Wednesday, July 3, 2019
Have you ever been at the zoo when the resident chimpanzees become excited? It’s an amazing cacophony of hooting, screaming, chest-beating, and teeth-baring aimed at displaying dominance and power in the troop. It’s very loud and very aggressive, and ultimately meaningless. It’s soon over, until the next moment someone rattles the cage.
A simple Darwinian analysis would conclude that chimpanzees are the inspiration and model for what has evolved into Twitter—a lot of hooting and chest-beating displays of dominance that amount to nothing. Though for the primates who live in the zoo, it certainly gives them something to do. Especially the bright orange orangutan who currently rules Twitter.
I, apparently, provoked the Twitterpated with a satiric piece I wrote for Tim Atkin’s wine website. It was a piece based on a simple premise. Robert Parker officially retired. It had been unofficial for some time, so the announcement wasn’t met with shock, but with countless, unfailingly dull, postmortems. The talentless rule the wine writing world these days, sad to say, and they were out in force. I wondered, as one does when one has a twisted comic mind, who might be positively happy to see Parker gone from the wine universe. Several names jumped to mind, but the one that resonated was Alice Feiring. After all, she wrote a book about saving the world from Parkerization, she made a career of insulting him and insisting he had ruined wine, why wouldn’t she be tickled that he was finally gone?
When I sat down to write the piece, another thought occurred to me. It’s an old comic and psychological trope: what we loathe is often what we secretly desire. From there, I had the beginnings of a piece. The rest came relatively easily.
Does satire have boundaries? That’s a question I’ve contemplated, and frequently been asked over the many years I’ve published HoseMaster of Wine™. Yet the answer is simple. No, satire does not have boundaries. Put any boundary in front of a satirist and his first move is to attempt to breach it. And, anyway, who would decide the boundaries? You? The great unwashed public? Me? And what sort of gerrymandering would go on? As it turns out, "Does satire have boundaries?" is a stupid question. Satire certainly needs boundaries, for without boundaries, the boundaries of good taste, the boundaries of fake morality, the boundaries of tradition and culture steeped in ignorance, satire would have no purpose and no comic effect. In essence, satire needs your boundaries.
Satire thrives in a free society, and is necessary to it. Satire is profane and tasteless, ribald and outrageous, fearless and uninhibited, angry and unapologetic. It is often said that satire’s job is to speak truth to power. I don’t see it that way. In my mind, satire’s aim is to take another person’s truths, or the truths of a group, and dismantle them comically. Hold those truths up for ridicule. The self-righteous hate to be mocked. They immediately play the victim, and profess indignant outrage that anyone could belittle them when they’re so clearly beyond reproach. This is absolute catnip for comedy writers.
Writing about the Supreme Court’s recent decision to strike down a law that banned foul language from trademarks, Justice Samuel Alito, with whom I almost never agree, wisely wrote, “Viewpoint discrimination is poison to a free society.” The more I think about that quote, the more I admire it.
I’ve never met Alice Feiring. As far as I know, I’ve never even been in the same city at the same time with Ms. Feiring. I don’t care even the least bit about her. Nor do I hate her. As I said, I don’t know her. Several well-meaning and well-known people wrote to me on her behalf after my recent piece about her. Each of them used the word “fragile” when describing her, as though she is a character in a Tennessee Williams play, a Folle Blanche DuBois.That’s rather sad, but it also implies, of course, that I shouldn’t lampoon her mercilessly. Which, to my mind, is profoundly sexist. I shouldn’t write about her because she’s a woman? Because as a woman, she’s “fragile?” I didn’t lampoon her because she’s a woman, her sex is unimportant to me. I lampooned her because she claims a moral high ground when it comes to wine, and I learned a long time ago that people claiming a moral high ground do so only to look down on the rest of us. You may think that’s fine, you may be one of her unquestioning sycophants, or you may be one of those Knights in Shining Armor who defends her with your imaginary honor, but I am not. My instinct is to take those folks on the moral high ground, no matter who they are, and bring them down to earth. Alice Feiring is hardly Rosa Parks or Desmond Tutu or Gandhi. She’s a wine writer. We all occupy one of the lower circles of Hell.
Feiring’s book about Parkerization is filled with sexual references and stories about ex-lovers. In my mind, that makes her sexuality fair game for a parody. In fact, it is fair game for parody. That I can mimic her writing voice effectively is testament to her gifts as a writer. She has a very strong literary voice. It’s damn near impossible to parody a lousy writer. It’s easy to parody a talented writer. They have style, they understand pace and tone, and they write stories in a distinctive way that is particular to them. After I skewered Terry Theise, he wrote me a very funny and gracious note about how painful it was to read himself being lampooned. I told him what I’ve written here about Feiring. It’s a tribute to his talent that he’s easy to parody.
So I wrote the piece. Tim Atkin MW foolishly published the piece. He can’t help it, he’s my most fervent and eloquent supporter, for which I’m very grateful. The Twitterchimps went berserk, or so I’m told. I didn’t read a single word written about me anywhere on social media. Well, to be more accurate, I didn’t read a single word written about the HoseMaster on social media. In truth, the piece was written by a fictional character, the HoseMaster of Wine™, who I created, about a fictional voice Alice Feiring created in her books. I didn’t “attack” Alice Feiring. The HoseMaster lampooned the Voice of Alice Feiring. That’s a big difference. Sadly, the moral police out there in the Twitterverse don’t care about subtlety or viewpoint. They care about hooting and screaming about their own self-righteous causes in an attempt to change the world to suit their liking. Like chimps everywhere, they do this by hurling their own feces at you. I don’t mind, I’ve thrown plenty of my own in my time. It’s all part of the fun.
I didn’t read or react to any of what was written about me because I know that if folks go to a lynching and there’s no body to tar and feather, they quickly lose interest. And if I’m the body, what the hell am I doing there? I heard about the fracas from friends. And as the Twitterchimps grew louder and did more teeth-baring, I began to receive a large volume of personal emails from people supporting me. All of them were from people famous in the wine business in their own right, and most of them were women. I know who I am. I do have boundaries as a satirist, personal boundaries that I would not impose on any other satirist. I go after everyone and anyone. I always have. I don’t see Alice Feiring as a fragile woman, and I didn’t treat her as such; I see her as a self-righteous, humorless blowhard claiming the moral high ground. Why wouldn’t I try to dismantle her truths?
When it comes to my work, I keep two lists in my head. One list is of those who like, perhaps even admire, my comedy and satire. The other list is of those who hate what I do. It matters to me who is on each list, it matters a great deal. We are judged by our enemies as often as we are judged by our friends. I’m quite proud of my list of admirers, but I am even prouder of my list of detractors. It’s a long list of some of the worst fools in the wine business. Were the two lists to switch places, I would be distraught.
One of my strongest assets as a satirist is my thick skin. I don’t care what anyone thinks of me, with a few exceptions. After the piece was posted, and before all the hooting and chest-beating, my wife came to me unsolicited to tell me she had loved the piece. She almost never does this. As it turns out, she’s a woman. She found the idea that it was sexist absurd. Hers is the only opinion I care about.
Thursday, June 6, 2019
I didn’t want to be the one to tell you, but come Wednesday, you’re history. I’m not trying to be funny. Word is you’re a goner, and there’s no reason to believe otherwise. On the bright side, pretty much everyone believes you have it coming, so it should be good news for most people. And you’re not that young, so there’s that. Now is the time for you to say your farewells, to get your affairs in order, and to Drink These Six Wines Before You Die on Wednesday.
Chateau Rayas 1990 Châteauneuf-du-Pape
You might have time to find a bottle of this legendary wine. I’m not sure how good it’s going to taste with that nasty pain medication you’ll be on, but what choice do you have? Everyone who ever rated this wine awarded it 100 points, so even with your dulled senses and unpredictable vomiting, it should be terrific! Notice the length of its finish. You should be so lucky.
Screaming Eagle 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon
All that fun money you’ve been rather foolishly saving (at least it’s foolish in hindsight now that you know Wednesday, and I mean early Wednesday, is your last day) will be well-spent on this legendary Napa Valley Cabernet. The ’02 Screaming Eagle is astonishing; notice the silkiness of the texture—a bit of foreshadowing for that coffin lining you’ll be feeling for eternity. Oh, that’s right, you’ve asked to be cremated. Smell that toasty oak!
Chave 1999 Hermitage
The ’99 Chave Hermitage, unlike you, has a long life ahead of it. When you get your hands on this wine, be sure to decant it for a day. So, by Tuesday. I still have a couple of bottles, and I’d invite you over to share, but I’m guessing the CDC won’t allow you out of quarantine with that virus you’re going to have. Turns out you’re going saignée style—bleeding from a lot of different pores. Your future, it turns out, is very rosé.
Jayer 1978 Richebourg
Most people don’t understand just how long Pinot Noir can live. They were wrong about you, too, of course, so it’s no big surprise. Everyone who loves wine should have the opportunity to spend a few hours with a Jayer Burgundy. You’ve got the chance now that you won’t need to make that next mortgage payment. What I love is that you’re using a Coravin to have only one glass. You’re hilarious!
Nicolas Joly 1996 Coulée de Serrant
Maybe if you’d spent your wine life drinking biodynamic wines, you wouldn’t be under this death sentence. You should have been more careful about what you put into your body. Beyond that, you should be ashamed of yourself, drinking all that industrial wine. You not only ruined your own life, you fucked with this planet we supposedly share—at least for a few more days. Is it any wonder we don’t really care you’re a dead man walking? Sure, what do you care now? Selfish prick. Maybe a taste of Joly’s wine will make you see how stupid you were, although, sure, we’re all going to die anyway. But if you’d drunk only wines made organically or biodynamically or naturally, those of us you’ve left behind may have had more respect for you, and you might have lived a lot longer. I think I say this on behalf of all the natural wine advocates, this is what they all really think of you, Fuck You, Industrial Wine Drinker, You Can't Die Soon Enough! You were a moron, anyway.
A Wine From Your Birth Year
Yeah, poetic. Hasta la vista, Baby.
Tuesday, May 28, 2019
|HoseMaster of Wine's™ Cabinet of Curiosities|
OK, sorry, all that preaching just to introduce the newest thing in the wine business that I, personally, am really excited about. Phrenology!
Rudolf Steiner? Aren’t we just a little sick of that wacky Austrian? Steiner didn’t even drink wine; though, when you think about it, that’s probably smart when your national variety is Grüner Veltliner. I’d rather stuff cowshit in horns, too. Steiner is out, my friends, and Franz Joseph Gall is in. Gall originated phrenology, so among people who make shit up, he has few peers. Phrenology was the 100 Point Scale of its day. Yet another triumph of subjectivity over objectivity. It seems right, so it must be right. Only recently have wine experts realized that you can’t even spell “phrenology” without “enology.” Oh, maybe those were spelling experts. Either way, I can’t think of more conclusive proof that it works.
After becoming certified biodynamic by the Demeter Association, vintner Gio Desic determined that, frankly, his wines weren’t that good. He had a fantastic vineyard in the best part of Fruili, so he knew it wasn’t the climate. He spared no expense on the finest barrels, even bringing in an albino to burn sage in every new barrel in order to rid the barrel of evil spirits, like bourbon, and provide much needed jobs for albinos. And then it hit him. His winemaker, Alberto V. Ofive, had a very unattractive and misshapen skull. Desic knew that the shape of a human’s head, in the hands of a trained phrenologist, reveals nearly everything about the person’s personality, her strengths and weaknesses, not to mention the shape of mom’s birth canal. Gio’s father had been a gondolier in a famous birth canal, so he was familiar with the concept.
Desic decided to hire world-renowned phrenologist Sarah Bellum to take the measure of Alberto V. Ofive’s skull. “Just as grapes need to show phenolic ripeness,” Bellum told Gio Desic, “so do humans need to show phrenolic ripeness.” It made inarguable sense.
Sarah Bellum spent hours taking measurements of Alberto V. Ofive’s head. Placing her calipers carefully and meticulously around the winemaker’s skull, she took notes on the various “Organs” on his skull, the bumps and depressions giving her insight into his suitability as a winemaker for biodynamic wines. A picture began to emerge.
“His Organ of Sustainability isn’t prominent enough,” she told Gio Desic. “And there’s a very large protrusion on his Organ of Davis, which indicates he’s read too many winemaking textbooks. There’s a significant bump on his Organ of Self-Esteem, but that’s very common in winemakers. And I was impressed with his engorged Organ of Chapoutier, but that’s another story.”
Gio Desic, after Sarah Bellum’s assessment, was forced to fire Alberto V. Ofive. As Bellum predicted when she gave the big thumbs up to his next hire, Angelina Joly, daughter of the famous proprietor of Coulée de Serrant and Jon Voight (long story), the wines at Gio Desic’s estate now garner scores in the high 90’s from every major wine critic, as well as Jeb Dunnuck.
Sarah Bellum is the first phrenologist to make her mark in the wine world, but she won’t be the last. Already, wine writers like Alice Feiring are praising her work. “Great wines are as much about the winemaker as they are about the climate and soil,” Feiring has said. “Genuine natural wines are made by winemakers with the right bumps on the right Organs of the Skull. Close inspection of winemaker’s Organs is critical to appreciating wine." I think anyone with any common sense would agree with that.
Monday, May 20, 2019
It seemed fitting to allow my intern (still!) Lo Hai Qu to review the recent Netflix movie, "Wine Country." It's been a long time since I've turned my blog over to her, but I'm happy to have her back. I've missed her.
So, my girlfriends Shizzangela and Loqueesha, and Loqueesha’s total loser cousin Klamydia, I mean Klamydia’s entire Instagram page is pictures of her ongoing armpit electrolysis trying to make her pit hair resemble Justin Bieber, wanted to come over to my house to watch “Wine Country.” What a stupid fucking idea, but they were bringing some Natural Wines, which means wines that Shizzangela would normally use to wash her Afro because they taste like someone threw up in your mouth, and they were determined to watch this flick with a bunch of girls because they heard it was like some sort of menopausal “Sideways.” I told them I hated “Sideways,” but I thought they were talking about sex not some other dumbass movie about wine.
First of all, movies about wine are always stupid and never about wine. Wine is boring. Ergo, wine movies is boring. Duh. They have one plot. Show how stupid people are about wine. I already know people are stupid about wine, I’m on the internet, for fuck’s sake. Whenever I watch a movie about wine I want to give up drinking wine. I hate the pretentious assholes they show, and I hate the other people in the movie who just like to drink wine, make fun of the pretentious wine people, and don’t care about wine, they just like to get drunk so they can talk like they’re all profound but all they’re really being is full of self-pity, all weepy and full of fake love and insight. In “Wine Country” the ladies spend way too much time getting drunk and all Brené Brown-nosing each other. Fuck, I hope I never get that old and annoying.
At least I didn’t pay to see “Wine Country” seeing as how I use my parents Netflix password. Netflix is spending like 5 gazillion dollars to make shows for its streaming service, so they still have 5 gazillion minus the $800 it took to make this movie Quaalude. So, I know how this flick got made, Amy Polar goes to some male exec at Neflix and makes this Hollywood movie pitch, “SNL chicks go to Napa Valley and barf on ‘Sideways.’” Guy says, “Sold!” Amy Polar vortex goes to her buds and says, Hey, I got us a free trip to wine country where we just have to fake comedy for a few weeks. It’ll be fun and we get to hang out and get our butts kissed, drink a bunch, have a paid vacation girls trip, and I got Tina Fey to go for it because no one has heard of any of the rest of you for about ten years so people might actually watch this egofest.
We were all pretty bored by about half way through “Wine Country.” The movie is exactly like an episode of “Saturday Night Live.” You get all excited that it will be funny for 90 minutes, even though it never is, you turn it on and it has some cool guest host, the opening sketch is pretty funny, and then all the other sketches start to be a slog and you just start waiting for Michael Che cuz the only really funny people ever on SNL are the black people. Shizzangela has this thing for Michael Che, she has this sparkly tight T-Shirt she wears all the time that says, “Che Ate Here,” that’s kinda weird, especially when she wears the matching panties, but I get it. Anyways, “Wine Country” is like a longass episode of SNL without Weekend Update. There’s a sketch at a wine tasting bar, a sketch about paella, a sketch about a natural wine vineyard, a sketch about drunk friends in a bar and one falls off a piano, a sketch about an art show with stereotyped Millennials—fuck, that’s the tone deaf scene of the movie year, we’re much meaner than that. This movie didn’t need a director, it needed fucking Jack Kevorkian. Actually, it didn’t have a director, so there’s that.
So if, say, Shizzangela and Loqueesha and I turn 50 some day, which seems unlikely and scary and I don’t really want to end up like those women in “Wine Country,” all rich and spoiled and suffering from some illusion that they’re Everywoman, and we go to Napa Valley for a long weekend, without that crazy fucking Klamydia who is now learning to be a ventriloquist and sneaks up on you with her armpit and makes it say, “Kiss me, I’m Justin Bieber,” the first thing we’re not going to do is hire a driver. There is a guy in the movie who comes with the house?! What the fuck kind of house is that? The movie just doesn’t even try to make sense. Women trying to bond over being older and they rent this $2500 a night house in Napa Valley that comes with a paella guy that drives a limo? Yeah, that’s a premise I can identify with. This is clearly a movie that speaks to me as a woman. I’m here to be with my girls on a trip for my 50th birthday, what the hell is this paella guy doing here and why is he fondling a giant calamari like its somebody’s afterbirth? Some kind of weird symbolism.
The whole time I’m watching “Wine Country” I’m thinking, Who did they make this snorefest for? Of course, the answer is, Themselves. I don’t know what I was expecting. Well, I don’t know what Shizzy and Loqueesha were expecting, to be more accurate, because I never wanted to watch this crap in the first place. I wanted to watch that Beyoncé thing, or that movie about Ted Bundy because serial killers are way more interesting and funnier than girl buddy movies. You know what would make a good movie! “Wine Country” women run into Ted Bundy in a Calistoga bar and only the Lesbian one makes it out! I’ll be calling you Netflix guy. That’s a surefire pitch.
Friday, May 17, 2019
This is a piece I wrote in December of 2014. Lisa Perrotti-Brown MW, Editor in Chief of Wine Advocate, announced the official retirement of Robert Parker yesterday.
For more than thirty years I was the most powerful critic in the history of the world. I say that with complete humility. There were many critics in my chosen field, but they were to me as carbuncles are to my hairy butt—I never saw them, but they were forever riding my ass. My words alone were enough to make fortunes, while their weak exhortations were the critical equivalent of Bitcoin—imaginary money, imaginary influence. I declared geniuses and goddesses in an occupation that otherwise generated only pretenders, robots and dinosaurs. I found no joy in being the most powerful critic in the history of the world. I’m glad to be done with it. I hope to miss it someday.
Now that it’s over, I can reflect on my accomplishments. With the clarity of hindsight, I can see the reach of my influence. Wine will never see my like again. The world has changed. I began in the print era, when reviews had the timeliness of messages in a bottle. Reviews had to be delivered by the Postal Service, which is like wiping your nose two weeks after you sneeze. Really doesn’t do anybody any good. Every review seemed to be published months too early, or weeks too late. There were only a few important regions to cover—Bordeaux, Burgundy, Napa Valley, Tuscany, and the Rhône Valley. No one bought German wine. They still don’t buy German wine. Who buys German wine? German Riesling is the greatest white wine in the world that nobody buys. It’s the Edsel of wine. It’s the Betamax of wine regions. It’s the Conan O’Brien. I drink it about as often as I read Decanter. Which is also too often cloying.
I was in the right place at the right time. Wine publications are in their death throes now. Many of them are magazine zombies, still stumbling around stiff-legged, eating the brains of their contributors, which are slim pickings, and not even aware they’re dead. They’re frightening consumers, all these wine critics walking around dead, still publishing scores when they should be resting in their Graves. And now the zombies are eating other zombies. Vinous devoured the brains of International Wine Cellar to create a super-zombie. Tanzalloni! Tanzalloni wants to become the most powerful critic in wine, but even a super-zombie is still the walking dead. Even a team of Tanzalloni zombies walking the wine regions of the Earth won’t have the power that I once possessed. Everywhere they go there is the smell of death on them, a smell that will not go unnoticed by winemakers. Marketing people won’t smell it, of course, they’re used to the smell of death, having killed truth a long time ago. But the wine world has begun to notice that there are nothing but magazine zombies among us, and that their days of walking the Earth, dead or undead, are numbered.
When I ruled the wine world, people knew what to expect. “Integrity” was my middle name. Even my severest critics at the end of my career acknowledged that. They always referred to me as “R.I.P” in tribute to it being my middle name. When I had all the power, the wine world was a simpler place. I made it that way. I introduced the 100 Point Scale to criticism. What’s simpler than that? I understood before anyone else the wine-buying public’s deep-seated need to be shallow, their passion for the easy answer, for shortcuts to expertise, their love for distilled wisdom, their willingness to pay for someone else to make them seem savvy to their friends. I wrote complex and florid tasting notes to go with the scores I awarded, but I knew that those notes were read about as often as Miranda rights in Missouri. It was the numbers that were magic. Wine doesn’t have to be complicated, the numbers said. No wine is unique, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. No matter what, they all have numbers, somewhere between 80 and 100. Only 21 different kinds of wine. Even you can understand that. This is my proudest accomplishment.
When I was at the peak of my power, wine knew it had to answer to me. When I awarded a wine 100 points, everyone knew how to make a great wine. Before I came along, the wines of the world were all over the place stylistically. This was stupid and confusing for the average consumer. Imagine that every time you read a James Patterson book it was different! How annoying would that be? You want it to be the same formula every single time. Same with Bordeaux, or Australian Shiraz, or Super Tuscans. Thanks to me, the average consumer can go to his local wine shop and buy a $150 Napa Valley Cabernet that will taste exactly like the last $150 Napa Valley Cabernet he purchased! Sure, there’s some variation, winemakers aren’t perfect, they don’t really know a 96 point wine like I do, but it will be pretty damned similar. Again, I’m proud of this. I standardized Bordeaux and California, Oregon and Washington, Spain and Italy. There may be 5000 different grapes, but, dammit, there are only a handful of styles. Someone had to do it. It was chaos when I started. Someone had to set some standards. I was to wine what The New York Times Book Review is to literature. Its savior.
And now I’m through. I refuse to become a zombie. Let the damned Singapore mafia be the zombies, I’m finished. I’m the Emperor in Winter. I leave the wine criticism to the current tribe of zombies—Laube, Robinson, Olken, Meadows, Teague, McInerney, Bonné, Asimov… Be careful out there, wine lovers, they’re here to eat your brains. McInerney will probably go for your nuts, too. As for who will replace me, and the zombies still walking the Earth, I don’t know who that will be. Surely not the feckless and tiring voices of the Internet, that loud chorus of poodles barking into the darkness. If they ever move the needle, it’s just the irritating sound of it scratching along the surface of the LP. Their influence is that of a single Saccharomyces in a puncheon of hedonistic Syrah—not measurable or unique, and destined to die once all the sugar has gone. And the sugar is almost gone.
No, there will never again be a most powerful critic in the world. Oh, certainly wine will endure. People will still buy according to the 100 Point Scale—it is so stupid it is immortal. But wine will be adrift. Lost. Untethered. Wine drinkers will have to fend for themselves, try to understand wine on its own terms, find their own measure of its quality.
More’s the pity.