Monday, March 1, 2010

The HoseMaster's Honest Guide to Grapes Volume 2

Armed with just a few basic facts, and maybe a rifle, you can walk into any party of wine lovers and impress them with your knowledge. But where do you find those facts? Reference books give you their version of the facts, but when it comes to wine grapes these facts are shamefully incomplete. Sure, they have little illustrations of different grape clusters, but how boring is that? "Did you know that Zinfandel ripens unevenly, sort of like how Scarlet Johansson's left boob is smaller than her right." Who cares? Fortunately, my right hand is smaller than my left. Call me, Scarlet, we go together like Beaucastel and Brett. Anyhow, reading a book about grape varieties that's filled with stupid paintings of clusters is about as interesting as reading every Marvin Shanken "Letter From the Editor" in Wine Spectator. Marvin writes with all the flair of a turkey baster. So in Volume 2 of The HoseMaster's Honest Guide to Grapes I focus on a few of the better known red varieties. Take notes, there will be a short quiz later.


Cabernet Sauvignon is the easiest grape to understand. Think of it like a Frank Gehry designed winery--big and ugly. There seems to be something in Cabernet that mesmerizes humans. It's our desire for size instead of subtlety. So Celine Dion not Blossom Dearie. Five Dollar Footlongs, not dime-a-dozen six inches. Rush Limbaugh instead of truth. And, naturally, when we speak of great Cabernet Sauvignon we speak about elegance because it has none, but we're sure as hell determined to convince everyone it does. Cabernet is to elegance as Johnny Weir is to masculinity. Cabernet Sauvignon is useful in assessing wine lovers as well. If a friend's wine cellar is predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon, the person who assembled it knows about as much about wine as the average wine blogger. Insert joke here. In general, the best wines made from Cabernet Sauvignon command the highest prices of almost any of the varieties, so it's also a sign of intelligence, or lack thereof.

Interesting Cabernet Sauvignon facts:

Cabernet Sauvignon is often blended into the finest Italian wines in order to make them understandable to stupid American wine buyers. It almost never makes them better.

In Napa Valley, Cabernet Sauvignon is best when aged in enormous caves, the bigger and more elaborate the better. You know what Freud said about caves, "They are big, wet and filled with strange life forms, and I love to store my cigar there." Freud preferred big Pinots.

Cabernet Sauvignon is the predominant grape of the Left Bank of Bordeaux. "Left Bank" is from the colloquial expression for what prestige-seeking buyers have done after a shopping spree in Pauillac.

Other names for Cabernet Sauvignon:

HMS Ti-Tannic
Death Cab for Laube
Athlete's Lafite
Cab Salve


Zinfandel is known as America's Grape. This is thought to be praise. But consider that America's Team is the Dallas Cowboys. Losers. America's Sweetheart, Mary Pickford--dead. And, of course, the America's Cup--Shawn White's jockstrap. Fragrant with the smell of corporate money. Zinfandel is a bit like Mariah Carey, most people believe it's white. Zinfandel's heritage has been traced though Italy's Primitivo grape to the even lesser-known Mashie Niblick grape of Croatia. More people pretend to like Zinfandel than any other red grape. Once a year thousands of Zinfandel lovers gather at a large tasting called ZAP (for Zinfandel Alcoholics and Perverts) and demonstrate their love for the grape. The idea came from NAMBLA. Zinfandel remains the leader in being the wine most often offered by-the-glass and never ordered, making it the wine of choice for off-duty busboys.

Interesting facts about Zinfandel:

Zinfandels from the Sierra Foothills lack color and structure and character, yet still sell prolifically in tasting rooms. Here is where its high alcohol pays dividends.

The origin of the word "Zinfandel" is the word "Zahnfundl," which is Croatian for "Pass me the Syrah."

A TTB regulation forbids a Zinfandel with any character or flavor to be bottled with a proprietary name that features a pun with the word "Zin." These labels are designed to help dump the ocean of bad, unbalanced Zinfandel on the Special Needs Wine Buyers who won't know the difference anyway.

Other names for Zinfandel:

Back Inventory
Jamantha Sans Dosage


Merlot is the term for declassified Cabernet Sauvignon. It was made popular by the 2004 hit movie "Sideways," which starred Paul Giamatti as a pompous, wine-loving, balding loser--a transparent homage to the HoseMaster. Merlot is one of the five red varieties allowed in Bordeaux, making it the Gummo Marx of grapes. Merlot was once thought to be a separate variety, but genetic testing has proved it to be Cabernet Sauvignon with a limp. In Chile, Carmenere was mistaken for Merlot because it isn't any good either. Merlot was briefly the darling of Americans until it was discovered that it was shallow and found in all the wrong places, like Tiger Woods.

Interesting facts about Merlot:

The greatest wines of Pomerol are predominantly Merlot, which is the major reason the French don't list the grape varieties on wine labels.

Merlot is often associated with a weedy character and is an effective garden substitute for Round-Up.

Merlot is added to fine wines in order to lower the price. It acts as filler and is often referred to in the trade as grape Spam.

Other names for Merlot:

Chile Dog
Mister Softie
Cab Lite
Floor Stack (Trader Joe's)


CabFrancoPhile said...

Poor Cab Franc, so thin, weedy and tart it can't even get a good Hosing. Yet its undistinguished love child and its Right Bank partner in crime get all the hate.

DailyPour said...

This is like the Family Guy, but for grape varietals. Hilarious stuff, for those with mild intelligence and open minds. Unfortunately, I fit into neither of those categories and instead find the whole thing to be cruel and stereotypical.

Samantha Dugan said...

You just HAD to link me to Zinfandel didn't you?! Jackass, absolutely hilarious and loveable but...jackass.

Stereotypical?! Wow, all these years I thought stereotypical meant to conform to a wildly accepted type, shit must have had it wrong...

Captain Kangaroo said...

Well, I for one agree with Mr. Pour. This edition of the Hosemaster is unbelievably cruel, and Samantha is just too kind to say it out loud.

Jamantha, indeed.

Samantha Dugan said...

Okay, I'm kinda diggin' the Jamantha thing, makes me sound, "urban"...

Damn Charlie how many names do you have?!

Charlie Olken said...

Hey Ron--

Just loved this continued pillorying of every grape in the world. But, I am a bit worried. You are going to run out of material in just 36 other known varieties and 1000 varieties grown only in Greece, Macedonia and Georgia (no, not that Georgia--they only grow the Muskrat grape there).

Very cute of you to tie Samantha to Zinfandel. That is like tieing me to Pastis.

abc said...

The key is to leave ZAP before folks demonstrate their love for the grape.

Also, no syrah? Or are there more installments forthcoming?

Thomas said...


"Stereotypical" means two Hosemaster posts at the same time: one on the right and one on the left. Listen carefully and the cacophony is in harmony.

Quadrotypical is even better!

Ron Washam said...

Hey CabFranc,

Don't fret, your day will come. Cab Franc, Cab Dean, Cab Sammy, the whole damn Cab Rat Pack.

Charlie Kangaroo,

It's been easier to insult grapes than bloggers. This is because grapes are important to wine, and they understand comedy. At once a week, three grapes at a time, I should be finished in about forty years or so. It's a shame I'll be dead.

My Gorgeous Jamantha,

Unbelievable that Jamantha Sans Dosage is a pseudonym for Zinfandel! I learned it on WineBlogWikipedia, the source for all wine knowledge.

I love Zin, and, of course, I love you.

Dear Amy,

Yes, there will be more posts forthcoming. Not that it matters.

Hey Thomas,

I'm actually better as an 8-Track, though if you can find the BetaMax version you should go with that. And, hey, I'm glad to see you're still posting on Vinofictions! Everybody! Go there, the guy's actually got something to say!

Thomas said...

Oh no, now you going to make me famous, like you. I haven't given up yet--just need to rework my stride, which requires a new shoe insert...

Ron, you wanna find out how much your blog is worth: go here and type in your blog name. The answer for mine was funnier than your jokes.

Dean Tudor said...

I like that linking of Frank Gehry to Cab Sauvignon. We were supposed to have a Gehry architected winery in Ontario Canada, but Constellation (the owner) decided to cut costs and killed the project. The winery was supposed to be known as Le Clos Jordanne, fixing on great pinot noirs and chardonnays (not cabs), in partnership with Boisset (he of Gina Gallo fame). Locally, Le Clos Jordanne (a pretty good winery, winning lots of well-deserved awards) is known as Closer Dan: once it's in the competition, game over.

CabFrancoPhile said...

Ron, are you sure that isn't Brettanomyces instead of a Rat Pack? I've had the occasional Loire Franc that takes mousy taint all the way up to ratty taint. If that sounds anatomical to you, it probably is . . . .

Marcia Macomber said...

Celine Dion vs. Blossom Dearie? Psshaw! BD was just too girlie soundin’. Now if you want to contrast Celine (“The Blast”) Dion with a subtler delivery of the past…June Christy… or Jo Stafford --although they’d probably both be best paired to a nice, old GSM…. Indeed, most cabs come on like another verse of that silly song from Titanic.

“Special Needs Wine Buyers”? Oh, Ron, now you’re pokin’ fun at poor, defenseless, witless, ZAPless wine buyers who can’t defend their poor, undeveloped little palates. Take your TTB grudges out on those who can (and will) defend themselves to the nth degree: wine writers.

Couldn’t take the easy route on those Marilyn Wines, eh? I know…the pun’s been done to death…like Paul G’s denigration of the cab-wannabe in Sideways.

So pleased to know about the Round Up substitute, however. I coulda used that in my garden this weekend for all the winter weeds…

Joe Roberts, CSW said...

I am without words at your mastery, but will use some words anyway, because I'm incorrigible.


p.s. - Do Petite Syrah next.

p.p.s. - There's quite a bit of fodder for lampooning in the comments sections of your posts, if the potential of losing all of your friends doesn't bother you. Just sayin'.

Puff, The Dude's Daddy said...

Joe Roberts?? Do I know you? Are you not the young man I adopted and named Wine Dude?

Nice axe you are hanging onto in your picture. I don't remember giving it to you.

And, Dude, why would the HMW want to lampoon his 14 commentators? Without us, he would be alone in the world.

Ron Washam, HMW said...


I already know the value of my blog. Seventy-five cents and a used condom.

And what isn't funnier than my jokes?

Hey Dean,

I've been jonesin' for some Ontario Pinot Noir, eh. What do you suppose a bottle of Le Clos Jordanne would have to cost if it had come from a Gehry-designed winery? And why is it Gehry's buildings all look like a used Kleenex that's been tossed on the ground?

Cab Franc,

So you're saying it's not the Rat Pack, it's the Brett Pack? Nice. Hey, if it weren't for faults, a lot of wine out there wouldn't have any character.

Marcia My Darling,

Damn, I love to see your face in the comments section!

Jo Stafford? Yikes, my demographic here is really skewing Jurassic. You're too young to remember Jo Stafford, Marcia Darling, unless your mother played her records to you in the womb.

I'm an Equal Opportunity Pinhead, Marcia; I lambaste everyone. I just want to make sure everybody hates me.

Hey Joe,

Thanks for the kind words. Most folks in Wineblogland are hating the HoseMaster these days. Which makes me proud, of course.

I've thought about doing a parody of my comments section, but, as it turns out, my comments are the stupidest ones here.

And, for the record, I have, as Charlie says, fourteen commenters, two of whom might allow me to say they're my friends.

Marcia Macomber said...


My mom likely did play Jo Stafford while I was in the womb ("The Nearness of You"?LOL)! I was raised on Stan ("It's a jazz orchestra, not a jazz band!") Kenton. If that makes me Jurassic, so be it! I'd like to think a bit more forward...perhaps Renaissance...

My dad qualifies for Special Needs Wine Buyer. He kept asking the wait staff at every restaurant we went to here in the valley last month (during his visit) for White Zin! (Sigh.) He recognizes the good stuff when put in front of him, but he can't buy it on his own...special needs, dontcha know? :-)

Thomas said...

Jo Stafford, Stan Kenton; I may be in love with Marcia! Not that I'm a Jurrasic or anything...

Ron, I'll tell ya what isn't funnier than your jokes. Yeah, I'll tell ya. Just wait, I'll tell ya. Don't rush me. I got it; but it might make me seem stupid so I'll keep it to myself.

Veronique - The American formerly known as Ceci said...

The "wine trivia" and "guide to grapes" are my favorite posts! I crack up with all the names you give things....I've been stuck on "Portuguese Tampon" for days...HAHAHAH. I know that sounds wrong, but I meant it to sound like that, haha. Seriously addicted to this blog. Also really digging Sam Sans Dosage.