Interpretation

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A friend of mine recently challenged me to learn a new song on guitar. It was an instrumental duo that I’ve been familiar with through the years – Slack Key Soquel Rag by the Doobie Brothers to be exact! I  started to listen to the song and break it down into sections and slowly and painstakingly learned it note by note.  It was a very intricate series of finger pickings! Getting the mechanics down did take some time but once I got through the ‘math’ of the song, phrasing, notes, beats,  I started feeling comfortable enough to add the emotion. I tried not to copy the original artist and play it exactly the same but rather to add my own interpretation to the music. This challenge was very gratifying to me and each time my friend and I  played it together it sounded better and better!  A few nights ago I was listening to some Dave Brubeck, I love how he takes the standard ‘math’ of music and puts his own twist on the rules. In particular one of my favorite pieces “Blue Rondo a la Turk,” which was written in 9/8 and swing 4/4 (bending the rules quite a bit, but I’ll explain some other time)  is compelling to me not because of the intricacy of the mathematics of the notes but because of the emotion and feeling that he puts into each note and phrase! It never gets old to me. I know that this same appreciation is one of the reasons I am so passionate about wine. Like music, wine making is a combination of math and personal expression. There is a basic process that the grapes go through once they have been harvested but prior to that is the winemaker’s interpretation of the preparation and the process,  the “tuning” of the vines and fruit during the growing season and through the harvest and then of course the wine making process, which ultimately brings the juice to full expression. I thought about some wines I really enjoy and how year after year they can be consistently great, but never exactly the same! What makes some wines stand out over others is similar to Brubeck’s outside of the box thinking, it’s the emotion and feeling that a winemaker infuses into the math of the process that sets them apart! Winemakers often make decisions based on instinct, when to harvest, when to irrigate, when to trim the canopy, if at all.  But it’s more than just following the rules or doing the math, it’s taking the rules and pushing the envelope…sometimes going against the grain and adding your personal signature to the wine. Making music and making wine are both a very personal expression of passion, ideas, experimentation and instinct which I appreciate over and over again!
Cheers

muy “bien”

Bien Nacido Vineyards

Do you prefer Chevy Camaros or Ford Mustangs, Ralph Lauren or Faconnable, Rolex or Omega? As we walk up and down the aisle of our favorite department stores, we have so many choices among seemingly similar items. Where do you gain your level of confidence in what you are purchasing? I think a lot of it comes from experimentation with ‘brands’ and the trust you gain from using and being completely satisfied with the product. As you walk up and down the aisle of your favorite wine merchant, what do you look for? My guess is you are searching for a specific varietal, or maybe a particular vintage. Are maybe you thinking about the region or whether the wine is Estate bottled or from a single vineyard? Let’s examine the term ‘Estate Bottled’. In an Estate-bottled wine 95% of the grapes must be produced on the Estate and may be from a single-vineyard but the wine can also include grapes from other vineyards controlled by the estate through ownership or long-term leases, however it must be crushed and bottled on the winery property. This allows the winemaker to have better quality control of the juice that gets bottled. I for one, am a fan of Russian River Pinot Noir’s, Alexander Valley Cabernet’s and Santa Barbara County Chardonnays. I also like to narrow down the scope of choice by seeking out specific single vineyard wines. For instance, I am very confidant that if I see a wine on a menu that is from the Bien Nacido Vineyards, or Ritchie Vineyard or the Nielson Vineyard it will be of a top quality. So, to be designated single-vineyard wine, at least 95% of the grapes must come from one defined vineyard but keep in mind that the single vineyard designation doesn’t mean single varietal. One vineyard may contain several different grape varietals. Single vineyard wines give me a level of confidence that the end product will be of a certain quality…for instance, Bien Nacido Vineyards consists of 900 acres of planted vines in the cool-climate region on the central coast. Most of the vineyard is allocated to small producers whose blocks are farmed according to their standards. Bien Nacido planted the blocks and then, because their quality is so good, they were able to farm out the grape production to customers by charging a flat rate for a block or even just a row. This way the winemakers can crop their vines to the volume they prefer. Some Bien Nacido customers have farmed the same blocks of grapes for over 20 years and designate their particular block on the bottle. Since producers who want to make a Bien Nacido wine must undergo an ‘audition’ of sorts, their wines must be tasted and their own characters assessed and approved by Bien Nacido staff before a contract is granted. Given that the grapes over the 900 acres are of a top quality, each winemaker will have the ability to bring out their own expression which is why no two Chardonnay’s or Pinot’s from this vineyard are exactly alike, but my confidence level is that the quality will be consistently excellent here! So have fun exploring single vineyard wines and let me know your thoughts!!

Breathe

I am sure you have had occasion to be at a fine restaurant and approached by the wine steward with the question…’Do you want to let the wine breathe before dinner?’  As you gaze up from your menu, maybe a bead of sweat would appear on your forehead as everyone at the table pauses for your response.  Oh the pressures of dinning and wine!  Let’s keep it simple…Now typically when a wine is exposed to air it will hopefully become more expressive, but simply uncorking the bottle is not enough exposure to oxygen to effect a major change in the structure.  My response to the steward would depend on the bottle of wine, it’s vintage and grape varietal.  Sometimes I would say the wine could be immediately poured into the glass and other times I would request it be decanted first.  The whole concept of letting wine breathe, is simply to maximize your wine’s exposure to the surrounding air. By allowing wine to mix and mingle with air, the wine will typically warm up and the wine’s aromas will open up, the flavor profile should soften and mellow out a bit and improve the overall intensity.  Typically red wines are the ones to benefit most from breathing before serving. However, there are select whites that will also improve with a little air exposure and as they warm up in the glass. In general, I have found that most wines will improve with as little as 15-20 minutes of air time.  A bottle of wine has traveled a long distance from grape to glass with  and is deserved of being treated with respect, so why not let it breathe!?!  However, after doing a little research I found that in fact, some wines don’t particularly benefit from the practice of ‘breathing’ and a few might actually suffer from it, especially if you are pouring an older wine that is already fully mature.  An older wine may have become fragile with age and give up its flavors quickly after it is poured.  I have experienced this with some age old vintages with very big price tags…the wine was simply gone the instant it was poured into the glass!  No body, thin on flavor and weak aromas.  Allowing a wine to breathe seems to work best and awaken wines that are in their youth, before they are really ready to consume.  Young wines are often ‘tight’ or may seem closed or not accessible, showing little aroma or flavor…they also may be tannic which mellows given time.  At times you may not have a decanter readily available and in that case I like to pour a small bit of wine into my glass and ‘coat’ the glass and then I will pour the wine to the largest portion of the glass there by allowing air to hit as much wine as possible and just let it sit a few minutes before drinking.  Wines with high tannins, Cabernet’s, Syrah’s, will generally need more time to breath whereas lighter bodied wines like Pinot Noir’s may need little or no time at all.  To me wines are never ‘static’…they evolve on the vine, in the barrels, bottle and glass, and as your meal progresses, so has your wine!  Have some fun and experiment with this concept!

Cheers!

Navigating the world of wine