Chris Leo is a musician (Van Pelt, The Lapse, Native Nod, Vague Angels), sommelier at Pizzeria Mozza, and author of three novels.
What was the food highlight of your year?
Spent the entire fall in Italy harvesting grapes, making wine, and visiting vineyards. When you learn about the science behind our olfactory and the muddy way our senses of smell and taste mix with our other senses (particularly memory), you also learn that therefore great food and drinking experiences make the food and the drink taste better via intermodular sensory blending. So the flip side of this is that bad food and drinking experiences should make the food and drink taste worse. Enter Campania. On one excursion down there I spent a couple days touring vineyards with a right-wing fascist douchebag. Everything that came out of his mouth about anything non-food and beverage related was putrid. However, the food in Campania is so good that even sharing meals with this cretin did not affect my ability to be floored repeatedly by the food and wine. First time in my life I had the mixed experience of having incredible dining experiences despite the company at the table. Campania uber alles.
What was the music highlight of your year?
I’ve fallen off having a finger to the pulse in any sort of way music-wise. I should have a kid so at least I could write off my lack of cool to being a dad. What do I do? How do I get it back? I guess memorable experience-wise I have two: one was thinking to myself that the main reason I don’t make music anymore is because I just don’t feel that emotionally volatile on a daily basis (nor do I want to) and then listening to Thin Lizzy’s “Honesty Is No Excuse” and immediately having a wave of volatile emotions and loving it. The other was when I was getting ready to leave Italy and return to selling wine in LA and really not wanting to go back. Then I heard Italy’s Caterina Caselli sing “Il Volto Della Vita” which is a cover of a song by Ireland’s David McWilliams’ “Days of Pearly Spencer” and it comes out sounding like an epic to a Spaghetti Western soundtrack — used it as a strange sign and hence was much easier to get on that plane back to the Wild West.
Was there a moment when food and music came together in a memorable way?
Many. Like so many American musicians whose lives were changed at least in subtle ways by the meals prepared for them in Europe before a show (or after a show if we’re in Spain or Italy…), there was one particular moment that played a key role in focusing my path to wine. I’ve never been a big beer drinker. I like 1 pint at a time, usually even a 1/2 pint is enough for me. Back in the day, I’d request whiskey, tequila, or a local booze on our rider rather than beer — this wish was rarely granted. One time in Nuremburg they met me in the middle and came through with a 1/2 case of local wine. I don’t remember what the white was, but the red was a Dornfelder. Though these days I don’t drink much Dornfelder, at the time it was mind-blowing. The door for a life in wine was opened for me in Germany.