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Posts Tagged ‘music and wine’

The Allure of Tokaji Wine

December 8th, 2011 No comments
A portrait of Beethoven by Joseph Karl Stieler, 1820

A portrait of Beethoven holding the "Missa Solemnis" by Joseph Karl Stieler, 1820

Children are often amused to learn that, years before Kraft Foods, Ludwig van Beethoven’s favorite dish was macaroni and cheese!  For adults–even those of us who still enjoy mac and cheese–it may be more interesting to note that one of Beethoven’s favorite wines was a white dessert wine from Hungary’s Tokaj region.  Situated northeast of Budapest, the Tokaj region is nestled in the Zemplen Mountains.  The region’s soil consists mostly of clay, with an underlying volcanic layer.  Sun filled summers and dry autumns help to nurture the precious Aszú grapes used in this wine.  (These grapes possess an unusually high concentration of sugar, and are picked and painstakingly sorted by hand at harvest time, which is rather late.)  In fact, the Tokaj region was Europe’s first ever classified wine region.  Today, some distilleries exist where select Single Malt Scotches are put into former Tokaji wine casks for a few years, imbuing the whisky with a hint of the delightful aromas (and a hint of the characteristic sweetness) of Tokaji wine, itself.

Considered a prized wine of nobility, Tokaji wine was also adored by Franz Joseph Haydn, Beethoven’s one-time instructor with whom he had a falling out.  Franz Schubert, an early Romantic composer who idolized Beethoven, also had a preference for Tokaji wine.  Schubert set numerous poems by Goethe, Heine, and Schiller to music, and each of these famous authors, incidentally, had a passion for Tokaji.  After his early death at age 31, Schubert’s music was championed by several prominent pianists, including Franz Liszt, and Liszt–a descendent of the pedagogical lineage of Beethoven–also happened to like Tokaji wine.  (We do not know if he also liked mac and cheese!)  Liszt’s personal philosophy regarding the contemporary music of his time also contains a reference to wine: “new wine requires new bottles.”  In short, this motto can translate as follows: new music will require new forms.  Liszt’s quotation is also a nod to Luke 5:37: “And no one pours new wine into old wineskins.  If he does, the new wine will burst the skins, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined.”

Painting of Louis XV

Louis XV, by Maurice Quentin de La Tour, 1748

Exploring the history of this much-loved wine outside the musical community, we learn that Louis XV of France once presented a glass of Tokaji as follows: Vinum Regum, Rex Vinorum.  (Wine of Kings, and King of Wines.)  Louis XV’s father, Louis XIV, probably introduced Tokaji wine to his son after receiving several bottles as a gift from Francis Rákóczi II, Prince of Transylvania.  Since then, this beverage became a staple in the Court of Versailles.  American connoisseur Thomas Jefferson had several bottles imported for his presidential feasts in the early 1800’s, while yearly on her birthday, Queen Victoria received numerous bottles of this very wine from Austrian Emperor (and Apostolic King of Hungary) Franz Josef.  Even Napoleon Bonaparte purchased barrels of Tokaji for his Court on a yearly basis, and King Gustav III of Sweden would not drink any other wine!

Given its rich history, why is this wine so little-known, today?  In short, several prominent Hungarian vineyards were ravished by phylloxera in the late 1800’s and did not recover quickly.  Couple this with the onslaught of WWI, the deterioration of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the advent of WWII, followed by the ascent of Communism, and you have a recipe for run-down vineyards!  Only recently has the wine enjoyed by Beethoven, Goethe, Louis XV, and Thomas Jefferson been reproduced after a long period of hibernation.  Will it regain its former glory and win over the artisans and world leaders of our day?  Only time will tell.  For more information about wine and history, check out Vintage Cellar’s Wine Storage Education Center r check out our “Wine History” category here on the blog.  Cheers!

Music and Wine, by Dave Matthews

November 29th, 2011 No comments
Dreaming Tree Wine Bottles

Dreaming Tree: a collaboration between Dave Matthews and Steve Reeder

Dreaming Tree…  That’s a song title, right?  Actually, it’s the product of Dave Matthews’ musical mind, along with winemaker Steve Reeder’s wine talents.  When Matthews was performing at Robert Mondavi Winery, Steve Reeder was there and conversing with representatives from Constellation wine brand.  Ideas centering around the perfect union of wine, food, and music were flowing, and someone asked Reeder’s opinion about working with Dave Matthews to create wine.  After a little research, Reeder called Matthews “a true artist,” in the sense of the multi-talented artists of the Renaissance, adding that Matthews also has a small Virginia winery, as well as a farm.  In short, Reeder was delighted to initiate a collaboration.  Reeder sent Matthews some Simi wines to sip, and Matthews reported back what he liked, and why he liked it.  After some trial blends, the duo of “Dreaming Tree” has produced three new wines.  These include a Chardonnay, a Cabernet Sauvignon, and a red blend.  Sold at around $15 a bottle, the wines are “Wine Institute certified sustainable” meaning that their bottles are lightweight and eco-friendly.  Reeder commented that Dave is concerned about being socially responsible, and that this type of packaging is the “right” thing to do “for the right reasons.”  Reeder also commented that just as Dave Matthews loves music, so does he love wine!

Musical Wine Glasses

July 22nd, 2011 1 comment
Benjamin Franklin playing on the glass harmonica

Image courtesy of violinstudent.com

When was the last time you ran a moistened finger along the rim of a crystal wine glass, making it sing?  Perhaps, after reading this post, you’ll give it a try tonight! Concerts of “glass music” produced by this same technique used to be all the rage in Europe.  There were even performers, like the blind Marianne Kirchgessner, with entire careers that consisted of playing musical glasses.  Benjamin Franklin, after attending such concerts in London, invented and perfected the “Glass Harmonica,” an instrument made of concentric glasses mounted on a rod, turned by a treadle, the size of each glass determining its pitch.  Touching the rims of the turning glasses produced audible notes, and several glasses could even be touched simultaneously to produce chords.  Although it was something of a novelty instrument, many prominent composers wrote music for it, including Beethoven and Mozart.  In fact, Mozart’s Adagio for Glass Harmonica, K.365, is one of the last pieces Mozart composed. But, like the clear beverage craze in the early 1990’s that faded by the middle of the decade, the glass harmonica’s popularity came to an end around 1815, with few instruments built after 1820.  Today, there are special manufactures who do make glass harmonicas, but professional glass harmonica players are very rare.  Still, the ethereal, haunting, otherworldly sound of the glass harmonica can be heard in several films, including Interview with the Vampire,  Mesmer,  Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, and popular recordings like Björk’s “All Neon Like”.  If you want to know what this instrument sounds like, all you need to do is run your finger across the rim of a wine glass.  Crystal wine glasses, like those produced by Riedel, often work best.  Be sure, however, that you use a glass with a stem, otherwise the hand holding the glass will stop the tone.  Have fun!

Riedel Wine Collection Shiraz/Syrah Wine Glasses

Wine… and Song!

April 15th, 2011 No comments
beethoven

Beethoven was quite fond of his Wine

Aside from Beethoven’s well-known drinking habits, and Mozart’s love affair with wine bottles as “romanticized” in Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus (1984), few people realize how great a role wine has played in the history of Western classical music.  During the late 16th to early 18th century, over 250 books containing “Serious” and “Drinking Songs” were published in Paris, not to mention the rest of Europe.  Many of these drinking songs, as you can imagine, are quite humorous.  Even opera is not free from references to the drink!  Take, for example, Verdi’s exuberant “Drinking Song” from La Traviata!  There even exists a comical CD entitled Opera’s Greatest Drinking Songs!  The classical masters are known to have frequently indulged in the good stuff of life, including wine.  In addition to Berlioz, Brahms, Debussy, and Lizst, Tchaikovsky relied on wine to ease his troubled nerves, Mussorgsky was rarely found without a glass in hand, Erik Satie enjoyed wine for its simple pleasure, Jean Sibelius spent large sums of money on gourmet dinners and fine wines, and the list goes on.  While some composers chose to write humorous music about stimulants–have a listen to J. S. Bach’s Coffee Cantata–a great body of secular music written by the classical masters includes direct or indirect references to wine and spirits.  Ponder this the next time you hear Carl Orff’s famous Carmina Burana, used in many Hollywood movie previews, which is primarily a setting of medieval drinking tunes!