Azores Wine Company Isabella A Proibida and Wire's Pink Flag
There’s surface-level punk wherein those who claim the subculture reject societal constraints placed on how one should conduct themselves, and then there’s Wire and Antonio Macanita. This band and winemaker embody the principles of punk on a whole other level. Wire’s debut album “Pink Flag” and Antonio Macanita’s Azores Wine Company “Isabella A Proibida” are as punk as it gets.
Wire was one of the first British punk bands to emerge in the 1970s in response to the New York punk scene. Wire’s original members Colin Newman, Graham Lewis, Bruce Gilbert and Robert Gotobed were art school kids in London whose contemporaries starting out were fast and dirty punk bands - but Wire was different. They were more minimal, more deliberate, more offbeat and more cutting edge with a noisier, more ambient and dissonant sound that inspired the likes of R.E.M., Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jr. who came along about five years later, and many other bands after that.
Antonio Macanita makes wines mostly in the Alentejo region of Portugal, but he started his passion side project Azores Wine Company to make wine in the tiny Pico region of the beguiling Azores islands off the Portuguese coast. There, he makes a red wine that reflects the singular identity of this unique terroir: Isabella A Proibida.
The Azores are volcanic islands with soil comprised completely of black basalt which contributes to the heady, intense, unmistakable aromas and flavors of the wines from this region. After phylloxera wiped out the vineyards of the Azores in the late 1800s, a native American grape varietal that is resistant to the grape-murdering pest was planted: Isabella. Isabella initiated the revival of Azores viticulture after phylloxera halted it. However, according to European DOC regulations, only indigenous grape varietals are permitted to make wines in each respective region, but Antonio Macanita ignored these rules and made a wine using Isabella anyway – because he is a punk.
Other than taking creative license, Antonio wanted to make a modern wine in tribute to Isabella that showed it’s more than just a placeholder or a supplemental varietal. So he rescued an old plot of the vines and made this wine with 100% Isabella. I have to say this might be the weirdest wine I’ve ever tried. Aromas of cherry, peat, metal, smoke, iron and ham – yes, ham – hit you in the face. On the palate, the flavors of everything on the nose come through with more salinity and gamey notes and a sour beer like quality. This would be awesome with a charcuterie board. This wine is not for everyone, which Jancis Robinson bluntly and hilariously pointed out: “Unpleasant, no wonder it is now forbidden.”
For the cherry on top, Antonio bottled and released this wine to the market with the most audacious label I’ve ever seen. He printed Isabella, a forbidden grape varietal in this region, and then crossed it out as an intentionally sloppily-executed loophole to get past DOC laws and also a big fuck-you to them at the same time. If that isn’t a punk move, I don’t know what is.
Right from the jump, “Pink Flag” signals that Wire isn’t like other punk bands. It’s more conceptual with the first track “Reuters” painting ominous and dystopian imagery with statements like “an uneasy time that is not well” and “the climate’s not healthy” – lyrics written 40 years ago that couldn’t be more relevant today. The droning, dissonant chords on this song no doubt set the tone for Sonic Youth’s sound. Likewise, so much of Dinosaur Jr.’s style can be heard in the beginning of “Ex Lion Tamer”. And R.E.M. covered the sludgy, creepy “Strange” from this record on their 1987 album “Document”.
There are super quick, more familiar sounding punk songs like “Field Day for the Sundays” that clocks in under 30 seconds, “Surgeon’s Girl” that’s chaotic and mutiny-instigating and “Mr. Suit” that’s a classic anti-establishment, damn the man punk song.
“Start to Move” is appropriately danceable and just plain fun. So many of the songs on this record go by in a flash and completely pull you in, proving they don’t have to be complicated or drawn out to resonate. There’s impact and expression in the minimal approach, just like this wine that gets its character from the soil and the climate of the region alone.
“Fragile” and “Mannequin” both have a more poppy, melodic, joyful sound to them showing a playful dichotomy with the sarcastic lyrics that are full of attitude. “Pink Flag” ends with “1 2 x U”, a supercharged, delightfully simple, perfectly composed closer. Wire defies any previous formulas used in the punk genre, thus making them that much more punk.
Overall, this record is a joy to listen to and makes for great party music. It’s fun, unapologetically its own thing and makes an impression on you - certainly the same qualities of the Azores Wine Company “Isabella A Proibida”.