Tuesday, April 25, 2017
We’re well into veraison here at Climate Change Cellars, so it must be Spring! And that means new releases, just in time for mosquito season. There’s something about those cute little disease-ridden bloodsuckers that makes me think of wine bloggers visiting Climate Change Cellars and asking for free samples. Yet another sign of Spring! I’m old enough to remember songbirds, and how their music used to fill the Spring air. Remember them? Sure you do, they were just like pigeons and crows, which are all that’s left now, but tinier, and they ate a lot of insects. Luckily, because Mother Nature is resourceful, now we have the beautiful buzz of mosquitoes to let us know it’s time for the release of our newest vintages of Climate Change Cellars’ Zika Red, and Zika White. It’s Spring, and time for a case of Zika!
I think you’ll really like our new vintage of Zika White. It’s a very versatile wine, made to accompany both food and famine! Let’s face it, not everyone has enough food these days, yet you still might like a nice glass of something affordable to accompany your empty dinner table. Our Climate Change Cellars Zika White is perfect! I’ve been drinking it on a regular basis, and I find I like it better on an empty stomach. In the old days, the common wisdom was that fine wines were meant to accompany a meal. But regular meals just aren’t possible for a lot of people in our new world, so at Climate Change Cellars we decided to make a fine wine that goes great with starvation diets. The 2125 Zika White is 100% Malnutria Bianca, and would also be great with seafood. Were there any.
The 2124 Zika Red might be my favorite vintage ever. 2124 was a classic Climate Change year. Winter rains were virtually non-existent here on the Arctic tundra, but melting glaciers provided more than enough water. (As an aside, I felt blessed that winter to witness the annual migration of the reindeer—his name is Sven.) We had bud break right around Valentine’s Day, a lovely Spring marred only by the usual plague of locusts, though, thank God, they mostly only ate the wheat crop, and a leisurely harvest around the end of July. So, in a word, perfect! The Zika Red is a blend of Petite Sirah and Tannat—a great match for your scavenged meal of tree bark. Buy it by the case, and we’ll throw in an exclusive Climate Change Denier’s T-Shirt—like their arguments, it's full of holes!
Before I talk about our highly allocated wines, I want to talk a bit about our sustainable, Earth-friendly, natural farming practices here at Climate Change Cellars. First of all, it would be impossible to grow grapes in these dramatic environmental conditions were it not for the array of herbicides and pesticides we rely on to keep our plants alive. But we’re very proud that here at Climate Change Cellars, all of that herbicide and pesticide residue runs off into our local streams and rivers, which are, of course, completely devoid of life. Our ancestors made sure of that, and we honor them for their legacy of truly clean, lifeless water into which we can dump our chemicals. We do no harm to any living thing by emptying our chemicals into the river. Just ask my son Johnny, who loves swimming in the river—though it’s a big advantage that he was born with flippers instead of arms, and a blowhole on top of his head (called a “Bill O’Reilly,” though why is something of a mystery).
Our vineyards are Certified Biohaznamic®. We follow the Biohaznamic Calendar, which tells us what days are best for planting, harvesting, and even tasting. Our winemaker only tastes on extinction days, when every taste might be your last, so the wines taste especially good. And if the Brix are just right, we only pick on greenhouse gas days, so that our mechanical harvesters work to their greatest potential. There was a time when we used migratory workers to harvest the grapes, but they were mostly rapists and murderers. And we don’t need rapists and murderers, we have world leaders for that.
Climate Change Cellars has also been a leader in finding replacements for French oak barrels. Now that the oak forests of the world are being devastated by beetles, we’ve taken to aging our best wines in barrels made from yucca. We prefer neutral barrels so that our wines don’t taste too yucky. No one wants an overyucked Chardonnay.
Being Certified Biohaznamic®, we never add sulfites to our wines. We treat our wines as living expressions of the earth, living beings that need to be protected, not altered. So we don’t add sulfites, or any of the other 320 chemicals currently allowed to be added to wine. Though, in the spirit of protection, we do spray sunblock on the grapes. SPF 35. Kinda smells like coconut. In a good way.
We also have a couple of special wines to offer with this newsletter. Quantities are tiny, so it’s first come, first served—just like natural resources!
2123 Fossil Fuel Reserve
There wouldn’t be a Climate Change Cellars but for fossil fuels! We honor them with our best red wine. Each vintage sports a different label, and the 2123 is a lovely rendition of a classic Ford F-150, the bestselling truck at a time when burning fossil fuel was a lively First World tradition. What a honey! And with the F-150's size and height, why you could see everything in front of you but, apparently, the obvious effects of greenhouse gases. We think it’s a sweet tribute, and worthy of the great 2123 Fossil Fuel Reserve. This great red wine should last 25 years—drink it when the last elephant dies! Hey, the F-150’s didn’t have any trunks either.
2122 Way Too Late Harvest Red
Made in small quantities, our Way Too Late Harvest Red is our Desertification wine. Made from grapes carefully dried on straw mats just out of the reach of hungry locals, the wine is fermented until just the right sweetness, and then fortified, like our Southern borders. We think you’ll love it. At Climate Change Cellars, we strive to leave you with one final bittersweet taste in your mouth.
Tuesday, April 18, 2017
So it was the first guy I killed that gave me the taste for it. You know how you were a young wannabe somm once, and you’d tell your wine-ignorant friends that you hated Chardonnay, but then your mentor tasted you on a Raveneau Premier Cru Chablis and from then on you couldn’t ever get enough Chablis? My first taste of blood was like that. I mean, back then I was kinda squeamish. My palate was pretty primitive. Now, well, now I can blind taste and tell the difference between type O and type AB. O has more garrigue in the mid-palate. AB smells like Côte-Rôtie. Oh, man, I love a good saignée.
I don’t remember that first guy’s name, but I remember why I killed him.
Goddamit, I’m a Master Sommelier, one of the few women who’s achieved that goal. You’d think I’d get some respect. You’d think that pin on my lapel would convey the same authority for me as it does for a guy. If a guy has one, he wears it around on his suit and people think it’s the fucking Congressional Medal of Honor. That’s pathetic. Knowing a lot about wine isn’t particularly admirable. The people who make the wines don’t wear any pins. Wearing a Master Sommelier pin is like declaring yourself a Nobel Laureate because you know the words to every Bob Dylan song. Who the fuck cares? But I wear my pin and people think I got it on my prom date. They think I found it in a Thrift Store and thought it was cute. Have you seen the MS lapel pin? It’s ugly! It looks like Michael Jackson going to a toga party, fer Christ’s sake. I deserve the same respect as a dude who’s a Master Sommelier, don’t I? Maybe more. None of those dudes had to put up with being hit on by their mentors.
So I’m working the floor one night and this guy wants to speak to the sommelier. I go over to his table, he’s there with a bunch of other guys, and he looks at me and says, “Is the head sommelier here?” Well, to be more accurate, he looks at my tits and says, “Is the head sommelier here?” I tell him I am the head sommelier. “Oh, good”, he says, “I could use some head.” Then he runs his eyes over me like he’s judging for the 4H club and says, “I’m looking for something to go with my meat.” His buddies start to chuckle. “Looking at you,” I tell him, “I’m guessing it’s not the bone-in cut. Must the the old hanger steak.” He just smiles and orders the Silver Oak. Death was too good for him. I mean, Silver Oak? Really? Why don’t you just wear a hat that says, “When Only Mediocre Will Do.”
I made sure to get him nice and drunk. I bought him several glasses of Port as an apology. Then I ambushed him in the parking lot and cut his throat with a box cutter. Wow, I remember thinking, Raveneau Chablis all over again! I need some in my cellar. So that’s where I put him.
You always remember your first. How many since that asshat? I don’t really know. It’s like when you’re a sommelier, people always ask you how many bottles you have in your cellar. You’re never sure. A lot. That’s all you know. You can’t remember the names of all of them, but you know there are a lot. But you do have your favorites.
I love the guys who slip me their phone number when their wife goes to the bathroom. Like I’m supposed to be flattered. You want me to be flattered? Leave me a tip as big as you leave the guy somms, jackass. It does make it easy though. I call them up, arrange to meet them somewhere dark and intimate, and then I kill them. For laughs, I make them share a bottle of orange wine with me before I poison them. I find I like poison more and more. And the orange wine makes the poison undetectable. They’re virtually indistinguishable when you drink them. Hell, some of them don’t even need the poison to paralyze you from the neck down. But, in fact, a bit of anti-freeze nicely fills out the middle of a skin contact Pinot Gris. I’m told, anyway. Adds a tiny bit of stone fruit to the finish. Prestone fruit.
The misogyny in the wine business is terrible, and it’s everywhere, and no one seems to care. Yeah, I know, there’s misogyny in every damn business. But wine claims to be so civilized, so emblematic of sophistication and learning. And then, like our President, it grabs your pussy and shouts, “It’s gonna be YUGE!” And nobody says anything about it. I guess I just decided to make being a pig a little bit more dangerous. Maybe you’ll remember me the next time you meet a woman in the wine business, maybe you’ll think twice about harassing her. You’d better.
I really thought I’d quit after a couple. But I’m an overachiever. Duh. I’m a Master Sommelier. Come on. Being a woman AND a Master Sommelier? That’s the equivalent of being Jewish AND a Breitbart contributor. Killing, it turns out, comes easily to me. Though, really, I don’t have the time to kill all of the idiots I meet. There are so many! It’s like being a Peregrine falcon in New York City. Jesus, how many stinking pigeons are there in the world? Same in the wine business. Only in the wine business, nobody notices how they’re crapping on everybody.
If I somehow managed to kill every guy in the wine business who mistreats, belittles, infantilizes, insults, gropes, condescends to, mocks, patronizes, overlooks, propositions, embarrasses or underpays women, there’d be more empty suits than an executive meeting at Treasury Wine Estates. So I’ve got my work cut out for me. In more ways than one.
I don’t mean to say that killing misogynists is right. No. It’s not right. It’s fun! I’m sure I’ll get caught eventually. Just hope it’s not in the middle of my shift. Fuck, the chef I work for is a real stickler for being arrested on the floor. “Do it on your day off,” that’s what he’d say. I’d have killed him by now, but, well, he was on “Top Chef.” I love that show.
Monday, April 10, 2017
Scork Dork: Another Wine-Fueled Adventure Among the Pestilential Wine Critics, Score Whores, and Fake Scientists Who Taught Me to Live for Crappy Wine
The first thing that happens when you’re thirty years old, you write a landmark book about wine that lands on “The New York Times” bestseller list just below Bill O’Reilly (and what’s creepier than being thirty, gorgeous and trapped under Bill O’Reilly?), and you tell people you’re going to walk away from your book tour and the unprecedented adulation, the near universal praise for your precocious genius, to become a professional wine critic is that your phone begins to ring.
Phones don’t really ring now, do they? Not like they did in our parents’ homes. Let’s say a person, or a machine, (I met many who review wines who are both, but I’ll get to that) dials your smartphone. Whereas once all telephones sounded virtually identical, now each person has a ring tone that, in some personal way, speaks to the smartphone owner’s view of herself. Recent studies done at places of higher learning have shown that you can discern a great deal about a person’s self-image by the ring tone of their phone. I’m pretty sure you didn’t know that. It’s the kind of insight you’re going to have to expect as I tell you about how I became an important wine critic. Have I mentioned yet that I’m a journalist? And a fine one, at that. I worked for the “Huffington Post,” which is to “The New York Times” what roadkill is to the Westminster National Dog Show. Barely recognizable as the same thing.
My phone never stopped playing, “Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better.” I’m not sure what that says about me. Except I should stop giving out my phone number. The people telling me I was nuts to want to be a wine critic were the same ones who told me I was crazy to try to become a sommelier. Idiots. I had to become a sommelier. I had a book proposal, and the blurbs for the book had already been written. I had to write the book to go with them.
Now that I was a recognized wine expert after twelve months of study, the equivalent, I was told, of learning fluent Klingon in two weeks, only less useful, I had noticed when I was shopping at my favorite local wine merchant that many wines had been assigned numbers by men and women known as wine critics. I became fascinated by them. I wanted to become a wine critic for a prestigious wine publication, though I couldn’t think of any. I knew that wine critics didn’t have any prestige. Sommeliers have prestige; wine critics have gum disease. It’s their own specific type of gum disease—gingivitis vinifera.
I carpet-bombed all the wine critics I could find with emails, much like one does when your house is infested with fleas and ticks. The sommeliers I’d met, and easily surpassed, had often referred to wine critics as a form of pest, most closely related to leeches. “You don’t really think,” one told me, “that the name ‘Suckling’ is coincidental, do you?” Pests or not, wineries had to cater to the most powerful wine critics, and I liked the idea of that. I gave myself a month to become a regular wine critic for a national publication. I didn’t need to be the critic for Bordeaux, or Brunello di Montalcino, or Champagne, I was willing to settle for being the lead critic for a far lesser region, maybe Australia. You always get Australia when you’re a new wine critic, I discovered, the best critics avoid it and leave it to the newcomers. It’s essentially hazing. I was willing to endure Australian wines for a while, then I’d walk away from the job (it’s what journalists do—did I mention I’m a journalist by trade?) with a witty, “You’re not the Barossa me.”
Almost every important wine critic (an oxymoron, according to Tim Hanni MW, who calls me way too often) ignored my letters. While I waited for a break, I studied wine criticism. I knew how to write wine descriptions, I’m a journalist after all. (I’ve been published in the online “New Yorker.” Which is just like the print “New Yorker,” only desperate for content.) I felt pretty comfortable using the 100 Point Scale. It’s not that hard to assign numbers to wine. And it turns out that humans are not the only animals who assign numbers. Scientists in Italy (I didn’t know Italy had any scientists, that surprised me) demonstrated in a series of carefully designed experiments that dogs assign numbers to trees. Usually number one, and occasionally number two. So, apparently, assigning numbers is a part of natural brain function. I might write a chapter about that. I want to get my brain scanned again. I think I might need a bigger head. If that were possible.
One evening my husband and I were practicing with my 100 Point Scale flash cards (I have a mental block on 89) when I heard “Anything You Can Do” coming from the bedroom. A voice on the other end said, “Hello, Bianca? This is Tim Fish with ‘Wine Spectator.’ I got your email. I’d be happy to show you what it’s like to be a wine critic.”
I hung up. I’d attended Princeton. I’d studied journalism. I had standards. Fish just didn’t measure up. I threw him back.
I had set my sights pretty high. I wanted to learn to be a wine critic from Robert Parker, the man who had imposed the 100 Point Scale on wine. With that master stroke, Parker had done for wine what Garanimals had done for fashion—made it accessible for the clueless. “You don’t need to know shit about wine to use the 100 Point Scale,” Jay McInerney had told me while staring at my cleavage, “you just put a stupid tag on it and people buy it.” Sort of like one of his novels at the remainder table at Barnes and Noble.
Robert Parker never responded to any of my emails. This made no sense to me. He employs a lot of amateurs as critics, and I was willing to do it for free. I was on the verge of giving up when I heard a fateful version of “Anything You Can Do.” I answered the phone and a rather sultry, smoky voice said, “Hello, Bianca? This is Jancis Robinson. I think you and I should chat.”
A month later, I was reviewing wines for her site. She’ll hire anybody!
Cover Blurbs for Scork Dork:
“I loved this book. It’s the last one I’ll ever read.”—David Foster Wallace
“The Cat in the Hat of wine.”—Madeline Puckette
“Written in English, and plenty of it.”—Walter Isaacson
“The best book about wine since Cork Dork, Scork Dork is Bosker’s Bright Lights, Big City but without the drugs and rave reviews. Bosker is the voice of her generation, so sort of high and squeaky.”—Jay McInerney
For my serious review of Cork Dork, go HERE
Friday, April 7, 2017
There’s something interesting about writing satire. It’s a way to express a part of yourself that much of the time you suppress—the part that is cynical, that despises the human tendency to prevaricate, our tendency to give in to pride and self-righteousness. I try to make fun of anyone and everyone, and make people laugh along the way. When I’m successful, I am, curiously, both widely admired, and widely despised. I guess it’s in my nature to like that.
In February of 2016, I attended the Napa Valley Wine Writers’ Symposium. For the farewell dinner, which has much in common with the last meal given to death row inmates, I was seated between Virginie Boone and Lana Bortolot. I’d never met either woman. Virginie is, of course, one of the lead reviewers for Wine Enthusiast. She’s a very self-possessed and fascinating woman, with a very difficult job. Assigning numbers to wines. You not only have to know wines, you have to know numbers! So, there you go. I adored Virginie.
Lana Bortolot was attending the Symposium as a freelance writer. I fell in love with her that night. We went from nervous tablemates to sharing a lot of personal stories in about twenty minutes. I may have proposed to her. Several months later, she informed me that she had taken a job as Senior Editor for Wine Enthusiast. Lana is, in a word, brilliant. Wine Enthusiast is lucky to have her onboard. She will make everyone at the magazine better.
In August I won a Louis Roederer International Wine Writers’ Award for my column on Tim Atkin’s amazing wine site. If you’ve never heard of the Roederer Awards, they’re the wine equivalent of the MacArthur Genius Grants, if you ignore all three of those words. (Lana cut that joke from my Wine Enthusiast piece, for which I might have divorced her if I didn’t love her so much.)
Lana proposed to Wine Enthusiast that it would be interesting to hear from me about what it’s like for a guy who spends his life insulting everyone in the wine biz to win an award from those folks. Originally, Lana told me, she was going to have Virginie interview me. But then Virginie would get paid for the piece, not the HoseMaster. Thoughtfully, Lana commissioned me to write a brief piece for the back of the magazine. I noted in a previous post that I’d been published in the March 2017 issue of Wine Enthusiast, but they have only now published the piece online.
For those of you who didn’t read the piece in the magazine, here’s the link:
Frankly, everyone talks about how the wine business needs more satire, but no one publishes any. The only one writing comedy is Matt Kramer, he just doesn’t know it yet. Tim Atkin MW has published my crap for more than four years now, without ever changing a raucous, tasteless, profane word. That has taken courage. I owe him an enormous debt. Obviously, I can’t be that outrageous or tasteless in Wine Enthusiast. But it’s important to be acknowledged. I don’t care about the fame or the money (there isn’t much), but I care about the often under-appreciated art of satire. Being granted space in a mainstream and important wine publication matters to me.
Thank you, Lana. I love you. Thank you Wine Enthusiast for the exposure. And thank you to everyone who reads HoseMaster of Wine™. I don’t do this for you, I do it for my personal demons, but I very much appreciate that you support me.
Monday, April 3, 2017
Hello, my name is Ronald. And I’m a Crapaholic.
This is my first time speaking at a Crapaholics Anonymous meeting, but I’ve been thinking a lot about the wines I drink lately. I drink wines I like. I think I know a lot about wine. I drink wines from all over the world. I drink wines from California, France, Washington, New Zealand, South Africa…I love South African wines! Have you had Pinotage? Do you know where the name comes from? It’s Pinot Noir crossed with a little Garbage. I think it’s required by law to be at least 15% Garbage. Anyway, I love wine. I buy wines based on experience, and the reviews of reliable critics. So, mostly experience. I thought wine was just wine. There’s bad wine, good wine, great wine, and really great wine. But it turns out I was wrong. I was fooling myself, probably like all of you Crapaholics here tonight. It’s a hard thing for me to say. But I need help with my addiction to Crap. I’m a Crap whore.
I'm taking a big risk here. Normally, what's talked about at a Crapaholics Anonymous meeting is kept secret to protect everyone's privacy. But this is too important an issue. The burning issue of our wine times. So I'm allowing my readers inside a meeting. Be prepared, it's a sad tale of addiction and woe. The kind that tears families apart, and ruins lives. Have a hankie nearby. You have time to grab one before you jump over to Tim Atkin's great blog to read the rest. It's a tale of addiction rampant in the wine business. It's time it was exposed.
TIM ATKIN MW
Thursday, March 30, 2017
I’ve been wondering for a couple of years when a book like “Cork Dork” would come around. It seemed inevitable to me that an enterprising journalist would one day decide that writing about what it takes to become a Certified Sommelier in the world of fancy schmancy restaurants would make for an interesting book. I’m glad that journalist was someone as talented as Bianca Bosker. This could easily have been a dreadful book, just as “SOMM” was a dreadful film for me to watch. Instead, it’s a wonderful read. I especially admire Bosker’s prodigious research about wine, and about our senses of smell and taste, and her unflagging sense of humor. I rarely laugh when I read, but Bosker made me break out into noisy smiles quite a bit. I blamed the dog.
In her acknowledgments, Bosker mentions Susan Orlean and John McPhee as inspirations, but reading “Cork Dork” made me think more about the late George Plimpton. Plimpton, founder of “The Paris Review,” and quite the literate raconteur, may have reached the pinnacle of his popular fame with his book, “Paper Lion.” “Paper Lion” is about Plimpton’s desire to find out what it’s like to be a quarterback in the NFL. He talks the Detroit Lions into allowing him to train with them for a season, and takes us along. Plimpton is a writer with a gift for the extraordinary and telling detail, and his misadventures in the NFL are very funny and surprisingly poignant. The book made Alex Karras, a defensive lineman for the Lions, into a star. It’s Karras who famously knocks out a horse with a punch in “Blazing Saddles.” Bosker shares Plimpton’s keen eye for detail, and she also sports the exuberance of youth. In a business as stuffy as the wine business, these qualities serve her wit well. Bosker also echoes Plimpton’s editorial game plan. Plimpton, of course, takes a beating as a quarterback, has to win over the skeptical pro players who slightly resent his presence, yet he triumphs in the end. Bosker is often humiliated in her attempts to understand wine and work the floor as a sommelier in exclusive, service-oriented restaurants, she is warned by many Master Sommeliers about the folly of her task as she gives herself a year to accomplish what has taken others many years, but, of course, in the end, well, you know… And she’s worked pretty tirelessly to make Morgan Harris, a young New York sommelier, her Alex Karras, though Harris struck me as less horse pugilist and more horse’s ass.
The book is really eleven set pieces organized into a whole. You may have read parts of “Cork Dork” already, one chapter as a “New Yorker” piece, “Is There A Better Way to Talk About Wine?,” and part of another chapter served as a piece in the Opinion pages of the “New York Times,” “Ignore the Snobs, Drink the Cheap, Delicious Wine.” The latter piece stirred up the hornet’s nest of natural wine’s alt-right. The eleven chapters stand on their own, you’ll learn a lot about your senses of smell and taste, and how sommelier’s brains are different than yours (I’m a prime example of that), but it makes for a very clunky ride taken as a whole. A chapter about working the floor in a fancy New York restaurant, a visit with Ann Noble in California, a brain scan in South Korea, a wine exam in Virginia… All of it’s interesting, but most people trying to become Certified Sommeliers don’t have expense accounts that cover their curiosity. Much of that serves to make Bosker less sympathetic to the reader, harder to identify with, which works against her. And yet her talent is so great, she wins us over and makes us glad we signed up for her journey. I may have a crush on her.
Bosker has talent, and, apparently, a great agent. (So, really, it doesn’t matter one iota what I think about her book.) “Cork Dork” is a stereotypical work of participatory journalism. Poor man’s Plimpton. The risk in that kind of journalism is that the work can eventually come to be about the writer, and not the subject. John McPhee is the master at this sort of creative nonfiction, and clearly someone Bosker (among many others) idolizes. McPhee has a talent for knowing what to leave out in his work. In his work, you always sense his presence, his intellect, but he is very much in the background most of the time. You see through his eyes, but you don’t think McPhee is his own subject. In the end, “Cork Dork” is very much a book about Bianca Bosker. Don’t get me wrong, she seems like someone I’d like to know, though there’s fat chance of that (though, I, of all people, understand that a voice should not be mistaken for the actual person writing in that voice). Wine transforms her, though I’m not sure I cared. It’s certainly not why I decided to read the book.
I want to be clear about a few things because I ramble like Professor Irwin Corey with head trauma. Bianca Bosker is a flamboyantly talented writer. I could read her work all day long. She’s genuinely funny, and wit is a precious asset that’s absent in most wine writing. She does have McPhee’s work ethic. She doesn’t want to just understand a subject, she wants to master it, destroy it, and perform an autopsy on it. “Cork Dork” is a great glimpse into obsessive personalities, especially Bosker’s. I’d read it for that, and be grateful I’m not one. If I have issues with the book, it’s not about the quality of the writing. I’d go on any journey to which Bosker invites me. I’d already been on much of this journey long before Bosker could hold a pen, so I bring an old and odd perspective to the book. But I loved the book for its youthful bravado, and for Bosker, especially when she stops to think about what a stupid obsession wine can become.
When Bosker travels to Virginia to take the Certified Sommelier Exam she meets Annie Truhlar. I found Annie’s story to be the most interesting, and the most revelatory, in the book. Annie is the one “sommelier” (she isn’t really) in the book who loves wine with a passion, and not obsession. I got tired of the obsessed sommeliers in the book who give up what’s actually important in life, love and family, for a life in wine. I know a lot of people like that in the biz, and I feel sorry for them. (I wish Bosker had spent a bit more time talking about the rampant alcoholism in the trade, but I get that she didn’t.) It seemed that Bosker’s view of wine, and of being a sommelier, changed after her time spent with Annie as they endured the Certified Sommelier Exam together. Annie can barely afford the money to take the test. She’s never been able to go to a La Paulée kind of event, which is Bosker’s subject in one of the chapters, or even taste any Champagne tête du cuvées before she’s tested on them. She’s never dined at Eleven Madison Park, and probably thinks it’s the name of a Korean M.W. Annie just loves wine. It’s her story that holds the book together for me. She’s a breath of fresh air amid all the fetid breath of too many yammering young sommeliers. Annie Truhlar is the one person in the book with whom I’d like to share a great bottle of wine, aside from Bosker herself. Annie, you’re ever in Sonoma, call me!
I cannot imagine this book will have much resonance for those who love wine but don’t live in New York. It will teach you a lot, but won’t speak to you. It’s a very New York-centric book. I found that tiresome. There were endless and casual dismissals of California wine throughout the book, which is very New York somm. In her quest to learn about wine, Bosker learned far too much elitism, despite the chapter excerpted in the “New York Times” about how Treasury manipulates cheap wine to taste good, which she defends to a degree, but which, of course, takes place in California. Reading the book made me grateful to have grown up in the wine business outside of New York. So much of what Bosker writes about on her path to becoming a sommelier was foreign to me. I wasn’t unaware of it, as I’m not unaware of the behavior of dung beetles, with which sommeliers have a lot in common, but the book reads like this is how the wine world and the restaurant business works everywhere. That’s certainly not true. I found myself disliking almost everyone in the book, aside from Bosker herself and Annie Truhlar. Ah, but that’s me. However, if you’ve never been a New Yorker, or worked in the New York wine trade, you might be rather perplexed by much of “Cork Dork.” I actually wondered why Bosker would want to be part of that group. They read more like Swiftian fools to me than wine lovers.
If you read this stupid blog regularly, I think you’ll like “Cork Dork.” I wouldn’t hesitate to buy it. It’s in paperback, it’s cheap! Buy Bosker’s book! I mean it. It's not even ten bucks on Amazon. She’s such a great young writer. She deserves our support. I’ve had my say here, but this is a book easily worth reading and recommending to friends that love wine. All my reservations aside, it’s terrific work.
I’m obviously not a professional book critic. There’s a very vapid review that the “New York Times” published (it’s a good review, which the book deserves, but it’s emptyheaded, and I get the feeling the reviewer might even know Bianca, though I don’t know that). And there are some of the most transparently fake blurbs I’ve seen on a book cover in a long time. For example, late in the book Bosker recommends “Wine Folly” to her readers for their summations of grape characteristics. And then there’s a blurb on the back cover from Madeline Puckette calling “Cork Dork,” “The ‘Kitchen Confidential’ of wine.” That’s pretty shameless. It’s more the “L.A. Confidential” of wine, really. Jay McInerney, whom Bosker meets at La Paulée, has a blurb proclaiming her a “gonzo nerd prodigy.” So you know he grabbed her ass. The blurbs are completely FAKE NEWS! Sad.
Bianca, I love your writing. “Cork Dork” shows the wisdom and the foibles of youth. With no added sulphur.
Monday, March 27, 2017
It’s entirely possible to pursue your wine education reading the same old critics over and over again, but that’s the equivalent of only drinking Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Sauvignon Blanc while ignoring the other eight thousand varieties. For the most part, let’s face it, you read the critics who reinforce your own opinions and tastes. It’s what humans do. Yes, it’s obvious the folks who support Trump are assholes for believing everything he says and not seeing through the constant lies, but there’s absolutely no reason to doubt that what Alice Feiring says about natural wines is true because it just feels right. This is how we think. Keeping an open mind is for other people, mine’s only open every other Tuesday. Don’t tell me Zinfandel can make great wine, I just told you I don’t like it. I am completely open to your opinion, except when you’re wrong, which is always when you disagree with me. Zinfandel is too jammy, like that smegma between my toes. But have you tried this Trousseau? It’s natural wine, only lightly fined with placenta extracted from a sheep. I watched it happen on Ewe Tube.
Maybe you only read Robert Parker because you like the reassurance that your cellar full of very expensive and highly rated Cabernets from Napa Valley is well-chosen, the envy of wine lovers everywhere. Well, you’re a different form of idiot—ask anyone with a little lapel pin that subtly notifies you that they are foolproof when it comes to wine knowledge. The only Master Sommeliers who confess to loving Napa Valley Cabernets are the ones employed at wineries there, or who lie on behalf of Constellation or Jackson Family Wines for a living. Which turns out to be most of them. They’re the laughing stocks of MS’s. It’s like being a wine writer and your main credit is “PUNCH.” Which is to wine writing what Apothic is to wine—it bears only a vague resemblance.
Reading every issue of “Wine Spectator” is the wine lover’s equivalent of the movie, “Groundhog’s Day.” It’s the same issue every fucking time you pick one up. The editorial content is more tightly pinched than Sean Hannity’s sphincter. And why is the magazine itself so goddam large? “Wine Spectator” is like wine’s answer to IMAX films. Its only reason to exist is that it’s ridiculously big. The content is utterly unimportant. The only thing glossier than an issue of “Wine Spectator” is my eyes when I’m reading the magazine’s columnists. Who the hell reads Matt Kramer? Eye charts make more sense, and are far more irreverent.
It’s time that you begin to read other wine critics. Get out of your comfort zone. Broaden your wine horizons. Wine lovers who only drink wines under 13% ABV, or only drink 100 point wines, or refuse any wine that isn’t a natural wine, I hold in equal contempt. “Natural wines are the only ones that taste good to me.” “What score did it get?” “I don’t like Napa Valley Cabernet.” Hard to decide which sentence is the most ignorant. Is there a 100 point scale for ignorance? Those are all 95+. The “+” because I may have underrated the ignorance. And the same is true for wine writers. Try someone new! Parker is Parker, Galloni is baloney, Puckette is Breitbart News (if you ignore that first syllable), strictly truth-adjacent. Find a new wine writer to follow, someone with a new axe to grind, wearing a different set of Virtual Reality goggles than Asimov, Feiring, Laube, or Jefford. I have a few suggestions…
TouchMyJunket—Talking about integrity and standards in wine journalism is a lot like the debate surrounding the use of condoms in the porn industry. It might be the right thing to do, but nobody in the industry wants them. It just doesn’t feel right for those participating. We’re consenting adults fucking each other. It feels best this way. Mind your own business and watch. Which is why I value the opinions of Frank Payola on his blog TouchMyJunket.com. Frank goes on more wine junkets each year than Jamie Goode, Elaine Brown and Joe Roberts combined! It’s his tireless pursuit of wine knowledge on our behalf that inspires me. And, like all the wine journalists I can think of, he’s never been to a wine region he doesn’t love. And, honestly, on top of that, when it comes to wine reviews, objectivity is highly overrated, though happily extinct. Everybody’s so damned critical, so opinionated about wine. Not Frank Payola! Free trip to Uruguay? Why Frank can write a thousand words about the glories of Uruguayan wine that more than offsets the cost of his hotel mini-fridge bills. See his piece, “I’m Devoted to Tannatural Wines.” Oh, it’s the kind of pay-for-play journalism that makes America Great Again. You should make a habit of reading TouchMyJunket. It’s refreshing to see that wine journalists are not nearly as expensive to buy as the wines they travel to write about.
Ted Frasker—Syndicated in several hundred newspapers around the country, Ted writes about all the industrial plonk you can’t afford to miss in the sort of language normally generated by random word programs. The good thing about Ted? He really believes there are great wines under $20! So sweet. Like those people who believe building a wall will make their life better. Because that always works. Ask any Berliner. Now, we all know there are no great wines under $20. None. Zero. Only an idiot thinks there are great wines under $20. But it’s so frustrating that major wine critics don’t rate the hundreds of wine labels of manufactured grape juice available—unless, of course, the corporation that makes them pays for advertising. Hell, we’ll take an 86 as long as the label photo we paid for isn’t blurry. Ted, though, he only tastes those corporate wines. “Sure, they all taste about the same. I have standards, though,” Ted told me. “I only review wines made with indigenous chemicals.”
Isabel Sans Clapper MW—“I don’t think making Natural Wines is enough,” Clapper proclaims. “We need to focus on wines of a higher consciousness. I won’t recommend any wine that hasn’t been Certified Enlightened™.” Unenlightened wines are a product of modern technology, or a poor upbringing. They not only ruin the Earth, they can harm your aura. Clapper has begun a movement, one that’s catching on among all the young sommeliers (or “somms,” because knowing how to speak French is giving in to the Man), that supports only wines that have been Certified Enlightened™. “A Certified Enlightened™ wine,” Clapper tells me, “is a wine that lives in the moment. Some call that a short finish, I call it awareness.” Clapper’s followers assure me that Certified Enlightened™ wines will not give you a hangover because they listen to you, they hear you, and then they talk you out of a second glass. “There’s something deeply spiritual about Certified Enlightened™ wines,” she insists, “so you can’t trust objective realities like smell and taste. What kind of a monster are you? Certified Wines™ don’t just reflect terroir, they reflect all sorts of other imaginary concepts. Those who drink anything less are not only harming Mother Earth, they’re killin’ my vibe.”
Thursday, March 23, 2017
You never know when the next great wine will appear in your life. “Great” is one of those words that gets bandied about endlessly when it comes to wine, and has become nearly meaningless. I’ve been fortunate enough to have tasted more than my share of what I consider great wines. I’ve never counted how many. That’s a bit like guys who keep a list of women they’ve slept with. I remember them all, but I don’t lump them together as trophies. Not all three women! Great wines, to me, are wines that simply knock you off your feet, leave you virtually speechless, fill you with gratitude that you’ve lived long enough and well enough to put them in your mouth. They are only rarely encountered, and they are never forgotten. They’re true loves, not one-night stands. I recently met one.
I was invited to Chappellet’s 50th Anniversary tasting in February. I haven’t the vaguest idea why. Most of the other attendees were far more illustrious than I. Among the attendees were Esther Mobley, the supremely talented wine writer for the "San Francisco Chronicle," Karen MacNeil, Kevin Zraly, the last name in wine writing, Kelli White (speaking of supremely talented), Laurie Daniel, Elaine Chukan Brown, and me. I felt like John Waters at the Director’s Guild Awards. I don’t belong here, I tell people to eat shit. However, I’m a longtime fan of Chappellet, and always bought their wines, especially their late-lamented Old Vines Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon, for my wine list, so I was excited to be there. Yet I had no idea I was going to meet a true love.
There’s something magic about an old wine that is still vibrantly alive. Very few are. Most begin to show their faults as they get older, many just get weird, an awful lot are dead but don't seem to know it. We have families like that. And then there are the blessed, the ones who age obscenely gracefully, a Molly Chappellet (the loveliest matriarch of Napa Valley, especially since the recent passing of Mary Novak of Spottswoode), and the 1969 Chappellet Cabernet Sauvignon. The Chappellets were kind enough to offer us the ’69 at their 50th anniversary tasting, and when a wine can dazzle even the jaded palates of countless wine “experts,” and the ’69 was the talk of the room, it has to be extraordinary.
What’s magic about an older wine is that it takes us on a journey through our memories, through our lives. Nothing else we consume does that. OK, maybe mushrooms. I was a junior in high school in 1969 when Donn Chappellet and Philip Togni were harvesting this wine, and it must have been bottled when I was a freshman at Occidental College—the same year my wife Kathleen was born, 1971. Imagine that. I had no idea in 1969 I would end up a sommelier married to a woman who wasn't yet born. I’d never tasted a single wine when this wine was bottled. Not one. Nor had I met anyone not yet born. And if I had tasted this wine when it was released (I would have been underage, but, more importantly, under-qualified), I would no doubt have hated it. We both needed to evolve.
I won’t bother to attempt to describe it. Esther Mobley did that beautifully in her SF Chronicle column about loving older wines (she said it was maybe the best wine she’d ever tasted). My tasting notes begin, “IT’S ALIVE!!!” I was channeling Dr. Frankenstein at that moment, amazed at the electricity in the wine, and falling in love with it at the same time. Wines like that are ineffable. Like being asked what I love about my wife. It’s both impossible to express in a meaningful way, and too personal. I was an unhappy kid in 1969—lonely and confused, angry and reclusive. And yet somehow I managed to live a wonderful life filled with amazing loves, and end up in 2017 happy to be alive. The ’69 Chappellet was like a message in a bottle from that miserable kid living in that miserable time. A message of hope. A kind of congratulatory experience, a reassurance that sometimes, and maybe more often than we think, if we just hang around long enough, things can work out. Drinking it felt like, despite all odds, I’d had a great life, and, as a reward, ended up drinking that great old Cabernet among my peers. It was humbling. Great wine always humbles anyone with a heart.
The other nine Cabernet Sauvignons Chappellet served us were interesting and variable. Many were top-notch. I’ve never been to a vertical tasting where that wasn’t the case. How did the ’69 turn out so miraculously, so much more compelling than the rest? No one seemed to know. Everyone was guessing, everyone had a theory, but no one actually knew. A bunch of decisions were made, most of them irrevocable, many of them guesswork; the wine was paid attention to, nurtured, but could easily have been undone by any one of those decisions. We’ll never really know how it made it to 2017 so alive and remarkable. And the same could be said for all of us in that room that day, not just the ’69 Chappellet.
The truth is, we don’t have to know how it was made. No wine, no one’s life, can be replicated anyway. Some, inexplicably, just turn out to be miracles.
Tuesday, March 21, 2017
The first thing they did was they wiretapped my house. You’re going to hear a lot about this in the next few weeks, believe me. I only caught on when I was talking to my wife in the kitchen and the microwave suddenly said, “Excuse me?” It wasn’t long after that I realized they were watching me through my electric shaver. I was trimming my eyebrows when I heard a guy sneeze, and I felt something wet on my forehead. My dryer has been going through my pants’ pockets looking for evidence. Every last Kleenex was sampled for DNA, and I’ll never get another use out of the condoms. Oh, they’re thorough alright. Even the lint screen is squeaky clean when they’re done. I know what they want, but I’m on to them. They’re trying to silence me.
Most of you wine writers don’t have to worry about them. You write pablum. You write empty paragraphs that conform to what they want. You write the worst sort of self-serving shit, absorbed in your own imaginary importance in the wine world, convinced we care about your opinions on the latest set of designer wines sent to you by the czars at Constellation. You toe the wine line. You never write anything that isn’t regurgitated marketing lies. You feign wine knowledge, and feel every invite to every tasting and every junket validates your importance when, in fact, you’re just a pawn, and an untalented pawn at that. They don’t need to wiretap your house. They don’t need to have drones following your every move like they follow mine. You’re no threat to them. What you write is just the same old tired wine business bullshit. They love you.
Right now there’s someone watching me through my computer’s camera. I know who it is. I just gave her the finger. I don’t care if they watch me have Skype sex with a Master Sommelier. It’s why we do it blind. He told me it’s part of the Service Exam. If they want to spy on what goes on in my work room, I just don’t care. At first, I put duct tape over the camera. But you can see through duct tape. I bet you didn’t know that. You can see through duct tape. Put some over your eyes and try it. Well, maybe you can’t see through it, sorry about your eyebrows, but they can.
I know you’re wondering who “they” are. God, you’re stupid. It’s wine’s Deep State. The Deep State is conspiring against me. They’re afraid of me. They’re afraid of the changes I’m bringing to wine writing, and the wine world. The Deep State is worried because I won a Roederer Award. They’re really scared because the Deep State usually controls who wins a Roederer Award, and last year one of those awards went to me. It wasn’t supposed to. They fixed that this year though. They made Guy Woodward a judge. Yeah, I know. That’s like a Labradoodle judging the Westminster Dog Show. The Deep State wants wine writing to stay the same. You know, “Wine Spectator” same. Trade one old white guy critic for a middle-aged white guy critic. Pull off the Jesus trick: turn oafs into Tim Fish. The Deep State of wine controls everything about wine. Everything.
Think those natural wine people are rocking the boat? Oh, please. Like Alice Feiring and Eric Asimov aren’t embedded agents of the Deep State. The Establishment of wine has infiltrated wine writing up to its highest levels. Who do you think are the Elders of Deep State? Yes. Say the names. Jancis, Robert, Hugh, Marvin. They make all the decisions about wine. They decide what you drink, what you write, what you don’t write. Oz, Antonio, Jamie, everybody with letters after their name. All of them. Can’t you see it for yourself? They’re all the Deep State. And unless we take wine back from them, and it won’t be easy, folks, wine will be the same corrupt and dishonest business it’s always been.
Just remember, when people criticize me, that’s just the Deep State trying to destroy my career. I don’t need their help destroying my career. I’m perfectly capable. The Deep State tries to make me look like a liar. I tell you they’ve wiretapped my house and you ask for proof? Proof? I just said it, didn’t I, what further proof do you need? The Deep State doesn’t like me because I tell you the truth. I’ve been saying for years how specific wine glasses for specific wines is a scam. It’s Deep State propaganda. You really think you need an Oregon Pinot Noir glass? That your Syrah doesn’t taste as good in a Zinfandel glass? You’re a sucker. You’re a chump. You probably think aerators work, too. What’s wrong with you? These are all lies. Deep State lies. You can’t even tell it’s a Syrah in the first damn place. What difference does the glass make? It’s like thinking you smell better because you’re wearing the right sweater. You don’t! You smell like goddam mothballs, and I’m not talking about naphthalene, I’m talking about actual hairy moth testicles. God, you’re an idiot. A Deep State sycophant.
Ah, but we won one over the Deep State. Asimov conceded that the idea that different sorts of wines require distinct glasses is “nonsense.” This in the Newspaper of Record! It’s like FOX News admitting Sean Hannity is an inflatable sex toy. I mean, look at his mouth! And the hair. Asimov’s admission is amazing. Maybe it’s the Deep State just throwing us a bone. The Elders got together and threw Georg under the bus. No one really knows. Maybe the truth is making them nervous. But what next? Alice Feiring concedes biodynamics is mystical Hoo-Hah? The "Dianetics" of wine? Parker concedes that the 100 point scale is stupid? People like it, sure, it’s simple and easy to understand, but so is “Wine Folly,” and we know how worthless that is. Nah, the Deep State will never surrender the 100 point scale. That would be like Tiny Tim throwing aside his crutches.
My phone just rang and there was no one there. Deep State. Just keep saying it whenever you read a column in the “Wine Spectator,” whenever you read about the latest wine junket taken by Jamie Goode, whenever you buy a wine book by Jancis Robinson. Deep State. A “New York Times” opinion piece about wine. Deep State. The lastest vintage report from Bordeaux in “Decanter.” Deep State. Wine competition results. Deep State. What are Master Sommeliers drinking? articles. Deep State. Yet another piece about the superiority of natural wines. Deep State. Every press release from every marketing company and every winery. Deep State.
Monday, March 13, 2017
Remember when corkage fees were a hot topic on wine blogs? We do dwell on the trivial. I wrote this piece about legendary Restaurant Gougé way back in May of 2014. Restaurant Gougé is shuttered now, but this piece lives on.
Recently, there has been some grumbling in the press about the corkage fees here at the World Famous Restaurant Gougé. While we do not feel that we need to justify the $150 corkage fee, Restaurant Gougé is the proud recipient of Three Michelin Tires as well as the prestigious Just for Men® Beard Award after all, we did feel the need to clarify our generous corkage policy. Just so you’ll shut the hell up.
First of all, Restaurant Gougé is under no obligation to allow any patron to bring in his own bottle of wine. What the hell is wrong with you? We’re trying to make money, and you’re bringing in some poorly stored, overpriced trophy wine from your own collection? We have an award-winning wine list filled with poorly stored, overpriced trophy wines! We don’t need yours. And then you expect us to charge you only $25 for the privilege of serving you your own bottle of wine as some kind of thank you for choosing us for your special occasion? How about this? We take $25 off the cost of your meal and then we get to open your “special occasion” wine and pour it down the sink. That’s pretty much what you’re doing anyway when you serve it to your idiot friends, only now, at least, you get $25 out of it. That works for us. Hey, $25 is two martinis that cost us $6 in ingredients—we’re fine with that.
Our generous corkage fee helps us to employ the many sommeliers who work here at Restaurant Gougé. Many have initials after their name, like M.S., or C.S.W. or LOL. These men and women work for virtually nothing so that one day they'll be able to add Restaurant Gougé to their résumé. It’s really cool. We get to pay salaries far below industry standard just because we’re such a famous restaurant and these clowns hope our misplaced good fortune will rub off on them. We’re proud to be known as the industry’s premiere Sweat Shop of Sommeliers, and your generous corkage fee contributions go a long way to sustaining this indispensable form of sommelier slavery. When you pay the corkage fee at Restaurant Gougé, you can sleep peacefully knowing that somewhere a sommelier is being vastly underpaid thanks to your reverence for our dining establishment. Surely, there is no way to measure in dollars what that’s worth. At Restaurant Gougé, we solemnly promise that not one single penny of your $150 corkage fee will see the inside of a sommelier’s pocket! It goes straight to our bottom line with no regard for the folks serving you, just as it should. You have our word.
There are enormous costs involved in having a great wine list. When you are widely acknowledged as one of the great dining establishments in the world, you simply cannot serve pedestrian wines. Not unless you’ve gone to the trouble to find them encased in bottles with very fancy and famous labels. At Restaurant Gougé, we promise that every great bottle of wine on the list is authentic enough to fool any auction house expert regardless of what’s actually inside it. Can you say that about your own wines, even the ones you bought at some shady New York auction house? And even if you don’t care about that, what about us? We’re running an upscale restaurant, world famous, patronized by some of the biggest food and wine fame fuckers you could ever imagine, do you think we can afford to have those bozos see us opening your lame old bottle of Sterling Cabernet and setting on the table?! Are you nuts? Might as well just fart the opening eight bars of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
There are some restaurants that will list all the expenses involved in running a great wine program—the cost of storage, the ridiculously costly inventory, the expensive stemware, the salaries of the sommeliers—and say those costs justify their exorbitant corkage fee, but that’s just a smoke screen. It’s like saying the food is expensive because we have to pay for all those goddamned plates we serve it on, and have you seen the cost of knives and forks! The Chinese are right! No, here at Restaurant Gougé we make no claims that our corkage fee is based on anything other than greed, vanity, and contempt--the very qualities that personify our best, most regular clients. Sure, we could charge a lot less than $150 to open your wine, but what sense does that make? You didn’t make a reservation with us to get a bargain! You dine with us for the ambience, for the experience, for the bragging rights. The big dinner tab at the end of the meal is critical to your enjoyment, and you know it. Tacking on a mere $25 is a slap in the face, and that’s not how we treat our clients. We respect you, and your ability to cough up $125 for the privilege of having our sommelier turn up his nose at your measly little wine. We wouldn’t have it any other way. Your needs always come first at Restaurant Gougé.
If you are mortally offended by restaurant corkage fees, we encourage you to vote with your wallet. Sadly, those of you who complain about our $150 corkage policy have little girls’ wallets and no one here gives a tasty Samoa’s sphincter how you vote. There are countless restaurants with countless corkage policies, but they’re not Restaurant Gougé. Go ahead, write a scathing review about us on Yelp. OOOH, we’re shaking. Yelp is just pinheads talking to other pinheads, a carnival sideshow of sadly deformed humans making a public spectacle of themselves. We’re Restaurant Gougé, we’re review proof now. The more the little people complain, the more the 1% want to be here, away from your lousy table manners and sentimental cheapass celebratory bottles. They don’t want to see you dining in their restaurant, they want to see you busing the tables, washing the dishes, and carefully fetching their Teslas from the valet lot. So please gripe about our corkage policy, gripe as often as you like. It’s exactly what we want.
We hope to see you soon at Restaurant Gougé! Remember, we're not happy unless you're not happy!
Thursday, March 9, 2017
I wish I had more time to devote to HoseMaster of Wine™. Writing is hard work, and best avoided. My desk has a pile of ideas, tasting notes, business cards, clippings—some from newspapers, most from toes—and various and sundry experiments in contamination. I publish nonsense and tomfoolery on Mondays, but now and then I want to write about the rest of my life in wine, if only to keep a record for myself. I don’t know about you, but I find me fascinating. When people tell me to go fuck myself, I actually consider it. This happens a lot. If you don’t find me interesting at all, it’s not too late to leave. Maybe I’ll see you Monday.
I’m something of an idiot. I don’t solicit wine samples, or publish my address so that marketing geniuses can send me wine. Of course, I’ve heard many marketing types say they’d never send the HoseMaster wine. Cowards. Yet every now and then someone will contact me and offer to send me their latest releases. I don’t always write about the wines I receive (it isn’t very many or very often), but not because I don’t want to. It’s a combination of laziness and time. I need more time to be lazy. I’m going to try to correct that, starting with a couple of wines I received from a winery I was unfamiliar with, Gamling & McDuck. Yeah, that’s the name. Kinda rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it? Like George W. Bush saying, “Nukular.”
“Gamling” is Gabrielle Shaffer. Adam McClary is “McDuck." Not to be confused with “MacDuck,” my favorite play by Shakespeare. (Classic line: “Something wicked this way waddles.”) I don’t know Gabrielle or Adam, but they sent me a bottle of Chenin Blanc and a bottle of Cabernet Franc—and a comic book. The comic book is cool. Adam has some comic book chops, and in this era of graphic novels, it’s a nice piece of work. It talks about their courtship, as well as vineyard sources, winemaking techniques and inspirations (Nicolas Joly, for example, a definite McDuck of a different cloaca). You have to admire the sense of play in these two winemakers. One of the things I like about the younger winemakers I meet today is that many of them, especially those with their own brands, refuse to take themselves too seriously. A few fall in love with their own press, but not that many.
But let’s talk about the wines. The 2015 Gamling & McDuck Chenin Blanc Mangel’s Ranch Suisun Valley is delicious. It’s obvious these two love the wines of the Loire Valley. This wine reminded me of a Francois Chidaine Chenin Blanc, a Montluis-sur-Loire maybe. They might have been going for a Nicolas Joly Savennières, I don’t know, but this ain’t that. It’s gorgeous, though. I love that Chenin Blanc is finding a place in the heart of young sommeliers. And there are some fantastic California Chenin Blancs being produced by the likes of Sandlands, Leo Steen, and Habit. The Gamling & McDuck belongs in their company. The Gamling & McDuck Chenin Blanc has wonderful, deep, rich fruit that’s right in the Chenin Blanc wheelhouse. I thought of baked apple, lemon curd, a ripe peach… There’s a very sure hand behind this wine. And it finishes with a sea breeze kind of saltiness that's breathtaking. All this for $26. I couldn’t stop drinking this. Buy some Suisuner rather than Luhlater.
Gabe (may I call you Gabe?) and Adam also sent along a bottle of 2014 Cabernet Franc from Pickberry Vineyard on Sonoma Mountain, a vineyard made famous by Ravenswood. I had mixed feelings about the Cab Franc. It felt like a wine trying too hard to be a Loire Cab Franc while wrestling with its California ripeness. It’s very intense. It has great energy to it, but it never stopped feeling clunky to me. Whatever sensuality Cabernet Franc might have, and I always think of good Cab Franc as being rather seductive and sensual, seemed to be hidden behind the density of the wine. OK, so you’re wearing lingerie, but it’s under a heavy coat. (A look only a few of us can carry off.) I will say that as the wine unbuttoned it became more sensual and inviting, it flashed me some greatness, and I liked it with the herb roasted chicken I was eating as I tasted it. It’s a wine that’s on the savory, meaty, earthy spectrum rather than on the overtly fruity spectrum, which is a plus in my Franc book. So where does that leave us? The same mixed feelings I began with. It’s very well-made wine, I feel completely comfortable recommending it to Cab Franc lovers, $36 is a more than fair price, and it may blossom into greatness one day and make me look stupid. I think it’s worth a shot for the Cab Francophiles out there, and I think that Gamling & McDuck is a brand that deserves your attention and support.
I’d drink their Chenins any time. www.gamlingandmcduck.com
I met a very knowledgeable wine friend for dinner last week at Farmstead Restaurant in St. Helena. We always bring wine to share. She brought an absolutely fantastic sparkling wine from New Zealand, Quartz Reef NV Brut. Wow. You can’t get it in the US, I believe she told me they only produce about 400 bottles, but it was thrilling. I brought a Premier Cru Chablis that was outstanding, and I also brought a South African Tinta Barroca made by Sadie Family Wines in Swartland. I wonder if they have Swartphones there. No matter. The Tinta Barroca was buried beneath Brett. It smelled like a really fat guy wearing leather pants and no underwear who's been sitting on a Naugahyde couch watching porn. So, your uncle Larry. It was undrinkable.
The Tinta Barroca received 95 points from Neal Martin in The Wine Advocate. Not why I bought it, but notable. Now, it may have had an acceptable level of Brett when he reviewed it (if you believe, as I do, that there is an acceptable level of Brett). If Sadie Family Wines didn’t filter the wine, and I suspect they didn’t, it’s the only explanation that makes sense, then the Brett, over time, would get worse and worse. That's almost certainly what happened.
Here’s what I’m wondering. Why is it that if the wine had been corked I easily would have been able to return it to the shop where I bought it, but when it’s covered in Brettanomyces, I probably couldn’t have? That seems backward to me. The winery isn’t really responsible for corkiness—the cork producer is. The winery is absolutely responsible for Brett contamination. It’s very simple to get a wine tested for the presence of Brett before you decide to bottle it unfiltered. It’s irresponsible not to, really. Giving Neal Martin the benefit of the doubt (and he clearly likes Brett), this might have been a 95 point wine when he tasted it. Now, let’s say on the basis of that score you buy a case. Years later, when you begin to open those bottles, you find a nasty, chemical soup that smells like NFL lineman butt. Whose fault is that? And isn’t that every bit the waste of a good wine a corked bottle represents? Wineries kill themselves trying to prevent TCA. What about Brett bombs?
So corked, and I get a refund or a replacement bottle (I wouldn’t want a replacement for a Bretty bottle). Incompetent and negligent winemaking? Eat shit. I never thought I’d say this, but, damn, I wish the bottle had been corked.
Monday, March 6, 2017
Solid evidence has been slow in coming, but there is little doubt that over the past decade the Russian government, under the direction of Vladimir Putin, has been tampering with the wine business. The tampering has taken many different forms, but it all seems aimed at destabilizing the credibility of the wine business itself—not such a difficult task given the unstable nature of its most famous figures. No one is quite certain what Putin’s motivation might be other than he’s just a meddling, power-hungry dictator, which makes it rather astonishing he failed his recent Master of Wine practical exam.
I'm sort of the Seymour Hersh of wine bloggers, if you don't consider research and credible evidence a must. And who does nowadays? I've published a blockbuster report over at Tim Atkin's amazing site detailing the Russian plot to destroy the wine business. It's both shocking and awing, and it's free as soon as you make the jump. As always, feel free to leave your witty remarks on Tim's site, or leave them here, along with a bit of Putin's traditional radiation poisoning.
TIM ATKIN MW
Monday, February 27, 2017
ACTS 1-6 ARE HERE
Things are getting messy in Hell. The Bartender has just shot Suckling, who was threatening to stab Matt Kramer with a broken piece of Riedel (“Riedel—The Official Stemware of Eternal Damnation”®)—broken pieces of which are about as hard to find as insect parts in your breakfast cereal. This begs the question, can you kill someone who is already confined to Hell? Antonio Galloni tried to exit the Hell that is a Natural Wine bar in Lodi only to find that there is no escape—there never is from our own private Hell, is there? Laube hasn’t moved from his stool at the bar much. Alice Feiring seems either repulsed, or slightly aroused, by the senseless shooting of Suckling. OK, by the shooting of Suckling. Matt Kramer seems to be in a state of shock, while Parker seems bemused. The Stranger is looking at the Tarot Cards on the table in front of him and nodding in affirmation.
Galloni: (to the Bartender) Shoot me next! I want out of here.
(The Bartender casually replaces the gun beneath the bar and goes back to washing wine glasses. Suckling hasn’t moved. There is little concern.)
Laube: (wearily, and angrily, he rises from his bar stool and begins to speak, suddenly articulate) That sucking Fuckling tried to kill Kramer. What the hell? What’s the point of trying to kill Kramer, except that everyone hates him? We write about wine. All of us here. We just write about wine. We don’t do anything important. Nothing we write is important. We’re among the least important people in the universe. Not one of us has any real talent. We deal in adjectives. We sell myths. We put countless wines in our mouths and assign them arbitrary numbers. There’s no talent there. A good waiter in a good restaurant has more importance to wine than we do. We each chased our selfish little fixation on wine, our fascination with the romance of wine, our devotion to overindulgence in wine, and we stumbled into careers handing out recycled advice and completely worthless numbers. We think we’re important. Now we’re in this wine writers’ Hell. Trying to be the most important of the inarguably unimportant. We’re small people.
(Laube pauses. He takes a deep breath and gazes down at the motionless Suckling. The other writers are silent, dumbstruck at the suddenly loquacious Laube.)
We sell bullshit! We write countless articles and stacks of books that talk about the importance of wine, the beauty of wine, the almighty wonder of wine… And it’s all bullshit. In the next breath we lump all those wonders into lovely little bunches of scores. Ten thousand wines that are all 89s. Another ten thousand that are 90s. We take all that is beautiful and wondrous about wine and we reduce it to two digits. But it’s not the scores that are bullshit. No. The scores are right. Everybody thinks the 100 point scale is a joke, that the 100 point scale is the problem. The 100 point scale isn’t the joke. Most of what you need to know about 99% of the wines in the world is a number. 85. 88. 93. That’s all anyone needs to know. The joke is that we make a living saying the same old bullshit about wine that has been said for two hundred years. The joke is that we go from region to region, variety to variety, winemaker to winemaker, and, like yeast excrete alcohol, we excrete bullshit. Utter, complete, unmitigated, relentless, tireless, certified bullshit!
Every new wine we discover, every new region we discover, every new variety we discover, we write about in the same breathless, authoritative, and completely disingenuous double-talk. Terroir, biodynamics, natural wine, minimal intervention, authentic wine—it’s just crap. It’s shit we’re making up, shit we’ve agreed to promote, a sort of vinous mysticism that intends to befuddle, and intends to make ourselves seem wise. We can’t prove any of it. We can’t explain with any degree of accuracy what the fuck we’re talking about. But we have to say something. The numbers, which are what really express the value of the wine, aren’t enough. Not enough to justify our prestige and presence, our salaries, the fancy letters after our names, anyway. We’re wine writers, goddamit, not wine statisticians, we need to write.
Only, maybe we are wine statisticians. We crunch our imaginary numbers and try to make sense of them. The problem is, when you crunch numbers that have no actual relationship to wine, you get results that have no relationship to wine. So we make up stories, we sell marketing untruths, we spend our time selling ourselves in the guise of educating the public. Or we spread history on top of our work as a kind of horse manure, as though history is what makes wine great, or that history will make us seem more intelligent. But what we’re doing is selling bullshit. We’re bullshit salesmen. And now we’re all here in Hell because, finally, we got caught with our foot in the door.
(From the floor, Suckling does a sarcastic slow clap. Laube walks back to the bar and unceremoniously tosses back a full glass of the house red wine in Hell—Lodi Zin.)
Suckling: Hell is a place where Laube holds forth. God knows, he’s never been anywhere near first.
(Alice rushes over to Suckling.)
Alice: James! You’re alive! We thought you were dead. Which gave us great hope.
Stranger: Alive? Dead? What’s the difference, Alice? There’s no difference here. There’s no difference anywhere. Life and Death are just two sides of the same coin, like natural wine and every other wine. Grapes no longer have life after you make them into wine, Alice. And yet you ascribe “life” to the wines they produce. You ascribe “energy,” and “authenticity” to them. So where’s the line? Is it just your line? Are you the one who decides what “alive” means? If a woman who practices a healthy lifestyle gives birth to a child, is that child better, more valuable, more important than a child of a woman who isn’t completely natural? Is her son fake, less interesting, less authentic? Is nature that simple? Is wine that simple?
Alice: (under her breath) I hate this fucking place.
Stranger: Oh, Miss Feiring, the fun is only starting. (He looks down at his Tarot cards.) Here, look at the cards. (Alice gazes over the Stranger’s shoulders). More visitors are coming. Wait, are they visitors or permanent customers? Hard to tell from the cards. Are you a visitor? Or have you found your eternal residence? (He laughs.) And, look. Here, these cards. Do you know what these mean?
Stranger: 2017 is going to be the vintage of the century in Bordeaux.
Thursday, February 23, 2017
I seem to have collected a whole bunch of random thoughts, reviews and news. The HoseMaster of Wine™ Universe is a busy place, though, like all universes, it mostly consists of inconceivable emptiness. How I wish there were more black holes, but that’s another post altogether. Here then, in no particular order, are many of the thoughts and reviews and news I feel the need to get off my 98-lb-weakling chest.
In the March issue of Wine Enthusiast, on newsstands now, inexplicably, I wrote the piece for the last page of the magazine called “Last Drop.” The lovely Lana Bortolot, whom I met at Meadowood last year, and who then went on to become a Senior Editor at WE, commissioned the piece, and I’m very grateful. Since I first began writing humor, I always wanted to be published in either The New Yorker or Wine Enthusiast. Suck it, New Yorker! I love you, Lana!
I happened to check my stats last Sunday and noticed that I had passed the 2,000,000 page views mark. I have no idea what that measures, but it looked cool. Sort of like those McDonald’s hamburger signs, “Over 50 gazillion served.” You know that at least half of those were actually eaten. I’m very technignorant, but I do know that many of those two million hits were generated by Google’s search engines, spammers, and people to whom I owe money. Still, I’m grateful for whatever success and fame I’ve accumulated here. In many ways, HoseMaster of Wine™ has become one of the most rewarding activities I’ve ever engaged in, and that includes becoming Yelp’s “Biggest Butthole of the Year,” which is a very tough competition. Without the constant attention, I wouldn’t keep doing this crap. Thank you, truly and sincerely, all of you who check in here now and then and laugh at my hijinks. I am in your debt. Keep those cards and letters coming!
I read two wine books last month that impressed me, and I wanted to recommend them to you. I had considered writing full reviews of the books, but I went back and read my review of Kelli White’s wonderful “Napa Valley Then and Now” and I realized I just stink at book reviewing. I wanted to write a parody of myself. But that’s what I do every week, I guess.
I was browsing in my local book store right before Christmas and picked out a book from the Wine section called “Neuroenology: How the Brain Creates the Taste of Wine” by Gordon M. Shepherd, a professor of neuroscience at the Yale School of Medicine—which is like having a CSW, only not as prestigious, obviously, because there are no letters after his name. Frankly, I learned more from the 200 pages of this book than I’ve learned from any other wine book I can remember over the past decade or so. If your career is about tasting wine, you’d be an idiot not to read it, and I don’t care how many letters are after your name. The title tells you what it’s about, but I guarantee you that if you read this book it will change the way you think about tasting wine, and change the way you taste wine professionally. Shepherd is hardly a compelling science writer, he’s no Stephen Jay Gould, but he writes about a complex subject in a clear and precise style. I thought I knew how the senses of taste and smell work, but “Neuroenology” made me feel like Donald Trump at a Mensa meeting. Shepherd clearly knows the subject. Wine, well, he clearly likes it, but doesn’t quite get it, but that’s not the point of his book. His passages about Memory and Wine, about how your brain processes smell, about how the way you smell a wine to some degree dictates your impression of it (the length of time you sniff, deeply or quickly, changes things), his chapter on how much and how subconsciously seeing the wine alters our perceptions, the insightful things he points out about tasting notes—I’ve never encountered another book as authoritative and useful on such an often overlooked subject in the wine writing world. And there’s a lot more wonderful information in the book than that. It’s the coolest wine book I’ve come across in a long time.
I’ve known Patrick J. Comiskey for a long time. I finally got around to reading “American Rhône,” Comiskey’s history of the Rhône varieties in California. The subject might not be fascinating to the every day wine lover, but Comiskey is a very talented writer, with, to paraphrase J.B.S. Haldane, an inordinate fondness for “peripatetic.” His verbal portraits of the characters who became part of the original Rhône Rangers (which I always thought was a typically Grahmesque pun, but turns out to have been coined by Steve Edmunds) are so perfect and precisely observed that I found myself eager to see what Comiskey had to say about all of these famous California wine figures, most of whom I have encountered in my wine career. He nails them, one long home run after another. If you’re one of those folks who thinks this isn’t an interesting subject for a book, you should reconsider. Comiskey is such an engaging writer, he could probably make even Oregon Pinot Gris interesting. I said, “probably.” His essays on the different Rhône varieties are very good, and would be useful for anyone who isn’t versed on these wonderful grapes. It’s as well-researched a book as I’ve come across in a while—the wine book world is awash in lazy writing, so it’s nice to read someone who cares about facts. Remember facts? I am so weary of reading fact-adjacent wine writing, writing which is not only worthless and dishonest, but dull. Comiskey has a lively sense of the absurd, a journalist’s eye for the telling detail, and he knows how to tell a damn story. I lived through just about everything in this book, went to the first Rhône Rangers tasting, and many thereafter, have met most of the characters in the book, so I was sure I would be bored. Nope. This is wine journalism at its best, which is not meant as faint praise, but the way things are going, it just might be. Support one of the wine journalists who actually lives up to the name, and buy Comiskey’s book. It’s terrific.
There’s a restaurant in my home town of Healdsburg, named Bravas, that features Spanish tapas. I go there fairly often. The food is consistently good, it has wonderful ambience, and a decent selection of Spanish wines. But the idiots who own it think that it’s part of the Spanish restaurant experience to use water glasses, you know, flat-bottomed, cylindrical glasses, in place of wine glasses. If you ask for a “regular” wine glass, they don’t have them. You know why they don’t have them? Because every single wine lover who eats there would ask for them because drinking wine out of a water glass is insulting to the wine, insulting to the customer, and completely disregards the basic purpose of a wine glass, which is to focus the aromas towards your nose. Maybe my Rolls Royce isn't authentic because the steering wheel isn't on the right-hand side--that's how they are in England, after all. I'm too ashamed now to drive it. I feel more authentic in my Prius. Because I'm also a hybrid.
I hate faux Spanish restaurants and faux Italian restaurants that pretend the only wine glass you ever get in Spain or Italy is shaped like a water glass. And for a restaurant to use them in the heart of wine country is unforgivable. I don’t want to order a really nice Rioja and drink it from your cheap, crappy, inappropriate water glass. And I don’t want to be made to feel like a pretentious jerk by bringing in my own wine glasses. Your customers, Bravas, are more important than your attempt at authenticity at your Disneyesque Spanish joint. Why not make the waiters speak Spanish? That’s more authentic for a restaurant in Spain than water glasses for wine. You own five (or is it six?) other restaurants with actual wine glasses. What is your fucking problem with wine glasses at your fake Spanish place? Get some. Put water in the water glasses. Lastly, don’t buy Riedel or Spiegelau. Thank you.
Monday, February 20, 2017
“I remember when the ’45 Bordeaux were first on the market,” 95-year-old wine critic Sam Euthanasia tells me, “the tannins were harder than Rubik’s Cube for the color blind. I said then, and I’ll say it now, those wines will never be drinkable. I had the ’45 Mouton just the other day. Tasted like goddam Polident. It stained my teeth, which weren’t even in my mouth at the time.”
If your business is the business of wine, then you know Sam Euthanasia. He’s been the most powerful wine critic in America, and the world, since 1952, and shows no signs of slowing down. A favorable score from Euthanasia means certain success for any new winery, while a scathing review can doom even the most famous. “I fart and they add more sulphur,” he has famously said. During my interview, he demonstrated. “What does that remind you of?” he asked, “Yellow Tail Shiraz?” Indeed.
Though there have been questions about Euthanasia’s faculties, he says any fears are unfounded. “95 is the new 70—just like wine ratings!” In a recent issue of his influential publication “The Wine Euthanist,” Euthanasia rated nearly 75 Napa Valley Cabernets 100 points. “What can I tell you,” Sam said to me, “it’s the greatest vintage of my life. You can’t be scared to give 100 points to a wine. I don’t care what anyone says, wine critics today are pussies. Afraid to give 100 point scores, like that devalues ratings. Imbeciles. When I was a young wine critic, wines pretty much sucked. They had more faults than the Trump Cabinet only they didn’t make you want to hurl. Or move to a real democracy, like Myanmar. Now I taste a vintage like 2013 in Napa Valley, and, hell, the wines all taste great. They all taste the same, but they all taste great. What’s a hundred points, anyway? It doesn’t mean a wine is perfect. I don’t know where people get that idea. Honestly, 100 points just means I don’t give a fuck what you think.”
The internet has revolutionized the business of selling wine. Where once it was only Sam Euthanasia’s opinions that mattered, now there are endless resources and ratings for consumers to consider. And there are a lot of surveys that conclude that Millennials no longer look to the elderly for their wine buying advice, they look to their peers. “Hell,” Euthanasia rants, “I don’t care about internet surveys. There are surveys on the internet that prove monkeys masturbate more than winemakers, and nobody believes that. If Millennials want to ignore the 65 years of experience that I bring to the spit bucket, that’s just fine and dandy. I don’t need them. I’ve got 50,000 subscribers to my website! Though, I have to admit, their average age is the Jurassic. Only dinosaurs care what I think. But that’s the wine business. We like our wines young, and our critics old. I think of myself as an aged Claret. More often than not, I suck. But there are no refunds.”
Euthanasia’s enduring power and influence baffle his fellow wine critics. “I wish he’d die already,” James Laube told me. I think he was talking about Euthanasia, but, hell, now that I think about it, maybe not. His head was down on the bar and I may have misunderstood. Robert Parker told me, “Sam is a powerhouse. Amazing. And to think he’s doing all that on his fifth set of kidneys, well, I stand in awe. His doctor told me his liver is the size of an iguana. When he dies, his tongue is going to the Smithsonian, right next to Monica Lewinski’s and Nixon’s forked one.” Hugh Johnson simply told me, “Sam’s taste buds died in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.”
Sam doesn’t think much of today’s wine critics. “Most of them, they don’t even taste blind. They sort of imply they do, but they don’t. I taste blind. I can’t see a fucking thing. And I taste deaf, too. I can’t even tell if it’s a cork or a screwcap. And I’ve been tasting out of the same wine glass for forty years! So you know it’s not Riedel. That crap is more brittle than my hips. Oh, that reminds me, I need to wash my glass this month.”
“There are no real wine critics today,” asserts Euthanasia. “They’re all phonies. They have agendas. They don’t rate wines for the common person. They try to taste everything, they try to rate every wine available, but spend more time on the wines from their advertisers. It’s all a game to them. Slick lifestyle crap. Wine as a fashion accessory. ‘Look, a bottle of Harlan Estate makes your balls look bigger.’ The only balls I care about anymore are the tennis balls on the tip of my walker.”
If you really want to get Euthanasia wound up, all you have to do is ask him about whether or not he is losing his senses of smell and taste. Most experts agree that by the age of 70, smell and taste have significantly degraded. What must they be like at 95? Wouldn’t the biggest, sweetest, most intense wines get the highest scores? Just like the volume on Euthanasia’s television is perpetually set at “Heavy Metal?”
“Why are you asking me?” he rants. “All the other damned bigshot critics are nearly as old as I am. Parker, Laube, Steiman, Jancis, Olken—they’re old enough to be my kids. Nobody asks them about how degraded their olfactory bulbs are. Trust me, their warranties ran out years ago. They’re NOT running on fumes. And so you know, I had a new olfactory bulb implanted. It’s state of the art. It’s an LED olfactory bulb. Uses a lot less energy.
“And, besides, I don’t need to be able to smell and taste that well to accurately review a wine. In fact, it’s a huge advantage to have a poor sense of smell and taste when you’re judging wine. It really helps when you review natural wines. Oh my God, does it help. People think it’s hard to review wines. It’s not hard to review wines! Every jackass with a smartphone is reviewing wines now. ‘Wow, look at me, I have 3000 reviews on CellarTracker!’ That doesn’t make you a wine critic. That makes you a pretentious prick. Which is the first step to being a wine critic, but only the first step.
“Everybody thinks I should retire just because I’m old and think my house doesn’t smell like cats. I only have nine, how much can they smell? A great wine critic doesn’t need his full set of senses. Three out of five is plenty. It’s experience that matters, not performance. Which is what old guys always say. I’ve gone beyond judging wines for subtlety and nuance. Honestly, I judge them now for revenge.”
Monday, February 13, 2017
Hi, I’m Madeline Puckette, co-creator of “Wine Folly”—I’m the Folly part. I’m honored to be here as one of the faculty members for the Napa Valley Wine Writers’ Symposium, which is a dream come true for me. I’m at Meadowood with some of the best writers about wine that are still alive, and Evan Goldstein! I’m going to teach you how to become successful in the world of wine writing. It’s much easier than you think! Most of you probably believe you have to know something about wine and that you have to be a writer to be successful as a wine writer. Oh, that’s just silly. You don’t need to know about cows and be a boxer to be a really great bullfighter! I’m living proof you don’t need either qualification to be a wine writer.
The secret is that you just make things SIMPLE! Here’s the problem with so many wine blogs and wine books. There are just too many facts in them. I don’t bother with facts. Well, not fact facts. And the fact-adjacent facts I write, I use very infrequently. I mean, most of the people who read my blog and buy my books are not like this fancy-schmancy Symposium. They don’t have faculties. You can bet on that. So you can count every wine fact from the past two years of my blog, and it’s not even as many as there are in two pages of “The Wine Bible!” And whose book is #1 on Amazon? Not that wacky redhead’s! See what I’m sayin’? There’s no demand for facts in the wine world. Doesn’t that just make you happy?
Let me give you an example. I wrote a piece recently about Napa Valley, where we are right now! Isn’t this place just amazing? Did you know that Napa Valley produces some of the best Cabernet in the whole world? You would if you’d read my blog. Here’s the opening paragraph of my recent post about this wonderful Napa Valley.
“Had it not been for the overambitious visions of just a few individuals, Napa Valley might have never become one of the most important wine regions in the world. When Napa Valley was only just getting started, America’s passion for Bordeaux wines was feverishly high, so much so that even the first lady at the time, Jackie O., was known to sip Château Haut-Brion Blanc in the White House. Napa’s vintners no doubt observed Bordeaux’s success and looked to the region for inspiration.”
So see what I did there? 84 words in search of a single fact! This is the new model for successful wine writing. You only have to be truth-adjacent and fake-confident. Now, truth-adjacent is not like alternate truth, not at all. Alternate truth is when I say I’m a sommelier. I’m not a sommelier, but if I say it often enough, now it’s alternate truth! Truth-adjacent is saying “When Napa Valley was only just getting started…the first lady at the time, Jackie O….” Isn’t it funny how she was Jacqueline Kennedy when she was in the White House, but I called her Jackie O.? See? Truth-adjacent! But what’s really cool is how I sort of made up that Napa Valley was just getting started in 1962 when Jackie O. was in the White House, like a year before her husband Aristotle was assassinated by some gassy troll named Lee Harvey Weinstein. This 1962 fact-adjacent will be news to a lot of people at BV and Stony Hill and Louis Martini! But it just doesn’t matter. Facts are so last Millennium. And truth died with the birth of the Internet.
There I did it again! Truth didn’t die with the birth of the Internet. But I wrote it anyway. It’s not true any more than “Napa’s vintners no doubt observed Bordeaux’s success and looked to the region for inspiration.” I just put the “no doubt” in there because that makes it sound truer! Writing is so easy! Every paragraph I write is like this. I just think things in my head that sort of make sense and I write them down. If our great President had a wine blog, it would be just like mine. Only he doesn’t drink, and I drink a lot. But that wouldn’t matter! I mean, look, you can appeal to people who care about truth and insight, or you can sell yourself as a troubled high school kid to the lowest common denominator. Guess who wins?
Maybe the best thing you can do for yourself as a wine writer is to say that you write for beginners. Here’s a fun fact. Consider this. Beginners never catch your mistakes! And, you don’t have to do a lot of research, or really understand much about your subject, because, if you did, you might end up talking over their heads! How condescending is that? On “Wine Folly,” I never talk over anybody’s head. I just figure, hey, they’re here at my blog to read about Napa Valley Cabernet, how smart can they be? Learning about wine from “Wine Folly” is like learning about music from an organ grinder’s monkey. You hear the same crappy song over and over, and all I want is for you to put some money in my little outstretched hand.
You want to be like me and be a really successful wine writer? OK, it’s easier than you think, and here it is, broken down into three easy suggestions, just like I do it on my wildly famous wine blog!
1. Dumb it down!
Studies have no doubt shown that wine lovers don’t like too many facts, and the ones they like don’t have to be true. Make it simple. Say, “Oak is like a seasoning.” Most people know what a seasoning is. Oak is a tree. Poison oak goes really well with tomato juice.
2. You only have to be fact-adjacent!
Here’s the best thing about wine. It’s so subjective. Subjective means there are no facts. Even when there might be, it’s not your problem. There are already a lot of books with facts in them, anyway. They don’t sell. Use your creativity. How about, “Wine is at the highest point it’s ever been in the past 47 years.” There. That’s a fact. Make ‘em prove you’re wrong, but no doubt you’re not.
3. Everybody’s a beginner!
And it’s not your goal to improve their wine knowledge, because, first of all, you can’t. You just can’t. But armed with the truth-adjacent facts you give them, they’ll feel empowered. They can tell their friends, “Jackie O. no doubt inspired Napa Valley overly-ambitious people to make great Cabernet.” When their wine friends tell them they’re stupid, they can say they read it on “Wine Folly” and that certainly proves that.