Four bottles in and I’m just about ready to write about this wine from Anne Gros. From the Combe where Chambolle meets the lofty appellations of Echezeaux and Clos de Vougeot, with Musigny itself in spitting distance, this should be an insight into the ethereal wonder that makes red Burgundy that bit more special than any other liquid known to man. And, as it turns out, it is. It just took me a while to fully recognise it.

Anne Gros has a charmingly French but unusually polished approach to marketing her wine. The case arrived with a beautifully presented guide to her ‘range’, full of charming insights. “Talking about wine is almost as complicated as making it,” we’re told. It must be “explained simply” with “words of love, not the jargon of experts.”

After being fairly bowled over by the first bottle, the last one somehow seemed a little meaner. Finally, I decanted on a hot summer’s day and took my time. Now it’s clear that what’s needed is a couple more years. Question is, who’s going to muster the patience to leave it alone? After a few hours it becomes a pretty intoxicating wine, all candied violets and brambly pudding fruit on the nose with a perfume that’s powerful, yet delicate enough to wear.

In the mouth it’s got that enticingly musty pinot character that knits with the sweet fruit, mineral and tart acidity in an expression of perfect balance. And then it goes on and on. Less with the “check me out, I’m expensive”-type finish of big Bordeaux, rather, it leaves you uncertain whether you can still taste it or the taste itself is so pervasive in your memory that you think you can.

Lush. And yet this isn’t the Burgundy you’d open to initiate the neophyte. And, even now, it’s got a long way to go until it hits its prime.

The best musical analogy I can find is Beck’s wonderful, “Sea Change”. A record I always knew was good but which took some long time to figure out just how good. His masterpiece, really.

Just as “Sea Change” draws you into its richly produced, indulgent introspection with acoustic warmth, so the Chambolle draws you in with that sweet, almost blousy, nose. It’s more of an impression, a superficial charm. You don’t find the songs immediately and even then you don’t find their depths until you’ve studied every subtle resolution, allowed it to bathe you in gorgeous, heart-breaking strings, considered the significance of every word. Then… gone back to it some years later.

This might be one of the most compelling parallels between wine and music: that the best often don’t show themselves immediately but unravel with time and careful attention. And, even more than the record (with organic inevitability) the best thing about this wine, is that it will continue to grow and change with time.


Long among the best options for anyone who wants a glimpse of what great Bordeaux is all about but doesn’t want to sell their possessions to get it, Cantemerle is rich, accessible and moreish. It drinks well young but has the potential to hold on and develop secondary flavours with more complexity over time. And even in a vintage as exalted as 2005 it costs less than half a tank of petrol.

Grown in the commune of Macau and categorised as a Fifth Growth in the classification of 1855, it is certainly not a well kept secret. That’s because what it has always done well is to maintain an understated grace that other Haut Medoc wines struggle with, hinting at the refined power of the famous wines of the Medoc; that sappy richness that’s often buried by coarser tannin in wines from this region. It’s early yet to drink the better 2005s from Bordeaux but of those I’ve tried, this has surprisingly well intgerated tannins and softness in comparison with the inky, dry but always impressive wines elsewhere. There’s a pretty pronounced acidity on first opening that holds the fruit at bay but it settles and knits together beautifully after a few hours taking the air.

The nose is dominated by sweet blackcurrent fruit with iron-rich beef aromas, pencil lead and spice. So far, so Bordeaux. Mid-weight in the mouth, it lacks a little complexity with simple red and black fruits and caramelised tart and vanilla from the fairly pronounced oak and the velvety sweetness lingers nicely after it’s been washed down. The array of flavours and depth that indicate a great wine are missing but it has Bordeaux charm by the bucket.

Slick, easy and rich. Smooooth. This is wine as G-funk to the altogether more complex and intimidating world of hip-hop. Not sure you like rap? Try Warren G and then tell me if you can resist. Not sure you’re ready for Lynch-Bages (well can you afford Latour?) have a whiff of Cantemerle and then start saving.

“Regulate… G Funk Era” was the 1994 album whose chief reason for being was that it contained the single, ‘Regulate’, built around a prominent sample of yacht-rocker Michael McDonald’s ‘I Keep Forgettin’. It’s creator, Warren G had the good fortune of being stepbrother to west coast hip hop lynchpin Dr. Dre and thus hung out with Snoop and guested on his brother’s classic, ‘The Chronic’. Along with treacle-voiced singer and ladies’ man Nate Dogg, he crafted a sort of g-funk with all the gritty bits sieved out of the blend, so that only irresistibly butter soul was left oozing from the speakers.

Unctuous and simple, ‘Regulate’ (let’s not bother talking about the rest of the album) was a sort of post-modern conclusion to the pathologically charming soft rock of the late 70s made by Steely Dan, The Doobie Brothers, Hall & Oates, Kenny Loggins and other leisure class rock stars with well-powdered noses. It’s a wonder that g-funk’s mastermind, Dr Dre himself hadn’t thought of interspersing yacht rock amongst his Parliament/Funkadelic samples.

Maybe it’s a bit of an extreme pairing (and maybe I’ll live to regret wasting Warren G on anything other than a Sauterne) but Cantemerle’s 2005 extracts the simple and irresistible elements of Bordeaux and makes them impossible to resist. It’s not exceptionally clever (no Radiohead time signatures here) but it is really quite lovely. And, anyway, there’s always ‘What A Fool Believes’ when I finally get around to cracking that bottle of d’Yquem.

For lovers of a more sensuous red wine, the Northern Rhone is rich pickings. Unlike the aggressive, densely spiced and potently alcoholic wine that now seems to characterise Châteauneuf, the wines of appellations like Cote Rotie and Saint Joseph tend towards more nuanced charms, softer tannins and often intriguing mineral characteristics that keep them from becoming cloying and one dimensional.

Saint Joseph is the region’s largest appellation and it winds through different banks and plateaus chasing the Rhone River south. This may explain its reputation for inconsistent character as it takes in a number of different microclimates – in fact, you could drink your way around looking for trends that follow proximity to the styles of Saint Joseph’s more famous neighbours. (More fun than, say, ordering your DVD collection by Director).

2007 may have given the Northern Rhone its share of trouble in comparison to the effortless natural gifts bestowed that year on the south, but this wine – made by the Saint Desirat co-op – shows little sign of the strain. Light purple with considerable clarity at the rim of the glass, scents of sweet damson fruit, peppery overtones and a faintly rustic whiff, all roll the drum for a pure, honest expression of bright red, brambly fruits in the mouth. It’s light but persistent with refined tannins and retains a refreshing edge thanks to the mineral streak at its core. It’s this minerality – like the most refreshing component of a cold bottle of water on a hot day – that keeps you coming back. It adds a compelling edge to a wine that would otherwise be charming but simple.

In musical terms, then, we’re talking about something like “Sunflower”, the 70s Beach Boys LP, that was the product of a band at that point operating as something of a co-op themselves, having lost the singular artistic direction of Brian Wilson to illness. Instead, Dennis Wilson and Bruce Johnston come to the fore with songs that walk the tightrope act typical of the Beach Boys in this period, between cloying sentiment and vulnerable emotion.

Dennis’ song, “Forever”, is touching and utterly convincing against all odds thanks to a sense of world-weary yearning for innocence lost. “All I Wanna Do” is a love letter with a sepia wash, just the sort of thing that Beach Boys’ harmonies were made to produce. Not exactly ignored, this album never gets “Pet Sounds” levels of love but it’s the record that most obviously proves the rest of the band had something to say. Despite a degree of patchiness, there’s an innocence and charm here that’s easy to love.

Its predecessor, cult LP “Surf’s Up” which contains two bonafide moments of Brian Wilson genius in “’Til I Die” and the title track, may well prove the more rewarding record of this period, but “Sunflower” is the one for everyday drinking.

This is the wine that drew the world’s attention to the unclassified regions of Southern France and spawned a fantasy of winemaking as escapist lifestyle; the dream of a plot of land in the sun, blood sweat and wild nature bottled. In the 70s Aime Guibert and his wife abandoned Paris for the Languedoc buying a farmhouse with no intention of planting grapes on their land until a friend pointed out that its soil and microclimate were perfectly suited to vineyards.

These days Mas de Daumas Gassac is frequently referred to as the ‘Lafite of the Languedoc’ and has established the region’s reputation for experimentation, modern winemaking and quality despite its lowly Vin de Pays status. Blended from predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon, with Merlot, Petit Verdot, Pinot Noir and Syrah all featuring in the 2007 assemblage (with other varietals brought in as Guibert sees fit year-to-year) the wine is unquestionably an iconoclast.

Tasting it for the first time, though, you don’t expect the predominance of Cabernet. Perhaps it’s because of the curve of the bottle but we’re pre-programmed to expect hearty, rustic Rhone blends from the bright hot lands of this part of France and yet this is all about the stately elegance of a Bordeaux pedigree. It has the inky violet hue and clear rim of young Claret with those familiar pencil lead and vegetal notes on the nose, only just permitting a suggestion of something of lesser breeding to follow through: leather and damp vegetation.

A little mean on the palate, the dark fruits and cassis are modestly enthusiastic, framed by cigar box sophistication but none of the underlying sweetness that characterises this style of Bordeaux. Unquestionably a little young yet, the finish strikes a slightly tart note of sour cherries.

Perhaps it’s a wine too conscious of the styles it aspires to – a wine of the head and not enough of the heart. But everyone has a different opinion of where the head should give way to the heart. Admirers of Queens of the Stone Age, the Californian desert rock collective focussed around frontman Josh Homme – famed for their brand of robotic, heavy riffing and equally uncompromising approach to the off-duty pursuits expected of proper rock bands – ran up against the issue on the 2005 album, Lullabies to Paralyze. They’ve struggled to shake it ever since.

This was the first QOTSA record made following the ejection from the group of long-time bass player, occasional vocalist, songwriter and hell-raiser, Nick Oliveri. Immediately preceding it were two albums that are fairly unanimously considered amongst the best made in the genre in the last decade. Songs For The Deaf, on which they were joined by former Nirvana drummer and Foo Fighter Dave Grohl was certified gold in 2003. (Grohl isn’t the only superstar to have been attracted by Homme’s musical magnestism, more recently he formed Them Crooked Vultures, a project with Grohl and Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones.)

So, what happened between the magnificent Songs For The Deaf and the markedly less phenomenal Lullabies To Paralyze? Well, QOTSA lost Oliveri, its loose canon, it’s force of nature; a man prone to taking to the stage naked whose most undiluted contributions – songs like ‘Quick and to the Pointless’ – are the psychotic logical conclusion of The  Stooges. There seems little question that his days were numbered and various rumours suggest that Homme (frequently portrayed as a control freak in the pursuit of this and other ruthless management strategies) was quite right to hand him his cards. Sadly though, with Oliveri went the band’s sense of wild, untamed force and where Homme’s rigorous, brutally clipped guitar playing and sense of structured restraint once gave the music an unbelievably taught forcefulness, without the suggestion of chaos it began to sound thin, dry and intellectual.

Homme is too great a talent to disappoint completely and Lullabies to Paralyze suffers most in relation to the magnificence of its predecessor. ‘Someone’s in the Wolf’, for example, is amongst his best, a spring-loaded dose of dread from somewhere deep in the forest of our fairy tale subconscious. But the album remains considered, subdued by structure and like the wine, too much of the head and not enough of the heart.

So, it’s straight back to the most northerly appellation of a famous strip of prime French real estate today – this time Côte Rôtie in the Northern Rhone. The ‘roasted slope’ from which the appellation takes its name produces the most perfumed and subtly voluptuous wine of the region from vineyards so steep that farming them is an occupational hazard; if you don’t fall and break your leg the day-long exposure to the sun’s most intense rays spells trouble for those that fail to pack their Ambre Solaire.

There’s more than a hint of the aromatic allure of red Burgundy in Côte Rôtie, something I’d always attributed to the fact that French wine law allows up to 10% of the white grape Viognier alongside the predominant Syrah in the blend, giving it fragrance and softening the tannins. Apparently not, though, as it turns out blending of white grapes here is largely ancient history and few producers deviate from 100 percent Syrah. It’s surprising, given the robust and often unyielding character the grape can take on in other parts of the Rhone and under its supermarket-friendly name, Shiraz, across parts of the New World.

This mid-weight 2006 is already drinking well and showing the faintly schizophrenic character that makes Côte Rôtie such an unforgettable wine experience. Purple moves to a light brick rim in the glass with raspberry fruit driving the aromas and anchored by an undertow of typical syrah notes: leather, coffee and spice. It is velvet in the mouth; the tannins beautifully integrated, conveying the wine’s darker characteristics – damson and prune – with good persistency. It’s not exactly an iron fist wrapped in a velvet glove, more a spiced meatball sitting in a gloriously fresh pomodoro sauce. So, what’s our musical pairing?

In 1970, The Velvet Underground recorded their final album, Loaded, whose name referred to Atlantic Records’ insistence that the band deliver an album “loaded with hits”. It’s a record that’s become a teenage right of passage, largely due to the enduring appeal of the songs ‘Sweet Jane’ and ‘Rock & Roll’, however it’s questionable that many of its admirers could name every track.

That’s because it’s not the first Velvets record you’d wheel out as evidence of the true artistic vision of the band. It’s an anomaly in which the notoriously abrasive, avant garde inclinations of Warhol-era VU is subdued in favour of irresistible pop melody and the harmonic joie de vive of genius having a lot of fun with the FM template. It’s the absence of Welshman and force of all things willfully ‘difficult’ in the world of VU, John Cale, that partly explains the shift in styles that began with the previous record and finds its logical conclusion here. Cale was a classically trained song-arranger (empirically the first artrock hero to emerge from London’s Goldsmith’s college in line that would include Blur) whose experimental inclinations led him to collaborte early on with key avant guarde figures like La Monte Young.

Lou Reed, on the other hand, started out as an in-house songwriter for Pickwick Records where he composed novelty hits, including a dance track called ‘The Ostrich’ a far cry from the famously morose solo material he released throughout the 90s. But it’s Lou Reed’s inability to do sweetness and light that makes Loaded. Beneath the surface lies punk attitude, beatific world-weariness (‘Oh! Sweet Nuthin’, in particular) and every suggestion of the darker currents that drove this extraordinary band.

Can you see where I’m going with this yet?

Uncharacteristically approachable, harbouring darker, savoury depths beneath a moreish surface, if you can’t stand a one-dimensional wine (or album for that matter), Côte Rôtie and Loaded may be just the split personality you’re looking for.

Gevrey Chambertin is the most northerly great red wine appellation in the strip of the Cote de Nuits, Burgundy from which some of the world’s best wines originate. Like most of Burgundy it’s an unassuming place; Gevrey lies sleepily at the foot of a road which then sharply ascends the dramatic Cote d’Or escarpment where no good will come of planting vines. Down within the commune, however, there’s an embarrassment of riches grown from the steep slopes of Clos St Jacques, to the flatter terrain of other famous Premier Crus like Combottes, allowing for a variety of styles from structured and tannic to rich and intensely fragrant. There are nine Grand Cru vineyards in Gevrey, the daddy of them all being simply, ‘Chambertin’.

Domaine Maume is run by Bertrand Maume who is part of the enology department of the University of Dijon but there’s nothing academic about the character of this almost exaggeratedly luscious and lively wine.

After the lauded 2005 Burgundies, which are turning out to have a secretive violet allure not yet ready to reveal their full character beyond village level, 2006 was full of simple charm from the outset. Some have been a bit of a letdown after the initial fruit glow has settled but this assemblage from different climates owned by Maume isn’t ready to let time tame its vigour.

It doesn’t look like a blockbuster: light brick in the glass, it merges into a transparent rim but you can whiff the unusually intense fragrance before even lifting the glass. Powerful red fruits with strawberry tart, pollens and a backdrop of violet leap out like colours with the saturation dialled up. Fruits emerge in the mouth with jammy currants, sweet rhubarb and a slightly saline finish framed by vanilla from the oak. So, arguably a little blowsy at present but far from one-dimensional.

Now to our musical pairing. It’s not a box-ticking exercise (Feminine? Check. Vigorous? Check. Layered and Complex? Whatever.) What we’re after is the fundamental character that defines the wine’s uniqueness (and on this note, it’s good to kick-off with Burgundy, surely the antithesis of squeezed-through-a-tube focus-tested product manufacture) and an album that tells that same story from a musical perspective.

Much as I would have loved to pull out some obscure psychedelic gem for the debut pairing of Drinkin’ Music, the perfect fit is very likely already resident in your music collection. An album whose reputation has probably suffered from its justifiable ubiquity. But popularity doesn’t make it any less a of a masterpiece.

Van Morrison  – “Moondance” (Warners, 1970)

“Astral Weeks” which came out a couple of years earlier in 1968 is the Grand Cru, the Chambertin: an album that’s never the same experience twice, that keeps you coming back to marvel at the hypnotic fluency of Morrison’s expression. “Moondance” is our 1er Cru Gevrey – it hints at the complexity and power in its bloodline but wraps everything up in an altogether more accessible form.

Give the album long enough and it finally reveals its inner sanctum, “Into The Mystic”, the song that most explicitly references the visions conjured on “Astral Weeks”; that Celtic gypsy soul and wide-eyed wonderment in the presence of nature that’s so explicit in the previous album yet steering the undercurrent of raw passion behind the pristine structures of this one.

It’s those glimpses of greatness, flashes of a complexity often inaccessible to the initiate but channelled through a more hospitable façade that define this wine and this record. Just listen to Van soar righteously into the final chorus of the otherwise pleasantly MOR “These Dreams Of You”; these are the cookie crumbs that get us all hooked on the hard stuff in the end.

Think twice before developing a Chambertin habit though. “Astral Weeks” is currently available on Amazon for £4.69; Domaine Maume’s 2006 Mazis-Chambertin is selling for between £500 and £700 for a case of 12 bottles. A bottle of the Gevrey 1er Cru discussed above will set you back about £30. And you already have “Moondance”, right?