The Velvet Bite

I’m going to buy this wine...because I just think it’s terribly cool that a winery would honor one of the greatest jazz vocalists in the history of the genre. (Have you ever heard Ella sing "mack the knife"?!!?)

However, I’m probably not going to drink this Domaine Carneros Sparkling Wine while listening to any jazz, including Ella.
Here’s why.

I’ve long believed that even given the range and the diversity of the Jazz genre, the absolutely most appropriate drink to accompany Jazz is something that attacks the senses, throat, palate and body with a Velvet Bite.

No pure wine I’ve ever consumed possesses this quality.

By "Velvet Bite" I mean, first, that sensation of a subtle sting that warms just as the sting diminishes when the liquid is poured over your palate. You need to feel the relief of the alcohol sting diminishing just as the alcohol also begins to warm the throat and stomach. 

There must be a soft clamping down on the palate that does not linger, but also is not escapable. The sensation alerts the senses in a momentary shock like no wine can do, yet fades away, relinquishing its bite in favor of alertness and warmth.

This state, I think, is best suited for listening to Jazz.
Bourbon, Whiskey, Scotch and even cognac and armagnac are the proper drinks to pair with Jazz; best suited to provide a velvet bite.

Further, I believe the full affect of pairing the Velvet Bite with Jazz occurs when a shot of any of the above beverages is taken in advance of sipping on a second round of the same. And, how this shot is performed can affect the pleasure of the pairing even more if done right.

The shot, while it should be taken in all at once, should not be targeted at the throat so that it slips down past the palate with minimal contact. On the other hand, taking time to swish the beverage around the palate will also ruin the experience. Rather, the throat should be half to 3/4s closed when the shot enters the mouth. The partially closed throat will promote a slow movement of the bourbon over the palate, followed in quick order by it slowly sliding down the gullet. The technique delivers the bite, but does not sear the palate. And at the same time, a decent amount of alcohol enters the body and the blood stream in relatively quick fashion.

Yes, I’m suggesting that Jazz is best appreciated with a slight buzz.
Not a "drunk". But a warm, comfortable, smirk inducing buzz.

It should be noted that after the initial shot of our preferred beverage, the second round can be sipped, and probably enjoyed even more due to the palate, body and mind having been properly prepared by the initial shot.

Wine is simply too week to stand up to the challenging nature of jazz; the subtle, complex and sometimes jolting nature of jazz rhythms require the body to be properly prepared with an anesthesia that both weakens one’s grip on convention, yet provides a bite.

Thus, Jazz is best paired with beverage.

14 Responses

  1. Eric Murray - May 9, 2008

    To say that all jazz should be paired with brown spirits is a tad reductive, don’t you think? It diminishes the range of jazz, to say nothing of the range of wines, to a stereotype. I have in fact found that Domaine Carneros Rose is quite lovely with Ella’s Cole Porter songbook. Or may I suggest Mas Doix Priorat with Miles’ Sketches of Spain? Or a Chapoutier Cote Rotie with Django Reinhardt? We could make quite a parlor game of this exercise. While I don’t disagree that it’s hard to imagine being in a jazz club sipping KJ Chardonnay, in preference to, say, a glass of Bruichladdich, (unless the featured artist is Kenny G, in which case I wouldn’t be there anyway)I think there is a wealth of possibilities combining wine and jazz, given the complex range of moods, tone, styles and artistry in both realms to find compatible matches.

  2. Tom Wark - May 9, 2008

    “To say that all jazz should be paired with brown spirits is a tad reductive, don’t you think?”
    “unless the featured artist is Kenny G, in which case I wouldn’t be there anyway”
    You clearly have a good head on your shoulders.

  3. Nancy - May 10, 2008

    Tom! Wait! (No pun intended.) Deems Taylor –remember him? the guy in silhouette who hosted Fantasia — said that jazz is only meant to make you want to tap your feet. Nothing more profound. The correct wine, therefore, is something light and fun, not weak but just zippy and toe-tappy. Moscato d’Asti, please. Save the heavy dark stuff for, oh, opera, or Renaissance dances or something.

  4. Seth Neal - May 10, 2008

    OK Tom, you’ve said some pretty controversial stuff on this blog, but this is clearly the most outrageous thing you’ve ever put finger to keyboard about. I can only hope you are intentionally inciting public outcry to boost your profile for advertisers. Otherwise I may have to completely re-think my perception of what is considered sane and acceptable in this world.

  5. Tom Wark - May 10, 2008

    Tell me what you really think! LOL

  6. Marco - May 11, 2008

    I am not a bourbon or scotch drinker, but I do listen to many jazz styles. When we wine and dine, we usually listen to jazz. Preparing to dine, we listen to funk, soul, African and many other types of music. Some of the mellower African and FWI music is very wine friendly, as is some of the more uptempo stuff. Mainstream jazz and reds are usually, but not always, our choice at the table. After dinner, I usually change it up a bit every 20 minutes or so.

  7. Benito - May 11, 2008

    Whenever I hold a dinner party there’s jazz on the stereo. I tend to stick to the classics: Dave Brubeck, Chet Baker, etc. Some acoustic, some with a hot dame singing, all alongside a half dozen different kinds of wine.
    I think the argument over beverages depends entirely on the *style* of jazz involved. For something like Dixieland I’d want a mint julep. For live piano jazz, a proper gin martini is the only thing that will quench my thirst. For loud jazz fusion, a beer will do. And of course for swing, you have to blend in with the hipster and pretend to like some ancient cocktail that nobody has wanted to drink since 1955.

  8. dfredman - May 11, 2008

    Booze is necessary only when listening to an organ trio or if the music is being performed in a smoke-filled room. Otherwise it’s about the music, and whatever I’m drinking (be it Cote-Rôtie, Scotch, or Dr Pepper) isn’t going to have an effect on my appreciation of the performance over and above whatever appreciation I’d have anyway for a good buzz.
    BTW, citing Deems Taylor as an expert on jazz is like relying on the Wine & Spirit Wholesalers of America for fair-minded thoughts on direct shipping of wine to consumers, or asking Frederic Wertham for a quote about the redeeming aspects of comic books. Taylor was a successful composer, critic and radio commentator, and even dated Dorothy Parker. He eventually headed ASCAP, the performing rights organization whose early coverage of non-classical or pop performers was so sketchy that a schism developed among its members, resulting in the founding of BMI to take take care of the performance money on behalf of jazz, race (R&B) and country musicians. Consequently, it’s understandable that Taylor’s quote belittles jazz, inasmuch as the majority of his career revolved around the promotion of classical music.

  9. Tom Wark - May 11, 2008

    Great knowledge, Dan.

  10. Ruarri - May 12, 2008

    I think it was William Barkley who said “the best audience is intelligent, well-educated, and a little drunk,” so you’re probably right on the money with being a little lit listening to Jazz to get the best effect… especially if its Miles Davis Bitches Brew, or something equally esoteric. I reckon you’re right about wine not standing up to Jazz… but I know when I was up in New York, my colleague Greg Sr. and I used to have an entire evening drinking wine, and to wind down at the end of the evening would gear up to whisky… I think wine is definitely something that gets you in the mood for Jazz – if not something you pair with it explicitly.
    For anyone who disagrees – I reckon they go out to 55 Jazz Bar in Manhattan, and see if they can resist turning down a tumbler of whisky whilst a dusky voiced-crooner plucks away at a bass guitar… somehow holding the thin stem of a wine-glass just doesn’t fit in that situation, not matter what you do in the privacy of your own home.
    I love your use of the’velvet bite’ – I was just writing a blog about the use of language in descriptors:
    Sorry I’ve been off the radar for a while – was good to check in at Fermentation again!
    All the best,

  11. Nancy - May 12, 2008

    Maria Callas said there was no music after Puccini. Maybe Deems should have dated her.

  12. Andrew - May 12, 2008

    Jazz music requires reefer. All the greats played through wafting smoke.

  13. tony smith - September 30, 2008

    perhaps my love of jazz and jack daniels are not as separated as i once thought then?
    I think I might follow your lead on this one and discuss the best drinks to go with jazz on my jazz blog.
    “Yes, I’m suggesting that Jazz is best appreciated with a slight buzz. Not a “drunk”. But a warm, comfortable, smirk inducing buzz. ” – my philosophy entirely, but generally more towards life than jsut jazz…
    a very well-written article, a joy to read, and also a great video clip of ella! 😀
    looking forward to reading more!

  14. Marlena - October 27, 2009

    I adamantly believe that Jazz was meant to be paired with wine. If you have any doubts about the pairing, please listen to a CD I produced with my jazz quartet that is directly inspired by the food and wine metaphors in classic jazz tunes.
    Here’s to Life,
    Sip it Slowly,

Leave a Reply