Friday, 23 November 2012

Do wine and music mix?

If you tune in to Classic fm on a Sunday afternoon between now and Christmas your ears will be massaged by the unmistakeable and mellifluous tones of Simon Callow (he of Four Weddings fame) as he embarks on a musical travelogue. The plummy voiced actor and writer (I specify, lest there be any confusion with the high-waisted trouser wearing creator of X Factor, Simon Cowell) plays a selection of classical music tunes, focusing on a particular part of the world each week.

Thanks for the tip, you're thinking, but what, prey, is the connection with wine? At points along his musical journey, Simon Callow makes mention of a suitable glass of wine to have to hand as you listen to the music. Laithwaite's, the wine merchant, is the sponsor of the programme, dubbed Tasting Notes, and listeners can order a taste-along case of wines mentioned in the programme.

Last week listeners travelled, virtually, through Hungary and enjoyed some of the best known pieces of music to emerge from that country, with a recommendation of a glass of a Laithwaite's Hungarian Pinot Grigio to accompany them. In the second half of the program Simon moved on to a tour of Spain, a glass of Navarra rosé in hand.

The thinking behind the show's format is that listening to an appropriate piece of music can enhance the experience of drinking a particular glass of wine – and a glass of wine can certainly enhance one's listening pleasure. What of the science of it? Well, there isn't any really, but there is no arguing with music's ability to alter our consciousness; to heighten the senses. I know that certain songs have the ability to transport me to a certain time and place from my past. And if drinking wine isn't in some way altering our consciousness, then we must be doing it wrong.
Classical music and wine is all very well, but what if you're a bit more low brow and popular culture in your tastes? I have to confess to being something of a classical music numpty; my collection comprising the predictable mixture of Vivaldi's Four Seasons, Mozart's Requiem and a couple of operas.

Listening to Classic fm this week, however, has inspired me to try out my version of music and wine matching, but based on my own musical tastes.

There are myriad theories about how to match wines with food: from matching the flavours and “weight” of the dishes you are eating with your wine selection, to using the wine instead to create a contrast and to somehow “cut through” the food flavours, and many more in between. I've taken inspiration from this clearly unscientific approach to come up with my own wine and music matches.

If you are listening to Coldplay (and I understand that some people do) and wish to embrace the idea of matching the feel of the music to the wine, then you might pair the banal ubiquity of Chris Martin and his merry men with a corresponding wine. And nothing says banal ubiquity in wine terms like Pinot Grigio. However, the two together sound like a recipe for narcolepsy, so it might be safer instead to choose a wine that will act as an antidote to the whale music and go for something bracing, zesty and full of life – a bone dry Clare Valley Riesling from Australia springs to mind.

Drinking anything with a sparkle, but most especially Champagne, betokens celebration. But sometimes you don't have anything to celebrate particularly, but fancy the Champagne anyway. For such an occasion, the jaunty nihilism of The Smiths' “There is a light that never goes out” feels right:

If a double-decker bus crashes into us,
to die by your side is such a heavenly way to die.

Or if the thought of a violent death, even when accompanied by so much jolly, jangly guitar, is too much of a downer, then a more conventional music choice might be Badly Drawn Boy's up-beat “All Possibilities”.

Is there a style of music that harmonises naturally with red wines, which are surely what most of us crave at this dark and cold time of the year? For me the rich velvet tones of Nina Simone suggest a glass of something red and robust. Nina spent her final years in the south of France, so a drop of complex, rich and powerful Châteauneuf-du-Pape would be a fitting candidate.

There are of course, many songs which mention wine and drinking which suggest an obvious link between music and wine. Popular though singing about drinking may be, it is not without its pitfalls. Joni Mitchell's boast that:

I could drink a case of you
And still be on my feet

on her classic album, Blue, would surely fall foul nowadays of sensible drinking guidelines. Perhaps she should have gone on to specify that she meant a case of alcohol free beer. Likewise the popular Cockney sing-along “Roll out the barrel” might need to be modified along the lines of:

Roll out the barrel
We'll have a barrel of fun.
Roll out the barrel
We've got the blues on the run.
Just 2 units for women
And 3-4 for the men.
No binge drinking from the barrel
For the gang's all here.

And Ricky Martin, in Livin' la Vida Loca describes the song's temptress thus:

She never drinks the water and makes you order French Champagne.

French Champagne? Does he not know that the body charged with protecting the Champagne name spends many Euros every year to ensure we only ever apply it to sparkling wine made in the approved method within the designated Champagne region in France? Ricky, you may be an expert on Latin-tinged pop, but when it comes to understanding the French Appellation Contrôlée system, you have A LOT to learn.

Simon Callow's Tasting Notes programme runs until 23rd December on Sunday afternoons from 3-5pm.

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