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12 Grapes, 12 notes by John Axelrod ©2014

The roaring 20's conjures up images of decadence, hedonism, Gatsby and his parties, post and pre-war depression, Weimar and Wall Street, silent films, and the irresistible Josephine Baker! As Dickens said (of a different era), "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." What was certain is that it was a new time, a new era, a revolution in music that followed the political and social revolutions of Russia and the end of World War 1. It was a time of new ideas. In 1923, Schönberg officially codified and defined dodecaphony. And the world has never been the same since.

Schönberg himself described the system as a "method of composing with twelve tones which are related only with one another". 12 Uve, or 12 grapes, is a wine, from Al Paradiso di Frassina, based on 12 different grapes. As described by the winemaker, 12 Uve "is a red wine absolutely unique of its type, born of a careful selection of 12 different grape varieties ("uve"), of which six are Tuscan and six Bordeaux, grown on the Cinigiano hills near the Mediterranean in the lees of Mount Amiata." The philosophy, echoing Schönberg, is "one grape, one note." With this idea, as explained, "the 12 grapes express a musical ensemble as well as the diverse individuality of each grape in the wine."

I sampled this wine recently in Milano, and who else but Daniel Barenboim, sitting at the next table, overheard the explanation, and demanded a taste. He was as smitten as was I, and I must say the complexity of the wine was not so different from the complexity of a work like Schönberg's Wind Quintet, op. 26, one of his earliest 12 tone pieces. Dodecaphony found its voice in the works of many composers from the 2nd Viennese School, such as Berg and Webern, but also influenced the Serialists and Avant-Garde composers of the 20th Century from Boulez to Stockhausen to the composers of today. Technical terms such as combinatoriality, invariance, cross partition, inversion and derivation became sacred. While the academic musical world acted as if the Holy Grail had been found, sadly no one is whistling the tunes in the street (except for the Icelandic singer Björk, but she's an exception to the rule, and Pierrot Lunaire, which she sings, while atonal, is not quite 12 tone).

But 12 Uve is a different story. This is a wine, costing less than 30€, taking the culinary world by storm. Just as chefs like to pair wines with food, this wine, given its versatility and complexity, allows the chef to combine it with everything from fish to fowl to foie gras. It is a wine, as described by its owner, Giancarlo Cignozzi, possessing "extraordinary sensory power. It is almost impossible to give a virtual definition of the sensory elements of this wine, owing to the complex variety of its clones. It shows continues changes in taste, suggesting scents of fruits, of vegetable, spices, tobacco and minerals."

But the real revolution in the winemaking process is not only the 12 grapes, but also the applied music therapy. We know the Mozart effect on people. It has even been suggested that playing Mozart to cows produces more milk, and chickens lay more eggs. According to the research of Professor Stefano Mancuso, "if it is true that musical harmonies can open an as yet undiscovered aspect of farming, more research would then be needed into all sound waves, not just infra-and ultra-ones, to be able to conclude both in the laboratory and int he field how plant life is affected by sound." And guess which music was played to the grapes? Mozart, of course. Schönberg is rolling around in his grave.

But let us not forget the wise man. Let us, of course, celebrate Wolfgang, who himself, enjoyed his wine on many occasions, perhaps a bit too much. But Schönberg deserves his audience. As does this wine. What is complimentary about 12 Uve and dodecaphony is that 12 notes and 12 grapes can combine together to create a masterpiece. Schönberg's Variations for Orchestra, Op. 31 or his A Survivor from Warsaw, Op. 46, two of his many 12 tone works, just may find their way to the ears of the music loving public. But 12 Uve has already created a lasting impression on the wine lover's senses. Mozart would have been proud. Schönberg need not be ashamed, either.