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Wine Talk: Paquito D'Rivera

The jazz musician riffs on his love of Spanish Wine

Nick Fauchald
Posted: October 20, 2004

Cuba-born Paquito D'Rivera became a professional musician at the tender age of six, quickly becoming recognized as a child prodigy on the clarinet and saxophone. In his illustrious career, which has spanned 50 years, he has performed with some of the world's greatest musicians in many genres, including jazz, classical, and traditional Cuban music. He's recorded more than 30 solo albums and received Grammys for both jazz and classical recordings. In January, the Fujitsu Jazz Festival Tribute to Paquito D'Rivera at Manhattan's Carnegie Hall will bring him together with many of his friends, including Cuban pianist Bebo Valdés and cellist Yo-Yo Ma.

A red wine enthusiast, D'Rivera says his favorite wines closely mirror his favorite music: big, rich and complex. He spoke with Wine Spectator from his hotel in College Station, Texas, while on tour.

Wine Spectator: How did you get interested in wine?
Paquito D'Rivera: I started drinking white wine, mostly Pinot Grigio. I don't eat meat, and it goes well with fish. When it's very hot and I'm close to the beach, I prefer a chilled Vinho Verde or Italian white.

Then a friend told me, "No, man. The real wines are the red wines." Some people are very opinionated. But I started drinking red wine, and that's what I mostly drink now.

WS: What styles of red wine do you enjoy most?
PD: My father used to quote Duke Ellington when he said, "There's only two kinds of music: good and bad." The same goes for wine.

I go to Spain every year to perform. There I discovered Rioja wines, like Marqués de Cáceres and Marqués de Riscal. Then a [music] producer friend of mine from Spain told me to check out the Ribera del Duero region. They're different than the Rioja wines, but I like them too. They're like cousins.

I prefer big wines. That's why I also like Australian Shiraz. I had never heard of Shiraz until I went to an Afghani restaurant in my neighborhood called "Shiraz." But then I saw the same name on a bottle in the store, and I thought, "Is this a wine from Afghanistan?" No, it's Australian! Then I read a bit about the Shiraz grape and become an aficionado of heavier Australian wines, even the very popular ones like Rosemount and Yellow Tail.

WS: Do you keep a wine collection at home?
PD: I have a wine cellar in my home in New Jersey, but I have to confess, most of the time it's empty. I have too many friends coming over to play pool or eat dinner. But when I go on tour, I stock up the cellar for guests.

WS: How does your taste in wine compare to your taste in music?
PD: I have a heavy taste. I like heavy emotions. In general I like deep, intense composers, like Wagner, Ravel or Brahms. And intense musicians, like Coltrane on his tenor saxophone. I think I play the same way.

I compare that to the taste of the food and wine I like. I like spicy foods, like Cuban, Brazilian and Indian cuisine. And I like deep, heavy wines.

WS: Do any of your musician friends share your love of wine?
PD: My friend Michel Camilo, the pianist, is a wine connoisseur. He likes Spanish wines and French Champagne. And Yo-Yo Ma is a fan of red wine as well. After work, we'll share a nice bottle of Marqués de Cáceres or Shiraz. After the concert -- never before.

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