Greetings, Internet. I write to you today amid what we have started referring to here in Kansas City as “third winter.” For those of you who follow the dhillwineandsongs Instagram, you may have noticed that I spent the last few days trout fishing and generally basking in the sun. This morning however, it’s a balmy 28 degrees with snow. The kind of weather that calls for cozying up by the fireplace with an oversized pour of escapism. Which is why for today’s episode I have settled on a pairing which takes us well south of the American border, to lands known for their sun-drenched shore lines, spicy cuisine, first rate jazz musicians, and one of the most unique and refreshing wines known to man. Yes, brothers and sisters, today we dive into the irresistible waters of Cuban Jazz and a sensually aromatic white wine native to Argentina: Buena Vista Social Club and Torrontes.
Given the weather, let’s start with the wine. Torrontes reminds me of a steamy summer romance film that guiltily sucks you in for the better part of an afternoon, knowing full well your to-do list is far from complete. Torrontes’ seductive, dramatic, even deceptive, nose, its intensely refreshing palate, matched with its inherent seasonal enjoyability takes me back to warm summer nights as a teenager, long before reality and responsibility reared their oppressive heads.
The grape hails from high elevations in Argentina, a region most famous for its bold, almost machismo single varietal Malbec. Torrentes, however, couldn’t be more different. This aromatic white has a characteristically sweet, floral nose likely to arouse dedicated Riesling and Gewurztraminer drinkers. These perfume-like aromas are balanced mischievously by an intense, often lime-like acidity, and a dry finish more akin to Vino Verde or high-quality Pinot Grigio. When scrolling back through my tasting notes of various Torrontes I’ve encountered, one recurring description was the non-word “limeadey.” Other adjectives included: “liquid sunshine” “Pavlovian” and “Margarita after the ice melts.” You get the picture. This wine is basically tailor made to fit in your beach bag, between the towels, sunscreen, and that novel your friend lent you a year and a half ago that you are currently 27 pages into. Imagine the hot sun on your skin harmoniously cooled by the ocean breeze, the innocent sound of children playing in the distance, seagulls navigating tide pools, and the bell of a man in a sombrero selling ice cream on a bicycle. This, coupled with a heaping spoonful of sexy, is what Torrontes tastes like, and arguably, what pre-revolutionary Cuban Jazz sounds like.
Ok, let's talk about Buena Vista Social Club. The story behind this monster Cuban Jazz album is almost as revered among record producers and musicians as the music itself. The brainchild of British producer Nick Gold and American slide guitar guru Ry Cooder, this 1996 recording is a handpicked line-up of who’s who of Havana jazz musicians. A few even came out of retirement just to be a part of the project. It is also one of those classic, almost didn’t happen, happy accident, right place right time type of scenarios. To briefly summarize the legend:
In 1996 renowned world music producer Nick Gold was hanging in Cuba and invited Ry Cooder to come join him in the control room for a session that was supposed to be like a master class of Afro-Cuban musicians. Cooder agrees that sounds like a pretty enjoyable time. However, there were a few legal and bureaucratic hang-ups to their plan. Ry Cooder couldn’t just go to Havana, being an American, so he had to hang in Mexico for a bit, bummer, right? Upon his arrival in Havana, Nick Gold informed Cooder that the African musicians booked for the session were having visa troubles of their own and were not going to be able to make it. So, they devised a new plan to make an album of pre-revolutionary Cuban jazz music known as “son Cubana” or just “son,” from the Spanish word for a pleasant sound, especially a musical one. They enlisted the Cuban musicians that were already booked for the session to basically put together a band of the most legendary and talented players in Havana. As a musician I believe it important to list their names, even though most of us outside of the Latin Jazz world have never heard of these gifted people: bassist Orlando “Cachaito” Lopez, guitarist Eliades Ochoa, Musical Director Juan de Marcos Gonzalez, singer Manuel “Puntilita” Licea, pianist Ruben Gonzalez, and octogenarian singer Compay Segundo. In depth information is online about all of them if you wish to delve deeper into their individual stories.
In six days these stellar Cuban musicians, with British Gold and American Cooder at the helm, recorded an album that has been credited with not only single handedly reviving pre-revolutionary Cuban Jazz music, but also sparking an international craze for Latin Jazz of all sorts, and making stars out of the already regionally celebrated Cuban players in the process.
My first experience with this record, cliche as it sounds, was in a fold out chair, on a relatively remote beach in the Florida Keys with a belly full of rum and studio quality headphones. After intently enjoying the LP from start to finish what followed was, without question, the greatest nap I’ve experienced in my thirty-one years of earthly existence. This has since become a go-to memory whenever reality becomes disagreeable. A reliable defense against the kind of day when, say, (hypothetically of course), it's snowing in April and you still haven’t done your taxes. Just three bars into the eerily seductive opening track “Chan Chan” and I am right back by the turquoise ocean, carefree and elated as a seagull with a French fry.
Here’s the recipe for how to get out of your head this week:
The Wine: Torrontes
Region: La Rioja, Argentina
Nose: Bright floral notes followed by Riesling like aromas of peach/pear
Palate: High acidity, shiny citrus notes, mainly lime and a little lemon followed by the peach notes detected on the nose. Very refreshing.
Assessment: A delightful, not remarkable wine. Side note; I deliberately chose this wine because it is seasonally available at Trader Joe's for $3.99!! A lovely low risk investment for anyone looking to start their Torrontes journey.
The Album: Buena Vista Social Club, World Circuit Records, 1997
Serving Suggestion: As mentioned in the blog my first encounter with this record was with $150 headphones in the tropics, so if that is at all a possibility for you that would be my first suggestion. For those of us in the real world my best advice is to set the mood however possible. Go eat some Cuban food, Google a recipe for old fashioned daiquiris (or hemingway's as the hipsters call them), light some candles. Basically, whatever you have to do to trick your mind out of your routine and into believing you're an amazing dancer who wears suspenders, or bright red dresses like it's no big deal. Then listen at a volume high enough to eliminate distractions, but not so loud that you can't pick out all of the intricate subtleties happening behind the lead instruments.
Tracks of distinction: The run time is exactly 60:00. Seriously, carve out an hour and just listen to the whole thing. It's worth it.
Thanks for tuning in!