JULIAN HITNER TORONTO WINE CONSULTANT

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This has been a subject that I have long been interested in tackling – the subject of which wines go best with which specific type(s) of music.

Now obviously, such a discussion would almost exclusively be based on my own personal opinions, so people ought to feel free to agree or disagree with any observations I make. However, having thought long and hard about this particular subject, I do believe that my matches are not without foundation.

WINE AND CLASSICAL COMPOSERS

To be certain, the most significant genre from which to examine the accompaniment of different types of wines are different sorts of classical composers, along with the different 'subgenres' of their works.

The reason(s) for this?

Most likely, there are several explanations for why so many types of wines seem to go so well with so many different types of classical music. For one thing, many classical composers were, themselves, notable enthusiasts (sometimes to the point of outright drunkenness) of good-quality wine.

At the same time, many classical composers also integrated into their music notable aspects of natural (or pastoral) settings
– settings under which actual grapes were grown and made into wine (such as around Vienna, for instance).

Finally, many composers wrote pieces of music that were meant to reflect the audience (or society) for which they both worked and lived. Thus, many of their works came to reflect the persons, audiences, and general civil societies for whom they were writing.

And so, on this webpage, I look forward to examining several prominent composers to see if I am successfully able, more or less, to piece together some interesting music-and-wine accompaniments.

    JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH (1685-1750)

    In terms of overall productivity and sheer brilliance, few other composers (with the exception of Mozart and Haydn) can match the awesome uniqueness and genius of J.S. Bach. Writing during the so-called 'Baroque Period' of classical composition, Bach is arguably most well-known for his seemingly-effortless gift at being able to compose extraordinary pieces in all the classical mediums of his day, from small, elegant solo violin pieces to gargantuan, larger-than-life organ works. In most of his works, though, Bach always seems to have relied on semblance or aristocratic order and artistry; and wines that accompany his music really ought to illustrate this as best as possible. Below are a few suggestions:
    • Toccata and Fugue in D Minor (BWV 565) --- Written sometime in the early-eighteenth century, this solo composition for organ is one of Bach's most famous works (*though some classical music scholars have questioned its authenticity*). Carrying, at times, deeply religious tones, this is a very loud and pious work, one that demands a wine of huge breadth and perhaps a little austerity --- recommendation: a well-aged Graves (Bordeaux) or a very old Port
    • Violin Concertos (BWV 1041-1043) --- Written around the early-1720s, these pieces for violin are routinely played on the radio. Characterized by an aristocratic-like flair, as well as an unmistakable light elegance, these concertos call for a wine that epitomizes both breed and classy character --- recommendation(s): any wine of somewhat lighter-style from Margaux (ex. Ch. du Tertre) or a Barbaresco

    LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)

    As the greatest composer who (arguably) ever lived, one must always make sure that any wine the accompanies Beethoven's music is of indisputable quality. Though classical music scholars have generally divided the styles of Beethoven into three distinct periods (for he wrote during a time period when music was becoming increasingly more 'romantic' in style, especially around 1800), very few experts would disagree that Beethoven almost always strove for power, indefinable beauty, and heightened emotion within most of his most famous works. As such, wines that accompany pieces by Beethoven ought to fit such descriptions. Below are a few suggestions:
    • Piano Concerto No. 3 --- First performed in 1803, this piece of music can arguably be regarded as the one of the most important 'transitional works' ever written for piano and orchestra, in that it stands in almost-direct contrast to practically every work of the same genre to precede it. Passionately elegant and heroically emotional, it requires an especially refined wine to accompany its magnificence --- recommendation: a medium-aged wine (high grade) from Pomerol (Bordeaux)
    • Piano Concerto No. 5 ('Emperor')--- Begun in 1808 and finished three years later, this is arguably Beethoven's most well-known work for piano and orchestra. A complicated piece, it takes a well-developed ear to understand that this is not only brilliantly heroic, but also one of immense complication and (at times) of great sadness. Are there any wines, then, that are capable of matching such a description? I believe so --- recommendation(s): a premium Cabernet-Merlot from Margaret River (Australia) or a high-end Pinot Noir from New Zealand
    • Piano Sonata No. 14 ('Moonlight') --- Written in 1801, this is almost certainly Beethoven's most famous solo piano work. While some classical music experts might disagree, I would argue that the two adjectives which best describe this sonata are 'contemplation' and 'restrained power.' Therefore, my suggestion would be a wine of thoughtful finesse and capable might --- recommendation: a medium-aged wine from St.-Estephe (ex. Ch. Cos d'Estournel)
    • String Quartet in A Minor (Op. 132) --- Written in 1825 and recognised as Beethoven's 15th string quartet, the immortal Ludwig was seriously ill when he wrote this piece, and was unsure if he was going to recover. As such, a great deal of intellectual themes seem to present themselves throughout this particular work, the most important being (arguably) the acceptance of both oncoming death and life lived. It seems only fitting, then, that this string quartet be matched with a wine near the end of its life, yet still has a great deal to tell --- recommendation(s): a very old St-Emilion (Bordeaux) or an old Barolo (Piedmont, Italy)
    • Symphony No. 5 --- Premiering in 1808, the first movement of this symphony (particularly the first eight notes) is one of the most famous pieces of music ever written. A work of unrelenting emotion and heroism, such a musical composition ought to be accompanied by a wine of exceptional power, opulence, and grandeur --- recommendation(s): a well-aged Pauillac or a marvelously powerful (and expensive and well-aged) Northern Rhône (perhaps a Hermitage)
    • Symphony No. 6 ('Pastoral') --- Premiering in 1808, this symphony is true to its nickname; on listening to this beautiful work, one can not help but to think of nature (ex. trees, meadows, grass, small animals, spring flowers, birds, picnicking, and all that stuff). Thus, I would surmise that the most appropriate wine(s) to enjoy with such music would be ones that best typify one's enjoyment of the outdoors --- recommendation(s): a high-quality rosé ('Old World' or 'New World') or a crisp Sauvignon Blanc from either the Loire or New Zealand
    • Symphony No. 9 ('Coral') --- Completed in 1824 (three years prior to his death), a good number of people call this the greatest symphony ever written. Uncompromisingly passionate and 'immortal' in so many ways, such a miraculous piece of music calls for an extremely fine wine (such as a Bordeaux 'First Growth' or a top-end Grand Cru Burgundy); anything less would simply be an inadequate accompaniment --- recommendation(s): a Ch. Lafite (Pauillac, Bordeaux) or a Romanée Conti (Burgundy) [for people of more moderate means, I would recommend a high-end 'Second Growth,' perhaps a wine from the 2001, which are selling at comparatively reasonable prices]
    • Violin Concerto --- Premiering in 1806, I have often observed that many people (both critics and enthusiasts of classical music, alike) seem to regard this piece of work for solo violin and orchestra as the standard by which the quality of most other pieces of a similar nature are judged. While some people might challenge this statement (some just for the hell of it), most will still undoubtedly agree that Beethoven's Violin Concerto is one of sheer brilliance, unmistakably breathtaking and animated with the soul of a romantic --- recommendation(s): a well-aged Chinon (Loire) Cabernet Franc or a high-end Barbaresco

    JOHANNES BRAHMS (1833-1897)

    In terms of overall renown and posterity, few composers of the nineteenth century have acquired the level of esteem Brahms has been able to achieve both late in his lifetime and the centuries following his death. Writing at the tail-end of the so-called 'Romantic Period' of classical composition (c. 1820-1900), most of Brahms' works (with the exception of his Lullaby) are known mainly to true lovers of classical music. With few exceptions, they are typified by an overwhelming sense of seriousness and grandiose character, as well as brilliant melodic/harmonic form. Thus, the best wines to go with a good number of Brahms' works are those that are both profound in structure and bold in feature. Here are a few suggestions:
    • Double Concerto in A Minor (Op. 102) --- Composed in 1887 and meant for solo violin and cello, this is Brahms' final written work for orchestra. To be certain, this is the work of a veteran, which, for Brahms, means a work of unreserved, confident 'classical Romanticism' and distinctive musical theme. For a wine accompaniment, then, the best choice would arguably have to be something carrying a fine degree of self-assuredness and notable distinction --- recommendation(s): a premium Meursault (Burgundy) or premium Mosel (Germany) Riesling Kabinett (both of these wines are, at their finest, distinct and confident
    • Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat Major (Op. 83) --- Premiering in 1881, many classical scholars look on this piece of music as a sort-of symphony unto itself, comparable in quality, in the opinion of some classical music scholars, to the concertos of Beethoven. A very serious work (with a surprisingly uplifting fourth and final movement), this work ought to be matched with a wine unafraid to flex its muscles, yet boasting enough finesse and character to make even a perfectionist like Brahms smile admirably at such a suggestible drinking accompaniment to his music --- recommendation(s): a Grand Cru St. Emilion (or higher, preferably) or a Corton-Charlemagne (white or red) from Burgundy
    • Symphony No. 1 in C Minor (Op. 68) --- Premiering in 1876, this is one of Brahms' 'biggest' works (sometimes even considered too big for its own good), and absolutely adored by musicians and enthusiasts of large symphonic works. This is a symphony that demands a wine of brilliant character and emotional depth --- recommendation(s): premium-quality Napa Cabernet Sauvignon/blend (ex. Dunn or Opus One) or a well-aged Brunello di Montalcino (ex. Biondi Santi)
    • Symphony No. 4 in E Minor (Op. 98) --- Premiering in 1885, this symphony (with the exception of the third movement) is one of the most serious works Brahms seems to have ever written, and is (at least arguably) a testament to Brahms' own extraordinary ability to exact astonishing depth from tried-and-true 'classically romantic' methods of composition. Decisively awesome in both melodic and harmonic form, this particular symphony demands a wine capable of a sort-of 'loud elegance' that reminds the drinker that life exists not for the 'present-conformist' but for the 'past-conformist' (*and I'm not talking about hippies*) --- recommendation(s): a wine from Pessac-Léognan (ex. Ch. Haut-Brion or La Mission) or an ultra-premium Mosel (ex. Loosen or J.J. Prüm)

    ANTONÍN DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)

    One of the truly great romantic composers of the late-nineteenth century, many of Dvořák's pieces of music have enjoyed a great deal of popularity among enthusiasts of classical music in both the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Drawing on semi-nationalistic themes and folk-like melodies derived from his native Bohemia – ones that are often quite serious in tone (not unlike Brahms) – wines that go wiith Dvořák are generally those that bear distinctly-local flavours and notable depth. Below are several suggestions:
    • Slavonic Dances --- Written between 1878 and 1896, this is one of Dvořák's most often-played orchestral pieces of music. Comprising sixteen movements (that make up a twin-set of variations). Distinctly folk-melodic in theme, this brilliant work begs for a wine of notable uniqueness: recommendation(s): a red table wine from the Douro winegrowing region (Portugal) or a high-end Hungarian (or Greek) red (they actually do make them now)
    • String Quartet No. 8 --- Composed in 1876, the level of genius Dvořák exhibits in this particular string quartet is extraordinary. Intrinsically tragic (sometimes 'playfully serious,' as in the third movement), this is Dvořák at his finest: seemingly flawless technique and melodic (and harmonic) excellence. Is there a wine that matches such a description? --- recommendation(s): a premium Mosel Riesling Kabinett (Germany) or a Wachau Riesling Smaragd (Austria)
    • String Quartet No. 10 --- Completed in 1879, Dvořák's tenth quartet seems to have been written with all the confidence befitting its creator. An intellectual piece intertwined with cheerful folk melodies (especially in the final movement), the piece calls for a more complicated type of wine, yet one that isn't shy of exhibiting some real personality --- recommendation(s): a Demi-Sec Vouvray (Chenin Blanc) from the Loire (France) or, if one wants to go in an alternate direction, a claret from Margaux (Bordeaux)
    • Symphony No. 8 --- Completed in 1889, this brilliant work reveals the extent to which Dvořák could make Romantic-style orchestral works sound so easy to compose. Free-flowing, sometimes pastoral, and gloriously harmonic, I would (personally) accompany with this symphony a wine that is deceptively uncomplicated, yet, at the same time, decisively wondrous --- recommendation(s): a Martinborough Pinot Noir (New Zealand) or a Pinot Noir from Oregon (USA)
    • Symphony No. 9 ('From the New World') --- Composed in 1893, this is Dvořák's most famous symphony; very 'loud' and emotional, it is a marvelous piece of orchestral music, at times sounding almost 'international' in both style and scale. This is a work that requires a 'New World' wine, not just because of the symphony's nickname, but because of the way the symphony sounds --- recommendation(s): a premium Chilean blend or a Santa Cruz Cabernet Sauvignon (California)

    FRANZ JOSEPH HAYDN (1732-1809)

    To be certain, Franz Joseph Haydn rightly holds a special place in many classical enthusiasts' hearts. Having lived (by 18th century standards) an astoundingly long life, Haydn was a both a prolific and extremely gifted composer, matched (and perhaps surpassed) only by Mozart in the 'orderly creativity' of his music, which was the style of the 'Classical Period' of composition. Most of Haydn's works, then, would seem best matched with wines that offer a sense of always-pleasing order. Below are several suggestions:
    • Symphony No. 85 in B-flat Major ('La Reine') --- Written in 1785, this is the fourth of Haydn's "Paris Symphonies," and (arguably) one of the most famous. Semi-serious at times, its standout component is certainly the second movement, which is based on an old French melody; lovely, soothing, and contemplative, the piece calls for a wine that exibits similar traits --- recommendation(s): a Tasmanian Pinot Noir (Australia) or a Pfalz Riesling Kabinett (Germany)
    • Trumpet Concerto in E-flat Major --- Written in 1796, this is arguably the most famous piece for trumpet and orchestra ever written. Cheerful, tuneful, and 'silently lyrical,' Haydn presents the trumpet in a state of delicateness one might (at least initially) think incompatible with a loud, brass instrument. What wine, then, to match with it? I have a few ideas --- recommendation(s): a well-aged Côte-Rôtie from the Rhône winegrowing region of France or a Californian sparkling wine

    FELIX MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)

    An extraordinarily gifted composer, Felix Mendelssohn was something of a natural prodigy in his own right. Writing during the beginning of the so-called 'Romantic Period' of classical composition (c. 1820-1900), many of Mendelssohn's works are extremely popular among enthusiasts of classical music in the twenty-first century. Best known for the exuberant passion and stupendous harmony he instilled in his works, wines that pair best with music of Mendelssohn are those that display both youthful liveliness and three-dimensional depth. Below are several suggestions:
    • Symphony No. 4 ('Italian') --- Completed in 1833, this is definitely Mendelssohn's most famous symphony. Inspired by an actual trip to the Italian peninsula, it is full of notable 'Italian-style' emotion and cheerful depth (except in the fourth movement, which sounds distinctly grave in some respects), and is thus best paired with some sort-of Italian wine --- recommendation(s): a Chianti Classico or a Valpolicella (Ripasso)
    • Violin Concerto --- Premiering in 1845, this is regarded as one of the finest violin concertos ever composed. Decidedly dramatic, the work begins (in the first movement) in full tragic mode and ends (in the final movement) in resounding triumph. Perhaps, then, this piece of music calls for a wine that follows a similar dialogue; one that starts out somber but ends, after a little while, in capacious glory --- recommendation(s): a Gevrey-Chambertin (red) or Puligny-Montrachet (white), both of which hail from distinctly different parts of Burgundy

    WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART (1756-1791)

    From piano concertos to opera, there was no type of classical music that Mozart could not write. As a general rule, however, much of Mozart's music was true to a certain sense of 'order' and 'unification,' as well as a much-loved melodic and harmonic form unmatched by any of his contemporaries (with the notable exception of Haydn) within its various mediums. This, of course, was typical of most music written during the so-called 'Classical Period' of composition (c. 1750-1820). And so, it would only seem logical to pair Mozart's music with wines that fit such a profile. And so, here are a few suggestions:
    • Eine kleine Nachtmusik (K. 525) --- Written in 1787, this is probably Mozart's best-known work. Though overly played in cheaply-made television advertisements in the twenty-first century, no one would dare argue that this is nothing less than an absolutely charming piece of music. Carrying an sort-of pompous aristocratic air about it, this is a very 'light' piece, one which arguably calls for an 'Old World' blue blood type of wine – one that is both relatively light(-er) in style and carrying an aristocratic flair about it --- recommendation: a mid-priced Volnay (Burgundy, France)
    • Requiem Mass (K. 626) --- Written (but never fully completed) in 1791, this is one of Mozart's most brilliantly dramatic pieces. Put simply, this is not the type of music that makes one feel happy when listening to it, and perhaps the type of wine accompaniment ought to reflect this --- reccommendation: a well-aged Bordeaux that is well past its prime (this ought to cause some sadness)
    • Symphony No. 40 (K. 550) --- Written in 1788, this is arguably Mozart's most well-known symphony, seeing as how the first dozen bars of the first movement had been used as a ringtone for millions of cell phones just a few years back! Unusually serious for one of Mozart's symphonies (and highly intellectual in tone), one must be careful about selecting a wine to accompany it --- recommendation: a wine from the 'Left Bank' of Bordeaux

    FRANZ SCHUBERT (1797-1828)

    Living under the shadow of Beethoven for practically all of his life, Franz Schubert only achieved widespread fame among classical composers a good several decades following his death. For the most part, much of Schubert's music is indefinably 'bourgeois' in style (he wrote a great deal of music for upper-middle-class societies within Vienna), as well as filled with all sorts of delightful 'Classical Period' melodic and harmonic nuances. Thus, any wines that accompany his work ought to fit the mold of something that is both 'aristocratic-like' in character and 'classical' in style. Here are some suggestions:
    • Piano Quintet in A Major ('Trout Quintet') --- Composed in 1819, this is probably Schubert's most famous chamber work; comprising five lovely movements, it arguably sounds like one of Schubert's more 'casually breathtaking' works. Bourgeois-like in tone, one would most likely wish to pair it with a wine of both lighter-style and quiet elegance --- recommendation(s): a Sancerre from the Loire (France) or a Dolcetto from Piedmont (Italy)
    • Symphony No. 2 --- Written sometime around 1815, this is probably one of the most underrated of Schubert's orchestral works; unusually dramatic and personal, this work ought to appeal to those who appreciate a lesser-known wine of distinction --- recommendations: a premium wine from the Bourg or Blaye region of Bordeaux
    • Symphony No. 5 --- Written in 1816, this is arguably Schubert's second-most famous symphony (after the eighth, the 'Unfinished Symphony'). Unreserved 'bourgeois' in texture and mistakably 'classical' in tone, this is (at least in my opinion) one of the most 'simplistically beautiful' symphonies of the early-nineteenth century, and calls for a wine of non-phony aristocratic grace and refinement --- recommendation(s): a seven-to-ten-year-old red from the Haut-Médoc in Bordeaux (ex. Ch. Cantemerle) or a Volnay (or Puligny-Montrachet) from Burgundy

    ROBERT SCHUMANN (1810-1856)

    Undeniably one of the most complicated composers of his day (particularly in a mental capacity), Robert Schumann has been granted a very decent position in the annals of classical composers, particularly in the twenty-first century. For his part, Schumann wrote during the middle of the so-called 'Romantic Period' of classical composition (c. 1820-1900); and most of his works seem to bear witness to this fact. Serious and personal, Schumann's music really does demand a type of wine that is both large in proportion and capable of contemplative in depth. Below are a few suggestions:
    • Piano Concerto in A Minor (Op. 54) --- Premiering in 1846, this is a very intriguing piece of music, firmly rooted in the 'Romantic tradition,' yet also bearing a certain unmistakable individualistic creativity that seems typical of many of Schumann's works; popular in the twenty-first century, I would say it needs a wine of serious breadth and complexity --- recommendation(s): a well-aged Châteauneuf-du-Pape (France) or a Brunello di Montalcino (Italy)
    • Symphony No. 3 in E-flat Major ('Rhenish') (Op. 97) --- Written around 1850, this five-movement symphony is unquestionably 'Romantic' in overall character. Though perhaps unusually cheerful for Schumann (especially in the first and final movements), its personality could not be more personal in a large, gloriously-loud style. To be certain, then, it demands a wine that is able to match such features --- recommendation(s): a medium-aged McLaren Vale (Australia) Shiraz or a Washington State Merlot
    • Symphony No. 4 in D Minor (Op. 120)--- Published in 1851 (though an original work had been completed in 1841), this is undoubtedly Schumann's most passionate symphonic work; almost 'triumphantly dramatic' in style (particularly in the first and final movements), the piece seems to represent that of a man whose many thoughts and troubles could never be fully resolved --- recommendation(s): a Grand Cru Chambolle-Musigny (Burgundy, France) or a Grand Cru Riesling from Alsace (France)

    PYOTR ILYICH TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)

    Unquestionably Russia's most famous (and brilliant) composer, the works of Tchaikovsky remain some of the most popular pieces of classical music within popular culture (after Beethoven and Mozart). For classical enthusiasts, however, his works are filled with distinctly Russian-sounding motifs, pastoral themes, and unmistakably-romantic overtones. Depending upon the work, I believe that the best wine accompaniments that go with Tchaikovsky's music are those that carry a quiet 'folksy distinction' about them, as well as a notable flavourful depth to them. Below are a few suggestions:
    • 'Festival Overture: The Year of 1812' in E-flat Major (Op. 49) --- First performed in 1882 and commonly known as the '1812 Overture,' this is arguably one of the funnest orchestral pieces ever written. Today, it is most often performed to commemorate the independence of the United States from Britain (which is rather weird, as the piece was originally written to celebrate Russia's victory over Napolean and France ... the French assisted the American colonists in the War of Independence ... thus, if France helped the Americans, why would the latter play a piece of music that humiliates the former?). And so, it seems only fitting to pair this wine with California's signature grape --- recommendation: a Dry Creek Zinfandel (California)
    • 'The Nutcracker' --- Completed in 1892, this (along with the '1812 Overture') is Tchaikovsky's most famous piece of music – due largely to crappy Christmas commercials. Because of its status in popular culture, one can not help but thinking that the best wine to go with this is a cheap Port, but I believe this to be untrue --- recommendation(s): an expensive vintage Port or an Aussie fortified wine (something to have during the Christmas season)
    • Symphony No. 4 in F Minor (Op. 36)--- First performed in 1878, this symphony (especially the first and final movements) is both thoughtfully soft and, more importantly, incredibly loud! Brimming with horns, emotion, and creativity, the piece - truly Russian in tone - calls for a wine that is (metaphorically) unafraid to say, "I am here, and you will afford me attention!" And so, one simply must pair it with a wine that behaves as such --- recommendation(s): a young Napa Bordeaux Blend or a Barossa Shiraz

    OTHER CLASSICAL COMPOSERS

    Generally speaking, there are dozens of other composers whose various works would pair brilliantly with certain specific types of wine. Here are a few more suggestions:
    • Gustav Holst, 1874-1934 (The Planets) --- Completed in 1916, this is unquestionably Holst's most famous piece of music. Comprising seven movements, it is a dazzling expression of – in Holst's opinion – what the first seven planets would sound like if they were put to musical form. A very loud and mysterious work, I would recommend an exceptionally big and distinct wine --- recommendation(s): a well-aged Rutherford (Napa) Cabernet Sauvignon or an icewine (it is very cold in space)
    • Modest Mussorgsky, 1839-1881 (Pictures at an Exhibition) --- Written in 1874, this is indisputably Mussorgsky's best-known work. Originally written as a ten-movement suite for solo piano, it was eventually transcribed for orchestra. For those that are familiar with this piece, it is hard to argue that images of fantasy and adventure come to mind when one hears its movements; it is a work of imagination and (at times) seemingly-pastoral beauty, and ought to be paired with a type of wine that conjures up such notions --- recommendation: any wine from New Zealand (one of the most naturally-fantastic places in the world)
    • Richard Strauss, 1864-1949 (Also sprach Zarathustra) --- Written in 1896, this is a symphonic poem that gained widespead fame for its use (specifically the use of its first movement) in Stanley Kubrick's science fiction film 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Now heard primarily (and unfortunately) mostly in large automobile commercials, it really does take a true appreciator of classical music to look beyond its use in mainstream culture and realize what a brilliant work it is – all nine movements, and not just the first one! A rather distinctive-yet-grand work, any wine that accompanies it should possess features along a similar line --- recommendation(s): a high-grade Aussie Shiraz (such as from Barossa Valley) or a Dry Creek Zinfandel (Sonoma, California)

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