DAC Tinto and Hurray for the Riff Raff's The Navigator
Tasting a great wine is like tasting the ground and the air and the culture of the people where the grapes were grown. It is a reflection of the place it came from, just like people are. If this sounds cheesy, that’s understandable, but it’s true. This quality can be found in many well-made wines including my flavor of the week - Alvaro Castro’s 2014 DAC Tinto from the Dao region of Portugal. For me, its musical counterpart is all about finding that identity associated with a place - Hurray for the Riff Raff’s “The Navigator”.
If the idea of tasting a literal place sounds far-fetched - allow me to explain. With this Portuguese red blend, I can immediately smell the earth. There’s something smoky and a little peaty about it with a violet floral hint. A lot of that has to do with the fact that the Touriga Nacional, Jaen, Tinta Roriz and Alfrocheiro grapes it makes up are grown in soil comprised of granite, clay and sand which all contribute to the aromas and flavor profile. I’ve never even heard of at least two of those grapes and that’s because they only grow in that region. The wine also has this refreshing acidity that’s almost prickly and is medium bodied. That’s because the region is 1,800+ feet above sea level, so it has great sun exposure that imparts ripeness and color combined with cool temperatures that preserve the acidity and ultimately moderate the body.
Alvaro Castro inherited the land on his family’s 16th century estate in 1980, now known as his winery Quinta da Pellada. Some of the vines are as old as 65 years. A former civil engineer, Castro fell in love with winemaking and made it his full-time pursuit. In 2000, he brought his daughter Maria on board as his partner and they’ve collaborated on beautiful wines together ever since.
Alvaro and Maria’s winery represents what the central character in this conceptual Hurray for the Riff Raff album is yearning to find, or rather, get back to. Just as Alvaro revived the old vines on his family’s property to allow them to flourish and produce some of the top wines in the Dao region, the heroine of “The Navigator”, Navita, is searching for the people and the place that are home to her so she can protect them and carry on their legacy for future generations.
“The Navigator”’s Gospel-style opener "Entrance" welcomes Navita’s quest, based off of HFTRR founder and frontwoman Alynda Lee Segara’s own personal journey of leaving a place that didn’t feel right to find one where she belongs. Segarra is of Puerto Rican descent who grew up in The Bronx and found her way to New Orleans. "Entrance" leads into one of the best tracks on the album, “Living in the City” which immediately made me fall in love with this record. It’s a catchy, folksy rock song that illustrates the underbelly of grimy city culture where Navita starts out - drug deals, overdoses, rough lifestyles. As she says, “Livin’ in the city, well it’s hard, it’s hard, it’s hard.” It’s a highly enjoyable song that’s also honest, like the wine that has approachable fruit and freshness but with complex earthy tones and a bitter herb finish reminiscent of Fernet Branca.
“Hungry Ghost” is another dreamy song. Its rocking, moody guitar and lyrics express feelings of loneliness and anxiousness to escape. Travel and exploration are the answer. It’s emotional with gorgeous strings and vocals that beg you to sing along. The lyrics are sad, hopeful and inspiring: “I’ve been a lonely girl but I’m ready for the world.”
“Nothing’s gonna change that girl” is a soothing, focused folk song with reassuring vocals and enveloping horns. The wine is silky and warming at the same time, making this point of the pairing something you can really sink into. This song is about persevering after hitting some rough patches of life and keeping that sense of self and identity.
“Rican Beach” serves up major island vibes and is super groovy while getting real with the commentary on the current hostile landscape for immigrants in America. “Now all the politicians/They just flap their mouths/They say we'll build a wall to keep them out”. Rican Beach is where Navita finds all her comrades who found refuge after being pushed out of their home. This song has awesome surf rocky guitar, beautiful vocals and great lyrics. Ya girl done grown up since the days I saw HFTRR playing dirty dive bars and smelly house shows in New Orleans back in Alynda’s early days of playing guitar and writing songs.
“Pa’lante” is a powerful, piano-driven song about the burden of working within certain societal and cultural constructs without any reciprocation or empowerment. It begins with a resentful tone but takes an uplifting turn, rallying those who feel lost and left out with a motivating “Pa’lante”, meaning “onward”.
Alvaro Castro is “oblivious to trends and fads” according to his importer. Both he and Alynda create out of a genuine need to express their art and their message. Alynda is a self-taught musician. Everything she’s created seems so earnest and pure, although she and her music have evolved and changed over time, which is always a good thing.
By the end of “The Navigator”, Alynda’s hero Navita has found peace with who she is and where she is, even if she’s still on a journey. It’s like Alvaro and Maria who continually strive to make the best wines they can each year, honoring the tradition and community of the land they call home.