What: After seeing an incredible concert earlier this week I had to celebrate with something special.

I went to the Branford Marsalis-Joey Calderazzo concert that was a benefit for the Jessye Norman School of the Arts. Ms. Norman introduced the show, making everyone in the packed Imperial Theater know it was going to be a special evening.

Marsalis played tenor sax and soprano sax, casually strolling around the stage like he was walking in the park. Calderazzo rode the piano like a magic carpet, alternating between driving rhythms, sweet ballads and rocking hot jazz.

The two fed off each other’s energy, driving the crowd into a frenzy. Some of the music was written by Marsalis, some by Calderazzo, and a lot of it was pure improvisation. Their music played on all the emotions, moving from playful to melancholy to exuberant to somber.

Just when we thought it couldn’t get any better, Ms. Norman came back on stage with a microphone in her hand. What was this operatic virtuoso doing on a jazz stage? It turns out she is every bit as good at jazz as she is at opera.

She performed three Duke Ellington songs, showing incredible skill as a scat singer. She was playful, moving around the stage, smiling and laughing. She was fun, flirtatious, and most of all fabulous. She was as good as Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughn, two of the greatest scat singers.

On “I’ve Got It Bad (and That Ain’t Good)” she showed incredible vocal range. One time she and Marsalis looked like they had a musical duel going, he blasting at her with the sax and she shooting right back with her powerful pipes. It was a magical moment.

It definitely was a night of maximum cool. It was something  you wouldn’t see in New York, Chicago, Washington or San Francisco, but we had it right here in Augusta, and everyone in the crowd felt fortunate to be there. Ms. Norman looked like she was having fun and didn’t want to leave the stage. The crowd didn’t want her to leave either. Thank you Westobou Festival.

So to celebrate one Augusta virtuoso (Ms. Norman grew up here, in case you didn’t know.), I turned to another Augusta virtuoso when I got home that evening. I opened a bottle of Turley Zinfandel, a 2005 Pesenti Vineyard, to be precise. Owner Larry Turley also grew up here before he went west to become a doctor and ultimately a superstar winery owner.

It was an inspired choice. The wine is big and bold, with lots of subtleties, like the concert I had just experienced. In the glass it’s deep garnet–almost black. Even though the fruit was huge, it’s a wine of nuances, with many layers of fruit and spice, especially cherry and blackberry. It’s not jammy like some Zins can be, but dry with a long, pleasant finish.

I had it with some nice cheese and pretzels while I listened to a Marsalis and Calderazzo CD. Two nights later, after another spectacular Westobou performance (Momix Botanica, a jaw-dropping ballet), I finished the wine with Jamaican jerk pork and soy-ginger-sherry marinated chicken I had prepared for a wine tasting. Another heavenly wine-food combination.

You can’t always find Turley’s wines, but when you can you should buy them. They come primarily from old vine Zinfandel from many California vineyards, each one beautifully reflecting where it was grown. And the prices are reasonable. I think I bought the Pesenti Vineyard bottle for about $35.

I just came back from a California wine country trip and spent some time with Larry Turley. I’ll be writing about him and his wines in the weeks ahead. For now, I’m just relaxing, thinking about how lucky we are to be in Augusta where we can enjoy great art and great wine, and not have to fight big city headaches. I’ll worry about our problems some other day.

From: Paso Robles
Cost: $35
Year: 2005

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