Monday, March 11, 2013

Dull Wine Reviews Miraculously Cured!

Do you ever ask yourself who’s the greatest living writer of tasting notes? Isn’t that a bit like wondering who’s the greatest chef of Minute Rice? Who’s the greatest living Madeline Albright impersonator? Who’s the greatest living wine blogger? Tasting notes, name the publication, are dreadful. Devoid of charm, wit, or usefulness, no one seems to know why they exist, like the English monarchy. Is there another subject as fascinating that then becomes as hopelessly dull when written about? Aside from really perky breast implants? And while thousands and thousands of wine reviews, and their accompanying numbers, are printed every month, nobody reads them. They’re like the TV programming guide in the Sunday newspaper. Who reads that? “Monday 8 PM, CHARDONNAY—Larry opens a bottle of white and smells peaches, cream and trouble with his prostate.” (By the way, you should TiVo that episode, damned funny, and very minerally.) But what if (about time this tired old premise appeared) more interesting people than wine writers handled wine reviews? (One more question. Are there less interesting people than wine writers? Yes, that’s rhetorical.) Wouldn’t that mean more people would actually read the review rather than simply take note of the numerical score? And isn’t that the point of a wine review, for the description to be the most important part? No, obviously not. The most important part is the number, and the check for publishing a copy of the label. Come on, it’s just a premise, let’s not get carried away.  But now let’s imagine what wine writing would be like if these famous folks had taken a crack at it.

Herman Melville on Cavit 2011 Pinot Grigio

Call me fish meal. As all men are drawn to the water when they grow grim about the mouth, when their spirits lie dampened like the seat cushions at the old folks home, so I was drawn to this Cavit Pinot Grigio. Say you are out in the woods, it doesn’t matter why, perhaps you’re simply wandering, or maybe you seek a quiet place to pursue your worship of Onan, you can surely rely on every path ending up near water, a brook or rivulet, nay, even a stream—a stream to match that of Onan. You catch a fish to make a meal, your hunger a reminder of the needs of the flesh, your pursuit of a trout a faint echo of the hunt for the Great White Whale, Marvin Dick; you reach for wine, yet yearn for water, the basis of life’s mystery. And here it is, the best of both worlds, Cavit Pinot Grigio, wine that tastes of the very water itself, yet water that lifts the spirits, adds blessed insobriety to your down-turned mouth, and eventually the urge to take a powerful Pequod.

Anaïs Nin on Rhys Vineyards 2010 Pinot Noir

When Rhys first entered her life, she was mesmerized by her purplish robe, what might lay beneath it, her sex, what it might smell like. Rhys was in no hurry, she was a woman who knew her own allure, understood why men wanted to brutally take her, why women wanted to swallow her. And she was more than willing. Many men had known Rhys, tasted her mineral being, had their tongues covered in her wetness while she told them what to do, not to swallow but to spit. Women were less likely to possess her, for while Rhys wanted all men, she only wanted a certain kind of woman. A woman who would appreciate her for her womanly beauty, her perfect balance and poise, her exquisite muskiness, a muskiness like the smell of rain on a hot, limestone soil, a muskiness that only appeared when she was fully open and exposed. So when Rhys first entered her mouth her tongue stood erect, tasting every part of Rhys, the complex mix of a perfect whore, the womanly perfume reminiscent of a bridal bouquet left at the bedside as the best man fucks the bride, the sweet taste of ripe fruit, the whore pretending to be a teenage virgin. Over and over she took Rhys in her mouth, for hours on end. It seemed there was no end to Rhys. And as Rhys’ finish neared, she knew she never wanted it to end. She wanted Rhys in her mouth every day, would gladly give herself to her, become her slave, take her in her mouth anywhere, any time. In a restaurant, she would take her under the table and finish her, not care about the looks on the faces of the other patrons as she took Rhys into her painted lips, her nipples hardening until they resembled fine Portuguese corks. She would take Rhys on a picnic, lie on the bed of warm grass, and let Rhys fill her with her warm, luscious liquid. She needed to be the whore that Rhys was, wanted to be the whore that Rhys was, wanted to be locked in every man’s cellar to be used and consumed with his friends whenever he wanted her. But she lacked Rhys’ depth and finish. She lacked the darkness at Rhys’ sexual core, the very Noir of her.

Carl Sagan on Joseph Phelps 2009 Insignia

Every bottle of wine is but one of billions and billions, and each one, from a cosmic perspective, is precious. Well, maybe not Temecula Chardonnay. For every grain of sand on all the beaches on our precious planet, there is, or has been, a bottle of wine to match its number. We do not consider each grain of sand as we walk along the beach, we cannot do that and make sense of the world, we simply consider the beach—is it beautiful, is it warm and comforting, do we find condoms between our toes, do women wear thong bikinis in tribute to cosmic black holes? And so it should be with wine. We do not open every bottle of Joseph Phelps 2009 Insignia, that cannot be done, nor would it be revelatory, though it would piss off the winery, which has some value. No, we open a single bottle, and if it is not corked, that great universal joke, we take it to represent the whole. As though we could pick up a grain of sand, maybe one wedged in our wet bathing suit, under the testicles, that creates a rash, and, by gazing at it, imagine accurately the entire stretch of an unknown beach. This is beyond even the scope of human imagination, and yet we do it with wine every day, hundreds of times a day. Each bottle is precious, $225 of precious, but its meaning for the whole is infinitesimal. Rating it has all the meaning of rating stars or galaxies or those big rock things that fly all over space, whatever those are. DUCK!  That said, this was damned tasty.

George Carlin

Wine. Yeah, Jesus’ first miracle. Just like a stupid son. You give him the gift of miracles and what’s the first thing he does? He uses it to get his friends high. “So who wants Chardonnay?” “Oh, man, Jesus, what if your old man finds out you’re turning water into wine?” “He already knows, you idiots, He’s God.” “God? Yeah, right, and your mother’s a virgin.”

Why didn’t Jesus turn the water into beer? Probably would have been more popular, more what people wanted. That would have been cool. You’d go to church on Sunday, the priest would pop open the sacramental six-pack. “Son, go get me a cold one.” During halftime at the Super Bowl there’d be a commercial featuring the Blood of Christ Clydesdales. “The King of Kings, the King of Beers.”


Daniel said...

for a moment I was actually thinking that George Carlin was still alive and wrote that last one...
a fine Monday

Charlie Olken said...

Brilliant stuff, but you have left a couple of questions unanswered.

For example, should wine critics write in the style of one author or have a different author/style for each wine?

Let's say that I am a fan of Hemingway (I say "let's say" because I am). And like millions of fans of Hemingway, I am able to do a really bad imitation of his writing. In fact, I have several really bad imitations.

Do you think my readers would read thousands of bad Hemingway-style reviews?

I was thinking of possibly varying it with bad Dr. Seuss. I am good at bad Dr. Seuss.

I have never tried my hand at bad George Carlin, but what the fuck do I care? Bad George Carlin would suit those shitty wines from winemakers who fart in the vats and then send the wine to BevMo.

So, Jose, I need to know. I want desperately write interesting tasting notes.

Marcia Macomber said...


You left out the winemakers who throw moonrocks into the tanks for 'extraction' purposes, and/or those who think it's cool to sink a pallet of finished wine to the bottom of a Florida sinkhole under a full moon to enhance the wine!

I liked Carlin the best, too. I think you could write tons of Carlin-esque reviews and get them read. Better that than Eugene O'Neill.

voice of reason said...

thanks for not doing Hesse on Hess

Anonymous said...

Anais left the window open to catch the air from the sewer, It smelled like Brett in the morning, or so she said. Wouldn't it be pretty to think so?

Cris Whetstone said...

I have a sudden urge to run to my cellar and grab a bottle of Rhys. Somehow I feel each bottle will be disappointing in comparison from now on.

Thomas said...

I've always wanted to meet Anais Nin, but with birth dates so far off and all that, I suppose I'll have to be content to gulp "Carlin's Black Label."

Bob Henry said...

Excerpt from Slate
(posted June 15, 2007):

“Cherries, Berries, Asphalt, and Jam.
Why wine writers talk that way.”


By Mike Steinberger
“Drink: Wine, beer, and other potent potables” Column

. . .

One of the more famous assaults on the new language of wine came from novelist and children's writer Roald Dahl, a renowned oenophile himself. In 1988, he wrote a letter to Britain's Decanter magazine in which he lambasted as "tommyrot" the "extravagant, meaningless similes" that were suddenly being used to describe wines. "Wine … tastes primarily of wine -- grape-juice, tannin, and so on," Dahl wrote. "If I am wrong about this, and the great wine-writers are right, then there is only one conclusion. The chateaux in Bordeaux have begun to lace their grape-juice with all manner of other exotic fruit juices, as well as slinging in a bale or two of straw and a few packets of ginger biscuits for extra flavouring. Someone had better look into this." He went on, "I wonder, by the way, if these distinguished persons know that their language has become a source of ridicule in many sensible wine-drinking households. We sit around reading them aloud and shrieking with laughter."

. . .

Bob's aside: And on the subject of Roald Dahl, check out his timeless short story titled "Taste."




Dean Tudor said...

Congratulations, Ron, you certainly nailed Carlin... I can get you a gig at Toronto's Yuk Yuk -- if you'll change your name...

Ron Washam, HMW said...

George Carlin is DEAD?! Oh, man, I knew I shouldn't have bought those concert tickets from a guy outside of Safeway.

So you're saying people will read all of your CGCW tasting notes, but not several hundred CGCW notes written as Hemingway? That's hard to believe.

I'm avoiding doing bad Hemingway in these bits. Though "bad Hemingway" is redundant. I'm not a fan of the old boozer. I mean Hemingway, don't take it personally.

Marcia Love,
I had another eight minutes of Carlin wine writing, but, honestly, was ashamed of it. I am not, and never have been, in Carlin's league. But I think I was on the right track...

I almost did Camus on Caymus. The Stranger things have happened.

Brett who? Favre? I'm guessing he really smells in the morning.

Maybe. Or perhaps you'll be the disappointment.

Oddly, I did met Anais Nin when she spoke to my college lit class, back in 1973, I think. She was friends with my college advisor, and spoke to our class in Contemporary American Lit. There were about 15 kids in the class, so it was very personal. She was in her 70's or 80's, and I still remember how charming and articulate she was. Very smart and thoughtful, and very engaged with us.

Yes, I did sleep with her, but I did wear protection.

Dahl was too good a wordsmith to like wine descriptions. They're too utilitarian for a creative type. I mock them for sport, while knowing that it's a thankless task. As is writing a blog.

Writing standup and performing it are two different things, much like writing Anais Nin-style pornography.

Is the Yuk Yuk club relating to the Muk Luk club? I'd like to get my feet wet there first.

Dean Tudor said...

Ron, there is supposed to be a Muk Luk Club in Nunavut, one of our norther territories-cum-province-one-year. They only serve Icewine...

Thomas said...

"Yes, I did sleep with her, but I did wear protection."

A football helmet?

Charlie Olken said...

Perhaps a blend of Disney characters could spice up wine reviews.

Mickey Mouse for Two Buck Chuck. Uncle Scrooge for $100 Cabernets. Minnie for Rose' and grower Champagne; Pluto for failures; Goofy for orange wines and Ribolla Gialla.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

I'll stop in next time I'm up there clubbing baby harp seals.

Well, you got the "helmet" part right.

Puff Daddy,
Not a bad idea. How about Pinnochio reviews 2010 Bordeaux? Easy to tell when the 100 point scores are exaggerated.

Samantha Dugan said...

Ron My Love,
Damn baby, that Anais Nin bit made me blush, ME of all people. Sorry I didn't comment sooner, needed to read that, multiple times, first. I love you!

Ron Washam, HMW said...

My Gorgeous Samantha,
Nothing I like more than making you blush, just as long as you giggle too.

The pornography than Nin wrote, for pay (a wealthy perv paid her handsomely) is pretty hot stuff. It was those writings that I chose, for obvious reasons, to parody.

But who wouldn't read wine reviews like that? Sell a lot of Rhys Pinot Noir, I'm guessing.

Bob Henry said...

Supplemental article invoking Roald Dahl's comment:

Excerpt from the Los Angeles Times "Op-Ed" Section
(June 13, 2008, Page Unknown):

"Sip, and Shut Up"


By Joel Stein
Los Angeles Times Columnist

When wine drinkers tell me they taste notes of cherries, tobacco and rose petals, usually all I can detect is a whole lot of jackass. The language of sommeliers, winemakers, sellers and writers has devolved into nothing besides a long list of obscure smells that tells me nothing. I get a lot of cherry and cassis from Manischewitz too, but it would help a lot more if you told me it was cough-syrup-goopy sugar-water.

I miss the days when we made fun of wine snobs for saying that a wine was "ingratiating without being obsequious." Now wine snobs are too boring to make fun of. Ever since UC Davis professor Ann Noble created the Wine Aroma Wheel more than 20 years ago, people have become obsessed with seeing how many memories they can inhale out of a glass.

In 1988, "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" author Roald Dahl, who apparently drank exactly as much as you would have guessed the creator of Willie Wonka would drink, wrote a letter to Decanter magazine in which he said that wine "tastes primarily of wine -- grape-juice, tannin, and so on. If I am wrong about this, and the great wine-writers are right, then there is only one conclusion. The chateaux in Bordeaux have begun to lace their grape-juice with all manner of other exotic fruit juices, as well as slinging in a bale or two of straw and a few packets of ginger biscuits for extra flavouring." I like to imagine what Shel Silverstein wrote in the following week.

. . .

Rogue Wino said...

This may need a part two, possibly three. Hemingway and Seuss were mentioned but some pop/crap novelists could be skewered to good effect. Stephenie Meyer: A "sparkly" glass of Piper-Heidsiek comes into a highschool classroom (despite having no business being there) and sweeps a plain, awkward girl off her feet. She stares at the glass' little bubbles and keeps starting... and staring. Unfortunately she indulges too much in this sparkly being and experiences the consequences of their love, ending up in the hospital.
Do I go a week in blogging where I don't knock Twilight somehow? When will this get old?

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Rogue Baby,
Where were you during the great debate last post? Sheesh, I needed some support.

If you look under "Dull Wine Reviews Cured" in the Labels Section in the left hand column, you'll find four previous incarnations of my foolishness. And to parody Stephanie Meyer, I'd have to be stupid enough to read one of her crap novels, and, frankly, I'd rather read Vornography. Though a bloodsucker is a bloodsucker. The premise is to have "great" writers write about wine. Meyer doesn't come close to qualifying.

Rogue Wino said...

Dang, 101 comments? I was doing the beach thing in Maui last week so I'm just getting caught up with internet activities now. I love a good comment war, but it looks like I'm a little late and the debate has strayed too far. The only thing I would add is that most new wine drinkers, which would include the younger set, obviously, like their wine to taste like fruit juice. It makes perfect sense for them to trust a similar voice, rather then some fuddy duddy that has acquired more austere taste buds over the years.
I will have to check out those previous posts! I'm such a newb, sheesh!
Oh and Stephenie Meyer is spelled with an "e" vs "a," because this is apparently the cool thing to do these days with names. My favorite, when I worked at a school, was a little girl who was named Madysun. I don't think dad ever showed up in a shirt with sleeves (Now I sound like a classist ass, oops)
I've read a couple of excerpts from Twilight and that was enough. Same with 50 Shades. I like the get the feel for such works for parody purposes but I value my free time too much to actually read them.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Rogue Baby,
Well, let me know when you write a Meyer parody on your blog and I'll post a link. Blinky did a flat, lifeless parody of 50 Shades, but that's another series I won't read. Life is way too short.

You were lucky to be in Maui for the 101 comments. Like 101 Dalmations, only more crap.

Bob Henry said...

Excerpts from The Wall Street Journal "Personal Journal" Section
(March 14, 2013, Page D4?):

“Lost in Translation: The Lingo for Tasting Wine"

By Jason Chow
Staff Reporter

. . .

China has now ballooned to the world's fifth-largest consumer -- and sixth-largest producer -- of wine, according to a recent study by International Wine and Spirits Research, which quantifies the global alcohol market. But the wine industry in China is still confused over how best to describe the product it's trying to sell.

Translating wine attributes from English to Chinese is a painstaking task, says John Abbott, editor of Decanter magazine's website, which launched a Chinese-language version in September. Mr. Abbott says he and his Chinese translators got into a two-hour argument over the word "savory," a term often used to describe wines like those from the Rhone Valley or well-aged Bordeaux, since the former has hints of olive and herbs, while the latter is often written about with words like "leathery" and "meaty."

"They kept saying, 'If it's not sweet, it's automatically salty,'" he recalled. "But we said, 'No.' We dug out translations from other people and saw nobody really got over this barrier. What is not-sweet and not-salty? There isn't a term for that in Chinese."

Simon Tam, head of wine in China at Christie's auction house, says his team has stopped translating the tasting notes written by the firm's London and New York experts, which are filled with references to European fruits and flowers not commonly available in Asia, like black currant, raspberry and cranberry. "If I were to say to a Chinese person that this Pinot Noir has gooseberry notes, it doesn't make any sense to him," he says.

Instead of the typical English vocabulary of flavors, Mr. Tam uses words like "dang gui," a traditional Chinese medicinal herb, to describe the earthy aromas of a well-aged Bordeaux, or "dried red dates," another common ingredient in soups, for a slightly younger one. Fermented cabbage and lychees are other words commonly used in tasting notes.

Flavors aren't the only points of confusion. Chinese wine experts can't even agree on the names of grape varietals, or individual grape types.

. . .

The Chinese Society of Viticulturists has created its own list of terms, though they're still not yet widely adopted across the country.

. . .


Many Western wine flavors make no sense to the Chinese, says Christie's Simon Tam.

"You Say Cherries, I Say Chiuchow Master Stock"

How do you describe flavors that are geographically and culturally foreign? Below, two separate sets of tasting notes for a bottle of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, Grands-Echezeaux 2002 by Simon Tam, right, head of wine in China at Christie's auction house. One write-up is for a Western audience, the other, for a Chinese one.

Tasting Notes in English

There are sweet, pure and classic pinot fruit aromas enhanced by subtle nuances of floral flower notes, damp earth, crushed cherries and fleshy raspberry, even a hint of aged game meat. The palate is muscular and reserved but somewhat backward. It is a very concentrated wine, but will need time to bring out its best.

Tasting Notes, Chinese translation

There are fragrant aromas of dates, Chinese herbal medicine and Chiuchow master stock [an aromatic, heavily flavored soy-based liquid used to poach meats], enhanced by sweet, fruity and lasting tastes, with even a hint of the sweetness of dang gui [a traditional Chinese herbal medicine]. This can be drunk now for its fruity flavor, or aged for another 20-30 years. Best to pair with crispy barbecue pork.

Kyle W. said...

Hose, I gotta read some wine reviews Bukowski-style!