There’s a very good reason Vinyl Me, Please pairs music with booze. And, frankly, I’m not so sure the Founding Fathers of VMP even knew it when they settled on that idea. Sure, both are intoxicants, unwinding you from your day, each one making you enjoy the other more and more with every sip, every track. But I contend that there is a more practical reason. Music and alcohol are two of humanity’s oldest, most primal creations. And both, almost assuredly, came into being by accident.
Holy shit, these beats and tones being made by the rain actually sound good together for some reason!
Holy shit, this grain that accidentally got soaked in rain water and then sat out in the sun for a few days actually makes you feel good for some reason!
Over the millennia, we as a species refined these accidental miracles into what we have today. And what we have is very, very good. We—the children of the 21st Century—are incredibly, wildly fortunate to have such good stuff at our easy access. It’s a metaphorical (and literal) embarrassment of riches! I, amateur music listener and alcohol drinker that I am, would contend that what we have is the best that humanity has ever had. But let’s get to the point, shall we?
While I commend the cocktail recipes sent by the kingmakers at VMP (and they are very good cocktails), the ultimate drink to pair with music is wine. Both an album and a bottle arrive fully formed as their respective creators intended you to enjoy. Both are shaped by the passage of time, allowing for an evolution and—in some cases—passing a peak point of enjoyment and then facing a precipitous decline. And much like music, wine can be made in a variety of different styles, or genres, if you will. Some of the styles of wines pair up with genres of music surprisingly well. To wit…
Chablis ain’t your grandma’s oaky, California chardonnay. It’s the refined expression of the grape and it’s biting, salty and acidic. And goddamn does it go down nice. It’s lean and agile and it leaves a mark. Frankly, it cuts like a laser. This is the wine to drink when listening to Kanye or Kendrick. No matter what they do, they do it with finesse and polish. There is considerable style and talent behind every single cut and Chablis is a lot like that. It punches you in the mouth and make it feel like a kiss because the people creating it know what they’re doing and do it with confidence.
Full-bodied but somehow light and lithe on the palette, this is a wine you can cry into. Much like country music, Nebbiolo is steeped in tradition. Barolo (“The King of Wines”) and Barbaresco (“The Queen of Wines) are two storied Italian subregions found in Piedmont and are considered by a not-insignificant number of people to be among the greatest wines in the world. Typically, these wines feature notes of tar and rose, which—to me anyway—invoke a distinct country feel. True, classic country music (Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, etc.) can be carefree or devastating and, oftentimes, both at once. It traffics in the dark and the light, just like Nebbiolo. Sure, it’s got notes of cherry and raspberry but it’s also bursting with tobacco. And it’s got tannins that will grab onto your tongue and not let go, just like a good country song will do with your heart.
Bold and in-your-face in its youth, mellowed-out but still a heavyweight once mature, Bordeaux is a lot like classic rock. A young Bordeaux has got tannins that will attack the palette when young, but allow for graceful aging that will keep a bottle virile for decades. Kind of like how a classic rock song could be controversial upon it’s release but then, 30 years later, can be used in a car commercial. Bordeaux and the classic rock greats are often imitated the world over but are rarely, very rarely equaled. Led Zeppelin filled stadiums like Bordeaux fills wine cellars. People just can’t get enough of this stuff and, in some cases, they’re willing to shell out thousands of dollars for a bottle — kind of like how they’ll spend a small fortune on a couple of tickets to a Rolling Stones show.
R&B is simmering with tension, funk and sex appeal. Just like champagne. Champagne has a real push and pull to it, enticing the drinker with its near-endless stream of airy bubbles that appear from seemingly nowhere before slapping the palette with a knifelike kiss. Then, after the sharpness subsides, notes of lightly sweet fruit (apple, candied lemon, pineapple) creep in before giving you something to think about with it’s subtle earthen tones (button mushrooms, hazelnut, crushed stone). It’s a true seduction. Basically, it’s R&B in a bottle. Rich in honeyed vocals. Driven by slinky, electrifying beats. Swaggering with confidence and alluring rhythms. It would almost make you go to sleep if it didn’t demand you move your body.
Jazz doesn’t follow the rules. And neither does the American expression of Pinot Noir. I mean, sure—there are specific ingredients that are pretty much required to make either. But once you get the grapes in the barrel or the musicians to the mic, all bets are off. Pinot Noir is a famously fickle grape, doing unpredictable things throughout the course of its life. This is a wine that can be aggressively acidic and/or tannic (think Sun Ra) or it can be overbearingly, embarrassingly sweet and fruity (think Kenny G). And there’s a near-endless chasm filled with every imaginable invocation in between the two. And when it’s in the sweet spot, you get something effortless yet complex. It’s notes of strawberry, blackberry and cherry are offset by wildflower, forest and spice. You get something that almost shouldn’t make sense but instead is impossibly pleasing to the senses.
Alex Byrnes is a television producer and freelance writer who lives with his fiancée and dachshund, Dude, in Brooklyn, NY. He pairs bottles of tasty wine with dope selections from his vinyl collection on Instagram @vinyl.and.wine.