Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Year in the Wine Family 2013

Merry Christmas to Our Family and Friends,

2013 was a busy year for the Wine family. There’s so much news I’m not sure I can fit it all in to this one Christmas letter! But I’ll sure try. It’s just hard to know where to begin.

I’m sure most of you have heard by now that Uncle Bob sold his business. Everybody in the Wine family was pretty relieved. Uncle Bob sold it to three guys from Singapore, I think, though no one in the family has actually met them. Which is probably good, because we’d have a hard time keeping a straight face. Good ol’ Uncle Bob, he completely hornswaggled the “businessmen.” On the 100 Point Scale, they took it up the chocolate Highway 99. They paid big bucks for what is basically just his old rag business. Most of Uncle Bob’s employees at the rag business stayed on, which is good, because they’re otherwise nearly unemployable. They all seem to think that the way you cover up it being a rag is to flower it all up with indecipherable gibberish. An old moth-eaten rag is still an old moth-eaten rag—no matter how hard you try to disguise it, people can still see right through it. But it’s not Uncle Bob’s problem any more, although he’s still going to consult. The whole Wine family can hardly wait until Uncle Bob retires for good, though what the hell Uncle Marvin will do without Uncle Bob to follow and mimic is going to be hard to watch. Marvin’s never done anything original or useful, despite his success. He’s the Ryan Seacrest of the Wine family. His rag business is just like Uncle Bob’s, only Uncle Marvin figured out to take advertising. That was pretty smart. Get the people who appear in his rag to give him money, only say the money wasn’t to become a rag favorite. They just like the rag so much, they tithe. Well, it is the season for tithings of comfort and joy. Comfort and joy. Oh Oh, tithings of comfort and joy…

Sadly, Uncle Bob’s favorite employee, Cousin Antonio, left the rag business and disappeared. No one has heard from him in months. We would like to thank the Antinori family for putting Cousin Antonio’s picture on the sides of their Chianti Classico cases below the headline, “Have You Seen This Clown?” Hey, it worked for Berlusconi. Uncle Bob and Cousin Antonio had a big falling out after Uncle Bob sold his business. I guess Cousin Antonio thought he was being groomed to take over from Uncle Bob. But, instead, Lisa Perrotti-Brown nosed her way in to the position. I may have put the hyphen in that last sentence in the wrong place.

If you see Cousin Antonio, tell him the Wine family misses him. And if his brother Rudy can plead insanity, so can he.

Not all the news in a family can be good. And at Christmas, we should also remember the less fortunate members of our Wine family. Those behind bars. Not bartenders, idiot, I mean jail. I’m talking, of course, about Rudy. Poor Rudy. He’s been incarcerated for selling very expensive bottles of wine that were fake. Did they taste fake? Apparently not. Uncle Burghound liked them, at least that’s what he said before he took off looking for Cousin Antonio and also vanished. If anyone can find Antonio, it’s Uncle Burghound. He smelled a pair of Antonio’s sackcloth underpants to get the scent.

It wasn’t very nice of Rudy to fool Uncle Burghound with his fake wines. That’s not how we like to conduct ourselves as part of the Wine family. Yes, sell expensive fake wines to outsiders, that’s what ratings are for. But don’t drag family into it. Well, Rudy’s on trial now. He made a fatal miscalculation. It’s one thing to amass a large fortune with criminal behavior, to have become “too big to fail,” but it’s another thing altogether to take advantage of those poor unfortunate filthy rich criminals by making them look stupid and taking some of their ill-gotten gains. Those folks will see that Rudy spends the time they deserve in jail for them. Though word was Rudy was thinking of pleading insanity. Well, frankly, nearly everyone in the Wine family has a screwtop loose, so he’s got a chance. But you’d think that if you can’t taste the difference between the “real” wine and the Rudy wine, there is no difference. That you’re only angry because you look stupid. They say 80% of the wines in Rudy’s cellar were fakes. How did they know? The labels and the foils and the corks were suspicious, stuff that makes up the wine’s appearance. Yup, those are fakes, you can tell by the outsides. Just like the rich dildos who bought them at auction.

*Well, it seems Cousin Rudy was convicted on all counts. Now he'll be making fake license plates in New York. Raise a glass to poor Cousin Rudy this holiday season--fraudulent wine would be best. Say, The Prisoner, or Apothic.

Let’s talk about good news again! Did you see the great Wine family movie, “SOMM?” Gosh, I hope so. We’re so proud of all the Master Sommeliers in our Wine family. Even if they won’t shut up about being Master Sommeliers. Oh, I guess I was the same way when I was a Cub Scout, dreaming about growing up and becoming a Boy Scout. Master Sommeliers are like Cub Scouts to the Masters of Wine Boy Scouts. When you’re a Cub Scout, you can only dream of being old enough to one day enjoy being part of the big Circle Jerk of being a Master of Wine. Anyway, “SOMM” followed a bunch of M.S. candidates as they studied for their exams. It was an awesome look at the little part of our Wine family normally hidden from the public. Kind of like an alcoholic leper colony. With Uncle Fred Dame as Father Damien. Hey, what do you get when you let the leper stir the soup? Finger food! Wow, the soup and the joke in poor taste.

Oh, I just know I’m going to leave important news from 2013 out. So much to talk about. Uncle Paul Gregutt got booted out of his Seattle Times wine critic job for making his own wine. Critics aren’t supposed to know about making what they critique. That’s just silly. Why, would a music critic write music or play an instrument? Sure, if he wanted to get fired! Uncle Paul should have known better. He should have become the music critic! No one would confuse his playing for music. But wine is obviously wine. Sorry, Uncle Paul, this one’s on you.

Some guy, not part of the Wine family, invented a device to extract wine from a bottle without opening it! It’s called a Coravin. It’s an amazing addition to our family. It penetrates, extracts liquid, and withdraws with just a spurt of inert gas. Cool. Sounds like sex with Great Uncle Miljenko.

From our Wine family to yours, a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

For the entire Wine family,
HoseMaster of Wine

This will be my last piece for 2013. I'm going to take a holiday break, but HoseMaster will return, God willing and the creek don't rise, January 6th, 2014. Maybe. Thanks to everyone who checks in to HoseMaster of Wine™ on a regular basis. I've had a wonderful time this year thanks to all of your support and kind words. Merry Christmas! And let's see if we can't have a few more laughs in 2014.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Grenache? Come On, Do the Mathis

Mathis Wines I’m Using to Talk About Myself
Mathis 2007 Grenache Sonoma Valley Sold Out
Mathis 2008 Grenache Sonoma Valley $30
Mathis 2009 Grenache Sonoma Valley $30
Mathis 2010 Grenache Sonoma Valley NYR

Anyone who’s seen as a wine expert is eventually asked the unanswerable question, “What’s your favorite grape?” It’s something like asking a chef, “Hey, what’s your favorite spice?” Or asking a writer, “What’s your favorite letter?” Those questions usually come from people who only know twenty grape varieties, eleven herbs and spices, or damn near 19 different letters. I’ve been asked the first question countless times over the years, and don’t have an answer. I can’t say I have a favorite grape. Though “P” is my favorite letter.

And yet I love Grenache. Most often I love it as the ringmaster of great Châteauneuf-du-Pape—Rayas, Pignan, Le Vieux Donjon, Beaucastel, Charvin… How I love those wines. And good Cannonau di Sardegna, I also have a weakness for that (Argiolas’ Turriga always makes me happy). Hell, if I had a Chihuahua I’d name her Garnacha. I can appreciate just about any wine from anywhere, but those wines fill me with joy. It’s strange, and maybe simply personal, but does Cabernet Sauvignon fill anyone with joy? I’ve certainly tasted many great Bordeaux, and countless California Cabernets. But, truthfully, they don’t fill me with happiness. Cabernet Sauvignons seem to affect me in a more intellectual capacity, I marvel at their depth and power and complexity, whereas I experience great Châteaneuf-du-Pape as more visceral, more seductive, more exciting. I swoon. Bordeaux is tall and statuesque, Châteaunef-du-Pape is curvy and voluptuous. I admire Bordeaux. I want to undress Châteauneuf-du-Pape and take her right to bed.

Grenache, at its best, has a natural sweetness and depth like no other grape. And it abhors new oak, a fine quality in a grape. New oak on Grenache is like putting a coat of paint on your couch. Makes no sense. People might do it, but then you make it a point never to go back to that house, there’s something wrong with those people. Grenache can often stray into flabbiness, and the cheapest ones always taste like cherry hard candy to me, that’s not a compliment, but those are wines to avoid. Grenache has the desire to overcrop, but I like a little fertility in my grapes—the best producers manage to find the balance in their vineyard and avoid the problems overcropping can bring. OK, that’s enough talk about Grenache.

Marcia Macomber is one of the loyalist, longest-tenured common taters of HoseMaster of Wine™. When she asked me if I wanted to pay a visit to Peter Mathis at his lovely little seven-and-a-half acre Grenache vineyard up in the hills above the city of Sonoma, I answered in the way you might expect. I was excited. I said, “P.” I do that when I’m excited, like an anxious dachshund. Marcia does the marketing for Mathis Grenache. But I’m certainly not doing this as a favor to her, though that would be reason enough. I just wanted to visit with a guy even crazier about Grenache than I am. And taste his wines.

What producers do you think of when you think of great California Grenache, in the unlikely event you think of great California Grenache? Only wine geeks can produce a long list of memorable California Grenache—Sine Qua Non, Alban, A Tribute to Grace, Villa Creek, Saxum. Well, those are some of the producers who make Grenache in its intense, luscious, tiptoeing-on-the-edge-of-overblown style. Confusingly, for the novice California Grenache drinker, there is a style of Grenache that is more delicate, more refined. Less about power and more about finesse. In that category I think of Skinner, Quivira, Unti, Bonny Doon—all quite delicious. Mathis falls in the former category, and, I think, is headed for greatness in the category. The trajectory of the vintages I tasted, 2007 through 2010, would seem to make it likely.

Peter Mathis, a former furniture maker turned winemaker, something of the old switcheroo given how many winemakers end up using a lot of wood in their wines and seem like furniture makers, cleared his small property himself, then planted it in 1999 and 2000. The Mathis vineyard isn’t completely Grenache, there are parcels of Carignane, Petite Sirah and Alicante Bouschet as part of the field blend as well. So the vineyard is still very young. 2004 was the first vintage of Mathis Grenache. Even with all of his winemaking experience (Peter is winemaker and GM of Ravenswood), it takes time for a winemaker to learn his vineyard, and for the vineyard to mature. Tasting the four vintages one after the other, on different nights, of course, was really interesting. Each wine had something interesting to say, and as a group, they described Peter’s interesting path to produce world-class Grenache.

The Mathis 2007 Grenache Sonoma Valley is a real blockbuster. I’m glad I served it with roast lamb. It’s a concentrated elixir of blackberry, blueberry and mulberry that took quite a while to open up and show its breadth. There was never any doubt it was going to blossom as it sat in the glass; you could tell from the first it was beautifully put together. I got a sense right away that it was holding back a bit, had the sort of restraint that interesting wines always have. The best wines only hint at what’s to come if you show them some patience, give them a chance to unfold. Pedestrian wines tend to give you everything they have first chance they get—boorish behavior. The 2007 Mathis brought to mind the Reserve style of wines now so trendy in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, those Parker darlings, though without, perhaps the class and pedigree. At any rate, this is flamboyant Grenache, maybe a bit too exuberant to be profound, but the roast lamb, covered in fresh herbs, had a way of calming the Grenache’s exuberance. For all of its admirable qualities, it was, in an awkward adolescent way, rather gawky and all elbows. The lamb kept it focused.

The Mathis 2008 Grenache is a vintage currently available on Peter’s website. I like the wine a lot. I don’t know, the wine just seems happy to be Grenache. Yeah, I know, that’s stupid. But haven’t you tasted wines that just seem miserable? Orange wines always seem miserable to me. Just like people, it has to be their upbringing. Anyhow, the 2008 Mathis is very nicely made wine. It has a nice balance between the intense fruit, I’d call it framboise and black cherry, the nice whisper of herbs, the big-boned tannins and the overall acidity that carries the fruit and keeps it from being gooey. This is Grenache in its small berry incarnation. That telltale sweetness at a lower alcohol than, say, Zinfandel, yet wonderful delineation of flavors. I think it takes a pretty talented winemaker to pull off Grenache like this. One false move and the wine falls off into flabby and cloying. From such a young vineyard, it’s very impressive Grenache. And that reflects the care and attention and fanaticism of a guy who just loves his vineyard. Would I be able to taste that care and attention to detail if I hadn’t visited Mathis? No. Of course not. But just as your appreciation for a work of art is heightened the more you know about its history and symbolism, so can a wine speak to you differently once you’ve walked the vineyard. Truly, that’s one of the best parts of wine appreciation. Any time I taste a Mathis wine in the future, I’ll recall that nifty little vineyard, it’s perfect Southern aspect, and Peter’s obvious love for that piece of land.

The Mathis 2009 Grenache is an abrupt change of pace from the two previous vintages. It relies more on brains than muscle. I let this wine sit around for several days--just as an experiment, not because I didn’t want to kill the bottle the first night. I think I liked it best on the third day. From the beginning, it’s prettier than its siblings. It doesn’t quite reach the framboise stage of sweetness, but leans more towards pomegranate and cherry, and has more noticeable pepper and juniper berry, which emerged more each day. By the third day, the Grenache had shed all shyness and spread all over the palate. It was a very slow reveal, like a reunion at The Old Strippers Home. It takes a well-made wine, with a solid core of fruit and good balance, to improve over the course of three days. Lots of wines do fine for a day, and that’s all you really need after all, but it’s always interesting to watch a young wine evolve over a long period of time. It teaches you about structure and balance, and gives you a good idea of the wine’s ageability. The 2009 Mathis Grenache will certainly do well in a wine cellar for at least another ten years.

Finally, there’s the wondrous Mathis 2010 Grenache. I thought this was the best of an impressive bunch. It’s not released yet, to my knowledge, but it’s a wine to put on your wish list for next year. (Meanwhile, don’t hesitate to try the ’08 and ’09, learn a little something about Grenache.) In the 2010, Peter captures the best parts of the ’08 along with the best parts of the ’09. I got the sense he’s simply figuring out his vineyard. It has to be hard, I’ve always thought, to figure out a vineyard when you only get one shot a year at it, and the vineyard is evolving along with you. There have to be bumps along the way. Yet, there are also triumphs. Here’s your triumph. Both brains and muscle, the ’10 manages to impress all the way around. From the nose you might think the wine is over-the-top with all the black cherry, raspberry jam, pepper and a dash of framboise. But when you taste the wine, it’s the acidity, the backbone, that pops, and, bang, you’re in Grenacheland. You might be in Châteauneuf-du-Pape for all you know. With our hanger steak (you don’t want to know what a “hanger” was to my brother and me when we were kids, but you’d never grill and eat it) the Grenache was really good, quite satisfying. When the wine disappears as quickly as this bottle, you know you matched the food with the wine successfully.

Peter Mathis is doing great work with Grenache up above Sonoma. I don’t see his name listed often among desirable Rhone Ranger producers, though perhaps he is and I don’t see it. The focus seems to be on Paso Robles and the Sierra Foothills these days. That’s all well and good. But if you’re a Grenache lover, Mathis should be in your wine rack.


Thursday, December 12, 2013

The New Wine Fairy Tales: The Talking Fish

                                                                   The Talking Fish

Once there was a young boy who lived in an enchanted valley in the far north of a golden state. One day the young boy was walking along the river when he heard a voice. There wasn’t another person around, and the young boy wasn’t prone to hearing voices in his head, not like his cousin who had pierced his body with several hundred toothpicks and claimed to be a magic washboard. The voice was asking for help.

“Help,” the voice said, in a tone that registered as fishlike. Not baritone, but bass.

The young boy walked in the direction of the river, towards the voice, and came upon a fish stuck between some rocks. “You must be a pretty stupid fish,” the young boy said, “to get stuck between rocks.”

“Fuck you,” the fish said. “If you help me out from between these rocks, I’ll give you a magic power.” The young boy was impressed at the fish’s command of the language, and he stepped into the river and kicked the talking fish until it was freed.

“Cod-dammit,” the fish said. “You could have been a little gentler, asshole. But you’ve freed me, as I asked, and so I will grant you a magic power.”

“Do I get to pick my magic power?” the young boy asked. “Because if I do, I pick being able to lick my nuts like a dog does.”

“No, moron,” the talking fish said, “the magic power you now have is that you are a Super Taster!”

“oh.” the young boy said.

“What?!” the fish said, “that’s not good enough for you?”

“Can I taste my nuts?” the downcast young boy inquired.

The talking fish paused for a moment, and then said, “Listen, son, manta man, I think I’m wasting this magic power on a dumbshit like you. But a deal is a deal.” And with that, the talking fish swam away.

Now it happened that the enchanted valley where the young boy lived was the most famous place in the world for wine. The enchanted valley was covered in vineyards, and people came from all over the world to taste the wines. Almost everyone who lived in the enchanted valley was a winemaker. Of course, this stood to reason, because no one can stand to be around a lot of winemakers except another winemaker.

Being a Super Taster was amazing, the young boy thought, but not really very much fun. It was kind of a stupid magic power. He could taste things that nobody else could taste, but that didn’t get him laid. And, really, the young boy thought, what’s the good of having a magic power if it doesn’t get you lots of strange. One of his friends had a magic power. He had twelve inches of tongue. He got lots of strange, and a recording contract. That was a real magic power.

One day the young boy stopped at a nearby winery to talk to a winemaker he knew. The winemaker handed the young boy a glass of his newest release of Cabernet Sauvignon, even though he knew the boy to be dumber than an awards show.

“Wow,” the young boy said, “I’ve never had a wine like this. I can taste blackberries that a bear slobbered on, green olive from a Leccino olive tree, sweet Santa Rosa plum, vanillin from a lightly toasted Francois Freres oak barrel from a tree once hit by lightning, your wife’s lipstick, a whisper of your neighbor’s happy spurt, a #2 lead pencil with an eraser nearly gone, Kenyan coffee slightly overroasted, and cassis. And,” the young boy said, thinking of his friend the talking fish, “on a scale of 100, I’d give it 96.”

The winemaker was floored. He made the young boy write his description on a piece of paper and he took it to the local wine merchant. The wine merchant posted the description in his store, and the winemaker’s wine sold out in one day.

Soon every winemaker wanted the young boy dumber than a roomful of ball bearings to taste their wines and write about them. The young boy started to ask for money for his words. “Oh,” the winemakers said, “we can’t do that. That would make you look like a dishonest young boy. Charge the wine merchant!”

“No,” the wine merchant said, “I can’t pay you for your super taste. Make the people who buy the wine from me pay!” And so he did.

Soon the young boy was tasting hundreds and hundreds of wine every day and writing long and detailed descriptions of what he tasted. He tasted dozens of flavors in every wine. His descriptions baffled the people who buy wine, for no one could taste all the flavors the young boy could taste. And, for the most part, the people who buy wine didn’t even want to taste the weird shit he tasted in the wines. They gave up reading his words. It was the scale they loved anyway. The people who buy wine didn’t even care a little bit about all the descriptions he wrote, about his magic power, they only read the numbers. In the back of his head, the young boy, as he assigned the numbers to the hundreds and hundreds of wines he tasted, could hear his old friend the talking fish speaking his words of wisdom.

“Fuck you.”

The young boy knew he had been right. Super Taster was a stupid magic power. He was wealthy beyond his wildest dreams, famous and powerful in the enchanted valley in the golden state. But now people made fun of his words, and insulted his magic scale. The young boy, now not so young any more, yearned for the days before he’d stumbled upon the talking fish stuck between two rocks, for the days when he could just enjoy the enchanted valley and all the winemakers who lived there. Well, maybe not the winemakers.

One day when the young boy was very old, he was walking near the river again when he heard the voice of his old piscine friend. Could the talking fish still be alive? The young boy, now old, hurried to the river. And, there, waiting for him, was the talking fish.

“Talking fish! How are you? I’m so glad to see you.”

“Who the fuck are you?” the fish said.

“You don’t remember me? Forty years ago I rescued you when you were stuck between two rocks and you gave me the magic power of being a Super Taster.”

“Idiot,” the talking fish explained. “I didn’t give you any magic fucking power. I just said that so you’d help me.”

“You mean I’ve never been a super taster?”

“Hell, no. Man, you’re dumber than a school of anchovies. There’s no such thing as a super taster. Who the hell thought you were a super taster? Douchebags. You’re no different than anybody else.”

Soon after, the young boy died.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Lo Hai Qu is A Wine Judge!

Lo Hai Qu seems to have my overflowing wine cellar under control, wineries are killing themselves to get the HoseMaster of Wine™ to review their wines, can you blame them, so, as a reward, I’ve once again turned the blog over to her. She’s sort of a loose cannon, “loose” being the key word, but, hey, everybody loves Lo Hai Qu.

OK, so I’m sitting at this big table, it’s about four o’clock in the afternoon, there’s twelve wine glasses in front of me filled with Nebbiolo, like I know what the fuck Nebbiolo is, I thought it was the company that makes, like Nilla Wafers (which is gonna be my stripper name, which, the way the wine business pays, will be any day now—I already got a Chilean for the job—which is like a Brazilian except the water always flows west), and I’m kinda drunk. Not like waking up with 1WineDoody drunk, there’s not enough Moscato in Detroit for that to happen, more like I think my nipples are asleep drunk. But the thing is, I have to taste all these Benniolos and give ‘em medals. I’m a fuckin’ wine judge, Baby, it’s how we roll!

I’m one famous blogbitch, you know. And blogbitches rule, blogdicks drool. So one day I’m sitting at home playing the Home Version of “Fifty Shades of Grey” with the UPS guy, and can that guy deliver OverNight, and I get an email asking Lo Hai Qu if she wants to be a wine judge for this wine competition I never heard of, “The International Gaia Wine Competition.” Hey, I’m thinking, I’m not Gaia. Me and my girlfriends make out now and then when we’re all buzzy, but that’s just to get free drinks. But then I keep reading, and it’s a wine competition where all the judges are women. So it seems like they’re having a hard time getting women to judge, which is news to me. Judge is what we do. Anyway, they heard of Lo Hai Qu, read my Wine Blog Award winning piece here on Blogdick of Wine™, and they be wantin’ me to judge. I am all over that like white on MW’s.

I don’t know what’s wrong with me, sometimes it’s like my brain goes all dead like I’m the mayor of Crackville, Canada, but I asked the HoseMaster about what it’s like being a wine judge. Eight hours later he finally stops talking. Man, he is so old. He’s got like hair growing out of his tongue. He’s telling me horror stories about judging. Of course, he’s always the fucking hero, he’s the guy who knows everything about wine, and how to judge. He makes it sound like he’s some sort of Solomon Rushdie or something, like wisdom oozes from him, which would explain why you stick to his couch. Anyway, he’s judged like a billion wine competitions, and he’s telling me about all the worst judges he’s seen. All the know-it-alls and crackpots. Like some woman at a competition who only did two things wrong. She wore perfume and she didn’t spit. Fuck, that’s what I put on my OKCupid profile. I just tuned him out and sat there wishing I was having my teeth pulled out without anesthetic instead. Same thing I do when I’m watching Guy Fieri. You ever notice, Guy’s hair looks like guano, like fucking seagulls nest on that numbskull.

I have to admit, I was really nervous the first time I sat down to judge. My pits were wetter than 2013 in Bordeaux. I was with two other lady judges, and I guess I thought they knew more about wine than me. They were kind of eyeballing me funny, like checking me out, and then they get all pissy that I’m having a cigarette before we start. OK, I smoke, so fucking sue me. Lots of people who smoke buy wine, maybe I’m representing those people. Sure, the Gaia Competition has winemakers, sommeliers, journalists…what about real people? I get nervous, I light up. Don’t judge me. Drinking and smoking go together, like drinking and driving. I’m just the only one who admits it. Unlike these two hippo-crits I’m judging with. But I’m a newbie with a doobie, so I put my butt out and get to work, like I’m Nilla Wafers, Wine Stripper.

So not once did anybody tell me that we have to judge 120 wines the first day. After the first flight, I grab my purse and I’m almost outta there when the hippo-crits ask me where I’m going. Where I’m going is the hotel bar, like any good wine judge, where I’m gonna get a cocktail to wash the taste of these cheap goddam Chardonnays outta my mouth, that’s where I’m going. But it turns out we got like ten more flights to judge! Crap.

I was all worried about the judging part, but it turns out it’s easysleazy. You smell every wine, which, really, doesn’t tell you shit. Sure, every other moron tells you that taste is 70% smell. So what. Foreplay is 70% of sex and no one does that. Taste is 70% smell. That’s like saying basketball is 70% hockey. Stupid. Anyway, you smell the wines, like those Chardonnays Under $15 (what kind of fucked up competition is this? Like there’s Chardonnays Over $15…), and then you taste them one at a time. And, yes, I spit. The only thing the HoseMaster told me that made any sense was that judges wait to get drunk until after the judging part, with people they actually like, not the clowns on their panel.

So then comes the weird part. You have to give a medal to every wine. Unless you give it no medal. It’s kinda hard at first because what’s a bronze wine? Sometimes it’s easy, like I had a Chardonnay that smelled like Coppertone, so I gave it a Bronze! See, that’s easy. But then what’s a Silver? Like a Bronze with a nice booty? Gold medals are easy. I like giving Gold Medals, it’s like when you’re a little kid and your teacher gives you all those Gold Stars. Come to think of it, if wine is so fucking sophisticated, why are all the rating systems like what we had when we’re in elementary school? Gold, Stars, and 100 Points! It’s like the wine experts think of us as those special ed kids, the ones who wear helmets all the time, like football players. We’re just so many dumb kids in the class to them. But we must be, I guess, cuz we keep listening to those old white guys.

The two hippo-crits and me tasted like 250 wines in two days. They were kind of stingy with the medals, all picky and up in my face when I gave like 14 Gold Medals in a row. Hey, I fucking needed a butt right then, OK? Maybe I tasted a little fast, but there were judges a lot faster. One panel was done by 11 AM. Three old white women. They haven’t moved that fast since before they had their leg bags installed. We got the job done, my homely girls and me. I hope they invite me back to judge next year! I had a really good time, and, you know what I learned? 70% of wine judging is giving medals!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

The HoseMaster's Best Wine Books of 2013

Every December I anxiously await the publication of the New York Times Ten Best Books list. The five that are non-fiction I ignore. Like most wine bloggers, I despise facts. But every year for the past I don’t know how many, I’ve made it a point to read their five picks for best fiction. Some of them suck. And I mean really suck, like self-published-autobiography suck. Like college-student-poetry suck. Like Best-of –Mutineer-Magazine suck. But not very often. Often I’ve read one or two of the books already. But at least, unlike the Top 10 Wine Spectator Wines of the Year, I can buy the damned things--and at their original price. (By the way, in a year when the legendary 2010 Bordeaux were released, and the great 2010 Napa Cabernets, as well as astonishing wines from the Southern Rhone and fantastic wines from Barbaresco and Tuscany, it was nice to see an old Spanish Gran Reserva Rioja named Wine Spectator’s #1 Wine of 2013. Reminiscent of the year Bert Parks was actually named Miss America.)

I’ve spent countless hours this year not reading countless wine books. Christmas is nearly upon us, so I thought it might be helpful to present The HoseMaster’s Best Wine Books of 2013. Plus, it’s a really easy premise. They make perfect gifts for the wine lover in your life, who will happily place it unread among his hundreds of other unread wine books. Nobody reads wine books, after all, like only weirdos read cookbooks; but they look mighty pretty on the bookshelf, and serve to convey the wine lover’s dedication to his chosen method of getting fucked up and ruining the Holiday for everyone.


Sure, there are a handful of experimental winemakers in California, but, as Tim Fish writes in his provocative new book, “They’re just historical farts.” Fish dismisses the current trend for seeking out unusual varieties, using interesting but little-known facts. “Ribolla? How good can that be? Humans got that from chimpanzees.” Consumers who want to understand wine, and appreciate wine’s long history in California, should focus instead on The Same Old California Wines. Fish profiles luminaries such as Mike Grgich. “Grgich has made the same damn wine for almost fifty years. You want history? Well, my friends, Grgich is definitely history.” Of Beaulieu Vineyards Georges de la Tour Private Reserve, Fish reminds us, “If it weren’t for Georges de la Tour, there wouldn’t even be a Napa Valley. It was his buses that filled tasting rooms.” And Fish conveniently lists the only twelve wine grapes in California you really need to know. “Any more than that, and, frankly, you’re just showing off.”

WHY TO LOVE WINE by Eric Asimov

A sequel to his blockbuster “How to Love Wine,” “Why to Love Wine” focuses on, well, why to love wine. Asimov, in his usual Annoyingly Patient Parent voice, explains in simple terms why everyone should love wine. “A glass of wine represents history, agriculture, car wrecks, unwanted pregnancies, and terroir, that’s why.” Along the way, Asimov relates interesting personal stories. “I think I was born to love the feeling I get when I drink a couple of glasses of wine. You would think the same thing if your uncle made you dress in tinfoil and obey the Three Rules of Robotics.” Asimov writes convincingly about so many of the reasons you should love wine. Among them, “The wine industry is the largest employer of misfits and drifters in the developed world.” Also, “Do it just to piss off the Mormons.” And, best of all, “Wine makes you seem important.”


Everyone knows it’s not easy to be Alice Feiring. Just ask her. Traveling the world, alone, talking to the kind of men your mother warned you about. Men living in remote places with little income and a few too many farm animals residing in the house. In her indefatigable campaign to preach the gospel of the One True Living Wine, the Only Wine Thou Shalt Worship, she has forgotten one thing. Her own peace and happiness. Wait, that’s two things. Never mind. In this unforgettable book, called simply “SAVED!” by both its admirers, Feiring confesses to self-doubt, “with absolutely nothing else added.” She writes about the early days of her wine religion, “when everyone drank wine more manipulated than a teenage boy’s dingdong.” In the end, it’s a book about the three P’s of self-promotion: Perseverance, Proselytizing, and Prevarication. It’s one woman’s struggle with a business that just doesn’t love her for who she really is, just uses her, like everyone else always has. Eric Asimov, in his blurb, insightfully remarks, “Hell, at least you didn’t have to wear tinfoil panties.”

MAKING FUN OF CELEBRITY WINES by Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson

What in the wine business can deliver a healthier dose of schadenfreude than lousy wines made with celebrity money? Oh, sure, rich Mammon worshippers buying fake DRC from an Asian dork triggers the same lovely glow, but the damn prison sentence ruins the laughs. Johnson and Robinson examine the recent glut of celebrity wines and find that the power of stars only works for biodynamic wines, not highly-paid consultant wines. “I’m not sure which is more offensive,” writes Johnson, “the idea that people will pay more for wine because there is a celebrity behind it, or the insipid marketing materials that imply the celebrities actually do any work.” Among the wines discussed and dismissed, Yao Ming’s Napa Valley Cabernet (“It’s 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Pituitary Gland”), Drew Barrymore’s Pinot Grigio (“Thin and empty. And the wine’s no good either.”), and Dave Matthews’ Virginia Viognier (“If you think his singing is flat, wait until you put this in your mouth. Yes, Virginia, there is a de-alc machine.”) All in all, Making Fun of Celebrity Wines is an indispensable guide to everything wrong with our culture.

Monday, December 2, 2013

The HoseMaster's Letter to Santa 2013

I've been writing an annual letter to Santa Claus since I was old enough to write. The first letter I wrote I was in high school, and I asked Santa for "hair down there." Life has come full circle, and now I need to ask for "hair up top." My 2013 Letter to Santa appears over in Dickens country, at Tim Atkin's Louis Roederer Award Winning Site. I hope that you'll jump in your magic sleigh and go there to read it. It's hard for me to believe, but this completes my first year writing for Tim Atkin MW. It has been a great pleasure, and Tim's site has given me a kind of exposure that I would probably never have gotten on my own. So, thank you, Tim. And God Bless Us, every one!

Feel free to leave a gift of language over at Tim's site, comments there are much appreciated, or, of course, you can wrap them up tastefully, slide down my chimney, and leave them under my Christmas tree here. Gift cards and cash much appreciated.

Tim Atkin MW

Monday, November 25, 2013

Gratitude, It's the Gravy for This Thanks Giving Turkey

Writing HoseMaster of Wine™ has been a remarkable and, for the most part, gratifying experience. I have much for which to be thankful. I’m not the only wine blogger who’s primary goal is laughter, but I’m one of very few. (And here I tip my cap to Chris Kassel, who has far better comedy chops than I.) Writing satire is something of a lonely endeavor. It requires a certain amount of distance, and a great deal of time alone at a keyboard. The work itself is, most days, drudgery. But when it’s over, and I’ve written a new piece, there’s elation. That is the feeling I seem to endlessly chase. For no apparent reason.

When I look back at my body of work here, I usually wonder what the hell I’ve been trying to say all these years. Aside from, “Somebody help me!” In some measure, this entire experience has been about my mother. She died in 2007, a few months before I began this blog, but she always wanted to think of me as a writer. I was, for a while, and she was very proud of that. When I left the writing profession and ended up a sommelier, she was still proud, of course, it’s what mothers do, but it isn’t especially easy to be proud of a son who is a sommelier. In the grand scheme of things and by any measure, it’s a meaningless occupation, ranking somewhere just above 7-11 cashier and just below serial murderer. Whereas a writer, in her world, was something to brag about. Maybe all of this, this ridiculous work I’ve done here, is about pleasing her. Of all the things in life there are to be grateful for, is there anything more important than to whom you were born? It’s the only lottery that ever really matters.

Unlike most of the dunderheads who prattle on about social media and blogging, and they are legion, and they are boring, I don’t throw the word “writer” around lightly. Writing is a noble craft, and a difficult one. I certainly make it look difficult. I am offended when people say that we should stop using the words “wine blogger” and instead say “wine writer.”  I think I’m being generous when I say that maybe 1 percent of the people blogging have any talent for writing. And, no, you’re probably not on that list. (You are on that list, Samantha, and you are astoundingly gifted.) Great writing, in fact, just good writing, should convey meaning and excitement, should gift the reader with insight and a love for language, all the while entertaining. There is precious little of that in wine blogging. I wish I could say it better than I said it five years ago, but I can’t. Wine blogging is the attention-barking of lonely poodles.

The writing process is very hard for me. No, I don’t ever have writer’s block. I don’t even believe there is such a thing, but, then, I say that about female orgasm. Comedy comes from a place of anger and self-loathing, at least for me it does. Not all comedy, not every time, but, in the human heart, that’s where it dwells. I created the character of the HoseMaster a very long time ago, though he didn’t have a name then. I know his voice, and I know what lines he will cross and what truths he will tell. He has far more courage than I do, and also far more insecurity. I have to be very careful not to let the HoseMaster into my everyday life. He can be toxic. Yet it is easy to keep him from my daily routine because I am married to the kindest, smartest, most compassionate woman alive. Her love for me, and for the angry, petulant little child who is the HoseMaster, allows me to write. Because I know that when I’m done writing for the day, I can put the HoseMaster away and simply spend my life loving her. How does one express the kind of gratitude you feel for a lifetime of unconditional love? Every day, in some manner or deed, and several times a day, that’s how. And yet it can only fall short. I love you, Darling, and everything I do, I do for you. “I do.” Words I am very grateful to have spoken to you.

Many years ago, when I wrote comedy, I often wrote for an audience. Now I do not. But I can feel you out there, reading HoseMaster of Wine™ on your laptops, your tablets, your phones. I can’t hear you, but I’m accustomed to silence when it comes to my work. It is not false humility to say that I am amazed at how my readership has grown. I am dumbfounded. Those of you who have taken the time to write to me personally have given me constant inspiration, and the desire to continue writing. That goes for the fan mail and the hate mail. Most humans are born with a burning desire to be heard. To be singled out by the people who read HoseMaster of Wine™ from the cacophony that is the Internet is an honor, and one I don’t take lightly. On the rare occasion that I go to the column to the left of this babbling, the portion labeled “What the Critics Are Saying…,” and reread the kind words that famous wine folk have said about me, it seems surreal. They exaggerate my talent, and I am deeply grateful. Anyone who knows me knows that I hate everything I write. My biggest fear is that I will be found out, exposed as the talentless, humorless schlub I really am. It’s the final quote that speaks to me the loudest and clearest. I couldn’t have said it better myself.

To everyone who subscribes, to those who take the time to write me, to my illustrious and talented common taters, Thank You. I’d get counseling if I were you, but you have my sincerest gratitude. Your enthusiasm for my work, the way you have spread the word, it’s all been incredibly gratifying. I hate Twitter and FaceBook and all the other forms of social media. They dehumanize us. Yet word about HoseMaster of Wine™ has been spread by the generosity of you who have tweeted about me, linked to me, or posted me on FaceBook. You all have my gratitude. But, really, get more of a life. Put down your damned iPhone and live.

Wine has been my career, and it has been kind to me. Though I’ve tried, tried my damnedest at times, I’ve never lost my passion for wine. It trumped my other passion—writing comedy. I’ve never been very good at either, but I’ve had a helluva time chasing them. I like that the word “passion” derives from the Latin for suffering. Passion is a kind of aching, an emptiness that you try to fill but never can, a painful yearning for satisfaction of something that can never be sated. Wine has always been that for me. I think I’ve forgotten 90% of what I learned about wine in my life, but I can’t unlearn the remarkable sensory memories of all the great wines, and the not so great wines, that I’ve drunk in the company of too many extraordinary people to name here. After all these years, it feels like every new wine I taste takes me to some sort of memory, perhaps of a better time, perhaps of a time I’d rather forget. Or to a place I’d forgotten I’d been, or to a person I was lucky to have known, or to somewhere in my heart I’d been afraid to visit for a while. What makes our tastes in wine personal isn’t that we all have different palates and sensitivities, though that’s true. What makes our taste personal is that we all have different memories, different lives, different reasons we live. And when I drink wine on Thursday I’ll be grateful for my memories, and for my life in wine, and for one more day to live in this world.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Foreword by Hugh Johnson

In the past five years, by my count, only two new wine books did not feature a foreword by Hugh Johnson. One of the two books was written by him, and the other was by Natalie MacLean. The two books are a little hard to tell apart, though MacLean’s book has a foreword by Jayson Blair.

Actually, Johnson’s ubiquitous forewords read eerily the same, no matter what the wine book and who the author. I began to get suspicious. And then I remembered. I’d seen his forewords before, in an old copy of Mad Libs, originally published in the mid-1980’s. It took some digging, but I finally found the Mad Lib I was looking for. If you’re ever asked to write the foreword to a wine book, and what are the (tasteless adjective) chances you will, (slang for someone very stupid), here is your template. It works for Hugh!



Just when (second person pronoun) think there is nothing new to 

say about wine, along comes (author’s name). You’re holding in 

your (anatomical part) a wine book that manages to (bodily noise) 

about wine to novices in a way that is both provocative and (oh, 

just pick a goddam adjective). I found myself (verb) aloud how 

(author’s name) has managed such a remarkable piece of 


When I first began (gerund) about wine, I never dreamed that I’d 

be so (adjective). Or that wine would become so much a part of 

every day (activity). Now it seems that everyone (verb) a glass of 

wine with every (noun). Never in the history of man has wine been 

more (adjective). And, for that, we have a new generation of 

writers to thank, most notably (author’s name). I tip my 

(appendage) to him/her, and hope he/she grabs it and (verb) it all 

night long.

Human history and wine go together like love and (sexual position)

If you try to separate the two, someone’s (noun) gets hurt. 

(Author’s name) understands this, and is able to explain (plural 

noun) and wine in a manner that even a (animal) would be able to 

understand. He/she’s a (title) of wine, and there are only (number) 

of those in the world. It would be wise of you to (verb) him/her, and 

the (beast of burden) he/she rode in on.

In this (adjective) book, one that I wish that I’d (verb—past tense)

you’ll find the answers to many questions you may have about wine 

and (noun). What is the proper way to (verb) wine? (Author’s 

name) does a (adjective) job of explaining why putting wine in your 

(orifice) is just the beginning, remembering that your (orifice) is 

more than likely quite different than his/her (orifice). Vive le 

(French word)! This is just one of the many (plural noun) that 

(author’s name) provides in this (adjective) book.

My favorite wines have always been from (obscure French 

appellation). I want to savor a glass on my death (furniture). And 

when I do, you can be sure that this will be the book folded calmly 

across my (body part)

Monday, November 18, 2013

Blind Book Review--Adventures on the Wine Route

I didn’t read Kermit Lynch’s excellent book Adventures on the Wine Route when it was first published, and, now, remarkably, twenty-five years later, I have the opportunity to not read it again! A great book, like fine wine, improves over the years--but not if you open it. Once you open it, the exposure will slowly destroy it. They haven’t yet invented a Coravin for books, perhaps we need a Coralibre®, which is my favorite cocktail. Lynch’s book gets better and better, and, while I envy those of you who have read it over the years, I’m going to age my copy for another ten or fifteen years until it has reached its peak. Then I might read it.

It has fallen to me, the pioneering HoseMaster of Wine™, to review wine books the way they should be reviewed. Blind, without the influence of actually knowing anything about them, save the variety. This is the way real wine professionals judge things. Dear readers, I’d be skeptical of those who review books based on actually having read them. This can only skew their perspective. They may claim objectivity, but most are human, and they bring preconceived notions of Kermit Lynch to their reading, and that colors their reviews. I also review the books in a room with perfect lighting and white walls, though I am allowed fifteen minutes outside twice a day while they hose down the room.

Adventures on the Wine Route is all about Kermit Lynch’s experiences importing some of the great wines of France into the United States in an era where Imported Wines on a restaurant wine list meant Blue Nun, B & G Beaujolais, and Mouton Cadet. Just like your Uncle Bob, Kermit upped the Auntie. And this book is all about how he did it.

Kermit is a natural storyteller. For example, he tells a wonderful story of sitting in a barber shop in Tain l’Hermitage and, just by accident, meeting one of the region’s greatest winemakers. Before he leaves, he’s struck a deal to import his wines. It’s a wonderful chapter entitled, “Chave and a Haircut.”

Lynch also spends a chapter talking about Charles Joguet and his great estate in the Loire Valley. Lynch has always pursued winemakers who work with the land and their wines as naturally as possible. He speaks about Joguet’s dedication to authenticity, his belief in the old ways of farming, paying attention to things like the lunar calendar. It’s a beautiful chapter entitled “Chinon, Chinon, Harvest Moon.” The book is filled with stories like this. Children may have Mother Goose, but wine lovers have Kermit Lynch as Father Foie Gras. When he dies, his enormous liver will be worth a fortune!

No one can match Kermit Lynch’s ability to write about wine in an interesting, and illuminating fashion. His common sense approach to wine is refreshing and all too rare. Here are a few of his meatiest quotes:

“Wine is, first and foremost, about pleasure, and I’m the guy who decides what’s pleasurable.”

“Loving Banyuls is like sleeping with a farm animal—embarrassing to admit, but you’ll be surprised to see how many others there are just like you.”

“When you taste wine you’re not just ingesting alcohol. You’re tasting culture, the history of man’s folly, our incessant yearning to alter our consciousness, and your own personal bitterness and failure. It’s why you can’t get enough.”

“I was the first person to bring European wines to the United States in refrigerated containers. I brought the winemakers here the same way. Muted the smell.”

Kermit Lynch set the new standard for importers. There was one thing you always knew you’d get when you picked up a bottle of wine with his name on it—overcharged. Kermit went in search of wines that had been overlooked by American consumers, combed the countryside of France looking for wines with personality and history and he almost singlehandedly made the reputation of appellations like Bandol, Gigondas, and Côte-Rôtie. “When I first tried to sell Côte-Rôtie in the U.S.," Lynch writes, "no one had heard of it. Now at least people know they don’t buy it because it’s Syrah.”

No American has done more for France than Kermit Lynch. OK, maybe General Eisenhower and Jerry Lewis. And you could make a case for Lance Armstrong, but, like taking testosterone illegally, that would take some balls. Yet it was Kermit Lynch who opened Americans’ eyes to the artisan wine producers of France. “I cherry-picked,” he writes, “ and left all the lesser estates to those who followed. Now all the stuff I turned down has someone else’s import label on it. Drinking those wines is like being a woman’s second husband.” See, he does have a way with words.

It’s nice that the publishers have seen fit to reissue this classic of wine literature. As an added bonus, the 25th Anniversary Edition includes a list of Lynch’s 25 most memorable wines. Surprisingly, four of them are futures, which you can order for a limited time at 15% off.

Adventures on the Wine Route has been widely praised by nearly every important wine critic for the past twenty-five years, and Jay McInerney liked it too. It belongs on every wine lover’s bookshelf alongside the other classics of wine importing, Kacher in the Wry and Weygandt We All Just Get Along?.

I can hardly wait to read it.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Cautionary Tale of Hairy Vaynerchimp

Hairy Vaynerchimp
He was the most powerful wine critic in the world for a time. The numbers he assigned made winery reputations that exist to this day. His lousy scores destroyed wineries, drove winemakers to despair, nearly obliterated entire wine regions. Everyone hated him, though most had never met him. But even with all of his undisputed clout, he never changed. His tasting regimen when he began was the same as his tasting regimen when his world came crashing down around him. He never tasted blind (he didn’t have to), he never wore pants, and he never spit into a bucket, preferring to spit at his handlers instead. He was the epitome of a professional wine critic. So why would he change his routine? And how could he change his routine? He was a chimpanzee.

I hope you will read this as a cautionary tale, though apes have only vestigial tales. The wine business is fickle. One day you rule the wine world, and the next day you’re a laughing stock. You’re courted by the wealthiest and most talented people in the business, then they won’t return your hurled excrement. It’s a story as old as human civilization. But it holds a lesson rarely learned. This is the story of one wine critic, an unusual wine critic, I concede, but it echoes across the careers of every wine critic working, and should serve as fair warning to those who aspire to the position. Enjoy your influence while it lasts. But don’t expect it to last very long. It’s only a matter of time before you suffer the same fate as Hairy Vaynerchimp—masturbating in front of kids at your local zoo.

It all began as a joke, but, really, isn’t that how all wine reviewers start? Publishing hopelessly amateurish reviews of wines while sporting imaginatively embellished credentials? There are hundreds of these naked apes in the world, most of them talentless and hopelessly self-delusional. But all that ultimately matters is that consumers begin to believe you, have faith in your integrity and the indefatigability of your palate. Then marketing departments catch wind of you, shower you with free wine, ask you to travel on junkets with other wine writers to far away wine regions in exchange for your glowing recommendations, lavish money on you for speaking engagements—shit that any self-respecting chimpanzee would have nothing to do with. But wine writers and wine bloggers don’t have the integrity of chimpanzees. Many don’t have the grooming habits either. Hairy Vaynerchimp walked, with unopposable thumbs, into a large wine reviewing void. And became legend.

It took some time. Hairy’s is anything but an overnight success story. I raised Hairy from a tender age, shared great wine after great wine with the great ape. He was only a pet, at first. Then I realized he had a remarkable palate, better than most of the “experts” I’d judged with at prestigious wine competitions. Hairy had a more sensitive nose. Once I trained him to ignore wines that smelled like female chimp genitalia—mostly orange wines, and the occasional Vignoles—his judgments were flawless. Chimps aren’t capable of speech, though they can do wonderful impressions of Congressional filibusters, but I had trained Hairy to communicate using a Ouija Board. Over and over he’d point at the letters and spell words familiar to all wine reviewers, words he didn’t understand any more than those fools did when they used them—“minerality,” “terroir,” “authentic,” and “complex.” It wasn’t much of a jump to get a large board with the numbers 80 to 100 painted on it, and teach Hairy Vaynerchimp to point. To my surprise, it didn’t take the chimp long to point between two numbers. Hairy wanted me to record a score of 89+! (Interestingly, Hairy showed no interest in the 20-Point Davis scale—just like everyone else.) So I began to write down Hairy’s reviews. And one day, I started to publish them on a blog.

Hairy was tireless and incorruptible. He could taste and rate 300 wines in just a few hours—he was a hirsute Alder Yarrow! As fast as I could open bottles, Hairy could review them. I rigged an iPad so he could log his descriptions and numbers into the iPad’s memory. I quickly learned to glance at his new reviews before I published them after an embarrassing incident where Hairy described a bottle of 2009 Chateau Margaux as “Tickle me, tickle me.” Though he did give it 100 points, and Paul Pontallier sent him a lovely engraved vibrator (though, mysteriously, it was engraved, “You know where to put this, Molesworth.”). Hairy Vaynerchimp, unexpectedly and quickly, became the wine critic’s wine critic. He smelled bad, he was given to horrible temper tantrums, he would scratch his butt and sniff his finger, he had abominable table manners—he was born to the job.

Soon Hairy Vaynerchimp and I traveled the world tasting wines and publishing reviews. Regional wine associations set up tastings for Hairy. I would walk him into a room full of the best Burgundies, perhaps two hundred wines, and he would be done in an hour and a half. No need for the wines to be served blind. He couldn’t read. Most wine critics can’t write, but Hairy couldn’t read. This was his distinct advantage over them. Hairy Vaynerchimp could not be swayed by a label. I could take him to any winery, taste with the most famous winemakers, and he was absolutely objective. (Though he did once have a man crush on Angelo Gaja, and may have overrated his wines.) Hairy was never tired, never wavered, never became intoxicated. And he could spit into a bucket twenty feet away with an accuracy that would make Monica Lewinsky proud. His scores, his expertise, his objectivity were unassailable. He ruled the wine world, and he couldn’t be bribed--he worked for peanuts. The initials “HV” after a wine review might move several thousand cases. He was Top Banana.

And then it started. How we like to see the mighty fall. Jealous competitors began to chisel away at his reputation. Wine Spectator put Hairy on the cover (many subscribers mistakenly thought it was Marvin Shanken, a stupid mistake seeing as it’s easy to tell them apart—Hairy didn’t like cigars), and published a scandalous and misleading story entitled, “World’s Most Powerful Critic—Does He Pass the Sniff Test?” The British press relentlessly excoriated Hairy, even linking him romantically with J.K. Rowling. Several Burgundy producers filed a lawsuit against Hairy, claiming he’d defamed them when he wrote that he believed several had given him misleading samples—the famous Barrel Samples of Monkey Scandal. Everyone was out to get him. But it didn’t bother Hairy. He was oblivious. He was a chimp.

As quickly as he rose to fame and power, Hairy Vaynerchimp disappeared. He may have been our finest wine critic, combining the work ethic of Robert Parker and the mane of James Suckling. But, as will happen to every wine critic, eventually people tired of him. When he was tasting, everyone said nice things about him, carried him around as he clung to their necks, gave him small treats--in other words, treated him exactly like Steve Heimoff. But when he left the room, people began to badmouth him, impugn his skills, make fun of his porkpie hat, exactly like they did with…you get the picture.

Where is Hairy Vaynerchimp now? I’m happy to say, he’s better off than he’s ever been. He works a lot less, and lives very comfortably. Yes, he’s no longer the most powerful wine critic in the world, but I think he’s OK with that. It all sort of worked out.

I sold him to a bunch of Singapore investors.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Dr. Conti Pleads Insanity

Dr. Conti enjoys Le Montrachizzle
Hello, Rudy. May I call you Rudy?

Call me Ishmael. I’m hunting the Great White Whale. Anybody seen Shanken around here? My first week in this hellhole, I can tell you, there was some serious Shanken going on. Thar she blows!!!

Rudy, I’m Dr. Bernkasteler. I’m a psychiatrist assigned by the court to help determine if you’re mentally competent to stand trial.

You’re a doctor?! Wow, what a coincidence. I’m a doctor, too. My friends called me Dr. Conti. Wanna know why? Because Dr. Romanée-Conti sounded too much like a gynecologist for gypsies.

I see. Well, Dr. Conti, are you aware of the charges against you?

Yes. They think I bilked a bunch of people out of money by selling fake bottles of very rare wines. It was fun. I’d open a bogus bottle of ’47 Cheval Blanc, pour it for these wealthy bozos, and then watch them ooh and ahh over it. So, here’s the cool part, when I get caught, rather than admit that they don’t know shit about wine, they all start to praise me for what a great palate I must have had to have been able to blend such convincing fakes! Yeah, that’s it. I’m a genius, you’re not a sucker. It’s like if you caught someone screwing your wife and instead of killing the guy, you ask him how he gets his tongue to do that.

Did you feel any guilt about selling fraudulent wines to people?

It depends, Dr., on how you define “fraud.” These days all wine people do is talk about Authentic Wine. Whole books are written on the subject by Authentic Dissemblers. According to the proponents of Authentic Wine, apparently very little Authentic Wine exists. Which means that all the rest of the wine sold, billions of cases, is Fraudulent Wine. Stuff is either authentic or fake, right? So why single me out? Why not go after Trader Joe’s, or Fred Franzia, or the really slow kid working at the 7-11? It’s just an economy of scale. I sold a few hundred cases of fraudulent wine for profit—they’re selling hundreds of thousands. The result is the same.

But didn’t you have any sort of remorse knowing that the wines you were consigning to auctions were complete fakes? That people, collectors and restaurants, were paying obscene amounts of money for what amounted to vintage wine tofurkey?

What sort of remorse does one have for an action that doesn’t hurt anyone involved? I made money, the auction houses made money… And the status twerkers who bought the wines? Hell, most of them still don’t know that their aged Burgundies are essentially microwaved Meridian Pinot Noir with some RC Cola added to give it some actual flavor. And they won’t know when they drink it one day either. No, their friends will mouth platitudes about what an honor it is to drink a wine made before they were born, which is every minute, by the way, the host will somehow mention, at the risk of sounding pretentious, that what he paid for the bottle would easily put his trophy bride through the finest private high school, and everyone will proclaim at the end what a mystical experience the whole evening has been. Everyone wins.

Not everyone. What about the wineries whose wines you faked?

You’re kidding, right? It’s simple. When auction prices for a winery’s product rise, the value of the winery rises, too, right? And maybe people will even pay more than usual for their wines when they know the wines came directly from their own cellars. No, really, it’s just like quality fake tits—there are no losers! Though I recommend you don’t do them on the installment plan. Both at once is the way to go. Really. I mean, look at Jay Miller.

Did you know you were breaking the law?

I used to have really expensive lunches with auction house “experts.” We’d talk about old wines, and, inevitably, the subject of fraudulent wines would come up. I’d ask a couple of questions, and these “experts” would spend the rest of the meal telling me, in minute detail, how they could always spot fake wines, tell me all the mistakes they looked for. I took notes. I asked more questions. Did they think I was writing an article for World of Fine Wine? They, basically, taught me Wine Forgery 101. “Hey, officer, so what is the gate code for Fort Knox? Just wanted to see if you knew it.” And, then, mind you, I’d call them up a couple of months later with another six Jeroboams of Domaine Ponsot for them to sell. I didn’t think I was breaking the law, I thought they were recruiting me.

Did you honestly think you’d never get caught?

I’m a wine geek, Dr. Bernkasteler. Deep down, we all think that one day we’re going to get caught.

I have to say, Dr. Conti, you don’t seem the least bit crazy to me.

Oh, I’m fucking nuts, alright. Spending long hours printing up fake labels, figuring out how to make the capsules look right, scrounging valuable empty bottles from sommeliers, mixing up formulas for wines to taste like old Burgundies or old Bordeaux, and for what? I can’t tell you how many times I went to a restaurant, my rich friends ordered an old white Burgundy, a ’64 Le Montrachet or something, and I knew it was one of my bottles. Kinda funny, but a lot like being adrift for eight weeks in the middle of the ocean and being forced to drink your own urine. Which it was. But at least I didn’t pay $1000 for it and drink it with a smile on my face…

“Wow,” they’d always say, “great minerality.”

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Hot New Winery Death

I always get a kick out of feature articles in wine publications that herald “Six Hot New (Cabernet/Pinot Noir/Zinfandel) Producers to Watch!” Inevitably, it’s six new producers doing the same damn thing everyone else is doing. It’s exactly like when the major networks premiere their new Fall television lineups. Robin Williams returns to television! Fire up the laugh tracks, Ma, Grandpa’s riffin’ again. Better yet, another Michael J. Fox sitcom. It’s just a damned shame he has Parkinson’s, because Tourette’s would be so much funnier! In wine, hey, it’s another $150 Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley! Amazing! David Abreu returns to environmental degradation! Andy Erickson phones it in! And the label and packaging, well, it’s downright decadent, and, guaranteed to burn 50% more fossil fuels in the shipping! And here’s another “Can’t Miss” Pinot Noir producer with a stunning lineup of wines from, well, all the usual sources—Gap’s Crown, Pisoni, Sangiacomo, Hirsch, Keefer… This is wine’s version of “From the producers of ‘The Big Bang Theory’ and ‘Two and a Half Men.’” What it guarantees is that it’s the same old formula but in a brand new package. You’ll be dazzled by the single-vineyard Pinot Noirs from Terroir and a Half Men.

Those wine articles primarily serve to glorify the magazine’s power, not to serve its readers. Parker was famous for proclaiming that a winery or winemaker was a Producer to Watch, and then, an issue or two later, rating all their wines in the upper 90’s, guaranteeing it was now a winery to watch. It’s a little bit like rigging a horse race. You already know the outcome when you place the bet. But you still feel smug doing it.

I always wonder where those wineries are ten years later, when they’re no longer a Producer to Watch. Where once they were the Academy Award Winner for Best Actor, now they’re part of the Death Montage. So, at last, we arrive at the premise…


Deep Punt’s first few vintages of Pritchard Hill Cabernet Sauvignon scored more than 98 points, and the winery had a waiting list longer than a David Schildknecht wine description, and far more interesting to read. Collectors loved the wine, and loved the stylized and heavy bottles with punts deep enough to have their own microclimates. The vineyard was the first vineyard in Napa Valley to be planted underground and utilize solar panels to power the grow lights, guaranteeing a perfect vintage every year. The vines are six feet under and planted upside-down in order to give the vines better access to the unique soils of Pritchard Hill, and to make them really easy to pick. “Cabernet Sauvignon thrives underground,” proclaims Deep Punt’s consulting winemaker Phillipe Melka, “and we never have to worry about frost, wild boar or erosion. But it does rain fucking gophers in here all the time.” Once a Winery to Watch, Deep Punt has fallen on hard times, as indicated by a review on NothingsBiggerThanMyHead. “Yeah, we’re sending samples to bloggers now,” says Deep Punt’s owner Ray Guy, “I guess I’ve just thrown in the towel.”

Recent vintages of Deep Punt’s Cabernet have scored in the low 90’s, the death knell for cult wines. Mailing list members, once allocated three bottles, can now buy as many as they want, as long as they pretend they got the rest from the winery Wish List, and buy a truss for their UPS driver. Deep Punt’s innovative underground vineyard is reportedly for sale, ironically, at a rock bottom price.


Larry Standards and Alison Lowe met in college. Larry majored in Plant Massage, while Alison was earning her degree in Underage Drinking. “I was rubbing my pistil one day,” Larry recalls, “and Alison fell head first into the room. An hour later we were lovers, and two hours later she emerged from her coma.” Larry and Alison decided to pursue their dream of making great Pinot Noir, so they moved to Sonoma County. Alison worked two harvests at Williams Sonoma before she realized she wasn’t at Williams Selyem. “But I did learn a valuable lesson there,” she reminisces, “how to overcharge.” Soon, Lowe Standards Wines became a reality. Larry used his extensive knowledge of plant fondling to impress local vineyard owners, who love having their eco’s massaged, and soon he and Alison were buying Pinot Noir from several dozen notable vineyards. “The truth is,” Alison says, “every vineyard has unique terroir. Duh. How could it not? That’s the fucking definition of terroir. So we vineyard designate every one of our Pinot Noirs. When it comes right down to it, there’s a really good reason for this--we can charge more. Plus, blending vineyards into an appellation-designated wine cuts into my valuable drinking time.”

Once one of 2002’s New Pinot Noir Producers to Watch, Lowe Standards Wines is no longer the darling of Pinot Noir cult wine buyers. Perhaps it was the 45 different Pinot Noirs in their portfolio that soured the wine geeks. Or maybe it was that the Lowe Standards style went out of fashion. Their Pinot Noirs had more added enzymes than a Bill Clinton intern interview. Or was it because ordinary folks get weary of yet another, and another, single-vineyard Pinot Noir that tastes eerily like all the other single-vineyard Pinot Noirs? No, most likely it was that Lowe and Standards sold their label to Diageo. “Lowe Standards?” said Larry. “It just seemed a perfect fit.”

Monday, November 4, 2013

The Official 2013 Bordeaux Vintage Report

California wineries may be as good at making wine as their French counterparts, but they lag far behind when it comes to the more important part of the wine business--the selling of wine. The French are the Masters of Whinge, but when their marketing departments get busy, they can turn a poor vintage into a desirable vintage in just a few paragraphs. Today's piece is, as always this first Monday of a new month, across the Atlantic at Tim Atkin's blog. Tim Atkin's blog was recently named the International Wine Website for 2013 by the Louis Roederer Awards, no small achievement considering he publishes the HoseMaster. It's like winning a Best Picture Oscar for a movie with Chevy Chase.

Take a look at The Official 2013 Bordeaux Vintage Report at the Award-Winning Tim, and please feel free to comment there. Or, if you prefer, you may leave your comments here. Don't forget to save the ticket stub so you can reclaim them later, and leave a small gratuity.


Monday, October 28, 2013

The A.C.A. is Socialism!

I don’t know about you, but I am outraged. The A.C.A is an ill-conceived disaster. The time to stop it is NOW, before it’s fully implemented. It’s not too late. I know, I know, it feels like the battle has been lost, but we mustn’t lose hope, we mustn’t abandon our ideals, our very way of life. We have to fight it with every ounce of our being, make sure that our children, our grandchildren, won’t have to carry the burden of this terrible travesty of the business we hold so dear.

I’m speaking of, if I can get the dreaded words unstuck from my craw, the Affordable Cab Act. It will destroy the wine business if we don’t stop it NOW.

I will concede that the prices for Cabernet Sauvignon are insane. The system is definitely broken, I’ll give them that. Wineries with no track record charging $150 for a first release of Napa Valley Cabernet? Who buys those wines? The same people who hire Dennis Rodman for a makeover? The people who hire Anthony Wiener as their Social Media Consultant? People who religiously follow James Suckling? Those morons?

Cabernet Sauvignon prices are like Mel Gibson’s cars—driven by ego. Every overhyped, expensively packaged, new “cult” wine says the same thing in its marketing materials. “We tasted our first release of Mammon Worship Cabernet blind, alongside Harlan Estate, Screaming Eagle, Scarecrow, and all five First Growths, and our wine finished first! And, at $200/bottle, it was the cheapest wine in the tasting!” Who dreams up this crap? How stupid do they think people are? Wow, you mean the wine you made to your own taste, the one you taste every day, actually won your “blind” tasting? Remarkable! Here’s an idea! Try Mammon Worship blind alongside a bunch of wines that cost $40. You’ll still win, and you can charge $50! That makes more sense, doesn’t it?

Bordeaux is no better. Speculation drives the prices up on the best Cabernet-based wines in the region. Bordeaux is no longer a wine, it’s a commodity. Like gold, or corn, or African orphans in Hollywood. The rich have most of it cornered, and, for them, money is no object any more than good taste is.

The Affordable Cabernet crisis was avoidable. If people would just use the brains God gave them, many of them factory seconds, to be sure, but brains nonetheless.  The Cabernet crisis is a conspiracy, people! It exists because Americans are ignorant and believe the mainstream wine media! When they are blatantly and unashamedly lying.

Just look at the recent Wine Spectator issue on California Cabernet Sauvignon, reported mostly by Establishment lackey James Laube. In the issue, Laube rates the 2010 vintage for Cabernet Sauvignon in California a ridiculous 98 points! 98 Points! And why? Because the weather was nice. That’s how you rate your fucking vacation, not wine. Laube rates the vintage 98 points, but the highest scoring wine in the report received 97 points. How does that work? The vintage was better than the wines? Apparently. And why did the vintage only get 98 points? What knocked it down from 100? Laube was pissed off when it rained on his birthday? It was overcast for the Vintage Auto Show? It was too hot at the Napa Valley Auction to wear their fur coats?

If the folks who could afford the best Cabernets just kept their wits about them, stopped believing the Establishment media when it hands out meaningless numbers, and refused to pay more than $50 for a great bottle of Cabernet, there wouldn’t have to be the Affordable Cab Act. Soon, if we allow this insidious law to be instituted, our great Cabernets will be in the hands of poor people, illegal immigrants, the unemployed, or, worse, Millennials!

In principle, the Affordable Cab Act is simple. You can understand why folks would vote for it. It guarantees affordable Cabernet Sauvignon for everyone. Not just the rich, who can afford it. Not just sommeliers, who claim to be busy, so could you just drop a bottle off and I’ll taste it when I have time? (In wine country, everyone knows Spring is flea, tick and sommelier season.) No, great Cabernet would be available to everyone. Sounds good, right?

But look more closely at the facts. It’s socialism. Wake up! Our great democracy is in serious danger. The Affordable Cab Act punishes the talented and hardworking people who buy the great wines of Napa Valley and Bordeaux—bankers, hedge fund managers, people with billions of dollars in offshore investments. That isn’t fair. Democracy isn’t about helping the little people. Where does it say that in the Constitution? Democracy is about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. But, if you’re poor, if you’re middle class, hey, you get one of those, and be grateful you get that. You get life. Happiness and liberty? Don’t be such a sap.

The Affordable Cab Act would create a pool of money. Every time one of our finest citizens bought a case of Margaux, or a six-pack of Screaming Eagle, or just a bottle of Lafite, the money would go into that giant pool. The winery, or the broker, or the auction house, would get a percentage of the money for their wine. The rest of the money would be doled out to less successful wine lovers in the form of credits, which they could use, in turn, to purchase Cabernets they can no longer afford. It would all be based on your income, and your ability to appreciate wine.

Yes, it sounds good, and only good would come out of enacting the A.C.A., but don’t let that fool you. It’s a simple fact, but, like health, great wine is meant to be appreciated by the people who earned it, not to be shared with those less fortunate. As Senator Ted Cruz so eloquently put it, “I got mine. Fuck y’all.” Or was that Bill Koch?

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Mis(s) Feiring

This particular satire of a controversial wine writer appeared on HoseMaster of Wine™ in May of 2010. The reaction to it was bigger than I had expected. I hadn't read a single word of Alice Feiring's work, but she was a polarizing figure in wine, so I spent an hour or so reading her blog, The Feiring Line, just to try and pin down her voice. Then I began to write, and this is what appeared. I heard from several friends who know her that she was unhappy about my piece. A few of my regular common taters felt it was harsh as well. You can decide for yourself. Satire doesn't need defending, and it has always been my goal to walk up to that imaginary line one isn't supposed to cross, and make everyone fear I'll actually cross it. Kind of a hobby...

So, here, from May 2010, is the legendary (sort of) Mis(s) Feiring:

What am I looking for in wine?

I'm looking for the Gertrude Steins, the k.d. langs, the Dizzy Deans. Wines that have a nasty screwball. Which I can relate to. I want my wines natural. Think pubic hair. Think armpits. Makeup is OK, only a little, but no animals tortured. Unless they're my critics who don't get it. I write only for me, about wines for me. But I'm driving a bandwagon. Under the influence, but a bandwagon nonetheless, and I want everyone to be on it. Except Parker. He'd have to sit on the left side and everyone else would have to sit on the right. Balance. Like wines. I seek balance. Think tightrope walker. No balance, they're dead. Naturally. So I'm a wine cop. With no authority. Except my own. I'll write you a nasty ticket if you make wines that aren't natural. I'll throw the book at you. My book. I wrote a book. You have it. It changed you. It changed everyone. I'm a wine messiah. Follow me. I know people. I'll mention all of them. Most are famous. Others should be. Who cares? I'm famous, I'm a wine cop, I'm a messiah. I'm so lonely.


I was asked to speak at a seminar. I'm the leading authority on Natural Wines. No. Make that I'm the Only Authority on Natural Wines. I'm asked to speak often. I changed the world. Like Gandhi. Like Martin Luther King. Like the Exxon Valdez. The only disasters I like are natural too. Earthquakes. Tsunami. Gamay.

I don't like giving speeches. I like giving commandments. Thou shalt not sulfur. I remember Jesus said, "Sulfur little children..." That was wrong too. Where was I?

In a room, issuing commandments, signing books. Michel Bettane was there, he's a wine critic also. He's French. I like the French, they're so natural. He had nose hair like a wire brush. I wrapped my fingers in it. He asked me to sign my book for him. My book. You have it, I know, it changed everything. I was happy to sign Bettane's book but the pen was filled with synthetic ink. Not ink from an octopus or a squid or pasta. I could not sully the book. I pricked my finger and signed in blood. It felt good. Natural. I thought of Carole King. Maybe it was Bettane's nose hair that reminded me of her hair. Jewish hair. Natural hair. "You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman!"

I probably shouldn't have sung it out loud.

I signed the book, With Love, Alice. Bettane smiled. I'm so lonely.

Others were there too. Mostly famous people to hear me. Maybe not famous to you. Not yet. But famous to me, and I assign fame only for myself. To myself. I'm a fame cop. Always copping the famous. Many great winemakers were there. Did I mention this speech was in France? I love France. I surrender to the French. No one's ever done that before. Usually the other way around.

I hope that doesn't offend my French friends. But I speak the truth. Someone has to. The wine world is filled with liars and cheats, and, well, then your wine is filled with lies and cheats. Is that what you want in your stool? Shit, I said stool.

Yet another lie. Another commandment. Thou shalt only use wild yeast. I almost typed wild Yeats. He was a poet. And a good one. He was at my speech. But he's dead. Ironic. He often wrote of the dead. I signed a book for him too. "To Bill" I wrote "you were far too cultured for my taste."

No wine can be natural if it wasn't fermented by wild yeast. Though yeast all over the world has been infiltrated by cultured strains and there is no more wild yeast. I don't care. I have my standards, my commandments. Pick out the cultured strains like they pick out illegal aliens in Arizona. It can be done. I can tell when I taste. I know when a wine was done with cultured yeast. It speaks to me. In an English accent. I hate the English. The accent is fake, like my writing style. The wines taste fake. You just know. You do. Ask anybody who agrees with me.

Francois Ghitaine was there at my speech from Domaine Hornswaggle. His wines are natural. When I visited Francois he proudly showed me his cement vats for fermenting. Cement vats are making a comeback. Why? They are better for the wine. There is concrete evidence. Get it? Concrete evidence! Funnier in French. Francois even goes so far as to ferment the wine in the vats before the cement has even set. The flavors of the ground, the rocks, are in his wines. His Petit Manseng is wet cement in a glass. It's perfect. I took a finger and wrote my name in it. "Alice" I'm so lonely.

I was last at Hornswaggle when only Francois' wife was there, Brigitte. She cooked for me while I spoke to her in short sentences. Very short. I asked her about their biodynamic lifestyle. She was blunt. Francois is a pig. She told him to bury his damned man horns in the vineyard stuffed with the manure he'd brought into their lives. I spoke more short sentences to her. She cooked. Eggs, from a virgin chicken. Over easy. Just how I wanted them. And her. She left weeping. The eggs were runny, like her nose. But the wines are brilliant. I'm brilliant.

I'm so lonely.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Jay McInerney Splooges "On Wine"

By Jay McInerney

It was Robert Mondavi who first told me about Dick Splooge the last time we dined together at French Laundry in Yountville, the quaint town named for Hall of Famer Robin Yount. Thomas Keller manned the kitchen at his eponymous restaurant himself that night, apparently not trusting his Native American (Sioux) chef to prepare a meal for such an influential and important figure in American wine. Or for Mr. Mondavi either. Mr. Mondavi was accompanied by his wife, the famed Belgian surrealist Magritte. Magritte is a handsome woman, old and wealthy, which I find irresistible, who insisted during dinner that she needed to paint a portrait of me, “If only,” she said, “to illustrate that it is not only your prose that is flat.”

Geographically, the Napa Valley is a mere thirty miles long, and roughly fourteen feet wide. And yet it contains some of the most valuable soil in the wine world. There is the justly famous Rutherford Bench, as well as the lesser-known Oakville Bus Stop. Historically, it was the famous Captain Gustave Niebaum-Coppola (no relation to Sofia, who once asked me to star in a film version of my novel, The Great Gatsby) who discovered the brilliance of wines from the Rutherford Bench, and to this day his legacy is honored when we speak about the greatness of Rutherford Cabernet’s Finnish.

When Robert Mondavi began his eponymous winery in the heart of Oakville, after an ugly family dispute involving his brother and a camel drove him to leave Charles Krug Winery, where he’d crafted some of the planet’s finest Champagnes—the 1965 Krug remains one of the greatest bottles of sparkling wine that has ever gone up my nose—there weren’t any “cult” wineries yet in the Napa Valley. The potential for wringing money out of the valuable soils of the Napa Valley was virtually unexplored. Foolishly, the winemakers in Napa Valley at the time sold Cabernet Sauvignon for a modest profit, while their French counterparts in Bordeaux were wisely soaking the gullible Brits into paying a lot of money for underripe and overhyped Frog juice. Not even Petrus or Ausone, where I recently spent several nights at the request of the French government (the details of which I am legally sworn never to divulge, except to say I shared a bunk bed with Julian Assange, who snores and has abhorrent nocturnal emissions, called Wikileaks), but, shamefully, Second Growths! I don’t believe I’ve ever consumed a Second Growth, at least not wittingly, but I’ve been told that it’s the equivalent of sleeping with an actress with an “Also Starring” billing—one can only imagine sinking to the level of a Nicolas Cage.

Thomas Keller had just personally served us our third course at French Laundry, a light and ineffable bite whimsically called “DNA en croute,” when the subject of cult Napa Valley wines came up. I had mentioned Bill Harlan, whose wise countenance and ruggedly handsome booty seemed a reflection of my own future, and Robert began to reminisce about his founding of the eponymous Opus One, considered one of the first cult Napa Valley wines, though far too common for my taste. The conversation soon bored me, and I turned it back to a more interesting subject—my own experiences with the legendary cult Cabernet Sauvignons of Napa Valley.

Fortuitously, I had just come from a complete vertical tasting of Harlan Estate, which included some of the greatest wines I’ve ever tasted. I confess that I consider Harlan Estate the greatest winery in California, in no small part because the label looks like money. There was a time when wine writers failed to see the paramount connection of money to great wine. Wines were approached critically from the primitive and resolutely ignorant perspective of quality, and their accurate reflection of “terroir” (a vague and mostly discredited French word that loosely translated means, “dirt poor”). It’s only recently, when a new generation of wine writers has emerged, the most important of whom first published unreadable, autobiographical, eponymous novels, that the undeniable link between the greatness of wine and the wealth of the winery owner has come to be accepted. Now it seems to be all that I write about. Wine knowledge and a sense of wine history have become vestigial when it comes to wine writing, qualifications that are long outdated and completely overvalued, as my WSJ editors will attest. You want greatness in wine? Follow me, and follow the money.

Mr. Mondavi had been talking animatedly for several minutes, tolerable only because it was fascinating speculation about my formidable palate, when he paused and asked me if I’d ever met Dick Splooge. Splooge Estate, the winery now synonymous with both Natural and Cult wines, was still just an inkling in Dick’s prostate at the time, and I confessed I had not heard of Mr. Splooge (though, in a strange coincidence, that had been Raymond Carver’s nickname for me).

“Dick Splooge,” Robert Mondavi told me, as we sampled Mr. Keller’s next course, a delicious ham and melon dish eponymously named “Ass Hat,” “is a visionary the likes of which Napa Valley hasn’t seen since Georges de la Tour.”--an obscure reference to the visionary behind the Tour de France. “I think you should meet him.”

I wouldn’t normally take advice from a washed-up Napa Valley icon, not even James Laube, but something that day told me I should. Maybe it was the Mr. Splooge nickname coincidence, or maybe it was Magritte slipping me the tongue as we kissed good night, I’m not sure. Yet there was something I needed to know first, something critical to whether or not I’d even consider meeting Dick Splooge at his under-construction Splooge Estate.

“How did he make his money?”

A simple question, but the only question that matters in the world of Napa Valley, thirty miles long and roughly forty feet wide. The question most asked in every tasting room in the county. The question that most certainly determines the value of the resulting wines. And the question that certainly determines whether or not I’ll visit a winery, whether I’ll write about it, whether, first and foremost, I can be entertained there in the fashion to which I am accustomed.

“Where did Dick Splooge make his money?” Mr. Mondavi replied. “Just where you’d expect a Splooge to make it.