Every December I anxiously await the publication of the New York Times Ten Best Books list. The five that are non-fiction I ignore. Like most wine bloggers, I despise facts. But every year for the past I don’t know how many, I’ve made it a point to read their five picks for best fiction. Some of them suck. And I mean really suck, like self-published-autobiography suck. Like college-student-poetry suck. Like Best-of –Mutineer-Magazine suck. But not very often. Often I’ve read one or two of the books already. But at least, unlike the Top 10 Wine Spectator Wines of the Year, I can buy the damned things--and at their original price. (By the way, in a year when the legendary 2010 Bordeaux were released, and the great 2010 Napa Cabernets, as well as astonishing wines from the Southern Rhone and fantastic wines from Barbaresco and Tuscany, it was nice to see an old Spanish Gran Reserva Rioja named Wine Spectator’s #1 Wine of 2013. Reminiscent of the year Bert Parks was actually named Miss America.)
I’ve spent countless hours this year not reading countless wine books. Christmas is nearly upon us, so I thought it might be helpful to present The HoseMaster’s Best Wine Books of 2013. Plus, it’s a really easy premise. They make perfect gifts for the wine lover in your life, who will happily place it unread among his hundreds of other unread wine books. Nobody reads wine books, after all, like only weirdos read cookbooks; but they look mighty pretty on the bookshelf, and serve to convey the wine lover’s dedication to his chosen method of getting fucked up and ruining the Holiday for everyone.
THE SAME OLD CALIFORNIA WINE by Tim Fish
Sure, there are a handful of experimental winemakers in California, but, as Tim Fish writes in his provocative new book, “They’re just historical farts.” Fish dismisses the current trend for seeking out unusual varieties, using interesting but little-known facts. “Ribolla? How good can that be? Humans got that from chimpanzees.” Consumers who want to understand wine, and appreciate wine’s long history in California, should focus instead on The Same Old California Wines. Fish profiles luminaries such as Mike Grgich. “Grgich has made the same damn wine for almost fifty years. You want history? Well, my friends, Grgich is definitely history.” Of Beaulieu Vineyards Georges de la Tour Private Reserve, Fish reminds us, “If it weren’t for Georges de la Tour, there wouldn’t even be a Napa Valley. It was his buses that filled tasting rooms.” And Fish conveniently lists the only twelve wine grapes in California you really need to know. “Any more than that, and, frankly, you’re just showing off.”
WHY TO LOVE WINE by Eric Asimov
A sequel to his blockbuster “How to Love Wine,” “Why to Love Wine” focuses on, well, why to love wine. Asimov, in his usual Annoyingly Patient Parent voice, explains in simple terms why everyone should love wine. “A glass of wine represents history, agriculture, car wrecks, unwanted pregnancies, and terroir, that’s why.” Along the way, Asimov relates interesting personal stories. “I think I was born to love the feeling I get when I drink a couple of glasses of wine. You would think the same thing if your uncle made you dress in tinfoil and obey the Three Rules of Robotics.” Asimov writes convincingly about so many of the reasons you should love wine. Among them, “The wine industry is the largest employer of misfits and drifters in the developed world.” Also, “Do it just to piss off the Mormons.” And, best of all, “Wine makes you seem important.”
I SAVED THE WORLD FROM PARKERIZATION, I SAVED WINE FROM BASTARDIZATION, WHO WILL SAVE ME FROM DEMORALIZATION? by Alice Feiring
Everyone knows it’s not easy to be Alice Feiring. Just ask her. Traveling the world, alone, talking to the kind of men your mother warned you about. Men living in remote places with little income and a few too many farm animals residing in the house. In her indefatigable campaign to preach the gospel of the One True Living Wine, the Only Wine Thou Shalt Worship, she has forgotten one thing. Her own peace and happiness. Wait, that’s two things. Never mind. In this unforgettable book, called simply “SAVED!” by both its admirers, Feiring confesses to self-doubt, “with absolutely nothing else added.” She writes about the early days of her wine religion, “when everyone drank wine more manipulated than a teenage boy’s dingdong.” In the end, it’s a book about the three P’s of self-promotion: Perseverance, Proselytizing, and Prevarication. It’s one woman’s struggle with a business that just doesn’t love her for who she really is, just uses her, like everyone else always has. Eric Asimov, in his blurb, insightfully remarks, “Hell, at least you didn’t have to wear tinfoil panties.”
MAKING FUN OF CELEBRITY WINES by Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson
What in the wine business can deliver a healthier dose of schadenfreude than lousy wines made with celebrity money? Oh, sure, rich Mammon worshippers buying fake DRC from an Asian dork triggers the same lovely glow, but the damn prison sentence ruins the laughs. Johnson and Robinson examine the recent glut of celebrity wines and find that the power of stars only works for biodynamic wines, not highly-paid consultant wines. “I’m not sure which is more offensive,” writes Johnson, “the idea that people will pay more for wine because there is a celebrity behind it, or the insipid marketing materials that imply the celebrities actually do any work.” Among the wines discussed and dismissed, Yao Ming’s Napa Valley Cabernet (“It’s 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Pituitary Gland”), Drew Barrymore’s Pinot Grigio (“Thin and empty. And the wine’s no good either.”), and Dave Matthews’ Virginia Viognier (“If you think his singing is flat, wait until you put this in your mouth. Yes, Virginia, there is a de-alc machine.”) All in all, Making Fun of Celebrity Wines is an indispensable guide to everything wrong with our culture.
I've been writing an annual letter to Santa Claus since I was old enough to write. The first letter I wrote I was in high school, and I asked Santa for "hair down there." Life has come full circle, and now I need to ask for "hair up top." My 2013 Letter to Santa appears over in Dickens country, at Tim Atkin's Louis Roederer Award Winning Site. I hope that you'll jump in your magic sleigh and go there to read it. It's hard for me to believe, but this completes my first year writing for Tim Atkin MW. It has been a great pleasure, and Tim's site has given me a kind of exposure that I would probably never have gotten on my own. So, thank you, Tim. And God Bless Us, every one!
Feel free to leave a gift of language over at Tim's site, comments there are much appreciated, or, of course, you can wrap them up tastefully, slide down my chimney, and leave them under my Christmas tree here. Gift cards and cash much appreciated.
Writing HoseMaster of Wine™ has been a remarkable and, for the most part, gratifying experience. I have much for which to be thankful. I’m not the only wine blogger who’s primary goal is laughter, but I’m one of very few. (And here I tip my cap to Chris Kassel, who has far better comedy chops than I.) Writing satire is something of a lonely endeavor. It requires a certain amount of distance, and a great deal of time alone at a keyboard. The work itself is, most days, drudgery. But when it’s over, and I’ve written a new piece, there’s elation. That is the feeling I seem to endlessly chase. For no apparent reason.
When I look back at my body of work here, I usually wonder what the hell I’ve been trying to say all these years. Aside from, “Somebody help me!” In some measure, this entire experience has been about my mother. She died in 2007, a few months before I began this blog, but she always wanted to think of me as a writer. I was, for a while, and she was very proud of that. When I left the writing profession and ended up a sommelier, she was still proud, of course, it’s what mothers do, but it isn’t especially easy to be proud of a son who is a sommelier. In the grand scheme of things and by any measure, it’s a meaningless occupation, ranking somewhere just above 7-11 cashier and just below serial murderer. Whereas a writer, in her world, was something to brag about. Maybe all of this, this ridiculous work I’ve done here, is about pleasing her. Of all the things in life there are to be grateful for, is there anything more important than to whom you were born? It’s the only lottery that ever really matters.
Unlike most of the dunderheads who prattle on about social media and blogging, and they are legion, and they are boring, I don’t throw the word “writer” around lightly. Writing is a noble craft, and a difficult one. I certainly make it look difficult. I am offended when people say that we should stop using the words “wine blogger” and instead say “wine writer.” I think I’m being generous when I say that maybe 1 percent of the people blogging have any talent for writing. And, no, you’re probably not on that list. (You are on that list, Samantha, and you are astoundingly gifted.) Great writing, in fact, just good writing, should convey meaning and excitement, should gift the reader with insight and a love for language, all the while entertaining. There is precious little of that in wine blogging. I wish I could say it better than I said it five years ago, but I can’t. Wine blogging is the attention-barking of lonely poodles.
The writing process is very hard for me. No, I don’t ever have writer’s block. I don’t even believe there is such a thing, but, then, I say that about female orgasm. Comedy comes from a place of anger and self-loathing, at least for me it does. Not all comedy, not every time, but, in the human heart, that’s where it dwells. I created the character of the HoseMaster a very long time ago, though he didn’t have a name then. I know his voice, and I know what lines he will cross and what truths he will tell. He has far more courage than I do, and also far more insecurity. I have to be very careful not to let the HoseMaster into my everyday life. He can be toxic. Yet it is easy to keep him from my daily routine because I am married to the kindest, smartest, most compassionate woman alive. Her love for me, and for the angry, petulant little child who is the HoseMaster, allows me to write. Because I know that when I’m done writing for the day, I can put the HoseMaster away and simply spend my life loving her. How does one express the kind of gratitude you feel for a lifetime of unconditional love? Every day, in some manner or deed, and several times a day, that’s how. And yet it can only fall short. I love you, Darling, and everything I do, I do for you. “I do.” Words I am very grateful to have spoken to you.
Many years ago, when I wrote comedy, I often wrote for an audience. Now I do not. But I can feel you out there, reading HoseMaster of Wine™ on your laptops, your tablets, your phones. I can’t hear you, but I’m accustomed to silence when it comes to my work. It is not false humility to say that I am amazed at how my readership has grown. I am dumbfounded. Those of you who have taken the time to write to me personally have given me constant inspiration, and the desire to continue writing. That goes for the fan mail and the hate mail. Most humans are born with a burning desire to be heard. To be singled out by the people who read HoseMaster of Wine™ from the cacophony that is the Internet is an honor, and one I don’t take lightly. On the rare occasion that I go to the column to the left of this babbling, the portion labeled “What the Critics Are Saying…,” and reread the kind words that famous wine folk have said about me, it seems surreal. They exaggerate my talent, and I am deeply grateful. Anyone who knows me knows that I hate everything I write. My biggest fear is that I will be found out, exposed as the talentless, humorless schlub I really am. It’s the final quote that speaks to me the loudest and clearest. I couldn’t have said it better myself.
To everyone who subscribes, to those who take the time to write me, to my illustrious and talented common taters, Thank You. I’d get counseling if I were you, but you have my sincerest gratitude. Your enthusiasm for my work, the way you have spread the word, it’s all been incredibly gratifying. I hate Twitter and FaceBook and all the other forms of social media. They dehumanize us. Yet word about HoseMaster of Wine™ has been spread by the generosity of you who have tweeted about me, linked to me, or posted me on FaceBook. You all have my gratitude. But, really, get more of a life. Put down your damned iPhone and live.
Wine has been my career, and it has been kind to me. Though I’ve tried, tried my damnedest at times, I’ve never lost my passion for wine. It trumped my other passion—writing comedy. I’ve never been very good at either, but I’ve had a helluva time chasing them. I like that the word “passion” derives from the Latin for suffering. Passion is a kind of aching, an emptiness that you try to fill but never can, a painful yearning for satisfaction of something that can never be sated. Wine has always been that for me. I think I’ve forgotten 90% of what I learned about wine in my life, but I can’t unlearn the remarkable sensory memories of all the great wines, and the not so great wines, that I’ve drunk in the company of too many extraordinary people to name here. After all these years, it feels like every new wine I taste takes me to some sort of memory, perhaps of a better time, perhaps of a time I’d rather forget. Or to a place I’d forgotten I’d been, or to a person I was lucky to have known, or to somewhere in my heart I’d been afraid to visit for a while. What makes our tastes in wine personal isn’t that we all have different palates and sensitivities, though that’s true. What makes our taste personal is that we all have different memories, different lives, different reasons we live. And when I drink wine on Thursday I’ll be grateful for my memories, and for my life in wine, and for one more day to live in this world.
After 19 years as a Sommelier in Los Angeles, twice named Sommelier of the Year by the Southern California Restaurant Writers' Association, I moved to Sonoma County to explore the other aspects of the wine business. I've spent, OK wasted, 35 years learning about and teaching about and swallowing wine. I am also a judge at the Sonoma Harvest Fair, San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition and the San Francisco International Wine Competition--so I can spit like a rabid llama. I know more about wine than David Sedaris and I'm funnier than James Laube. Stay tuned for an informed but jaded view of everything wine and everything else.
I'm living proof that alcohol kills brain cells.
What the Critics Are Saying About HoseMaster of Wine
"If you want a great hoot and howl moment or two...go read the HoseMaster's year-end reflections...that guy is without a doubt the funniest SOB in the blog-world...and thank him for having the brains and balls to target his laser of laughter on anybody...HoseMaster for President...HoseMaster for Blogger of the Year...although he would be the first to say the bar is so damn low for that award, he should win it every year..." --Robert Parker
"No one is immune from California sommelier and wine judge Ron Washam's skewering. He polishes that skewer with boundless enthusiasm and acuity."
"Please let this guy write the scripts for Saturday Night Live which has gotten so lame...his newest "wisdom" is worth an Emmy....I wonder if he is the genius behind all those Hitler/Parker,etc. clips? No one else is remotely as funny or as talented.And the wine world sure needs someone to poke fun at all the nonsense and phoney/baloney unsufferable crap out there."
"Washam uses his own blog, HoseMaster of Wine, to skewer the industry in general and wine blogs in particular. If your mouse scoots to your browser's close box while reading a wine blog, Washam may be the blogger for you."
--San Francisco Chronicle
"...that guy Hosemaster has real talent...if you ask me sign him up for Comedy Central...he's the funniest guy since Adam Carolla's hilarious book...IN 50 YEARS WE WILL ALL BE CHICKS..."
"Ron Washam, former sommelier, is easily the most bitingly funny blogger/wine writer that we have ever come across. He is an equal opportunity crusader who pillories big wineries and amateur bloggers alike, as well as everything and everyone in between...One needs a sense of humor and a tolerance for earthiness to enjoy reading The Hosemaster. We must have both because this guy deserves a wider audience, in our humble opinion." --Connoisseurs' Guide to California Wine
"In my opinion, and that of many others, his blog is one of the best. And in terms of satirical or parodic wine blogs, it has no peer. Ron’s alert eye catches every pretense and skewers it with laugh out loud mercilessness."
"This site should carry a warning label. It's sort of a Dave Barry/George Carlin approach to wine. The Hosemaster (real name Ron Washam) skewers fellow bloggers and industry savants with glee, while offering hilarious wine guides such as his Honest Guide to Grapes..."
--Paul Gregutt, Seattle Times
"Washam is a skilled wine judge (I have judged with him) who is willing to judge wine double blind, in public. To my knowledge, Parker does not do this and never has. So Ron's credentials are in place, and so is his sense of the absurd."
--Dan Berger, VintageExperiences
"...I consider Ron a very talented writer and I’ve long been an admirer of his scathing wit..."
"And if any free sites think they can conquer the world, there’s always the Hosemaster to take ‘em down a notch."
--Tyler Colman "Dr. Vino"
"Those of you who know Ron either love or hate him, because he throws jabs like a punch drunk boxer, and we’re all in the firing line. He’ll throw them if he hates you, and he’ll throw them if he loves you. He’s a satirist of exceptional quality."
--Jo Diaz "Juicy Tales by Jo Diaz"
"I must say you are an idiot. I've never liked you. I have no idea why people find you funny."