Welcome to the second entry in my series, where I do my best to find the ideal drink pairings for some of my favorite jazz albums!
I started this series with a cocktail pairing for Miles Davis's magnum opus Kind of Blue. This time around, I'm tackling another Miles Davis masterpiece:
Sketches of Spain
Sketches of Spain, perhaps the most successful collaboration between Miles Davis and Gil Evans, was recorded and released less than a year after Kind of Blue. The two recordings, however, could hardly be more different. Kind of Blue codified the modal jazz genre and is a study in spontaneity and improvisation. In the liner notes for the album, pianist Bill Evans describes how Miles gave little more than sketches to the sextet, and the album was recorded with almost no prior rehearsal.
In stark contrast to this method, Sketches of Spain is tightly arranged for a group of 19 musicians. Gil Evans, one of my favorite composers and arrangers, adapted Spanish classical and traditional music for this large ensemble with Miles Davis as the featured soloist on flugelhorn and trumpet. The name for this unusual and uncommon blend of classical and jazz music is "Third Stream."
Anyway, that's more than enough of a history lesson! Let's get on with today's drink of choice.
I could have come up with a cocktail to reflect the highly composed nature of this album...maybe something with a lot of ingredients? Or I could pick something that fuses two seemingly incongruous ingredients, much like "Third Stream" music combines jazz and classical characteristics. Actually, that second one is a good idea—I might go back to that idea for another article later on.
There's no mistaking, however, the true heart and soul of this album. Sketches of Spain is, of course, a reimagining of Spanish music. It pays homage to Spanish composers as well as the Spanish folk tradition. And for that, I can think of no more genuine pairing for Sketches of Spain than a glass (or three) of Spanish wine.
Pairing: Spanish Wine
My personal recommendation for this album is Baron de Ley Reserva (as pictured). This wine is from the Rioja Baja region of Spain and is aged for twenty months in American oak barrels. The wine is then bottle-aged for another two years, allowing it to develop a depth of flavor commensurate with the musical depth of Sketches of Spain. Baron de Ley Reserva can be found for around $20.
If you aren't interested in or can't find Baron de Ley, feel free to seek out your wine of choice. I came across many sub-$20 Riojas in my research, any of which should be a fine complement to Sketches of Spain. (Full disclosure: if you're interested in much more expensive wines, your knowledge on the subject probably surpasses my own.) If you're having trouble finding Rioja wine, any Spanish wine would still pair well with this album.
If you can't go Spanish, my second choice pairing would be Syrah/Shiraz. Third place would be a Malbec. The theme here is full-bodied, dry red wine that can stand up to the thick musical textures and lush harmonies of this album. Don't stress too much about it: pick something you like and enjoy it.
Red wine is best slightly below room temperature. If you store yours in the fridge, let it sit out for an hour or so before enjoying. If you store yours in the cupboard like I do, stick the bottle in an ice bucket or fridge or freezer to bring it down a few degrees just before drinking.
Pour a generous glass and slowly sip it as you listen to Concierto de Aranjuez, which takes up the first half of the album. Let the music and wine warm you. As the Concierto wraps up, it should be about time to pour yourself a second glass. Replenish as needed until the album concludes. Then maybe start it over.