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The Joy of Wine and Music: Voices of Spring and Sauternes
by John Axelrod© Jan 18, 2012


The New Year has past, Strauss has been played, the voice of Spring is on its way, and what better way to warm the heart then to hear the songs of nature calling, (even if in winter) and to listen to Beethoven's Pastorale Symphony with a very good sweet Sauternes or Gerwutzraminer.

The Joy of Wine and Music continues its series with an exploration of the sweetest of wines, those that have not only a high residual sugar content, but who also guarantee a feeling of well being and delight. Whereas a heavy red or a crispy white might be perfect for a seasonal meal, the Sauternes, like a Chateau d'Yquem or a fine Gerwurtztraminer botrytis, like Sonnenglanz or Trimbach, called the "noble rot" for its preservation of interior sugar below the skin, can be enjoyed à la carte, independent of food, or with a foie gras. This wine has magical qualities, romantic qualities. Like the Pastorale itself, the sweet wine also evokes the sublime.

WIth each movement described as a romantic scene, from cheerful morning feelings, to a brook, to a country dance to a storm and finally the joy and gratitude after the fertile rain, the glorification of nature is central to his symphony. Can you imagine a crusty Beethoven cracking a smile under that scowl and saying: "How happy I am to be able to walk among the shrubs, the tress, the woods, the grass and the rocks! For the woods, the trees and the rocks give man the resonance he needs."

The Sauternes or Gewurtzraminer, grown under the mold during foggy, humid nights, are also reminiscent of the golden sunshine that reflects into a rainbow after a storm, and the silky, honey taste of these wines on the palate can make any bumblebee feel right at home.

But hang on! There is something below the surface. Beethoven himself wrote on the cover page: "Recollection of Country Life. More an expression of feeling than a description of events." Feelings. Whooooaaa, Feelings. That is what romanticism is about. Getting in touch with our feelings. And what wine can get better below the surface, than a special Sauternes, especially on a special occasion. It is a personal wine, one to share with friends and family, or with a loved one, especially on Valentine's Day in February. Give your love and Sauternes, and you'll get something sweet in return. Hmm, not a bad poem.

We can imagine something personal in what Beethoven was trying to say in his symphony. Remember, the Pastorale was premiered in 1808 along with the 5th Symphony. Beethoven knew his C minor symphony had all the makings of a great work. But not to leave out the Pastorale, and not to give too much away of his own private feelings, Beethoven, ever the clever promoter of his music, found the link to the Romanticism of his day and universalized the symphony, with its 5 movements.

5 movements? Are there not 5 grapes in Bordeaux red wine? Indeed. But in the case of the Sauternes, they use three grapes grown for white Bordeaux wines: the Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc, and Muscadelle.

Better instead to consider the three grapes as companions, like the three cuckoo, nightingale and wachtel at the end of the 2nd movement. Maybe Beethoven could not longer actually hear their songs, but he certainly felt them, just like we feel these grapes in this unctuous, thick and delicious wine. The Yquem might be too expensive, and and it is vital to choose a Sauternes from a good producer, but try a
2005 Doisy-Védrines, Sauternes. For 20€ you can dive into the ambrosia of the Sauternes. For a Gewurtztraminer, perhaps less extolled than the Sauternes, but equally sweet and closer to Beethoven's Rheinisch soul, try a Trimbach Gewurtztraminer, which can be found for less cost than a Beethoven Pastorale CD.

And like Beethoven's Pastorale, a Sauternes wine can be stored and enjoyed 50 years later, and it still tastes as fresh as the song of the nightingale after a long winter's sleep.

(Be careful not to confuse a Sauternes with a Sauterne wine. The first is the sweet, golden wine produced in the Bordeaux region of France and the second refers to a wide variety of white wines produced in California. I guess somewhere along the line someone decided that it would be a good idea to attach a fancy French name to their wine and went ahead and labeled it Sauterne. Very American.)