Talk to Me, Dance with Me: Wines for Celebrating 20 Years of Hot Hot HeatPhoto by Irene Kredenets/Unsplash Drink Lists Wine Pairing
Indie rock icons Hot Hot Heat released their first EP Knock Knock Knock and their debut album Make Up the Breakdown in 2002, shattering the alternative music scene with fun, new-wave tunes and experimental sounds. These early compilations solidified Hot Hot Heat’s role in history as one of biggest leaders of the early 00s indie rock movement—and this writer’s all-time favorite band.
When given a chance to interview founder and frontman Steve Bays, my teen heart shed tears of joy, and I jumped at the opportunity. This wine pairing list is a tribute to one of the greatest bands of all time and a story about boldly going where passion takes you.
Tracks 1-2 (Knock Knock Knock): Albariño
The origins of Albariño, a classic Portuguese variety, reflect the go-with-the-flow development of Hot Hot Heat’s first EP. Ancient monks used their years of practice in communal winemaking to experiment with crossing and blending. They worked with available resources and embraced uncertainty, similar to how Bays describes the early days of Hot Hot Heat.
After years of live shows, Bays started writing “bedroom pop songs” that gained the attention of a producer who helped the band spontaneously record Knock Knock Knock. The result, especially in these first two songs, is a sensational jolt of raw passion and authentically novice delivery.
Albariño)can emit the same feeling. Its lemon zesty aroma forewarns you of its super acidic, citrus-leaning taste juxtaposed with a backend of salt. When you’re looking to experience a refreshing contrast to the conventional nature of the mainstream, Albariño and “5 Times Out of 100” can’t be beat.
Tracks 3-5 (Knock Knock Knock): Vermouth
These last few tracks of the EP are an eclectic mix of art-punk tunes and zany melodies. I knew that conventional wine experiences couldn’t keep up with the weirdness, so for this pairing, I’ve picked Vermouth, the botanical fortified wine found in martinis and negronis.
Yes, Vermouth can be drunk on its own as an aperitif. So if you’re feeling European, I would suggest a subtler style like Lo-Fi’s Sweet Vermouth. Or you could always finish the EP with a fun vermouth cocktail from Lo-Fi’s curated list.
Tracks 1-3 (Make Up the Breakdown): Roussanne blend
“There are two ways to make a record,” says Bays, “A documentation or a presentation. [Make Up] was the first time that we ever had the chance to be documented properly. And I realized that the recording process is the funniest part of being alive.”
So to start off this revolutionary album, I’ve chosen a Roussanne blend. Roussanne itself is a relatively high-ABV white with apricot, honey and brioche characteristics, so it adds an influential body to the blend.
Tank Garage, a winery known for injecting fun into every aspect of their practices, has a floral Roussanne blend that “gets the dopamine flowing” in a similar way to the synthy, punchy beats in “No, Not Now”—a perfect pairing.
Tracks 4-7 (Make Up the Breakdown): Valdiguié v. Gamay
When asked about what sparked this album’s sound, Bays says, “We finally figured out the best cocktail of different chemicals. All four of us were writing and performing as if we wanted to be the star of the band. It led to a lightning-in-a-bottle kind of explosion.” These middle tracks of Make Up really exemplify this explosion: the extraordinary, upbeat sound that defines Hot Hot Heat.
When I think of lightning in a bottle, my mind goes to Gamay, a sophisticated explosion of soft and savory flavors that makes a lasting impression. Gamay has always been a personal favorite. But recently, I’ve been exploring another spicy variety called Valdiguié. For decades, Valdiguié was considered “Napa Gamay,” and it wasn’t until the 1980s that researchers discovered that Valdiguié is actually its own variety. Now, Valdiguié is recognized for having a Gamay-like personality but is darker, more fruit-forward and more subtly floral.
Our process of tasting and learning about wine evolves as we grow. This is reminiscent of Hot Hot Heat’s early ‘00s journey as they transitioned into production and embraced the analog, digital and old-school methods of mixing and experimenting with music. Regardless of norms and conventions, the band continued making choices with their music that felt right to them.
Therefore, when it comes to Gamay versus Valdiguié, I encourage you to follow your dreams and choose the pairing that speaks to you.
Tracks 8-10 (Make Up the Breakdown): Your Fave Cheap Red
Ultimately, picking a wine pairing depends on what you love and what you want to learn. Learning the backgrounds of the wines you drink helps you envision the balancing act of strategy and spontaneity that goes into winemaking. For Bays, music production is the same.
“I feel like a big part of my personality is that I love to learn and keep changing and growing. With each record, it’s a new collection of my favorite tricks up my sleeve.”
Knock Knock Knock and Make Up the Breakdown truly exhibit the “beauty in naivete” of early ‘00s Hot Hot Heat, according to Bays. Their contagious melodies and electrifying rhythms prove that having fun with the process is the key to producing truly captivating art.
“That was the only time in our history where we had that combination of naivete and still the chops of musicians playing live.”
For Bays, Make Up the Breakdown is a piece of history that forever memorializes this special time. He believes that wine, as pieces of history, has the same effect. When asked what wine he’d pair with the last songs of the album, he advised me to go for the juice that originally fueled the music’s inspiration.
“Even though I’m more of a Sauv Blanc guy these days, I would say an excess of cheap red wine would be a perfect pairing for those records.”
There you have it: a music-wine pairing recommendation straight from the musician himself. So, as the last couple of tracks fade out, grab a bottle of Los Conejos Malditos Tempranillo or Zestos Old Vines Garnacha—or whatever other red you have sitting in your wine collection—and dance the night away.