Monday, October 29, 2012

The Cure for Dull Wine Reviews Once More

Tasting notes are like those online disclaimers we mindlessly sign—nuisances that nobody reads. You go to a winery website, a box pops up that says, “Clicking here acknowledges that you are 21 years old,” and you check it and move on. How is this actually legal? It could say, “Clicking here acknowledges that you like to smell your finger after sex,” and we’d click it whether it was true or not just to get into the site. And no one seems to wonder about the consequences of signing those online forms that every credit card and every bank makes you sign. We scroll to the bottom, check the box, and hope we haven’t signed away our organs to the Russian Mafia. Though I have a big Wurlitzer they can have. I also wonder, if I have a woman check a box that says, “Checking this box acknowledges that you are over 18 and using birth control,” will that pass muster in court? Does it have to be beforehand, or does during count? Hell, I checked her box that said, “Checking this box acknowledges that I have had a vasectomy and have never given my cat a tongue bath.” Well, in my defense, it was half true. Does that make it legal? And, hey, it was only fair. The cat gave me a tongue bath first.

There’s no incentive to read tasting notes. Do I really care if a Cabernet smells like cassis, or tobacco, or Chaz Bono’s chubby? No. It has a score, that’s all I care about. But all the wine rags spend a lot of energy trying to convince you that it’s in your best interest to read the descriptions. Why? They’re boring. Fortune cookies have fewer words, more literary value, and far more truth, but I don’t want to read a hundred of them. No, I like to imagine how famous writers and thinkers might write about wine. Now that sounds like a damned premise, and about damned time.

Rod Serling on Napa Valley Cult Cabernet 

Imagine this is the last Cabernet Sauvignon on Earth and you hold it in your hands. Tomorrow every last bottle of wine made from that valuable grape will vanish except this one, and what you hold will be the ultimate cult wine, the last great vintage of a once proud grape. First Growth Bordeaux vanishes from the Earth, except for the forgeries up for auction at Acker Merrill. Napa Valley is empty, devoid of real life and meaning-- much as it is now. And you get to give the last remaining Cabernet its only rating. Do you give it a number, or (raising lit cigarette to his lips) puffs? You unlock this wine with the wine key of imagination. You’re tasting a wine made of both shadow and substance, of things and ideas, and lots of new French oak. It’s a first release from a new producer, it’s in a very heavy bottle wrapped in tissue, nestled in a flashy wooden box, an ambitious wine with an ambitious price, $195 a bottle. There’s the signpost up ahead, just you and the winery owner, you’ve both crossed over into…The Twilight Zone. 85 Points.

David Mamet

Listen, I have to give a great review to this fucking wine…I mean it…I can’t tell you how many times I’ve stayed in their fucking guest house…Well, I could, but that doesn’t matter…I don’t owe them shit for that…OK, listen, this is great fucking wine and you need to buy it…What?...Just fuckin’ buy it…You owe me, you owe me…I don’t care…you owe me. I don’t give a shit that you can’t afford it…You can’t afford it because you’re an idiot, a fucking idiot…This is going to be a valuable wine some day… I’m trying to do you a goddam favor and all you want to do is skip to the Best Buys…This wine has more fucking fruit than Fashion Week…It’s more intense than Harold Pinter…fucking Harold Pinter, I’m telling you…Don’t you want goddam Pinter in your mouth?...He tastes like fucking chicken… 98 Points, I swear.

Henny Youngman

I went into a wine shop and I said to the guy, “Give me something for steak.” He gave me his dentures.

I told him I wanted a white wine to drink while I was fishing off the dock. “How about a Jura of your piers?” I bought a case closed.

I had dinner at a fancy restaurant. The sommelier was so stiff there was a chalk outline of him on the floor.

After I finished the first bottle of wine, he asked me if I’d like a second. My wife said, “That’s all he usually needs.”

A guy goes into a bar and says, “Man, I’m old. I can’t even remember how many bottles of wine I drank last week.” The bartender tells him to take his pants off and bend over. “You had five bottles of wine.” “How could you tell that?” “You told me yesterday.”

D. H. Lawrence on Dehlinger Pinot Noir

I felt the urgency of the Pinot Noir as it entered me, its turgid fruit clinging to my palate, its feverish intensity urging me to Pommard clone orgasm. 667, I cried, 114, I didn’t care. I didn’t care. Pomegranate! Raspberry! Cola! But my cherry, where was my cherry? Gone, gone forever. I didn’t want it to finish. No, I cried, stay in me, let me feel your length, smell your woody, earthy fragrance, hold you in my mouth until my warmth releases all that you have to offer. When I’m done you linger, you’re gone, you’re gone, but you linger, you linger…

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Voter's Guide to the 2012 Wine Propositions

Though it’s rarely mentioned, and there doesn’t seem to be much coverage in the media, we have an election coming up the first Tuesday in November. As a well-informed voter, I know there is a black guy and a white guy running for an important office against each other. But that’s not the part of the election that matters. Hell, it’s like boxing, always bet the black guy over the white guy, it’s mostly fixed anyway. I think I also heard that one of them is a Mormon. Pretty sure it’s the white guy. Must be, black Mormons are like most sommeliers—they have the title, but they’re mostly just there to clean up and lock the doors. So just ignore that race, and focus on what really matters in the upcoming election. Propositions.

At least here in California, there are a lot of important propositions that will decide the future of wine. I know that thousands of people depend on the HoseMaster of Wine™ for guidance in all things pertaining to the industry, so I’m providing my recommendations for how every wine lover should vote in this upcoming election. If you’re still confused after reading my list, just mail me your ballot. I’ll shred it faster than a Florida Republican.

VOTE YES on Proposition 97

Prop 97 would create a “luxury tax” on overpriced wines that would be re-distributed among wineries charging reasonable prices for their wines. For example, a Napa Valley Cabernet selling for $195 would be required to pay a 20% luxury tax of $39 on each bottle sold. $195 is a stupid price for a bottle of wine considering the same money could feed a family of six for a week, or be better spent gambling on cock fights. A Russian River Pinot Noir selling for $150 would also be required to pay a $30 luxury tax. And so on. The accumulated taxes would be divided among struggling wineries charging fair prices for their wines as an incentive to keep wine prices down. The proposition also creates a fund to treat the mental health of those who purchased the overpriced wines. An independent panel of experts will be assembled to decide where the “overpriced” ceiling is for each category of wine. So, as an example of fairness, at $15, any bottle of California Sangiovese would qualify as overpriced. And every damned Dessert Wine at any price.

VOTE NO on Proposition 99

Proposition 99 would allow wineries to name their proprietary wines after diseases. This is a terrible idea, of course, but one that the big corporate wineries are eager to capitalize on. K-J has already trademarked “Bulimia—The Wine That Tastes Just As Good the Second Time.” We don’t need that. There was a test brand from the Sierra Foothills called “Petite Psoriasis” that had a peel-off label. Seems rather tacky. And do we really need “Syphillis” in a screw top? You can see the marketing appeal for the wineries though. “Give your significant other a case of Sterling ‘Gonorrhea.’” That would move the sales needle, if not the hypodermic. But the next thing you know other countries will follow suit and we’ll suffer the nightmare that would be Soave "Ebola." For the love of God, vote No on 99.

VOTE YES on Proposition A

Proposition A would ban the use of French in all marketing materials. French is the source for all the wine vocabulary that is stupid, illogical, and inexplicable. Use of the word “terroir” would be punishable by a hefty fine, as well as mandatory attendance at a Jim Clendenen winemaker dinner (though the Supreme Court may rule that is cruel and unusual punishment). “Cru” would also be banned, except for rapper winemakers. A Pinot Noir producer who used the word “Burgundian” would be beaten senseless and forced to wear Jean-Charles Boisset’s hand-me-downs to leather bars. It’s about time these stupid, misleading French words were made illegal. “Methode Champenoise” always sounds like a fancy brand of douche to me anyway, so let’s just get rid of it. I’d like to see the law go even further and ban terms that are related to French wines, even ones in English. Crap like “First Growth.” Sounds like the results of your colonoscopy anyway. But, really, if we can just ban “terroir” we’ve made the wine world a much better place. I’ve never known a quality human to use it, only marketing people. You must vote Yes on Prop A.

VOTE YES on Proposition 18

Prop 18 would force wine competitions to award Gold Medals that are actually made of 24K gold. Opponents say that this will raise entry fees for wineries that want to enter competitions, while advocates argue that it will stop the obscene proliferation of Gold Medals. Both are desirable results. Silver medals will remain worthless, and Bronze medals will be eliminated in favor of valuable parting gifts. "Our 2009 Zinfandel was awarded American Tourister luggage!" Fewer entries, a result of necessarily higher entry fees,  will mean the mostly senior citizen wine judges will actually be able to stay awake. Meanwhile, competition organizers will put pressure on the old farts to give fewer valuable medals, resulting in Gold Medal wines that are actually worth buying. Imagine that.

VOTE YES on Proposition L

Proposition L seeks to make it illegal for sommeliers (a word that would be banned if Prop A passes—let’s just call them what they really are, Cork Presenters) to make and sell their own wine. The marketplace is flooded with wine made by real celebrities, it doesn’t need wine made by fake ones. Sommeliers should be limited to doing what it is they do best—making winemakers squirm with their idiotic opinions. This is valuable work, and shouldn’t be undervalued. But sommeliers making their own wine is like gardeners making their own manure—fine in the privacy of their own home, but I don’t want to have to smell it. Be brave and stand up for your convictions. Don’t be a No L Coward.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Blind Book Review--"How to Love Wine"

Somehow my copy of Eric Asimov’s new book “How to Love Wine” was lost in the mail, or was mistakenly shipped to one of the usual sycophantic wine bloggers, you know who they are, guaranteed to give it a rave review. Really, you’re recommending the new book by the wine critic of the newspaper of record (sorry, Newspaper of Record) when your claim to fame is your insightful post about how tasting rooms should have stools? Wow, that’s quite a stretch. I just loved your previous post where you showed a pretty picture of a pear and reminded us how you could taste pears in some wines. So insightful, and easy for us morons to understand. I’m sending you a photo of a gerbil, hoping he’ll find a home somewhere in your anatomy. I simply must rush out and buy Asimov’s new book, based on the surprisingly positive wine blogger reviews. I haven’t heard so much gushing since the last BP oil spill.

I haven’t read “How to Love Wine.” I probably will. Eric Asimov is a nice guy, thoughtful and funny and articulate. Wait, that’s me. But I’m going to write about his new book without having read it.  I think reading it is a crutch, and predisposes you to like it. Think of this as a blind book review. I’m reviewing the book and haven’t even seen the cover! Takes all the bias out of it. This is how professionals do it. Would those kiss-ass wine bloggers (it’s discouraging how few have any sort of voice or backbone—if I’m an inveterate misanthrope, at least inveterate is better than invertebrate) have given such glowing reviews if they had no idea who the author is? Makes you think, doesn’t it?

First of all, why do I need a book about “How to Love Wine?” Who the hell needs to know how to love wine? If you’re buying the damn book, you already love wine. I don’t need a book called “How to Love Blowjobs.” Oh, wait, is that giving or receiving? Bad example. I might buy a book entitled, “How to Love Brain Tumors.” Those are hard to love. “How to Love Rat Poison” has a certain ring to it. I’m pretty sure there’s a series in here, like those piece of crap “Idiot’s Guides.” “How to Love Flatulence” is a book every man would buy his wife for Christmas. “How to Love Pedophiles” might be a niche book, but at least you’d be learning to love something, someone, utterly disgusting who you wouldn’t know how to love otherwise.. “How to Love Wine” is the worst title for a wine book I’ve ever heard. OK, “Naked Wine” is right up there. Though I’ve pre-ordered the sequel, “Naked and Shaved Wine.”

Asimov’s premise, I guess (hey, this is a blind book review, I’m guessing, not dealing with facts—you know, like wine reviews on blogs), is that there are a large number of people intimidated by wine, who believe that they have to know a lot of trivial knowledge about a wine, have to know the scores it received, have to have spent a bunch of money on it, in order to enjoy it fully. Who are these cretins? Really. I’ve never met people this blatantly stupid. And if I had, I certainly wouldn’t write a book for them. These people probably get confused by the menu at Red Lobster. I feel sorry for these doorknobs. With more than 200 choices, how do they decide which channel to watch on TV? It’s so intimidating! How do I love TV? Especially when people make fun of me for watching The Crochet Network, even though that’s what I really like. (“I’m voting for Knit Romney.”) Life must be miserable for those idiots. At least now, thanks to Eric Asimov, they’ll know how to love wine.

For as long as I can remember, there’s been talk about all the people who might come to love wine, but are turned off by wine snobs, and so give up, and never pursue the obvious joys of wine. To their everlasting sorrow. On their death beds, their only regret is, “Gosh, I know I’ve been a failure as a father, and I wish I hadn’t slept with the babysitter without wearing a condom, but, honestly, I just wish I’d tasted more natural wines.” In 35 years, I’ve never met one of these pansies. They are the Undecided Voters of wine journalism. Everyone tries to win them over, but, hell, first you have to find them. And they’re not hiding, they just don’t give a crap. How many damn wine books begin with the premise that the author won’t talk down to you, but, rather, try to turn you on to the pleasures of wine? Oh, I don’t know, a thousand? The authors all talk about the myriad of wine snobs in the universe, most of them regular commenters on Robert Parker’s chat room (Bob’s buttboys) or holding forth on Wine Berserkers, but who reads that garbage? Not people who don’t know about wine. Those wine boards are the equivalent of locker room grabass. All in good fun, but mostly about aggression, dominance, and repressed homosexuality.

Is it particularly insightful to urge people to ignore scores, forget about the insanely stupid descriptions, and just enjoy the sensual experience of wine? How many times have the words “Just drink what you like” been written or expressed? Throw all the philosophy you like at it, it’s about as simpleminded a statement as there is in the wine business. Tasting a newly released wine and saying, “It needs some age,” is just about as simpleminded, but not quite. Oh, and, “It really needs food.”

I also don’t care if someone buys wine based on a numerical score. Who cares? Numerical scores run our lives, from IQ’s, to SAT scores, to cholesterol tests, to body weight, we love to assign numbers. And then we eventually wise up and move on from them to lead our lives. If you spend your entire wine life buying bottles because of scores, you’re a sucker. Wine shops and wineries love suckers. You’ll always be welcome if you buy wine by scores—the whole industry will adore you. But the love of wine is in the history of it, the romance of it, the sharing of it. There isn’t a solitary ounce of love in the scores. Almost everyone figures that out after a few years, on their own, without reading a book.

What is condescending to beginning wine drinkers is the endless chatter about wine that makes it seem more mystical than it really is. When, truly, it’s the alcohol that makes us love it, crave it, build wooden shrines to it in our cellars. What offends people isn’t the fixation on scores; it really isn’t even the wine snobs. It’s all the blatant hooey. The waxing poetic about how wine changed your life, the mystical musing about the spiritual benefits of drinking natural wine, the endless tasting notes that teach us from the beginning that describing a wine is actually a test done as a requirement instead of as an enthusiasm—it’s that kind of emptyheaded philosophizing and name-dropping that turns normal people off to wine.

So I thoroughly enjoyed not receiving or reading Eric Asimov’s “How to Love Wine.” It gave me a lot to think about. I also look forward to blind reviewing many other wine books that will not be sent to me for review. And, really, isn’t that the best way to learn to love wine? Not read the best wine books?

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Calendar of Events

German Wines: The “Does Anyone Care?” Tour

Join more than 50 producers of German wine as they tour the US one last time to try and generate interest in their wines. Really, this is it. Last chance. Wines are grouped by region, but you won’t want to miss the final group, “Nahe, Nahe—Nahe, Nahe—Hey, Hey, Goodbye.” You may also want to attend the pre-tasting lecture by a leading German wine authority you haven’t heard of, because, well, he’s a leading German wine authority. It is widely acknowledged that German Rieslings are among the greatest wines in the world, unless you count red as wine. French white wines used to be better, but they surrendered. The German Wine Federation invites you to come discover why QbA is not a gay basketball league.

Sherry: A Sweeping Taste of Flor

Sherry is the most misunderstood wine in the world, which may be a good thing. Even most sommeliers, when asked about Sherry, think only of Dry Sack, which a little talcum powder would help in most cases. At “A Sweeping Taste of Flor,” you’ll be able to taste and learn about the various styles of Sherry. What’s the difference between Oloroso and Amontillado? What about Manzanilla? How do I know if it’s really Armadillo, and what scales do I use to judge it? And how about Ponderoso? You want one of those in your cart, right? Never forget that the history of Sherry is, truly, the history of England. Which explains its decline. Come taste why Sherry is often referred to by borderline wine experts as “vastly underappreciated.” Like laxatives, and chimpanzees that smoke cigarettes. Hosted by Bill “My Name, Pedro Ximenez” Dana.


Often referred to as the “female Helen Turley,” Phillipe Melka is responsible for every wine in Napa Valley. Phillipe himself will be present at Melkapalooza to talk about his wines, sign autographs, prepare a gourmet lunch, sing a selection of show tunes, and blend seven new premium Napa Cabernets. All 450 wineries where Phillipe is consulting winemaker will be present to pour their current releases, all of which received 93 points from somebody. In a wine world recklessly producing thousands of wines that are confusing and taste different, it’s Phillipe Melka who carries the torch for uniformity.

Virginia! If the Smokes Won’t Kill Ya, the Alcohol Will!

Virginia, the Addiction State, presents a tasting of its finest wines. And here’s the rare wine tasting where it’s OK to smoke! Go ahead, light up. You don’t really need your palate. Cigarette smoke is the perfect accompaniment to Virginia wines, and actually enhances the aroma of our Viognier. Yes, we’ve made Viognier our signature grape here in Virginia. Why? Because Vignoles was taken. Virginia has a long and distinguished history in wine, and is widely credited with spreading phylloxera to those uppity French sissies in the Eighteenth Century. So you owe us!

Praised by Bloggers: The Best We Could Do Tasting

Tired of those crowded, prestigious tastings of wines that earned Tre Biccheri, or made some crappy wine rag’s Top 100? Then join us as more than 350 producers celebrate the praise, ratings and scores they received on wine blogs at “The 2012 Best We Could Do Tasting.” Having submitted their wines for scores to many publications and having failed to do better than “84—Really, you should be ashamed,” wineries turn to bloggers for favorable reviews and scores. And it doesn’t take much! Looking for an exclusive Cabernet with a prestigious “California” appellation? Trust your blogger! Wondering what a great wine from Alsace tastes like? Welcome to the blogger club! We don’t know either! Want to understand wine better? Yeah, we get that! Join us on our journey at “The Best We Could Do Tasting.” It’s like the Special Olympics, but for wine. Amid all the talk of inflated wine scores, it’s our trustworthy bloggers who have truly managed to lower the bar.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Fringe Wines

What makes a wine great? Why am I asking you? Like you know anything about wine. First of all, do you have any goddam initials after your name? Like M.W., or M.S. or, the most influential of all, Jr.? No, didn't think so. Jackass. Who cares what your definition of great wine is? Besides, it was a rhetorical question, so if you answered, congratulations, you're now in the Go Fuck Yourself Club. I'll tell you what makes really great wine, and it's not how much pleasure it gives you, it's not how many points it got from some other jackass without letters after his name, and it's not imaginary crap like terroir. Man, I can't believe you think that shit matters. I don't know why you even bother to even think about wine in the first place. Go back to thinking about the stuff you usually think about, like Kate Middleton's tits, or sex with dolphins. Leave the wine thing to people that actually know what they're talking about. If you can think of any.

Natural wines are NOT great wines. Wow, that is so 2009. I suppose you're still on iPhone2. Loser. I already have iPhone14. Siri doesn't just have a voice, but put it in your pocket and discover the wonders of Siri Fleshlight. Now that's the kind of Jobs I'm talking about. And great wines have nothing to do with Authentic Wines. What the hell is Authentic Wine? And who is doing the authenticating? Does it have to pass a test on "Wines Roadshow" on PBS? That's just stupid. Every toy I had as a kid, everything I played with that wasn't part of my anatomy, was called "authentic." I learned when I was eight years old that "authentic" was code for "cheap crap." What's your excuse?

No, the greatest wines being produced today are Fringe Wines. Do yourself a favor and find a few of these amazing examples of Fringe Wines.

Tiny Chicks Wines

Winemaker Les Statutory loves chicks. In fact, he only uses chicks in his winemaking. Grape clusters are made up of both larger berries, referred to as "hens," and smaller berries, called "chicks." In case you're wondering, the "roosters" are removed early in the season in a pruning called "cocksuckering." It's a specialized field, of course, but there is never a shortage of cocksuckerers in the wine business.  Les works with a rare variety, Reverend Meunier, native to Korea. "Reverend Meunier loves chicks," says Statutory, "so I spend a lot of time removing the hens from each cluster before I destem and crush them. Wines made with hens are unnecessarily dilute, way less cluck for the buck. When you only use the chicks, as any good winery does, you get more color, more flavor and more satisfaction." His 2012 Reverend Meunier is very good. "I can release my 2012 because I bottle ferment my wines, which is the truly minimalist way to handle them. And I don't use cork either. What's cork but the bark of a tree? That's insane when you think about it. What else do you seal with a tree? What are we, beavers?" Instead of cork, Les has trained local swallows to seal the bottles in the same manner they build nests--with their saliva. "I like to think it makes spitting my wine redundant." It doesn't.

Nervous Breakdown Wines

It's cliche to talk about stressing vines, but not when it comes to the way winemaker Flacido Domingo does it. "I'm looking for maximum concentration from my vines, not some pansy ass version of it. I show those vines who's the boss." As soon as his vineyards awaken from their long winter dormancy, Domingo is all over them. "First of all, I hire a guy from a collection agency to walk the rows and demand back rent. The guy doesn't let up. Even in the middle of the night he's out there. It's really stressful." Throughout the growing season, Flacido finds ways to stress the vines. "I don't really even like leaves," he says. "they're basically just in the way. I remove all but a couple from each plant just after the grapes are formed. Sure, I don't get the sort of ripeness they get at those big factory wineries where the wines taste like, ugh, fruit. But once the grape clusters reach veraison, it's too late to make good wine. Know what I do if my grapes start to turn color? I spray sunblock on them! That keeps them from turning color, and adds a nice aroma of aloe after fermentation." If you can find it, try the Nervous Breakdown 2011 Pinot Noir. "Man, I really stressed those vines--I told them a Mormon was going to win the White House, they'd no longer be of any use, and their social safety net will have disappeared. Even a plant knows that's certain death."

BioDianetics Wines

Rudolf Steiner wasn't the only lunatic with his own philosophy of farming. But while Biodynamics has been basking in its viticultural fifteen minutes of fame, the great wines are actually being made from vineyards being farmed Biodianetically, according to the principles set in place by L. Ron Hubbard. Many of these principles may seem crazy, such as burying IRS agents in the vineyard and harvesting by the cycle of Tom Cruise sham marriages, but the resulting wines can be stunning. The basic concept behind Biodianetics is that grapes are not native to the planet Earth, but were planted here by aliens from the planet Travolta, which revolves around itself. The grapes are under orders to conquer the human race, which they have successfully done in Western Civilization, and are about to do in the Far East. The Biodianetic farming philosophy centers around human slavery to the grape, with proponents convinced that their way of growing grapes and making wine is superior to everyone else's basically because it's a lot more work and weirder. When, really, it's only a lot more work and weirder.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Sixty is the New Three

Saturday marks the end of my sixtieth year. Hold the applause. I never expected to live sixty years. I thought I’d be dead by forty, even up until I was fifty. Dimwits say things like, “Sixty is the new forty.” I guess it is if you’re referring to wine prices. Otherwise, sixty is the new three, complete with accidents in your pants.

I don’t think many of you will find this post the least bit interesting. Feel free to move on. Go on over to STEVE! and express your brilliant and insightful opinion. We’ll all pretend it’s interesting, I promise. Or spend a few minutes on Fermentation, which is twice as long as Tom Wark spends on it. I’m guessing you haven’t been over to 1WineDude for a bit. I know Joe, I’m sure he misses you. He’s lonely. I’m going to waste everyone’s time with some reminiscing and ranting and other assorted masturbatory pursuits. I’ll feel good when I’m done, though guilty and depressed as well. But don’t say I didn’t warn you. You’re excused.

I don’t think my life has gone in any direction that I’d planned. This is pure luck. I went from majoring in mathematics at Occidental College (though I ended up with a degree in Literature) to writing comedy professionally to having a long career in the wine business. Yeah, I know, same riches to rags story.

I never had a drink until I was twenty-one. (Wait, that’s not true. My cousin gave me a sip of his beer when I was about thirteen. It was warm. I horked it up my nose, which, oddly, is still the way I taste wine. Believe me, that impresses the girls.) I may be the only person I know who can say that. I never saw my father take a drink of anything alcoholic, and my mother very rarely. Wait, that’s an awkward sentence. I meant, I also rarely saw my mother consume alcohol. It was coffee that everyone drank in our household. I don’t drink coffee, never have, unless it had Irish whiskey in it and whipped cream floating on top. I don’t smoke, not anything. My mother often said to me as a child, “Never put anything on fire in your mouth.” I’ve tried to live by that. I’m the only person I know who hasn’t ever ingested any illegal drugs. Weird, right? Not once. No pot, no coke, no LSD, no Ecstasy, no ‘Ludes… No one believes this, no one who reads my writing anyway, but it’s true. I took Viagra once, but I was alone. So I laid on my stomach and played compass.

When I walked away from writing comedy, I found that wine made me happy. While I was writing comedy, nothing made me happy. Comedy writers are, in general, a difficult, competitive, angry bunch. The good ones, anyway. I had talent, but was unhappy. Wine, everything about it, made me happy. I spent all my extra tip money on wine at Trader Joe’s. Some of you will remember a time when Trader Joe’s, which only had stores in Southern California back then, was the best place to buy wine. Now Trader Joe’s is like an old hooker still peddling her wares—a lot cheaper, but clearly worn out. I would read every book I could find about wine and then search out the wines that were held up as the greatest. If Connoisseurs’ Guide gave it Three Puffs, I’d go buy it and taste it. (I’ll confess here that when Charlie Olken and Stephen Eliot decided to use the 100-point scale in addition to the Puffs, I felt the same betrayal and unhappiness I felt when the Designated Hitter was adopted by the American League—I didn’t need Parker taking every at bat instead of a weaker hitter, it’s just not the way the game is supposed to be played.)

There weren’t a lot of guides to wine at the time. Wine Spectator was a newspaper, fold and all, that didn’t award numbers, only gave recommendations and descriptions. Imagine that! It was like a sitcom without a laugh track—you actually had to decide what you found amusing on your own. Really, that’s what wine scores are, friends, laugh tracks for wine dummies. Robert Parker was still just a lawyer, though one would have to be amazed that he’d ever passed any bar. Wine just really didn’t matter to very many Americans. So I read a lot of wine books, and opened a lot of bottles. There were nights my waiter friends and I would open a dozen bottles of California Cabernet. The next weekend it might be Chardonnay. I may have been the only one taking notes and paying attention, but their camaraderie and comments were invaluable. As were our youthful livers. I still have my tasting notebooks from 1978 when I started writing them. And you think wine blogs are boring. They are. I started wine blogging in 1978. I just didn't think anyone else would find it interesting. Because they don't.

I loved wine. I wanted to taste as much as I could. I volunteered to assemble the wine list at the restaurant where I worked as a waiter, on my own time, just to be able to taste with salespeople and get invited to industry tastings. I worked in a wine shop for free, stocking shelves and cleaning, with the understanding that I’d get to taste quietly with the buyers. I had the great fortune to encounter wine shops and wine buyers who took me under their wing and taught me about wine. A guy named Eric who worked at Red Carpet in Glendale who used to insist, I mean insist, that I buy these weird wines I’d never heard of and put them in my cellar—Raveneau Chablis, Chave Hermitage, Chateau Beaucastel, Fonseca. J.J. Prum. I did what he told me. There weren’t numbers, there was only the advice of someone who clearly had knowledge and passion. I miss those days. Fuck me, I’m old.

A friend of mine interviewed for a sommelier job in downtown Los Angeles. His father-in-law was a great customer of Pacific Dining Car, and when he heard the restaurant wanted to hire a new sommelier, he recommended his very knowledgeable and personable son-in-law. But his daughter didn’t want her husband to work at night. So when my friend told me that, I asked if he minded if I applied for the job. Six months later, I was the new sommelier. All those nights opening a dozen bottles, all those days working for no money, all those hangovers, had paid off. I was lucky. I’m always lucky.

When I started as a sommelier, in 1987, there were, if I remember correctly, about five, maybe six, sommeliers in the entire Los Angeles and Orange County area. Ten million people, and five of us had the job. Being a sommelier wasn’t anyone’s avocation. It seems to be now. People pay thousands and thousands of dollars to pass tests, get letters after their name, and believe that makes them a sommelier. It’s weird. When I started, “sommelier” was a service job, not a headline occupation. My business card read, “Wine Steward.” No one knew what a sommelier was. I once approached a table with a wine list in hand and the gentleman asked me, “Are you the Semillon?” “Yes,” I replied, “and moldy Semillon at that. Which is why I’m so cloying.”

Sommeliers are stars now, or at least are often portrayed that way. Young ones think their job is to educate customers, enlighten them, show them the error of their antiquated ways. Youth is so tiresome. I recently read interviews with five sommeliers from L.A. conducted by “hyperfresh” wine typer Talia Baiocchi  (“hyper” as a prefix means “excessively,” and the only thing I think of as excessively fresh is dogshit) and it was silly to the point of parody. Baiocchi asked them what wines were hot right now, and the answers all revolved around “lighter” whites, especially from lesser-known (to the average wine drinker) regions like the Jura, or Greece. Assyrtiko is the new Gruner Veltliner. You might want to have a glass of Chardonnay or Pinot Grigio, well-chosen one would hope, but your choices are Assrytiko, Savagnin, and Ribolla Gialla.  Our cuisine is all made from local ingredients, but our sommelier, fresh from passing his second level WSET, has decided the best wines are from the region he’s currently fixated on. Shithead.

And, actually, the “hot” wines turn out to be, simply and more exactly, cheaper. Cheaper is what’s hot, not much else.

I wish I could remember if I were ever that arrogant sort of wine steward. I think it took me a solid ten years of really tasting and studying wine, not just having it as a hobby, to begin to understand it. I know I’ve forgotten half of what I once knew, at least in terms of facts about wine. But that core of understanding wine, of what one is tasting when one samples a new wine, beyond the simple knowledge of whether you like it or not, and armed with years and years of tasting wine, is never forgotten once achieved. No one can test that knowledge, it’s just not quantifiable. But once acquired, it’s then easy to spot in others. And equally easy to see lacking in most. There is a difference between loving wine and having a background and long history with wine. I love books, but I’d make a poor book critic. I know what I like. But at a meaningful level, that’s not really enough.

Wine trends reflect our culture, which always fascinates me. In the days of the boom, the cult wines took off. Each new Napa Valley Cabernet that sold for $150, was farmed by David Abreu, made by Helen Turley or Heidi Barrett, was just a new startup to invest in. You didn’t expect it to succeed, live up to its hype, but, hell, why not invest in it a bit and hope it turns out to be eBay, not As the Millenium turned, spirituality made another comeback, and suddenly the talk turned to biodynamics. Now we’ve ruined the Earth for the coming generations, so “natural” wines are suddenly important. It’s a way for us to soothe our conscience. We’ll travel the world burning fossil fuels so that we can find a wine that doesn’t tarnish the planet. How stupid are we? We eat local organic produce, then buy a “natural” wine that traveled here on a boat in a refrigerated container spewing waste into the ocean, was driven by a huge truck down traffic-infested highways to a warehouse, where it was driven again by a giant truck belching carbon into the atmosphere to our local Whole Foods, and we buy it because the guy didn’t spray insecticide on his four acres. And, of course, it tastes better. It should, it tastes like self-importance.

As I get older, it’s easy for me to tell that my vision is not so great any more, my hearing is lousy, and my organs can’t take the beatings I used to subject them to. I need glasses, I turn up the volume on the TV and make my wife’s ears bleed, and I just can’t drink as much wine as I used to. But it’s hard to tell that my senses of taste and smell have diminished, though they certainly must have. It’s one of those subjects I never see addressed in the wine press. Most of our wine critics are older than I am. Their powers of smell and taste are not what they once were, you can bet on that. But they never retire. It’s not like you can’t hit the curveball any more, or even run the bases, so no one will employ you even if you used to be Ted Williams. Everyone with authority, from Parker to Alice Feiring, is old. They don’t talk about it, talk about aging, but I wonder. And I know, I know, it’s hard to tell your senses aren’t as sharp or as good as they once were. They seem the same from the inside, believe me. But from a strictly scientific and objective sense, they are diminished. Period. And not starting at 60, but well before that. Experience steps in, and can certainly have great meaning, but there is no substitute in wine tasting for the basic ability to smell and taste. I wouldn’t ask a 60-year-old without glasses to read the fine print in my contract. Yet I’m still buying wines by his score. Seems odd. Just one more thing that makes the wine business interesting, and funny.

So I’m nearing the three quarter pole of life, heading down the home stretch. The finish line is there, I don’t know where, but that guy on my back is whipping my tired ass. I’ve won this race, thanks to luck and the wonderful people who so carefully groomed, fed, and exercised me. I’m just hoping that there will be more races.

God knows, I’m useless as a stud.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Robert Parker's Vintners Hall of Fame Speech

Wow, W. Blake Gray and Alder Yarrow. Amazing. I had no idea they even knew who I was. Quite an honor. I mean, I’m in the Vintners Hall of Fame, but they’ve won Wine Blog Awards! You can understand why I’m so flabbergasted. It’s like your local meth lab voted you the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.
"Ah, smells like mendacity."

I am the most influential critic of any kind who has ever lived. Unless you count Pol Pot. The kind of power I’ve wielded in the wine business for the past thirty years is remarkable, and will never be duplicated. Galloni? I give him ten years, tops. Then he’ll go nuts and give 19 100-point scores to the 2020 Baroli in exchange for some Armani suits and a 2006 Maserati, and that will be that. Mark Squires? Come on, give me a break. I tossed him the Portugal bone and look how the stock in those wines has plummeted. Squires makes Jay Miller look like a sentient being instead of the title role in “The Blob.” Schildknecht? The guy has the writing style of Wikipedia. You read a couple of sentences and wonder why the hell you started. And those are just my guys.

It’s always been a hobby for critics and writers to take potshots at me. Maybe I should take some Pol Potshots back. But at whom? James Laube? Please. They say wines I like are Parkerized. With Laube, they’re “Laubotomized.”  Will Jay McInerney ever make it to the Vintners Hall of Fame? That idiot? I will say this for him; he’s the one guy who figured out what I figured out a long time ago. Writing bullshit sells. Just tell them what they want to hear. It’s like politics. It’s like marketing. Always remember that the truth is fungible and serves at your convenience. Don’t be a slave to it. Oh, proclaim it to the heavens, put it in print, attach a number to it, give it the weight of your authority, but don’t fall in love with it. It’s the wine business. Truth in wine reviewing is like sulfites in wine—low doses of it are best. McInerney gets that. But he’s a pretender, a name-dropper, and even the Mammon worshippers who read the Wall Street Journal will tire of him. On the upside, at least he’s not writing novels any more.

It’s hard to imagine why it’s taken so long for me to be elected to the Vintners Hall of Fame. It’s harder to imagine why I should care. After all, it’s hard to say who’s been dead longest—Schoonmaker, Cesar Chavez, or me. I can tell you one thing I’ve noticed, they serve a lot of Frank Schoonmaker Selections by-the-glass in Hell.

I have heard that I was a controversial nominee for the Vintners Hall of Fame. Really? Nice to know integrity is a stranger here as well. No one has done more for California wine in the past 30 years. I’ve put more wineries on the map than Google Earth. My ratings have sold more California wine at ridiculous prices than the French Laundry. When I started reviewing California wines, Napa Valley Cabernets sold for about $20. Now you can’t buy Helen Turley’s bathwater for that. Which, by the way, I rated 93. It was totally unctuous. And you clowns weren’t sure I belonged here in this pantheon of self-promoting baloney? I’m the epitome of self-promoting baloney. I invented self-promoting baloney in wine writing, though Kermit Lynch has perfected it. But it appears you’ve gotten past your envy of my unprecedented critical power and have done the right thing. Really, I’m serious, do I get my own wing?

When I began The Wine Advocate, I never dreamed I would become so powerful. Here’s the thing about power, it’s really fun. You can totally screw with people and there’s not a thing they can do about it. Like the 100 Point Scale. When I started that scam, I was the only wine reviewer using it. Now everyone uses it, even those snots at Decanter, with their high and mighty M.W.’s. And we all pretend that the score is broken down into parts like Appearance (0 to 5 points) and Aroma (0 to 15 points) when all we really do is smell it, taste it, spit it out and declare, in our authoritarian voices, “89!” or “97!” Truth and sulfites, my friends, use them sparingly.

And I about peed my circus tent after I rated 19 different 2009 Bordeaux 100 Points! I always wanted to do that. Just throw around hundreds like Charlie Sheen at TrannyFest. That’s power. Oh, the outrage that spawned! How can there possibly be 19 perfect wines from one vintage? I don’t know, maybe because I said so. Don’t you know who I am? I’m Robert Parker. I’m in the Vintners Hall of Fame. I’m the most powerful critic ever.

Now where’s the fucking foie gras?

Monday, October 1, 2012

What We're Reading

Compiled by the editors of HoseMaster of Wine

WINE AND SPIRITS: Joshua Greene pens an editorial about the new tasting policy at Wine and Spirits. “We don’t just intend to give our readers the most accurate scores, we intend to give them the highest scores as well. We’re the #1 publication when it comes to shelf talkers! Suck it, Connoisseurs’ Guide.” As for tasting blind, “It’s an enormous waste of precious natural resources to put each wine into a bag—and, besides, we’ve found that is usually soaks through the bag and leaks like a bastard.” Wine and Spirits is currently ranked 15th in wine magazine newsstand sales, right behind Yeast Infection Weekly. Also, check out the interesting piece about Patrick Comiskey’s tongue map. Turns out it’s not exclusively located between his own cheeks.

1WINEDUDE: Golly, there’s just so much to read over at 1WineDude. There’s the Weekly Wine Quiz—this week’s puzzler is “What’s the difference between Appellation and Appalachian?” Easy, Joe, one’s in wine, the other’s inbred. And you won’t want to go shopping for wine without Joe’s brief and essentially useless Tweets about wines he’s recently tasted. My pick this week is Joe’s review of 2010 Coppola “Director’s Cut” Zinfandel, “Berried in cement shoes, I just love the smell of olive--nay, palm--in the morning. B+” Yeah, we don't get it either. Finally, follow the link to Joe’s latest, oh-so-hip post for, “Riedel’s new Bodily Orifice™ Tasting Glasses.”

WINE SPECTATOR: James Laube writes about his seven favorite ways to taste wine, and why Zin is best rectally. “For one thing, they just usually don’t have those damned wax seals like expensive Cabernet often does. Those things chap.” Bruce Sanderson on the newest winegrowing region in Italy, Ciro! “I didn’t even know they made wine down there. I thought Gaglioppo was one of the Marx Brothers. Hey, it’s new to me!” And don’t miss Tim Fish’s touching post about how petting winery doggies helps him sleep.

WALL STREET JOURNAL: What’s the biggest problem for our wealthiest wine connoisseurs? No, it’s not finding Chinese coolies to dig an authentic wine cave, you can find them on any local college campus. Rather, Jay McInerney writes, “it’s how lousy your First Growth Bordeaux taste at 25,000 feet.” It’s the heartbreak of owning your own luxury jet and not being able to drink your best wines in flight. “Cabin pressure can make ’59 Margaux taste like 59-year-old Margaux Hemingway—tough and leathery.” It’s the story of an unheralded American tragedy, “Sober at the Mile High Club.” McInerney interviews a Wall Street tycoon who tried to have his jet pressurized to sea level readings only to have his hair plugs launched to the Space Shuttle. Lettie Teague on the romance of wines wrapped in tissue.

DECANTER: Michael Broadbent opines that 80% of the wines in the auction market are frauds, “Which is considerably lower than the percentage of MS’s who are.” Broadbent goes on to offer tips on how to spot fraudulent offerings. “Genuine cases of 1982 Bordeaux did not come with free gum.” Andrew Jeffords bemoans the lack of civility on the Internet in a piece entitled, “Assholes with Computers.” Tom Stevenson takes a look at the disastrous 2012 vintage in Champagne, noting that, “the vineyards were devastated by hailstones the size of the bubbles in Mumm’s Cordon Rouge.”

FERMENTATION: Amazon is about to begin selling wine, and Tom Wark has a few thoughts. “First of all,” he notes, “it’s against federal law to have a smiley logo on a box with alcohol in it. So I’m guessing they’ll ship the wine boxes upside down.” Wark also reflects on whether Amazon will have Customer Reviews of wines. “Am I ever going to buy a bottle of wine based on the opinion of someone I don’t know and who has no background or knowledge about wine? That’s stupid. We have bloggers for that.” And he asks the provocative question, “Will Amazon do for wine what phones did for Angry Birds?” Hard to find this kind of insight outside of “Parade” magazine.

WINE ENTHUSIAST: You won’t want to miss the surprising winners of Wine Enthusiast’s Wine Star Awards. The Lifetime Achievement Award goes to Pancho Campo who “graciously and unceremoniously managed to wring Dr. Jay Miller’s neck, though no one had seen it for several years, while simultaneously disgracing M.W.’s everywhere. Damn, if only he’d gone to Penn State too.” The new category Sommelier of the Year ended without a winner. “We just couldn’t find them.” And in a major upset, over the objections of critic Virginie Boone, who denied there was a loophole in the category’s rules, Wine Region of the Year went to Sta. Rita Hills. Sorry, but, Yes, Virginie, there is a Sta. clause.