The instructions are simple: Pay $40 or more, select your music preferences, then head to Niu Kitchen downtown to pick up one record specially selected for you by Mikey Ramirez of Technique Records and a bottle of wine to imbibe while you listen, courtesy of Niu co-owner Karina Iglesias.
Welcome to Beat Match, a collaborative project launched this week to celebrate life's most sacred pairing: vinyl and wine.
Earlier this month, Ramirez rolled out Curated Stacks, offering customers a box filled with staff-curated records that fit the bounds of a customer's budget and musical tastes. That venture was launched with the help of Nicole Irizarry, a Miami native and the cofounder of Nice Trip, a New York creative consultancy.
The success of Stacks got Ramirez and Irizarry thinking about how to riff on the concept.
"My company has been working to create new takes on digital events," Irizarry explains. "We've been looking at ways to bring people together during this difficult time. One of the few ways people can connect right now is through mail or personal delivery."
An enthusiast of so-called natural wines — i.e., wines made from grapes that are organically grown and fermented without chemical additives — Irizarry was already acquainted with Miami's natural wine landscape, which happens to be dominated by knowledgable women such as Boia De's Bianca Sanon, Jacqueline Pirolo of Macchialina, and Niu Kitchen's Iglesias.
Inspired by the small businesses that have banded together in this challenging time, Irizarry began to brainstorm ways in which Iglesias and Ramirez, leaders in their respective fields, could collaborate. And thus Beat Match was born.
Keen to develop my palate and always on board to expand my musical horizons, I figured I'd give it a try.
I'm not a wine connoisseur. I can't afford fancy wines, and until my friend Camila Ramos — co-owner of All Day, which boasts its own impressive "natty" wine collection — introduced me to more sophisticated fare, my typical purchase was gas-station rosé, consumed on the rocks, which I find adds a layer of complexity.
What I'm saying is that when I learned Beat Match was trying out an upgraded $60 "Premium" package, it seemed like the perfect fit for a sophisticate like me.
In fact, I told them to go ahead and make mine a double.
"Vinyl is literally the analog version of music," Irizarry told me. "Even the pacing of listening to a vinyl record versus listening to a digital playlist is completely different. There is intimacy."
And indeed, having dimmed the lights, placed DJ Red Alert's hip-hop compilation We Can Do This — oh, so appropriately titled! — on my turntable, dropped the needle, and reached for my glass of white wine, I felt myself starting to tap into the therapeutic simplicity of the tactile.
"Athénaïs de Béru is the queen of anti-establishment in Burgundy. She will make you jump up and down with this one," read Iglesias' handwritten note introducing me to a 2017 Château de Béru Montserre Chablis.
In a subsequent text exchange, Iglesias would explain that she'd specifically chosen Béru because she's a female winemaker, and one whose biodynamic and noninterventionist methods qualify her as something of a revolutionary in Burgundy, a storied region where wines have been made in pretty much the same way for centuries.
The wine was clean and crisp — so much so that I was able to resist the temptation to add an ice cube (for a while, anyway). Red's album was an amalgam of throwback East Coast vibes that would lift any mood. And just as Ramirez had suggested in his own handwritten recommendation, I "set it off."
Next on the docket: jazz vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson's 1979 record, Un Poco Loco. "Don't let the abstract cover scare you," Ramirez's note reassured. And indeed, while Hutcherson delves into moments of avant-garde exploration, warm tones prevail, yielding an overall easy-listening experience that goes down as smoothly as the "layered and complex" Santa Barbara County cabernet franc with which it was paired.
Was it absolutely necessary to drink the entirety of both bottles? Perhaps not. But I've never been one to half-ass any experience, let alone one so thoughtfully conceived by Ramirez, Iglesias, and Irizarry. (This despite Iglesias' admonition that my Lo-Fi Wines 2018 Clos Mullet was "meant to be savored while you're enjoying it!" One woman's savor is another woman's binge, after all.)
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When I pressed Iglesias about the shift to offering her carefully curated wine list at a steep discount, she said, "We're all trying to stay afloat, so I’d rather use the wines I have and offer people a great product than buy more cases of cheaper wine. After all, we don’t know when we’ll be able to open and put those wines in a normal list again with our normal [restaurant retail] prices. Nowadays it’s all about having cash in hand to keep our business open somehow. In moments like this, local collaboration is the key. I totally believe in the cliché, ‘We’re in this together.’”
Ramirez, meanwhile, told me the project has proven to be as much an emotional lifeline for him as it is for his customers. The record-shop owner intends to continue the Beat Match partnership and the Curated Stacks program well beyond the lockdown.
"I don't think anyone's doing well right now," he says. "Writing personalized notes makes the experience more meaningful. The letters have come straight from the heart. It's been cathartic for me. I stayed up until 5:30 in the morning the other day writing letters. But I think even beyond the quarantine, people will appreciate it when you go above and beyond for them."
Beat Match pairings are priced at $40 and $60 per genre. Order for pickup or delivery via shop.niukitchen.com.