“My path to wine began through music. Twenty years ago I was going to university part-time and playing drums in local bands when I randomly applied for a job at a wine store in Winnipeg to make a couple of extra bucks.
Since then, the two have been intrinsically linked for me. I’d work hucking cases at wine shops and then go on tour; as I did I started exploring various shops and wine regions in my rock and roll travels. Both my musical and wine-related tastes expanded and diversified simultaneously.
Creating either wine or music requires specialized technical skill, but both are borne out of passion and can elicit a wide range of emotional reactions.
In the same way that I’ll sometimes re-visit a favourite wine, I’ll occasionally park myself back behind my mid-1970s Slingerland drum kit — or in front of my Fender Deluxe amp, American Telecaster in hand — and re-ignite a long-standing passion for an art that keeps me invigorated. Wine and music feed the soul — and together they can work a little bit of magic.”
Winnipeg Free Press wine columnist, balding/aging ex-rock and roll road warrior
White – Chalk Hill Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon (South Australia)
RED – Viña Ventisquero 2013 Fuego Austral Cabernet Sauvignon (Central Valley, Chile)
BUBBLY – Castellblanch NV Cava (Cava, Spain)
Canadian Gothic 2012 Cab Merlot
Hawksley Workman’s music blends passion, theatrics and hard work in a way that’s pure Canadiana. The singer-songwriter’s latest record Old Cheetah, released earlier this year, melds his inimitable vocals with musical performances that push his canon forward — it’s fun, it’s sometimes over-the-top, and it’s always fantastic. Hawksley is pure Canadian gothic in the most tongue-in-cheek sense of the expression; the Canadian Gothic 2012 red, meanwhile, is a consistently well-made medium-bodied Cabernet/Merlot blend that embodies character. But there’s something extra lurking beneath the surface that’s intriguing, that’s alluring, that’s slightly more than ordinary… just like Workman.
Terre d’Ercole 2013 Falanghina Greco
There’s nobody doing what Tanya Tagaq’s doing – and it’s not even close. The Inuk singer from Nunavut has taken her genre-bending songwriting skills and fused them with her own inimitable take on throat singing, a tradition thousands of years old. Tagaq’s 2014 album Animism earned rave reviews worldwide, nabbing Tagaq two Juno nominations (and one win) as well as the prestigious $30,000 Polaris Music Prize. In a live context Tagaq’s incredible vocal performance fuses punk energy, cutting-edge instrumentation and haunting visuals and backup singing. Like throat singing, Falanghina has a long history in its own region, albeit in the decidedly warmer southern Italian region of Campania. And like Tagaq, the Terre d’Ercole is complex, refreshing, completely underrated and adored by industry types.
Charles Smith 2012 Eve Chardonnay
Iconic, powerful, controversial: Sinead O’Connor is all these things and so much more. Her latest record I’m Not Bossy, I’m the Boss showcases her unique songwriting capabilities, her powerful voice and her earnest take on life. The Charles Smith 2012 Eve Chardonnay comes from a groundbreaking winemaker who plays by his own rules, making wines that transcend trends and traditions. Sourced from four different Washington State vineyards in the Ancient Lakes region, the ripe fruit on the Eve Chardonnay isn’t masked by excessive oak, but rather is honest and straightforward, like O’Connor’s music.
Falerna 2012 Reserva Pinot Noir
Depth, elegance and soul – Amelia Curran’s voice combines them beautifully. Her earnest approach to songwriting is immediately captivating in her many recordings, but even more so in a live context. Her ability to meld heartbreaking and profound lyrics and acoustic-driven instrumentation is truly a rarity. Sourced from a single vineyard in Chile’s Elqui Valley, this cool-climate Pinot Noir is well-composed, complex, and speaks its own profound language that, like Curran, demands contemplation and reflection.
14 Hands 2012 Riesling
NQ Arbuckle puts the country in alt-country – over the course the last decade-plus singer-songwriter Neville Quinlan and his band have consistently delivered thoughtful, soulful songs that highlight Quinlan’s rich vocals. The punk and Celtic influences run throughout his tunes, including on his latest, The Future Happens Anyway, but there’s always plenty of cowpoke to go around. The 14 Hands Riesling from Washington State is fermented to be mostly dry, but retains a hint of residual sugar to accent the stony complexity of this white wine. In the same way NQ Arbuckle melds styles, this wine is a tip of the hat to both the drier, more focused New World style and sweeter, Germanic Riesling.
Innocent Bystander 2013 Pinot Noir
Elliot Brood (the band — there’s no person in the group by that name) have been carving their path through the alt-country scene for over a decade on their own terms. On 2014’s Work and Love their path shifted again — they handed the recording reins to Ian Blurton, cranked things up a bit and in the process created their most exciting, focused record to date. The 2013 Innocent Bystander Pinot Noir, from Australia’s Yarra Valley, shows similar focus — it was a tremendous vintage for Pinot Noir in the region and as a result there’s great depth and intensity to this estate-grown, hand-picked red.
Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings
Ocaso 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon
A Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings show is always a party — a musical celebration of soul and soul-searching that transcends the old-school funk and soul Jones and her Dap-Kings delivers. The rich instrumentation of the Dap-Kings’ rhythm section, horns and backing vocals lays the groundwork for Jones’ intense, up-beat vocal delivery that has never failed to captivate a crowd. The 2013 Ocaso Cabernet Sauvignon from Argentina’s Mendoza region brings the party in a similar way — while the country is best-known for Malbecs, this memorable, well-priced Cab Sauv brings celebration and soul in the glass, and is a captivating drink.
Cameron Hughes Lot 456 2012 Tempranillo/Malbec/Grenache
Over the course of over 20 albums, Dwight Yoakam has established himself as a country music pioneer. Under his trademark hat and with his classic Kentucky twang, Yoakam is the portrait of consistency, talent, and success (he’s the most frequent guest in the history of The Tonight Show). The Cameron Hughes Lot 456, a blend from California’s Lodi region, brings together three somewhat atypical varieties for California — Tempranillo, Malbec and Grenache. There’s an intensity to all three that somehow works when they’re combined in the Lot 456 — the verve of Tempranillo, the depth of Malbec and the fun of Grenache. Like Yoakam, the Lot 456 has all the right ingredients (and a little magic) required for a hit.
Jason Plumb & The Willing
2013 Fritz’s Riesling
Regina’s Jason Plumb, the former frontman for The Waltons, has been carving out a corner for himself in the Canadian music scene for the past quarter century. In his solo endeavour Plumb and his backing band, The Willing, have been creating acoustic-driven pop for over a decade. Named after owner Fritz Hasselbach, owners of Germany’s lauded Gunderloch estate, the 2013 Fritz’s Riesling is a decidedly New World Riesling made in the heart of Old World Europe. Fresh, lively and just a hint off-dry, it’s a decidedly versatile wine that’s fruit-driven with just the right amount of sweetness — kind of like Plumb.
Black Joe Lewis
Smashberry 2012 White
The Austin-based Black Joe Lewis’ latest release, 2013’s Electric Shave, delivers gut-wrenching fuzzed-out blues, soul, and electrified rockabilly with just the right amount of swagger. The Smashberry 2012 white is a blend from California’s Central Coast comprised of Roussanne, Muscat Canelli and White Riesling. This dry white is plenty aromatic, with loads of tropical notes, a hint of spice and just the faintest shade of sweetness, tipping its hat to France’s Rhône Valley while delivering New World intensity and verve — sort of like Lewis. Both the wine and the artist are ridiculously fun, tightly wound and surprisingly complex.
Ortas 2014 Pas de Meunier Rosé
The frontwoman of the old-school country/bluegrass outfit Carolina Chocolate Drops has been busy since expanding her solo endeavours in 2013. Her 2015 solo debut, Tomorrow is My Turn, was produced by T-Bone Burnett and features her own soulful, sometimes-melancholy take on classics done by Nina Simone, Dolly Parton, Patsy Cline and more. Giddens holds more than her own with her breathtakingly powerful voice, clever arrangements and obvious deep-rooted joy in making timeless music. The Ortas Pas de Meunier rosé is a dry Rhone Valley wine that delivers red berry notes while remaining crisp and effortlessly fresh. It’s subtly complex, rooted in the traditions of the area while carving its own path; Giddens is the same.
The Lone Bellow
Michele Satta 2012 Bolgheri Rosso Cab/Sangiovese/Merlot/Teroldego/Syrah
Singer-songwriter Zach Williams and The Lone Bellow bring a soulful, vibrant blend of roots, Americana and incredible vocal harmonies to the table at each and every show. Their latest record Then Came the Morning is a joyful celebration of Williams’ capabilities as both a musician and a lyricist. The Michele Satta Italian red blend combines Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese, Merlot, Teroldego and Syrah in one captivating package. It’s Old World charm meets New World flair in a bottle, with complexity that hints at something so much more.
Yalumba 2013 ‘Y Series’ Viognier
The blues-rock energy of Toronto’s July Talk truly has to be seen live to be believed. The quintet brings a relentless energy to their unique live show, bolstered by the he-sang/she-sang vocals of Peter Dreimanis and Leah Fay. And while their self-titled debut does well to capture that energy, it’s on stage where they truly shine – those who see July Talk in concert rarely miss them again. The Yalumba Y Series Viognier is similarly vibrant, electric, and full of verve. Bright, fresh tropical fruit flavours and some secondary spice notes as well as some light acidity bring plenty of energy without excessive oak aging. Both the band and the wine deliver memorable performances.
Majella 2012 ‘The Musician’ Cab/Shiraz
In 2013, Australian singer-songwriter Vance Joy signed a five-record deal with Atlantic Records in 2013. How hot is Joy now? Well, he was hand-picked to open Taylor Swift’s massive world tour – in fact, Joy’s breaking away for the tour for his one night at Interstellar Rodeo. But Joy’s no flash in the pan; his songwriting capabilities are crystal clear on his debut Dream Your Life Away (including the smash hit “Riptide” as well as “Wasted Time,” “Mess is Mine” and “First Time”), and speak to his incredible capacity as a musician. Also from Down Under, Majella’s “The Musician” Shiraz-Cabernet blend is all about balance – ripe fruit, good grip from some tannins, and a long finish to this full-bodied Coonawarra red are the complete package. Like Joy, this wine is immensely approachable yet has the substance to go the distance.
Southbrook 2013 Transitions Chardonnay
You’d be hard-pressed to find as iconic a Canadian band working today that continues to create compelling music as Blue Rodeo. Over the course of three decades and 12 studio albums, Jim Cuddy, Greg Keelor and company’s unique brand of acoustic-driven, country-inflected rock has set the standard when it comes to consistency, creativity and Canadiana – yet they’ve done so while always moving forward, never sounding stale or dated. The Southbrook 2013 Transitions Chardonnay is winemaker Ann Sperling’s own way of moving forward in the Niagara Peninsula – her Chardonnay is from a year in which the Sabourin vineyard in the Niagara Peninsula is in the transition stage of becoming organic. The hand-picked grapes in this wine offer the perfect balance of ripe red apple, citrus and tropical fruit with a subtle hint of oak aging. Like Blue Rodeo it’s a balanced, satisfying effort that’s an instant crowd-pleaser.