Music with wine. Each of us has probably experienced both while at a piano lounge, jazz bar, rock concert, or symphony…with a glass in hand. The emotions? From serious and thoughtful to vibrant and raucous, music and wine complement each other with a bevy of adjectives (textured, harmonious, dynamic, and sophisticated, for example) that describe both. Recently, I opened five stunning red wines (sent as samples) that evoked “all the feels”. During my memorable journey, from the first swirl to the last sip, I considered how music, in particular, the fascinating story of George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue”, relates to these notable wines, my “Rhapsody in Red”. Read on.

“Rhapsody in Blue” by George Gershwin

Ninety-four years ago, on February 12, 1924, the iconic jazz concerto “Rhapsody in Blue” debuted to a full house at the Aeolian Hall in New York City. Organized by Paul Whiteman, well-respected leader of the Palais Royal Orchestra and most popular bandleader of the 1920s, the concert included multiple scores from various composers. Its intent was to demonstrate a new form of jazz which, in Whiteman’s thoughts, deserved to have its rightful place in the music scene.

Whiteman approached George Gershwin, already known as a popular composer of Broadway songs, in early January of that year, to write a piano score. Not to worry, he explained… His in-house arranger would modify the score to complement the orchestra. Gershwin accepted the task, although he had about a month to complete the score for the concert and to finalize the songs for his new musical comedy, “Sweet Little Devil”. Yet, he accomplished both…on time.


Rhapsody in Red - Rhapsody in Blue by George Gershwin

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 Originally titled “American Rhapsody”, George Gershwin’s brother, Ira, attended an exhibition of James Abbott McNeill Whistler’s paintings. While appreciating the painter’s “Nocturne in Blue and Green”, a painting of the Thames River at Chelsea, Ira felt that George’s composition should be titled “Rhapsody in Blue”, in order to reflect the European and American musical influences used in the score.

During the afternoon of February 12, the crowd was less than enthralled with what they heard at the concert…until George Gershwin sat at the piano to accompany the orchestra with his new piece. The crowd, now lively, began to appreciate the “rhapsodic work for piano and jazz band” with its diverse rhythm, beat, and melody. Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” was that day, and continues to be, a gift to music lovers. His ability to create an inspiring composition that blends American jazz and European symphonic influences is hailed as a hallmark in American music. Clearly, it’s one of the most recognizable.


Rhapsody in Red - Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue

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Music and Wine

How am I connecting the score of “Rhapsody in Blue” and its composer, George Gershwin, to wine?

Already addressed, music prompts specific emotions: elation, sadness, thoughtful retrospection, appreciation. You don’t have to play an instrument or be a member of a choir to understand this! I heard “Rhapsody in Blue” at a concert not too long ago and felt a range of powerful feelings: anticipation, contentment, surprise, thrill. It was clear that members of the audience in 1924 experienced many of those same sentiments as they heard Gershwin’s work. And to be honest, I sense all sorts of emotions when I sip a glass of truly exceptional wine!

George Gershwin was a master musician with an ability to appeal to everyone’s senses. His compositions reflect a broad range of styles and he wasn’t afraid to take risks. In fact, on February 13, the music critic for the New York Times wrote “this is no mere dance tune set for piano and other instruments. This composition shows extraordinary talent, just as it also shows a young composer with aims that go far beyond those of his ilk”. I’m sure you know or are familiar with a few winemakers who have those same characteristics and who stretch beyond boundaries considered “the norm”.

Just like “Rhapsody in Blue”, the following wines (sent as samples) evoke strong emotions and are, too, truly a gift. Crafted by talented winemakers who aren’t afraid to take risks, who infuse both American and European elements in their wines, and who work with producers that offer the wine loving consumer a variety of styles, these exceptional wines are of note. Please check each producer’s website for more information.

Rhapsody in Red

Parabellum Rhone Blend 2014 ($45) – Todd Alexander, Winemaker at Force Majeure Vineyards in Washington, has introduced their “second label”, Parabellum. The two wines in the portfolio are produced from estate fruit cultivated in the younger blocks of the vineyard; they’re meant to be opened now, not cellared. The Rhone blend is of 61% Syrah and 39% Mourvedre from their vineyards in the Red Mountain AVA. Flawless aromas of peppery spice, fresh dark berries, and tobacco were fresh yet intense. Ripe red fruit, a hint of minerality, buoyant acidity, and smooth, plush tannins created a harmonious blend that was complex and textured. Refined and sophisticated, each sip was pure bliss.

Rhapsody in Red - Parabellum
Faust Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 ($50) – Faust never disappoints and the 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon is just as stylish and chic as always. Intoxicating aromas of black cherries, blackberries, currants, tea and vanilla led to a palate profile just as mesmerizing. Notes of rich dark chocolate, luscious red and black berries, and spice were lifted by bright acidity and surrounded with layered tannins. Boasting a lush mouthfeel and lingering, rich finish, this is a wine that can be enjoyed now or cellared for 10-15 years.

Rhapsody in Red - Faust
Beringer Quantum Napa Valley 2014 ($65) – Wine grapes in this exhilarating blend are 74% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Franc, 5% Petite Sirah, and 2% Malbec from Beringer’s Napa Valley vineyards. Each vineyard lot was kept separate from the time the grapes were harvested until the final blend occurred. The goal in Quantum is to highlight the profile of each varietal, with Cabernet Sauvignon as the foundation. Half of the blend is from Howell Mountain and the balance is from selected vineyard sites on the valley floor. Aromas of black cherries, earth, herbs, smoke, coffee, and leather were enticing and I truly anticipated the first sip. Bright acidity and satin-like tannins enveloped rich notes of plums, spice, blackberries, currant, brown spice, and vanilla. Powerful and complex, you can enjoy this magnificent wine now or cellar for 15-20 years.

Rhapsody in Red - Beringer
Don Melchor Cabernet Sauvignon Puente Alto Vineyard 2014 ($125) – From Don Melchor’s beautiful vineyards 650 meters above sea level in the foothills of the Andes Mountains and along the northern banks of the Chile’s Maipo River is this elegant wine of Cabernet Sauvignon and just a touch of Cabernet Franc. Fruit forward from beginning to end, I was tantalized with intense aromas of rich red fruit, blackberries, blueberries, eucalyptus, cedar, and vanilla. On the creamy palate, notes of lush red fruits, blackberries, blueberries, white pepper, and exotic spice were framed with velvet like tannins and vibrant acidity. The endless finish was ever-so pure. But, of course. Winemaker Enrique Tirado, who admits that he “eats, sleeps and dreams of wine”, is “constantly learning and adapting” with the intent of making wines with “controlled concentration, fruit, fine tannins and finesse”. Drink now or cellar for up to 25 years.

Rhapsody in Red - Don Melchor
Lineage Livermore Valley 2013 ($155) – By all accounts, the vintage year 2013 was outstanding in Livermore Valley. Nearly perfect growing conditions from bud break to harvest, the year produced more fruit than usual and as a bonus, the quality was superb. Lineage, part of the Steven Kent Portfolio and crafted by sixth-generation winemaker, Steven Mirassou, is a superb blend of classic Bordeaux varieties. 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Cabernet Franc, 15% Merlot, 3% Petit Verdot and 2% Malbec were harvested from the Ghielmetti Estate and Home Ranch Vineyards in Livermore Valley. Opulent is just one word to describe this beauty! Expansive aromas of juicy cherries, ripe cranberries, pomegranate, red florals, and exotic spice exuded power. Flavors of rich red fruit, black cherries, currants, and spice were pervasive and voluptuous. Bolstered by lively, playful acidity and firm, well-integrated tannins, this wine soared. Although the Lineage is a sublime choice now, it will be even more so in 15-20 years.

Rhapsody in Red - Lineage

Cheers! ~ Cindy

Clip from the 1945 film, Rhapsody in Blue, starring Robert Alda as George Gershwin



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