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Saget SB

Happy New Year! I apologize for my absence toward the end of year (!) and am resolved to be more present, writing more, and fulfilling some of the themes I left on the backburner last year. Let’s get to it.

I’m sure most French listeners would appreciate the genuine timbre of Pete Seeger’s signing. I’m struck deeply by those old scratchy recordings, the phrasing and the sentiment of his lyrics—simple and effective. I wanted to find a wine to match—a wine so penetrating that it might strike a chord with me no matter the price or place. My first post of the New Year comes from humble beginnings, an everyday drinker from the Loire.

The Loire Valley is an enchanting and expansive zone in Northwest France, producing a great range of wines from the light, crisp and mineral-driven Melon Blanc in Muscadet to the vaunted Pineau de la Loire (Chenin Blanc) found in those delicious Quarts de Chaumes. It’s also the home of some of the greatest Sauvignon Blanc in the world, and though declassified, my sample bottle of La Petite Perriere Sauvignon Blanc from Saget La Perriere was ideal for accompanying my night spinning the hauntingly beautiful Almanac Singers record.

I unscrewed the seven-fifty, poured out a healthy six-ounce glass to the tune of “I don’t Want Your Millions, Mister (All I Want),” and analyzed the Vin de France for its character. Golden with medium tears (the beads of wine clinging to the glass) showing a fragrant bouquet (medium-plus intensity) of wet blades of grass, fresh-squeezed limes, green apple and minerals. On the palate it was dry with notes similar to the nose, and decent body (medium), balanced by refreshing acidity and possessing a good finish (medium).

Though Saget La Perriere is not a small-scale producer, they are family owned, passing through nine generations and where they do not own the land, they have longstanding relationships with the farmers they purchase from. For the price, the value-minded Sauvignon Blanc over-delivered. Most likely it would satiate those thirsting for Sancerre but unable to dole out the money for their favorite producers on a Wednesday evening. I think, like me, even Pete would’ve agreed that this was a charming white wine.

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.

In the opening of Haruki Murakami’s novel The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, the author makes mention of the finest musical accompaniment to boiling pasta, Rossini’s Thieving Magpie overture under the direction of Claudio Abbado, and that idea has never let me go. I began asking a battery of questions: What album would I spin while making pasta, or more pertinent to this blog, what wine would I sip with that Les Paul Trio vinyl?

Dilemmas: what music pairs with an unctuous Petite Sirah from Unti Vineyards, or what wine is best served with the latest Cake single? There is a lot in a wine that could, or could not jive with an album like too many drying tannins with a Mahler symphony, making the music more emotional than need be, or not enough body in a Pinot Noir to support the bombastic clamor of Sepultura. How about matching the land and the artist, it is easy when we think of Tom Waits, since he hails from Sonoma County, a land replete with amazing wineries, but that theory falls apart when I think of Glenn Miller. Lots of pitfalls.

The concept of pairing music and wine extends itself to the restaurant scene. When I am in a restaurant, especially drinking wine at one of my favorite boutique eateries in Los Angeles—Lucques—I begin to study the choices, judging how well the mood is complimented by the non-invasive-indie-esque music. They are pretty effective at marrying the two and I hope my efforts will be as fortuitous and rewarding.

Enthralled by the sweet melodies of the Magnetic Fields and their 69 Love Songs (it is February after all), I instantly think of my first love. But more pressingly, what would I drink with Stephen Merrit’s irreverent lyrics? Maybe something French—a little culture behind the wine, to go with the thought of the one that got away and still espouse the music perfectly. Perhaps a wine from Bandol, made of Mourvèdre—rustic and charming—but then I remember something more apt; a wine to mend the memories of an intense heartache and one of my favorite bands—a Beaujolais cru from Morgon.

The 69 Love Songs are a collection of tunes that run the gamut of emotions, upbeat and frolicking carelessly to little more than macabre fantasies, and with that vast spectrum, a wine adept at handling the minutest change in mood would be required; a wine synonymous with versatility.

The Morgon Cru from Marcel Lapierre sprung to mind. I have written about it a couple of times, remarking on its uncanny ability to pair with Holiday fare and simple enough to enjoy on its own or in the company of a Valentine. I feel this wine would be an ideal fit for all 69 songs.

Now my first foray into pairing wine and music wasn’t so hard, rather successful in fact. What remains is the more daunting task of pairing a lot of my country records like Bob Wills, Hank Snow and even Kinky Friedman and his Texas Jew Boys to the vin de pays. Going forward, it will be challenging to pair the nuances in terroir with various forms of music (Pearl Jam and Red Devil Merlot?) harmoniously. Haruki Marukami’s literature is rife with musical references, something emotional and familiar to him, and in essence I am writing this post (and the future series) with intent of engaging you by sharing something personal of mine and hearing about your favorite pairings of wine and music. I am now taking requests.

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Musical Accompaniment