Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Grand Vin

When I think about my youth, and I try to recall what it sounded like, I only remember a few voices. The voice of my mother reading “Charlotte’s Web” or “Winnie the Pooh” to me. My grandmother making dinner in the kitchen, the sounds of her kindness and humor that was my safe place. And Vin Scully.

The Dodgers moved from Brooklyn to Los Angeles for the 1958 season. I was five years old. I can’t remember when I fell in love with baseball, or why. Baseball just seems to have been part of who I am. I don’t know how I came to write jokes either. Those places in my heart and soul seem to have been installed at the factory. I don’t care for any other sports. Not at all. I don’t denigrate them. No more than I denigrate romance novels, or sitcoms on the CW. I save my scorn for the wine business I love. And though I was pre-programmed to love baseball, it was Vin Scully who mentored me, every night of the baseball season, through my crappy little transistor radio under my pillow. His voice is the voice of my childhood. He could speak over my parents arguing in their bedroom if I turned the volume up a little bit. Make me feel better after I’d wet my bed far too late into my life. Vin Scully painted a picture of a world I never knew, but badly wanted to believe in, a world where your best effort was all you needed to prove you were valuable. I needed to hear that as a kid. He brought comfort to my childhood, but also dignity and joy. He never spoke down to me, he never dealt in inside jokes, never put down opposing players or umpires; Vin Scully epitomized class and sportsmanship, as well as the power of observation and storytelling.

Almost everyone reading must know that Mr. Scully has announced that this, his 67th year as the voice of the Dodgers, will be his last year. I’m not heartbroken. I should be, but it’s hard to be selfish to a man who has only been kind and unselfish. Actually, I’m amazed that I lived long enough to see him retire. I’ve listened to him for 58 years. I’d gladly take another 30. But I only feel gratitude, not loss. Grateful to have been born in Southern California where Vin Scully rules.

I don’t have many heroes. How many of us do? Vin Scully is one of my heroes. And so I’m self-indulgently writing about him. I need to, I think. You can stop reading here, if you haven’t already. It’s only going to be baseball foolishness. And there will be hundreds of tributes to Vin Scully written, mine won’t be that special. But I need to, if only for myself.

In the days before the endless stats that now dominate broadcasts, baseball was about the moment. The human moment. Vin Scully, when the situation warranted it, could easily explain the moment, make you feel you were in the game, make you understand what must have been going on in the hitter’s mind, make you think about what must be running through the manager’s strategy. But always with a twinkle in his eye. It was always only baseball. And when there was tragic news in the world, a catastrophe of mythic proportions, Vin would always remind us that there was a game to play, but that it was of no real consequence. That baseball was just the playground, and not real life. I’m certain that’s why I feel the same way about wine. And feel sorry for those who believe it has genuine significance in the world. It does not.

I remember a game against the Giants when Koufax no-hit them. The only televised baseball games in Los Angeles back then were NBC’s Game of the Week, and games against the Giants in San Francisco. It was 1963. I was ten. I had to go to bed because it was getting late. But as the game went on, into the seventh and eighth, Koufax had not allowed a hit. I was listening to the game in my room, the radio under my pillow, hanging on Vin Scully’s every word. In the ninth inning, my grandmother came and “woke” me up, sneaking me into her room to watch the end of the game on television. When Harvey Kuenn hit a comebacker to Koufax to end the game, one of Koufax’s four no-hitters, my grandmother and I let out whoops and cheers. Vin Scully, as was his wont, was silent.

Scully is, like the great writers and poets, the great singers and speakers, a master of the silent pause. After a dramatic home run, he would stop speaking and let the crowd tell the story. He understood timing, and I think I learned much of mine from him. One of my favorite Vin Scully lines was simple, yet perfectly delivered. He was speaking about a player who had suffered a mild injury and was listed as “Day to Day.” A pause. “Aren’t we all?”

There was the wonderful call of Fernando Valenzuela’s no-hitter against the Cardinals. When Valenzuela gets former Dodger Pedro Guerrero to hit into a game-ending double play, Scully first makes note of the exact time of the last out, the date, that he’s pitched a no-hitter, and then says, “If you have a sombrero, throw it to the sky!” You want to listen to a master at his craft, listen to Vin Scully call that ninth inning.

There are 67 years of highlights. The great call of one of the most dramatic home runs ever hit, the Kirk Gibson home run in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series. “In a year that has been so improbable,” Scully says, always improvising, though after a two-minute pause, “the impossible has happened!” Scully had a way of making memorable moments indelible in your memory. It’s a remarkable, and inimitable, gift.

Through earthquakes, riots, countless disasters and tragedies, culturally and personally, there was that voice in my ear, coming from underneath my pillow. It was the one sure thing in my life for six months of the year, a place I could visit and feel happy and included, safe from anger and fear and pain. I almost liked the lopsided games better because then Vin could tell longer stories about baseball. Yet there was also no one better at calling a dramatic, hard-fought, even heartbreaking baseball game. And probably never will be.

No one from Los Angeles would argue with the fact that Vin Scully is by far the most popular and beloved man in the city. Not Magic Johnson, not Kobe Bryant, not any movie star you can name. He has been for as long as I can remember. It says something about Los Angeles, often seen as vapid and starstruck, that this is true. In some very important way, he’s the most beloved man in my entire life.

I met him once, at the restaurant where I was sommelier. I’ve never been so grateful to meet someone. Bob Hope was a very regular customer, also, and I cannot tell you how many times very powerful, very wealthy, very successful men went up to Mr. Hope in tears because they were finally able to thank him for how much his USO trips to Vietnam meant to their lives, at the worst times of their lives. I didn’t serve in Vietnam, but I felt some of that gratitude to Vin Scully. Everyone will tell you that Scully is the same man you see on television, the same man you hear on your radio. Gracious, articulate, thoughtful, quick-witted, and humble. I wanted to stand up straighter, speak more clearly, and make him proud of me. I’ve felt that every time I’ve heard his voice for the last 58 years.

There’s an old warning that you should never meet your heroes. It’s usually true. Not in Mr. Scully’s case. I muttered something stupid, something he’d probably heard every day of his life, something jejune about him being the voice of my childhood. I was a wreck. More nervous than the day I got married. But Scully was so gracious, listened to me so intently, and thanked me with great charm and affection. It was one of the best moments of my working career, and a highlight of my days in Los Angeles.

And with his retirement, the last voice of my childhood goes silent. All those hours listening to his voice in the darkness, his voice a balm for every real and every imagined wound, the simple kindness of an older male voice a rare and precious gift to a young boy, the decency and sense of dignity he always exuded a shining example of what it is to be a man, I wonder, how many of us growing up in Los Angeles owe a large debt to Vin Scully? And now his brilliant career is finally Day to Day.

Aren’t they all?

Originally published September 2016

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Six Wines to Drink Before You Die Next Wednesday

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

Biodynamics is Out, Phrenology is Wine's New Trendy Pseudoscience!

HoseMaster of Wine's™ Cabinet of Curiosities

Biodynamics is so 2000’s. It’s just not interesting anymore. I’m as big a fan of pseudoscience as anyone, even POTUS (Prevaricator of the United States). I find it yugely encouraging that wine has finally embraced the pseudosciences vigorously. I’m the guy who only drinks wines on a fruit day. Wine on a leaf day? Gack! How stupid is that? Leaf days are for drinking Bud, obviously. I live my life by the pseudosciences. Like I drove my old Ford in reverse downhill the other day because my wife told me Mercury was in retrograde. I even believe in the tongue map, though I almost choke every time I try to re-fold it. There’s comfort in believing things just because you need to despite convincing evidence to the contrary. Like aerators work, and wines taste better in expensive Riedel stemware, and “Sideways” was a good movie, and the wine business treats women equally. Science is about the quest for truth. Screw that. When you think about it, the internet is the most powerful force on the planet right now, and the internet is the death of truth. Which side do you want to be on? Science is for losers.

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

Lo Hai Qu Reviews "Wine Country"

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

The Emperor in Winter

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.