As a sommelier, I’ve been asked to pair wines with almost everything, from Icelandic cuisine to Turkish, from an all-vegan meal to what could perhaps be called a beef-stravaganza. At this point, I know the steps: Identify the dominant flavors and the accent notes, then try to find wines that either share those qualities or somehow accentuate them.
Despite all of that experience, I found myself vexxed recently when presented with a unique wine pairing challenge. My friends Andrew and Emily, better known to the world as members of the Seattle band SISTERS, are about to release their debut album. Normally I’d just be excited for them, but when I learned that they titled the album Drink Champagne, I wondered if I could somehow help. I floated the idea and they were game. So it is that in the liner notes for the vinyl edition will be my suggested Champagne pairing for each song.
My idea was initially something of a lark, a comment in passing. The more I thought about it, though, the more it intrigued me. The band’s music, after all, possesses a bright and effervescent quality that makes Champagne a natural pairing even without the album title. Nonetheless, I knew I’d have to delve a bit deeper to really challenge myself. I’m far from a connoisseur of music, but as I listened to the album multiple times, I realized that I just needed to think about the music in terms I understood: texture, intensity, tone, and complexity.
For example, here’s what I wrote about the track “Trails”: “Vibrant and exuberant, with a joyous and triumphant sensibility, this is a song that merits the ultimate achievement of a Champagne producer, a rosé Champagne. Want to feel like you’re running down a trail of rose petals, scented with strawberry blossoms? Crack open a bottle of Billecart-Salmon rosé and close your eyes as you take the first sip.”
Working on these pairings also made me think about Champagne’s history and emerging trends, which can be strikingly diverse. My pairings ranged from highly sought-after wines from the most prominent Champagne houses to small wines from individual growers, from affordable (in the world of Champagne at least) to … decidedly not.
So yeah, it was definitely a different exercise than figuring out what to pair with black cod or braised lamb, but it also illustrated to me the ways in which sensorial experiences can be in some way interchangeable, or at least understood in different ways. While other albums could prompt a similar exploration, it would be even more interesting to replicate with paintings, poems, or other forms of artistic expression. Got any suggestions?