Sommeliers and DJs Have More in Common Than You Thought
In high end restaurants, wine can be very theatrical and formal; you’re talking about palate, depths of aromatics, and obscure tropical fruits. I don’t want people to get embarrassed, I want them to ask for a glass of soul, or a glass of pop.
After working front of house for Nuno Mendez at The Loft Project and as wine director at Simon Rogan's Roganic popup, Aaron Jolley yearned for a fresh approach to wine—one without the exclusivity or convoluted names. Two years ago he and brother Adam Satow (a DJ with a 15,000-strong vinyl record collection) created Winyl: a nomadic bar with a music-themed wine list and live DJ sets curated to match what you're drinking. Struggling with the pronunciation of "Ebenauer Grüner Veltliner"? Order a glass of folk instead. Want something deep and full-bodied like your favourite soul singer? Try the 2008 Damase Bordeaux Superieur.
Wine is always going to attract the older generation but I wanted to challenge the people who normally drink beer and shots and gin and tonics and get their attention. I suppose that's how the whole philosophy developed.
Being a commuter in London, you see how often people plug into their iPods and use music as an escape. The thing about music is that we're always surrounded by it, people have an opinion, and they feel comfortable around it. I wanted to bring that to wine.
I develop the musical "vibe" of a wine depending on a number of things. For example, I have Prosecco and I call it "Pop," like the onomatopoeia when you open up a bottle. It's also our most popular drink so that's an obvious connection. Sometimes it's more to do with the flavour profile so if I've got a Bordeaux that's big, resinous, and with a lot of character, I might call it "Soul." Sometimes, it's a connection with countries so for an Italian wine, I might link it to the opera. Then "Smooth" is Pinot Noir, "Reggae" is for wines with spice and "Bluegrass" might have green notes. Biodynamic, unfiltered wines, on the other hand, are "Funk" and a Chablis would be "Classical."
Vinyl records have a similar process to wine, too. You can have a seller of wine and you can also have a seller of vinyl. It's tangible, you can touch it, and the artwork on the label is similar to a record sleeve. I view wine as a multi-sensory experience: it's tactile, you smell it, you taste it—the only thing is you can't really hear it.
That's where the music comes in. It elevates the whole experience. At Winyl, we have live DJs with different sets but they're not hiding in a box, it's like having an open kitchen. People like to see processes; it's theatrical.
And when I was working with Nuno Mendez, wine was very theatrical and quite formal. You're talking about palate and depths of aromatics and obscure tropical fruits like pomegranates. But if you haven't eaten a pomegranate, you're not going to know what it tastes like. While it's quite elite, I don't think it's fake. And anyway, fine dining, music, architecture, or "the arts" as a broader sense, are fake in that it's all smoke and mirrors. It's theatre.
I once read that in scientific terms, a kiss is apparently a way to determine whether or not you're chemically compatible.You exchange saliva as a kind of safeguard to assess the risk of being intimate with them. That sounds horrible because it takes away all the beauty of what a kiss is, but that's a kind of fakeness in itself. If you're into cooking and fine dining and music, you embrace that "fakeness," as it were.
One of the things that we learn when we start off in wine is to read the person and understand that you're not just giving them a glass of Merlot. You look at their age, their clothes, see whether they smoke or not; there's a lot of triggers which you can use to determine what people like or don't like.
So when someone asks, "What do you recommend?" I'll say, "What do you like?" It helps find common ground because names put people off. If you don't know how to pronounce something, you get embarrassed. I don't want people to get embarrassed; I want them to ask for a glass of soul or a glass of pop.
But the thing about wine is, if someone has eaten spicy chicken wings, or if they're lactose intolerant, or they've drunk coffee or smoked cigarettes that morning, it's going to have a totally different taste. There are so many different things that impact your own personal experience and tastes—a bit like music.
Aaron Jolley, as told to Phoebe Hurst