In recent months there has been a lot of invective aimed at Wine Competitions, the general unreliability of the medals awarded and the questionable competence of the judges involved. So they're pretty much like figure skating at the Olympics without Dick Button commentating. (Though for years when I ordered jeans from Eddie Bauer I always asked for the ones with the Dick Button. I look so cute in them.) Somehow folks have gotten the impression that wine judges are fallible and inconsistent. This seems crazy to me as a guy who has judged many times at competitions, it implies wine judges are human. Trust me, it ain't so. Typical wine judge at work.
What's curious is that most, if not all, of those criticizing the results of wine competitions are themselves rating wines using some sort of numeric scale. And wine judges are inconsistent? There is not one famous or reliable wine critic using the 100 point or 20 point or 10 point scale who can replicate his number scores twice in a row when blind tasting a set of, say, fifteen wines. Parker has studiously avoided this situation for 25 years, and for good reason. He's fallible and inconsistent and has too much to lose by taking a test he'd certainly fail. Even though he could eat Dick Button for lunch and have room for Dorothy Hamill for dessert. But I'm not here to debate this old chestnut. I thought I'd relate a few stories from my days as a wine judge.
I was asked to judge the first year of a competition in Paso Robles. In the spirit of anything to get out of a weekend at work, I accepted. Paso Robles is one of the more interesting appellations in California for my money. There are more than 200 wineries there, maybe 10 of which are worth spending your hard-earned money on. OK, that's a little harsh. There are at least 12 that are worth your time and money. Yeah, yeah, I know, I'm going to hear from folks who think there are amazing wines in Paso Robles, but these are the same people who think American Idol winners have talent and claim they don't watch NASCAR for the accidents. Sure, there are some great wines in Paso, a handful, but you can spend a week in Paso Robles and quickly find out how little your thirty-five bucks can buy.
The first year of this competition, as I expected, was a bit disorganized. That's fine, it takes some experience to manage the insane logistics of running a wine competition. I'm pretty sure they got their volunteers from the local branch of Slow Food--the Really Slow Food People. One of the volunteers pointed to a glass in front of me and said, "What do you think of that Tobin James?" I think she'd heard it was a blind and deaf tasting.
During a long, they were all long, break, a friend of mine on a different panel walked over to my table. I asked him how it was going at his table. "Oh, fine," he said, "except for that one woman to my left..." "Why, what's wrong with her?" I glanced over at her. She was a very large woman in her late 40's wearing an unappealing short skirt--it was so short you could see her brand. "Oh, just a couple of little things," my friend told me, "first, she's wearing a lot of perfume..." "You're kidding!" I said, "at a wine competition?! Who is she, Cuckoo Chanel?" "And," my friend continued, "she's not spitting." So they had tasted about fifty wines to that point and she had consumed an ounce or so of each. That's two bottles, friends. I'm thinking she had drunk a bottle of perfume too.
I never judged in that competition again.
At a different competition I was assigned to a panel of five judges. Our first task was to taste 80 Chardonnays under $15. This is perhaps the closest I've come to suicide, if you don't count tasting at Castoro Cellars. But we endured, awarded at least twenty double golds just to annoy bloggers, and then we were assigned to taste white Italian varieties. I am a fan of white Italian varieties and have been for many years--Garganega, Arneis, Grechetto, Tocai Friulano...--so I was excited. They do tell you what variety you're tasting blind, and the first wine was a Fiano. None of the other four judges had heard of Fiano. Had no idea that Fiano was even a grape. One judge thought it was what a Fianist played. But whatever the Fiano was we were tasting, it was wonderful. Gold Medal! It was beautiful and rich, just a bit of oiliness, very intense, a bit herbal, and almost honeyed. The other four judges gave it bronzes. It was awarded a bronze. It deserved a gold more than a woman with a penis. The next wine was a Trousseau Gris. They hadn't heard of that either, but since it's not even an Italian variety, not really their fault. And so it goes...
At most competitions you are in a large room with several panels separated simply by curtains. Frankly, I'm surprised the gowns they provide aren't open in the back. Of course, if that were the case, it would be hard to tell where the evocative aroma of ass was coming from, the wine or the judges. At one competition our panel was next to a panel of two men and a woman. The woman was, probably still is, insane. She was browbeating these two guys like she was Joan Rivers on her period, though Joan Rivers hasn't menstruated since her vagina was cosmetically lifted under her chin, which makes it hard to tell which part is burping. It got so bad, she was so insulting to the two men tasting with her, that our panel got fed up with listening to her. We asked her to knock it off and she started berating us. So I thoughtfully retaliated by tossing a piece of bread over the curtain which fortuituously landed in one of her wine glasses. I thought, honestly, that I'd won a goldfish. All I got, however, was more carping. After several hours of her incessant ranting, Lady MacBeth with an M.S., we secretly lured the chairman of the competition into our curtained tasting area. He listened to her rabid chatter for about ten minutes and then asked her to leave. I think he said something along the lines of "Out, damned Snot!" I'll probably get drummed out of judging after this post. I'm actually judging all this week so I may not be able, or in command of my wits enough, to post for a bit. But I'll be back. So this post, Gold, Silver, or Bronze? And who cares?
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."