I don’t get as excited anymore about upcoming concerts. Perhaps it is my conservative nature or old soul showing through, but even those all-star billed festivals don’t always rouse my neck hairs the way they used to; it takes magic when you get there to make the event enduring. There are a few major exceptions—M. Ward being one of them. I go “outta my head” every time I see have seen him perform. This is the first tour of his in a long time that I wasn’t able to purchase tickets, late to the show and shutout from a good time. I was forced to commiserate, playing the latest album—A Wasteland Companion—alone, in my living room. After spinning through the new record I wondered what would pair best with his scratchy timbre.
I made a conjecture for something that would be as mellow as the acoustic guitar-work while possessing those earthy characteristics and power that are as genuine as his lyrics, reaching for a Pinot Noir. I wanted old world, somewhere deep in Burgundy like Pommard in the Côte de Beaune, that often extracts a lot of power from the thin-skinned grape but remembered that I was working on a wine buyer budget. Instead, a domestically grown Pinot Noir became an obvious choice: Evening Land “Blue Label” Pinot Noir.
The Oregon based Pinot would be an acceptable substitute for Burgundy, based on the spice and underbrush that pin themselves to the prominent cranberry and red cherry flavors that are synonymous with the Pacific Northwest terroir. Also, the “Blue Label” is attractively priced ($21-24) for its pedigree.
I thumbed through my collection, skipping singles and going for some of my favorite full lengths that M had created. My first time seeing M. Ward, he performed from his then current album Transfiguration of Vincent where I had been made a fan by listening to his melancholy song “Undertaker.” I thought that this record would be the best place to prove my hypothesis. I would later segue into other works—Post-War and End of Amnesia—up until his most current album. My own private sound stage.
Uncorking the blue seven-fifty to the tune of “Duet for Guitars #3,” a Fahey-esque track that showed off an original composition rooted in tribute much like the wine. The aural homage to John Fahey, and maybe even Leo Kottke, was shared with the base level Pinot from Oregon that had a French hand (albeit French Canadian); Isabelle Meunier with help from other compatriotes and consulting winemaker Dominique LaFon (truly French) helped craft an exciting Oregon expression.
The heady and subjective experiment seemed to be paying dividends early on as I sipped the wine. Armed with soft tannins (medium -) cupping vibrant red fruits (raspberries, cherries, and strawberries), with dashes of cupboard spices and to keep it grounded, the organic soils that accompany some of my favorite Pinot Noir. That touch of earthiness lent itself nicely with the throaty delivery on “O’Brien,” which to me was the pinnacle of the combination.
The flavors of the Pinot did not diminish; the finish was long and continued to offer up more the further I went into the sound experiment. By the third disc the pairing seemed to be natural, both worked to elevate me to nirvana.
Successful and completely my own, it was shy only of getting to see M. Ward live but not by much. I felt that in place of going French, I had a suitable alternative because I was pairing it with domestic folk rock. The blend of M.Ward’s discography with Evening Land Pinot Noir from Oregon was seamless, bearing a common thread of rusticity in the most elegant way. After the last album played through and my spiritualized state wore off, I vowed to never delay on buying tickets for one of my favorite artists again. It really is possible to sip wine alone to a good tune and summon some magic without being a desolate drunk, but it makes me relish the concert experience more when I’m lucky enough to get there.