.e. what the wine was actually called), I revised my format to add this final section. Inspiration hails from Drink Nectar and Vinotology. This section will also keep me from being lazy about researching my wines. This stuff’s important, y’know?

Spin the Wheel: Indie Music Wine Pairings, Large Bodies of Water Edition

I’ve had a thing for unnecessarily long titles lately. You’ll have to forgive me on that front. This week, and I promise I had no hand in this, the two indie songs that came up on shuffle were Sparta’s “While Oceana Sleeps” and Jeniferever’s “From Across the Sea.” Hmm, Ocean… Sea… sounds like a parallel to me. Rest assured, however, that what I plan on pairing with these will be at least a bit more palatable than a glass full of brackish ocean water.

Sparta – While Oceana Sleeps

Sparta is a band with an interesting history. Way back in the day (read:: late 1990s) there was a band called At the Drive-In. They played ridiculously complex music, adding weirdly metaphoric and abstract vocals to off-rhythm drumming and an odd combination of punk and progressive guitar-work. However, there were two members, Cedric Bixler-Zavala and Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, the vocalist and guitarist, who were unsatisfied with their mainstream recognition as simply a punk band. They decided to start their own project, The Mars Volta, to pursue some ridiculously outlandish progressive orchestrations. The remainder of the band, Jim Ward, Paul Hinojos and Tony Hajjar, took their sound in an entirely different direction, towards a classic indie rock sound. Thus, Sparta was born. The band has split once again, with Jim Ward forming an alt-country band called Sleepercar with some guest musicians from previous Sparta releases as well as his father on bass. Go figure.

Sparta’s sound began with that dark passion leftover from At The Drive-In. Ward would play furious guitar riffs and shout-sing his vocals, employing direct lyrics that actively engaged the audience (“How can you sleep at night?”) on matters both personal and political. By the time they released the album Porcelain, however, their sound had seriously softened, employing a slower tempo and more melodic guitarwork. Ward began really exercising his vocal chops, returning to a more poetic, metaphorical lyric style.

If I were to match this band, both in history and content, I would pair them with a Pinot Blanc. Pinot Blanc, an on-vine mutation from the genetically unstable Pinot Noir, produces brilliantly-colored white grapes side-by-side with Pinot Noir’s dark berries. The flavors are suitable for either a dry, acidic style or a sweeter, tamer one, though that largely depends on terroir. As Sparta suddenly split from a darker, more intense parent, so does Pinot Blanc.

As far as the substance? You’re not going to get a world-class cellar-worthy wine from Pinot Blanc, but you will get a fairly safe, palatable wine just about every time. Sparta? Sparta may have a large following, but they’ve yet to release a hit single. Their music is pleasant, with a bit of variety, but still, you always know what to expect in a Sparta song. They’ll give you just a hint of stadium rock, a bit of punk, and a slice or two of indie, all delivered with earnest emotion. It’s certainly enjoyable, but by no means is it life-changing.

Jeniferever – From Across The Sea

Jeniferever is a band that I simply cannot hype enough. They’ve taken in a variety of 21st century-style influences: the vast, distorted soundscapes of post-rock bands like Sigur Ros, the staggeringly complex drumbeats of modern progressive bands like …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead, the saturated, pedal-aided hum of shoegaze bands like My Bloody Valentine; these are all very mature, orchestrated bands.

However… This band doesn’t reach that same level of maturity. The name, Jeniferever (Jennifer Forever… yes…) sounds like a band that has 15000 friends on Myspace with an average age of 14.77. This can partially be blamed on the fact that they’re from Sweden; English is not their first language. And to be fair to them, they’ve carved out a sizable fanbase in the indie/shoegaze scene. If I had to personify the nature of their style, their vocals and lyrics, it would look something like this:

Jeniferever is childlike in their innocence, endearing in their romanticized notions of life and relationships, attempting to put on the big-boy emotions with a pre-teen’s heart. While many modern bands intone that honesty must be brutal and ugly, Jeniferever approaches hard truth from an almost resigned perspective: if it’s unpleasant, why worry about it? A running theme in their music is the inability to accept loss, and the loss is so vague it could be anything: childhood, love, home, a friend, life. When they do get specific, such as the song “Avlik,” the dedication to youth and inexperience really shines through:

He held his breath to hold your hand,
To hear the words to the picture he’d seen.
Watched how you reached for your things to leave,
To walk a block to the car that would take you home
To where you belong.
These hours just made it worse,
For now you’re far from here.
But oh, it was worth it;
‘Cause you’ll always be close to his heart.
You’ll always be close to his heart.

Sappy, straight-forward, Jenifever calls for a Gewürztraminer. If Jeniferever is the aural equivalent of a candy-smeared child handing you a bouquet of flowers, a Gewürz is that in wine. Some people think it’s the greatest thing ever; others are utterly put off by the experience. If you’re someone who can absorb a mouthful of overwhelmingly saccharine indulgence, you’ll get along fine with either of these offerings.

Virginia Wine Tour: Chateau O’Brien

Day two of my Virginia wine tour took me to Chateau O’Brien, in western Fauquier County. Picture’s worth a thousand words, right?

Entryway to Chateau O'Brien

Entryway to Chateau O'Brien

They set the stage right… The walk up to the entrance of the tasting room is lined with planted, tended grape vines. Like Breaux Vineyards, the overall feel of the facility is that of a home, with the Cellar Collection tasting room attached to an open kitchen, the Classic Collection tasting room in a 2-tiered sitting room, and an enclosed deck designed for intimacy.

Debbie and Howard O’Brien were an absolute delight to interact with, each in a different way. Both exhibited a remarkable passion for their wines, though Debbie was much more personal and intimate in her discussion while Howard was much more authoritative and instructional as each conducted their respective tastings. Debbie deftly handled the Classic Collection, their more everyday wines, while Howard presided over the Cellar Collection, their specialties and cellar-worthy wines.

Fireplace Room at Chateau O'Brien

Fireplace Room at Chateau O'Brien

Again, before I get too long-winded about the aesthetics, let’s get into their wines.

Classic Collection

2007 Northpoint Rosé – Tastes like a sorbet, off-dry, with delightfully crisp lemon and peach flavors and strawberry candy on the finish. Color is a very light red with a peach tint at the edge. It has a very active, pleasant acidity that practically dances in the mouth. It’s relatively full-bodied with a subdued lemon drop nose. $20.00 is a very fair asking price. 8/10

(to interrupt, I purchased a bottle of the Rosé in addition to a bottle of the Late Harvest Tannat, and it barely lasted 24 hours at home. I had to pop the cork on it with a grilled meal of Caribbean-style salmon, garlic-potato-stuffed yellow bell peppers, and marinated asparagus. It was one of the best wine pairings I’d had in awhile. This wine really brought out the foodie in me. Look at that color!)

Meal pairing with the Northpoint Rosé

2008 Northpoint White – 80% Pinot Grigio, 12% Viognier, 8% Petit Manseng. Fermented in stainless steel, this wine exhibits massive citrus on the attack with a healthy acidity to match. Crisp minerality and tropical flavors also present themselves, and there’s a very distinct honey on the finish. The nose is very subtle as it exhibits these notes. A good entry into their whites at $20.00. 7/10

2006 Virginia Chardonnay – An oaky Chardonnay that manages to please. The flavors from the oak are subtle, and the wine exhibits a very light nose of toast and butter. The toasty, buttercream flavor also matches the smooth, full texture very well. 6/10

2008 Buddy’s Bistro Red – A very light reddish-purple in the glass, it exhibits a strong raspberry nose and flavor. The finish is peppery but not unpleasantly so. The flavor is overall a bit light, a bit simple, and a bit hot. For $20.00, it’s a solid 6/10.

2006 Northpoint Red – A deep red with a purplish tint at the edge, the wine exhibits a beautifully bold dark fruit nose. The flavors are all dark fruit, blackberries and dark cherries, and the long finish has a rich, ripe plum characteristic. The last three words I wrote in my tasting notes? Fantastic. Well-structured. Clean. About as good as you can get for $24.00. 8/10

2008 VA Apple Wine – Made from apples hand-picked from nearby orchards, the apple wine is very smooth and crisp, with a pure, ripe apple flavor. Not sweet like apple juice and not dry like apple cider, it has a great balance for a dessert fruit wine. A bit pricey for a fruit wine at $20.00, but it’s worth it. 7/10

Buddy, the Official Mascot of Chateau O'Brien

Buddy, the Official Mascot of Chateau O'Brien

Cellar Collection

2005 Virginia Chardonnay – Has a sweet tropical nose and flavor with notes of banana and butterscotch candy, a result of 9 months in American oak. Excellent alcohol structure against a full, beautiful flavor. A phenomenal example of the proper way to oak a Chardonnay, and a fairly inexpensive lesson in those regards at $24.00. 8/10

2006 Reserve Chardonnay – Another school of thought in oak with 14 months in French oak. A good balance of butter, toast, and vanilla. Very light and creamy, slightly nutty, with a beautiful sweet cream on a long finish. $29.00 nets you a solid white wine. 7/10

2006 Northpoint Red Cellar Collection – 41% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Petit Verdot, 14% Malbec. Round dark fruit flavors, amazing complexity on the finish, very smooth and velvety, an absolute delight at $39.00. 7/10

2006 Limited Reserve Tannat – Very dark, deep reddish-purple, with a bright, ripe blackberry nose. Flavor is huge, aggressive, with a flavor of fresh dark fruits. Very well balanced. My words? “Chalky, velvety, sublime.” As Howard said, Virginia is built for Tannat. Definitely an investment at $69, but it’s one of the best wines I’ve had in the United States, let alone Virginia. 8/10

2007 Late Harvest Tannat – Exploding with dark fruits, rich, ripe blackberry and raspberry. It’s airy, not syrupy, with 4% residual sugar and 18% alcohol. Let’s go to the winery’s website for the details:

No wine language can so eloquently express the powerful elegance of this wine. The result of superb viticulture, patience, and discipline for harvest timing and sound winemaking, this subtly sweet Tannat blatantly expresses the underestimated potential of red wine in Virginia. Natural sugar accumulation, during ripening, reaches a level beyond the capacity of a natural yeast fermentation, resulting in a wine with 18% alcohol and a slightly perceptible sweetness.

Yeah, that sounds about right. It’s $69 for a 750ml bottle and worth every penny, especially for such a rarity in the wine world. 7/10

Hey, tasting through this line-up, I was in love. They haven’t been on the map for very long either (first vintage in 2005), so their wines should only improve. Word is spreading about this winery… the tasting rooms were busy, not crowded, but busy, for the majority of the time I spent there (about 4 hours).

If you ever find yourself in the area, make sure you stop by Chateau O’Brien. They’re another great example of the potential for wine in Virginia.

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