Sunday, November 22, 2009
There are so many misconceptions about wine and the wine business, most of them fostered by the wine industry and designed to confuse consumers and wine novices. Someone needs to step up and reveal these myths, these falsehoods, these flatout Cheneys and Rumsfelds, these transparent Limbaughs. Or we'll all end up like Pinocchio with a giant nose boner. I guess the ol' HoseMaster has to do it.
Myth #1 Advertising affects wine ratings
Americans are a skeptical folk. We think wrestling is fixed. We think Florida elections are fixed. We think Madonna is fixed. No matter how much evidence to the contrary is presented, we simply believe the cynical thing to believe. Most people in the wine business are of the opinion that if you purchase a lot of full and half-page ads in publications like Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast and Wine and Spirits that that will buy you some points. Come on, people! This is lunacy. The reason these wineries can afford to buy advertising in these publications is because they make such amazing wines they are rolling in dough and they simply want to give back. They don't care about ratings! Ratings are stupid and don't sell wine anyway, why would they waste money in an attempt to get slightly higher scores? OK, Beringer is always in the top 20 wines every year in Wine Spectator, is that because they buy a lot of advertising? Don't be stupid! It's because, from a strictly objective point of view, they produce many of the greatest wines on the planet, and lots of it! And what better way to thank the wine world than to support its greatest magazine? That the advertising department of a wine publication reminds you that your wine is about to be reviewed right before they ask if you'd like to purchase some more ad space doesn't mean the two things are related. Look at it this way. If your lover is wondering what you're going to buy her for Christmas as she is undressing, you know the two things aren't related. Right?
Myth #2 Wine critics can actually smell everything they describe in any given wine.
There's a pretty simple mathematical way to understand how this works. Take the number of adjectives the critic uses--raspberries, green Gummy bears, pain grille, pommes frites, old Summer's Eve--subtract it from the numerical score, divide it by the alcohol content of the wine, subtract the case production, and if the result is less than zero he's making the shit up. Serious studies have shown that the human nose, and, for rhetorical sake, we'll assume the critic is human, can sense no more than four distinct aromas at a time. And, of course, one dog fart changes that equation to one--you know who you are, Mr. Bigshot. So a long list of descriptive adjectives is as much a fantasy as Gary Vaynerchuk getting an M.W.-- unless they award them in Bizarro world. So why do critics pretend to smell fourteen different things in a wine? Think of it in a "Where's Waldo?" way. Think of it as oneupmanship. Think of it as self-deception. Think of it as hubris. Think of it all you want, just don't believe it.
Myth #3 The best wines are unfiltered.
No, the best cigarettes are unfiltered. Wineries love to say that their wines are unfiltered, but, under oath, they might say otherwise. Unfiltered is used in the wine business the way "organic" is used by Safeway. Let's be generous and chalk it up to poetic license. Most of the wines are actually unfiltered-adjacent. Parker, and perhaps a few other lesser critics, lesser in girth anyway, popularized the notion that filtering a wine strips it of some flavor. This makes intuitive sense, but is sort of like saying straining your fish reduction after it's finished robs it of character. Yeah, OK, but it also takes all that floaty barf out of it. And twenty years down the road an unfiltered wine runs a genuine risk of developing all sorts of off-aromas--like barnyard and slaughterhouse and porn set aromas--so the trade-off, even if the unproven premise is true, ain't so bad. But as soon as Parker declared that filtering was evil, every pathetic winery started claiming their wines were unfiltered. It doesn't really matter. Is a great wine better because it's unfiltered? Is a stupid wine less stupid because it's unfiltered? Do wineries unfailingly tell you and Parker the truth. Yes, yes and yes. Suckers.
Myth #4 Marvin Shanken is a real person.
Most of you have seen the familiar picture of "Marvin Shanken," either holding a glass of wine in his stubby, sausage-shaped fingers or smoking some expensive turd. But it's common knowledge in the wine business that "Marvin Shanken" is an imaginary person, a corporate icon that does not really exist. Like Aunt Jemima or Betty Crocker or Mr. Clean or George Steinbrenner. Wine Spectator has under contract four Marvin Shanken "ambassadors." These four guys, who are remarkably similar in build, appearance and smarminess, appear all over the world at wine events and pretend to be the publisher of Wine Spectator. Think of them as Budweiser Clydesdales--hard to tell them apart with a cursory glance--only not as well-groomed.
Two Marvins make a rare appearance together!
Wednesday, September 30, 2009
It's time once again to dispel some of the countless myths that surround wine. Creating these myths seems to be part of the game for wine experts, a way to keep ordinary people from understanding and enjoying wine. As HoseMaster, I have taken it upon myself to destroy these myths, reveal them for the hogwash they are. This is the third in my Myth series. You're welcome.
Myth #1 Drinking wine is healthy for you.
The Wine-Industrial Complex has been cooking up fake results for decades now that have convinced most people that drinking moderate amounts of wine is part of a healthy lifestyle. They often site the soothing effects of alcohol, how it relaxes you, relieves stress--sound familiar? The Tobacco-Agricultural Complex used to say the same things about cigarettes in the 50's. The folks who fell for it then, well, they're wishing they'd inhaled asbestos instead. And then there's all this talk about Resveratrol, a supposed antioxidant which was originally devised to add to Chevron's premium grade of gasoline. Whatever Resveratrol's done for mice, it turns out humans are basically unable to absorb it through the stomach. And, really, wine isn't particularly enjoyable as a suppository, though removing a screwtop that way is a wonderful party trick! And then there was the famous "60 Minutes" Wine-Industrial Complex fake segment hosted by Morley Safer (safer than what? Lead poisoning?) about the mythical "French paradox." A bogus study claimed that despite their rich and fatty diet, the French are less prone to heart disease than Americans because they consume more wine with their meals. Yeah, right. So now that the per capita consumption of wine has decreased in France does this mean they will start dying younger? Just more false hope. Drinking wine is not good for your health, friends, we all understand that deep down. Hey, they preserve dead stuff in alcohol--enough said.
High auction bidder with bottle of Screaming Eagle.
Myth #2 Food Wine
How many times have you been at a wine tasting and been told that the wine you were tasting is a "food wine?" Fifty times at least, right? Now how many times have you been in a restaurant and the waiter recommended a dish because it's "wine food?" Never. "Food wine" is a myth. Couldn't be more bogus. Sure, wine accompanies food like stupid accompanies Paula Abdul, but wines aren't MADE to go with food. Someone tells you a wine is a Food Wine, you know it's going to be a lifeless and dull bottle of wine, a wine that can't be sold on its own merits, so they want you to buy it because it will absolutely dazzle you with food! It sucks on its own, like Lionel Ritchie without the Commodores, but pair it with cassoulet and it's brilliant! Has any wine salesperson ever said to you, "You know, I love this wine but it absolutely sucks Sarah-Palin-style with food."? No. So apparently every damn wine is a Food Wine! This is just palin (I mean, plain) stupid. Makes you want to go out and buy a six-pack of Food Beer.
Myth #3 Wines taste better out of the appropriate Riedel glass.
Yeah, right, and I can steal your nose by wiggling my thumb through my fist. How dumb are humans that they believe this? Riedel is the Bernie Madoff of stemware. OK, that's not fair. Bernie Madoff is the Riedel of Wall Street Investors--OK, that's better. Riedel starts from a premise that their specialized glasses feed the wine to the appropriate spot on your tongue for maximum enjoyment of the wine based on the famous tongue map that has sweetness at the tip of your tongue, bitterness on the sides, etc. Only problem is that tongue map was disproven forty years ago. You might as well believe masturbating makes you go blind, which only makes you feel sorry for Guide Dogs. Your tongue doesn't just taste sweetness on the tip, there are no divisions of labor on the tongue, it tastes every one of the six basic tastes everywhere (including tasting umami--which sounds more like a ghetto epithet than a taste, but I digress). The whole Riedel premise is based on bogus science and the results are therefore bogus. But there's nothing like superstition for a license to print money.
Myth #4 Wine judges spit.
OK, they spit, they just don't spit wine. There's no reason to spit wine when one is judging a wine competition. Frankly, it's dirty and disgusting and the Health Department of most major cities won't allow it. Plus, organizers know that a lot more gold medals are awarded when the judges are stinko so they don't even allow spitbuckets. It doesn't take much to see that this is true. Read the results of wine competitions and then compare their results with the scores from major wine publications. There is virtually no correlation between gold medals and scores above 90 points. Why? All the critics and judges are hammered! Wine judges and wine critics are pissed almost all the time. Sure, they want you to believe that they taste the wines blind and sober, but, really, it doesn't matter if they see what the wine is that they're tasting, they're too drunk to read the label anyway. So how do judges stay conscious when tasting 100 wines or more in a day? An awful lot of wine comes out through their noses.
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
Time for another mythbusting edition of HoseMaster of Wine! In this occasional series (see "You're Mything the Point" from the June 15th edition) I debunk myths about wine and the wine business for your edification. No need to thank me. Just doing my job.
Myth #1 New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is made from grapes.
This is a common assumption with no basis in fact. Most of the world insists that "wine" be produced 100% from grapes, except in Austria where you're allowed to use petroleum byproducts. But New Zealand's climate is lousy for wine grapes, so their Sauvignon Blancs are actually fermented Tasmanian devil urine (which is also used for most Australian Chardonnay). Oh sure, there are vineyards in New Zealand, but they're just a front, sort of like how MacDonald's pretends their hamburgers are made from actual meat. The grapes never ripen in those vineyards, they're just for show. And, as it turns out, there are only two producers of "Sauvignon Blanc" in New Zealand and they produce all of the Taz Blanc for the couple hundred labels you see in wine shops. This is easy to confirm. Conduct a blind tasting of fifteen "different" New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs and try to tell them apart! You can't. Because they're all from the same marsupials!! New Zealand "Pinot Noir" is a different story--it's made from sheep dung.
Myth #2 Wine Tasting is Subjective.
I love this one. This is what wine experts say to people who don't know shit about wine in order to avoid making them feel like their opinions are stupid. But nothing could be further from the truth. Most people's opinions about wine are, in fact, stupid, and only made worse by the fact that they think they are entitled to their opinions. There aren't three correct answers to a question on your driving test, there aren't six answers to a geometry problem, and, really, there aren't any real disagreements about wines. We wine experts just say wine preference is personal taste all the time because it's way too much work to teach you ignoramuses about the fundamentals of wine. We know what wines are actually perfect, fantastic, amazing, and when some imbecile says something like "It's too bitey" we just say, "Well, everyone's different. Just drink what you like." Which is essentially our way of telling you, "You're stupider than a Tim Fish 'Wine Spectator' feature." Don't believe it for a minute. Every wine has an objective and iron-clad rating. You're just not privy to it.
Myth #3 Robert Parker is still alive.
Just as Scientologists, who just lost their great champion in Eunice Kennedy Shriver, still profess that L. Ron Hubbard is alive, Parkerbots claim that Robert Parker is still alive. It's not true. RP died in 2004 when a 100 pound scale fell on him. But his death was covered up, mainly by the French and Australians who knew their sales and prices would plummet without his inflated ratings to sell them. A Parker impersonator was hired, a man equally skilled in butchering the language, who attends charity tastings where he is provided with a script ghostwritten for him by Rod McKuen. Many in the business who are aware of Parker's demise worry what will become of the wine industry when consumers become aware that the great man is dead. Where will they turn for advice? How will wine shops sell wine without the "RP" POS signs? Will they have to resort to actually knowing the wines they sell? And how far will the price of Bordeaux fall without the Wine Pope's blessings? Will they become as unsellable as high-end Australian Shiraz, which even with Parker's wholehearted endorsement people recognize as Bardahl? Who will decide the next California cult wine? Steve Heimoff? James Laube? Alder Yarrow? A different undiscovered industry suckup? It's going to be scary.
The late Mr. Parker getting a snootful of a TCA.
Myth #4 Corked wines are faulty.
There are a couple of myths rolled up in this one. First of all, the idea that a "corked" wine is caused by contamination from the cork. This is a lie cooked up by the folks who make and advocate screwtops, and has no basis in fact. The off-aroma that is defined as "corked" is caused by a chemical compound known as TCA, which is short for Tightly Clenched Anus. It's a result of the bottle of wine having been stored too close to a septic tank. Aside from that, there are actually many wine connoisseurs who prefer corked wines and actively seek them out. They love the specific quality of a corked wine, that alluring aroma of wet blogger, and feel that the corked bottle is superior to the noncorked bottle. Most of the time it is hard to disagree with them.
Monday, June 15, 2009
Every blog and every wine rag at one time or another has done an article about wine myths. These articles are written for wine novices and usually contain the same four or five myths. These are the familiar, and frequently debunked, myths of breathing, and legs, and serving temperature and crap that only pinheads and Master Sommeliers don't know. Do a Google search, or maybe break your Bing cherry, of "wine myths" and you'll find hundreds of "original" columns that purport to enlighten your feeble wine mind, but which all say the same thing. When it comes down to it, the one gigantic wine myth is that there are any wine myths left at all.
However, there are a few myths that are rarely spoken about and may be unfamiliar to even the most rabid wine fanatic. These are the myths, the taboos, that HoseMaster of Wine is brave enough to expose.
Myth #1 Riesling is one of the greatest white wine grapes.
This is hooey on the face of it. No one really believes this. This is one of those things wine "experts" say to those less educated about wine, but that they say with a sidelong wink to other "experts." Kind of like setting up someone on a blind date with an ugly guy but swearing he's really attractive to most people. English wine writers beat this subject into the ground, apparently as an apology for defeating Germany in WWII. No one really pays much attention to Riesling. When's the last time a bottle of Riesling was in the Wine Spectator Top 10 Wines? When's the last time Robert Parker, and not one of his on-the-take flunkies, reviewed German Riesling? When's the last time you went into a great wine shop and the Rieslings were in a cabinet (OK, Kabinett) under lock and key? Myth exploded!!!
Myth #2 Robert Mondavi is dead.
Come on, the head of a large Italian family vanishes right after his winery goes belly up, his white elephant wine museum goes bankrupt, and some wiseguys are looking for money, and you think he's dead? Right about now he's starting up a new winery in Argentina with his new business partner Julia Child. They plan on specializing in Malbec, but are calling it Fume Rouge.
Myth #3 Wine ages better in magnums.
Where did this idea come from? I will admit it's great marketing. You sell two bottles at a time instead of one by convincing the suckers that over the long haul the wine will age better in a magnum. Sure. Just like all the guys over seven feet tall live to be a hundred. Hell, no. Those giants drop dead way before us normal size folks. Wine is the same way. Large formats are a death sentence. And, no, you can't go so far as to say that by that logic a .375ml should last even longer than a regular bottle. There ain't no old midgets either.
Vanessa Wong checking a puncheon of syrah at Peay Vineyards
Myth #4 Oak barrels are made from trees.
OK, they used to be made from oak trees twenty years ago. Now they're made from recycled tires. Every now and then, more often than you like certainly, you can stick your nose in a glass and get a great big whiff of a Goodyear or a vintage Firestone--think that's an accident or poor winemaking? Sure, the fancy wineries use old Pirelli or Michelin tires, but the effect is the same. I'm not complaining, mind you, I think recycling is a great idea, and most of the organic and Biodynamic wineries are proud of their recycled tire barrels. Just stop saying wines smell oaky. A lot of them really smell like skid marks...