Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Blind Book Review--"Wine Grapes"

I don’t know where my review copy of Jancis Robinson’s new tome, “Wine Grapes,” was sent. I never got it. I wrote a brief email to the publisher, ECCO (How smart can they be when they publish books and their damn name is a typo? Is it ECHO or ECO? Morons.), asking politely what happened to it. “It’s 175 dollars! Maybe your name should be GECCO, like Gordon in the cheeseball Michael Douglas movie. I can’t afford to buy a copy, and now you’ve gone and shipped mine to some inarticulate, marginally literate blogger who will get all hot that he got my free copy, touch himself, and then the damn pretty pages with the naked grapes on them will be stuck together.” I didn’t hear back.

But, honestly, is there a point to actually reading a wine book before reviewing it? None that I can think of. You already know when you see the author’s name what it’s going to say. If it’s Robert Parker, it’s regurgitated tasting notes remolded to create something new. Basically, a new Parker book is the equivalent of Spam. Almost meaty, but not quite. Not a wine book, but a wine book byproduct. Matt Kramer? He’ll “make sense” of something you didn’t even know you were confused about. He’s the guy at the party everybody hates because he’s constantly correcting everyone about things that couldn’t be less important to the conversation. (You get the feeling from the way he writes that if you met him his voice would remind you of Stephen Hawking.) You don’t have to read their books to review them. It would only prejudice you. Reviewing books without having read them is the most objective way to review them. Just like wine reviewing is done blind. The more you know, the more your intelligence can guide you, and that’s not particularly desirable in wine reviewing. This is the same philosophy behind Match.com as well.

Television hosts never read the books of the authors they interview on the air either. Yes, they pretend to have read them, and they have interesting questions, but they have people who read the books for them. Yeah, Charlie Rose reads all those books. Yup, and “Survivior” isn’t scripted. Listen, if it ain’t on a teleprompter, those talking heads can’t read it.

I haven’t read Jancis Robinson’s (and two other no-names who probably did 90% of the work but won’t get squat out of it) new book, “Wine Grapes.” So you can count on the HoseMaster’s review to be objective and honest. Can you say that about any other wine blogger who received a free copy for review, one of which had my name on it and the bastard still kept it? Those bozos who proudly review any crap wine they get for free, and never say anything bad? OK, yeah, trust them.

“Wine Grapes” is the long-awaited book about the DNA of grapes. Yawn. If you read the entire book you may need a DNR from whomever has your medical power of attorney. The book is massive. It’s seven pounds. Seven pounds of DNA. Sounds like a party at Silvio Berlusconi’s house. Everything you ever wanted to know about how grape varieties are related is in this book. Turns out, most of the grape varieties are more closely related than you think, sort of like your hill people relatives.

The book is pornography for wine geeks. I know this, and I haven’t even read it. They’ll start to look at it, promise themselves they’ll only flip through it for another ten minutes, I swear to God, just another ten minutes, but they won’t be able to stop. It’s kinky wine grape smut that, honestly, should be enjoyed behind closed doors, and only by consenting adults. “Wine Grapes” has dozens of big, lurid, full-color reproductions of paintings of the reproductive organs of your favorite variety. Just hanging there making you wish you could pop them in your mouth. Bunches of them, plump and juicy, dripping with moisture, staring right back at you from the page like the strumpets they are. God, I want this book.

Robinson and the two other authors, who don’t matter and will almost never get mentioned in reviews, and why should they, have written entries about all 1,368 wine grapes currently grown to make wine. It’s amazing to think that there are 1,358 grapes nobody gives a crap about, but they’re all here. And you’ll learn some amazing things about them. If I’d read the book, I could probably give you some examples of amazing things. Like Grüner Veltliner is a natural cross between Riesling and some sort of snot. Harsh, I know. But, hey, don’t blame me. It’s DNA. DNA is like the Internet, it’s always true, and if your girlfriend checks its history, you’re so screwed.

I read somewhere, or else I made it up, doesn’t matter, that “Wine Grapes” took four years to write. At least someone accomplished something the past four years, not like Congress.

Not having read “Wine Grapes,” I reluctantly want to point out some of the book’s shortcomings. No blurbs. Come on, ECCO, the big wine book of the season needs blurbs! The big damn book is in a slipcover, which looks just lovely propping up the 1968 Fiat in my front yard, but, honestly, you need blurbs. Here’s a few:

Wine Grapes is just like what comes out of a wine press—a must!”—Randall Grahm

“Finally, a wine book that costs more than my Special Selection Cabernet!”—Caymus Vineyard

“I couldn’t put this book down. Because I couldn’t pick the damned thing up.”—Karen MacNeil

“I loved the recipes!”—Lettie Teague

Another shortcoming is the lack of a pronunciation guide. I’m fine with the grapes, but how the hell do you pronounce, “José Vouillamoz?” The closest I could get is “Chell-a-cheff.”

There’s no doubt in my mind after not reading “Wine Grapes” that it is a major accomplishment. In book binding, anyway.


Mockingbird said...


Matt Kramer said...

That should be "...you may need a DNR from *whoever* has your medical power of attorney"

You might give a power of attorney *to* whomever you meet.

Ron Washam, HMW said...


I look forward to "Making Sense of Grammar." And I stand corrected. Thank you. As you can tell by the quality of the comedy, I'm not much for editing.

Now, I'm wondering if you're the real Matt Kramer...Or just some Kurniawan of same.

Matt Kramer said...

What shows did you write for?....

Matt Kramer said...

I'm sorry, that should be:

"For which shows were you a writer?"

I forgot the golden rule:

"A preposition is something you should never end a sentence with, asshole"

Anonymous said...

I know Matt Kramer. Matt Kramer is a friend of mine. And, you sir, are no Matt Kramer. Matt Kramer would never say "asshole". And he doesn't read the Hosemaster.

Dear Jose: I suspect that Jancis is pulling your leg.

Mat Krammer said...

She should put on her glasses, reach a little to the middle. That's what Hose' wants pulled.

Samantha Dugan said...

I was offered a free copy for review, all I had to do was pay for the shipping. Sent in the first check of my eight installments last week so I expect, (read hope) to have my copy by March. Canot frigging wait.

Unknown said...

... got it correct about M.Karmaer," He’s the guy at the party everybody hates because he’s constantly correcting everyone about things that couldn’t be less important to the conversation." I got your point without the gramatical editing.

Mike Dunne said...

I didn't get a review copy, either, but just as well. I'm not yet through "Opus Vino," and that was published two years ago. Besides, I have to wonder if "Wine Grapes" is much of an improvement over what I believe to be Jancis Robinson's first book, "Vines, Grapes and Wines," published in 1986. You not only can pick it up, it apparently has more information, with stuff on vines and wines as well as grapes.

Jack Stems said...

Mike, the main advantage I can see is/are the advances in DNA technology and the subsequent knowledge gained about various cultivars since 1986.

Spittoon said...

Mrs. Robinson was promoting her opus in the Financial Times on Friday. Couple of problems though.


Dean Tudor said...

I review over 400 food and wine books a year.... I read a lot...I get good exercise stripping the packaging and lifting them...The couriers curse me...I review on the third floor, so I have to lug the books up three flights...And then I get to bring them down to the kitchen on the first floor to test the recipes. Or I do them from photocopies....The books end up in my basement. They make great shelving units for my wines...

But I never got a copy of JR's book. I still have her Guide to Wine Grapes (OUP, 1996) - six ounces weight -- and that's good enough for me...No illustrations, but if you've seen one grape, you've seen them all...

Ron Washam, HMW said...

My Gorgeous Samantha,
I'm guessing Amazon is losing a fortune on free shipping on this baby. And I mean "baby." It outweighs most newborns. By March it should be fifteen pounds, and in ten years it will rule the Earth.

I love you!

Don't blame Matt for the lame anonymous impersonator. Blame him for the lame columns.

The first time I picked up my copy, I felt something pop. Now I have "Grape Nuts." Ouch.

Jack Stems,
It is all about the DNA. As it turns out, Jay McInerney is distantly related to Tannat.

I noticed in the second entry, about Abouriou, she mentions the producer Luddite. That label has been out of business since 2006. But, hell, if mistakes count against wine writers, I'm never going to get out of the hole.

You may want to adopt my Blind Book Review method for all those books. Saves a world of time, and, honestly, no one can tell. And they must make a mess in the basement. Don't they get moldy from the Dewey Decimal System?

Matt Kramer said...

Usuckwine missed the point of my initial point - which was nitpicking grammar. Lame impersonation? Maybe. Too subtle for Usuck? Definitely.

Thomas said...

I certainly hope the gate is wide open in this asylum of anonymity and the shy comment posters, who(m)ever they are, take the bait.

The last time I had a conversation with someone in the dark it started with, "bless me father..." and ended with, "I'm not doing that!"

Matt Kennedy said...

So... you stuck around for a while, then.....

Ron Washam, HMW said...

I'm always of two minds about anonymous posters. As long as they're civil, I don't mind so much. I can't help but wonder if they remain anonymous because they're cowardly; or because they're afraid they're saying something really stupid; or because they're ashamed to be on HoseMaster because they're so damned important in the wine business; or because they can't figure out how to sign up for a Google identity. No matter. I think everyone who regularly follows blogs dismisses anonymous comments anyway.

I have people tell me all the time they just don't like to comment, or are too intimidated to. Excuses. But no matter. Plenty of comments here as it is.

Thomas said...

Matt Kennedy,

According to Matt Kramer, unless you are Robert Parker, three elipses will do...

Thomas said...


Some in the wine business have told me they post anonymously for fear of reprisal. Having never given reprisal even a thought throughout my boisterous and tumultuous existence, I cannot relate, and I don't understand the appeal of having thoughts that you can't or won't own.

Matt Kennedy said...

Thomas, I am one ellipse better than Parker.

Creatures said...


Ron Washam, HMW said...

If that's true, I love the implication that anything that goes on here matters even the least bit to people in the industry. It most clearly doesn't. The online wine pablum industry is ubiquitous, and growing at an alarming rate. Which is sad for the wine biz, but wonderful for a satirist.

Samantha Dugan said...

Well mother fucker! I've been commenting here all this time trying to make my big break. Dammit....

Ron Washam, HMW said...

My Gorgeous Samantha,
Yeah, Baby, that was a good plan. You'd be better off commenting over at STEVE! or 1WineDoody or Wine Blog Award Winner WineJulia (the sister blog of OrangeJulius).

But I need you here.

Thomas said...


What goes on here does matter in the wine industry. Why that is the case is a mystery to me.

Maybe they are afraid you will skewer them after you discover who(m)they are--just in case Kramer has stayed with us this far--or maybe for them, perpetuating you is a form of flaggelation.
Note to Matt Kramer: the word self placed in front of faggelation is redundant, or should that be dundant?


You keep posting here and you are certain to get a reputation. Whether or not you'll like that reputation is something to take up with the rubbermaster.

(m)att Kra(m)er said...


Insofar as "flagellum" means "whip" and to "flagellate" means "to whip" then the modifier "self" is necessary.

But to the most recently the prevailing thought thread here:

commenters stay anonymous because we all love the taste of the Schadenfreude cake....

Thomas said...

Yeah, but who flaggelates someone else these days--outside of the S&M crowd, which I suppose is the definition of readers of wine blogs.

That form of Strudel to which you refer, is that how you view this blog or the subjects of its content? Are you one of the subjects or just an interested bomb thrower?

Why am I doing this? I vowed not to converse in the dark.

Flaggelation, it is.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

I never flatter myself that what I do here has any effect on the wine biz. Or that very many people read what I write, or like what I write. I do like to think that the business is openminded enough to stand a little tomfoolery from a jackanape like the HoseMaster.

It's a very, very, very unimportant business in the big picture. It's not national security and I'm not Wikileaks for Wine. I've always found joy in wine, and much of what I go after here as the HoseMaster are the things that I feel rob joy from the experience of wine--narrow-mindedness, misleading marketing, snobbery in its less recognizable forms (what else is "authentic" wine but snobbery?), scores, and tired, witless wine reviews written by tired, witless bloggers. Making my eleven readers laugh at what makes wine biz types ponderous, pretentious, and self-absorbed is my self-appointed job. I'm always surprised anyone cares.

And then there are moments when someone I've never met recognizes my name and tells me I make her laugh and she loves HoseMaster. One moment like that makes up for all the countless hate mails and ignorant "Why can't you just say nice things?" comments put together.

Thomas said...


I know.

Still, I have a feeling that some out there take it much more seriously than it is intended--especially those who may be, as you allude to, "ponderous, pretentious, and self-absorbed." Come to think of it, that might be a good reason to remain anonymous.

In any case, most of what I comment here is not intended to be taken seriously--until it is.

William Hughes said...

Dear Ron,

Thanks for the free copy of the book that was supposed to be sent to you.

I recently visited a website to which pictures of cats with various items placed upon them are posted. Thanks to the shipping error sending your free copy to me, I am now facing potential jail time. I placed your free copy on my cat and snapped a photo just as the cat's eyes popped out of its skull with a bloody spray. I now have a wine grape tome of mixed DNA that weighs about fifteen pounds. (The book is embedded in my blind and paralyzed cat's back.)

Since I refuse to accept responsibility for my own actions and blame my poor judgement, I want to blame you. If you received your copy, these pending animal cruelty charges might have waited a few months until I placed a case of some free minor wine blogger swill on my other cat!

Ron Washam, HMW said...

I'm always willing to take responsibility for cat maiming. Seems you've stumbled upon the one reason to buy "Wine Grapes" instead of Jancis' "Vines, Grapes and Wines." Her old book wouldn't even maim a kitten. Bravo, William!

Kiwi said...

And there’s a typo on page 430 with GRAŜVINA being “idely planted” ….or maybe that’s just a lazy socialist Eurozone thing. I was only reading it for the interviews, honest.

Ron Washam, HMW said...


Hard to imagine a worse job in copy editing than slogging through "Wine Grapes" looking for typos. I did notice, when I did finally flip through the book, the one I fucking paid for, in the second entry, for Abouriou, that they mention Luddite Wines' version of the grape. Luddite hasn't made wine since 2006. And I thought Luddite was what you used to wash your greasy Ludds anyway.

Marcia Macomber said...


Good gawd! It's a veritable grammatical and satirical blood bath in here (and literal for the damn cat!)

I love the wine book reviews w/o reading. So insightful!

Thomas said...


Next week, Ron will review a bunch of MP3 wine speeches that he hasn't listened to plus he plans a review of three wine documentaries and one wine movie that he also plans not to watch.

He's as prolific at not doing anything as he is at talking about it.

I think he's going all out for next year's blogger award: Best Guess Blogger

Ron Washam, HMW said...

The whole conceit just struck me after seeing Eric Asimov's book reviewed on several blogs. Getting free books is not as cool as getting free wine, but it's still some kind of affirmation for bloggers. But when a blogger with little discernible writing talent reviews a book by an author as good as Asimov, that's the stuff of comedy. Once I decided to review "How to Love Wine" without having read it, the whole blind tasting comparison became obvious.

I just saw Eric on Monday at a book signing in Healdsburg, and he thought it was "awesome" that the HoseMaster had reviewed his book without having read it. Now I proudly own a signed copy, which I intend to read, perhaps even without moving my lips.

I toyed with reviewing "SOMM" having never seen it, but, hell, I've been reviewing it here for years already.

I humbly submit that Alderpated is hands-down, far and away, the Best Guess Blogger.

Marcia Macomber said...

Guess I'm lucky I didn't see the no-writing-talent blogger review of Asimov's book. (Or if I did, I generally will put it completely out of my head since that quality of writing is so laughable.)

What about a review of Alder's Turkish adventures: Blind Travel Review w/o actually being there?

And with this whole new avenue, I think a Blind Book Review of the "Grapes of Wrath" is in order, as it has the right title!

Ron Washam, HMW said...

I think it's pretty apparent that everything I do here is done blind. I haven't a clue what I'm talking about most of the time. That's what makes it fun to write. God forbid I actually have any need for facts.

Dean Tudor said...

Ron, we all need facts to kill off the raging mobs...

"There goes another beautiful theory about to be murdered by a brutal gang of facts" (La Rochefoucauld, 1650)

Fabio (Vinos Ambiz) said...

I also can't afford to buy it, but the other week, at a friend's house, I touched it. With my hands. It only took me about 20 seconds, which is the usual amount of time it takes me these days.
Asked what I was doing I said that I was only looking up a technical matter related to Malvar.

Furmint of the dry wines from Hungary said...

Respectfully to disagree! This book is moist important update for grapes in many vintages! How else for me to be getting respect?

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Sorry to hear you're suffering from Premature Ejanculation. Jancis can have that effect on men. For a quick cure, read Feiring Line. All it takes is a quick dose of See Alice.

Oh man, that joke sucked.

It was only recently that I discovered "Furmint" isn't another name for dingleberry. I always wondered how they made those into dessert wine, but now it's all starting to make sense.