Monday, October 28, 2013
I don’t know about you, but I am outraged. The A.C.A is an ill-conceived disaster. The time to stop it is NOW, before it’s fully implemented. It’s not too late. I know, I know, it feels like the battle has been lost, but we mustn’t lose hope, we mustn’t abandon our ideals, our very way of life. We have to fight it with every ounce of our being, make sure that our children, our grandchildren, won’t have to carry the burden of this terrible travesty of the business we hold so dear.
I’m speaking of, if I can get the dreaded words unstuck from my craw, the Affordable Cab Act. It will destroy the wine business if we don’t stop it NOW.
I will concede that the prices for Cabernet Sauvignon are insane. The system is definitely broken, I’ll give them that. Wineries with no track record charging $150 for a first release of Napa Valley Cabernet? Who buys those wines? The same people who hire Dennis Rodman for a makeover? The people who hire Anthony Wiener as their Social Media Consultant? People who religiously follow James Suckling? Those morons?
Cabernet Sauvignon prices are like Mel Gibson’s cars—driven by ego. Every overhyped, expensively packaged, new “cult” wine says the same thing in its marketing materials. “We tasted our first release of Mammon Worship Cabernet blind, alongside Harlan Estate, Screaming Eagle, Scarecrow, and all five First Growths, and our wine finished first! And, at $200/bottle, it was the cheapest wine in the tasting!” Who dreams up this crap? How stupid do they think people are? Wow, you mean the wine you made to your own taste, the one you taste every day, actually won your “blind” tasting? Remarkable! Here’s an idea! Try Mammon Worship blind alongside a bunch of wines that cost $40. You’ll still win, and you can charge $50! That makes more sense, doesn’t it?
Bordeaux is no better. Speculation drives the prices up on the best Cabernet-based wines in the region. Bordeaux is no longer a wine, it’s a commodity. Like gold, or corn, or African orphans in Hollywood. The rich have most of it cornered, and, for them, money is no object any more than good taste is.
The Affordable Cabernet crisis was avoidable. If people would just use the brains God gave them, many of them factory seconds, to be sure, but brains nonetheless. The Cabernet crisis is a conspiracy, people! It exists because Americans are ignorant and believe the mainstream wine media! When they are blatantly and unashamedly lying.
Just look at the recent Wine Spectator issue on California Cabernet Sauvignon, reported mostly by Establishment lackey James Laube. In the issue, Laube rates the 2010 vintage for Cabernet Sauvignon in California a ridiculous 98 points! 98 Points! And why? Because the weather was nice. That’s how you rate your fucking vacation, not wine. Laube rates the vintage 98 points, but the highest scoring wine in the report received 97 points. How does that work? The vintage was better than the wines? Apparently. And why did the vintage only get 98 points? What knocked it down from 100? Laube was pissed off when it rained on his birthday? It was overcast for the Vintage Auto Show? It was too hot at the Napa Valley Auction to wear their fur coats?
If the folks who could afford the best Cabernets just kept their wits about them, stopped believing the Establishment media when it hands out meaningless numbers, and refused to pay more than $50 for a great bottle of Cabernet, there wouldn’t have to be the Affordable Cab Act. Soon, if we allow this insidious law to be instituted, our great Cabernets will be in the hands of poor people, illegal immigrants, the unemployed, or, worse, Millennials!
In principle, the Affordable Cab Act is simple. You can understand why folks would vote for it. It guarantees affordable Cabernet Sauvignon for everyone. Not just the rich, who can afford it. Not just sommeliers, who claim to be busy, so could you just drop a bottle off and I’ll taste it when I have time? (In wine country, everyone knows Spring is flea, tick and sommelier season.) No, great Cabernet would be available to everyone. Sounds good, right?
But look more closely at the facts. It’s socialism. Wake up! Our great democracy is in serious danger. The Affordable Cab Act punishes the talented and hardworking people who buy the great wines of Napa Valley and Bordeaux—bankers, hedge fund managers, people with billions of dollars in offshore investments. That isn’t fair. Democracy isn’t about helping the little people. Where does it say that in the Constitution? Democracy is about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. But, if you’re poor, if you’re middle class, hey, you get one of those, and be grateful you get that. You get life. Happiness and liberty? Don’t be such a sap.
The Affordable Cab Act would create a pool of money. Every time one of our finest citizens bought a case of Margaux, or a six-pack of Screaming Eagle, or just a bottle of Lafite, the money would go into that giant pool. The winery, or the broker, or the auction house, would get a percentage of the money for their wine. The rest of the money would be doled out to less successful wine lovers in the form of credits, which they could use, in turn, to purchase Cabernets they can no longer afford. It would all be based on your income, and your ability to appreciate wine.
Yes, it sounds good, and only good would come out of enacting the A.C.A., but don’t let that fool you. It’s a simple fact, but, like health, great wine is meant to be appreciated by the people who earned it, not to be shared with those less fortunate. As Senator Ted Cruz so eloquently put it, “I got mine. Fuck y’all.” Or was that Bill Koch?
Thursday, October 24, 2013
This particular satire of a controversial wine writer appeared on HoseMaster of Wine™ in May of 2010. The reaction to it was bigger than I had expected. I hadn't read a single word of Alice Feiring's work, but she was a polarizing figure in wine, so I spent an hour or so reading her blog, The Feiring Line, just to try and pin down her voice. Then I began to write, and this is what appeared. I heard from several friends who know her that she was unhappy about my piece. A few of my regular common taters felt it was harsh as well. You can decide for yourself. Satire doesn't need defending, and it has always been my goal to walk up to that imaginary line one isn't supposed to cross, and make everyone fear I'll actually cross it. Kind of a hobby...
So, here, from May 2010, is the legendary (sort of) Mis(s) Feiring:
What am I looking for in wine?
I'm looking for the Gertrude Steins, the k.d. langs, the Dizzy Deans. Wines that have a nasty screwball. Which I can relate to. I want my wines natural. Think pubic hair. Think armpits. Makeup is OK, only a little, but no animals tortured. Unless they're my critics who don't get it. I write only for me, about wines for me. But I'm driving a bandwagon. Under the influence, but a bandwagon nonetheless, and I want everyone to be on it. Except Parker. He'd have to sit on the left side and everyone else would have to sit on the right. Balance. Like wines. I seek balance. Think tightrope walker. No balance, they're dead. Naturally. So I'm a wine cop. With no authority. Except my own. I'll write you a nasty ticket if you make wines that aren't natural. I'll throw the book at you. My book. I wrote a book. You have it. It changed you. It changed everyone. I'm a wine messiah. Follow me. I know people. I'll mention all of them. Most are famous. Others should be. Who cares? I'm famous, I'm a wine cop, I'm a messiah. I'm so lonely.
I was asked to speak at a seminar. I'm the leading authority on Natural Wines. No. Make that I'm the Only Authority on Natural Wines. I'm asked to speak often. I changed the world. Like Gandhi. Like Martin Luther King. Like the Exxon Valdez. The only disasters I like are natural too. Earthquakes. Tsunami. Gamay.
I don't like giving speeches. I like giving commandments. Thou shalt not sulfur. I remember Jesus said, "Sulfur little children..." That was wrong too. Where was I?
In a room, issuing commandments, signing books. Michel Bettane was there, he's a wine critic also. He's French. I like the French, they're so natural. He had nose hair like a wire brush. I wrapped my fingers in it. He asked me to sign my book for him. My book. You have it, I know, it changed everything. I was happy to sign Bettane's book but the pen was filled with synthetic ink. Not ink from an octopus or a squid or pasta. I could not sully the book. I pricked my finger and signed in blood. It felt good. Natural. I thought of Carole King. Maybe it was Bettane's nose hair that reminded me of her hair. Jewish hair. Natural hair. "You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman!"
I probably shouldn't have sung it out loud.
I signed the book, With Love, Alice. Bettane smiled. I'm so lonely.
Others were there too. Mostly famous people to hear me. Maybe not famous to you. Not yet. But famous to me, and I assign fame only for myself. To myself. I'm a fame cop. Always copping the famous. Many great winemakers were there. Did I mention this speech was in France? I love France. I surrender to the French. No one's ever done that before. Usually the other way around.
I hope that doesn't offend my French friends. But I speak the truth. Someone has to. The wine world is filled with liars and cheats, and, well, then your wine is filled with lies and cheats. Is that what you want in your stool? Shit, I said stool.
Yet another lie. Another commandment. Thou shalt only use wild yeast. I almost typed wild Yeats. He was a poet. And a good one. He was at my speech. But he's dead. Ironic. He often wrote of the dead. I signed a book for him too. "To Bill" I wrote "you were far too cultured for my taste."
No wine can be natural if it wasn't fermented by wild yeast. Though yeast all over the world has been infiltrated by cultured strains and there is no more wild yeast. I don't care. I have my standards, my commandments. Pick out the cultured strains like they pick out illegal aliens in Arizona. It can be done. I can tell when I taste. I know when a wine was done with cultured yeast. It speaks to me. In an English accent. I hate the English. The accent is fake, like my writing style. The wines taste fake. You just know. You do. Ask anybody who agrees with me.
Francois Ghitaine was there at my speech from Domaine Hornswaggle. His wines are natural. When I visited Francois he proudly showed me his cement vats for fermenting. Cement vats are making a comeback. Why? They are better for the wine. There is concrete evidence. Get it? Concrete evidence! Funnier in French. Francois even goes so far as to ferment the wine in the vats before the cement has even set. The flavors of the ground, the rocks, are in his wines. His Petit Manseng is wet cement in a glass. It's perfect. I took a finger and wrote my name in it. "Alice" I'm so lonely.
I was last at Hornswaggle when only Francois' wife was there, Brigitte. She cooked for me while I spoke to her in short sentences. Very short. I asked her about their biodynamic lifestyle. She was blunt. Francois is a pig. She told him to bury his damned man horns in the vineyard stuffed with the manure he'd brought into their lives. I spoke more short sentences to her. She cooked. Eggs, from a virgin chicken. Over easy. Just how I wanted them. And her. She left weeping. The eggs were runny, like her nose. But the wines are brilliant. I'm brilliant.
I'm so lonely.
Monday, October 21, 2013
It was Robert Mondavi who first told me about Dick Splooge the last time we dined together at French Laundry in Yountville, the quaint town named for Hall of Famer Robin Yount. Thomas Keller manned the kitchen at his eponymous restaurant himself that night, apparently not trusting his Native American (Sioux) chef to prepare a meal for such an influential and important figure in American wine. Or for Mr. Mondavi either. Mr. Mondavi was accompanied by his wife, the famed Belgian surrealist Magritte. Magritte is a handsome woman, old and wealthy, which I find irresistible, who insisted during dinner that she needed to paint a portrait of me, “If only,” she said, “to illustrate that it is not only your prose that is flat.”
Geographically, the Napa Valley is a mere thirty miles long, and roughly fourteen feet wide. And yet it contains some of the most valuable soil in the wine world. There is the justly famous Rutherford Bench, as well as the lesser-known Oakville Bus Stop. Historically, it was the famous Captain Gustave Niebaum-Coppola (no relation to Sofia, who once asked me to star in a film version of my novel, The Great Gatsby) who discovered the brilliance of wines from the Rutherford Bench, and to this day his legacy is honored when we speak about the greatness of Rutherford Cabernet’s Finnish.
When Robert Mondavi began his eponymous winery in the heart of Oakville, after an ugly family dispute involving his brother and a camel drove him to leave Charles Krug Winery, where he’d crafted some of the planet’s finest Champagnes—the 1965 Krug remains one of the greatest bottles of sparkling wine that has ever gone up my nose—there weren’t any “cult” wineries yet in the Napa Valley. The potential for wringing money out of the valuable soils of the Napa Valley was virtually unexplored. Foolishly, the winemakers in Napa Valley at the time sold Cabernet Sauvignon for a modest profit, while their French counterparts in Bordeaux were wisely soaking the gullible Brits into paying a lot of money for underripe and overhyped Frog juice. Not even Petrus or Ausone, where I recently spent several nights at the request of the French government (the details of which I am legally sworn never to divulge, except to say I shared a bunk bed with Julian Assange, who snores and has abhorrent nocturnal emissions, called Wikileaks), but, shamefully, Second Growths! I don’t believe I’ve ever consumed a Second Growth, at least not wittingly, but I’ve been told that it’s the equivalent of sleeping with an actress with an “Also Starring” billing—one can only imagine sinking to the level of a Nicolas Cage.
Thomas Keller had just personally served us our third course at French Laundry, a light and ineffable bite whimsically called “DNA en croute,” when the subject of cult Napa Valley wines came up. I had mentioned Bill Harlan, whose wise countenance and ruggedly handsome booty seemed a reflection of my own future, and Robert began to reminisce about his founding of the eponymous Opus One, considered one of the first cult Napa Valley wines, though far too common for my taste. The conversation soon bored me, and I turned it back to a more interesting subject—my own experiences with the legendary cult Cabernet Sauvignons of Napa Valley.
Fortuitously, I had just come from a complete vertical tasting of Harlan Estate, which included some of the greatest wines I’ve ever tasted. I confess that I consider Harlan Estate the greatest winery in California, in no small part because the label looks like money. There was a time when wine writers failed to see the paramount connection of money to great wine. Wines were approached critically from the primitive and resolutely ignorant perspective of quality, and their accurate reflection of “terroir” (a vague and mostly discredited French word that loosely translated means, “dirt poor”). It’s only recently, when a new generation of wine writers has emerged, the most important of whom first published unreadable, autobiographical, eponymous novels, that the undeniable link between the greatness of wine and the wealth of the winery owner has come to be accepted. Now it seems to be all that I write about. Wine knowledge and a sense of wine history have become vestigial when it comes to wine writing, qualifications that are long outdated and completely overvalued, as my WSJ editors will attest. You want greatness in wine? Follow me, and follow the money.
Mr. Mondavi had been talking animatedly for several minutes, tolerable only because it was fascinating speculation about my formidable palate, when he paused and asked me if I’d ever met Dick Splooge. Splooge Estate, the winery now synonymous with both Natural and Cult wines, was still just an inkling in Dick’s prostate at the time, and I confessed I had not heard of Mr. Splooge (though, in a strange coincidence, that had been Raymond Carver’s nickname for me).
“Dick Splooge,” Robert Mondavi told me, as we sampled Mr. Keller’s next course, a delicious ham and melon dish eponymously named “Ass Hat,” “is a visionary the likes of which Napa Valley hasn’t seen since Georges de la Tour.”--an obscure reference to the visionary behind the Tour de France. “I think you should meet him.”
I wouldn’t normally take advice from a washed-up Napa Valley icon, not even James Laube, but something that day told me I should. Maybe it was the Mr. Splooge nickname coincidence, or maybe it was Magritte slipping me the tongue as we kissed good night, I’m not sure. Yet there was something I needed to know first, something critical to whether or not I’d even consider meeting Dick Splooge at his under-construction Splooge Estate.
“How did he make his money?”
A simple question, but the only question that matters in the world of Napa Valley, thirty miles long and roughly forty feet wide. The question most asked in every tasting room in the county. The question that most certainly determines the value of the resulting wines. And the question that certainly determines whether or not I’ll visit a winery, whether I’ll write about it, whether, first and foremost, I can be entertained there in the fashion to which I am accustomed.
“Where did Dick Splooge make his money?” Mr. Mondavi replied. “Just where you’d expect a Splooge to make it.
Thursday, October 17, 2013
Rocca Family Vineyards Wines I’m Using to Talk About Myself
Rocca 2009 Syrah Grigsby Vineyard Yountville $50 (262 Cases)
Rocca 2009 Vespera Napa Valley $50 (641 Cases)
Rocca 2009 Merlot Grigsby Vineyard Yountville $50 (174 Cases)
Rocca 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon Collinetta Vineyard Napa Valley $85 (420 Cases)
Rocca 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon Grigsby Vineyard Yountville $80 (469 cases)
I’m one of those goofy wine guys who actually likes to attend the annual Family Winemakers of California tasting each year. As wine tasting events go, it’s pretty nuts. At this year’s event, there were something like 200 wineries. It’s a stupid place to taste wines critically, as most tastings are. When I read a wine blogger’s notes that were taken at one of these large industry, cattle-call tastings, I cringe, and instantly dismiss them—the notes, and the blogger. The conditions are terrible for evaluating wine. Publishing scores and tasting notes taken at a large public tasting is like writing a restaurant review while eating the food in your car. Or maybe writing music reviews listening in an elevator. It’s just human folly, and those who publish those sorts of notes are, when it comes right down to it, insulting the intelligence of their eleven readers.
I attend those sorts of large industry tastings for the nostalgia, for the pathetic satisfaction I get from remembering when I was someone in the wine business. As the author of HoseMaster of Wine™, I usually remove my name tag. I’m not that well-known. I don’t mean to seem impressed with my own reach, and I’m certainly aware that I have no influence. But, within the industry, I’m more and more recognized, and not always warmly. Though it’s primarily other wine bloggers who shun me, not winemakers or winery owners. I can certainly understand why. You kick Poodles, they end up either biting you or avoiding you. Some pee.
At the 2013 Family Winemakers tasting, I stopped by the Rocca Family Vineyards table to taste. From their first vintage, I’ve been a fan of their Cabernet Sauvignon. It was always on my wine list--an elegant, understated, beautiful Napa Valley Cabernet to serve as counterpoint to the prevailing steroid-era Cabernets often labeled “cult.” I find it interesting that Robert Parker is blamed for the heavy-handed, extracted style of wines that Napa Valley slavishly produced through much of the ‘90’s, and even now. He didn’t invent the style, he only praised it. That he had enormous power wasn’t his doing either. And if the wines hadn’t delivered some kind of pleasure, the style would have eventually died out. Some folks think it is dying out, but I’m unconvinced.
I’m not sure who first came up with those insanely ripe, bombastic, muscle-bound wines. (When I taste many of those “cult” wines, Bryant Family or Colgin or Maya, for example, I often flash on lady wrestlers. Exaggerated body type, overblown and entertaining in a twisted way, but the results are clearly fake.) I’m tempted to blame Helen Turley, but, truthfully, I just don’t know who to blame.
When I see that a wine received a perfect score, 100 Points from somebody or other, I assume that it says more about the critic than it does about the wine. It reflects their tastes, and probably not mine. I might like the wine if I taste it, but it’s unlikely, and I speak from lots of experience, that I’ll find it perfect also. Ever notice how men and women rarely agree about beauty? A woman tells me her friend is gorgeous, I meet her, and, inevitably, she isn’t gorgeous to me. But I learn a lot about the woman’s taste in beauty. That’s why blind dates almost always suck. Wine is just like that. Wine recommendations, wines that received high scores, are usually equally disappointing as blind dates. In both cases, it feels like you threw your money and time away. Chasing wines with high scores is like spending your life on a series of blind dates. Except with wine, you’re pretty likely to get screwed.
I chatted with Rocca’s winemaker, Paul Colantuoni, at the Family Winemakers tasting, though I have no idea what we chatted about. But a few days later I received an email from John Taylor, Sales Director at Rocca Family Vineyards, offering to send me samples. You’d think that I’d get dozens and dozens of offers like that, wouldn’t you? What winery wouldn’t want the HoseMaster of Wine™ reviewing its wines? Apparently, the other 199 out of 200. I might get an offer of samples every few months or so. But that’s plenty. Everyone hates these “Wine Essays,” anyway. John Taylor claims to be a fan of HoseMaster, “fan of HoseMaster” being one of the newest categories in the DSM-5, and shipped me these consistently winning red wines. So blame him.
Let’s begin with the Rocca Family 2009 Syrah. I find that what’s interesting about tasting yet another California Syrah is that I need a taste or two to calibrate what kind of Syrah I’m tasting. You just never know what you’re going to get when you open a bottle of Syrah from California you haven’t tasted before. I have an idea what to expect from Hermitage or Côte-Rôtie, an expectation for Barossa Valley Shiraz, but who knows what you’re going to come across in a bottle of Sonoma Coast Syrah, or Napa Valley Syrah, or Paso Robles Syrah? It could be anything. So I open the bottle, take a sniff or two, get a sense of the style, I hope, how much whole cluster fermentation went on, how ripe the wine smells, and try a few tastes before I start analyzing the Syrah. It’s almost like the first time you try some new and exotic food. Will I like it, or will it just be too weird? It’s like oral sex for the first time—should I really put that in my mouth? (See, this is the kind of wine review you just don’t get in the New York Times.) I don’t seem to have those thoughts when tasting Cabernet or Pinot Noir.
The Rocca Family Syrah took quite a while to come around. It's dense and brooding in its first impression, like that dumb kid you sat next to in home room. Eventually, though, the aromatics that emerge are those of Syrah from a moderately warm climate—intense dark fruit aromas, either blackberries or blueberries, mixed with a bit of white pepper (the signature of cool climate Syrah) and just a whisper of stemminess. It’s definitely Syrah, and one with very big shoulders. The wine kept improving over the course of the evening, filling out, gaining richness and depth. That sweet, dark fruit was very intriguing. Toward the end it began to
|Stu Smith, right|
I liked the 2009 Syrah very much, though it didn’t unnerve me, as the best Syrahs can. That is, I liked it, would highly recommend it, but, in some strange way, the wine just seemed distant to me, a wine that didn’t engage me emotionally. But that’s me. Anyone who is a fan of full-throated, powerful, yet elegant, Syrah will undoubtedly adore it.
The Rocca Family 2009 Merlot completely enchanted me. It reminded me of a really fine Graves, even though Graves is usually dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon. It was the distinct gravelly character of the Rocca Merlot, the vibrancy and weight, the wine’s urgency, that brought Graves to mind. I loved this Merlot right from the start. It’s just so perfectly integrated, so much a seamless whole, a Merlot with brilliant red fruits, plums and cherries and raspberries, a pinch of spice, maybe cinnamon, and that ever-present edge of fine, gravelly tannin and structure. The Rocca Family 2009 Merlot is Merlot dressed in its finest, truly elegant and sexy, not the common, trailer trash Merlot that has come to stand for Merlot in too many consumer’s minds. It’s Charlize Theron, not Miley Cyrus. It’s been a really long time since I’ve tasted a Merlot this astoundingly beautiful. It’s worth every dime of its $50 price tag.
Does anyone still believe Merlot was killed by a simpleminded Hollywood movie, “Sideways?” It wasn’t. Only simpletons think that. Merlot was killed by its own popularity, by the tidal wave of mediocre Merlot that filled Trader Joe’s shelves and populated lousy by-the-glass lists in the wake of the success of Merlots like Duckhorn and Rutherford Hill and Clos du Bois back in the ‘80’s. “Sideways” merely kicked a dead dog. The success of that film has always baffled me. It’s the tritest kind of Hollywood buddy film, filled with telegraphed plot points, and relationships that never ring true for even a moment. Four talented actors with almost no chemistry between them. It didn’t kill Merlot, but it certainly murdered two hours of my life.
Seems my perfect match with Rocca Merlot is a side of pauline kale. Bitter shit.
Rocca also makes an estate blend called “Vespera.” Catchy. The Rocca Family 2009 Vespera is a blend of Cab, Petite Sirah, Petit Verdot, and a tiny bit of Syrah. It’s obvious that this blend is meant to be accessible and fun to drink—so why wouldn’t you use Petite Sirah and Petit Verdot? Ah, well... Vespera, the winery fact sheet tells me, is Latin for “Evening, a time of gathering with family and friends.” Isn’t vespera really just Latin for evening prayers? Which, if you’re doing with family and friends, comes off as creepy to me. OK, that's my problem.
The 2009 Vespera shows all of Rocca Family’s house style of finely polished, elegant, supple red wine. It’s quite good, very big and broad, black fruit all the way, mostly blackberries and dark currants, spicy, and refined. For the same amount of money, I’d buy the Merlot every time. As good as the Vespera is, and it’s damned tasty, it comes off as rather muddled to me, a hard wine to define or get a grip on, more monolithic than mesmerizing. Is it great to drink? Sure. Is the Merlot a better, more interesting wine? Absolutely.
The stars of the show are the two Rocca Family Cabernet Sauvignons. Yum! I wish I could remember who it was who said to me (this was several years ago), “Cabernet is, genetically, just a perfect grape. Easy to grow, easy to make, yet produces profound and great wine.” Lots of truth in that, I think. Carole Meredith (man, if you haven’t had Lagier Meredith Syrahs, you just don’t know diddly about great Syrah in California), the famous grape geneticist who, among other accomplishments, discovered the origins of Zinfandel, thus earning the moniker Tribidrag Queen, told me that Cabernet Sauvignon is a relatively new grape on the scene, perhaps only 300 years old or so. Whereas Zinfandel, Carole told me, goes back almost 800 years. (Forgive me, Carole, if I’ve misquoted you.) And Pinot Noir is even older than that. So what was the variety Jesus had at the Last Supper? I don’t know, not sure anyone does, but I’m guessing it was a cross.
Rocca Family makes two vineyard-designate Cabernets, one from their original Yountville property, christened Grigsby Vineyard, and the other from their newer Coombsville Vineyard, Collinetta Vineyard. These two wines are sure things. In the world of Napa Valley Cabernet, they represent great quality at reasonable (for Napa Valley) prices. And, unlike many Cabernets from Napa that command more money, these are wines that will age beautifully, evolve gracefully, for at least 20 years, I’d guess. In my mind, that makes them worth the money. Of course, nothing’s worth the money if you don’t have the money.
The Rocca Family 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon Collinetta Vineyard is delicious. Its central core of fruit is impressive and generous, intense and luscious without the least bit of jammy character. One thing about all the Rocca Family wines, they are perfectly composed. The tannins are seamless, and effortlessly carry the gorgeous, sexy blackberry, cassis and cocoa flavors while never getting in the way. For folks who think they can’t taste the difference between cheap wine and fine wine, this Cabernet is unmistakably fine. (And why would those folks be reading HoseMaster of Wine™? Maybe they can’t tell the difference between fine and cheap jokes either.) You just can’t wipe the smile off your face while you’re drinking this Cabernet. And I do so love great Cabernet.
If I had to pick my favorite of all these fine wines, I’d probably choose the Rocca Family 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon Grigsby Vineyard. This wine has absolutely everything going for it. The nose draws you in immediately with a gorgeous rendition of Napa Valley Cabernet—very Stags Leap District, in a sense, with its purity and elegance and insistent black fruit with just a whisper of olives. It isn’t Stags Leap Cabernet, but it fits the profile. There isn’t a moment when this Cabernet disappoints. It has vivacious fruit, like the 2009 Merlot, but is much richer, and more classically structured. As good as it is now, make no mistake, this wine is a keeper. The captivating finish, longer than one of these annoying Wine Essays, and more interesting, and it’s classic structure foretell great things another generation down this long and bumpy road.
Tasting through these wines you get a strong sense of a winery that knows what it’s doing. We often don’t assign enough value to subtlety and complexity and simple elegance in wine, preferring, instead, when we take a small taste and assign a large number, the bombastic and the flashy. But when all is said and done, the bombastic and the flashy finally fade in our estimation, while the complex and elegant gain. The Rocca Family Cabernet Sauvignons will surely gain in your estimation the longer you spend with them.
And don’t forget that “fucking Merlot.”
Monday, October 14, 2013
There’s a lot of hoopla surrounding the annual announcement of the MacArthur “Genius” Grants. This year, I was passed up once again. I know, hard to believe. I’m the Philip Roth of MacArthur Genius Grants, the Pete Rose, the Harold Stassen, the other Pope who’s still alive but no one gives a Ratzinger’s ass. What does it fucking take to get that MacArthur? I’m damned near out of genius. But for $125,000/year for five years, I can keep cranking out this brilliant stuff . Hell, that’s Lettie Teague money.
Frankly, I need the money. What stinks is that there isn’t any way to actually apply for a MacArthur Grant. You have to be recommended by one of an anonymous group of experts to an anonymous panel of judges. So it’s just like “America’s Got Talent.” Sadly, in that case, it seems as though my genius is doomed to go unnoticed.
However, in looking through the list of MacArthur geniuses, I noticed that not a single one had anything to do with wine. Not really a surprise. After all, wine and genius go together like monkeys and table manners. But, I wondered, why do we have to aim so high? Attaining genius is rarefied air, attained only by the likes of the greatest composers, the finest writers, and those guys at Apple stores. Why can’t we have grants for people in the wine business who aren’t necessarily geniuses, but who think they are? I could win that. And I can nominate a bunch of others. (Finally, the premise arrives…)
WINE GENIUS Greg Lambrecht!
Greg Lambrecht invented the Coravin, a device which allows you to drink from any bottle of wine sealed with a cork without having to remove the capsule or the cork itself. This is the stuff of pure wine genius. Reputedly, Lambrecht began thinking about this problem no one else has when his wife was pregnant, gave up drinking wine regularly, and, like most geniuses, he didn’t have a single goddam friend to drink wine with. Now, using a specialized medical needle he’d patented, a needle previously used only for delicate surgeries and making really nice popcorn strings for Christmas, Lambrecht found a way to penetrate the cork, remove a glass of wine, and fill the remainder of the bottle with argon gas (harvested, I believe, from flatulent Argonauts). In the great tradition of wine, the hallowed tradition of Riedel stemware, Vinturis, and wine magnets, Lambrecht created a whole new category of useless wine toy—a $300 gizmo, of limited production, of course, because every wine dweeb knows that everything valuable in wine is of limited production, that is the equivalent of a sterling silver caviar spoon. “Really? You actually opened your bottle of ’61 La Chapelle last night? Was it the servants’ day off?” The Coravin seems to be indicative of this era’s incessant need to pierce our most precious things—nipples, check; clitoris, check; old Burgundy corks, check. “Hey, Baby, want to see my piercings? Come down into my wine cellar and I’ll show you what I put my needle through.” As with all men’s toys, it’s overtly sexual, all about secret penetration. Using a Coravin is essentially wine frottage.
And, honestly, what good is a Coravin unless you have a Drilaporker® to use along with it? The Drilaporker®, which uses a high-tech, titanium fork to take one bite at a time out of a live pig so that you can savor your favorite pig for years to come!
Of course, the good news is there will be a lot fewer assholes complaining about corks as a closure from now on. Assholes with Coravins! Thank you, Wine Genius Greg Lambrecht!
WINE GENIUS Eric LeVine!
Genius is often found in the creative juxtaposition of the simplest insights. What do wine people like to do more than anything else? Not drink wine, though that would seem to be the right answer. No, wine people like to give their stupid opinions about wines to anyone who will listen. Now, what, when you get right down to it, is the Internet? The Internet is an infinite receptacle for stupid opinions, half-truths, misinformation and photographs of kitties. Why not combine those two insights? What if there were a place where wine people could go and share their wine opinions? Voila! CellarTracker was born. Originally a personal creation, Eric LeVine opened it up for anyone to use to track their personal wine cellars and post public notes on the wines they’ve consumed. Now you no longer have to hang around your local wine shop to hear someone say something worthless about a wine, you can go online to CellarTracker and hear thousands of people contributing to the white noise of wine criticism. Experts are so last millennium. Do the math. Why pay to read a wine critic with 50 years of experience when, with the click of a mouse, you can see the unbiased opinions of 50 people with at least a year of experience?! Or ten people with five years of experience? And, best of all, they’re all men! But, remember, it’s just like Twitter. If you expect people to follow you, you have to follow them, too. Thus, if you review wines on CellarTracker, defend its value to the death! This is how the virtual world works. You pretend you’re a hero on Dungeons and Dragons, and pretend you’re a wine expert on CellarTracker.
Eric LeVine had the brilliant insight that the Internet ultimately devalues everything. That humans will gladly take lousy advice for free over quality advice they have to pay for. He is clearly worthy of the title, Wine Genius! Though he forgot to include a place for the photos of kitties.
WINE GENIUS Wilfred Wong!
The wine buyer for BevMo, Wilfred Wong is also their most important wine reviewer. OK, this is genius. That 80 case floor stack in all 140 BevMo locations of The Incredible Bulk 2012 Sauvignon Blanc? Look at the review! 92 Points, and it’s only $6.99. Wow. That’s an amazing value. Who gave it 92 Points? Wilfred Wong! Well, he must know, he bought it. Plus, why would he exaggerate? Give me a case. I can tell my friends it got 92 Points from a famous reviewer. My friends are at least as stupid as I am.
You know, it’s a damned shame the rest of the world doesn’t get to do this. “Maison Pichette is clearly worthy of three Michelin stars!”—Chef Pichette. And, hey, I’ve had sex with myself, and I can truthfully say, no one is better, but women never believe me. But, then, I’m no Wilfred Wong. Though, yes, I can give you a case.
And let’s not forget the legendary BevMo 5¢ Sale. More genius. People actually believe they’re getting a deal. “Hey, that wine was horrible, but for a nickel, hell, I’ll take another.” Last time I went to the 5¢ Sale I decided to give the second bottle to an old wino hanging around the parking lot.
“Fucking cheapskate,” he thanked me.
Thank you, Wilfred, you’re a Wine Genius.
Thursday, October 10, 2013
I’m not sure this is a good idea, but I’m turning over HoseMaster of Wine™ again to my intern, Lo Hai Qu. She wouldn’t let me read her piece first, so I’m nervous. Like a lot of Millennials, she’s a pretty angry person. I tell her, it wasn’t me who screwed things up, it was my parents. But she doesn’t believe me. So, to placate her, I give her the chance to blow off some steam, talk about whatever is on her mind. I’ve got a bad feeling about this…
So I said, when I have tons of money, I’m going to go to the Napa Valley Wine Auction and buy every fucking lot! And then, after I buy all that wine, and all those dinners and trips and hip happy endings, I’m going to just throw them all away. Like right there, in front of all those self-important clowns. Pick up that salamineo of 2007 MyShitDontStink Cabernet and break it in the Meadowood parking lot so some of those losers get flat tires on their Teslas. Or maybe give away some of those fancyass winemaker dinners for thirty of my closest friends to a bunch of homeless crackheads living under the Napa River bridge. Some of whom passed the first level WSET, so they’d enjoy it. That’s what I’d do if I had bookoo bucks. That, and get killer tits.
See, I’d be like the richest person there, so I’d get to act like it, like they do at those wine auctions. Get drunk and spend obscene amounts of money, hobnob with other really rich folks in that way they do, learn the secret One Percent handshake, you know, the one where you shake the middle class guy’s hand while, with your left hand, you’re stealing his wallet, and acting all like the queen of America, the fucking aristocracy, but it’s all for charity, dammit, so it’s cool. Spending money on wasteful shit you really want and acting all superior when it’s not for charity? That’s not cool. That’s an episode of “Real Housewives of Dante’s Inferno.” But for charity, it’s all cool like polar bear stool.
I’d be drunker than a Vatican sommelier the whole time. There are all these events and dinners and tastings and buttlicking seminars, and I’d be Lo-quacious and Lo-tacular everywhere I went. First, I’d rent out the whole Auberge du Soleil cuz I love all the acrobats and contortionists that are in the show. The Auberge would be my home base for the whole auction. I know one year Wine Spectator rented the whole place. And, just to show they were players too, Wine and Spirits took over the Calistoga Motel 6. “We’ll leave the lightweight on for you.” Mutineer Magazine had a trailer at the Old Grist Mill.
When my girlfriends and me read about those bigshot wine auctions, we want to gag. We start to dry heave reading about all the parties. Like the magnum party that dirigible Marvin Shanken throws every year. Everybody is supposed to bring a 1.5 to the party. I’m thinking, yeah, 1.5, that’s what most of those guys are carrying in their pants. Sure, I’m here just to help out the Napa Valley Hospital, donate to charity, not to flaunt my wealth and bad taste. See, I brought a magnum of Dunn Howell Mountain, and it’s signed by Thurston Howell himself! Aren’t I fucking awesome!
I’m hoping that Millennials don’t keep that shit up. How stupid are Baby Boomers? So you go to Napa Valley, California, or Sonoma Valley, California, or Naples, Old Fuck Florida, and you rub elbows with rich people who own wineries. Wineries? That’s why you want to hang out with them? Because they own wineries? Idiots. They want to hang out with you because you’re the kind of fool whose money helps dig even bigger caves, builds even fancier wineries, finances and glorifies immodesty and decadence. They want to meet you worse than you could ever want to meet them. They got a lot of $150, 91-Point wine to sell you.
OK, here's the thing. One day, like three thousand years from now, if there even are humans and it’s not cockroaches running the world, some archaeologists are going to dig up Napa Valley and you know what they’re going to think? It’s the Egyptian Pharaohs all over again! Rich kings and queens who built shrines to themselves on hilltops, dug huge decorated caves filled with priceless knickknacks, the walls filled with glowing praise and indecipherable numbers, lived in enormous castles where they received the tributes of the little people--the tourists, the sychophants, the athletes in frilly panties, the marginally talented wine buyers and sommeliers who kissed their bungs and wore kneepads to beg for allocations. These kings of the 21st Century, who viewed themselves as artists and poets, as translators of God’s soil, the Chosen Cru! These titans once ruled the Land, and, once a year, they gave until it hurt. An auction. For good, to do good. It was the least they could do.
People from all over the world, three thousand years from now, will have themselves transported to the Napa Valley of the Kings to view the Seven Wonders of the Ancient Wine World. The Sterling tram, the molecular transporter of its day! One minute you were in the parking lot, the next you were magically levitated to a magnificent Moorish castle. Oh, how grand it must have been. And even today, September 5013, they still have 2009 Merlot to sell. And, look, there’s the rail bed of the Napa Valley Wine Train, rumored to have once hit six miles per hour, triple the average driving speed through St. Helena. And can that be the Temple of Darioush? Built entirely of expensive oak. Not the Temple, the reputation. Oh, Napa Valley, what a magical place this once must have been.
So that’s my plan. Just go every year to the Napa Valley Auction and buy all the shit. Wouldn’t that just ruin everybody’s fun? And isn’t that what money is for? Taking everything cool in life and making it all about money. The best stuff? You can’t afford it. Sorry. Fuck you, hey, we support the hospital. Without us, you’d wouldn’t have that job changing the bedpans.
Monday, October 7, 2013
I recently received a solicitation for a worthy new cause in the mail from our old friend Larry Anosmia MS. I've posted the letter over at Tim Atkin's site. In the letter, Larry makes an emotional plea for our dying sommeliers. I know I was touched, and I count myself lucky that I never contracted the deadly disease now silently annihilating our treasured sommeliers. At least, I don't think I did. Though, come to think of it, I have been craving Sicilian wines lately--one of the early symptoms. And I'm thinking of starting my own label, featuring wines made from heirloom grapes. I'm calling the label "Heir Brain." Oh my God, I think I may be dying. And not just in the comedic sense.
To read Larry Anosmia's letter, please click on over the pond to Tim's place. As ever, feel free to comment over there, or, if you must, leave your comment here, in a jar, on Funk and Wagnall's porch, since noon today.
Thursday, October 3, 2013
It was my first time. Yeah, I was scared. Facing your inner demons, admitting your failures as a human being in front of several dozen strangers, trying to end an addiction that you cannot imagine living without—the sleepless nights, the vomiting, the shakes, the loneliness that would inevitably accompany the withdrawal. Why wouldn’t I be scared? But I understood that it was my last chance, my only way out from underneath my shame and degradation. So I went. And it changed my life.
“Hello,” I said, my voice cracking with emotion. “My name is Ron. And I’m a Higher Alcoholic.”
Every face in the room turned to me, and each one had a welcoming smile. As one, my fellow recovering higher alcoholics replied, “Hello, Ron.”
But let’s start at the beginning. At how my crippling addiction to ripe, voluptuous, generous, fat, high alcohol wines began. And how it ruined my life. It’s not unique. Many of you will recognize yourself in my story. My hope is you’ll join me in my recovery. Yes, it’s difficult. It’s the hardest thing I’ve done since I swore off cult wine mailing lists, the meth of wine geeks. You know the types—desperate for Carlisle, up all night emailing Saxum, prostituting their first-borns for a crack at Marcassin, disgusting, desperate, despicable Cayusers. So many sick, sad losers. You see them on chat rooms and it makes your balls tighten, knowing their horrible sickness, their racing pulses, their night sweats, their missing teeth and useless genitalia. Yup, you got a magnum of Favia, congratulations, I can tell—the fetid smell of death is all over you. Though that could just be really meaty Syrah. I was that guy once, too. But I managed to make it out, managed to get a real life, instead of measuring my worth by the labels in my cellar instead of the content of my character. That life is a living death. Those people deserve your pity. They are only barely human. They are walking Scarecrows in search of brains.
We’re taught at Higher Alcoholics Anonymous to accept the blame for our addiction, to not blame others. But that’s hard. I liked the way Turley made me feel. I couldn’t help it. I’d suck down a bottle of 16.9% Zinfandel, and love every drop of it. I’d lick the rim of the glass like a cokehead licks a mirror. Shouldn’t those wineries bear some guilt? They could have stopped sooner. They didn’t have to continue to make their high alcohol, addictive wines so delicious. They knew what they were doing. They lured us in, they took our money, and provided us lush, voluptuous, jammy, chewy, sweet wine crack. Those bastards. I’m sorry, I’m violating my HAA teachings, but it has to be said. Those damned wineries—and it wasn’t just California wineries, either; it was Australian and Spanish and French and Italian wineries, too (fucking Amarone, I sold my car for a goddam bottle of Amarone, a 1978 Corvina—a Chevy Corvina, sweet little convertible)—they used us. They profited off our pain and addiction.
We know now that wine, and, specifically, great wine, is better at lower alcohol levels. Sure, we know this now. Thanks to the greatest wine minds of our time, people In Search of Balance. They have shown us that there are wines that deliver too much pleasure, too much flavor, too much richness. Those wines are evil. They represent sin, the libido, the worst parts of our nature. Their message almost came too late for me. I was wallowing in the mindlessness, the oblivion, of big, chewy, intense Syrahs. Behind closed doors, where my friends and family couldn’t witness my humiliation, I suckled at the teat of ripe, fleshy, extracted, wondrous Napa Valley Cabernet. I fell in love with Grenache, big and ripe, and I did unspeakable things for a single bottle of Sine Qua Non. Pure, uncut, filthy Krankl. I paid thousands of dollars for the stuff. I sat behind park dumpsters with my Sine Qua Bong and inhaled it as quickly as I could. When, I know now, I should have been drinking some cool climate Sta. Rita Hills Grenache that tastes like wax lips.
Wine isn’t about pleasure, I’ve learned at my HAA meetings. It’s about the search for pleasure. With those sinful and shameful wines I’d been addicted to, there was no search for pleasure, the pleasure was right there in front of me as soon as I poured the first glass. It’s an empty, meaningless, pathetic existence—immediate gratification is for the mentally impaired, the desperate, the Wine Advocate subscribers. The real wine lovers, the people of In Search of Balance, the folks who make Authentic Wines, they are the ones who understand wine, who see most clearly that finding joy in wine requires a lifelong search. God Bless Them, those Angels of Lower Alcohol, those truth-tellers doing God’s work, their message is resonating with lots of lifelong sufferers of the addiction to Higher Alcohol wine. HAA meetings grow larger each week.
I had to call my sponsor last night. “Hello, Raj.” Just hearing his humble, rather thin and weedy voice, comforted me. “I’m dying for a glass of 2003 Chateauneuf-du-Pape, maybe Rayas, or La Bernadine. I’ve got one in front of me. And I have a corkscrew. I don’t think I can stop."
“You must stop,” Raj told me. “You’re using those wines to fill a hole in your soul, a hole that will never heal until you fill it with leaner wines, with wines that won’t make you want a second glass. Trust God, Ron. If He had wanted us to drink wines over 15% ABV, wouldn’t He have made them taste better with communion wafers?”
“But I love these wines! The flavors! The texture! The richness! I don’t think I can live without them.”
“Put the corkscrew down, Ron. I feel your pain. Don’t forget, I’m also a recovering Higher Alcoholic. You can do it. Pleasure is just an illusion, a trick. It’s not what wine is about. Wine is about terroir, wine is about leanness and the search for authenticity, wine is about following the true path. Ours is the true path. Our path is sacrifice and the denial of pleasure. Our path takes work, and the ability to find satisfaction in places where none exists. Our path is what makes us human. Their path is about drinking what you like, when you like, as much as you like. Does that make sense to you? I think you’re smarter than that.”
Raj was right, and I knew it. My Higher Alcohol addiction had cost me everything. I’d lost all credibility as a former sommelier. I was a laughing stock at wine competitions. I had a wine cellar full of horrible, addictive, manipulated, sexy, delicious, sumptuous, evil, obnoxious wines only an ignoramus would drink. I had to stop drinking them. I was like a sex addict who was blind to the obvious fact that the hottest women are anorexic. So what choice did I have, really? One just doesn’t go against the tide of wine opinion based simply on personal preferences. That's stupid. That’s not what the wine business is about. It’s about trends. Trends make money. Jump on the latest trend. Because of the tireless proselytizing of the leaders of HAA, wine lovers know now that you judge wine like you judge people--fat is bad, skinny is fashionable. Fat is self-indulgent and speaks to something seriously unbalanced. Skinny is beautiful, desirable and closer to perfection. Fat means poor, thin means rich. Lean and low, that's the hot new trend. How had I not seen what is so obvious? I was grateful to Raj, and to all recovering Higher Alcoholics, for teaching me how wrong I have been about wine. My entire wine life a pathetic charade.
I put the corkscrew down. Raj’s job was done, and he went back to pretending he made wine. I had passed one more test. I opened a bottle of Lioco and felt the adrenaline rush of authenticity. I felt alive again. The pucker, the absolute absence of generosity, the comforting thought of “this would go good with oysters,” the overwhelming desire to put my glass down and not finish the bottle—I’d found the right path.
My name is Ron, and I’m a Recovering Higher Alcoholic. Anyone need a sponsor?