Alex Byrnes Redefines “Musical Taste” with Vinyl & Wine Pairings

We all know wines pair well with different foods like cheese, meat and chocolate, but one dachshund-loving record collector in Brooklyn, New York has taken the idea of wine pairings out of the proverbial box. Meet Alex Byrnes, the guy behind the niche Instagram handle, who pairs great, unique wine with great, unique records, two pricey hobbies that he combined into one fascinating, entertaining and tasty melding of our two most expressive senses. Man of Many reached out to Byrnes to get a better sense of why he started combining these two passions, what his pairing methodology is like and what he suggests drinking and listening to next time you find yourself with a massive wine cellar and record collection at your immediate disposal.

What inspired you to start vinyl & wine?

Basically, I started because I spend all my money on vinyl and — you guessed it — wine.  I had posted a few “pairings” on my personal account and found I was getting better than usual feedback on those pics so I decided to try out an account and see what would happen.  I thought, “Ya know, if I keep this up, I might just get some free stuff!”  Additionally, I’m a freelance docu-TV producer and I figured, if a gig ever materialized for a show about vinyl or wine, I could give myself a little resume boost by having this in my back pocket.

How did you get into wine?

In college, I got a job waiting tables at a French Bistro with a fairly impressive wine list.  Every Friday, we would have tastings before our shift to get an idea of what we were selling.  That’s where I started to develop my palate, as it were.  After college, I moved to Los Angeles and lived within walking distance of K & L on Vine St, which really is an outstanding wine shop in Hollywood that anyone who enjoys wine and lives in LA owes it to themselves to check out.  The people working there are smart and passionate about wine, not to mention, unpretentious.  I found that their favorite question to answer was “what’s cheap and good.”  Honestly, you can learn a lot about wine just by finding a respectable shop and engaging the people who work there.

Also, it didn’t hurt that my roommate in Los Angeles eventually became a sommelier.  He was always bringing home fun stuff to drink.  And I would always try to pick up stuff that would impress him.  And in doing that, we drank a ton of good stuff.

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How did you get into vinyl?

First and foremost, I love music.  It’s been a big part of my life since I bought the “Wayne’s World” soundtrack on cassette when I was in the 5th grade.  But, as for vinyl, the same aforementioned roommate had a crappy little record player that, one day, I just started to use.  I had picked up a couple used records for cheap at a local store on a whim and decided to give it a spin.  Air’s “Moon Safari” was one of those and I found that I just really enjoyed listening to it on that little turntable.

A lot of record enthusiasts will make a big deal out of vinyl “sounding better.”  I’m sure they are right but I very, very rarely pick up on that when listening.  I was just drawn to the tactile nature of the medium.  I’m not breaking any news by saying we’re living in a digital age.  But, to me, records are a more engaging way to listen to music.  You can’t just skip around and listen to whatever your whim brings you to.  It’s a choice to listen to a record.  It’s going to be the next 30-60 minutes of your life, so the decision carries more weight than just throwing on shuffle and skipping what you don’t like.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that; that certainly has its place.  And I have my Spotify and Apple accounts to listen to when I’m on the go.  But at home, on a Friday night or a Sunday afternoon, throwing on a record is a great way to unwind.

Also, I think a lot of humans have an urge to curate, to carefully collect the things you love and have them in a corner and say “Yes.  This is my taste, personified.  This represents who I am as a person.”  Someday, I’ll be dead and buried and someone will take a look at my record collection and say, “This dude had great fucking taste.”

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Take us through the process of selecting your pairings. Is it multiple bottles opened with a particular album playing, like with wine and cheese, or the other way around? What’s your technique?

There’s no tried and true process I stick to.  But usually, I’ll have something in mind that I want to drink or listen to and then I try to think of what could go with it for whatever reason.  I think you can find common descriptors for both music and wine.  I’ll sip on something and think about its profile and then throw on a record that I think matches that in some way.  For instance, if a wine is crisp or light (say, a Sancerre or Vinho Verde), I’ll try to pick an album that could be thought of in the same way (Rubber Soul or Coloring Book).  Although, if I’m being honest, I’ve occasionally made pairing based on the visual aspects of a label and a cover.  Sometimes, it’s too hard to resist.

In traditional wine tasting with cheese, palattes are cleansed with a sip of water or bread? Do you do a similar thing, an auditory cleansing?

Not really.  To be honest, if I’m really getting the chance to marathon through a number of records — something I don’t get as much time for as I would like — I try to get the next record on the table as soon as possible.  Once I realize what I’m listening to is on its last few tracks, I’ll sit on the floor and try to pick out what’s next so I can get it going right away.  That said, I definitely like this idea!  One of the most frustrating things about collecting records is the stuff that’s not available on vinyl.  Or extremely limited.  Like, I’d LOVE to have SZA’a “ctrl” or Tyler the Creator’s “Flower Boy” on vinyl but they had an extremely limited release that I missed out on (I can buy these for around $100 on discogs — and very well may someday, but this is an expensive enough habit as is).  So maybe in between records, I should play a few tracks from some of those albums I don’t have/can’t get on vinyl.

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What album(s) do you think are greatly improved by wine? Or beer? Like, you don’t really like listening to them without a drink, but with a drink they are really excellent?

Really, anything by Tom Waits.  But to be specific, I’ll go with “Nighthawks at the Diner.”  It’s a live album with an audience present and a little alcohol makes it just a little bit easier to imagine actually being there.  Not to mention the fact that Waits’s early stuff was oftentimes a love letter to boozehounds, anyway.  Were these boozehounds in his songs drinking Chablis?  No.  But we’ve all got our own poison of choice.

Any genres that really seem to pair well together?

Bordeaux and classic rock seem to have been made for each other.  Big, bold, timeless, in-your-face, inimitable.  Well, not “inimitable.”  People try to rip off both all the time.  But you can tell a knock off from a mile away.  And, to rip off a joke I made in an article I wrote for Vinyl Me, Please, baby boomers seem more than willing to spend thousands of dollars on and old bottle of Bordeaux as readily as they’ll spend the same for Rolling Stones tickets.

What has been the most surprisingly enjoyable pairing?

I find that white French wines, most notably Chablis, go great with hip hop.  I mean, maybe I’m just enjoying the unexpectedness of this pairing but a good Chablis is cutting and focused.  Light on its feet while still landing a punch, almost athletic.  And I think you can use those same words to describe the work of guys like Kendrick Lamar.

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Which musical genres / types of wine have you found really don’t ever pair at all?

People ask me all the time what they should drink with their favorite band and I always say, drink what you like and listen to what you like!  I do put a lot of thought into my pairings and I’m proud of my taste.  But if you want to drink a white zinfandel from Rite Aid while listening to Styx, go right ahead!  Far be it for me to tell a person how to enjoy themselves (even though I’d rather die of thirst than drink that shit).

That said, I don’t really see champagne going with country music.  Those are just opposite ends of the spectrum.

Any genres of music / wine that you haven’t tried?

I like to think I’ve got a pretty eclectic record collection but I realized last night that there is one HUGE gaping hole in it currently and that is the oldies!  I’m not saying I need a lot of it but I could use a little 50’s doo wop or rockabilly on my shelves.  Buddy Holly.  Sam Cooke.  Bobby Darrin.  Little Richard.  ELVIS.  I don’t have any of that.  And, living in a 1 bedroom apartment in Brooklyn, I’m about tapped out on space.  At this rate, I’m gonna have to move to the suburbs just to accommodate my collection!

And for what it’s worth, I think I’d pair these with some of the wines from classic California makers I typically ignore: Ridge Monte Bello, Robert Mondavi, Lytton Springs.  These are a huge blind spot in my wine knowledge.

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You’ve recently expanded to craft beer, which seems like an obvious thing to do. Any other substances you think you might expand into? Liquor? Drugs?

I love featuring beer on Fridays.  It just seems like a natural fit.  And the amount of good craft beer being made in the U.S. these days is out of control so it’s fun to try that stuff and show it off on the ‘Gram.  But outside of that, I don’t see too much expansion happening.  To go back to your second question, one of the main reasons I got into wine is how it leaves me feeling the next day.  I’m rarely hungover after drinking good wine.  In fact, I really have to overdo it to feel hungover after a night of wine drinking.  Beer can leave me feeling a little bloated.  And liquor can very easily make me feel hungover.  That said, I’ve featured a bourbon or two in the past and I sometimes enjoying mixing up a good cocktail so I could see those popping up every now and then.  Occasionally, on a Saturday morning, I’ll pair an album with the coffee I’m drinking but not a lot of thought goes into those posts.  It’s more a matter of, here’s the coffee we have this week and this what we felt like listening to while drinking it.