Sunday, January 17, 2021

What Miles Davis and John Coltrane taught me about wine

ately, I’ve been organizing my musical recordings. I’m a big jazz fan. Somewhere along the line, during college, while I loved to listen to rock, especially the San Francisco style in the 1970’s, I veered over to jazz. There was a great FM radio station in Los Gatos, California, KTAO. But even before that, I was interested. I remember going to a Miles Davis concert in1967 at UCLA. It was his quintet, with Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, Tony Williams and Wayne Shorter. Miles didn’t allow any photography, we had to take our cameras back to the car. But the music was brilliant.

Living in California after college, I got into all kinds of jazz. John Coltrane, what’s not to love? So, when I got a Miles/Coltrane CD for Christmas, I was really excited. And then I got to listening to the music.

It was from the final tour in 1960. But it sounded different than the music I’d grown accustomed to hearing from those two jazz giants. It was vaguely familiar, but they were experimenting, taking the sounds out to a more intellectual ledge. It got me thinking about wine styles of late.

There are many reasons to enjoy wine. I’ll admit that my main reason is for taste. And with that taste, I enjoy wines that convey a sense of deliciousness to me. Everyone has different inflection points in that regard. But I look for a good healthy dose of fruit. I enjoy acidity, in check, not overblown. I can deal with tannins, if they are part of the structure of the wine. And dryness, depending on the kind of wine it is. Lastly, balance. Without that, I find it hard to finish a glass, let alone a bottle. Again, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Last month I opened up a bottle of Vitovska from Friuli. I’ve enjoyed wine from this grape since I first encountered it 10 years ago. Nice acidity. Good fruit, and often well balanced. There are producers who take the grape down a naturalistic path, which is popular among fledgling enophiles. And I’ve had ones I enjoyed, all the way to the edge with the orange wines.

This one I had, over the holidays, was from that camp. In its appearance, it was caliginous. I took a sip. It was like sipping on a just struck match. Hot and adamantine. I set is aside, for it just wasn’t the right wine to go with the food we were having that night. I was disappointed, but know sometimes wines, when they are first opened, are sometimes reluctant to go out into the world. Cutting the umbilical on this one just wasn’t going to happen. It would have to fall off on its own, in its own time.  I’d come back to it in a day or so.

It happened with the music of Miles and Coltrane, with that compilation I got for Christmas. I could recognize some of the classic tunes, but I couldn’t quite decipher their meaning. And it was like that with the Vitovska, too.

I relate this experience because there has been this movement, or a trend, to take a position on wine, and winemaking, by many of us who have never made wine. But we’re experts, influencers, and our opinion matters, so we say to ourselves.  But I just cannot burrow down into that polemic rabbit hole. Something, call it an aesthetic constraint, draws me back to my initial notion of what a wine should taste like, and what music to my ears should sound like. I can appreciate the effort. But sometimes, I just can’t go there. Or, I just don’t want to go there.  I want to listen to Miles Davis and John Coltrane play the music that drew me to jazz, which I still love. And I wanted that Vitovska to match up with the Frico, not be a freaking antagonist.

So, I put another record on the turntable. And I open another bottle of wine. And I search for beauty and balance and that ambrosial moment. It’s not an argument. It’s a longing, a pursuit. Just like Coltrane looking for that note that will transform an intonation into the call of a thousand cranes.

That said, I have and will follow Miles and Coltrane down a musical rabbit hole from an intellectual point of view. And I will try any and every kind of wine out there. And I will not relent from seeking out what it is that calls me to music and wine. And for that I have to thank Miles and ‘Trane and all my winemaker friends who have made my exploration into wine (and music) so much more meaningful and compelling.



 written and photographed by Alfonso Cevola limited rights reserved On the Wine Trail in Italy

wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W


Unknown said...

An ambrosial moment. Love it!

More often than not, I’m disappointed seeking such with wine, yet I keep coming back like the Sirens luring me in towards the dangerous and deadly rocky coast. Conversely, some of my most ‘ambrosial’ moments were a pleasant surprise. You would think I would learn, but I am a male, so...

Music, art, architecture and sculpture are static and we can inventory what is worthy of the gods. Wine will break our heart, yet just replying to your excellent blog makes me yearn for a glass, or two.

Paul Wagner said...

I don't agree that music is Al's point. As I teach my students at Napa Valley College, wine and music have so much in common:

No man makes wine in a vacuum.
Wine is created in rhythm with nature
Each winemaker dances to the rhythm that nature plays for us.
And each winemaker adds a melody.
But no winemaker works alone.
Winemakers are part of our community, our culture.

Wine is the communal expression of joy.

Unknown said...

Paul, hello.

I didn’t intend to state ‘music’ in general is static. What I was implying is there is specific music, art, architecture et al I can revisit over and over and have an ambrosial like moment guaranteed where wine is not a given.

Wine is indeed a joyful part of life meant to be shared with family and friends.

Ole Udsen said...

One interesting fact about Miles Davis and John Coltrane is that they couldn't stand each other, yet they made such beautiful music together. While this may also have some relevance to wine, it certainly has relevance in the world today, where too many people have forgotten the art of making things work despite differences.

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