In these unusual times, we all need a lift from time to time. As a change to my usual wine reviews I’ve decided to start a fun and irreverent series on matching wine and music. The basic idea is that I give participants:
- A piece of music –> they suggest a wine to go with it, with an explanation
- A wine –> they suggest a piece of music to go with it
It’s all for fun, so please don’t slag off anybody’s taste music (or wine!) Thanks to Michelle Williams for the inspiration – she has been matching songs to wine for years on her Rockin Red Blog.
For the 14th episode of The Frankly Wines & Friends Wine & Music Series we head back to England with the irrepressible polymath Lee Isaacs. Not only does this bloke live and breathe wine, he also has a fabulous collection of shirts and plays a mean axe! By axe I mean guitar (and probably other instruments, knowing Lee). If anyone was the most apt person to write a guest post in this series, it’s Mr Lee Isaacs.
Now I’m not a diehard aficionado of The Stones, but their standout track for me is Gimme Shelter. This is the group that absorbed The Blues through imported LPs and ended up taking it back to the Americans, both in their own music and the limelight they shared with Blues legends.
Lee spreads the gospel about wine over several social media platforms – which gives us mere mortals an opportunity to enjoy his shirts and his music – but he’s also generous in praising other communicators including Katie Jones, so I thought this would be the perfect wine to pick for him.
I was chuffed when Frankie asked me to write a piece matching wine and music for his site, for two main reasons. Usually the only form of writing people ask me to do for them is filling in those legal forms the prevent me from playing the guitar within a ten mile radius, but also because wine and music are two of my greatest loves in life. They are both uniquely subjective and conjure up emotions and memories beyond our control. They have the power to weaken us at the knees or make us feel like anything is possible. Wine and music both have an incredible power over our soul and…I’ll stop; you get my drift.
The Rolling Stones – Gimme Shelter
Frankie’s opening musical gambit came in the form of The Rolling Stones’ Gimme Shelter, from their 1969 album (also their best) Let It Bleed. The song sees Keef playing a portentous riff in open G while Mick Jagger and Merry Clayton trade ever darker lyrics about an impending storm of violence. This is The Stones at their very best; more than just dirty, grimy (so wrong, it’s right) blues, but deep and searing social commentary. The song is the death cry of 1960s peace and love and a dark vision of the dystopia that lay around the corner. It could have been written yesterday. Mick’s refrain of ‘If I don’t get some shelter, I’m gonna fade away’ could be any of us right now. It opens gently enough with an inviting, almost light, blues motif but it quickly builds to something much more brooding and enveloping. By the end of the song you need a breather, a chance to reflect on exactly what it all means.
But what wine to pair with this greatest of Stones tracks? Malbec may well be a superstar today, but that’s not always been the case. It was not Argentina’s most planted variety until 2006. In fact, previous to that it had been a bit of a workhorse, a variety that had yet to find it’s truest expression and was in danger of fading away without some shelter. That shelter was provided by Nicolás Catena Zapata. He gave it shelter by taking it as high as he could, planting his Adrianna Vineyard in Gualtallary at a breath taking altitude of 1,500 m.a.s.l. This was a call to arms for other producers to not only revisit Malbec but also to take on the challenge of high altitude grape growing. Nicolás saw a hard future ahead but made a stand and changed Argentine wine forever.
This Malbec is just as brooding and intense as Mick & Keef’s lyrics. It opens with a violet scented perfume while some subtle mineral notes invite you in before it quickly builds with deep black fruit and cassis flavours. Before you know it, you’re awash with dark chocolate, coffee, smoky vanilla and earthy spices. But then there’s a refrain; the violets and minerals reappear and bring you back from the blackcurrant precipice as you realise that perhaps there’s more to everything than it first seemed. By the end of the bottle one can only sit and reflect.
Domaine Jones Fitou
Frankie took his opening gambit and doubled down with the classic ‘Fitou Strategem’ first used by Francis of Gaul all those years ago. It’s a fine call as I’m a fan of the inimitable Katie Jones and her magnificent wines. It’s well documented that Katie met with some rather unfriendly locals who doubted her commitment & motivations. This only further emboldened Mrs Jones in her quest, and today she makes characterful wine with a huge sense of place. Katie takes a central theme for each wine she makes and then slowly and confidently builds to a wonderful driving crescendo.
This Fitou is a blend of Grenache, Syrah & Carignan with some of the contributing vines being over 100 years old. This brings to the wine an incredible concentration of deeply structured figgy, spicy and smoky fruit. There’s a wonderful rusticity to the wine; it’s filled with garrigue, warm herbs, roasting meats and the most alluring black fruits…all supported by melt in the mouth tannins and a fine seam of acidity. It feels like this wine, its style, its flavours, its structure…it feels like its always been here. Every time you drink it, you wonder why you drink anything else.
Led Zeppelin also met with some backlash. Indeed it’s the very origin of their name. They remained steadfast, and, building on the history that lay before them, they built something new and wonderous. It’s easy to get caught up in Stairway but Led Zep IV’s When The Levee Breaks is one of those tracks that is absolutely magical & timeless.
It is of course driven by the eternal, powerful & mesmerising drum work of John Bonham. That sound, that rhythm…it’s always been here, since the beginning of time. Jimmy Page eschews the standard I-IV-V blues tradition, instead opting for a modal approach. He takes a central theme and builds, builds, builds, to an incredible and long lasting crescendo. This song has history but also incredible depth and sophistication. Like Fitou it’s often overlooked in favour of more prestigious and well known names…but this just keeps getting better and better. Every time you hear it, you wonder why you listen to anything else.
Lee has been around wine since the age of 5 and when he turned 18, he passed up a place at university to study law and politics in favour of working in the wine trade. His bank manager has still not forgiven him. An Oddbins refugee, he ran one of the UK’s best indies for 5 years before becoming Head of Education for Oxford’s oldest wine school. A WSET Diploma holder, Lee has taught and lectured all over the world for MWs and MSs. Widely travelled, he specialises in Argentina, a country he visits almost every year, and Italy, a country he has travelled around extensively. Published by a variety of media, Lee continues to educate, entertain and immerse himself in the world of wine, running around 100 tastings every year (pre-Covid obvs). He now works for a multinational business in training, buying and marketing. When not doing something with wine he can be found failing to play the guitar and writing dreadful stand up comedy.
12 thoughts on “The Frankly Wines & Friends Wine & Music Series #14 – Lee Isaacs”
wish I could find more than a couple Fitou here in the States!
Levée is too often the forgotten track on Led Zep 4. Great stuff.