John Axelrod tastes music and hears food and wine. As a result, he has a particular fascination for the links between music and gastronomy. He claims to be the only conductor who also ran a wine business. In the late 1990s he ran the Robert Mondavi wine center at Disneyland in Anaheim for three years. It was Mondavi's wife, Margrit Biever, who encouraged the young Axelrod, who has studied privately with Leonard Bernstein, to "take the leap of faith," as he put it, and pursue a career in music.
Today he leads the Orchestra National des Pays de la Loire in Angers, France, the Verdi Orchestra in Milan, Italy, and guest conducts throughout Europe. We chatted via Skype recently after he led a performance in Naples of Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 5. Axelrod explained that he has a form of synesthesia, a neurological condition in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway. For Axelrod it is taste and sound, and it developed after he got mercury poisoning as a child. "The treatment created a bridge between taste and my hearing," he said.
How do you decide which wines to deploy for Thanksgiving duty? Do you fret about matching the perfect wine with each element of the meal? That way lies madness. Nah, Thanksgiving is a day for hanging out with family and friends, and saying thanks for all our blessings. Now let's watch some football and eat some turkey, gravy and sweet potatoes.
Devotée as I am of the magic that can happen when wine and food find common ground and make the other better, I don't recommend it for big meals with a table full of contrasting dishes and a crowd that can range from wine snobs to those who merely drink it for lubrication.
I am not certain how I came into possession of a 375ml bottle of Canadian sparkling ice wine, let alone how it languished in my cellar for almost a decade. Good friends were coming for dinner, and I had already chosen some fizz for before dinner and a Washington Syrah to drink with the main course. (More about those a bit later.) I wanted something light and pretty to go with the planned dessert, a rather light version of sticky toffee pudding (a cakelike British dessert).
As I rummaged through the dessert wines, my eye caught the golden label of the Inniskillin Sparking Ice Wine Vidal Niagara Peninsula 2001. Maybe it was the British Isles association (it’s named after a place in Ireland). Maybe I just figured the effervescence might lighten up the wine’s natural sweetness and make a good match with the dessert.
Until about 20 years ago, Riesling was Australia's go-to white wine. It never made much an impact here in the United States, where Riesling from anywhere was a tough sell, but in Australia it seemed as if everyone drank it regularly, from punters to pundits. At least until Chardonnay rode its worldwide popularity to replace Riesling in Australian wine drinkers' glasses.
The good news for those of us who appreciate the clarity, ageability and zing of a good Aussie Riesling is that the grape never went away. In fact, it has become a darling of sommeliers and retailers here in America who decry oak and high alcohol in white wines. In the same way as two other personal favorites, Spain's Albariños and Italy's Falanghinas, dry Aussie Rieslings offer piquancy and charm to meld well with seafood, which I eat as often as I can.