Editor's note: CORKZILLA is honored to announce the addition of 2014 Wine Blog Awards nominee Christopher Watkins to the site as an occasional columnist. We're excited to have him on board, since he shares our enthusiasm for the intersection of music and wine and is a terrific writing talent to boot. We hope you enjoy his contributions!
By Christopher Watkins
It is my considered opinion that with the onset of "hot" being deployed as a wine descriptor (in reference to higher-alcohol wines), we lost one of our better metaphors for understanding the rather more intangibly emotional and aesthetic aspects of what wine is, does, and means.
It is probably not much of an exaggeration to say that with the emerging dominance of Robert Parker Jr.'s Glossary of Wine Terms in his books, “winespeak” as we knew it was fairly changed forever, and quite possibly much of the rest of contemporarily colloquial language as well. Green would never mean green again, the world became all too familiar with Jammy, Flabby, and Unctuous, and suddenly Barnyard no longer meant …well, Barnyard.
For better or worse, winespeak was here to stay, and with it the changed usages it beget.
Now, I don't mind a bit of language codification, and semantic standardization can both eliminate a great deal of confusion, and enhance shared understanding. What I do mind, however, is linguistic theft that diminishes rather than increases our ability to render the intangible tangible.
Hot as style, feeling, vibe, character, quality, is a magically open-ended term that is somehow still eminently and intimately understandable. When something is hot, it can mean so much, and yet we all know what it means. Thus, it is an entity of expansion; an expansive term that both broadens and clarifies understanding. By doing so, it does what language does best, it builds bridges, makes connections, universalizes the singular, and brings the disparate to a shared table.
Hot as reference to a certain alcohol level, by comparison, is a closed term; it is small, specific, and limited. It tells us one thing, and one thing only. It is at best a pedestrian use of two-dimensional language; it is, at worst, a waste of poetry.
In my vernacular cosmology, Hot and Cold are styles, feelings, moods, best encapsulated and enacted by the alpha and omega of jazz trumpet: Louis Armstrong and Miles Davis (images courtesy of Wikipedia).
And all the world between.
You taste wine. You do. And when you taste it, you know something. You do. You know it intuitively, you know it viscerally, you know it sensually. You know whether the wine is hot or cool, because those words and terms mean something to you. You may not know they mean something to you, but they do. And you know this. You do.
Louis Armstrong's Hot 5s and Hot 7s recordings are rightfully considered canonical contributions to world culture, and they are indeed "hot." Hot is up, hot is lively, hot is exuberant. Hot is provocative and playful, devil-may-care and impassioned. Hot is free, loose, ribald, alive. Hot is the sound of New Orleans. Hot is the rhythm of pleasure. Hot is spirit made flesh.
There are wines that are just this kind of hot. And that's a good thing. Not a bad thing. It's a good thing. You've had them. In restaurants and cafes, on porches and on beaches, you've had them. With Steak au Poivre. With Rosemary Almonds. With grilled mushrooms. Off someone else's tongue in broad daylight. You've had them. With friends and lovers, you've had them. You've had them at dinner, and at midnight. The wine was hot, you were hot, the night was hot. You and the night and the heat. You've had a hot wine. And it was hot. You danced like a motherf*&%er. And it was fantastic.
So stand up and say it! Say, I know hot when I hear it, I know hot when I taste it. I have soul, I have The Jazz, and tonight, I want it hot. Say, I want Jazz Lips. And mean it.
The Birth of the Cool was exactly that. Cool.
And you know a cool wine, and you know what to do when one enters the room. You get all feline around it. You look away when it looks at you, you stare at its hips as it walks away. Your coy intertwines with its coy, and coiled, you begin to move. This is nocturnal wine. This is quiet wine. This is hush, baby. This is, I want to hear the sounds of your eyelashes on my cheek. These are indeed Moon Dreams by which to Move.
The Birth of the Cool sessions took all the sophisticated bombast of the big band, and streamlined it into a lithe mammalian stealth. All the contrapuntal harmonic dexterity and muscular roar of a complex and behemoth machine --the orchestra-- woven into a taut and sophisticated tapestry that spoke swingingly, and carried a mute.
The Birth of the Cool sessions were harmony of more than a musical kind; they were Black and White, European and American, Eastern and Western; a subtle zen-swing soul in smoke and glasses.
When you find this wine, and you feel this way, you call it Cool. And you are Cool. And it's Cool.
And here is Robert Parker Jr.'s definition of "Hot" in his Glossary of Wine Terms:
"... hot denotes that the wine is too high in alcohol and therefore leaves a burning sensation in the back of the throat when swallowed."
Listen. When it comes right down to it, Satchmo said this:
"Hot can be cool & cool can be hot & each can be both. But hot or cool man, Jazz is Jazz."
Now, sub in "Wine" for "Jazz," and that is really the point. Wine is Wine, and no dictionary is ever going to define it.
And that's cool with me.
Christopher Watkins Bio
Christopher Watkins has been writing professionally for over two decades. He is a recognized veteran blogging and social media voice courtesy of his award-winning work in the wine industry and a published author of poetry, with a debut volume released and additional poems appearing in multiple literary journals. Watkins is also a Gold Record recipient for his lyrics and music.
He is also a social media manager for a marketing firm, contributing social copy, blog posts, thought leadership, and more, as well as a contributing writer and freelancer for numerous blogs, journals, and other publications.
Watkins’ writing has afforded him and his wife (a visual artist) the opportunity to travel widely, and they have lived and worked in San Francisco, New York, Chicago, and Denver, as well as a tiny fishing village in the rural west of Ireland. They currently live in Santa Cruz, California with their daughter.