"Who does not love wine, women and song / Remains a fool his whole life long."
There are conflicting sources about this popular quote, some attributed to Martin Luther and others to Johann Voss, but it's a good phrase, which I think can be applied to that wonderful prankster hero of Strauss: Till Eulenspiegel.
The two themes of this symphonic tone poem are played on two instruments: the horn in Bflat and the D clarinet. The horn is a noble, heroic theme, a reminder of the German Alps Strauss so loved, yet full of character and charm, as is the merry jester. The clarinet is the trickster enjoying his schemes and pranks. Throughout the work, Strauss surprises us, plays with our ear, tells the story and keeps us entranced as a child listening to a story. From the first "Once Upon A Time" to the execution of our hero, the themes are an indication that the rapscallion in us all can never be silenced. Fun is an inherent part of the child within.
Wines can also be a huge surprise. Take the great moralist Monsieur La Rochefoucauld, who said, "The only thing that should surprise me here is that somethings still surprise me." And I was deeply surprised recently by a Merlot from Sicily. What? Is that a prank? A Merlot from the south of Italy? Is that not the grape of the Pomerol in France? Indeed. But this wine, like many of the Merlot of Italy, have taken the world by storm. Try a blind tasting between a pomerol like Chateau Petrus and the equally delicious but only slightly less expensive Masseto from Tenuta dell'Ornellaia. Its like trying to tell the difference between a Rolls Royce and a Bentley.
But there are many Italian Merlot, especially from Sicily, that are very inexpensive and very delicious. The palate is surprised from this robust grape. Planeta is a Merlot less than 25€ a bottle, and like the themes of Till Eulenspiegel, the grape plays tricks on the tastebuds. The Merlot gives the noble character of the grape used in Premier Cru Bordeux, but also tickles the tongue. Both qualities make for a surprising degustation, perfect for pastas, game, cheese and grilled veggies at the dinner table.
There is one other Strauss tone poem that should be mentioned that speaks about this dinner table: Symphonia Domestica, premiered in 1904 at Wanamaker's Department store in New York City. That bourgeois family life so cherished by Strauss is the antithesis to the anti-hero of Till. Imagine a beautiful holiday dinner table and then the guests start having a food fight. A new winemaker from Oregon, appropriately titled in honour of Strauss' Bavarian roots, The Teutonic Wine Company, offers less alcohol but loads of taste, and is driving traditionalists crazy in pioneering new ways of making wine. Another huge surprise. So, take a listen to Till Eulenspiegel or Symphonia Domestica, and try Planeta from Sicily or the Pinot Meunier from Teutonic (no, not Pinot Noir….). As for the Women part of the phrase, well, I don't recommend celebrating the new year alone, whatever your orientation. Let the new year start full of surprises!