Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Year in the Wine Family 2013

Merry Christmas to Our Family and Friends,

2013 was a busy year for the Wine family. There’s so much news I’m not sure I can fit it all in to this one Christmas letter! But I’ll sure try. It’s just hard to know where to begin.

I’m sure most of you have heard by now that Uncle Bob sold his business. Everybody in the Wine family was pretty relieved. Uncle Bob sold it to three guys from Singapore, I think, though no one in the family has actually met them. Which is probably good, because we’d have a hard time keeping a straight face. Good ol’ Uncle Bob, he completely hornswaggled the “businessmen.” On the 100 Point Scale, they took it up the chocolate Highway 99. They paid big bucks for what is basically just his old rag business. Most of Uncle Bob’s employees at the rag business stayed on, which is good, because they’re otherwise nearly unemployable. They all seem to think that the way you cover up it being a rag is to flower it all up with indecipherable gibberish. An old moth-eaten rag is still an old moth-eaten rag—no matter how hard you try to disguise it, people can still see right through it. But it’s not Uncle Bob’s problem any more, although he’s still going to consult. The whole Wine family can hardly wait until Uncle Bob retires for good, though what the hell Uncle Marvin will do without Uncle Bob to follow and mimic is going to be hard to watch. Marvin’s never done anything original or useful, despite his success. He’s the Ryan Seacrest of the Wine family. His rag business is just like Uncle Bob’s, only Uncle Marvin figured out to take advertising. That was pretty smart. Get the people who appear in his rag to give him money, only say the money wasn’t to become a rag favorite. They just like the rag so much, they tithe. Well, it is the season for tithings of comfort and joy. Comfort and joy. Oh Oh, tithings of comfort and joy…

Sadly, Uncle Bob’s favorite employee, Cousin Antonio, left the rag business and disappeared. No one has heard from him in months. We would like to thank the Antinori family for putting Cousin Antonio’s picture on the sides of their Chianti Classico cases below the headline, “Have You Seen This Clown?” Hey, it worked for Berlusconi. Uncle Bob and Cousin Antonio had a big falling out after Uncle Bob sold his business. I guess Cousin Antonio thought he was being groomed to take over from Uncle Bob. But, instead, Lisa Perrotti-Brown nosed her way in to the position. I may have put the hyphen in that last sentence in the wrong place.

If you see Cousin Antonio, tell him the Wine family misses him. And if his brother Rudy can plead insanity, so can he.

Not all the news in a family can be good. And at Christmas, we should also remember the less fortunate members of our Wine family. Those behind bars. Not bartenders, idiot, I mean jail. I’m talking, of course, about Rudy. Poor Rudy. He’s been incarcerated for selling very expensive bottles of wine that were fake. Did they taste fake? Apparently not. Uncle Burghound liked them, at least that’s what he said before he took off looking for Cousin Antonio and also vanished. If anyone can find Antonio, it’s Uncle Burghound. He smelled a pair of Antonio’s sackcloth underpants to get the scent.

It wasn’t very nice of Rudy to fool Uncle Burghound with his fake wines. That’s not how we like to conduct ourselves as part of the Wine family. Yes, sell expensive fake wines to outsiders, that’s what ratings are for. But don’t drag family into it. Well, Rudy’s on trial now. He made a fatal miscalculation. It’s one thing to amass a large fortune with criminal behavior, to have become “too big to fail,” but it’s another thing altogether to take advantage of those poor unfortunate filthy rich criminals by making them look stupid and taking some of their ill-gotten gains. Those folks will see that Rudy spends the time they deserve in jail for them. Though word was Rudy was thinking of pleading insanity. Well, frankly, nearly everyone in the Wine family has a screwtop loose, so he’s got a chance. But you’d think that if you can’t taste the difference between the “real” wine and the Rudy wine, there is no difference. That you’re only angry because you look stupid. They say 80% of the wines in Rudy’s cellar were fakes. How did they know? The labels and the foils and the corks were suspicious, stuff that makes up the wine’s appearance. Yup, those are fakes, you can tell by the outsides. Just like the rich dildos who bought them at auction.

*Well, it seems Cousin Rudy was convicted on all counts. Now he'll be making fake license plates in New York. Raise a glass to poor Cousin Rudy this holiday season--fraudulent wine would be best. Say, The Prisoner, or Apothic.

Let’s talk about good news again! Did you see the great Wine family movie, “SOMM?” Gosh, I hope so. We’re so proud of all the Master Sommeliers in our Wine family. Even if they won’t shut up about being Master Sommeliers. Oh, I guess I was the same way when I was a Cub Scout, dreaming about growing up and becoming a Boy Scout. Master Sommeliers are like Cub Scouts to the Masters of Wine Boy Scouts. When you’re a Cub Scout, you can only dream of being old enough to one day enjoy being part of the big Circle Jerk of being a Master of Wine. Anyway, “SOMM” followed a bunch of M.S. candidates as they studied for their exams. It was an awesome look at the little part of our Wine family normally hidden from the public. Kind of like an alcoholic leper colony. With Uncle Fred Dame as Father Damien. Hey, what do you get when you let the leper stir the soup? Finger food! Wow, the soup and the joke in poor taste.

Oh, I just know I’m going to leave important news from 2013 out. So much to talk about. Uncle Paul Gregutt got booted out of his Seattle Times wine critic job for making his own wine. Critics aren’t supposed to know about making what they critique. That’s just silly. Why, would a music critic write music or play an instrument? Sure, if he wanted to get fired! Uncle Paul should have known better. He should have become the music critic! No one would confuse his playing for music. But wine is obviously wine. Sorry, Uncle Paul, this one’s on you.

Some guy, not part of the Wine family, invented a device to extract wine from a bottle without opening it! It’s called a Coravin. It’s an amazing addition to our family. It penetrates, extracts liquid, and withdraws with just a spurt of inert gas. Cool. Sounds like sex with Great Uncle Miljenko.

From our Wine family to yours, a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

For the entire Wine family,
HoseMaster of Wine

This will be my last piece for 2013. I'm going to take a holiday break, but HoseMaster will return, God willing and the creek don't rise, January 6th, 2014. Maybe. Thanks to everyone who checks in to HoseMaster of Wine™ on a regular basis. I've had a wonderful time this year thanks to all of your support and kind words. Merry Christmas! And let's see if we can't have a few more laughs in 2014.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Grenache? Come On, Do the Mathis

Mathis Wines I’m Using to Talk About Myself
Mathis 2007 Grenache Sonoma Valley Sold Out
Mathis 2008 Grenache Sonoma Valley $30
Mathis 2009 Grenache Sonoma Valley $30
Mathis 2010 Grenache Sonoma Valley NYR

Anyone who’s seen as a wine expert is eventually asked the unanswerable question, “What’s your favorite grape?” It’s something like asking a chef, “Hey, what’s your favorite spice?” Or asking a writer, “What’s your favorite letter?” Those questions usually come from people who only know twenty grape varieties, eleven herbs and spices, or damn near 19 different letters. I’ve been asked the first question countless times over the years, and don’t have an answer. I can’t say I have a favorite grape. Though “P” is my favorite letter.

And yet I love Grenache. Most often I love it as the ringmaster of great Châteauneuf-du-Pape—Rayas, Pignan, Le Vieux Donjon, Beaucastel, Charvin… How I love those wines. And good Cannonau di Sardegna, I also have a weakness for that (Argiolas’ Turriga always makes me happy). Hell, if I had a Chihuahua I’d name her Garnacha. I can appreciate just about any wine from anywhere, but those wines fill me with joy. It’s strange, and maybe simply personal, but does Cabernet Sauvignon fill anyone with joy? I’ve certainly tasted many great Bordeaux, and countless California Cabernets. But, truthfully, they don’t fill me with happiness. Cabernet Sauvignons seem to affect me in a more intellectual capacity, I marvel at their depth and power and complexity, whereas I experience great Châteaneuf-du-Pape as more visceral, more seductive, more exciting. I swoon. Bordeaux is tall and statuesque, Châteaunef-du-Pape is curvy and voluptuous. I admire Bordeaux. I want to undress Châteauneuf-du-Pape and take her right to bed.

Grenache, at its best, has a natural sweetness and depth like no other grape. And it abhors new oak, a fine quality in a grape. New oak on Grenache is like putting a coat of paint on your couch. Makes no sense. People might do it, but then you make it a point never to go back to that house, there’s something wrong with those people. Grenache can often stray into flabbiness, and the cheapest ones always taste like cherry hard candy to me, that’s not a compliment, but those are wines to avoid. Grenache has the desire to overcrop, but I like a little fertility in my grapes—the best producers manage to find the balance in their vineyard and avoid the problems overcropping can bring. OK, that’s enough talk about Grenache.

Marcia Macomber is one of the loyalist, longest-tenured common taters of HoseMaster of Wine™. When she asked me if I wanted to pay a visit to Peter Mathis at his lovely little seven-and-a-half acre Grenache vineyard up in the hills above the city of Sonoma, I answered in the way you might expect. I was excited. I said, “P.” I do that when I’m excited, like an anxious dachshund. Marcia does the marketing for Mathis Grenache. But I’m certainly not doing this as a favor to her, though that would be reason enough. I just wanted to visit with a guy even crazier about Grenache than I am. And taste his wines.

What producers do you think of when you think of great California Grenache, in the unlikely event you think of great California Grenache? Only wine geeks can produce a long list of memorable California Grenache—Sine Qua Non, Alban, A Tribute to Grace, Villa Creek, Saxum. Well, those are some of the producers who make Grenache in its intense, luscious, tiptoeing-on-the-edge-of-overblown style. Confusingly, for the novice California Grenache drinker, there is a style of Grenache that is more delicate, more refined. Less about power and more about finesse. In that category I think of Skinner, Quivira, Unti, Bonny Doon—all quite delicious. Mathis falls in the former category, and, I think, is headed for greatness in the category. The trajectory of the vintages I tasted, 2007 through 2010, would seem to make it likely.

Peter Mathis, a former furniture maker turned winemaker, something of the old switcheroo given how many winemakers end up using a lot of wood in their wines and seem like furniture makers, cleared his small property himself, then planted it in 1999 and 2000. The Mathis vineyard isn’t completely Grenache, there are parcels of Carignane, Petite Sirah and Alicante Bouschet as part of the field blend as well. So the vineyard is still very young. 2004 was the first vintage of Mathis Grenache. Even with all of his winemaking experience (Peter is winemaker and GM of Ravenswood), it takes time for a winemaker to learn his vineyard, and for the vineyard to mature. Tasting the four vintages one after the other, on different nights, of course, was really interesting. Each wine had something interesting to say, and as a group, they described Peter’s interesting path to produce world-class Grenache.

The Mathis 2007 Grenache Sonoma Valley is a real blockbuster. I’m glad I served it with roast lamb. It’s a concentrated elixir of blackberry, blueberry and mulberry that took quite a while to open up and show its breadth. There was never any doubt it was going to blossom as it sat in the glass; you could tell from the first it was beautifully put together. I got a sense right away that it was holding back a bit, had the sort of restraint that interesting wines always have. The best wines only hint at what’s to come if you show them some patience, give them a chance to unfold. Pedestrian wines tend to give you everything they have first chance they get—boorish behavior. The 2007 Mathis brought to mind the Reserve style of wines now so trendy in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, those Parker darlings, though without, perhaps the class and pedigree. At any rate, this is flamboyant Grenache, maybe a bit too exuberant to be profound, but the roast lamb, covered in fresh herbs, had a way of calming the Grenache’s exuberance. For all of its admirable qualities, it was, in an awkward adolescent way, rather gawky and all elbows. The lamb kept it focused.

The Mathis 2008 Grenache is a vintage currently available on Peter’s website. I like the wine a lot. I don’t know, the wine just seems happy to be Grenache. Yeah, I know, that’s stupid. But haven’t you tasted wines that just seem miserable? Orange wines always seem miserable to me. Just like people, it has to be their upbringing. Anyhow, the 2008 Mathis is very nicely made wine. It has a nice balance between the intense fruit, I’d call it framboise and black cherry, the nice whisper of herbs, the big-boned tannins and the overall acidity that carries the fruit and keeps it from being gooey. This is Grenache in its small berry incarnation. That telltale sweetness at a lower alcohol than, say, Zinfandel, yet wonderful delineation of flavors. I think it takes a pretty talented winemaker to pull off Grenache like this. One false move and the wine falls off into flabby and cloying. From such a young vineyard, it’s very impressive Grenache. And that reflects the care and attention and fanaticism of a guy who just loves his vineyard. Would I be able to taste that care and attention to detail if I hadn’t visited Mathis? No. Of course not. But just as your appreciation for a work of art is heightened the more you know about its history and symbolism, so can a wine speak to you differently once you’ve walked the vineyard. Truly, that’s one of the best parts of wine appreciation. Any time I taste a Mathis wine in the future, I’ll recall that nifty little vineyard, it’s perfect Southern aspect, and Peter’s obvious love for that piece of land.

The Mathis 2009 Grenache is an abrupt change of pace from the two previous vintages. It relies more on brains than muscle. I let this wine sit around for several days--just as an experiment, not because I didn’t want to kill the bottle the first night. I think I liked it best on the third day. From the beginning, it’s prettier than its siblings. It doesn’t quite reach the framboise stage of sweetness, but leans more towards pomegranate and cherry, and has more noticeable pepper and juniper berry, which emerged more each day. By the third day, the Grenache had shed all shyness and spread all over the palate. It was a very slow reveal, like a reunion at The Old Strippers Home. It takes a well-made wine, with a solid core of fruit and good balance, to improve over the course of three days. Lots of wines do fine for a day, and that’s all you really need after all, but it’s always interesting to watch a young wine evolve over a long period of time. It teaches you about structure and balance, and gives you a good idea of the wine’s ageability. The 2009 Mathis Grenache will certainly do well in a wine cellar for at least another ten years.

Finally, there’s the wondrous Mathis 2010 Grenache. I thought this was the best of an impressive bunch. It’s not released yet, to my knowledge, but it’s a wine to put on your wish list for next year. (Meanwhile, don’t hesitate to try the ’08 and ’09, learn a little something about Grenache.) In the 2010, Peter captures the best parts of the ’08 along with the best parts of the ’09. I got the sense he’s simply figuring out his vineyard. It has to be hard, I’ve always thought, to figure out a vineyard when you only get one shot a year at it, and the vineyard is evolving along with you. There have to be bumps along the way. Yet, there are also triumphs. Here’s your triumph. Both brains and muscle, the ’10 manages to impress all the way around. From the nose you might think the wine is over-the-top with all the black cherry, raspberry jam, pepper and a dash of framboise. But when you taste the wine, it’s the acidity, the backbone, that pops, and, bang, you’re in Grenacheland. You might be in Châteauneuf-du-Pape for all you know. With our hanger steak (you don’t want to know what a “hanger” was to my brother and me when we were kids, but you’d never grill and eat it) the Grenache was really good, quite satisfying. When the wine disappears as quickly as this bottle, you know you matched the food with the wine successfully.

Peter Mathis is doing great work with Grenache up above Sonoma. I don’t see his name listed often among desirable Rhone Ranger producers, though perhaps he is and I don’t see it. The focus seems to be on Paso Robles and the Sierra Foothills these days. That’s all well and good. But if you’re a Grenache lover, Mathis should be in your wine rack.


Thursday, December 12, 2013

The New Wine Fairy Tales: The Talking Fish

                                                                   The Talking Fish

Once there was a young boy who lived in an enchanted valley in the far north of a golden state. One day the young boy was walking along the river when he heard a voice. There wasn’t another person around, and the young boy wasn’t prone to hearing voices in his head, not like his cousin who had pierced his body with several hundred toothpicks and claimed to be a magic washboard. The voice was asking for help.

“Help,” the voice said, in a tone that registered as fishlike. Not baritone, but bass.

The young boy walked in the direction of the river, towards the voice, and came upon a fish stuck between some rocks. “You must be a pretty stupid fish,” the young boy said, “to get stuck between rocks.”

“Fuck you,” the fish said. “If you help me out from between these rocks, I’ll give you a magic power.” The young boy was impressed at the fish’s command of the language, and he stepped into the river and kicked the talking fish until it was freed.

“Cod-dammit,” the fish said. “You could have been a little gentler, asshole. But you’ve freed me, as I asked, and so I will grant you a magic power.”

“Do I get to pick my magic power?” the young boy asked. “Because if I do, I pick being able to lick my nuts like a dog does.”

“No, moron,” the talking fish said, “the magic power you now have is that you are a Super Taster!”

“oh.” the young boy said.

“What?!” the fish said, “that’s not good enough for you?”

“Can I taste my nuts?” the downcast young boy inquired.

The talking fish paused for a moment, and then said, “Listen, son, manta man, I think I’m wasting this magic power on a dumbshit like you. But a deal is a deal.” And with that, the talking fish swam away.

Now it happened that the enchanted valley where the young boy lived was the most famous place in the world for wine. The enchanted valley was covered in vineyards, and people came from all over the world to taste the wines. Almost everyone who lived in the enchanted valley was a winemaker. Of course, this stood to reason, because no one can stand to be around a lot of winemakers except another winemaker.

Being a Super Taster was amazing, the young boy thought, but not really very much fun. It was kind of a stupid magic power. He could taste things that nobody else could taste, but that didn’t get him laid. And, really, the young boy thought, what’s the good of having a magic power if it doesn’t get you lots of strange. One of his friends had a magic power. He had twelve inches of tongue. He got lots of strange, and a recording contract. That was a real magic power.

One day the young boy stopped at a nearby winery to talk to a winemaker he knew. The winemaker handed the young boy a glass of his newest release of Cabernet Sauvignon, even though he knew the boy to be dumber than an awards show.

“Wow,” the young boy said, “I’ve never had a wine like this. I can taste blackberries that a bear slobbered on, green olive from a Leccino olive tree, sweet Santa Rosa plum, vanillin from a lightly toasted Francois Freres oak barrel from a tree once hit by lightning, your wife’s lipstick, a whisper of your neighbor’s happy spurt, a #2 lead pencil with an eraser nearly gone, Kenyan coffee slightly overroasted, and cassis. And,” the young boy said, thinking of his friend the talking fish, “on a scale of 100, I’d give it 96.”

The winemaker was floored. He made the young boy write his description on a piece of paper and he took it to the local wine merchant. The wine merchant posted the description in his store, and the winemaker’s wine sold out in one day.

Soon every winemaker wanted the young boy dumber than a roomful of ball bearings to taste their wines and write about them. The young boy started to ask for money for his words. “Oh,” the winemakers said, “we can’t do that. That would make you look like a dishonest young boy. Charge the wine merchant!”

“No,” the wine merchant said, “I can’t pay you for your super taste. Make the people who buy the wine from me pay!” And so he did.

Soon the young boy was tasting hundreds and hundreds of wine every day and writing long and detailed descriptions of what he tasted. He tasted dozens of flavors in every wine. His descriptions baffled the people who buy wine, for no one could taste all the flavors the young boy could taste. And, for the most part, the people who buy wine didn’t even want to taste the weird shit he tasted in the wines. They gave up reading his words. It was the scale they loved anyway. The people who buy wine didn’t even care a little bit about all the descriptions he wrote, about his magic power, they only read the numbers. In the back of his head, the young boy, as he assigned the numbers to the hundreds and hundreds of wines he tasted, could hear his old friend the talking fish speaking his words of wisdom.

“Fuck you.”

The young boy knew he had been right. Super Taster was a stupid magic power. He was wealthy beyond his wildest dreams, famous and powerful in the enchanted valley in the golden state. But now people made fun of his words, and insulted his magic scale. The young boy, now not so young any more, yearned for the days before he’d stumbled upon the talking fish stuck between two rocks, for the days when he could just enjoy the enchanted valley and all the winemakers who lived there. Well, maybe not the winemakers.

One day when the young boy was very old, he was walking near the river again when he heard the voice of his old piscine friend. Could the talking fish still be alive? The young boy, now old, hurried to the river. And, there, waiting for him, was the talking fish.

“Talking fish! How are you? I’m so glad to see you.”

“Who the fuck are you?” the fish said.

“You don’t remember me? Forty years ago I rescued you when you were stuck between two rocks and you gave me the magic power of being a Super Taster.”

“Idiot,” the talking fish explained. “I didn’t give you any magic fucking power. I just said that so you’d help me.”

“You mean I’ve never been a super taster?”

“Hell, no. Man, you’re dumber than a school of anchovies. There’s no such thing as a super taster. Who the hell thought you were a super taster? Douchebags. You’re no different than anybody else.”

Soon after, the young boy died.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Lo Hai Qu is A Wine Judge!

Lo Hai Qu seems to have my overflowing wine cellar under control, wineries are killing themselves to get the HoseMaster of Wine™ to review their wines, can you blame them, so, as a reward, I’ve once again turned the blog over to her. She’s sort of a loose cannon, “loose” being the key word, but, hey, everybody loves Lo Hai Qu.

OK, so I’m sitting at this big table, it’s about four o’clock in the afternoon, there’s twelve wine glasses in front of me filled with Nebbiolo, like I know what the fuck Nebbiolo is, I thought it was the company that makes, like Nilla Wafers (which is gonna be my stripper name, which, the way the wine business pays, will be any day now—I already got a Chilean for the job—which is like a Brazilian except the water always flows west), and I’m kinda drunk. Not like waking up with 1WineDoody drunk, there’s not enough Moscato in Detroit for that to happen, more like I think my nipples are asleep drunk. But the thing is, I have to taste all these Benniolos and give ‘em medals. I’m a fuckin’ wine judge, Baby, it’s how we roll!

I’m one famous blogbitch, you know. And blogbitches rule, blogdicks drool. So one day I’m sitting at home playing the Home Version of “Fifty Shades of Grey” with the UPS guy, and can that guy deliver OverNight, and I get an email asking Lo Hai Qu if she wants to be a wine judge for this wine competition I never heard of, “The International Gaia Wine Competition.” Hey, I’m thinking, I’m not Gaia. Me and my girlfriends make out now and then when we’re all buzzy, but that’s just to get free drinks. But then I keep reading, and it’s a wine competition where all the judges are women. So it seems like they’re having a hard time getting women to judge, which is news to me. Judge is what we do. Anyway, they heard of Lo Hai Qu, read my Wine Blog Award winning piece here on Blogdick of Wine™, and they be wantin’ me to judge. I am all over that like white on MW’s.

I don’t know what’s wrong with me, sometimes it’s like my brain goes all dead like I’m the mayor of Crackville, Canada, but I asked the HoseMaster about what it’s like being a wine judge. Eight hours later he finally stops talking. Man, he is so old. He’s got like hair growing out of his tongue. He’s telling me horror stories about judging. Of course, he’s always the fucking hero, he’s the guy who knows everything about wine, and how to judge. He makes it sound like he’s some sort of Solomon Rushdie or something, like wisdom oozes from him, which would explain why you stick to his couch. Anyway, he’s judged like a billion wine competitions, and he’s telling me about all the worst judges he’s seen. All the know-it-alls and crackpots. Like some woman at a competition who only did two things wrong. She wore perfume and she didn’t spit. Fuck, that’s what I put on my OKCupid profile. I just tuned him out and sat there wishing I was having my teeth pulled out without anesthetic instead. Same thing I do when I’m watching Guy Fieri. You ever notice, Guy’s hair looks like guano, like fucking seagulls nest on that numbskull.

I have to admit, I was really nervous the first time I sat down to judge. My pits were wetter than 2013 in Bordeaux. I was with two other lady judges, and I guess I thought they knew more about wine than me. They were kind of eyeballing me funny, like checking me out, and then they get all pissy that I’m having a cigarette before we start. OK, I smoke, so fucking sue me. Lots of people who smoke buy wine, maybe I’m representing those people. Sure, the Gaia Competition has winemakers, sommeliers, journalists…what about real people? I get nervous, I light up. Don’t judge me. Drinking and smoking go together, like drinking and driving. I’m just the only one who admits it. Unlike these two hippo-crits I’m judging with. But I’m a newbie with a doobie, so I put my butt out and get to work, like I’m Nilla Wafers, Wine Stripper.

So not once did anybody tell me that we have to judge 120 wines the first day. After the first flight, I grab my purse and I’m almost outta there when the hippo-crits ask me where I’m going. Where I’m going is the hotel bar, like any good wine judge, where I’m gonna get a cocktail to wash the taste of these cheap goddam Chardonnays outta my mouth, that’s where I’m going. But it turns out we got like ten more flights to judge! Crap.

I was all worried about the judging part, but it turns out it’s easysleazy. You smell every wine, which, really, doesn’t tell you shit. Sure, every other moron tells you that taste is 70% smell. So what. Foreplay is 70% of sex and no one does that. Taste is 70% smell. That’s like saying basketball is 70% hockey. Stupid. Anyway, you smell the wines, like those Chardonnays Under $15 (what kind of fucked up competition is this? Like there’s Chardonnays Over $15…), and then you taste them one at a time. And, yes, I spit. The only thing the HoseMaster told me that made any sense was that judges wait to get drunk until after the judging part, with people they actually like, not the clowns on their panel.

So then comes the weird part. You have to give a medal to every wine. Unless you give it no medal. It’s kinda hard at first because what’s a bronze wine? Sometimes it’s easy, like I had a Chardonnay that smelled like Coppertone, so I gave it a Bronze! See, that’s easy. But then what’s a Silver? Like a Bronze with a nice booty? Gold medals are easy. I like giving Gold Medals, it’s like when you’re a little kid and your teacher gives you all those Gold Stars. Come to think of it, if wine is so fucking sophisticated, why are all the rating systems like what we had when we’re in elementary school? Gold, Stars, and 100 Points! It’s like the wine experts think of us as those special ed kids, the ones who wear helmets all the time, like football players. We’re just so many dumb kids in the class to them. But we must be, I guess, cuz we keep listening to those old white guys.

The two hippo-crits and me tasted like 250 wines in two days. They were kind of stingy with the medals, all picky and up in my face when I gave like 14 Gold Medals in a row. Hey, I fucking needed a butt right then, OK? Maybe I tasted a little fast, but there were judges a lot faster. One panel was done by 11 AM. Three old white women. They haven’t moved that fast since before they had their leg bags installed. We got the job done, my homely girls and me. I hope they invite me back to judge next year! I had a really good time, and, you know what I learned? 70% of wine judging is giving medals!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

The HoseMaster's Best Wine Books of 2013

Every December I anxiously await the publication of the New York Times Ten Best Books list. The five that are non-fiction I ignore. Like most wine bloggers, I despise facts. But every year for the past I don’t know how many, I’ve made it a point to read their five picks for best fiction. Some of them suck. And I mean really suck, like self-published-autobiography suck. Like college-student-poetry suck. Like Best-of –Mutineer-Magazine suck. But not very often. Often I’ve read one or two of the books already. But at least, unlike the Top 10 Wine Spectator Wines of the Year, I can buy the damned things--and at their original price. (By the way, in a year when the legendary 2010 Bordeaux were released, and the great 2010 Napa Cabernets, as well as astonishing wines from the Southern Rhone and fantastic wines from Barbaresco and Tuscany, it was nice to see an old Spanish Gran Reserva Rioja named Wine Spectator’s #1 Wine of 2013. Reminiscent of the year Bert Parks was actually named Miss America.)

I’ve spent countless hours this year not reading countless wine books. Christmas is nearly upon us, so I thought it might be helpful to present The HoseMaster’s Best Wine Books of 2013. Plus, it’s a really easy premise. They make perfect gifts for the wine lover in your life, who will happily place it unread among his hundreds of other unread wine books. Nobody reads wine books, after all, like only weirdos read cookbooks; but they look mighty pretty on the bookshelf, and serve to convey the wine lover’s dedication to his chosen method of getting fucked up and ruining the Holiday for everyone.


Sure, there are a handful of experimental winemakers in California, but, as Tim Fish writes in his provocative new book, “They’re just historical farts.” Fish dismisses the current trend for seeking out unusual varieties, using interesting but little-known facts. “Ribolla? How good can that be? Humans got that from chimpanzees.” Consumers who want to understand wine, and appreciate wine’s long history in California, should focus instead on The Same Old California Wines. Fish profiles luminaries such as Mike Grgich. “Grgich has made the same damn wine for almost fifty years. You want history? Well, my friends, Grgich is definitely history.” Of Beaulieu Vineyards Georges de la Tour Private Reserve, Fish reminds us, “If it weren’t for Georges de la Tour, there wouldn’t even be a Napa Valley. It was his buses that filled tasting rooms.” And Fish conveniently lists the only twelve wine grapes in California you really need to know. “Any more than that, and, frankly, you’re just showing off.”

WHY TO LOVE WINE by Eric Asimov

A sequel to his blockbuster “How to Love Wine,” “Why to Love Wine” focuses on, well, why to love wine. Asimov, in his usual Annoyingly Patient Parent voice, explains in simple terms why everyone should love wine. “A glass of wine represents history, agriculture, car wrecks, unwanted pregnancies, and terroir, that’s why.” Along the way, Asimov relates interesting personal stories. “I think I was born to love the feeling I get when I drink a couple of glasses of wine. You would think the same thing if your uncle made you dress in tinfoil and obey the Three Rules of Robotics.” Asimov writes convincingly about so many of the reasons you should love wine. Among them, “The wine industry is the largest employer of misfits and drifters in the developed world.” Also, “Do it just to piss off the Mormons.” And, best of all, “Wine makes you seem important.”


Everyone knows it’s not easy to be Alice Feiring. Just ask her. Traveling the world, alone, talking to the kind of men your mother warned you about. Men living in remote places with little income and a few too many farm animals residing in the house. In her indefatigable campaign to preach the gospel of the One True Living Wine, the Only Wine Thou Shalt Worship, she has forgotten one thing. Her own peace and happiness. Wait, that’s two things. Never mind. In this unforgettable book, called simply “SAVED!” by both its admirers, Feiring confesses to self-doubt, “with absolutely nothing else added.” She writes about the early days of her wine religion, “when everyone drank wine more manipulated than a teenage boy’s dingdong.” In the end, it’s a book about the three P’s of self-promotion: Perseverance, Proselytizing, and Prevarication. It’s one woman’s struggle with a business that just doesn’t love her for who she really is, just uses her, like everyone else always has. Eric Asimov, in his blurb, insightfully remarks, “Hell, at least you didn’t have to wear tinfoil panties.”

MAKING FUN OF CELEBRITY WINES by Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson

What in the wine business can deliver a healthier dose of schadenfreude than lousy wines made with celebrity money? Oh, sure, rich Mammon worshippers buying fake DRC from an Asian dork triggers the same lovely glow, but the damn prison sentence ruins the laughs. Johnson and Robinson examine the recent glut of celebrity wines and find that the power of stars only works for biodynamic wines, not highly-paid consultant wines. “I’m not sure which is more offensive,” writes Johnson, “the idea that people will pay more for wine because there is a celebrity behind it, or the insipid marketing materials that imply the celebrities actually do any work.” Among the wines discussed and dismissed, Yao Ming’s Napa Valley Cabernet (“It’s 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Pituitary Gland”), Drew Barrymore’s Pinot Grigio (“Thin and empty. And the wine’s no good either.”), and Dave Matthews’ Virginia Viognier (“If you think his singing is flat, wait until you put this in your mouth. Yes, Virginia, there is a de-alc machine.”) All in all, Making Fun of Celebrity Wines is an indispensable guide to everything wrong with our culture.

Monday, December 2, 2013

The HoseMaster's Letter to Santa 2013

I've been writing an annual letter to Santa Claus since I was old enough to write. The first letter I wrote I was in high school, and I asked Santa for "hair down there." Life has come full circle, and now I need to ask for "hair up top." My 2013 Letter to Santa appears over in Dickens country, at Tim Atkin's Louis Roederer Award Winning Site. I hope that you'll jump in your magic sleigh and go there to read it. It's hard for me to believe, but this completes my first year writing for Tim Atkin MW. It has been a great pleasure, and Tim's site has given me a kind of exposure that I would probably never have gotten on my own. So, thank you, Tim. And God Bless Us, every one!

Feel free to leave a gift of language over at Tim's site, comments there are much appreciated, or, of course, you can wrap them up tastefully, slide down my chimney, and leave them under my Christmas tree here. Gift cards and cash much appreciated.

Tim Atkin MW