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Restraint: Chianti Classico Meets Sonny Rollins


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Welcome to August's Jazz & Juice—I'm looking forward to diving into some new wine and music with you, moving from the Loire Valley and Mary Lou Williams (here's a link to the article, video, and podcast if you'd like to catch up) and into the world of Italy and one of jazz's greatest tenor saxophonists.


Restraint implies patience—the ability not to quickly react to something, and when it comes to any craft, what one chooses to do, or not to do, is essential. Oftentimes the mark of greatness lies in what is left unplayed or unsaid. Certainly the Miles Davis quote "It's not the notes you play, it's the notes you don't play" guides many who seek to employ restraint as soloists—but the principle also can guide an entire career. The rhythm of an artistic life has beats and rests, just as music does.

The concept of restraint cannot be separated from time—the when is as important as the what. In a temporal art form such as music this is always apparent, yet interestingly, restraint in time is also integral to understanding how many wines of the world maintain their stature. Some producers simply won't release wine in a bad vintage (such as the famed dessert wine Chateau d'Yquem), or may choose to age it for a long time rather than release it prematurely. The process of aging wine in barrels for an extended time is codified in many great wine regions, as are limits on yields. Most excellent, age worthy wines have a restraint and patience woven into their process—a process that is palatable. Likewise, we'll hear the benefits of these same virtues as they are expressed through music.

The Jazz

One of the most prolific jazz musicians of all time (with over 50 albums as a leader to his credit), Sonny Rollins' journey as an artist embodies restraint and the fruits it bears are like no other. His extraordinary output and singular voice place him rightfully at the pinnacle of jazz's greatest artists. He played with Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, and others, and his own extraordinary contributions have left an indelible impression on the music. His live and studio albums are diversely inspired by the Wild West, the Virgin Islands, Broadway, the avant-garde, and his own prodigious harmonic imagination.

Here, we examine Rollins' restraint through one of his sabbaticals and the subsequent creative period that followed. Many times during his career he took hiatuses to explore spirituality, healing, self-examination, which all led to musical growth. The most famed of these pauses is our focus of the month: Rollins' time spent in self-imposed exile and a piece from the album that marked his return: Cole Porter's "You Do Something To Me" from The Bridge, released in 1962.

After releasing numerous extremely successful, now legendary albums in the late 50's (Saxophone Colossus, Live at the Village Vanguard, Freedom Suite and more), Rollins enjoyed great fame, deserved adulation. Yet, even with this backdrop of momentum and success, he paused to step away from it all. He moved to the East Village with his wife Lucille from his home in Harlem and excused himself from public life as a musician to relentlessly work on his craft and find his center. To walk away from high demand, opportunity and income to choose to practice and explore requires discipline of mind and spirit. Rollins would practice on the Williamsburg Bridge for fifteen to sixteen hours a day for over a year (choosing this location as not to disturb his neighbors.)

He reemerged not as a new man, but ever more himself, having uncovered new facets of his playing and sound. The Bridge by its very name embraces this journey, and his version of "You Do Something to Me" brings some of his discoveries to the fore. The tune begins with Sonny playing by himself. He plays alone several times on the track (and later would become known for his extended cadenzas, and even an entire hour-long solo work.) Listening to him on this tune, one hears his encounter with solitude; his craft resonates with assuredness and focus. Rather than frenetically filling the silence, he utilizes both space and time with mastery.

The Juice

The wine this month comes from the Chianti Classico region (not to be confused with Chianti at large), an area with a fascinating history and an exciting present. The winemaking principles of restraint that this bottle exemplifies are twofold—restraint in yield, and restraint in time, both of which led to the evolution and refinement of a region.

Before delving into those subjects however, a pairing has to be made. The Candialle Chianti Classico 2013 inspired the selection of "You Do Something to Me" for a few reasons: Sangiovese is the sole grape in this wine, and it is a particularly powerful example of the variety. Located within the Classico region In the village of Panzano and more particularly, in the beautiful Conca d'oro, the grape reveals more of the darker spectrum of fruits (black cherry, roasted black plum), and showcases a powerful, tannic profile that shows off more herbs, spices, and minerality than fruit, while still maintaining a signature elegance that is unmistakable to the region. Its structure and vibrance allow it great longevity; even at eight years old it's only at the beginning of its drinking window.

Keeping all this in mind, it's hard not to think of the unmistakable intensity of Sonny's tone, the burliness of his sound charismatically coupled with taste and wit.

So where does the idea of restraint come in? The answer is steeped in a long history of the region (which I look forward to sharing with you more in the podcast), but ultimately resides in the wine laws of Chianti Classico. Yields, or how much wine is produced from the surface area of a vineyard, are restricted in most high quality wine producing regions. The general idea is that lower yields produce more concentrated, usually better, fruit, whereas high yields may produce less concentrated fruit. Candialle's Chianti Classico yields 35hl/ha, well under the required maximum.

Restraint in time is also extremely important. The laws governing this region for aging impact when the wine will be released. Candialle ages this flagship wine in oak for eighteen months (longer than required.) Oak aging achieves many outcomes: softening, coalescing, slightly oxidizing, and imparting oak flavors. To choose to age a wine longer than required is a decision that the winemaker must make, and one that certainly favors quality over commercialism (you can't sell wine that hasn't been put in a bottle yet!).

Great wines, like great musicians, require time. When the world clamors for more, to age patiently in a cellar, or to shed on a bridge, are decisions of restraint that ultimately reap the best rewards. In both the case of this Chianti Classico from Candialle and this moment in Sonny Rollins' career, restraint, discipline, exploration and patience have led to a concentration of their essential natures. They've not transformed, but become more themselves.

What's Next

I look forward to spending more time with the contentious history of Chianti Classico, the sabbaticals of Sonny Rollins, and how longevity emerges from restraint. I'm looking forward to joining you in video and podcast soon!

I also would encourage you to sign the petition to rename the Williamsburg Bridge to the Sonny Rollins Bridge—you can find it here!



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