Jazz man, radio and club DJ Gilles Peterson tells Oliver Styles there's no better wine to drink while DJing than a German dry white
Robert, the photographer, is complaining about the light. It’s a rare blazing summer’s day in London and we’re in the Queen Boadicea, a dark but trendy pub in Islington. It should be darker, he says, to photograph a jazz man – something to do with atmosphere. Such is the reputation of Gilles (pronounced Giles) Peterson that, despite starting off as a DJ on pirate radio in the 1980s, despite DJing in nightclubs around the world, from Tokyo to Ibiza, despite his regular but late slot on Radio 1, despite founding a multitude of record labels, he is still considered a jazz man.
Maybe it’s to do with the style of music he most likes to play. I ask Peterson about the jazz and wine crossover. ‘Yeah, food, music, wine, I suppose that’s the art of living – being able to capture the moment in the best possible way with what’s available,’ he tells me. So what was the last wine he drank? ‘Er, it was a really nice Italian,’ Peterson says down the phone, the first time I speak to him. I hear him descend the stairs to what I assume is a pantry and after the sound of clinking empty bottles, he’s found it: Tignanello 2003.
Of all the people I have interviewed for this slot, Peterson is the most unassuming and equally frustrating. He tells me he loved Amiot’s Les Demoiselles Puligny-Montrachet the other night. What vintage? Doesn’t know. But make no mistake, he’s keen on his wines. When he turns up for the photo shoot, he’s raving about The Sampler – a new wine merchant just down the road which sells samples of its wines. ‘We must go in there and check it out,’ he says to his manager, long-time friend and DJ Simon Goffe. His usual haunt, though, is Wimbledon Wine Cellars – ‘I’ll stop by and buy a bottle if I’ve had a good night’. He says he’s been toying with the idea of buying a Château Margaux but that he’ll normally spend £40-60 on a bottle.
But Bordeaux isn’t his favourite style of wine. He tells me he ‘got into’ Pinot Noir through New Zealand’s Mt Difficulty. ‘I was drinking New Zealand and Australian wines ahead of French stuff, probably because I like the idea of more obscure wines.’ He’s only really got into French wines in the last 10 years – anything from Vosne-Romanée or Gevrey Chambertin, he says, slightly dismissively, although I do manage to pin him down on a personal favourite – La Tâche 1990.
Overall, he tells me, he likes lighter-bodied wines, especially Pinots that he can drink at lunch or while bent over his decks, pumping out songs to dance floors worldwide. I ask him about ‘bigger’, more full-bodied wines, and he admits he’d love to have Sassicaia, but only ‘if someone will buy it for me’. He’s even had his own Sideways moment, buying a bottle of Opus One for $80 in a San Francisco supermarket. ‘I had it with a hamburger.’ On the more modest side, he says he’s got a few bottles of Errazuriz’s Viñedo Chadwick in the basement. Much like the music he plays, I have the feeling he prefers talking about the obscure and undiscovered. His favourite wine to drink while DJing? ‘A German DJ, Rainer Pruby, introduced me to the dry whites of Weingut Edel – they’re the best wines to DJ with,’ he says. He also tells me he’s been discovering Sardinian wines, including Santa Maria’s Cannonau di Sardegna.
Then we get onto the subject of southern France, and in particular the Languedoc. Peterson curates an annual music festival called the Worldwide Awards (confusingly similar phonetically to our own World Wine Awards) and for this year’s, held in Sete, he told me he wanted to get 400 bottles of wine especially for the event, preferably from the region. He ended up with a generic Côtes du Rhône. ‘That was very wrong,’ he concedes. The Languedoc is a region he obviously enjoys, citing L’Ostal Cazes, Pic St Loup’s Clos Marie and the more expensive Mas Domergue cuvees. There was even talk of getting Mas de Daumas Gassac involved in the Worldwide festival wines but that fell through.
After tiring of the ‘crap’ he would receive on his rider (the treats put out for musicians and DJs in their dressing rooms) he tells me he’s started asking for Dom Pérignon instead of the 20 bottles of Stella he was being given. ‘In the last two years I only ever received Moet & Chandon, but at least it’s a start,’ he says. If he goes for Champagne, it’ll be at the higher end of the spectrum – Krug and Dom Pérignon are favourites though he feels Cristal is ‘overrated’.
‘The best rider I received was a bottle of Opus One at the Coachella festival in California,’ he says. ‘I took it with me to give to [jazz musician, wine connoisseur and critic] Ed Motta in Brazil. He’s a real wine purist. He was disgusted.’ The kind of reaction, one assumes, Peterson would receive if he turned up for one of his gigs with a Britney Spears CD.
For previous My Passion for Wine interviews, see the celebrities and wine page on decanter.com
Written by Oliver Styles