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Pairing Music & Drink with Wine Expert Josh Kaplan

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Josh Kaplan is someone who has seriously influenced my interest and education in wine. We both worked at mk the restaurant many years ago; he, as their beverage manager and sommelier and me, as their publicist. I used to eat and entertain there quite often and Josh never made the experience of selecting wine stuffy or uncomfortable. He also never assumed anything about your level of knowledge - it didn't matter. What he brought to the table was a genuine and palpable excitement about turning you on to great wines that would heighten your experience and make it a memorable one. You understood that beneath the suit and the elegant demeanor was a man who was downright giddy about wine. That kind of passion is what draws me to people. I love to learn and with Josh, there is no pretense or snobbery; just a desire to openly share with you all he knows.

Josh saw my post on
Beautiful Food Rituals and asked if he could contribute his own. He's a serious audiophile and offered to turn us all on to some great beats perfectly paired with time and place, great coffee, wine and even a digestif. Here's his piece below. Thank you so much, Josh!

The pairing of music and drink occurs for most of us on a daily basis. When you walk into a coffee shop or a bar, there is always something on. Usually in the background. Most likely that music was chosen to suit the overall vibe of the establishment, rather than as a specific accompaniment to an actual beverage.

The approach I like to take when pairing music and drink is not so much literal (Joni Mitchell's Blue and a blueberry frappé) but rather geared to the moment, the time of day and the season.

One of my favorite times of day to pair music and drink is early Sunday morning.

Just after the sun has risen, my home is bathed in a golden, yellow light. The beans are ground and the coffee is brewing. What to play?

Well, I'm an amateur audiophile. I have an extensive collection of vinyl I've been collecting since the late Eighties. Gotta say, my favorite Sunday morning LP is side one of Richard Davies' There's Never Been a Crowd Like This. The album is rich with crisp, strummed acoustic guitars, offbeat instrumentation, immediately tuneful melodies, witty lyrics and an overall sense of joy. There is a crystallized moment when the hot jolt of caffeine hits the bright morning and combines with Davies' lush arrangements that makes for a perfect way to start the day.

OK, let's say it's not sunny. It's grey. It's nasty. Snow. Everywhere. Urrgh. You have to adapt to the conditions. Chirpy, happy music is just going to be aggravating, so you need something that has a lilting, melancholy, grey feeling. You need Sigur Ros. Maybe it's because they're Icelandic so I associate their music with cold. Maybe it's because they tend to release their albums in winter. Maybe it's because their music can be slow like a glacier. I think it's because there's an abstract quality to their songs that gives them a strong, cold weather feel. Most particularly the album ( ). I mean...just look at the cover. It screams 'brrr' or maybe since we're talking about Sigur Ros, it gently whispers 'brrr.'

I recently tried the much-hyped Stumptown Coffee at Bagel on Damen. Best cup of coffee I've had in my 20+ years of drinking coffee. Thick and oily in texture, super-concentrated and intense, vaguely hallucinogenic - prepare to be blown away.

In general, since it is early in the day, I don't play anything too ruckus. I save the Sonic Youth for later.

Music and wine presents a wider array of options. It's the start of your night and you're drinking Alsatian Riesling or Rose Champagne. The music needs to be upbeat, fun and not too heavy. I'm a fan of Erlend Oye's Unrest. Definitely side 3. Quirky, stripped down beats, slinky eighties-style synths, gently sung lyrics. This record is just plain fun.

For Rose Champagne, I was recently turned on to Fluteau Carte Rubis Brut Rose. The wine is packed with crisp, bright red berry fruits and brimming with zesty bubbles. Another reason to pop the cork is the $32.99 price tag - a rare value from this typically pricey appellation. You can find the wine at Binny's.

Moving on to red wine. Something heavier. A little richer. Bolder. Chateauneuf du Pape. On the stereo it's My Morning Jacket. ROCK AND ROLL. Side one of It Still Moves.

Everything about those first three songs is boozy and over the top: huge guitars, outsized hooks, Jim James' reverb-soaked vocals...easily the musical equivalent of 15% alcohol Chateauneuf.

One of my favorite producers of high octane Chateauneuf du Pape is Domaine de la Janasse. Their CNDP bottlings start around $50 retail, depending on vintage. A more cost effective way to sample their wares is buying one of their wines from a different appellation. The vin de pays Terre de Bussiere is a mouthful to say and drink. At $15, it is totally worth it. The fruit is so rich and jammy, it's practically spreadable. Like My Morning Jacket, it's a crowdpleaser with integrity.

One last record for end of the night contemplation. A nod to Radiohead's In Rainbows, a brilliant late night album, but instead, I feel the need to mention Woodbine and their album Best Before End . Not too well known in the States, or their native England either. I just stumbled across this band a few years ago. They are kinda like Portishead minus beats, plus acoustic guitars. It's an intense way to end the night, but highly rewarding. Both sides. Fine with cognac. Or more red wine.

Although bourbon is fashionable now, let's not push cognac aside. Jean Luc Pasquet has a permanent home on my liquor cart for many reasons. Artisanal? Check. Cool label? Check. Value? Check. Warm fuzzies? Check.

You should be good to go.

Josh Kaplan grew up in the world of hospitality visiting Chicago's best restaurants with his father, well known restaurant critic, Sherman Kaplan. Early in his career, he worked at Evanston's Va Pensiero and at Michael Symon's Lola Cafe in Cleveland. Most recently he was the Beverage Director for mk the restaurant and theWit Hotel. Currently, he is the assistant General Manager at the soon-to-open Benny's Chop House in Chicago. Amongst friends, he is well-known for having an enviable record and wine collection.

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