Tuesday, January 24, 2012

A Few Minutes Decomposing with Andy Rooney




I’ve been in touch with the late Andy Rooney recently. It may surprise you to know that I speak with many dead people—Jess Jackson, Robert Mondavi, Robert Parker, Ron Paul, Gabe Kaplan, Richard Dawson… There is a wisdom in dead people that I find compelling. Andy Rooney was kind enough to allow me to publish his posthumous thoughts about wine and the wine business. So if you don’t like the opinions, don’t blame me. I’m just channeling the old fuck. Pardon me, dead fuck.

ON BLIND TASTING

Every wine critic and wine publication these days claims to taste wine blind. I don’t understand this. They say that tasting wines blind takes prejudice and subjectivity out of the equation. First of all, I don’t know about you, but I simply don’t believe they’re tasting the wines without having any idea at all what the wines are. These are professional wine critics, or so they’d have us believe, you’d think they’d have a pretty good idea all the time what they’re tasting, whether it’s in a brown bag or not. And they’re human, well, all of them except Matt Kramer who’s actually a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day balloon, and humans cheat, or leave themselves loopholes. But let’s say, tongue in cheek, that I believe that they taste the wines blind. Why do they think that makes their ratings and scores more legitimate? By the way, most of them score on the 100 point scale and say they know what a 94 tastes like at least as well as the other guys who know what a 94 tastes like. I think Oliver Sacks wrote a New Yorker piece on a man who thought he knew what numbers tasted like. The guy had brain damage.

I think it’s stupid to pretend objectivity when you’re a critic of anything. We know that the critics we like have prejudices. We might even admire his taste in prejudices. A movie critic doesn’t go to a movie and not know who the director is. They don’t have special films made without the credits for a movie critic to view. They don’t send book reviewers galleys that don’t have the author’s name on them. They don’t blindfold Hugh Hefner and give him foldouts that only have Scratch ‘n’ Sniff.

Let’s grow up, wine critics, and forget the blind tasting claims. I think we’ll get numbers that taste better.


ON WINE BLOGS

I read somewhere that there are more than a thousand wine blogs. Isn’t “blog” kind of a stupid word? It sounds like something you hork up when you have a nasty chest cold, or you’ve been smoking unfiltered Camels for 30 years. Or maybe it’s what camels hork up. A thousand wine blogs sounds like 995 too many to me. Isn’t there something we can do about there being too many wine blogs? Yes, I know, we can simply not read them, and, let’s be honest, even the most popular wine blog gets fewer hits than a YouTube video of a cat using my balls as a scratching post. I miss that cat. I love a good subordinate claws. But even if no one reads wine blogs, it bothers me that they exist. I don’t have anything to do with wine-of-the-month clubs, but it bothers me that they exist too. Are there that many jackasses to support that many wine-of-the-month clubs? It bothers me that there are.

I think wine bloggers should voluntarily start removing their blogs from the Internet. I don’t mean stop writing them, I mean deleting them. We love the Internet, it’s a modern miracle, let’s not leave all this crap just laying around for someone else to clean up. Let’s start with that HoseMaster of Wine. I don’t know about you, but I think he’s about as funny as leprosy.


ON NATURAL WINES

There’s been too much talk lately about natural wines. Some people even call them naked wines, but that seems counterproductive if you like them. I think most naked things are disgusting, don’t you? When critics and winemakers talk about natural wine I start to get nauseous. Just another wine term no one can accurately define, like “terroir,” and “Meritage,” and “profit.” They make it sound like natural wine is better. These are people who wear a lot of makeup and carefully groom their body hair. Apparently, wine is better when it’s natural, but people are not. I think I’d trust the people who promote natural wine more if they had eyebrows like mine, and abundant nose hair, and unshaven legs. They mostly wear too much unnatural makeup.

I’ve tasted a lot of natural wines and too many of them are terrible. A lot of unnatural wines are terrible too. Can’t we just call crap crap and leave it at that? Crap is a word I can define. You’re reading it.


27 comments:

Samantha Dugan said...

I've always liked Kermit's comment on blind tasting, "Blind tasting is like making love to a beautiful woman, with the lights off". As one of those, "Oh man, don't look at me naked...turn the lights off" less than beautiful girls, I can say that resonated with me. Like maybe, just maybe, in the dark my flaws won't be as glaring. Stupid really and it has always made me wonder who decided blind tasting was the only fair way to evaluate wine...probably some fat, ugly wine.

Thanks for the giggles My Love.

Thomas said...

Andy Rooney! Great channeling.

I have an Andrew Rooney story (he disliked being called Andy).

He was among my father-in-law's closest friends. They were in WWII together as reporters on the Stars and Stripes.

Andrew was not known for being a nice, kind gentleman. Essentially, he was the man that you saw on 60 Minutes.

My mother-in-law told Rooney about my first book and, according to my mother-in-law, he asked to have me send him a copy. So, I sent him a copy, along with a personal note. Months went by, not a word back from Andrew, not even a negative word. It pissed me off, because he asked for the book.

About two years later, I was babysitting my father-in-law after a hospitalization for his knee surgery--answering phone calls, making him soup, etc. The phone rings.

Me: "Hello."

He: "Charles, how are you?"

I recognized that it was Andrew Rooney's voice. So, I'm thinking that I have this runt on the line, and have been holding a grudge for two years. Maybe it's my chance to get even. What can I do?

Me: "This is not Charles. This is his son-in-law. Who's calling, please?"

He: "Tell him it's Rooney."

Knowing that he was a vain man who hated to sign autographs, but also hated when people did not fawn over him, I gave to him what I thought was the perfect response.

Me: "Mickey?"

After my father-in-law got off the phone with Andrew he came over to me laughing and asked, "What did you say that made him so angry?"

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Samantha Baby,

Is that Kermit the Frog? I'm guessing not.

I have long wondered why blind tasting is the signature of integrity in scoring/rating wines. If you trust the reviewer and his opinions, what difference does it make if he knows what the wine is? Many of them do know much of the time but still imply that they don't. I'm not sure consumers care whether the wines are tasted blind or not.

Thomas,

That's a fabulous story, thanks.

I just had a bunch of stupid opinions on my mind and decided, in some odd burst of HoseMaster logic, that Andy Rooney would be a good voice to use for them. I get a kick out of writing in another person's voice--though my impression of his style was rather lame. It's fun and makes me think about a different approach to writing satire. And there was a time in my life I was paid to write in another's comic voice, and it takes me back to that tragic era. Perhaps I wish death on all those folks as well.

VKoM,

When I want the Grammar Police I call Thomas. When I want to feel nauseated, I'll call you.

And just so you know, this is from the Merriam-Webster website definition of "nauseous:"

"Definition of NAUSEOUS
1: causing nausea or disgust : nauseating
2: affected with nausea or disgust
— nau·seous·ly adverb
— nau·seous·ness noun

Those who insist that nauseous can properly be used only in sense 1 and that in sense 2 it is an error for nauseated are mistaken. Current evidence shows these facts: nauseous is most frequently used to mean physically affected with nausea, usually after a linking verb such as feel or become; figurative use is quite a bit less frequent. Use of nauseous in sense 1 is much more often figurative than literal, and this use appears to be losing ground to nauseating. Nauseated is used more widely than nauseous in sense 2."

Now go away.

Samantha Dugan said...

But what's the definition of horked?

Marcia Macomber said...

Made my day! Sounds just like Andy, er Andrew. Cranky old bastard, eh?

The analogies were dead on. Good thing I wasn't drinking while reading. Would've made a mess.

Word verif: seatin

Ron Washam, HMW said...

"...anymore?" Yeah, nice. Thomas?

Correcting grammar is hardly skewering.

When brilliant criticism boils down to "your jokes are trite and you have low self-esteem," it's not particularly worrisome.

All the erudition in the world can't cover up your sad air of superiority. OOOH, I'll bet that really hurts.

Sheesh, who invited the gasbag to the party? Ken Payton, is that you?

Thomas said...

Using my name in vain--vein--vane--makes me nauseous--nauseated--nauseously devoted to you.

Ron,

Re, Rooney and writing style/voice: he wrote exactly the way he talked.

Writing that was true to his personality, not to mention a unique voice (I would have written very unique voice, but only a weak writer with a weak mind needs the qualifier before a word that is secure in its meaning--it's very nauseating).

Bill Smart said...

Ron - I have mad man love for you. Now I'll bet that makes you nauseous.

Charlie Olken said...

Bill--

It makes me nauseous just reading it.

By the way, Jose, brilliant, fucking brilliant. I lose track of time when I am closing up an issue, and I have emerged this AM to find your latest.

I hate knowing that a group of wines contain names I am supposed to like. If they are that good, they will stand out without my knowing them.

Besides, you know because you have been to our tastings, that we rate wines by how much is left in the bottle at the end of the night. Anything down to the dregs is automatically 90 points or better. If someone picks the bottle up and sucks out the last drops, it gets 96 and up. That seems like an perfectly egalitarian system to me.

Samantha Dugan said...

Just here to salute Sir Charles. Just love it when you say fuck Charlie!

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Puff Daddy,

Yes, I have tasted a few times with your distinguished panel, and it was always a very interesting night.

But in recent years I've begun to wonder if blind tasting is really necessary. I have been trying to think of other examples of critics who review products without knowing the producers of those products as they review them. Hard to think of one. Yet with wine we somehow associate total ignorance with objectivity. Blind tasting is essential, I think, to learning about wine, but is it really essential to critiquing it?

I'll see you at ZAP on Saturday!

Thomas said...

"Blind tasting is essential, I think, to learning about wine, but is it really essential to critiquing it?"

If you don't want your critique to be ruined by preconceived notions or hints, the answer is YES!

I have a feeling, however, that with that question you sounded serious but wasn't. I know that Charlie was serious about his suck the bottle dry method--I have spies.

Sam, just for you: what the fuck?

Thomas said...

maybe that should have been a weren't rather than a wasn't, but anonymous probably abandoned the thread by now.

Samantha Dugan said...

Thomas,
You so know the way to my heart...

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Thomas,

What's wrong with preconceived notions and hints? If a reviewer has integrity and a long history with wine, why does it matter if he knows it's 2007 Harlan Estate when he tastes it? Bad example, Harlan is almost never tasted blind by a reviewer. Is that why it has such high scores? I guess you can't go to the winery blind.

As I said in the piece, book reviewers know the writer, Wine Blog Award judges know the blogger, restaurant reviewers know the chef, why can't wine critics know what the wine is? So the owner sends you homophobic hate mail and so you pan the wine. Is that a bad thing? I think any good critic is able to make good decisions about how he rates wines, blind or not.

Aside from that, it's impossible not to bring preconceived notions even to a blind tasting. Let's say I taste a Zin and I think it's from Lodi, even though I can't be sure, chances are I'm not going to score it that well. One can claim impartiality, but it almost never happens. Blind tastings give consumers the illusion of impartiality--and it is strictly an illusion.

Charlie's method always determines the best wine at any tasting. The bottle that empties first. I completely agree with that.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

VKoM,

Time to enforce the time-honored rule around here. No Anonymous posting on HoseMaster unless I know who you are. It's my blog and I'm growing weary of you.

If you want to PM me, my email is available in About Me. I have done this before, you're not the first, don't flatter yourself. I am not at all worried about the criticisms, but the tone is boring and, well, no one wants you here. I'm willing to take as much crap as I dish out, but not from someone hiding behind anonymity.

You can let me know who you are in an email, and we can go from there. Otherwise, your comments will vanish from now on.

Thomas said...

Ron,

To be serious, which I know is anathema on your blog, you seem to gloss over the nature of psychology as it relates to wine--or any other--evaluation. Knowing any detail, rather large or small, is going to have a psychological impact on one's evaluation. Some of us, especially the critics, refuse to believe that, but it is as true as the fact that night follows day, unless of course you belive that day follows night.

Anything thing that can be done to remove influence on one's decision should be done. It is the only chance at securing as much objectivity as possible in an aesthetic evaluation.

Having said that, since aesthetic evaluation isn't of much use to anyone who does not share the evaluator's aesthetics, it renders wine criticism rather meaningless. it's like talking to yourself, which in your case--and probably mine--must be truly meaningless.

Blind tasting to assess the wine should not be confused with tasting wine to assess one's feeling about the wine, which is what the majority of critics do. I applaud Charlie's attempt to remove bias from the process and to try to tell people more about the wine than about the wine taster.

In short, most wine critics are engaged in a form of sensory masturbation, and we all know that masturbation pleases only one person.

Thomas said...

Anonymous,

If the grammar is bad, how can you respond to the criticism without the potential of misunderstanding it?

Some of us treasure the art of communication over the often idiotic practice of just spouting off. I might also add that the moniker "anonymous" lends absolutely no credibility to one's spouts.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Thomas,

I completely agree with you. Yet we don't hear complaints about any other aesthetic judgments being passed under conditions that aren't completely "blind." Pauline Kael certainly hated lots of directors and actors, but her fans accepted her opinions as gospel anyway. So as an ideal, sure, maybe blind tastings are the way to go. But it is so rare, and yet so often claimed. "We taste blind as often as it is feasible." That kind of malarkey. What percentage of wines judged by Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast, Parker, Tanzer, Burghound and everyone else would you guess is judged legitimately blind? 50%? Certainly not 100%. Why not just get rid of the illusion that it's the way wine is judged.

We agree on the ideal, but not on how it is implemented, which it mostly isn't.

And while I always say wine blogging is attention-barking, it is far more accurately a form of self-abuse. Which is why God put us here in the first place.

Samantha Dugan said...

Wait a stinking minute! All you have to do to be allowed to post stupid stuff here is use your real name?! Washam, we need to talk....and I want my thigh-highs back!

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Samantha, My Love,

Sorry, sucker. The thigh-highs are mine. Indian givers aren't welcome here either.

I love you!

Thomas said...

Sam,

Who said that I use my real name? Can you prove it?

Ron,

By the nature of the activity, aesthetic criticism is a reading of the critic's reaction to the product, which is not the same thing as evaluating the product.

You use Pauline as an example (are you a Paulette?). Her criticisms were plainly obvious: she talked about the impact a film made on her sensibilities. That may be criticism, but it is not necessarily an evaluation--and by no stretch of the imagination is it objective.

The only reason for blind evaluation of wine is to attempt to practice objectivity. The idea is not to guess what's in the glass, but to evaluate it without prejudice. And first-person pronouns have no place in that evaluation.

Of course, I have been accused of spouting an unrealistic view, which is precisely why I believe it is a valid view...

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Thomas,

Wow, comedy AND a discussion of aesthetics. You don't get that on STEVE!. You just get comedic irony.

In the fictional world you inhabit, everything you write is indisputable. (No, I'm not a Pauline Kael fan.) But in the real world of Wine Spectator and all the rest, your criteria for wine evaluation is never never never going to happen. Yet they often pretend to aspire to your goal of leaving personal prejudice behind. That's my objection to the whole thing. "Blind tasting" has always been a scam in most cases, so why not just drop the fake curtain of blind tasting and admit that scores and ratings are not administered in a void?

It's not idealistic, to be certain. It's that dreaded "realistic." Imagine the irony of my defending reality. It's like Larry Flynt defending virginity.

Thomas said...

Ron,

Methinks me understand you now.

I disagree on one point: critics do evaluate in a void. The problem is that the void is from ear-to-ear.

'cept PuffDaddy, of course.

my verify word is mamione: a mammy with an Italian lineage.

Puff Daddy said...

Thomas--

How could you be so ignorant. No, not about blind tasting which you got right and Ron has wrong.

A mamione is to breasts what head gear is to a unicorn.

And, if there were a way to evaluate a movie without knowing the director or evaluate a restaurant without knowing where you were eating, then that technique would be the norm.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Puff Daddy,

Of course I'm wrong.

I repeat, I'm not saying blind tasting isn't the best way to taste wine, only that most of the folks who claim to taste wine blind (not you and CGCW)are being disingenuous if not outright misleading. I don't believe them. Doesn't mean I dismiss their ratings or opinions, just means I don't believe they tasted the wines blind under controlled conditions. So drop the pretense and just say you hated the wine or loved it, and you scored it lower because the winery owner writes you hate mail. Seems like way more fun, and way more human.

And you know bloggers, including 1WineDoody and all the rest, certainly don't taste blind. But they don't claim to either. Does this dismiss their opinions. Nope, but their lack of qualifications might.

Besides, it was that old fuck Andy Rooney's idea anyway. I'm just the channel--the Comedy Channel.

Andrea Wilson said...

Dear Andy,
I hate natural wine, and don't tell anybody--but I don't always recycle. (A mortal sin in California!) Thank you for choosing Ron as your medium; his wit kills me. Literally. I may be joining you very soon.
Sincerely yours,
Andrea