Despite my New Year’s resolution, Lo Hai Qu is still my intern. And she’s been bugging me to write another post for HoseMaster of Wine™. I said OK, but I must be crazy. I never know whether to believe what she writes, or chalk it up to her insatiable need to make things up. Like that I’m always hitting on her. That never happened. I often don’t wear pants in my wine cellar. I’m just more comfortable that way. Made for some awkward moments when I was a sommelier, but luckily a tastevin is plenty big for me to hide behind. Anyway, here’s Lo with yet another unbelievable story.
I know you’re not going to believe this, but if I’m lyin’, you can put a Vac-u-Vin up my butt and pump out my fragrant booty bouquet. My girl Shizzangela—she’s Dr. Conti’s new penpal! Yeah, I know, it’s fuckin’ nuttier than a 40-year-old Tawny, and my forty-year-old friend Tawny is totally wacko. Shizzy is one of those girls who’s kind of attracted to bad boys, like she dates crackheads, and guys who run illegal dogfights, and wine baristas. I always tell her, “Shizzy, those guys are going to break your heart and steal your money and drink all your bottles of Skinnygirl.” Stupid Shizzy actually buys that shitty Skinnygirl wine, like it’s going to make her fat ass smaller. Have you tasted that crap? Man, it’s like drinking a big glass of Summer’s Eve. I don’t know, maybe it’s nice that girls with bulimia have their own wines.
So Shizzangela was reading about Rudy’s trial for selling fake wines, and she’s gettin’ all indignant, saying like, “Why are they putting that poor little guy in jail when all he did was prank those rich old dudes?” and “Damn, he’s cute, he kinda looks like an Indonesian Miley Cyrus.” She’s all obsessed with the guy, can’t stop reading all the blogs about him, and how much money he stole and how he faked out all these experts with his fake wines. Shizzy’s getting all turned on by what a bad boy Rudy was, fuckin’ with all the wine dorks. “Oh, Lo,” she says to me, “he even fooled that BurgHound guy. What the fuck is a BurgHound? Some guy with a boner for frigid women?” And I’m like, “No, he’s a guy who knows a lot about Burgundy.” And she’s like, “Oh. I like my idea better.”
Anyways, she decides to write this Rudy dudey a letter in jail. Like, she’s all shy about it, but I tell her that guys in jail get lots of letters from chicks, so it won’t be that weird. I mean, he’s no serial killer—those guys get all the babes. Like my aunt one time wrote a love letter to John Wayne Gacy and he sent her back this cool clown drawing that looks exactly like that woman who wrote the Wine Bible. Rudy’s single, and he’s lonely, so why not? Write the guy a letter. So, I can’t believe it, she does. And he answers! OMG, I can’t believe it. Shizzangela gets this letter in the mail from Dr. Conti, and she’s like in Heaven.
So what do I do? I stole the letter from Shizzangela’s desk and read it. It’s a pretty weird letter, really, the guy’s all feeling sorry for himself and whining about getting the shaft. Though I guess that’s kinda how most letters from guys are. Anyway, I copied it. Fuck, Shizzy’s going to kill me if she reads this, but, what are the chances? She’s a Millennial. We don’t read old guy blogs like HoseMaster of Wimps. OK, here it is.
Dear Shizzangela, Thank you for your nice letter. Unfortunately, I am not in a position at the moment to marry you, or “do you like a First Growth.” I am in jail awaiting sentencing for all kinds of trumped-up, counterfeit charges. I guess there’s irony there. I really miss being able to drink wine with my meals. I mean, I can’t remember the last time I had a nice glass of fake Domaine Ponsot, or was able to enjoy a little fake Yquem after dinner. They don’t give us wine in prison. All we get to drink is water, which, if I close my eyes, I can pretend is Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio. I just have to pretend it has even less taste. It’s hard. I was used to drinking wine at big fancy dinners with famous wine people. Oh, you should have been there, Shizzangela. All I had to do was flash one of those fancy wine labels and my friends would go crazy thinking they were actually drinking old bottles of Cheval Blanc. Were those bottles fake? OK, I can admit it now. Yes, they were fake. Just like those guys faked being my friends. Bunch of L.A. shitheads, pardon my language. Once I got busted, they all disappeared. They all started saying how they knew me, had tasted wines with me, but that the wines they tasted were all legit. Assholes. Hard to tell which was more fake, the wines, or those guys’ palates. Fooling them wasn’t the hard part. The hard part was keeping a straight face. I made some mistakes. It was nice of you to say that you think I’m completely innocent. But I’m not. After a while, it was just too easy. I’d call the auction house, tell them I had cases and cases of rare wines from my “magic cellar,” and they’d sell them for me. Did they check the provenance? Sure, they did. That’s what they told the buyers. “Checking the provenance” is auction house speak for “I swear, I’ll only put the tip in.” My biggest mistake was getting too greedy. Well, that, and I was having fun making jackasses of those bigshot wine people. Isn’t that every wine lover’s dream? Those pompous pricks had it coming, and it was me, Dr. Conti, who made them look like the fools they really are. I could have put Apothic in those bottles, told them it was Lafite, and they’d have rated it 99 Points. Well, in fact, I did. Morons. I hope that you write to me again, Shizzangela. I loved the picture of you and your friends. Who’s the cute Asian girl? She’s gorgeous. Sincerely, Rudy K.
So now Shizzangela is all in love with Rudy. She’s got like a million pictures of him all over her room, and she wants to marry him and get conjugal visits. I don’t think she knows what “conjugal” means. She’s kinda dim under all that makeup. She prolly thinks it means she’ll go there and watch him keep three balls in the air at once. Now she writes him like every day, and wants to go visit him. I’m so sick of hearing about him, I could hurl like sorority gurl. But I guess that’s pretty universal right about now.
OK, yeah, that last paragraph in Rudy’s letter, I added that myself. But I know it’s what he was thinking. He’s in jail. All he can think about is feeling Lo.
I received from an anonymous source (Edward Snowden), whose identity I am not at liberty to disclose (Bradley Manning), these confidential leaks (W. Blinky Bray) of Lost Chapters from Jon Bonné’s TheNew California Wine. Due to their controversial nature, the publishers of the book decided to exclude them and keep them secret. The Lost Chapters are available only here on HoseMaster of Wine™, where I am publishing them at great personal risk. The great personal risk of being called a Julian Assangehole, which I find offensive and accurate. I believe the Lost Chapters are relevant to today’s discussion of the new California wines, and proved valuable insight into the author’s mindset for writing the book. So without further ado, or setup, here’s the first Lost Chapter.
INTRODUCTION(the original-- subsequently rewritten for publication)
“We need you to save California wine.”
Everywhere I went I heard this same sentiment over and over from a new and discerning group of wine drinkers. Though widely criticized as still-living-at-home crybabies, a new generation of wine drinkers was questioning the California wine status quo. Most were tired of spending Daddy’s money on the jammy, homogenous California wines that scored huge points with ordinary wine critics. They wanted to spend Daddy’s money on wines Daddy wouldn’t like, be on mailing lists for wines that might not be recognizably wine. They were looking for a “New Messiah for the New California wine.” Their words, not mine.
I was not in the mood. “I’m working on it. Jesus. It’s not that easy. You try making sense of what those hip, new winemakers are saying.” And this book was born.
In my position as wine critic for the greatest newspaper in the greatest city in the country, I’ll let you Google that, I have a ringside seat at the great match between the Old California wine and the New California wine. You might say I’m the referee, and the match is fixed. But it’s my job to make the battle look legit, and I’m sure, by the end of the book, you’ll agree with my decisions.
In order to find the New California wine, first I had to find the new California. Turns out it’s in Washington, but the newspapers up there suck, so I looked again, and found it right under my nose. In the very state I live in. Vegetative. The new California was right under my feet the whole time, just beneath the old California. It was in the soil. The old California wine was about everything above the land--the showplace wineries, the elaborate tasting rooms, the ostentatious auctions, the bloated critics of bloated publications floating above the land like hot air balloons with gout.
The New California wines were about the soil. It was time that California learned that no matter how much money you throw at making wine, it begins with the dirt. I had to come down from my Shining City upon a hill and walk the dirt, among the people of the dirt, among the winemakers striving to give expression to that dirt. It’s a completely new highway to the New California wine. A dirt highway. Touch the dirt, and you will find the true beauty of wine. Bend over, friends, show me the great dirt highway, and I’ll show you the New California wine.
It’s that great dirt highway that is slowly excreting a new movement. Stand back and you can watch it emerge. There are little piles of it all over the New California, and it wasn’t long, once I started to look, that I was stepping in it. Great big piles of it. And then I began to see it in the finest restaurants being promoted by young and hip sommeliers. They recognized it for what it was, a fresh and steamy alternative to the old California wines. They couldn’t wait to sell it to their customers to see the look on their faces. Here were wines that didn’t rely on reputation or flavor to sell, perfect wines for sommeliers. The wines relied on guilt, and the age-old desire to be rebellious without necessarily being right. Wines for a New California.
When I first arrived in California to be the wine critic for the greatest newspaper in the greatest city in the country (Google it), I had trouble finding California wines I liked. I was like a vegan at a weenie roast. The weenies turned out to be the other wine critics who worked the California beat. They were part of the problem, as weenies often are. They were too busy kissing their own buns with relish to see the problem. And, finally, after years of trying, it was just too painful to push a weenie down the dirt highway. I would have to go it alone.
Coming down from my Shining City upon a hill, I began to find a new generation of winemakers, winemakers unafraid to stake their careers on unusual varieties made with minimal intervention. I gave them my blessing. They asked if I liked orange wines, and I nodded my head in approval. And not long after that, there were dozens of examples of orange wines, wines made from white grapes given extended skin contact. Orange wines have a long tradition in the history of wine, just as in human history there is a long tradition of torture. Yet orange wines are often criticized for being exactly what they are meant to be, experiments in pushing the envelope of what humans can bear. Orange wines, at their best, are prime examples of winemaking at the edge. And it’s the edge, after all, that makes the difference when you’re drunk and fall headfirst into a coffee table. In the words of Kenny Rogers, “You got to know when to Holden.”
I also found winemakers working with esoteric varieties so that when the wines didn’t taste right, no one would know. This, too, would be the New California wine. I found winemakers making wines from vineyards planted in unusual places outside the usual appellations so that no one could say they got the terroir wrong. Yet another aspect of the New California wine. There are even winemakers with vaginas. Only time will tell if they’ll be part of the New California wine.
Have you ever flipped through those beginner books about wine? Wine for Dummies, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Wine, Wine for Down’s Syndrome Adults, So You Say You’re Brain Dead Wine Guide, and Don’t Drink Wine if You’re Too Stupid to Read this Book Guide…they’re all rubbish. But they sell. No matter which one you pick up, and, please, God, tell me you’ve never read or owned more than one of them, it basically will have the same information as the others. Maybe in a slightly different format, but just about the same. They are timelessly stupid books, written for sixth grade reading comprehension skills, all purporting to make you comfortable about your wine knowledge in the space of a few hundred poorly illustrated pages. I think it’s the tone of these books that is so insulting, tones reflected in titles about how the reader is an idiot, a dummy, or needs a Bible. If you’re trying to learn about wine, DON’T BUY THESE BOOKS! I’m going to save you the money. And treat you like an adult. Though you’re clearly a jackass. So let’s begin. It’s the HoseMaster’s Comprehensive Guide to Wine. You’re welcome.
CHAPTER ONE: AN OVERVIEW
Wine has been part of human civilization for at least 7000 years. But it wasn’t until 4000 years ago that the 100 Point Scale was invented. Prior to that, the first wine critics used the 20 point scale, a scale based on the number of fingers and toes they possessed. An ancient wine that received ten fingers and eight toes was very highly prized. Even today, a low score from a wine critic is the equivalent of simply giving the winery the lowest score possible--the finger.
The advice tendered by just about every beginner wine book when it comes to what wines you should drink boils down to the simplistic and completely misguided advice, Drink what you like. Only Idiots believe this is the way to enjoy wine. When you see this advice anywhere, immediately discredit everything else the writer has to say. When you’re a child and your mother wants you to eat, she may ask you what you want. You answer, “French fries!” or “Fruit Loops!” or “Lung Escargot!” But your mother knows better. She makes you try new things. Eating only what you like leads nowhere. You grow up to be a dwarf, and not one with a movie career. Your health suffers, and once you are old enough to date, you look like an asshole. Try ordering Fruit Loops in a nice restaurant.
Wine is the same as food. Don’t drink what you like. You’ll just look like an asshole. The simpleminded writers who suggest you drink what you like are railing against being a score chaser, trying to convince you that a more expensive wine, a higher-rated wine, isn’t necessarily better than cheap wine. That’s patently crap. They’re trying to make you feel better about yourself for drinking cheap wine. Not me. I won’t insult your intelligence, though God knows that would be easy. There is absolutely no reason to feel good about yourself when you drink cheap wine. You’re a failure. People come to your house and see the wines you’re drinking, and, guess what they’re thinking? They’re thinking you are either really cheap or a consummate failure. They are not thinking, Wow, you must really know a lot about wine to be drinking that cheap crap.
Cheap wine is for getting drunk. It’s not the real thing. Like masturbation isn’t really sex. You can tell yourself it is, Loser, but we know, and you know, it’s not. It satisfies a base desire, absolutely. For about two minutes—on your best day. But the real thing demands time and attention, usually some serious money, and, for real enjoyment, someone else.
In conclusion, it’s clear that people who drink what they like are serial masturbators. If I’m you, I wouldn’t shake their hand.
CHAPTER TWO: WHAT IS WINE?
Wine is fermented grape juice that people screw with to make it taste good. If they didn’t screw with it, it would taste awful. Many beginning wine lovers romanticize wine, seeing it as natural, or as a gift from God. Once again, this is stupid. Frankly, if God is handing out gifts, I don’t really need wine. I could use a new stereo. And wine isn’t any more natural than Quaker Oats or Jiffy peanut butter or that car deodorizer hanging from your mirror that tells everyone you’re hill people. Wine is made by people. People can’t make natural things. Nature makes natural things. Nature makes grapes. People make wine.
It is hard to imagine what wine must have tasted like a couple of thousand years ago, say, at The Last Supper. Jesus may have turned water into wine, but, frankly, Jesus had no idea what good wine tasted like. Sound familiar? In that way, you’re just like Jesus. Jesus probably just finished reading “Wine for Martyrs” and thought He should drink what He likes. Jackass. Anyway, the wine would have been terrible, ruining what otherwise might have been a lovely meal with friends. But, as always in a story about Jesus, there is a lesson to be learned. Serve lousy wine at a dinner with your friends, you’re more than likely to be crucified.
Wine today is a sophisticated drink. It’s hard to think of another beverage that has changed the course of history more than wine, except perhaps tea and Kool-Aid. Learning to appreciate wine is a lifetime’s work. No one can know all there is to know about wine. Mainly because they’re drunk all the time and more interested in telling the same goddam story four times in a row. But that’s what makes wine a great passion. Its boundaries do not exist, like your slutty sister. Just when you think you know everything, you discover Italian wine. That’s when you are so fucked.
One of my favorite books as a child was a compilation of A.A. Milne's Winnie the Pooh stories. I read it over and over, wearing the pages as thin as a Pinot Grigio. I guess it was only a matter of time before I parodied this children's classic as HoseMaster. When I reread the piece recently, I could hear my own pleasure in screwing with it. Maybe I'll write a few more Winnie-the-Spew tales one day, but in the meantime, here is the Best of HoseMaster, House at Spew Corner, from July of 2010.
We are introduced to Winnie-the-Spew and our story begins
So here comes Christopher Robbin and his precious Bear kerplunking and headthunking down
the stairs, bump, bump, bump, one at a time, having awakened Daddy, MS,
from his sound, bearlike slumber. One swift kick and Christoper Robbin
and Winnie-the-Spew are already downstairs for breakfast, all of their
arms bent in funny and unusual ways.
"Oh, look at this, Spew, I can point in two directions at the same time with only one arm!"
sorry," says Christopher Robbin, "but I just wanted you to tell us a
story. Please tell us a story, or I'll simply have to tell Mummy you've
kicked us down the stairs again. And you know how much she hates that
when her hands are still shackled in the morning."
likes some sort of game when he comes downstairs, a game of matches or
running with scissors. But today Winnie-the-Spew, for that's the name
Christopher Robbin most often calls him, though it's more of a girl's
name and makes Bear piddle, wants to hear a story.
"And what kind of story do you want me to tell you?"
please, not about wine and bouquets and drinking and feeling the lovely
bumps on Jancis again. Spew likes stories about himself. Those are his
favorite stories. Tell us about the adventures of Winnie-the-Spew!"
And so our story begins.
upon a time, a very long time ago, it must have been before 9/11,
Winnie-the-Spew lived all by himself in the vineyards under the name of
Mondavi. Winnie Mondavi. It was on a big gold-plated sign so that's how
we know. This is all the explanation you're going to get.
("But what does it mean, 'under the name?'" asks Christopher Robbin.
"Shut the fuck up and listen."
"I hope you die," says Christoper Robbin.)
day when Spew was out walking in the vineyard he came to a strange
building and from the building there was a lot of noise and many strange
smells. Spew sat down and stroking his chin with his paw he started to
"I don't have much of a brain," said Spew, "but I know
that there is a lot of noise coming from this building, and there
wouldn't be a lot of noise unless there was something going on. If I'm
in a vineyard and most of the grapes are gone it means the noise is wine
being made. And if wine is being made then there's only one thing to
do. Get shitfaced."
And so Spew entered the large, strange
building and there in front of him were giant, shiny steel tanks. "That
must be where they keep the wine!" thought Spew. And so he began to
climb. He climbed up and up, higher and higher, up and up, and while he
climbed he sang a little song.
Isn't it fine How a bear likes wine? Slurp Slurp Slurp You can smell it on my burp.
He kept climbing...and climbing...and climbing...and he climbed so long that he thought of another song.
Wouldn't it be funny Wish I'd thought of it sooner If instead of tasty wine This is filled with fuckin' Gruner?
was getting rather tired now but he was almost at the top. He began to
sing a Complaining Song, but we shan't sing it here, and when he was
through he was peering over the top of the giant, shiny steel tank.
wonder what it smells like," thought our nearly brainless Bear, "if it
smells like melons or figs or catpee or Christoper Robbin's bed sheets,
though he's nearly nine years old." To find out what the wine smelled
like, Spew lowered his head into the giant, shiny steel tank and took a
It was carbon dioxide and Spew fell into the shiny steel tank of wine and drowned.
In which we meet Eelaub and search for his nose.
One day Winnie-the-Spew was walking through Nap Valley and came across his friend, the ever-morose Eelaub."How are you today?" asked Winnie-the-Spew.
"What's it to ya, you stuffed piece of crap?"
bother, you are a pompous ass. Let me take a look at you." And Spew
walked round and round Eelaub until he noticed that something was
"Something is missing," he said.
"Yeah, your genitalia, for one thing."
"No, it's your nose. You don't have a nose."
"Are you sure?"
"Well," said Spew, "you either have a nose or you don't have a nose. I think everyone would agree you don't have a nose."
Eelaub walked over to the Nap River and peered at his reflection. Where
once he'd had a nose, and a very nice nose, there was nothing. "Where's
my goddam nose?"
"I'm sure that's what everyone in Nap Valley wants to know, Eelaub. Should we try and find it?"
this accounts for Everything," cried Eelaub, "it explains it all. I've
lost my nose. Somebody must have taken it. Isn't that just like them?
The whole Valley's full of assholes."
Spew didn't know what to
do. He wanted to be helpful, but, really Eelaub was a smelly ass. So
Spew decided instead to be helpful, and off he went to look for Eelaub's
Through tasting rooms and walking wine train tracks, Spew
searched and searched for Eelaub's nose. Then he came to the CIA, a
Stone Grey building where his friend Owl in Meadows lived. Spew knew Owl
was home but he banged and banged with the door knocker and nobody
answered. The door knocker was kind of wet and mushy, not like most door
knockers Spew had seen. Though he'd seen very few knockers of any sort
save for Christoper Robbin's mother's set.
"Owl, come to the door. It's me, Bear."
"What is it? I'm rating coats right now. Coats of Bone and Coats of Nuts."
"Something terrible and wonderful has happened. Eelaub has lost his nose. What shall we do?"
We'll offer a reward to anyone who has seen Eelaub's nose, though I
don't know why anyone would want his terrible nose. But you'd have to
believe they'd give it back."
"That's a great idea, Owl in
Meadows. We'll offer a reward. And we'll get Christopher Robbin to write
out the reward, if his arms aren't still broken."
Then Spew took
a closer look at the door knocker. It was a very suspicious looking
door knocker, not at all hard and not at all attractive. "Just where did
you get this door knocker, Owl?"
"Why I found it in the vineyard. Why do you ask?"
I know someone who wants it. This is no door knocker, Owl, it's
Eelaub's nose! We've found it! Hooray!" And Spew grabbed the door
knocker, which was really Eelaub's lost nose, and left Owl standing
there in amazement.
"Where's my fucking reward, you silly ol'
sack of bear shit?" But he never got a reward. And there's a lesson in
that for everyone. There are no rewards in life.
Halcón Vineyards Wines I’m Using to Talk About Myself
Halcón Vineyards 2012 Prado Alder Springs Vineyard Mendocino County 180 Cases $32
Halcón Vineyards 2011 Alturas Syrah Yorkville Highlands 175 Cases $38
Halcón Vineyards 2012 Esquisto Yorkville Highlands 220 Cases $32
I’ve spent most of my adult life evaluating wine, in one way or another. In hindsight, this seems outrageously stupid. And yet, here I am, still writing about it, still tasting it, still evaluating it. It’s such a magnificent obsession, I even measure my life like a vertical. Let’s see, the 1999, that was a great year, very satisfying, and still holds up today. The 1989, well, just a terrible vintage, dead from the time it was opened—I hate that year. All the critics thought 2013 would be a great year, but that’s why I never believe any of that prognostication. Overall, my 2013 was a disappointment, and smelled moldy. It’s an illness, this passion for wine, for which there is no cure. Except maybe reading wine blogs.
The one thing I’ve learned from a career tasting wines is that there is no foolproof way to evaluate wine. Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying. Every methodology has its weaknesses. Some are far worse than others. Attending a large tasting in a gigantic banquet hall smelling of mildewed carpeting, sweat, and putrid marketing materials, a hall filled with hundreds of people, half of them drunk, the other half gatecrashers, and then reporting scores? Just dismiss the dolts who do that. It might be the only way they have available to taste a lot of different wines, and that’s fine, but pretending their evaluations have any meaning is arrogance. Buying wine based on that sort of recommendation is like choosing a make of car after watching a demolition derby.
Tasting at the winery with the winemaker or owner? It’s a good time, and it’s educational, but there isn’t anyone who can’t be swayed by the experience. And let’s not forget that owners and winemakers frequently lie to wine writers, sommeliers, and anyone else within hearing. Not all of them, not every time, and sometimes just for sport, but often enough that you should be wary. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a winemaker swear he doesn’t filter his wines only to spot a filter in the corner of the winery—and it isn’t dusty. And if you ask around, absolutely no one adds MegaPurple to their wines. (This might be feasible considering Trader Joe’s blends reek of it, so they must buy a lot.) I was at a tasting several months ago of Pinot Noirs from the far west coast of Sonoma County. Most of the wines were from the dreadful and wet 2011 vintage, several smelled like the inside of a hoarder’s house. I asked every winery about the vintage, and every single winery, about 25 different wineries, told me they picked “before the rains.” Wow. So why were the rains a problem? I asked a few producers if any wineries in attendance hadn’t picked before the rains. No one would be specific (I didn’t expect them to be), but most said a few they knew about had picked after, or during, the rains. None of that matters to the wine evaluation; it’s what in the bottle that counts. My point is an awful lot of wineries will simply tell you what you want to hear. You report it, it becomes fact. It’s on the Intergnats, it has to be true.
Blind tasting? For judging, it’s best. Especially when there are lots and lots of wines to evaluate, say, for a wine competition, or a wine publication. Yet it seems nuts to spend a lifetime accumulating knowledge, then discarding most of it when you taste a wine. That’s the pattern of someone who’s been divorced five times. (Yes, I’ve been divorced once—from reality. Trust me, when it comes to reality, get a pre-nup.) And do scores or ratings get changed when a wine is revealed after being evaluated? A basic understanding of human nature would make you think absolutely they get changed at times.
Tasting alone is different than tasting with a panel. And, most importantly, drinking is completely different than tasting. There are so many variables in wine evaluation, it almost makes it seem useless. OK, you said it, not me.
On a practical level, if you want to be famous, want to be known for your wine tasting acumen, you have to judge lots of wines, and write about them. I don’t want to be famous, nor do I worry about my acumen. When I read a wine blog about a junket, or a visit to a winery with the winemaker, it seems all I read is a predigested testimonial carefully served to a marginally talented writer, much like how a bird feeds its young by regurgitation, which he or she then dutifully repukes onto the screen. Who believes that crap? If those pieces were judged on a scale of objectivity and truth, most would be lucky to score 82 points.
When I decided to write these occasional Wine Essays, I decided I would write about wines that were offered to me, essentially unsolicited, and that I would drink each bottle with a meal, often over the course of two or three days. Most wines don’t deserve that kind of attention, that’s for certain. I go to as many tastings as I can, visit wineries all the time, but that’s for personal fulfillment. I don’t write about those experiences, except satirically. I want to get to know a wine or winery before I spend all this time writing this baloney. A lot of wineries are loathe to send samples, don’t want to cede any sort of control to a puny little wine blogger who actually knows something about wine, and I’m fine with that. I’ve been lucky, and have received wines from terrific sources like Gramercy Cellars, Rocca, Loring, Fulcrum, and Mathis, to name a few. And, no, I don’t claim objectivity or truth. Just passion.
Last June, my beautiful wife and I dined at Scopa Restaurant in Healdsburg for her birthday. Wonderful restaurant, by the way, if you’re in the neighborhood. You really don’t want me doing restaurant reviews. I’m a foodie like I’m a fartie—I just do it, I don’t brag about it. Anyhow, on Wednesdays during the summer, Scopa has winemakers come in and serve tastes of their wines, talk about their wines, and sell wines to patrons. On Kathleen’s birthday, it was the nice folks from Halcón Vineyards--Paul Gordon, the owner, and Jackie Bracey. We tasted the wines, were very impressed, even bought a glass or two, but I was more focused on my beautiful wife, and we were drinking a lovely bottle of Ricasoli 2006 Casalfero with our dinner, so I wasn't that focused on the Halcón wines. I gave Paul my HoseMaster card (I get looks), and that was that.
Several months later I received an email from Paul offering to send me his new releases. I’m glad I accepted his offer. Halcón was new to me at Scopa, but I’m a fan now. I think their wines have everything going for them. And if you’re a fan of Syrah, and the other Rhône varieties, you must, you MUST, I tell you, get on their mailing list.
Halcón Vineyards are way up in the Yorkville Highlands, a relatively new appellation that overlooks Anderson Valley from the southeastern edge of Mendocino County. The vineyards are at 2500ft, making Halcón one of the highest vineyards in California, excluding Pisoni, but for a different reason. And, here’s where it gets crazier, the vineyards are planted to 2200 vines per acre. That’s denser than a Rudolf Steiner lecture. Planted in 2004, and it must have been crazy expensive to plant 2200 vines at 2500ft in the middle of damn nowhere in Mendocino while wearing bulletproof vests, it’s still a young vineyard. I want to go there. They say that the altitude, soils and exposure of Halcón Vineyards create a climate similar to Côte-Rôtie. Where I come from, them’s fightin’ words.
Their white wine comes from purchased fruit, but Alder Springs is a great vineyard way out on the coast in Northern Mendocino. Their vineyards must be above 2000ft. The Halcón Vineyards 2012 Prado is 50% Marsanne and 50% Roussanne from Alder Springs Vineyard. Does it seem to you that the white Rhône variety wines from California are getting better, but never really taste like their Rhône counterparts? I think that’s a good thing, honestly. I don’t think I’ve ever tasted a Viognier from California that reminded me of Condrieu, for example. Just an observation. The Prado was delicious, and one of the better California white Rhône blends I’ve tasted. It was very slow to open, testament to its tightly woven structure. When it did, the wine had a gorgeous perfume of apricot, white peach and honey. Oh my, it’s lovely. Yet it’s best when you drink it and feel the tension of its acidity. It’s a high strung wine, vibrant and edgy, and very nicely assembled, with loads of personality. Making a white wine like Halcón’s Prado is like working without a net. One false move, the tiniest loss of balance, and it plunges to its death. Man, I make that sound so melodramatic. It’s just really tasty wine.
On to the estate wines, though I hate to leave that pretty Prado. The Halcón Vineyards 2012 Esquisto is 65% Grenache, 30% Mourvèdre, and 5% Syrah. “Esquisto” is Spanish for “shale,” and, believe me, this wine is fracking good. If you’re thinking Australian GSM, you’re way off track. My first note for this beautiful wine spoke about its obvious cool climate upbringing. Cranberries and cherries dominated the fruit notes, but there’s a decided herbal edge, I thought it was closest to sage, and the unmistakable savoriness of Mourvèdre. It’s very graceful and enticing on the palate, more ballet than tap dance. It seemed a bit light when first tasted, but it kept gaining size and weight as it opened, like a snowball running downhill. With a simple piece of beef, which, luckily, was very lightly seasoned, it was illuminating. I love restraint and subtlety in wine, they allow the fruit to show all its contrasts, and the 2012 Esquisto is a hallmark of that style. I’m guessing it will be gangbusters in four or five years.
Finally, and aren’t you glad Halcón only sent me three wines, there’s the Halcón Vineyards 2011 Syrah Alturas Yorkville Highlands. No one would mistake this for Côte-Rôtie, friends, though Jeb Dunnuck says he did (he mentions “liquid mineral” in his tasting notes—what the hell is that? Lava?), but I love this Syrah! When a wine is this seamless, this evocative of its variety, this interesting and graceful, I refer to that wine as having integrity. One can describe it, try to explain its ineffable appeal, but when criticizing it, one is nitpicking. I haven’t the wit to nit, though I’m a nitwit, so I’ll paint a word picture. From a cool vintage in a cool vineyard, it shows Syrah at its blue fruit and white pepper best. I was smitten as soon as I sniffed. When tasted with roasted lamb chub (I often awaken to a lamb chub, but that’s different), the Syrah blossomed. The 2011 Alturas has the bones and intensity for the long haul, though it may need a bit more stuffing, a symptom of its youthful vines. I have this weird hunch that Alturas might become one of the state’s signature Syrahs. Time will tell, of course, and ratings. But I’m a believer.
Once there was a prince of a very large kingdom near the sea who had accumulated a wealth so vast it took
ten men to add it up every day. Everything the prince touched turned to money. But though the prince was rich beyond anyone’s wildest dreams, he was unhappy. On the rare occasion he might stroll among the peasants in his kingdom, rare because the peasants would often inconvenience the prince by asking for food and affordable health care, the prince was certain that even the peasants were happier than he.
After great thought, the prince decided that he was unhappy because he didn’t have any children. The prince had spent so much time building his great fortune he had never taken a wife. Now he wanted children, children to share his great wealth and carry on his princely legacy. So the prince summoned twelve young women to his castle and set out to impregnate them all.
“I could get used to this,” the prince thought.
But a month later, not one of the twelve young women was pregnant. This seemed impossible to the prince. The prince began to believe that a curse had been put on him. Though banging twelve young women all the time was hardly the worst curse he could think of. Being a wealthy prince of a very large kingdom near the sea had its privileges. Yet, still, he was miserable.
One day when the prince was counting his gold, a raven flew in his window and spoke to him.
“You will never have children,” the raven said, “until you own your own winery.”
“Oh, crap,” the prince replied, “I don’t want kids that bad.”
“There is a curse attached to your great riches,” the raven told him. “To remove the curse, you must choose between three wineries to own. If you choose the wrong winery, your wealth will disappear and you will spend the rest of your days alone. If you choose the magic winery, your days will be marked by the envy of your peers and the laughter of your children.”
“Do I get to keep the women?”
“Rich asshole,” remarked the raven. And he flew away.
That night while he slept, the prince was shown three wineries.
The first winery was a humble estate in the mountains, with a ramshackle old building where the wines were made, but beautiful and impeccably farmed vineyards. The prince couldn’t see himself owning this property. There really wasn’t room for him to erect a magnificent chateau as a shrine to himself, and what good was a winery like that? And the vineyards were planted to Syrah. “Really?,” thought the sleeping prince, “Syrah? That will most certainly make my wealth disappear faster than Viagra at a Wineberserkers reunion.”
When the second winery appeared to the prince in his dreams, the prince thought it was breathtaking, though the sound of the waterfall made him wet the bed. There were acres and acres--wait, this is a fairy tale, right, so--there were hectares and hectares of meticulously manicured vineyards. Fairy tales use the metric system. The winery itself was state of the art, and there was a lovely home on the property, a home, that with a little tinkering, might be fit for a prince. “Wow,” the prince thought, “I knew I should have used the rubber sheets.” The second winery was almost perfect. Until the prince noticed a billboard on the road nearby. The billboard read, “Now entering the Commonwealth of Virginia. Smoke ‘em if you got ‘em.”
“Virginia?,” thought the sleeping prince, “oh, hell, no. Having Viognier as your signature grape is like having bad breath as your best feature. No matter how beautiful it is, a winery in Virginia is definitely out of the question. I mean, first of all, Donald Trump has a winery in Virginia, so it has to suck.”
The prince’s dream moved to the third winery. It was magnificent. Perched above a famous valley in a golden kingdom, one of the most famous places in the realm to make wine, it was next door to very famous wineries owned by very famous men. “This must be the right choice,” the sleeping prince thought, “there’s even a hillside where I can dig the most amazing cave in the wine world, alit with chandeliers, ten stories high, and sporting a grand wine library with a hot wine librarian. And I’ll build the grandest home on the property at the very highest point so that everyone can admire my wealth and taste, if I only knew where to buy taste. The winery will be spotless, so clean you can eat off the Mexicans. Oh, this is perfect! My name will be on the label, and only the richest wine connoisseurs will be able to buy my wine, and, for once, I’ll be taking money from rich people instead of peasants. I’ll buy this winery.”
And so he did. Soon all twelve of his young women were expecting children. The prince built his perfect new winery above the blessed wine valley in the golden kingdom. It was strange, the prince thought, that so many other people had been given the same curse. Everywhere in the blessed wine valley rich princes were building magnificent shrines, each one needing to be grander than all that preceded. The prince couldn’t skimp. He planted one hundred hectares of vineyards, tightly spaced, built a winery that would last for all eternity, a castle on top of the hill that towered over his wealthy neighbors. His children grew, his wines were released, and, finally the prince felt he might soon be happy.
But the twelve young women grew angry at the prince, and all twelve left him when their children were teenagers, and all twelve got very large child support payments. The prince was soon alone in his gigantic mansion at the top of the hill overlooking the blessed wine valley. And the wines weren’t selling. The prince had to pretend every vintage that his wines had sold out, that his mailing list was full, but his wine library was overflowing with every vintage he’d produced. And his wine librarian wouldn’t let him play “Hide the Meat Thief” with her anymore, she was so tired. No one wanted him, or his overpriced wines. His vast fortune was dwindling, his children had brought him nothing but heartache, and it was beginning to look like banging twelve young women at a time wasn’t such a good idea after all. Who did he think he was? Shaquille fucking O’Neal?
Broke and destitute, he sat outside the winery, the winery he had just sold to a rich real estate prince who prayed upon cash-strapped rich guys with wineries who got divorced twelve times and couldn’t pay their bills. Up in a nearby tree, he heard the raven laughing.
“Oh, Raven,” the prince cried, “what has happened to me? Did I pick the wrong winery to buy?”
“No,” the raven replied, “there was no right winery, you formerly rich butthole. Any winery you bought was going to fail. Welcome to the wine business, genius! I hope you learned your lesson.”
“But you said the curse would be removed,” the prince wailed, “you said I’d be the envy of my peers and I’d hear the laughter of my children.”
“And so it is,” said the raven. “Your peers envy you that you’re out of the wine business, and your children are most certainly laughing at you.”
The prince, in his anger, hurled a rock at the raven, which, caught unaware, took the rock to the head and fell to the ground dead. The prince was finally happy.
Oh, for God’s sake, don’t interview your pets. They cough up furballs. They eat their own shit. They lick themselves endlessly. May as well interview Jay McInerney.
Stop calling them “somms.” You use that because you’re stupid and can’t pronounce “sommelier” properly. You also say cute and nauseating words like “peeps.” “Hey, those somms are my peeps.” Now even Sommelier Journal has been reduced to The Somm Journal. Yeah, that’s respectful. Maybe we’ll soon have “The New England Journal of Quacks.” Sure, bartenders, stinking BARTENDERS, are now “Mixologists,” like they have a degree from Harvard in Mixology—the study of Mix—but sommeliers are now the diminutive “somm.” Mixologists are just BARTENDERS that put weird fruit in your cocktail and charge you quadruple the price. They’re not mixologists, they’re fructivores. Let’s call them dumb “frucs.”
Lists are over. Lists are just lazy ways to kill a post. You haven’t posted for a while, you have “writer’s block,” which is astonishing considering you’re about as much a writer as Raj Parr is a winemaker, so you make up a list of your favorite wines, or your favorite wineries, or your favorite lists. No one cares. Believe me, not one single yutz who reads your blog cares about your asinine list. Here’s MY list of my favorite wines of 2013:
5. Oh, shit, what was the name of it? I had it in that Italian restaurant, it was made from Aglianico, I think, or Refosco, maybe. Started with an “A.” I’ll think of it.
4. That wine from the Cabernet tasting we did. You know, with the animal on the label, what was that? It was a natural wine, I remember that. Smelled like that time you had stinkfinger from your cousin Annie.
3. The label was mostly gray, and it was Pinot Noir, either from the Williamette Valley, or could have been New Zealand. For sure, it was 2010.
2. It was some awesome Rhone from Kermit Lynch. Had like a thingie on the bottle. Really good.
1. I could have killed three bottles of this stuff! I mean, Wow. I can see the label, but I can’t quite remember. I’ll know it when I see it again, I mean, fuck, it was awesome.
See? Stupid. Just stop. Don’t be so goddam lazy. Think of something interesting to say.
Let’s just be frank. There are no great wines under $15. Stop pretending there are. There are perfectly fine wines under $15, there are wines you can enjoy and be happy you tasted under $15, but there just aren’t GREAT wines under $15. Blow me. Stop selling wine short. You criticize Parker for exaggerating, you badmouth Wine Spectator for inflating scores, and then you write about GREAT wines under $15. Shut the hell up.
We know Steve Matthiasson is a great winemaker. You’re the 150th person this year to tell us that. Wow! How insightful. Can’t wait to read that.
There’s nothing left to say about social media. Nothing. There wasn’t shit to begin with, now there’s nothing. It doesn’t sell wine, it sells social media. What isn’t social media? Telephones sell more fucking wine than social media. Oh, but phones are social media, right?! If it sells wine, chumps, it’s social media; if it’s social media, it sells wine. It’s the classic huckster logic. Stop talking about it. No one cares. Wineries really don’t care. Wineries that can’t sell wine have one problem—they make crappy wine. When social media makes better wine, let me know. Otherwise, bite me.
They’re just dogs. That they live at a winery, what kind of idiot cares about that? Post pictures of service dogs. They help blind people, and veterans with PTSD (not “vets,” OK, they deserve respect, like SOMMELIERS!). Winery dogs? Glorified door mats.
Terroir. Stop trying to figure it out. You can’t. Terroir in wine is like a soul in humans. You look for it every time, but, most of the time, it ain’t there. And, honestly, no one believes you when you say a wine has terroir anyway. First of all, you pronounce it as stupidly as you do sommelier. And second of all, you say things like, “Oh, that’s the terroir talking,” like that means something. There must be 20 billion microclimates in the wine world. One assumes they all have terroir. So who gives a crap? Oh, but this guy knows how to express the terroir! Maybe to you, blowhard. The guy next door to him thinks his wine sucks. I just don’t care. I want the wine to taste good, I don’t need it to slip me its address.
Stop posting pictures from your glamorous wine junkets. You suck at photography, and I didn’t come here to look at your adolescent scrap book. Plus, who are those dumpy people you’re with? For the most part, your colleagues have the doughy complexion of the overdrinking endomorphs they are. Leave that crap on FaceBook where no one will see it.
Just stop spouting your usual mindless blather in 2014. You know you’re doing it when you do it. Promise yourself you’ll stop. You’d be doing us all a favor. Truly. We're all just laughing at you.
What better way to begin the new year than with my predictions for 2014 in the wine business? At least my predictions are interesting. I read Dr. Vino's predictions for 2014, and they were exactly the same as his predictions for 2013. The wine business, in his view, is basically "Groundhog Day." Wine critics are dead. Duh. There will be more revelations of fake wines at auctions, though fake bidders will outnumber them. And people will seek out oddball wines. Wow, you need a Ph.D. to figure those out?
My First Annual Predictions appear over at Tim Atkin's place, where I'm beginning my second year as a contributor. Tim has made the HoseMaster a household name in England. Rare that an entire country takes out a restraining order. You'll have to pogo over the Pond to read the piece. As always, feel free to comment over at Tim's place, or, if you prefer, leave a telltale skidmark on my little Internet underthing here.
After 19 years as a Sommelier in Los Angeles, twice named Sommelier of the Year by the Southern California Restaurant Writers' Association, I moved to Sonoma County to explore the other aspects of the wine business. I've spent, OK wasted, 35 years learning about and teaching about and swallowing wine. I am also a judge at the Sonoma Harvest Fair, San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition and the San Francisco International Wine Competition--so I can spit like a rabid llama. I know more about wine than David Sedaris and I'm funnier than James Laube. Stay tuned for an informed but jaded view of everything wine and everything else.
I'm living proof that alcohol kills brain cells.
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Read more here: http://www.sacbee.com/2014/01/21/6089630/dunne-on-wine-wine-blogs-and-bloggers.html#storylink=cpy
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