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Nov 19, 2017

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James Taylor Quartet; Pizzicato Five; Liz Phair…
by S. Duda
Magazine Issue: U.S. Vol. 2.2

Music and wine -- together. The more the thought is savored, the more sense it makes. Like music, a glass of prime vino is nothing if not a collection of notes composing a profound and literal truth. Blending the many into one. An entity fired by the spark and genius of the artist. Wine. Music. A true and beautiful thing. The mind reels.

James Taylor Quartet
(Hollywood/Acid Jazz)

Perhaps my favorite blend lately has been the James Taylor Quartet's Creation (Hollywood/Acid Jazz). The JTQ -- not to be confused with "Sweet Baby" James Taylor -- has consistently delivered the juiciest chunks of super hip retro soul available in the free world. Normally this stuff, with its heaving Hammond B3 organ, funky fine horn charts, blazing instrumental grooves and hipster swing, would be called acid jazz. But in the hands of the JTQ (not even a quartet, but a sextet -- the nerve!) it's renamed "cop funk." It's a tag entirely appropriate considering the boss 1970s vibe emanating from this platter. The JTQ remakes "The Theme from Starsky and Hutch" as well as the "Dirty Harry" theme in ways that set a smoldering retro fire that's smoky cool and oddly contempo. Back to the future, baby!

It takes a wine unafraid, bold and altogether groovy to stand up to the get-down, shake-your-booty rigors of the James Taylor Quartet. Bearitage California Red Table Wine should do the trick. Squeezed up by Gundlach-Bundschu, Bearitage is a fun and funky (remember: in a wine/music column, funky = good) table wine. It's boisterous, kinda rowdy and a kick to drink. The elements of this blend aren't listed, but there's a deep sweet fruit tucked into the mix. Most wineries can brew up a pleasant/boring blend, but Bearitage goes beyond, showing interesting layers and a decidedly offbeat appeal. There is a nugget of pure greatness buried in this wine. Because I so want to uncover that mysterious element, it's often too easy to take great swigging gulps. At about $10 a bottle, that's only about 43 cents a swallow!

Ca'del Solo's Big House Red 1996 is another righteous table wine that can be yours for a mere ten spot. This "Mediterranean blend" includes just about any red grape you'd care to name: carignane, syrah, grenache, zin, souzao, nebbiolo, refosco and mourvedre. I'm gettin' strawberry and raspberry fruit here and again -- that deep smoky sweet fruit. Right on.

Pizzicato Five
Happy End of the World

Imagine you're a guest on the Mike Douglas Show, circa 1974. You've just co-starred in a made-for-TV movie or something. All of the sudden Mike introduces the show's musical guest, a couple of kids who've taken the world by storm, remarkably, from their home base in Tokyo. You turn your skull to get a look, and whadda-ya-know, it's Pizzicato 5! I wish, after catching some of his old reruns on cable recently, that Mike was still on the tube. He featured the likes of James Brown and Johnny Cash cheek-to-cheek (if you know what I mean) on his couch. If he was still broadcasting, the Mike-meets-Pizzicato 5 scenario may have just panned out. Think of it: poppy, puff-ball disco and day-glow DJ moves getting down with a leisure-suited Mike.

P5's new platter, Happy End of the World (Matador), demonstrates why there is so much to love about this Japanese combo. They're loaded with brilliant pop sensibilities, insanely clever and catchy sing-alongs and up-to-the-moment dance floor moves. Sure, it's goofy. Yeah, it's lighter than air. Live a little.

At first listen, you might not think Pizzicato 5 is a wine band. After all, Midori is sponsoring their current tour, and they seem so "cocktail." But have you ever tried Brachetto d'Acqui? It's a slightly effervescent, sweet and juicy glass of pure Italian sunshine. This is not really a sparkling wine, and nowhere near a syrupy as an Asti Spumante. It's more like a zippy, happy melody that somehow got trapped in a wine bottle. There are many producers of this stuff. I can personally vouch for Giorgio Carnevale (about $15). A single bottle will supply a week's worth of strawberry thoughts.

Lunatic Harness

I don't know how to break this to you, but electronic music is getting pretty popular. I'm not kidding! Suddenly, the dumb and dorky word "electronica" is being caressed by all the in-the-know lips. Before someone has even explained the difference between trip-hop and drum-and-bass, there are thousands of bands with names you've never heard before playing instruments requiring a Ph.D. in electrical engineering. Many old cow traditionalists have mooed long and low over this development, afraid to wander into the cyber-delic pasture. A tip from the tricky world of wine consumption applies here: stick with the good labels (Ninja Tune, Astralwerks, Moonshine), and you'll be fine.

Among the best new releases in the tomorrow world of electronics is Lunatic Harness (Astralwerks) from the band µ-Ziq. Actually composed of one guy, Mike Paradinas, µ-Ziq (pronounced you-zeek) creates an electronic music delicate to the point of shattering into a million glorious, gleaming shards, yet sturdy and altogether "real." µ-Ziq is an absolute master of combining disparate elements into the arcing, vaulting whole. A µ-Ziq tune is composed of a thousand "small" sounds -- vibes, rattles, skittering drum tracks, soaring synth washes and bass tones -- that are deep and resonant. These noises evolve in plain sight into tracks that are ambitious, sprawling and not necessarily as self-conscious and pretentious as a lot of electronica can be.

Lack of pretension is one of the many joys of California zin. A truly fine zin is comfortable in its own skin. It's strong, easy, not afraid to tell the truth or to make the bold statement. And at this point, selecting a zin is fairly simple: 1995 was a great year for the California variety. There's a lot of it and if not a downright bargain, a worthy bottle could be considered a forgivable splurge -- a slightly wild hare. Ravenswood's 1995 Vintner's Blend zin can be had for the cost of a good micro six pack. Ridge's 1995 California Zinfandel Sonoma Station will run you the price of two six packs. Of the two, I prefer the Ridge. Actually a blend of 75 percent zin with a few well-aimed splashes of carignane, alicante and petite sirah, the wine comes off as a rich, sweet mouthful. The dominant flavor here is dark cherry. If you're not a big fan of sweeter wines, you may be able to tolerate this due to some rather hearty tannin and yummy levels of dark, gooey goodness. Sonoma Station has gotten some mixed reviews in other press. Not here. I love this wine and would hoard it all if I had a million dollars. I don't have that much dough, so I buy Ravenswood's zin blend. This is a bottle a with a little more fight in it than the Ridge, but still, the warm berry, oaky and peppery flavors allow it to cut through your most outrageous garlic concoction. There's an herbal thing happening here, which gives room for pondering the deep thoughts and savoring the good deal you undoubtedly got on this bottle.

Eric Matthews
The Lateness of the Hour
(Sub Pop)

Eric Matthews If there is one word I'd use to describe the music of Eric Matthews, that word would be plush. Matthews is the latter-day master of the fully orchestrated pop song a la Burt Bacharach or late-period Beach Boys or Beatles. His new CD, The Lateness of the Hour (Sub Pop), may be the most apropos to wine drinking in this entire column. It's thoughtful, refined, sophisto, smart and exquisitely of-the-moment in a way that's hip, classy and tasteful. Matthews, a multi-instrumentalist, backed at times with an entire orchestra (!), possesses the sexiest rasp/whisper since Chet Baker and an equally dope sense of style. Add to that a suave elegance and tasty wordplay and you have a CD that transcends the whims of mere pop charts and climbs toward a music for (cool) adults by a very cool adult. S'lovly.

In the same way that Eric Matthews will turn heads with his unconventional professional pop wisdom, David Wynn South Eastern Australia Unwooded chardonnay will perk up taste buds with its wholly singular blast of juicy roundness. Here's a chard bottled without the blessing of oak. I don't know if Mr. Wynn is fermenting this stuff in some futuro carbon fiber cask or in a bunch of plastic tubs, but whatever the vessel, the stuff is a kick to glug down. Here's a bottle not afraid of its roots -- a humble but lovable green grape. But wait: that's a good thing. Within that little juice sack lives a universe of possibilities. The unwooded chard is clean, light and, dare I say it, pure. There are many red-heads out there who will dismiss this stuff as glorified fruit punch. Phooey to all that! Here Wynn has presented a chard with a profound difference. That alone is reason enough to search this bottle out. That fact that there are hints of green apple, green grape and smells of those long lovely sunsets in here is just gravy. Get it while it's fresh!
There's usually light jazz playing in my vintage cellar. Soft, mellow stuff. It seems to go well with the candlelight shining through my antique crystal lamps. Such a welcome, quaint respite after the long walk through my gardens.

Yeah, right.

Actually, I don't have a wine cellar. I hoard a couple cases in an apartment "storage area." It's packed in there with bike frames, vinyl LPs, camping gear, etc. I keep the wine on the floor in case of an earthquake. You never know. So no, there's no wine cellar. There's never any jazz playing down there. It's a dumpy basement -- dank, dark, creepy. But when I emerge from an expedition to that cellar, you better believe it's a special evening. There's a boss bottle in my paw and something classic on the Victrola.

Chet Baker. Now that's the hitter I want leading off on the night of the big game. The Italian Sessions, originally issued in 1962 and remastered and re-released last year on RCA, serves as a gorgeous introduction to Chet. Baker, a figure that defined the bad-boy-with-angelic-chops image so prevalent in "cool jazz," is in fine form here. His soft sketches on "These Foolish Things" seem to magically dim the lights in the room. On his version of Thelonious Monk's "Well You Needn't," Baker is full of bounce and sass. On the vamping "Star Eyes," his whispering trumpet glides and purrs with a cool, cocktail current. There's something hopelessly romantic about Baker that I can't resist. On The Italian Sessions, he swings effortlessly and with grace. There's a sheen coming off this music that carries the same eroticism as eager perspiration on a warm night. Ahh, bliss.

The 1995 Gloria Ferrer Carneros chardonnay has grace, too. It's a chard that's taken its time. It's not been pushed and bullied about, rather it sits in the bottom of the glass composed, sure. There are wonderful wafts of vanilla and tropical fruit floating through this wine. They come to the tongue rather slowly, wandering up and announcing themselves in that coy, quiet but undeniably irresistible way. This must be love!

If what I read is true, another reason to cellar (as opposed to "experience") your wine is to make it better. The theory is, throw it in the basement, shut the light off, close the door, forget about it. Time passes. Couple years down the road there you are mumbling to yourself, "Hey, I almost forgot about this one..." At least that's how it works in other magazines. Like I said, my "facility" is a far cry from Andrew Lloyd Weber standards.

Pop music never seems to defy the gravity of time with the same fortitude as a fat-assed red. The LP that just last summer was so darn amusing now sounds dry and used up. The melodies that were once catchy now sound trite, and those clever lyrics just seem dumb. However, if a pop LP can withstand repeated listening over a long period of time -- let's say five years -- that LP has earned a place in the library of truly righteous tunes. Liz Phair's Exile in Guyville is just about to earn the coveted five-year tenure. When it was released in 1993, nobody had really heard of Phair. Within months however, critics were calling Exile a defining moment in the history of rock and sexual politics. Exile outlined figures wrestling with love, sex, power and relationships. That Phair managed to make her music sexual, tough and uncompromising underlined its seriousness. Aside from Phair's celebrated, tough-girl vocabulary, Guyville is also a terrific rock record. Phair's thin guitar matches her flat, soft voice in ways that seem to make it more sad, more funny, more pissed off.

I can't wait five years for Frog's Leap 1995 Napa Valley Zinfandel. I dig it now, as in right now. The thought of throwing even one bottle of this in a cellar is almost enough to make a confirmed zin freak bust down and weep. A glass of this, given appropriate breathing/swirling time (about two minutes/20 swirls will do, I reckon) is like stepping into a full sense-a-round black raspberry experience. This wine, though truly soft and refined, is also very much alive. It oozes with that wild, sun-warmed fruit while finishing with a delicious sweet tickle and tannin soul kiss. If I were to try and store this, I'm sure it would simply ride up the elevator, walk down the hall and pour itself while I sat on the couch. But here's a thought: Say one bottle did end up in the cellar. Say you found it Thanksgiving 1999. That's smart.

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