Monday, December 22, 2014
Some Christmas Thoughts from the HoseMaster of Wine™
I’m pretty lucky to have had a career in wine. I’m not sure what else I could have done with my life. It seems like the wine business attracts those without the talent to have chosen a genuine career, or those completely lost and confused about what to do with their life. A career in wine is like having been a lifetime Psych major. I just couldn’t figure out anything else to do. And isn’t that probably true of most of the major wine figures of our time? Parker might have spent his life as a low-level attorney at the firm of Extract, Premox and Brettanomyces, LLC had he not found wine as his calling. And what line of work would Matt Kramer be in? Maybe holding a chair at a prestigious university. Not a professorship, just actually holding a real chair. Laube would be a life model for a wax museum. Though one would have to admit that Eric Asimov would still be writing science fiction.
It’s Christmas week, and society forces us to be grateful. We’re not, but there’s a lot of peer pressure to try to be grateful for all we’ve been given. And to give generously to those who have less. I have a perverse fondness for the Christmas wine gift suggestions that are published everywhere. It makes the people who love wine--your Dad, your crazy uncle, the waitress you’re trying to screw--seem so petty and materialistic and, well, stupid about wine. Does anyone really need a Coravin? I don’t care if it works. It’s just an expensive, high-tech, wine Pet Rock. Cool for about a week, then gathering dust in that wine junk drawer we all have, alongside the aerator, the stupid sleeve that wraps around a bottle and tells you the temperature (by the way, it’s great for taking the temperature of your anaconda, if you get my drift), and the Vac-U-Vin. These shopping lists also always include glassware. Really? I need a $60 wine glass to appreciate my Natural Wine? Shouldn’t I just use Natural Glass, like the crap that washes up on shore after a hurricane? And, anyway, I’m a wine lover. I have 50 wine glasses. I need wine glasses like a fat guy needs forks. The current rage is a wine glass by the rather Norse Goddish name of Zalto! I’ll give Zalto credit. They out-bullshit Riedel. The Zalto, they say, is designed so, “The curve of the bowls are tilted at the angles of 24°, 48° and 72°, which are in accordance to the tilt angles of the Earth.” That’s pretty fucking stupid. I serve my wine at 65°. I like a nice wine glass as much as anyone, but the whole wine glass fetish for Riedel and Zalto makes wine lovers look like assholes, assholes tilted at 90° so that glass makers have easy access. Drinking wine out of expensive wine glasses is the equivalent of snorting cocaine through hundred dollar bills—you do it to show that you can, but, in truth, you’re still just a common addict.
But I digress.
I’m grateful to have had a long and undistinguished career in wine. Wine is still a mystery to me. I’ve found that over the years the greater my wine knowledge became, the greater the gaps in my wine knowledge grew. So that when I began my career in wine, I knew a lot more than I knew after thirty years of studying it. There was so much I didn’t know I didn’t know at the beginning, that I knew a lot. As I learned more, I began to know far less. Now that I’m forty years into a life in wine, I’m completely ignorant. I’ve lost the certainty of the beginner, the certainty that dominates the wine blogosphere, the certainty that is represented by the fatuous 100 Point Scale. When I was young and knew a lot about wine, I used the 100 Point Scale mercilessly, followed it faithfully. Now that I’m more experienced and far stupider, I just don’t see how it adds anything to the enjoyment of wine. It’s a crutch, but, dammit, it’s a crutch everyone likes, like Tiny Tim’s, so it has to be good! I’m so stupid about wine now that I no longer believe in the 100 Point Scale. Sad, really. When I was young and deeply informed about wine, I could also tell you which wines were better than others. Natural wine was better than whatever you call the other stuff. Wine with lower alcohol was better than wine with higher alcohol. Cheap wine was just as good as more expensive wine. Balance was so easy to define and every wine I loved, every great wine, had balance. Duh. Everybody knows that. I was certain of it. Now I’ve been tasting and studying wine for so long, I no longer know shit about it. So, really, if I were you, I’d follow those who are certain of their wine opinions. They have the blessing of certainty, the gift of having tremendous insight into wine through that tiny little window they know, the window that reflects their own image back to them. I prefer the mystery of wine, so I’ll pass. My ignorance has become my bliss.
At least in my memory, wine has never been more interesting or more diverse. I’m grateful, this Christmas, for that. I no longer taste 7000 wines a year as I once did (yes, in fact, I did keep track). I taste about 365. I no longer lead the sommelier life. I haven’t had a unicorn wine in years, and don’t give a fuck. I had my share. It’s no great achievement to have consumed rare wines, just as it’s no great achievement to be a sommelier. It’s certainly a gift, and a wondrous gift. But to brag about gifts you’ve been given to those who cannot afford them, to post pictures of the empty bottles like you'd post nude photos of your ex-lovers, well, that’s a monument to human thoughtlessness, stupidity and conceit. Glad you enjoyed the wine. Now welcome to the Go Fuck Yourself Club™. You know where you can put that Zalto.
I am feeling very grateful this Christmas for my long life in wine. I was lucky. I never really had the talent for it, was never a gifted wine taster, or particularly smart, but I had passion and tried hard. I’ve been called the Pete Rosé of wine, which makes me blush. And that passion is what also drives HoseMaster of Wine™. A passion for wine, and, in the words of Sabatini, being “born with the gift of laughter, and a sense that the world was mad.” I’m grateful for all of you who are common taters, and for those of you who send me private emails to express your thoughts on my work here. I’m also grateful to all of you who hate what I do here. It’s often you who drive me, your scorn that I crave. Thank you. And welcome to the Go Fuck Yourself Club™. And I am grateful for the support of folks far more talented than I for my work on HoseMaster of Wine™, folks like Tim Atkin, Robert Parker, Charlie Olken, Lettie Teague, Dan Berger, Mike Dunne, and STEVE! Heimoff. Your support has been extremely gratifying.
Merry Christmas to each and every one of you. Or Happy Hanukkah. You choose. Have one of each. May we all have an interesting year in wine in 2015, and the health and happiness to enjoy it.