Growing up in the Bronx, I didn’t see traditional wine culture. There was no wine on the bodega shelves, no swirlin’ and sniffin’ going down a Friday night. But the respect level was always there. I remember popping my first bottle in VIP and raising it in the air like the game-winning ball after the Super Bowl. The essence of flyness, the feeling of aspiration, the importance of place was so similar to hip hop. When I started hauling boxes in a wine warehouse, I gained a new understanding of what my favorite rappers were talking about, how those wines could connect people from all walks of life.
Luxury is in hip hop’s DNA. We invented the term “bling,” and our cultural influence ensured that Americans knew what it meant. From watch brands to fashion, rappers love talking about that next level of wealth and their rise to getting there. Interestingly enough, my love and knowledge for hip hop helped me fit into the wine scene, and fueled my desire to learn more. Although I worked in the wine industry, I didn’t immediately grasp or appreciate the nuances of the flavors I was experiencing. I fell in love with wine because of the new places I was going, the people I was meeting because of our common interests: wine, and, believe it or not, hip hop. From dining in Beverly Hills to drinking on yachts, hip hop created the aspiration, and wine created the opportunity. I had already been working in wine for about a year when, boom! I hear Jay-Z mention Pétrus in his verse on the Biggie Duets album in 2005. Who knew that a few short years later, I would be “sippin’ Pétrus” at a BYOB tasting hosted by one of my new friends. I can never forget the humble grin this huge collector had on his face when he realized that he helped me experience hip hop in a whole new way.
Later, Fritz Hatton was teaching me to be a wine auctioneer. An avid music lover, he told me something that changed my life: that “wine is the social equalizer.” That got me thinking about personalities and concepts in wine and hip hop, and that’s when I started planning the first Wine & Hip Hop podcast in July 2018.
Since then, I wanted to add food—the original universal language. While hip hop is commonly referred to as a genre, can you name another genre that influences how you dress, what you drink, what you eat, where you eat?
I deliberately wanted to draw on my roots when I started Tasting Notes from the Streets last year, a video series pairing food from the hood with wines from around the world. This shit was personal, so we might as well go there. Jamaica is my heritage, my blood, but so is the Bronx so TNFTS began with Jamaican beef patties. The smell of the spices in the beef, the flaky dough tinted yellow with turmeric, the feel of the soft coco bread as you pull it apart and stuff the patty inside—that’s home on so many levels. A piece of my history is alive in the streets of NYC. Just like hip-hop, Jamaican beef patties are a product of the mass migration of Jamaican immigrants to NYC in the late ’70s. But no one knows about this hood delicacy! If you talk to fellow Jamaicans, they all know, they just ain’t sharing.
German wine is kinda the same, especially when it comes to spätburgunder, the spicy red made from pinot noir. It’s like a secret that the wine industry is keeping to itself. When you say pinot noir to people, their minds go to Burgundy, perhaps to New Zealand or, now, to Oregon. They’re missing out on the delicate, spicy and fresh wines from places like Baden or Pfalz, and they’re missing out on the magic that happens when you put that together with a beef patty! You got high acidity to cut through the richness of the coco bread and pastry, then spices that complement the seasoned beef and moderate alcohol that doesn’t clash against the heat. Plus, all those tart red fruit notes that are so comfortingly familiar. I promise you, once you try it, you’ll never go back.
Four episodes in, we’re setting up live events to bring the pairing right to people. Seeing the response to putting the humble beef patty alongside a wine I first saw in the boxes of an auction warehouse, that’s emotional, that’s real, and that’s what makes me know we gotta keep working.
This story appears in the print issue of Spring 2022.
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