Monday, June 29, 2015

Excerpts from Parker's "The Emperor's Diaries"

Editor’s Note: The Emperor’s Diaries were only recently discovered in the shopping cart of a homeless natural wine salesman living on the outskirts of Monkton, Maryland. After a painstaking translation from the Emperor’s native tongue, Hyperbole, a few excerpts from The Emperor’s Diaries were made available for publication prior to the diaries’ holiday release. The excerpts only hint at the importance of the document to the history of wine. We are honored to be the first to publish them.

February 1978

I think I’m going to start a brilliant wine publication, with hints of brimstone and new-mown hubris. I’m sick of being an attorney. No one likes attorneys. I want to be liked. I’m sure that if I become a successful wine writer, everyone will like me. Wine writers are far more popular than lawyers, even though both occupations are based on empty rhetoric. I would be able to travel the world and taste the greatest wines with the greatest winemakers, show them what they’re doing wrong. Wine needs a writer like that, with impeccable balance, and subtle notes of ultimate authority and papal infallibility, a critic whose palms aren’t quite as unctuous as our current wine writers’. I’m the guy.

Now I just need to think of a name and a gimmick.

June 1978

I’ve been wrestling with what to name my new wine publication tour-de-force. I have so many ideas, but none seems to stick. “The Wine Tour-de-Force” sounds pretty good. I might go with that! Imagine seeing my wine reviews published everywhere—in winery newsletters, on wine shop shelves, on the damned wine labels themselves—followed by the initials “WTF!” I predict this is exactly what will happen. And everyone will know what “WTF” stands for—it will be suffixed to my name for decades. But Wine Tour-de-Force just doesn’t sound right.

My wine publication will have a sole purpose. Not sure what that will be, but I’m dedicated to it. If it were up to me, the sole purpose would be to make me rich and famous. But that won’t work. Wine critics don’t get rich and famous. They get drunk and gout. Maybe the sole purpose should be integrity, to bring truth and independence to wine reviewing! Nah, that’s just crazy talk.

I’m still stuck on a name though. Right now I’m a lawyer, so maybe “The Wine Lawyer.” That could work. Or maybe “The Wine Public Defender!” Sticking up for your wine rights at no charge! Oh. That’s not quite right, either, but I think I’m getting warm. I’ll think about it. Meanwhile, I have to go and read the interview with Robert Lawrence Balzer in the new issue of “The Advocate.” Can’t wait.

July 1978

For practice, I’ve already started writing wine reviews. They’re dazzling, with lingering notes of thesaurus and echolalia. But I think I need some kind of ranking system so that my readers will know which wines I prefer. Writing reviews is easy for me, I have the nose of cadaver dog and and the vocabulary of William F. Buckley, Jr. getting a blowjob from Farrah Fawcett, but the wine descriptions will be the least important part of my new wine publication, “The Wine Closet.” (Not yet sure of that title, but the Balzer piece inspired me.) What will be important is the ranking system I employ. The ones out there right now don’t appeal to me. The 20-Point Scale is for academics. Everyone hates academics, even more than they hate lawyers. And, besides you have to spend all this time assigning numbers to crap that doesn’t matter, like aroma and clarity. Hell, I go to the john for aroma and clarity. Besides, I want to review hundreds and hundreds of wines in every issue of “The Wine Dandy.” (Getting closer…) Having to pay close attention, and then doing a bunch of addition, just won’t cut it.

And then there’s those guys out in California who rate wines with “stars,” though they look more like pasties for hot, busty Smurfs, or those rubber thingies you put in your bathtub so you don’t slip. Doesn’t matter, but that’s a damned stupid rating system. Wines have to go up higher than three. Three’s not a number that catches your attention. “Why, this fantastic wine is a 3!” That doesn’t make anyone want to buy it. Those guys are stupid. Maybe 100 would get your attention, but not 3. I don’t know, I’ll have to think about it some more.

I didn’t know it would be so hard to start a new wine publication.

August 1978

The 100-Point Scale! It was there all along! I can be so stupid sometimes, like when I bought all those ’72 Bordeaux futures. I’ll rank my wines using a 100-Point Scale. It’s genius. Everybody who went to public school knows that 100 points is a perfect score. Oh, I won’t give out 100 point scores very often. That would cheapen them. When you only have three crummy stars to award, well, you have to give three stars a lot. There just aren’t that damned many scores. There are only THREE! Duh. I’ll have 100 points. I’ll award 100 points maybe a couple of times a year. Any more than that and, well, I’d look like a profligate jackass. Oh, this is really gonna work great.

So now I just have to make up an explanation of how I arrive at my numbers for wines. No problem, I have a law degree, making up specious explanations comes under, “Previous Job Experience.” Now I’m just free-ballin’ it here, but let’s just say I start at 50. A wine gets 50 points to start with, kind of like how you get $200 when you start playing Monopoly for no apparent reason. Yup, 50 points, and then I start rolling the dice. Just off the top of my head, let’s say I give up to 10 points for color. Color doesn’t mean shit in wine, but I need to jack up the points, so let’s say 10. What the hell would a wine look like that got a 3 for color? Who knows? Who cares? It would have to be orange. Yeah, like orange wines make any sense.

Of course, for aroma a wine can get up to 20 points. It doesn’t really matter. I’m not ever going to actually assign numbers for color, or aroma, or intensity, or finish, or anything else individually. I have a life, for Christ’s sake. It’s only wine. But the 100-Point Scale needs to have the appearance of objectivity. Otherwise, people will think I’m just making the numbers up. Which I am, but I don’t want them to think that. It won’t take long, and I’ll know exactly what “87” smells and tastes like. Scoring for color and aroma and texture and balance and length? You can’t give numbers to those things. That’s crazy. I’ll just give a number to the wine.

Oh, I’m getting a good feeling about this. If I work hard enough, everyone will rely on my new wine publication. Everyone will want a subscription to “The Wine Probe.”


Charlie Olken said...

Out of false modesty, or maybe just plain stupidity, I refuse to comment except to say that to much of this rings so true that it just might be.

Truly good stuff. This piece is stuffed with subtle notes of ultimate authority and papal infallibility.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Hey Charlie,
I know that Parker has often cited your rag as a kind of touchstone for wine reviewing, so I felt obliged to include you in his diary.

I seem to be in a rut of writing pieces that beg at being continued, this diary, and the Child's Guide to Wine among others. That's usually the sign of a weak mind. But I just keep plugging along.

I had the idea for this Emperor's Diary a long time ago, but left it on the shelf because, well, Parker is such an overused target. But the more it incubated, the more I felt I could write it in some sort of interesting, maybe even surprising, fashion. This is the first lame attempt.

And, frankly, the wine world is incredibly boring these days. Where are the Rudys and Jay Millers when you need them?

Charlie Olken said...


I must admit to being surprised by the occasional Parker kindness, but he does seem to allow that Connoisseurs' Guide is doing something right--except getting rich so we must be stupid.

As for this piece needing another chapter or two, yes, of course it does. But, that said, it stopped at exactly the right place. We all know the name so no need to say it. Just leave it where you did. At some point, you can explore those pregnant ideas re how many 100-pointers, grade inflation and the like.

Also, it is fair to add that the history of Parker does need telling this way. We know the boring details, but clearly there were behind the scenes thoughts that led to his rag as we know it. You have used satire to expose some of them, and even if all this is fiction, it is fiction based on what we see as the final shape of the WTF. Well done. This piece and the chapters to come will stand as HMW classics.

Marcello Cancelli said...

And so it was written... And so it was done. Truly stranger than fiction how this man became the most powerful influence on the prices of a commodity in millennia. Alas...We love to be told.

Neil Shea said...

Ron, if I may be so bold and to be forgiven for questioning the "almighty " but is God a MW or a Master of your lot or is his nose and buds the be all and not under suspicion by a member of the Great Unwashed like this poor wretch.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Oh, if getting rich were the point, I wouldn't be writing this crap for nothing. CGCW deserves Parker's praise and deference. The consistency of your reviews and ratings over the years has been astonishing. And you've managed not to give in to score inflation. The day you give a 100 points to a wine, I'm going after you.

There are no HoseMaster "classics." Satire and comedy tend to have a very short shelf life, and my little blog is but an old satirist's cry for help. But thanks, as always, for your constant support, Charlie. It fills me with pride.

It must have been as surprising for Robert Parker as it has been for the wine world that he became so powerful. In hindsight, it seems as unlikely as if I were suddenly the most influential voice in wine. That's sort of what motivated me to write the piece. I didn't do any research about the dates, those are just chosen at random, nor did I read any Parker hagiographies. I just tried to imagine, from a satiric perspective, what it must have been like to create that iconic wine publication.


David Larsen said...

Nothing better than to laugh out loud, which I did several times; especially from the line "the vocabulary of William F. Buckley Jr.getting a ..."

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Thanks. I had to think about the jokes from the perspective of not using anything anachronistic. Like who was a bombshell in 1978. Too soon for Bo Derek, but just right for Farrah Fawcett. Buckley getting a blowjob is just funny to me.

I could use a few laugh out-louds myself. Thanks for being a common tater, David.

Bob Henry said...

Are these diary ruminations the modern-day "Dead Sea Scrawl"?

Penned on napkins?

Martin said...

Oh my, we really are not worthy! This may be the funniest thing you’ve ever written and that’s saying something. Yes he’s an easy target, but when it’s done this well, who cares?! I haven’t laughed out loud reading like this in ages. Loved ‘his native tongue, Hyperbole’ The names are brilliant too. I actually had a tear of laughter reading of Wine Tour de Force or WTF and imagining that suffixed to his name ever more! Wine Probe is terrific too, I may borrow that or maybe it’s a bit too anal!

Of course in time someone (Maureen Downey?) will analyse these diaries, like the Hitler diaries, for authenticity before they go for auction at Christies and discover they are fake. It won’t be that carbon dating the wine stains on the paper or the napkin it was written on revealed they weren’t from the 1970s (that can be done) but that the term WTF hadn’t been invented then as text (SMS) speak acronyms didn’t exist then.

Will have to share a link to this on Twitter and FaceAche, so you may get five or six new readers.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Not on napkins. He was a lawyer, they're scrawled on briefs.

Thank you, those are very kind words. To be truthful, I kept passing on this idea because it seemed too stupid. But it seems to have worked.

Well, as far as Downey is concerned, the joke is that Parker doesn't know what WTF means because it hasn't been coined yet. So my parody is solid-gold authentic!

And before anyone else points it out, I did begin to write this with the trademark Parker ellipse...but thought better of it...because it's annoying.

Steve Pinzon said...

Haven't heard Balzer references in years for obvious reasons. Made a funny piece even more enjoyable.

Steve Pinzon

Martin said...

Writing on briefs. If they were his own he'd have plenty of space to write!

Solid gold authentic indeed as he wouldn't know the acronym wtf! Genius. Had several responses on Twitter and FB and consensus is you're a genius. Blog scored as (%+ by one and 98 by another!

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Balzer was a pretty cool guy, in a very eccentric and flamboyant way. I tasted alongside him when he was in his '90's, and he was pretty damned proficient and good at it still. It was fun to know him and be around him. I'm sure he would have laughed at my little parody here.

Thanks for chiming in, Steve. Don't be a stranger.

Folks throw around the word "genius" like they throw around "authentic." I'm not either. But I don't mind the flattery.

It's always weird what pieces gather the most attention on HoseMaster. The most insulting pieces get the most views by a lot! This piece may be funny, but I don't see it as insulting. Consequently, it has had only an average amount of views. I don't care, I write what I feel like writing, it's just fascinating that folks love the cruelest, most biting, nastiest pieces the best. Says something about our "civilized" wine biz.

Bob Henry said...

"Balzer was a pretty cool guy, in a very eccentric and flamboyant way. I tasted alongside him when he was in his '90's, and he was pretty damned proficient and good at it still. It was fun to know him and be around him. I'm sure he would have laughed at my little parody here."

Those of us who were his "children" (a.k.a. students in his semi-annual Los Angeles-based wine appreciation course) will attest to that.

The excursions to Sonoma and Napa and Lake were priceless.

Likewise the excursion to France. (Shameless name-dropping: top Champagne houses, DRC, top Bordeaux chateaus, Paul Bocuse restaurant, etc.)