Rod Stewart vs. Michael McDonald: A tale of two palates

A tale of two voices. One as dry as the Sahara desert. The other mirrors the depth and richness of the Pacific Ocean.

But shall the twain ever tempt fate and meet? And on which continent?

And would it bring the forces of nature into perfect alignment, causing some sort of apocalyptic nightmare?

Well, other than sharing a bill with a host of other artists of their general generation during an AXS TV Christmas in July special, we've yet to find out. But, rest assured, there is a bigger picture here.

I've oft pondered about the broad strokes used in painting certain critics, consumers, and producers as either, "Old World," or "New World". One imagines the dry Brit, sipping gin martinis, flat ale, and crispy Champagne to the soft cadence of a Premier League matchup between Tottenham and Leicester City, quick witted and subtle, enjoying carefully aged Claret and Burgundy lauded by Hugh Johnson with their weightier meals, until the point of all hell breaking loose after the imbibes catch up and someone dares to put on the Beatles. Or the Stones. Or Led Zeppelin. Or the Yardbirds.

Conversely, we have Springsteen blasting as our counterpart polishes off a Miller High Life or three with a cheeseburger, loudly masticated, followed by a shot of Tennessee Whiskey before we head down to a steakhouse and cut loose with a Captain & Coke before a few bottles of Cakebread Cab adored by Robert Parker with a tomahawk while Ohio State takes on Michigan in the Rose Bowl. The Doobie Bros. rage on in the background, or for the sophisticated, McDonald's voice can be heard in its effortlessly rich cadence backing up the slick duo of Steely Dan.

Life seems to move in reverse. Or at least in an alternate universe.

A tale of two palates.

The wines are lean, mean, and austere in the old world. Meant to be cellared.

The wines are big, bold, curvy, and generous in the New World. Meant to be drunk.

Or is it drank.

It's easy when we start out in wine to live inside these generalizations. But as we all know, the truths always lie somewhere in the middle.

It's true, we cannot deny that the patterns of consumption and production in Europe vs. those in the United States are often in stark contrast. But what happens when we remove our romanticism and look at these constructs from a bird's eye view?

It is sometimes conjectured that the sophisticated North American absorbs the attributes of a European citizen. Conversely, the image of the sophisticated European is often presented as an individual that is distinctly and solely European. To stoop to the level of American indulgence would be reckless and beneath them. One thinks of the vice-grip that many French citizens have on their culture and language when it comes to servicing English speaking tourists. But somehow the fact that more French youth prefer Marlboro Lights to Gitanes or Gauloises is glazed over. Somehow the international penetration of McDonald's (the burger joint, not the yacht rocker) and Coca-Cola is missed. Somehow the adoption of American rock 'n roll and jazz in the cafés of Paris doesn't receive as much chatter. Or the significant European population and influence in New York City.

This romanticism goes both ways.

True, the sugar-laced additives in wines may be used in Europe more to boost alcohol and body in cool areas as opposed to boosting the residual sugar in wines advertised as "dry" in the States. But don't you also think that the respective healthcare systems might have something to do with that? Who stands to benefit more from a population of diabetic winos? The taxpayers of Europe or the Pharma Industry in the US? Hmm.

Steven Spurrier. The man who infamously made himself famous for orchestrating what many viewed as an embarrassing moment in the history of French wine but what was really just an exposure of a truth that few are willing to accept. That truth is that empirical objectivity simply cannot exist in wine, and to base our perceptions and pass judgement based on it is to completely miss the point.

I think Steven Spurrier really gets this. He never came out in support of one style or another, he simply exposed new styles and winegrowing areas that, whether or not anyone else cared or liked it, were taking their place as a part of the global fabric of wine. He didn't just "discover" the great wines of California at the time, he understood them. And he appreciated them.

But, in a certain context, so did the critics of the Paris Tasting of 1976. Even if they didn't want to admit it. At least, they must have found some of the new world wines which they rated highly, delicious. Although they demonstrated chagrin in the aftermath. But why?

Alas, we come to the crux of this article. The simple word: Versus.

Why the fuck are we always trying to compete with each other? And what good comes of it? These scores, points, comparisons...the word "better." The word "worse."

The word "prefer." What for?

I love sports. The (presumably) unadulterated field of competition. Where "better" and "best" do their most prolific work in a finite manner. Where skills are put to the test in a mechanism that is designed to test them. Perfect entertainment.

But one cannot drink a game of football, despite their best efforts. Perhaps it is fitting that both interpretations of the sport would here be relevant to our conversation.

There is immense beauty and pleasure to be taken on both sides of the pond here. There are moments to imbibe delicately, with a taut and arid aesthetic, as there are moments to consume more unboundedly, with the freedom of the ocean waves as your guide.

Though Rod & Mike may have only briefly collided in a half-baked off-season-yet-strangely-on-brand performance for men of their wont, or age, the collaborations between our two pitted rivals have been far greater and more exploratory.

Christian Moueix's Dominus Estate in Napa.

Opus One by Rothschild & Mondavi.

Domaine Drouhin in the Willamette Valley.

Osoyoos Larose. At least in the early days.

Michel Rolland's countless exploits around the world.

Classic collaborations that have produced some of the most distinct and iconic wines of a generation and whose attempt at mutual understand has opened the eyes of many to the possibilities that a global wine culture can offer. One might be inclined to think that this is merely and indication of globalization and that it poses a threat to independent, unique producers. Sure, I'd understand the fear in that statement. But the little guys are resilient and keep popping up to do interesting things because they give a shit, and the next new wine region is always just around the corner, ready to surprise everyone with something that few have seen before.

It's just like music. It can never be judged, only understood. And through the lens of the record or the bottle, a culture can begin to be seen by an outsider. And once something is seen, it can begin to be understood. And when it can finally be understood, the realization sets in that we're not so different after all.

So, keep on takin' to the streets with those hot legs of yours.

And don't forget to drink.

Except you, Mike. And congratulations on your sobriety. We mean it.

27 views0 comments