Thursday, December 31, 2009

What's the HoseMaster Drinking?

Special Edition: Wine Guerrilla

Wine Guerrilla 2008 Zinfandel Russian River Valley

Wine Guerrilla 2008 Zinfandel Adel's Vineyard Russian River Valley

Wine Guerrilla 2008 Zinfandel Conte Vineyard Dry Creek Valley

The only wine guerrilla I can name off the top of my head is Mao Tse-Tung Map. But that's another story. The story here is the Zinfandels of Bruce Patch (see, I thought a Bruce Patch was that little ugly tuft of hair Springsteen sports beneath his lower lip--whenever I see it, it makes my breakfast come on up for the Rising). Bruce is the Wine Guerrilla of Sonoma County, a guy who loves Zinfandel, makes Zinfandel, dreams of Zinfandel, wants to make more Zinfandels than Tiger Woods makes holes in blondes. From the 2008 vintage, Wine Guerrilla will have eight different Zinfandels for sale. I don't know, does the world need eight more Zinfandels? I once wrote that it ought to be illegal for a winery to make more than four single-vineyard wines from any one grape, but, in these harsh economic times, I've had a hard time getting the bill past the Senate. So Wine Guerrilla is safe--for now.

These three Zinfandels will be released in February after they are premiered at ZAP. The Wine Guerrilla 2008 Zinfandel Russian River Valley is all sourced from the MacMurray Ranch, the former estate of Fred MacMurray that is now owned by the Gallos. Is it me, or did I detect the faint aroma of Flubber in this wine? (Who doesn't fondly remember the old 60's sitcom "My Three Sons" starring Fred MacMurray as a widower raising his three children Chip, Ernie and Julio?) This is a Zinfandel that will be selling for about $18, and in that neighborhood it represents a huge bargain. Overflowing with the red fruit I often associate with Russian River Zinfandel, in this case red plums, this was satisfying in the way of big, ripe Zinfandel. You never feel cheated when it comes to flavor, richness and intensity. It's about as subtle as an Adam's Apple on a transvestite, but you can't argue with the provenance or the price (like you can with a transvestite). The Wine Guerrilla 2008 Zinfandel Adel's Vineyard Russian River Valley was a much more interesting and luscious Zinfandel, and classic Russian River Zinfandel at that.
There's wonderful balance here, with the upfront raspberry fruit supported by the zing of white pit fruit as well as a little bit of pepper and oak. And, like the H1N1 virus, it was at its best the second day. If I had a bunch of this I could get addicted to it. Then, appropriate to the Holiday season, I'd have Adel-vice, Adel-vice, everybody sing!, every morning you greet me... Finally there's the Wine Guerrilla 2008 Zinfandel Conte Vineyard Dry Creek Valley. Much darker and more brooding that the Adel's, it showcases the powerhouse aspect of Zinfandel. Veering more towards the blackberry and bramblefruit end of the Zin spectrum, it unapologetically punches you in the face and calls you girly man. I would have preferred a bit more restraint, a bit more richness and fullness, but for this style of Zinfandel it's darn nice wine. Zinfandel lovers should be aware of Wine Guerrilla if they're not already. Considering the difficulties of the 2008 vintage, these three are worthy of your Zinfandel dollars. When February comes you'll find them here.

The HoseMaster Scores: Wine Guerrilla
Russian River Valley Zinfandel 477,256 Points
Adel's Vineyard Russian River 725,129 Points
Conte Vineyard Dry Creek Valley 502,879 Points

Disclaimer: The three bottles were presented to me in a moving and heartwarming ceremony commemorating Guy Fawkes Day. The guy was just fawking with me.

Monday, December 28, 2009

HoseMaster of Wine 2009 Wine Blog Circle Jerk Awards

It's fashionable and damned near required, if you have a wildly successful and famous wine blog, to bestow awards upon lesser wine blogs. I've seen this demonstrated all over the wine blogosphere in recent days; HoseMaster of Wine was even mentioned here and there. I think the BrixChicks gave me something--I think it was indigestion. But it's an honor to be mentioned on another blog--just ask that other blog, he'll tell you it's an honor. You know, there just aren't enough self-congratulatory posts in wine blogdom, if you ask me. And, honestly, when a guy writes a completely useless and uniformed wine blog himself, why wouldn't I be interested in what other blogs he thinks are worthy of my attention! It's the same reason I get my restaurant recommendations from the drive-thru cashier at Burger King. Why I only buy books that feature a blurb from Sarah Palin on the cover and come with their own crayons. Why I only get electroshock therapy from the same doctor as Glenn Beck. It just makes sense.

And since HoseMaster of Wine is clearly in the upper echelon of must-read wine blogs, right up there with Hitler's Wine Diaries and BevMo Sommelier, it's time for me to bestow the Wine Blog Awards of 2009 upon some lucky wine bloggers. If you're one of the lucky ones, be sure to graciously thank me, praise me, and bestow one of your awards on me. So here they are, friends, the HoseMaster's 2009 Wine Blog Circle Jerk Awards.


Boy, this was really a contentious and tough category. It was hard to narrow it down to only five. There are at least another three hundred that are equally as wonderful as these, but these five struck me as the best and as the ones most likely to garner me some attention for mentioning them. Which is the point of this masturbatory exercise.

Steve Heimoff (
First of all, I love a guy who won't allow Tish to comment on his blog! That really helps me feel
comfortable. I never liked her anyway. Steve has nicely catapulted himself into relevance from the obscurity of Wine Enthusiast, where wine reviewers go to die. And there are laughs aplenty when Steve goes into comedy mode. Why it's like he's channeling Alex Trebek! Steve has created a wonderful forum for less-talented people to promote themselves while talking about wine issues as fresh as last June's Time magazine. Tish and Steve

Dr. Vino (
Tyler Colman (who, in a lovely bit of irony, is to wine as Gary Coleman is to height) has a refreshing approach to wine. He's always right. If he'd just ban Tish from his blog, he'd be perfect. Dr. Vino posts endlessly interesting columns about impossible food and wine matchups. So the concept is sort of like, with the food playing the part of the loser blogger who just wants to be loved. Why it's an honor just to be able to mention Dr. Vino, an honor he knows he bestows on every reader when they visit his blog to share in his unrivalled hubris.

1WineDude (
You'll be astonished at the Dude's ability to crank out post after post and make them sound exactly like they've been cranked out! This isn't as easy to do as you might think. Something original and interesting tends to slip in accidentally. Not at 1WineDude! Dude keeps it predictable and cliche, which the wine marketing people love! And it's just so surprising that a Social Media darling is so quick to preach about the power of Social Media! Totally fresh and unexpected. Don't be surprised if one day he works for Wine Enthusiast. I don't think Tish is allowed here either--a tip of the cap to the West Coast 1WhineDude, Steve Heimoff.

Mutineer Magazine (
If there is a better argument for saving our trees than Mutineer Magazine, I've yet to find it. Like the endless cocktails it promotes, it's a crappy mix of filler, wasted space and pathetic attempts at hipness. Its cutting edge is as sharp as your Dad's old lawn mower. Want to identify a trend once it's already dead? Here's your guide! Written with the sharpness of Muhammed Ali and the vocabulary of your eight-year-old niece, it certainly makes you wish you were drunk when you read it. Where's Tish when you need her?

Palate Press (
So, you ask yourself, where do I go to find the finest wine writing on the web? Isn't there somewhere I can go to be amused, entertained, informed, engaged? Not here! Palate Press is proudly mediocre, a choir of voices from the School for the Deaf. There's really no sense in surfing wine blogs, spending all that time searching for an original voice, when you can just go to Palate Press and discover how dull the wine blogosphere is with once click of your mouse! Want provocative articles, well-written and compelling? Buy the New Yorker. Want to understand why wine writing today is largely ignored? Then Palate Press is for you. And it's all Tish all the time!

I have many more awards to bestow. It's the least I can do to give a lift up to all the tireless and wonderful wine bloggers out there now that I'm one of the elite and powerful wine bloggers. To all of the recipients, Keep up the good work! And welcome to my world! The world of relevant Social Media! Share the fantasy!

Monday, December 21, 2009

My Christmas Thank Yous

The past year at HoseMaster of Wine has been about The Million Point Scale (which gives me 999,999 more points than Fox News--their only point is ignorance is covered by the First Amendment) and The M.S. Conspiracy (wiggling my once private dick at every passing sommelier wannabe), about Jess "Huckleberry" Jackson and Gary "the Human Stain" Vaynerchuk, about 82 posts and about 82 posts too long. I've taken potshots at just about everyone in the wine and blog business who I think deserves it, and a bunch that didn't. Along the way I may have said six funny things. But, hey, somebody has to be the jackanapes around here.

I rarely step out of the HoseMaster character on this blog, and, believe me, the HoseMaster is a fictional character, just like Tiger Woods, but Christmas is a time for gratitude and reflection. To be perfectly honest, I have no idea why I continue to crank out this garbage week after week. There's no money in it, there's no fame or glory in it, only nine people read it. Wine blogs, I've come to believe, are, for the most part, tools for self-promotion--not the promotion of the enjoyment and culture of wine, but the self-promotion of the clown writing the blog. And I'm not interested in self-promotion. Self-abuse, sure, that's an area I like to keep my hand in, but not self-promotion. So why do I continue to throw blog grenades at all the fools, spend countless hours writing "humorous" posts, waste enormous energy trying to come up with something original to say a couple of times a week? I'm an unemployed idiot, that's why.

I began this blog because I was bored and felt some primitive urge, more peristaltic than anything, to express myself. The attention barking of a lonely poodle. When I began to look at wine blogs I was dumbfounded by what passes for thought, writing and wine tasting skill. I searched and searched for writers and found typists. I went looking for originality and found the same old stuff in April, May and Jejune. I thought it would be fun to have a little fun with the whole thing. And it has been fun, though perhaps not as fun as I'd hoped. Turns out it's a lot of work. This is what so many wine bloggers discover and why, gratefully, so many of them abandon their blogs. Wander through the blog list over at Fermentation and it's like walking through an abandoned shopping mall; you can hear the echo of your cyber-footprint as you walk by empty shell after empty shell, the bankrupt sounds of yet another really stupid idea. Really, when you think about it, who needs another B. Dalton Books or Spencer's Gifts? But wine blog lists are filled with them.

But as we near Christmas and the end of 2009, I wanted to say thank you to a few people specifically, and to everyone in HoseMasterWorld in general.

Thank you, Kathleen. My wife, surely the object of much pity, has steadfastly encouraged me to keep working on HoseMaster of Wine and put up with all of my self-loathing and frustration, the job requirements for writing comedy. It is your laughter and love that have inspired me to work week after week at this foolishness, and I am grateful to be married to you. I never knew Beauty until I stepped inside your heart.

Thank you, My Gorgeous Samantha. Everyone who reads this blog and Samantha Sans Dosage thinks that Samantha and I are old friends. We've never met. We began an online mutual admiration society which blossomed offline into a very meaningful and powerful and wonderful relationship. Samantha is a woman of enormous talent, courage, wisdom, kindness, love and wit. If the only thing I had received because of this stupid blog was my love for Samantha it would have been far more than enough. When this blog goes the way of the polar bears, shot by Sarah Palin, I'll still have my Samantha.

Thank you, Tom Wark. Ask most wine bloggers who gave them the best advice and the ones who don't say "Jack Kevorkian" all say Tom Wark. When I began HoseMaster of Wine last year it was Tom's notice that drove my traffic and gave me some motivation to continue. I think he might be the only blogger who likes when I make fun of him, surely the sign of a quality human being. And all of the advice he gave me about blogging was wise and given unselfishly. Thanks, Tom. You still owe me lunch.

Thank you, Charlie Olken. When you spend a career admiring someone's work and then find that they like yours, it is very satisfying and meaningful. Thanks, Charlie, it was an honor to meet you, and a blast to travel to Livermore and taste wine with you. Your comments on my blog lend me some of your credibility, which I can never repay. Again, as with Samantha, your acquaintance, which came because of this crap, has enriched my life.

Thank you, Anonymous 1. I know who Anonymous 1 is in real life, if you call that real, but you know him as the guy whose comments are funnier than my posts. So, yeah, thanks Anonymous 1.

Thank you, Marcia Macomber. I love your comments, I love your participation, I adore you. I still wish you'd write a chapter of The M.S. Conspiracy though. And meet me for a drink some day.

Thank you, Arthur. You lend an air of dignity to this cesspool and I appreciate it. I see your name in my comment section and I don't know what to expect. Keep makin' me nervous.

So many others who comment now and then. Diane, my Wine Bitch, I adore you. Erin, where are you, have you forsaken me? Don't let your blog go under. K. Mahoney, my newest friend, a woman with but an initial, thank you for being here. D J R-S, my Puerto Rican Fan Club, thanks for your kind words. I do very much appreciate each and every one of you participating in my foolishness and pantagruel.

To all of those who I may have offended in the past six months, thank you for understanding that it's all in good fun. Like all truth.

And to all of you who read HoseMaster and wisely choose to remain faceless, I hope I've given you a few laughs this past year. Thank you for reading and telling your friends. I hope I can bring everyone a few more smiles in 2010.

Merry Christmas!

Ron Washam

Sunday, December 20, 2009

What's the HoseMaster Drinking?

Clos Rougeard 2005 Saumur Champigny

True confession time. There are countless things I've never done that I feel destined to do. Maybe we all feel that way. For example, I've never played Juliet in "Romeo and Juliet." I've never faced a little chin music from Nolan Ryan. I've never wiped that smirk off Alex Trebek's face. I never married a Walloon. Oh, there's still time yet for me to do all of these things, maybe even memorize the Bible in Pig Latin ("Et-lay ere-thay E-bay ight-lay"), but what's really fun is to finally discover something you didn't even know existed, have the curtain rise on your ignorance and the extinguished lamp on your porch finally turn on. Like the first time you heard Portugese Fado music, or smelled your own toejam. I was unfamiliar with Clos Rougeard until just the other night when I opened a bottle My Gorgeous Samantha had sent me for some special occasion or other, probably Be Kind to Animals Week. Clos Rougeard, it turns out, is one of, if not the, greatest red wine producers of the Loire Valley. How come I'd never heard of it before, much less tasted it? This was a gigantic hole in my wine knowledge, and, believe me, it takes one to know one. Clos Rougeard is one of the great Cabernet Francs in the world, and up until a day or two ago I knew nothing about it. Sort of like being an astronaut and never tasting Tang. On the basis of this one bottle, I'm now a huge fan. It was intriguing and seductive from the first sniff. In many ways it really reminded me of Burgundy, ethereal and earthy, I kept smelling truffles, and slow to reveal itself. But once it started opening up it was quite complex and intriguing. Like most great wines it showed elegance and restraint and purity. I wanted to let it open up even more, but I couldn't stop picking up my glass and tasting it. Tart cherries, truffles, a pinch of spice and a long, long finish. It was addicting, in the way of Burgundy, enchanting and powerful at the same time. It cast a spell on me. And this is Clos Rougeard's least expensive, youngest vines bottling! Holy crap. I need to try their "Les Poyeux" and "Le Bourg!" Thank you, Samantha, I have a whole new outlook on Cabernet Franc and Saumur Champigny. And my own ignorance, which is an appellation to rival the Upper Mississippi River Valley AVA in size.

The HoseMaster Score: 845,299

Disclaimer: HoseMaster of Wine is taped before a live studio audience, and yet still needs canned laughter.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

My Heartwarming Christmas Mailbag

We're well into the Holiday Season, so what better time to rummage through my voluminous hate mail? It always warms my chestnuts to receive thoughtful venom this time of the year. We spend so much time during the holidays communicating affection and gratitude to those we love, but so often we forget to express our heartfelt contempt for the people we wish were dead. I feel lucky that I inspire so many to unabashed and heartwarming hatred. Here are just a few samples from the ol' HoseMaster mailbag.

I've been expecting this letter, but was genuinely moved when I finally received it.

Dear Mr.

where do you get off making fun of me? your always calling me a trained chimp, or a clown,
and I don't appreciate it because I'm not a clown or a chimp--you're the trained chimpie, DoucheMaster! I'm a wine internet star and i know more about wine than you'll ever know about chimps. For example, can you just stick your nose in a glass of Italian priorat, say something funny about how it smells, like maybe you say it reminds you of the time uncle larry made you rub him and there was that funny kind of chlorine smell coming from him, and then give the wine a number? maybe one of your chimps can do that but I bet you can't. DoucheMaster of Wine at work

You don't want to mess with me, Mr. Master, i rule the Internet and my little boy toys at Wine Enthusiast gave me an award to prove it. I'm the next Parker and with just one little podcast i can sell whatever crap i decide to.
nobody reads your little excuse for a blog. i sniffed one of your posts and i told everybody it smelled like the time i had Jancis Robinson on my show, i bet you never even met him (yeah, people think it's a she, but I know better, i was there), and had eaten some bad borscht and she made a lot of faces but it wasn't that bad, but your post reminded me of it and I gave you a 76! So there.

be sure and let me know if some wine rag gives you an award so i can send my collection of ice wines to hell to store them at a freezing temperature.

happy holidays

Gary Vaynerchuk

Sometimes the letters are just short and to the point...

Dear HoseMaster,

I'm not dead, OK? But if I were dead I'd come back as a Zombie and eat your brain for lunch. With a nice bottle of D'Arenberg 2002 Dead Arm Shiraz which I rated 96 Points--last tasted 6/08.

And your Million Point Scale is stupid too. Who ever heard of a million words on a spelling test?

In vinum illis est meus verum,

Robert Parker, Jr.

And I can only be flattered when someone takes time out from their busy schedule to honor me with their prose.

Dear Ho's Master,

Somewhere there's a pair of Port tongs with your name on it, and one day you'll have a tong tattoo around that pencil neck of yours. This is the wine business, you terroirbag, and we conduct ourselves civilly. We don't post insulting remarks about wine and people on the Internet; we don't lampoon distinguished figures in the industry; we don't pull our metaphorical pants down and fire pooty rockets at wine critics! We only say nice things. Didn't your mother, Rosemary must have been her name, ever teach you the wine blogger's creed, "If you can't say something nice, say something stupid?"

In case you hadn't noticed, these are hard economic times. Many wineries have cases and cases of $150 bottles of wine just languishing in their cellars. Some winery owners in Napa have actually had to go to Mustards for dinner!! Mustards! And you sit at your keyboard and make fun of them! Wine critics are losing their audience, their clout. Where once they sold truckloads of admittedly overpriced wines, their very recommendation enough to start a ten-year waiting list for yet another cult Cabernet Sauvignon, now they brag about moving crap that sells for under $20. Bragging about it! It's our #1 Wine of the Year! Imagine their shame, the disgrace the economy and thoughtless bloggers like you have brought upon them. What next? The New York Times Book Review puts a Dan Brown novel on it's Ten Best List? The Playmate of the Year is Helen Turley? The Oscar goes to Tom Cruise? At a time when midgets rule the Earth, is this a time for your two pathetic cents?

Your blog is disgusting, and everyone who reads it needs to get a Home Lobotomy Kit for Christmas. I just hope you get what you deserve for Christmas, Ho's Master, the worst thing that can happen to a guy like you. Success.

Merry Christmas,
Robert Mondavi

PS--Like RP says, we ain't dead!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

What's the HoseMaster Drinking?

Denner 2007 Syrah Paso Robles

If Paso Robles is ever going to be known for anything, it's probably going to be the Rhone varieties. Amazingly, Paso Robles has somewhere in the neighborhood of 200 wineries now. Unfortunately, in that same neighborhood live only about fifteen winemakers who know what they're doing. The last time I visited Paso Robles, which was just a few months ago, it was an amazing experience. I can't remember ever tasting so many horrible Cabernet/Syrah blends in one place, unless you count Trader Joe's. My tongue still hasn't forgiven me. Both forks. In Paso Robles they've somehow managed to find a way to take the least appealing part of Cabernet Sauvignon and magically blend it with the ugliest part of Syrah to make the wine equivalent of an Ann Coulter/Glenn Beck love child. Ugly and loud, but at least it's stupid. Now don't get me wrong, I think Paso Robles has enormous potential. It just seems to be plagued with too many amateur winemakers. I say that because the folks who do make stunning wines in Paso Robles--Saxum, Linne Calodo, Tablas Creek, Lone Madrone, Villa Creek and Denner, among others--prove the appellation's quality. But there seem to be another 185 wineries trying to prove them wrong. Denner is a winery that is still just finding its stride. It sells a lot of its fruit to folks like Saxum and Linne Calodo, and then tries to imitate their style with their own wine. Mostly, it works. But along with those guys they are defining a style in Paso Robles for Syrahs that is ripe and gooey and nearly Aussie in their exaggerated swagger. There's a point where Syrah goes from blackberry to Oreo cookie, and Denner is walking that tightrope. But the 2007 is pretty good. Avoid it like a Jehovah's Witness if you love the wines of the Northern Rhone, it's nowhere near Hermitage as the Croze flies. But if intense flavors of blackberry and wild cherry make you happy, and you like gooey in your wine, albeit gooey with decent acidity to hold it together, and you like a wine with the persistence of and Erin Andrews stalker, this is your kind of Syrah.

The HoseMaster Score 543,421 Points

Disclaimer: I swear, I've never even seen my own peephole much less Erin Andrews'.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The M.S. Conspiracy

A HoseMaster of Wine Pulp Fiction Classic

Chapter 8 The Wounded and the Slain

I've been a dick for years. Many would argue my whole life. But I'd never seen two dead bodies in one day. I felt like I was at a reunion of my ex-wives. First, there was Lorna at Les Mars Hotel, her neck broken like the Three-Tier Distribution system. Now I was looking at another young lady, apparently in town to take the M.S. exam, dead in her bathtub in the Hotel Healdsburg. It might have been an accident--most accidents take place in the bathroom, unless you count the ones I'd had in my bed as a kid that had been intended for the bathroom, though now, as an adult, I usually had a different three sheets to the wind--but for all of the corks floating in the tub with her. Which Jessica was putting into a trash bag.

"Maybe you should let me take a look at those corks, Jess, they might be clues."

Jessica shot me a sarcastic look, and, well, she was a crack shot. Which reminded me of my view of the victim. "Clues? I don't know, Hoseapalooza, I think you're barking up the wrong Quercus suber."

Wow, I thought, a cork joke. Maybe Jessica knew more about wine than she was letting on. "Just let me look through them."

Chief Jokes handed me the bag of corks. It was an impressive collection. Corks from many of the finest wines in the world. Chave, Rayas, Margaux, Leroy, Opus One... Opus One? How did that cork get in there? Man, I'd forgotten that turds float sometimes.

"Every one of these corks is from a great bottle of wine."

"So? She's been studying for her M.S., Hosedope, you don't exactly learn anything about wine drinking the slop they serve by the glass. They're probably all the corks she'd collected from her M.S. study group."

Everyone studying for an M.S. would form a group with other M.S. candidates, pool their resources, and get together weekly to taste wines from all over the world. Maybe Lorna and our still unknown victim had been in the same study group. That was an intriguing possibility. Which, among other things, meant that there were probably a few more members of that group around. Yet more sorry souls who had traded in their young lives for a longshot chance in the sommelier sweepstakes, trying to win an M.S. as if it were the Publisher's Clearinghouse Sweepstakes Grand Prize and Ed McMahon would show up at their house and award them a gigantic cartoon tastevin, only Ed McMahon was dead, floating in his own bathtub gin of disappointment. I needed to find out who the victim was.

The victim's body, and a lovely body at that, like the silky smooth body of a fine Vosne-Romanee, though the only Romanees I'd been able to afford had come not from Vosne but from Safeway, had been discovered by a Hotel Healdsburg maid. The room was supposed to have been empty; it hadn't been registered to anyone. The last people to have occupied it were an elderly couple from Albuquerque who'd been in town celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. A much slower death. There were no clothes to be found anywhere in the room, no purse, not a single clue to the victim's identity. But Jessica had known she was an M.S. candidate. That's what she'd told me in the square when she'd gotten the call. It wasn't like her to jump to conclusions. She usually limped to them. But I decided to let her think I hadn't noticed. And, besides, the corks sort of proved her point. But how had she known?

"Sure was a lovely young woman," I said.

"Yeah, Hoselimp, you've got a real eye for the dead girls. Married several, didn't you?"

"I have an idea for how we can ID her. May I use your cellphone?"

I dialed Veronica's number from memory. 1-800-38D2436. I'd found a way to commit it to mammary. When she answered I asked her to come to the Hotel Healdsburg right away. She asked why, but I wanted to surprise her, see if I could tell anything by the look on her face. It was a bad idea.

When Veronica walked into the hotel bathroom she let out the kind of blood-curdling scream I hadn't heard since I'd asked Jessica to our high school prom. OK, I didn't mean to scream, it just came out of me. Veronica rushed over to the dead girl, her tears flowing like Korbel Brut at a
low-rent wedding, her beautiful face contorted in agony, like she'd just judged the under $12 Chardonnay category at the Livermore Valley Harvest Fair, and plunged her arms into the cold water and around the lifeless sommelier, if lifeless sommelier isn't redundant. Jessica and I stood by silently respectful.

"Oh, God," Veronica cried, turning her lovely face to stare angrily at me, "she's my sister."

Saturday, December 12, 2009

My Christmas Wishes

The world is a miserable place this Christmas season. Unemployment is sky high, people are losing their homes, Tiger Woods is taking this eighteen holes thing too seriously... I'm having a terrible time getting into the holiday spirit. It just doesn't feel like Christmas to me. Sure, I know it's Christmas. I can always tell by the return of the Clapper commercials. And Chia pets. (Have you seen the new Marvin Shanken Chia pet? Just add water and it sprouts greenhouse gases. Just like the real thing!) So all the normal signs of Christmas are about, but, I don't know, it just doesn't feel like Christmas. The whole season feels empty to me, almost meaningless, an empty exercise, like the Wine Enthusiast Top 100 Wines. Sure, I can put on a facade and pretend that I've got the Christmas spirit. Dress up like an elf and pretend I'm Mike Grgich. But I don't want to. The wine world has worn me down this past year, the whole wine blogging circus has completely eroded my faith in humankind. I'm a wayward sheep looking for a shepherd, a lost lamb looking for its flock, a paid advertiser looking for his 90+ score. I'm finding only disappointment in my stocking this Christmas, and it's usually in my pants. Things need to change.

I believe in wine and the wine business. I believe that wine is proof that God loves us and doesn't mind if we drive drunk as long as we don't talk on cellphones. I believe that God created yeast so that beer and wine and bread and urinary tract infections would remind us of His grace, and of the burning bush. I believe that wine serves to remind us that all men are created equal on the 100 point scale. Men are all 89's; women are all 97's. I believe no one who truly loves wine is capable of selfishness, greed, jealousy or chastity--the world's biggest horrors--but gluttony, yeah, baby, we got gluttony. I believe that wine has enriched Western culture more than poetry, more than the Enlightenment, more than baseball, more than Russ Meyer movies. Wine flows through my veins like sap flows through Alice Feiring's. And more than anything this holiday season, more than a case of great Chateauneuf-du-Pape, more than a fan letter from Gerald Asher, more than an appearance by Jancis Robinson on Maury Povich, I wish for the following:

A truce between the folks who believe in Stelvins and those who like corks. It's crappy vineyard management, lousy winemaking and obnoxious critics that ruin wine for everyone more often than corks. Hey, I'm no fan of TCA, I'm like Robert Blake's wife, I'd rather be screwed than plugged, but it's time this holiday season to live and let live. Both closures are here to stay. Let's move on.

Forgiveness for the biggest fools among us, Hardy Wallace, Gary Vaynerchuk, Alder Yarrow. Forgive them, Father. They know not what they do. Forgive Hardy Wallace for chasing so hard after 60 Grand at the expense of integrity, a future in the wine business and any chance of credibility at selling any wine that doesn't taste like it's blended by people in a Diane Arbus photograph. Forgive Gary V for promoting the image of wine expert as buffoon--rude, overbearing, filled with braggadacio, hot air and payola, unaware of the stink he spreads on all of us. And forgive poor Alder who mistakes indefatigability for talent, tastebuds for kitchen sinks, and attendance with popularity. Forgiveness is a hallmark of the holiday. I'm sure I could also use a dose.

A truce between Robert Parker and Andy Blue and James Laube and all the other wine reviewers and the torrent of wine bloggers. Hey, Bob and Andy and Jimmy, stop crapping on all the wine bloggers. Face it, boys, all wine criticism is based on factual
misrepresentations, not just the criticism bloggers aim at you--both numbers and credentials are basically imaginary. Almost everybody has too much of the former and too little of the latter. Why should bloggers be any different? Or more objective? Let's face it, we're all in this for the same thing. We think we know more about wine than the next guy and we want to be paid for it. In money, or free samples, or admiration, or showgirls. We're in the business of promoting hooey. When critics dump on bloggers, they're dumping on the people who've paid their salaries for years and years. When bloggers dump on critics they debase the job description they long to put on their resumes. In the words of the late great Rodney Strong, "Can't we all just get along?"

Everyone adopts the Million Point Scale. Stars, Puffs, 89's, they all need to go the way of 8-Track cassettes, Pong and the Rhythm Method. We need hundreds of thousands of points tossed around like midgets in a bowling alley! Why argue about a few dismal points when tens of thousands of points will do? The 100 Point Scale is so Second Millennium! Time to think big. Time to step up and score like the Big Boys. This is my Christmas wish.

I know that my Christmas wishes won't be granted. 2010 will be filled with the same rancor as 2009, the same ugliness, the same petty debate.

God, I hope so.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

From the HoseMaster of Wine Archives: 1978

When I first began wine blogging in 1978 the landscape of wine was totally different. Hell, the landscape of my forehead was totally different. Wine blogging was more civilized then, and far less crowded. I think there were only two wine blogs--mine and Walter Cronkite's. (Whatever happened to him?) Al Gore had called me to tell me he'd invented the Internet (I suggested the name "Internet," by the way; Al wanted to call it the Tippernet) and I recognized right away that it would become a powerful force in the wine business and so I began HoseMaster of Wine soon thereafter. Now here we are, thirty years later, and I'm still cranking out the wine wisdom, though I'm occasionally drowned out by the thousands and thousands of muttonheads who have started their own wine blogs. However, in their defense, I will say that wine blogs represent some of the finest examples of typing the wine world has ever seen!

As the end of the year approaches, I thought it might be fun to reproduce some excerpts from my early HoseMaster of Wine posts. I think they still hold up.

June 1978

This was one of my earliest "What's the HoseMaster Drinking?" posts.

Callaway 1977 Chardonnay Temecula

Many of you haven't had a lot of Chardonnay, but put down those glasses of Wente Blanc de Blancs and your Grey Riesling, get off your butts, head down to the fine wine section of Trader Joe's (no finer wine shop in the land!) and pick up a bottle of Callaway '77 Chardonnay! This is astonishing wine, and ranks right up there with the best Chardonnays from anywhere in the world, including the best Chardonnay in the world, Jadot Pouilly-Fuisse! Don't just take my word for it. President Carter is serving the Callaway Chardonnay at a State Dinner next week because it is the perfect wine with crow. I've also been told by the winery that Jim Jones has ordered ten cases for a "special" punch he's going to serve his followers in Guyana. No doubt it will knock 'em dead. Let me be the first to say that one day Temecula will be hailed as one of the world's greatest wine growing regions, right up there with Beaujolais!

Disclaimer: Though I liked the wine, I encouraged Mr. Callaway to get out of the wine business and pursue something more profitable, like golf clubs. I think he was teed off.

And here's a brief little post where I made a recommendation about wine reviewing:

I'm a little tired of reading wine reviews that are simply a bunch of words strung together. How in the world can I tell what the reviewer thinks of the wine when all I have to go by is a bunch of adjectives? And when he's reviewed a bunch of different wines, I'm talking to you Robert Lawrence Balzer, how am I supposed to know which Gallo bottling he likes best? This is confusing for me, and I'm an expert (I just received my HMW), what's it like for the consumer?

I think I have a solution. Why not give numbers to the wines? A score. You know, like you got on spelling tests when you were a kid. Why even bother with descriptions? Who cares what you think it tastes like? Who are you? Robert Finigan? Tell me how many points you think it's worth. Let's just say, for the sake of argument, that we use a 100 point scale. The worst wine you've ever tasted gets 100 points. So a perfect wine would get a Zero. (No Zeroes on my watch, especially on Pearl Harbor Day.) I think this makes perfect sense, and one day everyone will use this scale to rate wines.

For example, the Callaway 1977 Chardonnay I'd give 11 points! See? Makes sense, doesn't it?

I almost got it right. Then some damned lawyer in Maryland stole my idea, which is the risk you take when you are brilliant and have a wine blog, reversed it just to make it look like it was his idea, and the rest, well, you know the rest.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

What's the HoseMaster Drinking?

Alesia 2007 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast

It's a Pinot Noir world right now, at least in California, and since we are clearly the most self-absorbed of states, that's all that matters. California sets the trends for the entire country, if not the entire planet. It all starts here--bankruptcy, Google, pornography, foreclosures, Twitter, smog, Scientology--the Seven Modern Horsemen of the Apocalypse. There are so many amazing grapes in the world I almost hate to write about Pinot Noir, but, then, yesterday, it was what the HoseMaster was drinking. And loving. I've written before about the wonderful wines being produced by Rhys Vineyard in the Santa Cruz Mountains. "Alesia" is the Rhys Vineyard label for the Pinot Noirs produced from purchased fruit. The Rhys wines are breathtaking and very much worth the search. If you're not on his mailing list and you love Pinot Noir, well, what the hell are you waiting for? Phys on Earth? And if you're just offered Alesia Pinot Noirs at first, jump on them. The 2007 Sonoma Coast is as pure and as pretty as a castrato singing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame." OK, I don't know what that means either. But from first sniff to last, the Alesia is focused on black cherry, rose petal and lavender aromas that leap from the glass, caress your nose and call you Barbra. It has vibrant fruit that is still rather tightly wound, but the intensity and structure of the wine would lead me to believe its best days are ahead of it. Think of this wine as the prettiest girl in the room. The one you want to take home and spend hours with, but, sure, right, like you've got a chance in Lodi of that happening. This is a tremendous wine for $35.

The HoseMaster Score 803,777 Points

Disclaimer: Read my lips. No gnu taxes. Kudus for that.

Friday, December 4, 2009

The HoseMaster Presents

Best New Wine Books of 2009

There are hundreds of wine books published every year, and those are just the ones rehashing Parker numbers. "Parker's Buying Guide", "Parker's Guide to the Best Wines in the World", "Parker's Almanac of Wine", "Parker's Encyclopedia of Wine", "Parker's Guide to Composting Parker Guides." The guy is dead and still manages to publish more books than L. Ron Hubbard. With Christmas just around the corner, your HoseMaster has sifted through hundreds of titles and come up with the best wine books of 2009, the perfect stocking stuffers for the wine lover in your life.

Wine Enthusiast's Big Book of Numbers
Editors of Wine Enthusiast

Here is a book filled with surprises. For example, even the cover alone has a major surprise--did you even know Wine Enthusiast had editors? Wow. That's really surprising. This book belongs on every wine lover's shelf. It clearly and lucidly explains every number in the 100 Point Scale, what it means, how it's arrived at and how much money it generates. Here's an excerpt from the number 90:

"90 is a number slightly less than 91 (see next chapter) but far, far larger than 89 (see previous chapter "Bend Over and Take an 89"). It is, however, the least important number in the 90's, and, as such, is often used as a token, a pat on the back for a particularly generous winery (see Appendix entry "How the Top 100 Wines are Chosen"), or as simple hyperbole for a cheap wine that, were it $40 instead of $10, would rate an 87 (see the chapter "Another number that don't mean crap).

I returned to this thoughtful book over and over as I encountered scores I was unfamiliar with. Did you know that 92 actually exists as a score? I don't think I'd ever seen it before. And the chapter on 100 is particularly poignant as it relates the tragic story of 99 (not the agent on "Get Smart") and how its feelings of failure at never achieving three-digithood ended in suicide. There's even a riveting chapter on the prevalence of dyslexia among professional wine critics which explains why so many 89 point wines end up as 98. Highly recommended.

Yarrow Minded Narrow
Alder Yarrow

In a nod to his loyal readers of Vinography, whom he recognizes may be several Brix shy of ripe, Alder Yarrow has written a book in the style of Dr. Seuss that uses no more than fifty different words to explore the wineries of Northern California. This is a lively and simpleminded romp through the vanity wineries of Napa Valley and points beyond. It's Alder, so you know the premise of every winery profile--a brief, sycophantic, press release biography of the winery's owner followed by a brief description of his dream of becoming yet another producer of 200 cases of overpriced wine, and then Alder's glowing review of aforementioned wines, told from his perspective of several years of wine knowledge. But here he's cleverly encapsulated those stories in words even his regular followers can understand. Here's a bit of his profile of Kosta Browne:

Two guys from John Ash
Got their mitts on some cash.
Getting cash for your ash
Is the world's oldest job
And it wasn't that long
Before high numbers from Bob.

It's a place built on Pinots that eliminate frowns
And encourages bloggers to make noses Brownes.

So when Kosta and Browne
Then achieved great reknown

Just two guys that slung hash

Sold their names for big cash.

You can spread ash for cash and they call it pornography
You can kiss ash for wine and they call it Vinography.

I don't know about you, but I can't get enough of this kind of stuff. I'm several dozen IQ points short of 100 myself.

California's Real Wine Countries--From Temecula to Suisun Valley

Seymour Plonk

Wine country guides to Napa Valley and Sonoma County and Paso Robles, ad nauseum, have been done to death. Sure, sure, these are where many of California's best wines come from, but what about all the other places wine is produced in the state? Great wine is highly overpublicized, but the ocean of mediocrity out there gets scant attention. Until now. This lovely coffee table book takes us on a tour of the "real" wine countries of California, the places where it isn't so damned easy to make good wine, where it takes imagination and effort to pretend the wines are palatable--Temecula, Suisun Valley, Lodi, Malibu Mountains... Plonk, longtime blogger and the country's first tastebud transplant donor, provides an overview of these often neglected, but rarely unintentionally, appellations. Here's his take on Lodi:

"What makes the wine so good is the oppressive heat. Where other regions have to work hard to reach 29 degrees Brix, in Lodi that's called "two weeks to harvest." It's a region with many very old vineyards--well, at least they look that way. Sort of like beach bums who don't use sunblock. What George Hamilton is to skin cancer, Lodi is to grape vines."

And I admire the way Plonk is able to spend an entire day tasting in Temecula and not question the existence of God. I wish he'd spent a little more time rating the wines, however, and that he didn't keep repeating the same tasting note over and over again:

"What is this shit?"

These are my top 3 wine books of 2009. Here are a few more titles that you may want to look into, these are the books that just narrowly missed recommendation.

Big, Bloated and Reeking of Cigar: The Marvin Shanken Story
Thomas Mathews

Dead Guys Don't Spit--Ratings from Hell
Robert Mondavi and Robert Parker

Unexplored Back Roads of California Winemakers

Thursday, December 3, 2009

What's the HoseMaster Drinking?

GTS Vineyards 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon Nancy's Fancy Diamond Mountain

I'm an unabashed baseball fan, so once the World Series is over I slip into depression. And not just a mild depression. I get self-destructive. I actively seek out oblivion. I read wine blogs. I find WineHarlots gives me a very satisfying loss of the will to live. Reading BrixChicks for just twenty minutes has sent my brain into a vegetative state, and I have a very strict Do Not Resuscitate rule, unless it's a woman doing it and she uses her tongue. Perhaps I love baseball not wisely, but too well. So when I sat down to dinner last night and thought about what wine I wanted to drink, it came to me. Tom Seaver! Miracle Mets, Tom Terrific, Three-Time Cy Young Award Winner, and, now Diamond (where else?) Mountain Cabernet producer! A bottle of his wine would have to help. And, luckily, I owned a bottle or two. Seaver owns about four acres of vineyard on Diamond Mountain. Seaver hired Thomas Brown, famed winemaker for Schrader, Outpost and his own label, Rivers-Marie, to be his winery battery mate. The GTS 2005 Nancy's Fancy is very nice Diamond Mountain Cabernet, though showing the youthfulness of the vineyard. Brown dolled it up in a bunch of oak so it comes across a little like Brooke Shields in "Pretty Baby;" and while the oak is a bit too noticeable for my taste, the fruit does manage to stand up to it with bright cherry and red currant flavors with just a bit of green olive. I wouldn't expect a long, award-winning career from this rookie effort, but it certainly cheered me up to be drinking a wine from Tom Seaver. And it receives an extra 311 points, one for each win of Tom Terrific's great career.

The HoseMaster Score 598,311 Points

Disclaimer: I do not own a chimp named Bubbles and have never dated Brooke Shields. I did once date a chimp named Brooke.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The M.S. Conspiracy

A HoseMaster of Wine Pulp Fiction Classic

Chapter 7 Murder's a Bad Habit

People always ask me what it's like going from being a sommelier to being a private detective--public dick to private dick. It's like you hang up your overcoat and give up being an exhibitionist. You stop scaring young girls by whipping out your wine knowledge and hoping they'll gasp in admiration. And I never even bothered with an M.S., that just exacerbates the flashing. When you think about it, an M.S. credential and a penis have a lot in common. With either one you take every chance you get to show it to people. It serves as proof you are what you say you are--a man or a wine expert. At the least provocation you whip it out and wave it around for anyone to see. And they react, they've heard about the M.S. exam, they look at what you're displaying to them and they instantly understand it's hard. And, gosh, not everyone has one, so it must be some sort of achievement. Isn't it?

I was lucky. I got out of the sommelier business in the nick of time. Before the M.S. goons and grifters muscled their way into the wine business, hired for the meaningless letters after their names by wine-clueless restaurant owners and delusional chefs (OK, "delusional chefs" is redundant, but I'm making a point here). Where once it took years and years of experience to qualify as wine knowledgeable, now it just took serious memorization, a checkbook, and putting all the right things on the tip of your tongue, many of them attached to the examiners. I've got nothing against the freaks and appellation-flashers who want the letters after their names, the letters that strike fear in the hearts of the wine ignorant everywhere, they go into it with high hopes and dreams of prestige borrowed from hundreds of years of wine snobbery. Only to find out that the magic letters come with a price. Lorna had paid the price, her neck broken like the screwtop on a cheap bottle of Australian shiraz you opened because you like the taste of manipulated wine, it reminds you of your life, the way you try to make it taste good despite the lousy ingredients. It was starting to feel like the M.S. dons were beginning to get nervous for some reason. The question was why. And maybe Jessica Jokes was thinking the same thing and that was why she was going to take the M.S. exam. Put her own life at risk. Maybe I'd underestimated her.
Maybe I was still in love with her. No, I'd given up women for something better. Lubricants.

I had put all of that wine business buffonery and pretense behind me when I became a private dick; it was just a distant scene I occasionally glimpsed in my rearview mirror. And speaking of rearview, how did Veronica fit into all of this? She'd need a wide screen, that's for sure, she had a rearview only Cinemascope could do justice to. But she'd showed me a bit more wine knowledge than I'd expected. Had she set me up with Lorna, or had her friends, or was she just another dreamer longing to be a sommelier? And how was I going to get her into the M.S. exams without Jessica knowing I was involved?

I was thinking about Veronica when I felt a buzzing in my pants. This was odd since I don't own a cellphone. Odd, but pleasant. I'd owned a really cheap device for a while, a kind of Blackberry knockoff. A Dingleberry, but I'd gotten rid of it. It hardly ever dingled.

"Hey, Hoseapoppin', come with me." It was Chief Jokes yelling at me across the square. "I just got a call. Another M.S. candidate just turned up dead. Drowned in the tub. Let's hope it was an accident."

She, whoever she was, was still in the tub, face down, her gorgeous butt looking eerily like Harvey Steiman without a bow tie. But this was no accident. In the tub with her, bobbing around like pieces of her shattered dreams, were corks. Hundred of corks. Someone had made cork soup, with sommelier stock.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

What's the HoseMaster Drinking?

The Ojai Vineyard 2002 Syrah Melville Vineyard Santa Rita Hills

When you're looking for the best Syrah in California, where do you look? Aside from in some highly rated Pinot Noirs. In my occasionally humble opinion, the best and most consistent Syrah producer in the state is Adam Tolmach at The Ojai Vineyard. His parade of Syrah bottlings is dazzling in almost every vintage, like the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade without all the hot air. (Boy, that sure reads like a joke even if it isn't particularly amusing.) Of all his Syrah bottlings, and there are about eight of them, it's his "Roll Ranch" Syrah that is consistently the most brilliant--from a vineyard in Ventura County!--and I'd encourage you to seek it out. But I also love the way he handles his Melville fruit (from Billy Buddbreak to harvest, it's his coolest climate vineyard). The 2002 Melville from the Santa Rita Hills (yes, I know, technically it's the "Sta. Rita Hills", but in 2002 it was still "Santa Rita Hills" and that's what's on the label so get off my back, OK?) made my eyes light up, my nose tingle and made me want to break into a chorus of "Sta. Claus is Comin' to Town." I don't say this too often, but just the color of the wine was beautiful--a deep and dazzling purple like Barney the Dinosaur run through a blender. The wine was a bit too cold coming out of my cellar so it took some time for it to warm and open, but when it did it revealed a lovely nose of pure blackberries, white pepper, spice, and a hint of flowers that I'd call violets. All of the purity and intensity of the nose seemed to hint at it being rather gooey and dense on the palate, but, instead, it had a firm backbone of acidity, chocolate undertones, and bright, layered fruit. I always know when I open an Ojai Syrah that I won't be disappointed, and that sort of consistency is relatively rare in the wine world.

The HoseMaster Score 877,088 Points

Disclaimer: I have not been true to my values and the behavior my family deserves and I really fucked up my nice Caddy--the car, not the guy who washes my balls.