Music and Wine: two of the finer things in life, and a damn good combination, if you ask me. Focusing on slowing down and savoring the things that come to us seems to be a good approach this time of year as the roar of summer begins to fade into the rearview mirror. Sitting down at a table and enjoying the summer bounty with the knowledge that that freshness and abundance are fleeting makes it that much more special. So too does opening a bottle of wine reserved for a "special occasion". The fun of buying a new record or CD, bringing it home, and listening to it from beginning to end, then putting it on repeat until certain we have the lyrics and melody lines memorized falls also in that same vein. What these things all have in common is that appreciation of them requires some dedication of effort and awareness. How much of that are we in danger of losing in this new world of instantly downloadable/streamable singles, where the lyrics are available with a quick google (although good luck trying to find the credits for the musicians and studio engineers who helped produce that music!) and the prices (when they're even paid for at all) are cheaper than a cup of coffee?
In wine tasting, the idea is to try to absorb and enjoy as much about the wine in front of you as possible, to understand it on multiple levels. First the color, what that says about the grapes and the age of the wine. Then the aromas, the "nose" of the wine - what do they indicate about what's to come? What fruits do they invoke (oddly, "grapes" are rarely one of those fruits, one of the alchemical wonders of the amazing things humans can create with good old Vitis Vinifera)? Is the cherries and pepper of pinot noir? The grass and grapefruit of sauvignon blanc? Berries, roses, and limestone in a cabernet franc rosé from the Loire? Finally the actual taste of the wine- do those flavors carry through? What new flavors may emerge? How much acidity is there to make your mouth water and cleanse the palate? Are mouth-drying tannins (like in a strong cup of black tea) present on the finish to make the wine linger and perhaps offset any rich dishes or meats you may be eating with it? It takes a bit of practice, and constant commitment to slow down and notice what's going on in the glass to get the most out of it.
Foodies also take this approach when they remind us to slow down and really notice what's on our plate. Perhaps we could also try to be more mindful of what goes into our music, the way we pay attention to our food and drink: on multiple levels. (Of course there are delightful exceptions- foods, wine, songs not meant to be deeply focused upon but simply and lightheartedly enjoyed as they come in a more casual fashion!)
So if you don't already, the next time you crack open your favorite tunes, try committing to noticing the layers and nuances of what's happening sonically. Are there any metaphors or subtext behind the lyric? Are there instrumental melodies: hooks and riffs, but also countermelodies being used to support the overall sound? What role is each instrument playing and why? How do the dynamics contribute to the overall impact? Is the production lush or austere? How does the song make you feel? I believe connecting the visceral and intellectual appreciation of music (and wine! and food!) can only deepen the experience we have with it and add to the overall enjoyment!
And since we're on the subject, one of my favorite wine pairings also happens to be one of the most simple: a big bowl of buttered popcorn with a nice, oaky chardonnay. You'll want real butter on the popcorn for this (don't be stingy!), and a new-world style (like California) chardonnay to give you more "buttery" oak than the French versions will. Butter with butter: bring it on! The playlist for this combo should be whatever makes you happy!
Happy Late Summer!