Wine + Music

The Frankly Wines & Friends Wine & Music Series #9 – Melanie May

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.

Our ninth contributor to this series is the magnificent Melanie May.  Amongst other wines she mentioned that Riesling is her favourite white grape so of course I had to select an Alsace Riesling.  But not any Alsace Riesling, Sipp Mack’s Grand Cru Rosacker which has been a favourite of mine for the best part of a decade.  The 2011 was an amazingly big and heady vintage (at 14.0%!) which will remain in my top wines tasted, but the 2014 is a more elegant and subtle expression at 13.0%.  At around €30 in Ireland it is sensationally good value for money.

On the music side I chose a perennial favourite from the mid ’80s which straddled the rock and goth genres.  Billy Duffy’s powerful riffs help propel the song forward but for me it’s Nigel Preston’s pounding drums which really make the song excel.  This was Preston’s last track with The Cult, and didn’t even feature in the video as his replacement Mark Brzezicki featured instead.

Sipp Mack Alsace Grand Cru Rosacker Riesling 2014 

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Credit: Melanie May

When Frankie asked me to contribute to his wine and music blog series I jumped at the chance. Not only because it gives me an opportunity to combine my love of writing, wine and music, but also my love of psychology too.

A little background, I used to take photographs of musicians and travelled around the UK snapping bands like The White Stripes, Razorlight, Stereophonics and The Libertines. My life revolved around going to gigs and backstage parties. Of course, that rock and roll lifestyle is well behind me now but my love of music is still as strong as ever.

Nowadays, I am a food and drink and travel writer and I have a WSET Level 3 Award in Wines. Before becoming a full-time writer though, I was studying to become a Clinical Psychologist and did my dissertation in Neuroscience.

Through my studies in psychology, I became aware of how different sensory experiences complement each other. There has been a few studies showing how music effects the perception and taste of wine. Did you know that people will buy significantly more expensive wine if classical music is playing than if the Top 40 is on? Apparently classical music encourages consumers to look for quality wines. Try it in your wine shop and see!

So, this pairing wine and music challenge is right up my street! I love this stuff.

I told Frankie that Riesling was my favourite white. So, when he asked me to pair a song to the 2014 Sipp Mack Riesling Grand Cru Rosacker my mouth instantly started watering. I had not tried that particular wine before, but knowing Frankie’s love of Alsace wine, I knew this was going to be a cracker.

And I was right. What a beautiful wine.

On the nose, the wine is floral with loads of juicy apple and bright citrus notes and a hint of petrol coming through too. The flavours are granny smith apples, cut red apple and baked apple too, lemon and lime. There is a wonderful chalky minerality to it too. It has an elegant mouthfeel and a long finish. It is super delicious.

The bright acidity and citrus notes of this wine are well matched to an upbeat pop song. The minerality and high acidity give this wine great structure, so I picked a song with a similar tight structure. The wine, with its delightful floral aromas and fruity flavours, is playful on the palate and even though it is high in acid it is quite smooth too. So, again, the song I chose is playful and smooth. The wine also has a great purity, it’s not encumbered with oak or other interfering wine making techniques, much like the matching song.

The song I paired with the 2014 Sipp Mack Riesling Grand Cru Rosacker is Good Day Sunshine by The Beatles – quite possibly my all time favourite band.

Good Day Sunshine is a bight and breezy, structured pop song – it is one of just a handful Beatles songs to use contiguous choruses. It is a pure pop song with no exotic instruments or tape loops. It is just Paul singing, Lennon harmonising and a piano and drums and very little guitar on the backing track. So, like the wine, it is bright, has great structure and is pure in taste and style.

Both the wine and the song capture the essence of carefree sunny days and both are good-mood enhancing. What a combo.

This wine is perfect for a barefoot picnic in the grass and this feel-good song is a magic, musical accompaniment.

I truly believe that when you pair the right wine with the right music, you get a heightened sensory experience that hits all the right notes. Maybe, one day, wine labels will say: ‘pairs well with shellfish and The Beatles’.

She Sells Sanctuary – The Cult

When Frankie asked me to pair a wine with the song ‘She Sells Sanctuary’ by The Cult I knew exactly what wine to choose: Château Vincens Les Graves De Paul Cahors 2014 

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Credit: Melanie May

She Sells Sanctuary has been described as ‘a goth milestone’ and ‘quite possibly the most famous goth-rock song’. So, a fitting pairing is a ‘black’ wine. Well, I was hardly going to choose a Champagne, goths aren’t exactly known for being bubbly now, are they?

Black wine is Malbec from Cahors in France and its dark colour is caused by a high concentration of polyphenols from the Malbec grape skins.

This particular wine I choose has a dark label and gothic script – goths love flourishes like that. This bottle will therefore co-ordinate perfectly with their crushed velvet jackets and the writing is big enough to read though all their eye makeup.

This wine tastes best if you let the air at it for a little while, so pour it into your best chalice or goblet and leave it to breathe whist you go write some awful poetry.

When you listen to She Sells Sanctuary you’ll notice the soft build-up of the intro and then Ian Astbury’s impassioned vocals before the drama of the instrumental break hits. There is a great structure to this song and that’s thanks to pop producer Steve Brown, he worked with Wham!.

The wine also follows a similar trajectory. When you first sniff you get a soft build up of aromas like dark fruits, bramble, tobacco and woody spices. Then, when you first sip, you taste the fruit but it is balanced out with lovely savoury, smoky and spicy flavours. Then the drama of the mineral backbone, hint of oak and smooth tannins hit. This wine is intense, rich and elegant with great structure. Just like the song. As for the impassioned vocals? Well, this is a heartfelt wine with a sense of place. You can taste the terroir. It also has a restrained power, much like the vocal style of the lead singer.

Like most goths, this wine isn’t fully mature. The oak and tannins means you could age it for a few more years. I think ageing would smooth everything out just a tad more and let those lovely savoury flavours develop too.

With a wine this intense and rich you can pair it with big intense food. I chose to pair mine with steak because of its high iron content, cause, let’s face it, most goths look anaemic.

I think pairing a goth-rock song with a black wine helps keep the proper morbid mood, don’t you think? However, as this particular song has expressive pop overtones, I think this expressive, fruit-driven wine with smooth tannins and good structure is a harmonious match.

Overall, it’s a rich, complex and age-worthy wine that is delicious to drink now but could be something even more special if left to age for a few more years. It might even get a cult following!

It’s not hard to see why some wines from Cahors have a cult following! Get it? Cult? The Cult?

I’ll get my coat.

Melanie May

Melanie May is a food and wine writer and travel journalist from Dublin. She won the ‘Best Newcomer’ award at the 2019 Travel Extra Travel Journalist of the Year Awards and she is a member of the British Guild of Travel Writers and is a Guild of Fine Food, Great Taste Judge.

Her love of wine began in her early 20s when she worked in a wine shop in Dublin and she has been developing her palate and tasting skills ever since. She has a WSET Level 2 Award in Wines & Spirits and a WSET Level 3 Award in Wines and uses this knowledge to inform the wine articles she writes for her blog, Travel Eat Write Repeat.

You can also follow her gastronomic adventures on Twitter and on Instagram.

 

Opinion

Frankly Wines Top 10 Whites of 2016

Now it’s the turn for white wines to shine – here are ten of the best still dry whites which shone in 2016:

10. Feudo Luparello Sicilia Grillo – Viognier 2015

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A novel blend of indigenous Sicilian and international grapes, this wine is more than the sum of its parts.  Local Grillo is fresh and textured, more dry than fruity, whereas Viognier adds a voluptuous touch.  This is how blended wines should work!

See here for the full review (and the Nero d’Avola – Syrah blend!)

9. Nugan Estate Riverina Dreamer’s Chardonnay

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A “supermarket wine” made from “unfashionable” Chardonnay in a region known for its bulk wines, on paper this wine should be pap – but it works, in fact it works a treat!  In Ireland (at least) the main parameter for wine consumers in supermarkets in price, especially if a promotional offer is involved.  Given the high rates of duty and tax squeezing the cost side of the equation it’s not easy to find everyday wines that are actually enjoyable (though plenty are drinkable).

Nugan Estate’s “Personality” Single Vineyard series ticks all the boxes for me, and this was narrowly my favourite of the lot.  See here for my review of the full range.

8. Angel Sequeiros Rías Baixas Albariño “Evoé” 2013

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Although the label might look like an impressionist’s take on Health & Efficiency, the wine inside is fantastic – great with seafood, but gentle and fruity enough to be enjoyed on its own.  If only all Albariños were this good!

See here for the full review.

7. Goisot Bourgogne Aligoté 2014

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The “other” white grape of Burgundy (ignoring the small amounts of Pinots Blanc and Gris) which is definitely a second class citizen, and is so poor on its own that the Kir cocktail was invented to find a palatable use for it – or so the received wisdom goes.

There’s some element of truth in this, but Aligoté is usually grown on less-favoured sites and with a focus on yields rather than flavour, so it takes a brave producer to break out of this cycle and give the grape the attention it deserves.  The Goisot family are such a producer, based in the Sauvignon Blanc outpost of Saint-Bris.  This Aligoté is unlike any other I have tasted – it actually has colour unlike most which are like pale water, and an intensity of white flower and spicy pear flavours which reveal the age of the vines.

6. Gaia Wild Ferment Santorini Assyrtiko 2013

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When I put together a “wild” wine tasting for DNS Wine Club last year, there were a few obvious candidates that couldn’t possibly be missed from the line-up – this being one of them.  I had recommended it several times in the past so I was hoping it would live up to its reputation – especially tasted blind – and it certainly did!  Overall this was the favourite wine of the tasting, showing the funky flavours of wild yeast fermentation but still plenty of lovely citrus fruit and crisp acidity.

5. Tinpot Hut Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2016

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A common complaint levelled at New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc – and Marlborough in particular – is that “they all taste the same”.  There is some truth in this – the aromatics are generally recognisable before the first glass has even been poured and they are never short of acidity – but if you taste different examples side by side then there are clear differences.  The alternative styles of SB are another thing, of course, with wild yeast barrel fermentation and oak ageing used to make a different type of wine (see this article for more information).

4. Suertes del Marqués Trenzado

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This isn’t a wine for everybody, but it’s a wine everybody should try at least once.   Based mainly on Listan Blanco grapes from ten plots in Tenerife’s Valle de La Orotava, it’s so different that at first it’s hard to describe using everyday wine terms – it’s not fruity or buttery – perhaps nutty and waxy?  Sounds strange, but it’s an interesting and very enjoyable wine.

3. Domaine Zinck Grand Cru Eichberg Riesling 2014

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Domaine Zinck’s Portrait Series wines are fine examples of regular AOC Alsace wines and show the town of Eguisheim in a good light.  Take the step up to the Grand Cru Eichberg Riesling, however, and you move into different territory; not just in terms of the elevation of the vines, but a much more intense catalogue of aromas and flavours.  Even a young example such as this 2014 is delightful, but with the capacity to age for a decade or two and continue developing.

2. Sipp Mack Grand Cru Rosacker Riesling 2011

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Narrowly pipping its countryman, Sipp-Mack’s Grand Cru Riesling is from another exalted site: the Rosacker vineyard near Hunawihr, in between Ribeauvillé (where Trimbach is based) and Riquewihr (home to Hugel).  It has both primary fruit and mineral notes, and performs fantastically at the table.

For such a stunning wine it is relatively inexpensive at around €30 retail.  See here for the full review.

1. Shaw + Smith M3 Adelaide Hills Chardonnay 2014

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When I have favourite wines that I taste regularly over the years, I try not to repeat myself too much in my Top 10 review articles.  Given that I am lucky enough to taste several thousand wines over the course of an average year, it’s not such a difficult line to take…apart from M3!!  The 2014 is still very young, but it’s a delight to drink now.  Adelaide Hills is now possibly second to Tasmania for trendy cooler climate Aussie wines, but for me it’s still number one.

Tasting Events

That Petrol Emotion – DNS do Riesling

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When DNS Wine Club recently met to taste a few different Rieslings, two significant conclusions presented themselves:

  1. Although Riesling can be very pleasant in the €15 – €20 bracket (in Ireland), it’s at €25+ where the wines start to be special
  2. Despite normally being a 100% varietal, Riesling can taste incredibly different depending on where and how it is made.

Here are the three which really stood out:

Pewsey Vale The Contours Eden Valley Riesling 2010 (12.5%, €24.95 at The Corkscrew)

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While the cool Clare Valley is celebrated as the home of most of Australia’s best Riesling, the higher parts of the Eden Valley are also favourable for the variety.  Pewsey Vale winery can claim a number of firsts:

  • It was the first winery founded in (what is now) the Eden Valley in 1847
  • It was the first winery to plant Riesling in Australia (also in 1847)
  • It became the first winery in Australia to use the Stelvin screw cap closure in 1977

The Contours is Pewsey’s flagship single vineyard bottling that they only release five years after vintage as a “Museum Release” – so it already shows significant development.  And that development shows most on the nose, an amazingly intense cocktail of toast, brioche, lime, sage and petrol.  The palate is just a little less intense, but still beautiful.

Sipp Mack Grand Cru Rosacker Riesling 2011 (14.0%, €30.00 at Mitchell & Son)

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As the DNS Wine Club had already held an Alsace tasting earlier in the year, and given my predilection for the region’s wines, I had intended not to include any Alsace wines in the Riesling tasting.  However, I failed!  As the Sipp Mack Vieilles Vignes Gewurztraminer showed so well previously I was minded to show the equivalent Riesling, but as stocks of that had not quite arrived in the shops from the docks I was “forced” to step up to the Grand Cru!

Of all the Rieslings we tried this had the highest alcohol at 14.0% – the Grand Cru sites get lots of sun (so the grapes develop lots of sugar) and Sipp Mack’s house style is to ferment until totally dry, so all the sugar is turned into alcohol.  This Rosacker is super smooth, with apple and tangy lime fruit plus chalky minerality.  A profound wine.

Weingut Max Ferd. Richter Wehlener Sonnenuhr Mosel Riesling Spätlese 2013 (8.0%, €29.95 at The Corkscrew)

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The Mosel is considered by some to be the ultimate region for Riesling, with steep slate-laden vineyards running down to the river.  Being relatively far north makes the ripening season longer and so flavours get even more chance to develop.  While there is a modern trend toward dry Riesling, for me the beauty still lies in the traditional sweeter wines such as this Spätlese (literally “late harvest”.

Sonnenuhr literally means “sun-hour” or “sun-clock”, but is better translated as sundial!  The significance seems to be that the prime south facing sites were the ones where a sundial would work so they made sure to advertise the fact.

Even before pouring it was obvious that this wine was different from the others with its golden hues.  Residual sugar is not “volatile” meaning it can’t be detected by the human nose, but the aromas of honey, soft stone fruit and flowers were phenomenal.  I did see one taster look shocked on first sniffing this wine – it’s that good!  Although quite sweet on the palate this Spätlese was perfectly balanced with zingy acidity.

Conclusions

All three of these wines were excellent, and well worth the price tags.  I would be extremely happy drinking any of them and all were well received by the club, but by a narrow margin the Max Ferd. Richter was declared wine of the night!

 

And here’s the musical reference from the article title…