Thursday, April 29, 2010

The HoseMaster's Honest Guide to Grapes Volume 4

In the New World we label our wines with the name of the grape, and if we don't know the name of the grape we put stupid names on the label--Rubicon or Bitch or Colgin. The Old World, and how is it that Europe is the Old World when really it should just be the Has-Been World, just like it is with people, puts the name of the place where the grapes were grown on the label because this makes it a lot easier to remember that the grapes don't really matter. It's the same reason the Yankees don't put names on the uniforms of the players--all that matters is the Yankees, not the interchangeable prima donnas that wear the uniforms. But by not putting the names of grapes on their labels, the Europeans have created endless confusion for novice wine drinkers. Only experienced wine professionals realize that Barolo is made from the Nebbiolo grape, that Vouvray is Chenin Blanc, and that Chablis is mostly French Colombard, but really minerally French Colombard (though some people claim Chablis is Chardonnay, damned wine Yankees mostly, don't believe them--taste it, just taste it, it can't be Chardonnay). Slowly, but surely, the HoseMaster is helping all of you to understand the different grape varieties. Today's lesson--more of that reddish stuff.


Everyone loves Syrah and nobody buys it. Syrah makes great wines all over the world, from the Barossa Valley in Australia to the great wines of Cote-Rotie in the Northern Rhone, from South Africa to the great Pinot Noirs of Santa Barbara County. But nobody buys it. It's like an OJ Simpson alibi, a Mark McGwire excuse, Sarah Palin's integrity. Nobody buys it. Syrah goes by the name of Shiraz in Australia and South Africa. An apocryphal story goes that the grape originated near the Persian city of Shiraz and that's how its alternative name came about. I find this explanation rather Iranic. Actually, no one knows how Syrah came to be known as Shiraz, though I believe that Shiraz is Syrah's rap name. Fershizzle.

Not so many years ago, many pundits believed that Syrah would be the next Merlot. And now it is. No one buys Merlot either. Syrah was widely planted all over California with the expectation that it would soon be the consumers' choice for every day drinking and by the glass in restaurants. It was often planted where it didn't belong, which is to say everywhere. Now much of it has been torn out and replaced with poverty. Syrah is the David Hasselhoff of grapes--known all over the world and universally mocked.

Interesting facts about Syrah:

Syrah is still called "Sereine" in some parts of France, and "Venus" near Wimbledon.

Syrah can make unpopular wines in both hot and cool climates.

Whereas there are endless annoying puns related to Zin, assholes have for years made "Que Syrah Syrah" the single breathtakingly obvious pun for Syrah.

Other names for Syrah:

Shaboom Shaboom


Petite Sirah is a hybrid grape that was created by Dr. Durif in the late 19th Century in France.
Dr. Durif crossed Syrah (see above--apparently they couldn't sell Syrah then either) with a Folies Bergere midget, creating a bold red wine with very long legs. Dr. Durif named the grape he'd hybridized after himself, calling it "Doc." The name didn't stick, though you still see it used occasionally on Southern French wines called Langue Doc. (I got this fact from Wikipedia, the Most Trusted Name in Misinformation). Because Petite Sirah is 50% Syrah (and 50% Ooh-La-La), and its clusters are smaller than those of Syrah (see photo for genetic reasons why), growers began calling it Petite Sirah, "petite" being the French word for flat-chested.

Petite Sirah is what's technically known as a "Tasting Room grape." These are grapes that only sell in tasting rooms and only to highly intoxicated people. They never appear on restaurant wine lists because they go with food like skiers go with avalanches. There is a society of Petite Sirah lovers called "P.S. I Love You" but both of them refuse to appear in public because their teeth, all six of them, have turned the color of a Whitney Houston bruise. Some producers label their Petite Sirahs as "Durif" simply to taunt the old dead French guy.

Interesting facts about Petite Sirah:

It is often blended with Zinfandel in an effort to get rid of it.

Wineries who want to charge more money for it label it Petite Syrah hoping it will fool the public into thinking it's Syrah they're not buying.

It was used to paint the Stealth Bomber.

Other names for Petite Sirah:

Tongue Depressor
Teeth Ink
Food Kevorkian


Many people mistakenly believe "Grenache" was a 60's sitcom with Eddie Albert and Eva Gabor. It's actually a grape. Some authorities believe it originated in Sardinia where it is known as Cannonau, named for its effect on your lower intestine after you drink it. These authorities are mostly Italian, and you know what that means. In Spain, Grenache is called Garnacha, and often covered in melted cheese. But Grenache's best known expression is in the majestic wines of Chateauneuf-du-Pape (translated as New Home of the Pedophiles). These are wines that can live for decades, but are usually consumed very young, and mostly orally, in honor of the Pope.

Grenache is usually put in the category of "Rhone Varieties" because French wines are the only wines that matter. Of the Rhone varieties it is second in importance only to Syrah, which is like being beneath Jean-Claude Van Damme on a movie billboard. Grenache can be a very prolific grape in the vineyard and has long been the backbone of many of the best cheap wines in the world including Cotes-du-Rhone, Gallo Hearty Burgundy, and nearly every damn wine in Spain. There is also a Grenache Blanc, but, frankly, it can't dance worth a crap.

Interesting facts about Grenache:

It is well-suited for roast Arnold.

In Australia, it's the "G" in "GSM" blends along with Sado and Masochism. GSM's go great with Miracle Whip.

Grenache is best grown in hot climates but stays the hell out of Lodi.

Other names for Grenache:

Che Guevara
Grenache Whole
Kiss my Grenache Whole
Garnacha Ole


PaulG said...

Oh Mighty Hosemaster, let me urge you to collect these priceless guides to grapes, find a Ralph Steadman-worthy illustrator, and go bigtime print. This stuff is priceless (note that I did not say worthless - that's something else entirely). Hose on!

Charlie Olken said...

Wow. This stuff is really funny. When did you turn to writing comedy?

Seriously. No, wait, nevermind, this is neither the time nor the place for that.

Let's just say "brilliant" and get the heck out of Dodge before you decide to start commenting on wine writers.

Marcia Macomber said...

After hours hunched over my key-bored, re-working technical assembly instructions and verbiage, this was just perfect to provide a little levity to the end of my day.

What? No confusion b/w a type of French chocolate cake icing and the noble (throat clearing noise) Grenache grape?? A typo, perhaps? I suppose you can spread a thick "Grenache" over a flourless torte.... :-)

Or even my spread a thick word verification 'quesch'...

Ron Washam said...


Thanks. I've had the fabulous opportunity to not buy many of the best Washington Syrahs based on your recommendations. As for bigtime print, I'm certain I'd be the Petite Sirah of authors.


I'd comment on wine writers but no one reads them. They make Saramago seem obscure.

I turned to writing comedy because tasting notes are far too hard and require a thesaurus I can't afford. And, let's face it, writing comedy, like writing blogs, doesn't require facts.

Ron Washam said...

Marcia Darling,

I hate to correct anyone so beautiful, but Ganache is simply the name for any Grenache that scores over 95 points.

And, frankly, I quesch you more than you'll ever know.

Sip with Me! said...

Oh Master of your hose,
Thank you for this, you have put a smile on a face that would have not smiled otherwise today. Is it possible that your wit has positively elevated my spirit? Oh, what is this world coming to when it's Jose that's turning my frown upside down?

Samantha Dugan said... you di-int.

Ron Washam said...

Tamara Darling,

If I brought a smile to your lovely face on an off day, then my heart sings. Either that or you're easily amused.

My Gorgeous Samantha,


I love you fershizzle!

Samantha Dugan said...

I forgive you but only because you didn't add, "To your mother".

Dave said...

Ah so, most timely HoseMaster-san, am off to Paseo de Robles in a while to engage in a sampling of the Hasselhoff Shamu and a little Ganache with S&M on the side. Have printed out your notes and will put to appropriate use, unless of course the port-a-potties have been stocked with back up rolls.

Ron Washam, HMW said...


Yours won't be the first bunghole on my blog.

Have fun in Paso Robles. I used to frequent the Hospice du Rhone in the early days, but haven't attended for about five years. So they're probably still tasting the same Syrahs I had then.

Dave said...


Last year was my first, and fairly enjoyable after experiencing WOPN burnout. One new one in the past five years I'm looking forward to trying is by a young winemaker named Jacob Toft who also helps out at L'Aventure.

John Cesano said...


It is a treat each time I find you have a new post. Your words are an antidote for pretension.



winebookgirl said...

I laughed at loud several times. My coworkers have now concluded that I am drinking at my desk.

I hear Paul works with a lovely publisher. Charlie as well if he would send back that APQ.


Ron Washam, HMW said...


We expect a full report. I hope it's not too damn hot in Paso Robles--one year I attended it was 116 for the Grand Tasting! Coincidentally, the same as the Brix level for many of the Syrahs I tasted.


Thanks. Wine has always attracted pretension, I'm not sure why. It's essentially just another mind-altering drug with delusions of grandeur. I only tolerate my own delusions of grandeur.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Amy Love,

I'm sure you know better than anyone the nonexistent market for wine humor. But make me an offer!

Hey, your blog post made me want to head to Mendocino. Want to go?

winebookgirl said...

Let me know when for Mendocino, okay?

Charlie Olken said...

Note to ABC--

I like my editor at UCPress, but lovely? Maybe you meant my publicist.

Thomas said...


email me. I might know a publisher for your stuff.

That line about taken orally in honor of the Pope: too good to give away for free. It even made up for "Iranic!"

Anonymous said...

Thomas' post RE finding a publisher led me to start a little publicity campaign of my own.

I've been a contributor for the past 8-9 years on a site called Chowhound, in a nutshell a treasure trove of quality resource for dining and wine.

A while back I started a thread called "Classic Sarcastic Wine Descriptors", just basically listing some funny shit I had collected.

Figuring that this was not sufficient, I began a new thread dedicated to The HoseMaster. For your reading pleasure and contributions:

Side Note: This site is incredible for locating fine dining from taco trucks to four star places, especially if you have never visited a city or region before. I post mostly on the California, SF, and British Columbia boards under the name of PolarBear.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Hey Polar Bear,

Thanks for the kind words and for campaigning for me on Chowhound. After 120 some posts, it's nice to know I've said a couple of memorable things. Puts me way ahead of, say, Helen Keller.

Dave said...

Oops, I see I neglected to include my name on the above post. Thought you might like to see what an old acquaintance of yours had to say:

"I've known Ron for nearly 20 years, both when he was with Mission Wines in Pasadena and at The Pacific Dining Car. He's got a great palate, and a superb, biting wit." Jason who posts as zin1953


Dave (aka PolarBear)

Samantha Dugan said...

Wow, Chow Hound...have not been there in years! I was a junkie for a bit but it seemed (for a bit anyway) that there were far too many, "What wine to buy at Trader Joes?" posts for my liking. Nice to see there is someone saying something interesting over there again and that Zin guy was always one of the very few people over there that I really looked forward to hearing from. Small world....

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Hey Dave,

Yeah, I knew when I saw the post that it was you. Thanks very much.

I have known Jason a very long time, used to buy wine from him. I was mildly famous as a sommelier in my LA days--now I'm universally loathed, by everyone on blogs anyway. I prefer loathed.

My Gorgeous Samantha,

Jason knows a lot about wine, and you'd like him in person. Very funny and unpretentious. No wait, that's me.

I love you!

winebookgirl said...

Wait. I have a (mediocre) blog. Do I have to loathe you?

Well, perhaps if you publish with someone else. :)