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Wine Tip: Wine-Loving Jazz Pianist

Jazz pianist Jacky Terrasson honed his love for wine on the road in Europe

James Molesworth
Posted: July 16, 2012

Note: This interview originally appeared in the June 15, 2012 issue of Wine Spectator.

Acclaimed jazz pianist Jacky Terrasson, 46, is a two-time Grammy nominee, has performed at some of the world's most prestigious concert halls and international jazz festivals and released 14 albums. Born in Berlin, Terrasson grew up in France and now lives in New York. Inspired by his parents' love of music, Terrasson first showed an interest in the piano around the age of 5, and his first professional gig was at 17. Terrasson also has a growing passion for wine, which he fuels on his frequent tours of Europe. He recently sat down with senior editor James Molesworth over some jazz LPs and a bottle of Gigondas to talk about his love of music and wine.

Wine Spectator: How did you get interested in wine?
Jacky Terrasson: My dear, dear grandfather, who made it to 91. He got me into wine. At every party, he would show up with one of those little wire baskets with six bottles of wine. He would put five out for the party and then give one to me and say, "Keep this one for later." I love how he talked about wine.

WS: So your grandfather instilled a love of Bordeaux in you. But do you have other wine favorites?
JT: My grandfather would keep pulling a bottle of Haut-Brion out of his cellar, and he would tell me, "This is my last one." And this kept going on for years. As he got older, he couldn't drink as much, but every bottle was his last one, so that was funny. But yeah, with him, it was mostly Bordeaux and that's what turned me on first.

But I like all kinds of wine. Burgundies from Chambolle and Morey-St.-Denis, and Pinot Noir from Alsace, too. Spain, Italy. In Italy, I find it difficult to pick the good ones. There are so many appellations, I find it crazy. I just know when I'm sipping something great. In Spain, I love the way they approach wine, the way it's so part of the culture. At a tapas place, you'll see all generations sitting there and you'll see cheap to expensive wines on the tables. From 18- to 72-year-olds sitting there with a platter of jamón or calamari. And there's a guy whose job is a ham cutter. I mean, like, hell yeah! I just love that stuff, man.

WS: What's the best wine you've had lately?
JT: I had an '04 Château Latour à Pomerol that I didn't know beforehand. Wow. There was a smoothness about it. The nose was incredible. I've usually been a St.-Estèphe or St.-Julien guy as I like a more robust Cabernet. I haven't had too many Pomerols. So that wine really messed me up, man. It was like meeting a new girlfriend. It was a real discovery. It had an elegance and power at the same time. The lack of robustness made it more interesting. I didn't know wines could be delicate and deep at the same time.

WS: You played a concert at Château Palmer in Bordeaux. How did that come about?
JT: They were getting ready to celebrate the '09 vintage and [general director] Thomas Duroux wanted to start doing some events. To be honest, I was very nervous about it. I didn't really know what to do. But Thomas was cool. He said, "Just come over and see the terroir and go from there." So I visited, tasted and walked through the vineyard with Thomas. And I really got into it.

What really nailed me though was tasting all the separate parcels of what eventually goes into Palmer. Everything tasted good, and I kept asking, "Why don't you make a wine just from this?" But at the end, Thomas made the blend there and did his magic. And after two glasses of Palmer, playing was a little easier [laughing].

What was interesting was I tried the grand vin and then the Alter Ego [the château's second wine]. I know the grand vin is the better wine, but I was more touched by the Alter Ego and more inspired by it. It was more accessible, more shareable. And wine is about that.

WS: How is wine like music?
JT: There is really a close relationship between improvised music like jazz and drinking and cooking. In the same way you don't want to listen to the same thing over and over, you don't want to drink or eat the same thing over and over. You might learn essentials from a recipe, but you have to get away from the recipe and do your own thing and make it different every time. You have to challenge yourself to try new things.

WS: Is wine popular in the jazz culture or is it still a Scotch-and-soda crowd?
JT: I would say more and more guys are getting into it-thanks to me! I take a lot of pride in educating young musicians as to what's good and not. ... Man, they drink some [crap] before I get them into wine [laughing].

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