Monday, December 10, 2018

Please Give This Christmas, So I Don't Have To


What I dread about Christmas are the gifts. For example, I don’t want a Coravin. Coravins are stupid. Somebody is going to give me a goddam Coravin, I just know it, and I don’t want one. I’ll never use it, and it will sit on my kitchen counter and mock me, much like my wife, who I also don’t want to penetrate with a surgical needle. Well, not again. Coravins are the epitome of wine elitism. You display one just to inform guests that you actually own older, very valuable wine that you’re unlikely to share with them. “Oh,” you say, “damn the luck. I’m out of argon. Guess we’ll have to drink something pedestrian.” If you display a Coravin and don’t use it, it’s a big “Fuck you” to your guest. Wait, maybe I do want one. No, I’m going to wait until Riedel and Coravin get together. Then I can have 12 different Coravins lined up on my counter. “Wait!” I’ll exclaim, “I have to get the Burgundy Coravin to open this fake old bottle of DRC. Jesus, I almost used the German Riesling Coravin by mistake. The La Tâche wouldn’t have tasted as good served by a German Riesling Coravin—surely, you can tell the difference.” Oh, you know it’s coming.


In the holiday spirit, I offer my recommendations for Christmas giving, particularly to me. Over at Tim Atkin's site, I'll point you to three of my favorite wine charities, all of which deserve your support. Please give generously, and in my name.

Merry Christmas to all of my loyal readers, all eleven of you, and to my beloved common taters. If you had asked me six months ago, I'd have said I wouldn't be writing here in December. Yet here I am. I'm very thankful for everything writing this crap has brought to my life--wondrous friendships, surprising and gratifying recognition, and death threats. Thank you. In a twisted kind of way, I hope we're all back here again next Christmas. I may get weary of the publishing grind, but the wine business never runs dry of HoseMaster of Wine™ material.

Merry Christmas!
Love,
Ron Washam
HoseMaster of Wine™

TIM ATKIN MW

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

What Makes A Wine Worth Drinking: In Praise of the Sublime Via the Ridiculous

 
With apologies to Mr. Theise. I just couldn't help myself...


I shop at a small farmers’ market in my town. Small because all the farmers are dwarves, many of them elderly, which is no surprise, really, because, as the great philosopher B.F. Skinner said, “Old hobbits die hard.” When I eat a peach from the small farmers’ market, I don’t just think, hey, this peach tastes sweet and sun-drenched, I think, hey, this peach was grown and harvested by Frodo. It’s not just a peach then. It’s something more. Have you met any hobbits? They have stubby, hirsute little hands, and are poorly groomed. I have to overcome a bit of revulsion to even eat the peach. Peaches look like fuzzy testicles anyway.

I come to wine in the same way. When I taste a wine, I want the wine to remind me of the person who made it, and I want to be reminded of all the ways I’m superior to that winemaker. I want to feel a twinge of disgust. I need to feel that I’m smarter, more literate, and capable of comprehending qualities of the wine that he cannot. He’s only a winemaker, after all, not a frustrated prose monkey. Those are the wines that are worth drinking. Wines that give us a sense of our own brilliance. Wines that challenge us but never come out on top. Wines that are like “Teen Week” on “Jeopardy.”

Where do we find wines that speak to us in this way? In the course of reading my book, you’ll discover that the wines that talk to me are remarkably similar to the powerful wine critics that talk to me. They’re all old and white. Though that’s where the similarity ends because the wines I like are honest and authentic. Have you ever wondered what it might be like if wines scored humans? Wines speak to us after all, although many have impenetrable accents, or a lisp (I think of Mencia, which I can barely understand). What if one day the honest, authentic wines that are the great wines of the world decided to score wine critics? I don’t care what numbers these wines might assign. Let’s not get crazy and stop making any sense. What I’m getting at is, would wines be more sympathetic to us than we are to them? Would wines overlook our myriad faults? Would wines judge us by our color, or our aroma? Would the wines be able to determine our quality with but a few moments spent in our company? Would I spend a lifetime having a score the same as James Suckling’s? I’ve known despair, but that result might do me in. Yet, where wines would be compassionate, we think little about rating a truly transcendent Nigl Grüner Veltliner the same as a manufactured manipulated Lodi Zinfandel. And in so doing, we lose our soul.

There’s a Zen koan that reads, “Whoever discovered pants, it wasn’t a snake.” In other words, hold my hand. In other words, baby, kiss me.

If we agree that a wine can have a soul, do we then agree that all wines have a soul? We’re taught that all men have souls, except for Dick Cheney and Joe Wagner. But does that necessarily translate to wine? I would argue that it does not. And, anyway, what do we mean when we say a wine has a soul? Beats me. I’m no snake in pants. I’m just happy to see you.

Let me tell you a story. When my wife and I were first dating we lived in different states. I was in New Jersey and she was in denial. She also wasn’t my wife yet, which seems contradictory until you realize I’m talking about the past, and, so you know, I’m always talking about the past. When we managed to be together, we always drank Champagne. Not just any Champagne, but the kind with little, tiny bubbles. We often didn’t finish the bottle because my wife doesn’t really like Champagne, but, then, as now, I was pretty much into my own head and didn’t really notice. In the days that followed our farewells, I would drink the rest of the Champagne. I’d long for my wife, who wasn’t my wife, who wasn’t even there, and who wasn’t really bubbly, and, in those moments, the emptiness of the tiny bubbles reminded me of the emptiness of existence. The Champagne, in other words, had soul. For what is a soul but a reminder that our time here is finite, that soon our bubbles will burst? Our mousse is cooked. Or, as the great and powerful Oprah might say, “Our veuves are clicquoted.”

Soul is elusive, like the point of all this. I’m one of those people who tends to like natural wines. I like that I can picture an organically cultivated vineyard where the grapes originate. I like that the wines have been made with a light touch, like making a soufflé instead of a fruitcake. Truly, no one wants a fruitcake made by a fruitcake. But, as much as I might find a natural wine delicious, even honest, that isn’t really soul. Soul is slippery. If you drop it, just pray you’re not in prison. We mistake a lot of things for soul, like Drake. But it’s when you find the soul in wine that you know wine is finally becoming part of you, that’s it’s not just an identity you’ve put on like an old, oxidized tastevin to impress the kind of people you wish were dead, mostly.

We don’t just drink wine, we engage wine in a conversation. Turns out, a lot of wines are stupid. In fact, it seems to me, most wines are dumb as Brix. Most wines aren’t worth talking to, like Master Sommeliers. They don’t make any sense. Port is one of those wines that I can’t talk to, that never makes any sense to me. It’s as if it’s speaking in tongs. But the soulful wines we learn to talk to over the course of our wine-loving lives. Who are you? What have you come here to tell me? Don’t blame the dog, I know that was you. A wine with soul engages you, it has something to say to you; it asks you out on a date then sticks you with the check. It tries to seduce you, whispers sweet nothings in your ear until suddenly you realize it’s left a stain on your pants. It flatters you, tells you that you’re the most wine-knowledgeable person it has ever met. When I converse with wine, I hear that a lot.

What makes a wine worth drinking? Something of a stupid question, isn’t it? Drinking wine is about pleasure. If a wine gives you pleasure, then it’s worth drinking, right? No. Don’t be a dunce. If you think that’s really the answer, why did you buy my book? There are no simple answers when it comes to wine. Something of the opposite is what’s actually true. What makes a wine worth drinking is the denial of pleasure, what philosophers call anhedonia, and Louis Jordan called, “Caldonia.” What makes a wine worth drinking isn’t pleasure, it’s how much time you spend overthinking it, how much time you spend wondering if the wine is honest and authentic, how you deal with the question of whether you know enough about wine to even begin to have a conversation with a great bottle of wine or if the wine is just plain smarter than you. The point of my book is that what makes a wine worth drinking isn’t pleasure. What makes a wine worth drinking is how it shows you your own shortcomings and personal failures. After all, that’s what drives us to drink.


Monday, November 5, 2018

The Court of Master Sommeliers: Who Says Cheaters Never Proctor?


My first reaction to the news that 23 new Master Sommeliers were having their letters recalled by the
Court after one of the proctors of the blind tasting exam, a Master Sommelier, was caught cheating was exactly the same as Inspector Renault's in the classic film "Casablanca" when he shuts down Rick's Cafe, "I'm shocked--shocked!--to find gambling going on in here." After which one of the croupiers hands him his winnings.

I knew I had to write about it. I have a probably unwarranted feeling that wine folks want to hear what the HoseMaster has to say about all this mess. I kicked around a dozen ideas, but finally settled on an interview with my old friend Larry Anosmia MS. I thought about Lo Hai Qu as the candidate who had the blind tasting wines information leaked to her, but that didn't quite work. She's currently not speaking to me. I originally wanted to write the entire piece in the voice of the guilty, defrocked Master Sommelier as Justice Kavanagh. That also didn't work, though I incorporated a part of it here. A famous friend suggested something along the lines of Swift's great "A Modest Proposal" where the 23 ex-Master Sommeliers become meals at Five-Star Michelin restaurants. A damned brilliant idea, but I only steal jokes, not entire premises. 

It kept coming back to Larry. So here we go. For the rest, of course, you have to jump over to Tim Atkin's great wine site (no dumbass subscription necessary). Feel free, as always, to leave your thoughts and witty remarks there. Or return here with the written portion of your exam, and I will grade accordingly. Perhaps you, too, will have a C.T. after your name. A Common Tater.


“The Court of Master Sommeliers stripping the titles from 23 of the 24 candidates who took the tainted blind wine tasting exam in order to preserve the Court’s ‘integrity,’” Larry Anosmia MS tells me, “is like Stormy Daniels announcing she’s going to erase her latest film in order to preserve her virginity.”


TIM ATKIN MW

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

SOMM11


With the imminent release of SOMM11, I thought it would be useful to briefly recap the first ten films in the series. The franchise shows no signs of tiring, unlike most of its featured wine personalities.

SOMM
The now dated debut of the series, SOMM follows six candidates for the Court of Master Sommeliers as they try to pass their exams. The movie made Fred Dame MS a household name, like Preparation H. If he doesn’t shrink your tissue, nothing will.

SOMM2
A love letter to winemakers, vineyards, and, most of all, the director of the films. It follows up on four of the six candidates from SOMM, all of whom are about as memorable as wetnaps. In fact, most usually settle for wet naps. It features a memorable scene of Fred Dame MS drinking a rare bottle of wine with Leon Panetta after the death of Osama Bin Laden. Ironically, the film reveals, Bin Laden had just passed his Level One WSET—Wine and Spirits Education for Terrorists.

SOMM3
Focused around the endlessly overrated Paris Tasting of 1976, the director assembled a cast of “legendary” palates Fred Dame, Jancis Robinson and Steven Spurrier. These palates are legendary to wine tasting in the same way Secretariat, Seattle Slew and Affirmed are legendary to horse racing—wondrous, but long dead. Burgundies are tasted blind alongside New World Pinot Noirs by the Three Anosmics, and their results are compared to the results of a panel of young, trendy, similarly pretentious sommeliers. Hilarity ensues when the Burgundies are revealed to be from the cellar of Rudi Kurniawan! However, the only fake spotted by the experts is Madeline Puckette, who hosts the film because, apparently, the only other logical host, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, was busy that week having her tongue forked.

SOMM4
Alice Feiring stars in this biopic of biodynamics creator Rudolf Steiner in this episode about Natural Wines. The film attempts to answer the question, “Why are all the con men in wine named Rudi?” Pascaline Lepaltier co-stars as the voice of manure. Fred Dame is buried in a cow horn.

SOMM5
Explored the influence of wine critics and publications. Unable to get interviews with most of the influential critics, the director substituted puppets. Except for Suckling, who already was one and everybody knew it. Shot on a small budget, castoff puppets from other films were used. Fans were shocked at Parker portrayed by Jabba the Hutt, as well as Chucky playing James Molesworth. Though there’s a nice interview with Wallace and Gromit, who turn out to be Andrew Jefford and, inexplicably, Eric Asimov. A visibly tattered Mortimer Snerd is Fred Dame.

SOMM6
The only musical of the series, SOMM6 is “My Fair Lady” recast as a film about wine, and stars the director, in his first film role, as the Henry Higgins character, with Madeline Puckette as Eliza Doolittle. Eliza has the show stopper with her spirited rendition of “I Could Have Puked All Night;” and Professor Higgins delights with “The Rain in Spain Brings Mildew to Champagne.” The film is based on Shaw’s “Fredmalion,” and involves Henry Higgins MS teaching novice Eliza (Puckette) enough about wine for her to pass as an expert.

SOMM7
Inspired by “The Magnificent Seven,” SOMM7 is the tale of seven Master Sommeliers who are hired by a Mexican village to protect them from a band of savage wine bloggers. Arriving in the village, the seven Master Somms immediately eliminate the women. Duh. Outnumbered by the bloggers, and armed with only Coravins and lapel pins, the seven somms put up a courageous fight. Happily, in the end, everyone dies. The Mexicans decide to build a wall.

SOMM8
Somm8 was the first film in this series about the wine world to feature an all African-American cast. Running time is eleven minutes. Fred Dame sings the title song as Barry White. Madeline Puckette has a graph proving she’s black.

SOMM9
A look at the role of women in the wine industry, SOMM9 is the most controversial film of the series. Narrated by Jay McInerney, who opens the film by declaring, “Hashtag MeToo? Hell, I thought it said Pound MeToo! Mea culpa, gals, mea maxima culpa.” The film follows six attractive young women who pursue various jobs in the wine business—winemaker, sommelier, wine critic, wine writer—and illustrates just how hilarious it is they’d even try. Three of the women end up as Jagermeister girls, two go on to wonderful careers as permanent interns at glossy wine publications, while one finds happiness in the arms of a Master Sommelier—as close as she’ll get to a pin.

SOMM10
SOMM10 looks at how climate change will affect the great wine regions of the world, and what scientists are doing to try to help. In Napa, researchers are trying to develop a clone of Cabernet that will make balanced wine when picked at 40 Brix. In the lab, they’re exposing Cabernet Bosché clone to excessive heat by packing it into Tim Fish’s pants. The results are promising, though there’s milt everywhere. In Chablis, vineyards have been victimized by extreme weather in many recent vintages, primarily by ferocious hail storms. Botanists are trying to create Chardonnay that grows a canopy like umbrellas. Every spring, the vineyards will be full of bumbershoots. If they succeed, growers in Chablis will be happy. Realistically, it’s a hail merry. Fred Dame appears as a natural disaster.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Our Vanishing Master Sommeliers


Researchers say there are no more than 273 of them left in the world. Many of the males are old, long past a desirable reproductive age. They’re nocturnal for the most part, using the darkness of the night to hide their neurotic fear of meaningful human contact. Scientists believe the entire species will be extinct by 2075, though this may be optimistic. Not the year, the hope that they’ll be extinct. The most bewildering and inexplicable fact of all about this vanishing species? There are almost no females.   

The recent christening of new Master Sommeliers consists of 24 newly-minted insufferable wine experts, four of whom are women. Last year, one woman was anointed out of thirteen. Can a separate bloodline from normal humans, and, believe me, Master Sommeliers view themselves as apart from normal humans, survive with so few females? Didn't work so well with rhinoceros, and they have much thicker skins. I thought I'd investigate.

However, you'll have to take the ark over to Tim Atkin's site to read the rest. Feel free to leave your comments there, if so moved, or go to Twitter #MSToo. Of course, you can always leave your little bundles of joy here, if that's more your style.

TIM ATKIN MW

Monday, September 3, 2018

Freddie Perjury, Director of Greenwashing


Prick Family Vineyards owner Rich Prick has announced the hiring of Freddie Perjury as Director of Greenwashing. “I’ve given Freddie the assignment of communicating to the wine buying public our commitment to the environment, to the health and welfare of our employees, and to the Almighty… Dollar.”

“There was a Golden Age of wine,” Rich Prick reminisces, “when a new vineyard and winery owner could simply bulldoze a bunch of land, plant a vineyard, spray it with every herbicide, pesticide and fungicide known to man, hire and exploit illegal immigrants, and people would buy his wines and speak his name in admiring tones. Those days are dwindling down to a precious few. It will be Freddie Perjury’s job as Director of Greenwashing to extend those glorious days into the foreseeable future.”



It's heartening to see the concern for the environment expressed by consumers as they head to the Natural Wine aisle to purchase cases of wine to load into their Ford F-150's and SUVs. Naturally, then, marketing departments at wineries have turned their focus to greenwashing, the art of applying Estee Lauder lipstick to a pasture-raised porker. It's a fulltime job. And no one is better at showing contempt for the public than Rich Prick of Prick Family Vineyards. His hiring of Freddie Perjury as Director of Greenwashing is all the buzz in the biz right now, and you can read about it over at Tim Atkin's award-winning site.

As always, feel free to leave your witticisms and recyclables at Tim's place, or return here for our usual compost festival.

TIM ATKIN MW

Monday, August 6, 2018

Natural Disaster Wines


Natural Wines are so last year. Oh, there’s the usual set of One Trick Phonies out there who will never stop evangelizing for Natural Wines. What else do they have? Natural Wine is their only identity. There’s an enormous world of wine out there, but they’ve chosen to live in Neverland like the Poor Lost Boys. Never add sulfites. Never fine. Never filter. Never call anything a fault. Never grow up. Neverland is a beautiful place, a wonderful make-believe place, a place where you can fly if only you have enough pixie dust and blind faith (the basic definition of biodynamics).


The next logical step in wine trends would seem to me to be Natural Disaster Wines. It all began with the hilariously un-self-aware In Pursuit of Balance movement, which begat Natural Wines, which will, I predict, begat (beget? begot? bebopaloola?) Natural Disaster Wines. You can be sure these wines will be the darlings of sommeliers everywhere. Read all about the first of them, from the pioneers at Climate Change Cellars, over at Tim Atkin's site. As always, your comments there are welcome. Or feel free to leave your thoughtful carbon emissions here. We're all in this together.


TIM ATKIN MW

Monday, July 2, 2018

The HoseMaster of Wine™ Sits for the Master of Wine Exam


I recently sat for the Master of Wine exam. I was in my own apartment, alone, and I was wearing only a bath robe and a Donald Trump merkin, which is how I imagined an insane person would take the test. I aced it. Insane people always do.

I’m not sure why people imagine it to be a difficult exam. Have you met any MWs? How hard could it be? I found it rather simple. Wine isn’t particularly challenging to understand. It’s made from grapes, rather like steaks are made from cows. Both are meant to be delicious. And, coincidentally, recent studies have shown that a large contributor to climate change is the methane produced by the belching of WSET candidates. It’s neat when things start to add up.



I remain the World's Only HMW, but I thought it might be interesting to take the Theory portion of the Master of Wine exam and see how I'd do. Luckily, the Court always publishes the questions from the exam every year. They're often quite whimsical. One of the questions this year asked which two grape varieties, one white and one red, would you rescue from a pernicious global wine disease. I love science fiction. The whole business of tasting and reviewing wines is based on science fiction. I couldn't decide which two varieties to save. Instead, I wondered which two MWs I would save, one man and one woman, if there were a disease that only killed MWs. I decided it might be best to let them all go. The two I saved might mate.

For the questions and answers, you'll have to go to the site of that most prestigious of MWs, Tim Atkin. I was surprised at how easy the test was, but you can judge for yourself. Though it's no longer in vogue, feel free to leave your comments, or alternative answers, at Tim's place. Or, if you must, check in here with your various witticisms and thoughts. Which two varieties would you save? 


TIM ATKIN MW

Monday, June 4, 2018

A Visit to the Napa Valley Old Wine Critics Home


“You want to know what really drives me nuts?” Sam Euthanasia, World’s Oldest Wine Critic, tells me, “The whole place smells like pee. It’s like spending the day judging goddam supermarket New Zealand sauvignon blanc. And if I wanted to smell Band-Aid, I’d buy wines Neal Martin recommended. I’m old, but I can still smell, for Christ’s sake. I can’t remember what it is I’m smelling, but I can smell it. I’m turning into Laube.”


A peek into the future, and a visit to the Napa Valley Old Wine Critics Home. My old friend Sam Euthanasia gives me some insight into what it's like at the rest home for iconic wine critics. As ever, use the link to read the rest of the piece over at Tim Atkin's site. And, as ever, please feel free to leave a response, a comment, a fond wish that I'd finally really retire. Every little bit helps. Or, of course, your comments are welcome here. Perhaps one day you'll be eligible for the Sonoma County Old Common Taters Home.

TIM ATKIN MW

Monday, May 7, 2018

Erotica for the Natural Wine Lover


He was the most handsome man in the bar. I knew he was the one when he walked over to the jukebox and selected my favorite song—The Police’s “Qvevri Little Thing She Does is Magic.”

He caught my eye and then casually took the bar stool next to mine and introduced himself.

“Hello,” he said, “I’m Nat. I’m hoping you want me to be your Pet.”



We've all got our kinks. I've long been a fan of erotica, whether written by Anaïs Nin or Steve Bannon, so I thought I'd try my hand at arousing the partisans of natural wine. God knows, they seem so joyless, it might help. You can read the dirty stuff at Tim Atkin's site, the home of wine erotica. Feel free to leave your breathless and satisfied comments at Tim's site, or, if it makes you hot, return here, have a satisfying smoke, and lay your thoughts on me. I need a cold shower. Or any shower, for that matter.

TIM ATKIN MW