Wine and Music: Deep Connections, Deeper Roots.

A somewhat esoteric look at the intersection of two of the most pleasurable things in life.

Ah, music. Ah, wine. There is likely nothing in the universe more subjective or hotly debated than these two things.

We go on at length about this band, that composer, this song, that harmony – and similarly (at least, if you are a wine lover), we argue and pontificate about our wine: This one has no length or structure – that one is too sweet, too acidic, too oxidized, too oaky. I hate chardonnay, but I love good chardonnay … and the same goes for our favourite songs. What equals perfection to some is pure schlock/plonk to others, and no matter how scientific or impassioned the argument, nobody will ever truly win.

In fact, you’d stand a better chance if you settled it with a foot race, or in the octagon.

But despite their polarizing natures, music and wine are forever intertwined. Wine has never ceased to inspire, and there is much evidence that many of the great composers were – shall we say – more than fond of it.

Swilling with the masters

Franz Liszt and Franz Schubert were both fond of the Hungarian wines of Szekszárd, which we know in modern times as Bull’s Blood. As legend has it, this rich and spicy red was Schubert’s muse while writing the Trout Quintet. As for Liszt, he was known to consume two bottles of cognac a day, plus several bottles of wine, and from that, great works were created.

Rossini had a varied palate and was known to drink red Bordeaux with his fish and Rhine wine with turkey, while Verdi, another Italian composer, loved Chianti and Pomino. Verdi’s operas often featured wine, as evidenced by his versions of Macbeth, Otello, Falstaff, and La Traviata, and he regularly used the stuff to punctuate on-stage emotions – camaraderie, romance, and murderous inclinations alike.

According to Jan Swafford’s 2014 biography, Beethoven, even on his deathbed, was waiting for a delivery of his favourite wine from the Rhineland. When it arrived, he was almost gone himself, with only the strength to utter his last words: “Pity, pity, too late …”

Boozing notwithstanding (there are far too many examples of historic debauchery to list here), it leads us to wonder … did the music inspire the desire for wine? Or did the wine inspire the music?

Wine or music: what comes first?

It’s kind of a chicken-and-egg conundrum, but in truth, the two go hand in hand. It’s a sort of ethereal symbiosis that can neither be defined or denied.

Case in point: do you know how many top winemakers had early careers as musicians? It’s true – and I’m not just talking about “celebrity wines” that bear the name but are made by somebody else.

Robert Foley of Robert Foley Vineyards (and formerly at Pride Mountain, Paloma, and many more) in Napa Valley, started life as a musician and recording engineer. In fact, he still indulges his ‘other’ muse. His band, aptly called The Robert Foley Band, tours and records, and he continues to maintain an extensive collection of guitars and a fully equipped recording studio on site.

Another Napa Valley cult-winemaker extraordinaire, Marco Di Giulio was once a musician by trade, and a darn good harmonica player to boot. Marco was responsible for some of the most superfluous wines in recent Napa Valley history, including Lokoya, famous for its world-class cabernet sauvignon.

Marco once told me that he didn’t think musicians becoming winemakers was such a strange concept. After all, as musicians, we all need a relatively transient job. So, we work in restaurants and eventually, gravitate towards wine. Wine appeals to our creativity because it is so subjective, so mutable, so fascinatingly personal in terms of how we enjoy it.

Just like the interpretation of a song or a composition, a wine is never exactly the same twice

Tim Gaiser, Master Sommelier, is also a musician – and not just a musician, he’s got two degrees in music, one in music history and one in classical trumpet. Tim makes a fascinating point when he says:

“The most important connection between music and wine is how it makes us think – how intensive training in either field or both can create complex patterns of thought not found in other fields.”

This could be interpreted many ways, but what it boils down to is this: the ability to think outside the box is integral in both music and wine. In training for either discipline, we learn a lot of technical stuff and then have to necessarily toss it out the window when things don’t go quite the way we had expected.

Taken in this light, and all things considered, perhaps musical training is a precursor to good winemaking.

Equally important, it can’t be argued that a good bottle of wine doesn’t stir the muse.

Some wine-friendly selections for your autumn playlist:

  • Red, Red Wine (UB40)
  • Lilac Wine (Jeff Buckley)
  • Bottle of Red Wine (Eric Clapton)
  • Tiny Bubbles (Don Ho)
  • You Can’t Always Get What You Want (Rolling Stones)
  • Scenes from an Italian Restaurant (Billy Joel)
  • A Case of You (Joni Mitchell)
  • Killer Queen (Queen)
  • I Will Drink the Wine (Frank Sinatra)
  • Red Wine, Mistakes, Mythology (Jack Johnson)
  • The Wino and I Know (Jimmy Buffett)
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