The inspiration for this post was published on Inside Scoop SF
Winemakers to Watch. It’s a wine writing gimmick, but a damned fine gimmick. I taste countless wines generally unavailable to my readers, I speak of them with great regard, using only my finest journalistic muscles, confident that there will be almost no one to contradict me much less even taste the wines, and then I bestow upon those winemakers who returned my admiration the most fervently the honorific of Winemaker to Watch. When, really, all you’re doing is watching me. Oh, it’s genius, I tell you. Works every stinkin’ year.
Winemakers to Watch are harder to select than the Winemakers of the Year. Duh. Winemaker of the Year is just one of the guys I called a Winemaker to Watch a couple of years ago. I don’t even have to think about that one. Hell, I usually just do it randomly and hope they’re not dead. Though, now that I think about it, a Posthumous Winemaker of the Year has a certain ring to it. I love a deadline. And there’s a lovely irony to Winemaker-In-A-Box. Many look better in an airtight bladder. Anyhow, Winemakers to Watch are not easy to find or select. I don’t just focus on the quality of the wine. In fact, I don’t really care that much about the quality of the wine. Quality in wine is vastly overrated. I’m looking for iconoclasts, people on the cutting edge of winemaking, winemakers who aren’t afraid to take chances and charge you a bunch of money for the privilege of tasting their experiments—you can’t expect quality, too.
I doubled the number of Winemakers to Watch in 2015 to ten. Five seemed arbitrary. Clearly, ten is twice as arbitrary. I’m also an iconoclast, and pretty likely to make my Wine Writers to Watch in 2015 list. Let’s be honest, you have about much chance of finding these wines as I have of finding a new gig if this newspaper cuts my position and puts me in an airtight bladder. So if I give you ten wineries to search for, your chances of finding a wine improve. So, really, Winemakers to Watch is like a Scavenger Hunt for wine dweebs. The dweeb who finds the most Trousseau Noir wins.
Now that the task is done for 2015, I decided to do a brief meta-analysis. I never meta-analysis I didn’t like.
Why acknowledge that wines are made outside of California? I guess I had to if I wanted to get to the non-arbitrary ten Winemakers to Watch. California is overcrowded with talented and professional winemakers, none of them worth watching. Most of them just make Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir. Who drinks that crap? That said, half of the list work in California, and the others work in Oregon or Arizona. It takes courage to make wine in Arizona. For example, where the hell do you find the Mexicans to pick the grapes? The New Mexicans won’t do it. And Arizona is building a fence on that border, too. The real Mexicans are pretty much target practice for rednecks. The Oregon wine industry, on the other hand, needs my help something desperate. Who the hell buys Oregon wine outside of Oregon? Sheesh, those people hate everyone in California, why should we buy their wine? Well, I’m on their side with that, and with so many obscure people making so much strange wine in Oregon, it was hard to keep the choices down to a couple.
What happened to Washington? I had a Winemaker to Watch from Washington, but he came in eleventh. It seemed arbitrary to include him. I fucking hate arbitrary. And the best wines from Washington last year came from established winemakers, and what good would it do me to list them? Talented winemakers making great wine isn’t what Winemakers to Watch is about. Think of it more like a season of “The Bachelor,” and I’m the hunk handing out roses to really outrageously drunk people no one’s ever heard of who give me a bonér. That’s pretty much how the system works.
Yes, I’m a hunk. But let’s not over meta-analyze.
What about the wines? How do they breakdown? I think there’s a nice balance. It’s about evenly split between white wines that want to be red, and red wines that seem to be white. This is what real wine drinkers want. Not much Pinot Noir, and, just to rub it in, no Syrah, and, well, no Zinfandel. But, hey, my Winemakers of the Year make a lot of Zinfandel. Though mostly I awarded them Winemakers of the Year just to break the balls of those “In Pursuit of Balance” clowns and remind them, hey, I made you, I can break you.
How come not much Pinot Noir? Have you tasted the crap that’s out there lately? Pinot Noir is a very challenging wine for most winemakers, and I wanted to focus on winemakers who are really good at the easy stuff. It’s like choosing up sides for Tee-Ball. And, frankly, it seems like all the great Pinot Noir producers are old and boring. I try never to mention them. (And, really, there’s a lot of terrible Pinot Noir being produced in California. But at least it's balanced!)
How about prices? Don’t care. Doesn’t matter. Nobody buys them. They’re all out buying that terrible Pinot Noir other critics are mistakenly rating highly.
This year’s class seems older. So what? What kind of a stupid, pointless observation is that? I’ve about had it with this interview. I think it’s important to ignore age as a factor in choosing Winemakers to Watch, so I did. What of it? It takes years to develop the chops to become a great winemaker, to learn all the tricks to make weird wines taste good. And getting a new label off the ground is often a lot more than some of these glorified cellar rats can manage. Older! Shut the hell up.
You listed four women. Yeah, but I managed to ignore all the other minorities! My Winemakers to Watch is the goddam Oscars of wine lists!
Does anyone else get annoyed by this sort of vapid wine writing?
A Wine Lover's Guide to Best Picture Oscar Nominees
Leave it to the Wall Street Journal, once the home of Jay McInerny, the Crown Prince of wine schlock, to come up with wines paired with Oscar-nominated films. It seems wine writers are so bereft of original ideas they find it necessary to come up with “whimsical” pieces matching wine with absolutely every artistic endeavor. And the result is uncompromisingly stupid. The author suggests a Klein Constantia wine to sip while watching “Birdman.” Maybe take a mouthful and feed it to your mate! That’s the spirit! Now go crap on her car. Watch “Selma” with a bottle of Torbreck? That’s Martin Luther King, not an aborigine. And, hey, why not a bottle of Negrette? And nothing like Sherry to wash down “American Sniper!” Yes, when the movie’s finished you’ll have Post Traumatic Sherry Disorder—Wall Street’s equivalent of serving their country. Frankly, shouldn’t you drink a wine that’s sight specific?
While this kind of article is, of course, meant to be lighthearted, it’s really aimed at morons. It reads like something you might see on Wine Folly, where they assume their readers have suffered Blunt Force Trauma. I read a recommendation for a piece of shit article like this and I feel like everyone thinks people who love wine, as I do, are obsessed with wine to the exclusion of common sense. What wine should I pair with the ballet? I’m reading the Top Ten New York Times Books of 2014, what wines should I open? There’s a new PBS series about Hunger in America, I should drink something lean.
For the love of God, stop writing crap like this. With “Whiplash,” the story of a drummer and the teacher that browbeats him relentlessly, an Albariño! Of course! Silly me, I drank an orange wine because I thought skins contact would be appropriate. No wonder I didn’t like the film, I drank the wrong wine. And Bollinger Grand Année with “The Grand Budapest Hotel” is genius, as is the suggestion to pair it with “seafood-inspired” small eats. What the hell is “seafood-inspired?” Some clam that found God? A lobster that recently devoted himself to charity so he’s no longer shellfish? I expect this sort of twaddle from wine bloggers, but WSJ? Yeah, OK, maybe so.
But you have to admire the suggestion to serve a German wine in order to more fully enjoy a movie about a man dedicated to stopping the Nazis in World War 2, "The Imitation Game." Brilliant. But why not a good bottle of Lynch-Bages for “Selma?” New Zealand Riesling with “Boyhood!” Why didn’t I think of that? And “Craggy Range” pretty much pegs Ethan Hawkes acting style. And when watching the story of Stephen Hawking’s life, “The Theory of Everything,” what else will do but Volnay? And if you really want to enjoy it, take it intravenously, like the great man himself! And if you need a song to pair with the movie and the wine, try Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vein!”
I find wine writing like this offensive. Well, I guess if anyone has it coming, it’s me. Lots of people find me offensive. But I do it on purpose. There’s a stuffy, rigid, insipid, mindless school of wine writing that fancies itself articulate, witty and interesting, but is, in fact, condescending and insulting. There are many examples, they appear regularly on WineSearcher and Pallet Press, but this piece is a marvel in that category. Many of those wine writers who are of that persuasion spend a lot of time making fun of wine bloggers, dismissing their work as ill-informed and worthless (which it most certainly is). I’ve been the object of their scorn, too, to my credit. Not that I give a damn. Not when I read their work and wonder at its emptiness.
But I know what to drink with the Wall Street Journal. Something Standard and Poor.