Wine gets mentioned in songs quite a bit. It’s not just because singers and songwriters enjoy a good alcoholic beverage now and then, or that their subject matter often deals with love, lust or romance, all of which pair nicely with wine. It’s also because for many people wine and other alcoholic beverages are a prevailing part of the pleasure and pain of human existence.
Some of the most successful rock ‘n’ roll or pop songs of the 1970s included mentions of wine in their lyrics. But a lot has changed in the wine world over the past 40 years and it’s fanciful to explore what specific brands of modern wines might pair best with seven top songs of the ‘70s.
Song: “Joy to the World”
Artist: Three Dog Night
Highest ranking: 1 (U.S.)
Lyrics: “But I helped him a-drink his wine, And he always had some mighty fine wine.”
“Joy to the World” was one of the best-selling singles of the 1970s – and in the top 100 of all time – with more than 5 million copies sold.
The key question here is, what kind of wine would Jeremiah the bullfrog drink? We know it’s “mighty fine wine” and we also know that his song-writing friend is a “high-life flyer and a rainbow rider” who is a “straight-shooting son-of-a gun.” So we’d expect a no-nonsense, quality wine.
Pairing: Frog’s Leap Estate Grown Cabernet Sauvignon, 2012. From the Rutherford region of Napa Valley, California, this is a frog-friendly wine made with organically grown Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, with a little Cabernet Franc to add aroma and some feminine balance. Ribbit!
Song: “Cracklin’ Rosie”
Artist: Neil Diamond
Highest ranking: 1 (U.S.)
Lyrics: “Cracklin’ Rosie, You’re a store-bought woman, but you make me sing like a guitar hummin’.”
Neil Diamond’s first No. 1 song is not about a woman, but about wine – cheap, sparkling rosé wine to be precise. And it was probably at sweet. When Diamond wrote “Cracklin’ Rosie,” the options for sparkling rosé were sparse. Flash forward 45 years, and there are many good sparkling rosés from around the world available today, but in keeping with the spirit of the song, something inexpensive should be paired with the song.
Pairing: De Chanceny Cremant de Loire Rosé Brut. Made from Cabernet Franc grapes from France’s Loire Valley, these inexpensive but high-quality bubbles are made with the same method as Champagne, but at a fraction of the price. They would not only have Diamond’s guitar hummin,’ but they’d do it without the headache he probably felt after a night with “Cracklin’ Rosie.”
Song: “Spill the Wine”
Artist: Eric Burdon and War
Highest ranking: 3 (U.S.)
Lyrics: “Spill the wine, take that girl, spill the wine, take that pearl.”
Released at a time when the beautiful counterculture wave written about by Hunter S. Thompson in “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” had already crested and was rolling back to sea, the song “Spill the Wine” still had hippie written all over it. The song about seduction is like an LSD trip – vivid in psychedelic imagery, whimsical in narrative and unique in structure. It features a kaleidoscope of instruments and sounds, including a woman speaking Spanish in the background, a flute, a harmonica, conga drums and Eric Burdon speaking and not singing most of the lyrics, all with a funky Latin-meets-rock beat. The woman in the song had to be drinking something unique and eccentric.
Pairing: Rickety Bridge Paulina’s Reserve Sauvignon Blanc, 2012. In addition to the imagery of the name of the winery, Rickety Bridge’s estate in Franschhoek, South Africa, has had snakes and baboons roaming through the vineyards. The Paulina’s Reserve is unlike most Sauvignon Blanc: it’s barrel fermented, aged in oak, no sulfites are added and the uniqueness of its taste might make you ask, as Eric Burdon did in the song, “Am I going crazy, or is this just a dream?”
Song: “Painted Ladies”
Artist: Ian Thomas
Highest ranking: 4 (Canada)
Lyrics: “Painted ladies and a bottle of wine, mama.”
A one-hit wonder, at least outside of his native Canada, Ian Thomas’s pop song got a lot of radio airplay in 1973 and 1974. With a sound very similar to that of the English rock band America, “Painted Ladies” could be about a young man who goes to San Francisco to try and catch some of the spirit of the ‘60s in the Haight-Ashbury district (with the “Painted Ladies” referring to the Victorian row houses there), only to find alienation and a city willing to take his money while he frittered his time away, drinking wine among other things. Or, it could be about wine and prostitutes. Using a “degrees of separation” method, painted ladies could refer to women with tattoos; the Rolling Stones released an album called “Tattoo You”; then a compilation album called “Forty Licks.”
Pairing: Rolling Stones Forty Licks Merlot 2013. An inexpensive gimmicky wine from Mendocino County, California, the label on which is its key selling point. It’s a pleasant, inoffensive blend of mostly Merlot.
Song: “Killer Queen”
Highest ranking: 2 (UK)
Lyrics: “She keeps her Moët et Chandon, in her pretty cabinet.”
Excusing the fact that the Killer Queen keeps her Moët et Chandon Champagne in a “pretty cabinet” mainly because it rhymes with “Marie Antoinette,” Freddie Mercury makes a common pronunciation mistake by saying “Mo-way” instead of “Mo-et.” Yes, the “t” at the end of most French words is silent, but Moët in this case is actually a Dutch name, so the “t” is enunciated.
This is one of the few songs that mentions a brand by name, so we know exactly what kind of juice Freddie was singing about.
Since the release of this song, many other luxury Champagnes have surpassed the prestige of Moët et Chandon, and if the Killer Queen is around today, you can bet she’s drinking something a little glitzier. Since this song is vintage Queen, let’s pair it with one of the best vintage Champagnes in the world, which just happens to be made by the same parent company that makes Moët.
Pairing: 1998 Dom Perignon P2 Brut. The Killer Queen might be “extraordinarily nice” but this super creamy Champagne with exquisite freshness and a sublime finish is way better than nice.
Song: “Hotel California”
Artist: The Eagles
Highest ranking: 1 (U.S.)Lyrics: “So I called up the captain. Please bring me my wine. He said, ‘We haven’t had that spirit here, since nineteen sixty-nine.’” (“Pink Champagne on ice” is also mentioned in the song).
Co-songwriter Don Henley has gone on record saying he’s quite aware that wine isn’t a spirit and that the line is a metaphor about the loss of innocence. Songwriting and the music industry went through some major changes after the 1960s, when many songs were a form of social commentary or activism. In the ‘70s, music started becoming more about big business. The year “Hotel California” came out was the same year as the Judgment of Paris, when Napa Valley wines outshone French wines in a blind tasting, and started California’s wine-making on a similar path toward big business operations.
Pairing: Chateau Montelena Napa Valley Chardonnay 2012. The winner of the white wine portion of the Judgment of Paris tasting, Chateau Montelena has stayed true to the style it used to produce wines in 1973, the vintage it presented in Paris. While many other California wineries went for big market appeal by producing buttery, heavily oaked Chardonnay – which would be the house wines of “Hotel California” – Chateau Montelena makes wonderfully elegant Chardonnay.
Song: “Going to California”
Artist: Led Zeppelin
Highest ranking: Not released as a single.
Lyrics: “Spent my days with a woman unkind, smoked my stuff and drank all of my wine.”
When it came to rock bands, Led Zeppelin owned the 1970s. “Going to California” might not have been released as a single, but the album it appeared on – usually known as “Led Zeppelin IV” – reached No.1 in the U.K., No.2 in the U.S., and it came in at No.4 on The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s “Definitive 200: Top 200 Albums of All-Time.”
Since lyric-writer Robert Plant is going to California after an unkind woman drank all of his wine, we have to assume he was drinking it in his native England, in which case it was almost assuredly from somewhere in the Old World, so let’s assume it was French. There have been some wineries on the right bank of Bordeaux that have been “going to California” with their wine-making styles in the last decade, and that sounds like a rockin’ good match for this wine.
Pairing: Chateau Teyssier St. Emilion Grand Cru Bordeaux 2012. Chateau Teyssier is owned by Englishman Jonathan Maltus, who also owns the Napa Valley winery World’s End, which names all of its wines after rock ‘n’ roll songs. One of those wines is named “Good Times, Bad Times,” after the Led Zeppelin song, so the synergy here is a perfect. Chateau Teyssier is a Bordeaux for those who like rich California Merlots and represents fantastic value for the price.