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Philosopher, Musician, Master Sommelier: Blending Wine And Music

By John Lenart in Food on May 21, 2015 4:05PM

The Rack and The Riddler Photo Credit: Dominika Tarnowska

When a master sommelier and a wine writer sit down for lunch, you'd think the conversation would revolve around, well, wine. So last week when I had the pleasure of having lunch with Charlie Trotter's alum, Master Sommelier Serafin Alvarado, it took me by surprise that wine was one of the last things we talked about.

As it turns out Alvarado, Director of Education for Southern Wine and Spirits, studied philosophy in his native Puerto Rico before turning to a career in wine. Over time he's developed a philosophy of wine that contains five dimensions.

He explained, “First, wine is about sense. The pleasure; just hedonistic pleasure. You give me a glass of wine and I like it. There's nothing more to it. There's no analyzing or anything.”

Next comes context. He goes on, “In a contextual dimension, now the wine can be connected to a moment, a place or people. And that stays with you forever.”

Third comes the intellectual. “Now, from there you get curious. What is it about the wine? What is it that enamors me? What is it that gets my attention? And you start reading, you start educating yourself. What is it about the region, the climate, the soil, that makes me like this wine?”

Aesthetics of wine comes next. He goes on, “Now you have the knowledge, the information about the wine, so you start appreciating quality and you start discerning. Because you already have the information, the background, now you can transcend from intellect to quality. You now know why this wine is better than that wine. It's more than you like it or don't like it. You bring that level of intellect to the experience.”

Finally comes emotion. “After you go through all of that, it's about how the wine makes you feel. After all of the context, intellect and discerning of quality it comes down to the emotional level. Which almost leads you back full circle to the hedonistic part of wine but now with enlightenment, a better understanding from when you started,” says Alvarado.

As our conversation continued Alvarado tells me that “Music was my first passion, before wine.” A musician since the age of 14, he gigged with bands through college but knew that he'd never be able to make a living from playing small bar shows. “When I got into wine, I put music aside. While I was working for Trotter's and pursuing the MS there was no time for that. My life was wine, wine, wine, work, work, work. But once I got my MS and settled into my position at Southern, just through a casual conversation with colleagues we started talking about music and there were a number of musicians among us and we all shared the same passion.”

At first it started out as a group of friends getting together, drinking wine and having a jam session. But they found themselves sounding good enough together that they decided to create a band. Of course, they needed a name that had something to do with wine, thus, The Rack and the Riddler was born. A group of wine industry pros who play covers of rock favorites.

The band is made up of Jeff Elbel on lead vocals and acoustic guitar, Serafin Alvarado on bass, Mike Barranco on lead guitar, John Blum on drums and Dave Jaramillo on rhythm guitar.

“We did a couple of gigs, then Rachel Driver,” sommelier at City Winery, “and I were talking about music and wine. She told me City Winery does a series of music and wine performances where she selects the wines to blend with bands and their music.”

The Rack and the Riddler will be performing a wine and music pairing show at City Winery at 1:00 p.m. on Sunday, June 14, sponsored by Palm Bay International Wine and Spirits. Tickets go on sale today, Thursday May 21, on the City Winery Website and cost $25.

“It was an amazing opportunity to fold in Serafin Alvarado and The Rack and the Riddler band. They are a living collaboration of music and beverage professionals! And, working with a Master Sommelier on a music and wine pairing is an exceptional experience,” says Driver.

“I'll introduce a wine to the audience and briefly talk about it, then play a set of five or six songs related to that wine and that dimension of the philosophy,” says Alvarado.

“We are so thrilled to work together to present an evening of rock n' roll and delicious wines,” says Driver.