It’s been just about a year since I returned to writing HoseMaster of Wine™ for the seventeenth time (don’t get cute, now, I’ll walk away again, I swear, I mean it, just lay off or I’ll quit again—or worse, I’ll just publish tasting notes—you don’t want that, do you? I didn’t think so). Turns out, I picked a perfect year to restart this foolishness. In the wine business, 2012 was filled with scandal, stupid trends, fraud, and the contagious optimism that goes along with them. It began with Jay Miller and ended with Natalie MacLean. It was the Year of the Boobs.
In the grand tradition of taking the easiest premise possible every chance I get, I thought it would be fun to quickly revisit my favorite moments in wine from 2012. One can only hope that 2013 will be half as much fun.
The HoseMaster’s™ Favorite Scandals of 2012
The Jay Miller Affair—Any scandal that results in an M.W. resigning has to be good. Though, as it turns out, Pancho Campo actually sold his M.W. to Natalie MacLean for $2.10/month. He threw in his integrity for free. She threw it back because she had no idea what it was. And it was really small. Dr. Miller, the Wine Advocate’s Spanish wine reviewer, and Spain’s favorite dictator since Francisco Franco, retired soon after the scandal broke, though he claims he had planned to quit long before that. Which is like being drunk, tripping and falling into a table loaded with drinks and food, then getting up and saying, “I meant to do that.” Campo was essentially forced to resign from being a Master of Wine (one always uses an audio echo effect when saying, “Master of Wine!”) because he used his superpowers for evil, and the other superheroes just didn’t like that, especially Jancisman and Doug Frosty the Snowman. This was just a superb scandal. (See “Parkenstein” in my December 2011 and January 2012 Blog Archives.)
19 Perfect Wines—Perhaps not so much scandal as farce, Robert Parker awarded 19 different wines from the 2009 vintage in Bordeaux a perfect 100 points. In retrospect, it seems a pretty smart move to demonstrate your power and influence when you’re about to sell your publication to the Three Singapore Stooges. Prices of those 19 wines immediately rose, and rose quickly, from their giant dose of Parker Viagra, and, indeed, the value of the Bordeaux vintage increased significantly. After the sale of The Wine Advocate, Millennials rushed to remind us that Parker’s influence was waning anyway. Jenna Talia, as head wine mouth of the Somebody, Please, Listen to Me generation, wrote in Wine Spectator, “Nobody my age cares what Parker thinks. He smells like my grandfather’s laundry hamper, and his last taste bud died in Michel Rolland’s butt.” This “scandal” was lots of fun. (See my “Parkenstein! Explains Perfection” from March 2012.)
Natalie MacLean--She dared use dull and virtually interchangeable wine reviews from wine experts on her blog without attribution. Though this gave the reviews value they otherwise lacked, the experts were outraged. Funny thing about experts, outrage is what they’re really good at, and little else. Taking yourself seriously is an absolute requirement for writing about wine—it’s like every wine description you write is an Oscar acceptance speech except you never thank anybody. But the experts’ outrage opened the floodgate, and poor Nat was deluged with her past indiscretions. Turns out she’s about as beloved as genital herpes. Which probably means she’ll return at an awkward moment, and be even nastier than the last time. Clearly, this was a fabulous, and probably the best, scandal of 2012. Bravo, Nat! (See Below, “Nat Defrauds.”)
The HoseMaster’s™ Favorite Fraud of 2012
Dr. Conti—Rudy Kurniawan, referred to by his friends as Dr. Conti because of his legendary cellar of DRC Burgundy, seems to have made a small fortune faking famous and rare wines and selling them at auction. But for slipping up and labeling a Domaine Ponsot Burgundy with a vintage that was years before the winery existed, he might still be doing it. The auction houses weren’t worried about it—they religiously check provenance like Marlee Matlin checks her voicemail. When I lived in Southern California, I sold Rudy dozens of bottles of Screaming Eagle; which he drank, and are now featured on some of the finest wine lists in Las Vegas. Ah, but there’s something sweetly appropriate about hedge fund managers and bank executives drinking expensive forgeries. It’s like they had a long night of drunken sex with a hooker and didn’t see her penis until the morning. In his defense, Rudy was just following in the footsteps of legendary California fake wines Inglenook Chablis, Gallo Hearty Burgundy and Korbel Champagne. A fraud for the wine ages! (See “Dr. Conti, Prison M.D.” from March.)
The HoseMaster’s™ Favorite Stupid Trends of 2012
Low Alcohol—I’m not sure when the habit of checking the alcohol content on a wine label began, but I’m thinking it’s the about the same time wineries started printing it as small and as hidden on a wine label as legally possible. Like they’re ashamed of it. The ABV has nothing to do with the quality of a wine, not on its own anyway. Only stupid people think so. The alcohol, my friends, is WHY we drink wine. It’s the only damn reason we drink wine. More isn’t better, less isn’t better, not by definition. We just don’t want to taste it when we drink it. Drugs don’t taste good. It’s why you stick your dog’s medicine in meat. And he doesn’t check to see if it’s too much, he just eats it. Let’s just drop the alcohol debate. Checking the alcohol on a wine bottle is like a junky checking to see if his needle is clean. Why? He’s going to use it anyway.
Orange Wine—There was a lot of talk about orange wines in 2012, but I don’t know a single person who likes them. Orange wines are the Kardashians of wine. Please, just quietly die.
Natural/Authentic/Real Wine—What do all of these stupid trends have in common? Simple. They’re each about the denial of pleasure, about dictating tastes, about superiority. There’s always been a lot of that in the American wine culture, such as it is. It’s the leftover Puritan in us. The alcohol is too high—that has to be bad, you can’t drink that! It doesn’t smell good? Too bad, just drink it, someone went to a lot of trouble to make that! Don’t waste it! Your wine isn’t authentic? It isn’t natural? How can you enjoy a wine like that? Atheist! In the case of “natural” wine, it’s a return to mystical beliefs combined with the guilt of having ruined the planet for future generations. We can make up for it by drinking “authentic” wines, which have “soul.” Who’s buying this pretentious, mystical crap? The “Real” wine movement is the exact equivalent of the old Medicine Show, and the hucksters selling it just the usual snake oil salesmen. Hell, it’s entertaining, I’ll give ‘em that, but it’s utterly worthless.
Yup, it was a fine year, ol’ 2012. Can’t say I’m sorry to see it go, but it was fun while it lasted.