Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Wines Are NOT HoseMasterized

Robert Parker feels that wines are not, and never have been, Parkerized. Never mind the consulting companies in California who break down the wines he awards high scores and then help manufacture wines along similar lines for their clients. Those don’t count. Those wines are the equivalent of the women who use the services of plastic surgeons to enhance their bustline—Hefnerized women. It seems Parker likes wines that have had Brett Enhancement surgery. And I’m sure James Laube believes wines he rates aren’t Laubotomized. He may be right. I’m unaware of anyone analyzing his high-scoring wines. Not even him. Would Tim Fish confess wines have become Deboned? But I’ll come right out and say it, I’m disturbed by the latest accusation of wines becoming HoseMasterized.

In a perfect world, a HoseMasterized wine would be one that attracts advertising, or simply has a $100 bill taped to it in the shipping box. Honestly, that’s just so much easier than actually making a wine that’s worthy of review. I don’t know why wineries don’t understand that. Sure, go ahead, try and guess what I’ll like, run it through a spinning cone, or add some MegaPurple, maybe fool around with reverse osmosis, see where that gets you. See how much it costs. And you’ll still end up surprised when my reviews aren’t that positive. You can’t factor in my mood, which is generally foul, or how inconsistent I am from week to week, or how much my daily Cialis affects my palate. Not to mention that I’m old, and my senses have retired to Scottsdale where they play golf five times a week. My nose has a 12 handicap. My tongue just cleans the balls.

But we don’t live in a perfect world. For example, there’s the 100 Point Scale. In a perfect world, it wouldn’t exist. In a perfect world, wines would generate their own numbers, numbers that would be chemically indisputable, like octane numbers at the gas pump. You could pick up a bottle of wine at your local wine shop and right on the label it would say “93.” And you’d know what that meant. Now you go to buy a wine and there’s some stupid shelf talker that says, “96-RP.” Normal people don’t know what that means. They don’t know that if it’s Spanish wine, RP probably stands for Jay Miller, and, therefore, 96 stands for 89. Oh, the wine shop knows that, but they don’t provide a translation card for shelf talkers when you walk in. Or if it’s Austrian wine, RP stands for David Schildknecht and 96 stands for 98. But it’s Austrian wine, so the odds you’re even shopping for it are pretty small, and if you are, it’s fairly certain you don’t have any friends, so ratings don’t matter. What if it’s from California? Holy crap. RP might actually stand for Robert Parker, and the 96 stands for, adjusting for inflation from 1987, 91. But, if it’s a more recent review, then it might stand for Antonio Galloni, in which case 96 is 99. Or it might be that new guy, Ashley Judd, and we don’t know what the hell 96 means, and, frankly, neither does he. And people who use the 100 Point Scale claim it makes things easier for the consumer. It does. Like Cliff’s Notes makes it easier to understand that “Moby Dick” is about whales that symbolize death.

So what is a HoseMasterized wine? Oh, my critics would say that it’s any wine that is engagingly aromatic, perfectly balanced, varietally correct and indescribably complex. These are wines, they say, that were obviously made for my palate. HoseMasterized. I’m a little tired of this sort of criticism. It simplifies my track record. But critics are nothing if not simpleminded. Critics are self-proclaimed experts, like religious messiahs, baseball analysts and Supreme Court justices. I think if you look at my track record, I’ve loved lots of average, even pretty crappy, wine. I think it’s fair to say that my defense of Chocolate Port may have been misguided. I once praised Norton, though I meant the character on “The Honeymooners,” and, suddenly, the entire state of Missouri was covered in it. So I’m not perfect, and I don’t think there is a style of wine I lean toward. And if there is, it’s certainly not wines that are elegant, beautiful, compelling and complex. If you read my work carefully, try the wines I recommend, I think you’ll agree.

And yet the claim persists. Wineries, and winemakers, my critics say, are trying to make delicious, sexy, gorgeous, wonderful wines just to please my palate. This is crap on the face of it. The wines today are just as dull and just as unremarkable as they were when I started 35 years ago. I’m a lot better at judging them, though clearly I was 50% of an idiot savant even then, but I’ve been nothing if not consistently unpredictable in my tastes and opinions. Sure, it makes a certain amount of sense that wineries around the globe would want the HoseMaster’s approval and recommendation. Duh. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that they can make wines that will meet with my approval.

But I give up. The press, the wine bloggers, the know-it-alls on wine chat rooms, they’re all going to continue to say that every brilliant wine, every wine that shows uniqueness and beauty, every wine that thrills and enchants, is HoseMasterized. I’m coming to terms with having to live with it. It doesn’t bother me so much, but it’s not fair to the people making truly great wine that it gets labeled HoseMasterized. They did the best they could. They tended the vineyards conscientiously, they understand minimal intervention that leads to maximum character, they have remarkable talent and experience. It’s not fair to them to say a wine was HoseMasterized.

So it’s to them I apologize. I never intended to be so powerful and famous. I did everything I could to annoy the wine establishment. I reviewed wines poorly, inaccurately, and randomly, but, dammit, I was always fair. I played favorites, I changed opinions mid-career, and I always believed in my infallibility.

Damn, I was Parkerized.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Wine Blog Awards--Death is Like Fermentation

When I turned up dead, I knew I had an unusual case on my hands. I’d been fine the last time I saw me, that morning, in the mirror. I remember because, since I’ve put on a few pounds recently, it was the first time I’d seen my penis since Anthony Weiner sexted a picture of it all over the damned planet. It winked at me. I’d finished showering (I like my showers like I like my babes—hot, wet, and finished in three minutes) and was shaving. I hate shaving. My electric razor shoots the damned shaving cream all over the mirror. But there I was, the HoseMaster, a private dick staring at his formerly private dick. Alive and dangling.

Or was I?

Funny thing when you die—you’re the last to know. I’d seen it my whole career. I’d be sitting in the square, peacefully drinking Kosta Browne Pinot Noir from my shoe, when I’d look up and I’d see a woman walking by who was dead and didn’t know it. You’ve seen the type. That stunned look on her face, like she’d just finished reading a Matt Kramer column in Wine Spectator, her face frozen like she’s modeling for Edvard Munch, a wine glass suspended between her breasts in a wine yoke, her glittery T-Shirt declaring, “Wine Bloggers Do It Alone in Their Room.” Dead. Her blog readers know it, her prose proves it, her ideas symptomatic of a straight line on an EEG. There are hundreds and hundreds of these wine bloggers among us. I always feel sorry for them, these Walking Dead, these Internet Zombies. Like so many people, they think death is sudden, a moment when the lights go out, your last thought the thought that this can’t be happening to me, it should be happening to Jay McInerney even if it is twenty years too late. But death’s not like that. It’s slow, and it’s apparent to everyone else but you.

Death is like fermentation. Your life happens while you’re growing, when you’ve yet to be harvested. But when you reach maturity, your life is plucked from you, the great Winemaker in the Sky crushes you, and fermentation begins. It takes a while, and you think you’re improving. You bubble with energy and radiate heat. But you’re dying. It might take two weeks, or death might get stuck, it often gets stuck when you don’t know what you’re doing, but once that fermentation is finished, you’re simply dead. Most of us are fermenting even now, especially bloggers, who stop growing even as they begin their “journey to discover wine,” a written journey that virtually defines brain death. It explains the peculiar aromas. Death is one long extended fermentation; it punches us down, over and over, twice a day, to extract everything it can from us. And then it drains us of everything we are, puts us in a large wooden vessel, sometimes new wood, sometimes old, and puts us somewhere nice and cold, like between Natalie MacLean’s lips.

So I woke up the other day and realized I was dead. And, even worse, I knew the people who had killed me. I had all the evidence against them I needed, but how could I bring them to justice? Justice is all you have left when you’re dead. Well, that and a farewell boner. The dead want justice like the living want love. Neither ever gets enough. Perhaps it’s better to want justice when you’re alive, and love after you’re gone. But you’ll never get that either. What do we get instead? Pain, misery, heartbreak, and Wine Blog Awards. It is a tribute to human courage that we manage to endure.

You see, that’s what killed the HoseMaster in the end. Wine Blog Awards. Believe me, this is an ugly way to die. Slowly and painfully, at the hands of ruthless and sinister people. People who have no right to even give you an award, people who intrude into a perfectly fine business, pretend it’s theirs, steal your reputation and standing, and use it to enrich their own lives. They’re like bank robbers, or a Gambero Rosso Tre Bicchieri tasting. They have no remorse for their foul deeds. They make Frank Cornelissen proud. They declare themselves in charge, and, dopes that we are, we accede. We give in because we lack imagination, and because we seek acceptance and praise like a Cru Beaujolais producer seeks more than 91 points—hopelessly, and because we imagine it matters. Just as we give in to death. Only death is certain, Wine Blog Awards are imaginary.

Sure, the people responsible hire fall guys. I wanted to blame the fall guys for my death. And, that morning, I was beginning to realize I was dead. I was starting to like Malbec. Who likes Malbec? Dead people, people with nothing to lose. But it wasn’t the fall guys, the “judges” (honorary titles to flatter the suckers), who murdered me, it was the organizers, the con men, who killed me.

I did something stupid. It’s partly my fault. Isn’t death always partly our fault, like every tragedy, like the NBA? I opened an email attachment. I knew it was stupid even as I was doing it. Like when you walk down the stairs in your socks, or you check your gas tank with a cigarette lighter, or you buy rare wines at auction. In the attachment were my death warrants. Like Pandora, I’d opened the box. Or selected shitty music. I don’t remember what metaphor works any more. But, when I saw what was in the attachments, I knew the HoseMaster was dead. Dead like “fighting varietals.”. Dead like “soft wines.” Dead like “Mutineer Magazine.” Done. Over. Kaput. Kardashianed. Pamela Sue’d. I was in an Aldered state.

The attachment consisted of nomination badges in four different categories for HoseMaster of Wine™ to win a Wine Blog Award. It was the moment you hear the gun going off just long enough to know you’re a goner. Not that I didn’t have it coming.

Gumshoes make lots of enemies. But, in the end, my enemies didn’t have anything to do with it. Death rarely comes from expected places. That’s one thing I’ve learned as the HoseMaster. Death is slow, and you’re dead before you know it, but the causes, well, they never reveal themselves until it’s too late. It’s like a blind tasting. All your years of experience, all that you bring to the table, all of your insight and passion and love, hell, it just doesn’t matter. Where you stick your nose just might be the end of you. And, on top of that, the idiot next to you doesn’t know crap. Blind tasting is the human condition.

But what’s done is done. Justice will come one day. We have to believe that. I like to think that the Wine Blog Awards ceremony will be the HoseMaster’s wake. People who hate me will still have to say nice things about me. I won’t be there, so I won’t care. My name will be announced, men will gasp and women will weep, but when the shock has worn off, people who otherwise revile me, people whose secrets I’ve uncovered, whose weaknesses I’ve held up to the light, those people will be forced to laud me, to say that, all along, they liked me, admired my work. When it’s not true. I like to think that maybe the whole charade will crumble, that the people who campaigned and begged for votes, who surrendered their talent to vanity, who craved an award given by poseurs and decided by the wisdom of the hopelessly vacuous who live on FaceBook, that they’ll speak my name in false reverence and realize the emptiness of the gesture. And slowly recognize the death of their own souls.

“And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.”

I’ve had tough cases before, solved The MS Conspiracy and Dial MW for Murder. I battled my arch enemy Frank Anosmia and came out not smelling a rose. I never thought I’d have to work my own death. You spend your whole life fighting the bad guys and then one day you realize you’re one of them. It’s the great mystery of life. And of death. You just don’t know what you’ve got until it’s done fermenting.

Monday, May 20, 2013

The First Wine Blog to List Ingredients

After months of soul searching and consideration, and in the interest of transparency and full disclosure, I have decided to list the ingredients and processes that go into each piece on HoseMaster of Wine™. I am hopeful that my candor and honesty will spread throughout the wine blog world. As it stands now, when you read a wine blog you have no idea what went into the blog, aside from alcohol-fueled stupidity and the vocabulary of a porpoise, i.e. whistling through the blowhole. Nothing harmful is ever added to a HoseMaster of Wine™ article, though nausea can be a direct side effect. If you find yourself becoming slightly nauseated when reading, it’s wise to either induce vomiting, or, if you’re uncomfortable sticking a finger down your own throat, here’s a link that should work.

Once you’ve read through the ingredients, demand of other bloggers that they do the same for their blogs. Ask yourself, what are they hiding? Consider never reading any wine blog that doesn’t list its ingredients. Many are dangerous and cause irreparable brain damage; others are known to have caused cutting. I know a woman who cannot read Wild Walla Walla Wine Woman without slowly slicing her forearms with a Ginsu knife. While clearly appropriate, this is dangerous behavior induced by the blog’s content. At least the knife isn’t dull.

And, also, remember not to vote for any wine blog nominated for a Poodle Award that hasn’t fully disclosed its ingredient list. This would set a terrible precedent. Winners could do harm to unsuspecting new readers—there have been reports of headaches, sleep apnea and erectile dysfunction, but those reports are unconfirmed, and why would you believe my wife anyway? The wine blog world is nearly ten years old now. Isn’t it time we disclose what we’re made of?


Venom: It takes plenty of venom to produce HoseMaster of Wine™. Most wine blogs have very little venom content. In fact, most have little content at all. Remember, if you have been bitten by one of my blog posts, it will hurt for a moment, but don’t panic. Rather than overreact, experts recommend you suck it.

Wine: Inebriation is a key ingredient and I never skimp. I ask that you use HoseMaster of Wine™ responsibly and in moderation. Do not operate heavy machinery while reading. Do not read if you are pregnant. If you are thinking about becoming pregnant, call me. Operators are standing by, but I don’t care if they watch if you don’t. If reading the blog with a group, please use a Designated Reader who is to remain sober and never laugh. Well, the never laugh part is easy.

Artificial Sweeteners: Occasionally something sweet appears in HoseMaster of Wine™. Trust me, this is artificial.

Thought: Only tiny bits of thought are ever used in the production of HoseMaster of Wine™, but at least it’s not some stupid compendium of links to other websites that takes no goddam thought at all.

Wit Substitutes: In the absence of wit, which is known to be carcinogenic, I use wit substitutes. Common wit substitutes include puns, long sentences that sound like wit but really aren’t, sarcastic remarks that widely miss the mark (often called “snarky” by ignorant shitheads), and Randall Grahm sloppy seconds. Wit substitutes are rarely found in wine blogs, which seem to prefer going entirely witless.

Irony: Just listing irony is ironic. Isn’t that ironic? Hell, I put the “ron” in ironic. And without a condom.

Meat Byproducts: Strictly to protect against unwanted Spam.


HoseMaster of Wine™ was produced in a facility that handles my nuts. If you are allergic to my nuts, you are advised to read another blog, or to ingest a small part of my nuts on a daily basis until the allergy subsides.

HoseMaster of Wine™ has been known to cause birth defects in lab rats, like we give a fuck about lab rats.

If after reading HoseMaster of Wine™ you have an erection lasting more than four hours, well, that’s just about average. Try harder.

Objects appearing in HoseMaster of Wine™ are closer than they appear. Objects appearing in my pants are larger than they appear.

By law, HoseMaster of Wine™ is allowed to contain small pieces of rat turd, otherwise known as the Hundred Point Scale.

Do not use HoseMaster of Wine™ in an enclosed space. The fumes are explosive. If you smell anything resembling Grüner Veltliner, immediately open the windows and shout, “It wasn’t me, it was the dog.” In an actual emergency, an oxygen mask will drop from the ceiling. Place the mask over your face, inhale like you have emphysema, and say, “Luke, I’m your father.”

Void where prohibited by law.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Feiring Squad Misses The Rapture

They were just gone one day. All of them. It had been prophesied, but who believes prophets? There are rarely real prophets in the wine business. Not for those who’d disappeared anyway. One day the landscape was littered with Natural Wine winemakers, the next day they had vanished quicker than the finish on one of their wines. They weren’t at a conference. They weren’t at a public wine tasting selling their wines to novice wine drinkers drunk on their own righteousness, the deluded who profess that they can only drink Natural Wines or their delicate systems revolt (these folks are often revolting), and spiritual drifters. They weren’t buried in amphorae in a remote canyon, or in shrines of their own making. They’d spent their Earthly lives in shrines of their own making. They were just gone.

It was what they’d all been waiting for. The Rapture.

For a short period of time the prices of Natural Wines skyrocketed. Demand far outstripped supply. It wasn’t unheard of for a thirty dollar bottle to sell in excess of $300. But the winemaker had to have vanished May 16, 2013, the Day of The Rapture. That was what validated that the wines were genuinely “natural.” Just as a painter’s works jump in value upon his death, so the last of the true Natural Wines became priceless. Wines left behind in barrels were confiscated, moved to a central warehouse, and closely monitored by the government to ensure they weren’t manipulated in any way. Professional critics were enlisted to periodically check the barrels to make absolutely sure they were reassuringly faulty and malodorous to normal people. Once bottled, without both sulfites and conscience, in tribute to the vanished winemakers, the wines were auctioned and the money distributed to the widows and children left behind by The Rapture.

Controversy and violent protests broke out in wine regions across the world. Hundreds and hundreds of winemakers who had declared their wines “natural” had been Left Behind. Left behind unjustly, they proclaimed. A spokeswoman emerged, the champion of the Natural Wine movement, and the maligned, still alive, natural winemakers rallied behind her, calling themselves The Feiring Squad.

“Our wines are natural,” The Feiring Squad declared, “and we have the marketing material to prove it. Furthermore, our wines have been declared Natural, been declared Real, been declared Authentic by the experts empowered to declare them so. They have tasted the wines! Did the God who delivered The Rapture ever taste our wines? Who does He think he is? Robert Parker? He may be God, but He’s no Robert Parker.

“We have been blessed by the writings of Alice, legitimized in the works of the Hobbit Jamie Goode, made real, like Pinocchio, by the Good Fairy Jeremy Parzen, and yet we remain. Our brothers and sisters who were taken from us during what is now referred to as The Wine Rapture most assuredly deserved their disappearances. I think every wine lover applauds their disappearance. But The Feiring Squad protests! We should have been taken too.”

Some desperate winemakers, who had disingenuously declared their wines natural, went into hiding, pretending that they had vanished during The Rapture. They anonymously posted on popular wine blogs, declaring themselves “vanished” in an attempt to drive the prices of their wines higher, and to save their manufactured reputations. But most finally had to emerge from hiding and admit that they hadn’t actually made Natural Wine in the first place. “I didn’t really manipulate my wine that much,” one said, as he was publicly humiliated and scorned, “I spent most of my time manipulating the press. I lied, I exaggerated, I hid a few facts, who did it hurt? If it weren’t for that fucking Rapture, I’d still be a hero to the shitheads who believe in Natural Wine.”

Husbands and wives left behind that fateful May Day in 2013 also formed an alliance, Spouses Overwhelmed Too, abbreviated SO2. SO2 members dressed exclusively in white and were invited to attend every serious winery’s blessing of the Harvest, where they spoke of their beloved taken by The Rapture, their beloved’s purity and devotion to wine, their lost partner’s belief that only Nature and God can make wine that is worth drinking and that a winemaker doesn’t need skill or discernment or a background in chemistry and viticulture to make wine, a winemaker just needs blind devotion to non-intervention and a really gullible mailing list. SO2 members were considered saints and clairvoyants, and wonderful paint ball targets.

The reward for those who had actually followed the rigorous standards of Natural Wine was being taken to Heaven by The Rapture. Those lucky few, one who had been having unnatural intercourse with a miniature sheep when he abruptly vanished, leaving ewe perplexed, and one who had been speaking at a winemaker dinner at a Vegan restaurant when he suddenly wasn’t there any more, his audience turning pale and gaseous (in other words, unchanged), among others, would forever be revered as Natural Winemakers. No scientific explanation was ever offered for their massive disappearance. None was needed. God had called them home to tend his Heavenly vineyards, to make wine only for Him. God knows it wouldn’t kill Him, anyway.

The Feiring Squad eventually disbanded, their pleas and excuses unheeded and disbelieved. Alice was left to write only obituaries, to beg to taste the last of the Natural Wines to have been auctioned off, to whither away into wine obscurity, alone with her inflatable Nicholas Joly doll, otherwise known as Nicholas Joly. SO2 became a mere footnote to The Rapture, their presence at an event a reminder of the basic dishonesty in the Natural Wine movement, their number so small compared to those who had lied and lied and yet whose spouses were never left behind.

Twenty years later it was back. Climate change was still on the world’s back burner, the one that burns petroleum. Many of the large mammals of the world had gone extinct, including most NFL players. The oceans were rising faster than the water in Marvin Shanken’s bathtub when he gets in. And Natural Wines, Real Wines, Authentic Wines returned.

But there was no Second Rapture. “Fuck ‘em,” God said, “if they’re that stupid.”

Monday, May 13, 2013


In February 2010, I published this lampoon of Alder Yarrow's Vinography. I think his was the first wine blog I parodied, and it raised something of a ruckus. Not as much as my later piece about Alice Feiring, but plenty. I was always offended by Yarrow's nonsensical notion that he could adequately taste several hundred wines in a few hours, and his post about the 2010 ZAP tasting must have pushed me over the edge. Though it doesn't take much to push the HoseMaster over the edge. The original post generated in the neighborhood of 60 comments. From 2010, here is Vornography:

Every January the Zinfandel Advocates and Producers (ZAP) throw a tasting in my honor at Fort Mason in San Francisco. I'm honored that they do this for me, I don't see myself as worthy of the honor, I'm just a humble blogger who is frequently given accolades, awards, free trips, free wine and inexplicable admiration from an industry that deeply admires sycophants. The theme of this year's ZAP tasting in my honor was "Alder Zin You Can Drink," and, as I do every year, I agreed to allow others in the industry, as well as every day people, to attend. I don't have to do this, but I feel that wine is best when it's shared, and, besides, it's really lonely being the best blogger in the country.

There were fewer wineries this year, which I was not happy about and someone will pay, believe me, but the good news is that it meant I only had 740 wines to taste so I'd have an extra hour to come home and post pretty pictures on my blog. I'd really like to post pictures of kitties, I love kitties, especially in ribbons, but that wouldn't be right so I post trite photos by Andy Katz--get it? Katz? I post pictures of Katz! And you wonder why I win wine blog awards!

I was honored by the 220 or so wineries who chose to pour me wine at ZAP. Part of the enjoyment I get out of this annual event (last year's theme was "We All Live in a Yarrow Submarine") is the time I get to spend with all my many friends that produce Zinfandel all over the state, and even the world! People even come from Italy and South Africa to pour wines for me, hoping for a coveted 9.5 to 10 score, which I only give to 40% of the wines I taste so they are really going against the odds. This year I was honored to spend 11 seconds talking to Joel Peterson, the heroic producer and founder of Ravenswood, 8 seconds tasting with Larry Turley, and a full 15 seconds reveling in the stories of Kent Rosenblum. Did you know he's a veterinarian? When Dr. Rosenblum tells you you're a horse's ass for claiming you can taste and rate 740 wines in a day, you know he knows what he's talking about!

I was also asked to moderate a panel about Zinfandel and Social Media the Friday before the ZAP tasting. I am often asked to sit on panels because I'm the most respected wine blogger in the country and I can answer many questions that prospective bloggers constantly ask. For example, I am often asked what has made my blog so successful. It's not that big a secret. What makes Vornography so successful is that most people can't tell the difference between being prolific and being good. Choose prolific. And, always, they want to know how to get wineries to send them free samples. Here's where my journalism background comes in handy. Puff pieces. Wineries love puff pieces about themselves and I do that better than anyone else blogging today. You can't go wrong writing fluff, being a fluffer, about a winery owner fulfilling a dream. They eat it up, they post it on their website, they tweet about it, and they send me every release of wine they ever produce hoping I'll flatter them again. It's essentially like taking candy from trust fund babies.

Tasting 740 wines in six hours is no big deal, but, obviously I'm not superhuman enough to also take tasting notes. That would be ludicrous and, frankly, arrogant. Besides, no one reads tasting notes, tasting notes are just filler, like the white stuff in Twinkies, it's just there to distract you from what really matters, the delicious cake outsides. And it's all Zinfandel anyway. You already know what Zinfandel tastes like, it tastes kind of like berries. All you need to know is what I think about the wines as reflected in my scores. You already know my taste in wine, you've been faithfully following my blog for more than six years now, and if you're new here, well, take it from all of my regular longtime readers, my scores are valid and meaningful and come from my astonishing seven years of experience tasting wines. You can tell how valid my scores are by all the winery people kissing my butt in the comments section. I list the 740 wines grouped by my vague scores in such a way that it enlightens you as to which Zinfandels are worth your hard-earned money. The ones at the top. They tasted the best. Trust me.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Good Things Come to Those Who Waitsburg

Waitsburg Cellars Wines I’m Using to Write About Me
Waitsburg Cellars 2012 Pinot Gris Old Vines Columbia Valley $15
Waitsburg Cellars 2012 “Cheninierès” Old Vine Chenin Blanc Columbia Valley $17
Waitsburg Cellars 2012 “Chevray” Old Vine Chenin Blanc Columbia Valley $17
Waitsburg Cellars 2012 Riesling Old Vine Columbia Valley $15
Waitsburg Cellars 2011 “Three” Merlot Malbec Mourvèdre Columbia Valley $25

I think most wine bloggers would agree that the one genuinely satisfying aspect of self-publishing on the Internet is the people you meet as a result. It has been the least expected, and best, consequence of HoseMaster of Wine™. Had I never begun this pointless and self-absorbed wine blog, I never would have met the likes of Eric Asimov, Charlie Olken, Dan Berger, Jon Bonné, Lettie Teague, Robert Joseph, Alfonso Cevola, Tom Wark, Thomas Pellechia, Steve Heimoff, and, of course, My Gorgeous Samantha. I’ve also been lucky enough to have received kind words and encouragement from many other distinguished wine writers, all of whom are more talented and more influential than I could ever be. Tim Atkin MW, Robert Parker, Mike Steinberger, Mike Dunne, Chris Kassel, Becky Wasserman… It’s incredibly humbling when all I really do is write jokes. And badly, at that. Every time I think of quitting, I remember all of those kind words from people with far more talent than I, and I press on. I am indebted to all of you.

And I haven’t mentioned Paul Gregutt. Paul has been hanging around this blog for a long time, commenting regularly, and supporting my kind of wine writing. The first time he commented I didn’t really know who he was. It’s been a long time since I read any wine publications regularly. There’s a point where one moves on from the likes of Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast. I was tasting so much wine on my own as a sommelier, I didn’t need their reviews for personal use, and, believe me, every wine salesperson alive makes sure you know scores if those scores are advantageous. Though I quickly trained the wine salespeople who called on me not to show me scores. I found it insulting. I’m tasting the wine, I’m qualified to judge its quality and provenance, I know my clientele and my wine list, why do I care what number a critic gave the wine? I just tasted it and the salesperson says, “And Parker gave it 93.” I’d usually say, right after I spit it out, “Wow, he was close.”

Paul Gregutt has launched his own label, Waitsburg Cellars. Many of you will have already heard about it, primarily because of the chest-beating of media gorillas and the braying of wine bloggers, and other folks with nothing better to do, that accompanied its announcement. The wine blogosphere is notorious for its rampant stupidity, and deservedly so, but the notion that it’s some sort of nefarious conflict of interest for Paul to make his own wines while continuing to rate others marks a new low in the intellectual cesspool that is the Internet. The conflict of interest points being made, mind you, by high-minded, ethically sound “journalists” just back from their junket to Greece, on their way to Uruguay, busy writing fabulous puff pieces about the wines of those countries, but taking time out from their hectic schedules to enlighten us about journalistic standards and unethical behaviors. But if you don’t believe those enlightened bloggers, you can certainly trust Hurricane Harvey Steiman, the Category Five blowhard, who makes a nice living off the coattails of that paragon of journalistic integrity, Wine Spectator. Harvey, in a lovely bit of collegial support for a fellow wine critic, took a nice potshot at Paul on NPR. And the Seattle Times shitcanned Paul as its wine columnist as well. All because he wanted to make some old vines Chenin Blanc. As wonderful as the wine business is, and it is filled with amazing and generous and talented people, it still has its share of self-righteous shitheads.

Did I just hear my name?

I’m a fan of Paul’s wine reviews and blog. It’s because of Paul that I “discovered” Gramercy Cellars, Ellanelle, Soos Creek, and Maison Bleue, among others. If those names aren’t familiar to you and you love wine, they should be. A couple of weeks ago I opened a bottle of Maison Bleue 2010 Grenache “Le Midi” Boushey Vineyard Yakima Valley, and it was the best bottle of Grenache I’ve had in a very long time, and all of $35 (last I looked, it was still available—really, I mean it, buy some!). It was the sort of aromatic, subtle, restrained, yet powerful Grenache I dream about, a wine rich in red fruit, seasoned with a bit of white pepper, that keeps getting better and more interesting with every sip. I only bought it because I read a rave about the winery on Paul’s blog. If he weren’t making his own wines, I’m sure he would have rated the winery even higher.

But let’s talk about Waitsburg Cellars. Paul was kind enough to send me samples of the first five wines bottled under his new label, four of them white. I take it as flattery that he wanted me to taste them. I’m not aware of ever having tasted a wine from a winery owned by a major wine critic, unless you count the Oregon wines of Beaux Freres, Robert Parker’s winery he owns along with his brother-in-law. I’ve never been a fan of Beaux Freres, the wines are a bit juiced for my palate, as if Jose Canseco had married Mark McGwire’s sister and given birth to Sammy Sosa. Would tasting Waitsburg Cellars wines be an enlightening insight into Paul’s palate preferences? I don’t think so. One wouldn’t want to infer much about Roger Ebert’s film criticisms based on his famous screenplay for Russ Meyer’s “Beyond the Valley of The Dolls,” a classic of Titty Flicks. This was a film that had more breast meat than a Butterball factory in November.

As an aside, Russ Meyer, when he was quite elderly and giving way to Alzheimer’s Disease, occasionally dined at Pacific Dining Car, often with Kitten Natividad, a legendary stripper and adult film star. Mr. Meyer, at that point, weighed less than one of Kitten’s surgically enhanced gazongas. After a while, I noticed that if you watched Kitten’s nipples swaying back and forth as she walked, you could trace the rotation of the Earth. Sometimes I miss the restaurant business.

And speaking of pairs (oh, I love a good segue), two of the wines from Waitsburg Cellars are Chenin Blanc. Chenin Blanc seems to be making a comeback, and I’m much in favor of that. There was a time, back in the 1970’s, when just about every wine list in California included Charles Krug Chenin Blanc. It was enormously popular, and enormously sweet, and everyone assumed that was what Chenin Blanc tasted like. The only serious Chenin Blancs I’m aware of from California in those days were made at Chalone and Chappellet. I loved the Chalone Chenin Blancs in the heyday of Chalone. They were dry, minerally, and powerfully fragrant, like an apple orchard, and they foreshadowed, for me, the great wines of the Loire Valley that are Chenin Blanc--Vouvray and Savennières. Not that long ago, the only dry Chenins from France worth a nickel were made in Savennières. Now there are lots of them being produced, not just Savennières, but also Montluis and Vouvray. These are easy wines to be smitten with.

The Waitsburg Cellars 2012 “Cheninières” is a nod to Savennières. I’m not in love with the cutesy name, but I’ll defer to Paul’s marketing savvy. (I’ll Chenin de-fer, or he might railroad me out of town.) As I sipped on it, I was reminded of a Savennières producer I’m very fond of, Chateau d’Epiré. The Waitsburg does a nice job of capturing the pretty apple blossom and mineral scent of Chenin Blanc in its driest versions. Unencumbered by any oak, the clean, springtime aromas of the grape have the chance to shine, and those aromas are quite beguiling. It’s appropriately crisp, especially at this early stage of its life, and that gorgeous acidity makes it foolishly good with rich seafood. In hindsight, I’d shuck a few million fresh oysters and use this to wash them down. (Every time I think of those luscious bivalves I recall George Burns describing sex when he was 90 years old, “It’s like trying to put an oyster in a slot machine.” Just a great line.) It had more complexity than a lot of domestic Chenin Blancs out there that I’ve tasted, perhaps a consequence of the age of the vines. It is a lot of wine, a lot of pleasure, a lot of refreshment and ephemeral beauty for seventeen bucks, my friends. And I’d bet that in about six months it will really be gangbusters.

I wish I were as crazy about the Waitsburg Cellars 2012 “Chevray.” It’s not the wine’s fault. I’ve just never been crazy about Chenin Blanc that is sweet—probably just bad memories of Charles Krug hangovers. From an objective point of view, this wine is quite successful. In a lineup of Vouvray Demi-Sec (it just occurred to me that Ashton Kutcher is probably really missing Demi-Secs right about now), it would certainly do just fine. The nose was obviously about ripeness, ripe peaches and pears to me, with a dollop of sweet cream (not ML, a truer cream character). Very appealing, honestly. But you need to pair it carefully with food or it will disappoint. I didn’t. It’s quite sweet, and very bold on the palate, a remarkable contrast to the “Cheninières,” and it’s never cloying, which would be the trap. Yet it doesn’t carry itself with the verve I like, and though I’m not familiar with the chemistry of great Vouvray Demi-Sec, I recall them as having better acidity to carry the sweetness. Again, it’s all of seventeen bucks, and if you have friends or family who like sweetness in their wines, this beauty is a certain winner. It most certainly exhibits Chenin Blanc’s ability to carry some sweetness and not be horrid, unlike, say Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay (I’m talking to you, Rombauer).

The Waitsburg Cellars 2012 Riesling is just gorgeous! Buy this. Really. It’s a lousy fifteen bucks, and if I were running the wine program at Slanted Door, the great Vietnamese restaurant in San Francisco, I’d buy every case I could and sell it by-the-glass. There are wines that are pitch perfect, and this is pitch perfect Washington State Riesling. Hell, it’s pitch perfect Riesling. Everyone knows that Riesling is the least appreciated of the genuinely noble grapes of the world, rivaling even Syrah for being unfairly neglected by consumers. This, however, works in our favor. I loved this wine from the first moment we met, which explains why I removed my pants after finishing the first glass. That may have influenced the corkage fee, but no matter. The Waitsburg Riesling has that dynamic mix of luscious and ample fruit, apricot, pear, sweet lemon and honey, and the kind of tension that comes from a dash of residual sugar harmonizing with wondrous acidity (yeah, wondrous—when you think about it, isn’t wine acidity wondrous?). Damn, where’s my claypot catfish? I dare you not to like this wine. Washington is beginning to make a name for itself with Riesling, think Eroica, on anyone’s list of the world’s best Rieslings, and now think this Waitsburg version. This wine sings on your palate. So many wines just hum.

The Waitsburg Cellars 2012 Pinot Gris was the first sample I tasted. I can’t say that I’m a huge fan of Pinot Gris. It’s my least favorite member of the large Pinot family (Noir, Blanc, Meunier, Gris, Tinteurrier)—think Tito Jackson. A color variation of Pinot Noir, it seems to have a tendency to flabbiness—think Tito Jackson. And, at times, it can be flat—yeah, think Tito Jackson. So I bring a lot of prejudice to the glass when I taste Pinot Gris. (I’m ignoring the insipid versions of Italian Pinot Grigio that are ubiquitous—that’s not wine, it’s battery acid for cougars.)  OK, all of that out of the way, I liked the Waitsburg Pinot Gris. It does, in fact, lean a bit to flabby, but that seems to be the nature of the grape, at least to my taste. It might also be a result of the high August temperatures in 2012. The aroma reminded me of an Alsace version of the grape, a lot of ripe peach and pear notes, a whisper of residual sugar, and a depth of aromatics that made me think it had spent most of its time on its lees. I liked the texture, that same sort of oily richness one gets in good Alsace wines, and I liked the liveliness of the fruit, but the finish felt unsatisfying, more narrow than I’d expected. And yet, in a tribute to its quality, when I tasted it on the third day, it was surprisingly delicious. And then when I looked at its fifteen dollar price tag, well, it’s worth every cent of that. Sometimes we simply overanalyze this crap and forget that wine that delivers a lot of pleasure for a reasonable price is what we all crave on a day-to-day basis. We just like to hear ourselves talk.

Finally, there’s the red, the Waitsburg Cellars 2011 “Three.” Risky name, Paul. I mean, who liked Star Trek 3, or Die Hard 3, or DUI 3? The “Three” are Merlot, Malbec and Mourvèdre, with Merlot making up 64% of the blend. I liked this wine. It vibrates with life. I kept wondering what I might have guessed it was if I had tasted it blind. I’m not sure. I think I might have guessed it was red wine from Northeastern Italy, something from the Alto Adige perhaps. At first, it’s very lean, but when you taste it you realize it has a long way to go before it opens up. There’s a green tea and cherry character that made me think of Merlot from a cool climate, but as it opened up I thought the Mourvèdre began to show itself with notes of mushroom and blueberry. If you’re looking for oaky, extracted, ripe, powerhouse red from Washington, look elsewhere. The “Three” is nuanced and very pretty, with impeccable balance between the freshness and depth of the fruit, and not like any other wine I can recall tasting from Washington, or California, for that matter. It would seem to have a long life ahead of it, judging from the balance and intensity, and, for $25, it over-delivers.

All of these Waitsburg Cellars wines are produced in small quantities—the “Three” is the largest at 297 cases. The prices are more than fair. The “Cheninières” could easily be the summer quaffer you need, and the sexy 2012 Riesling you need to put in your mouth. Don't forget the "Three," a wine for lovers of red wines with nuance and style, not power and oak. It's unforgettable, and it will be interesting to see what following vintages will bring. Paul Gregutt is off to an interesting start here—not a boring wine in the bunch. And I always say that the cardinal sin in wine is to be boring. Same in wine writing. So, yeah, I’m going to Hell. I’ll meet you at the bar there and we can share some Prosecco…


Monday, May 6, 2013

Better Off Dead--New Wine Books

I decided it was time to review the latest cascade of new wine books, so I have done so over at Tim Atkin's wonderful blog. Once a month, Tim allows me to bring the conversation down to a HoseMaster level, and insult our wine friends in the UK. I like to think of it as satire. Tim has a stable of talented wine writers publishing on his blog. I'm just the guy who cleans up the stable. Shoveling crap--it's what I do!

Everyone seems a bit reluctant to comment on Tim's blog, but I actually think it would be fun to take the whole HoseMaster peanut gallery on the road and show those blokes the superiority of good old American foolishness. However, feel free to comment here if that's your preference. Or just lurk like you always fucking do.

Tim Atkin's Blog

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Aesop's Wine Fables

                                        The Winemaker and the Cow

A cow was calmly grazing in her pasture when she was approached by a winemaker with a chainsaw and a bucket.

“I need your horns,” the winemaker said.

The cow ruminated a moment, then responded, “Go fuck yourself.” Obviously, this cow was Jersey.

The winemaker fired up the chainsaw and made to remove the cow’s horns from her head. The cow was spooked, and she immediately took a steaming dump. The winemaker turned off the chainsaw and quickly scooped the manure into his bucket. “Thanks,” he said to the cow, “I needed that for my biodynamic tea. Now hold still while I borrow your horns too.”

With that, the cow lowered her head and gored the winemaker. When he fell to the ground, she kicked him repeatedly. Then she dug a hole with her front hooves, nosed the dead winemaker into it, and buried him with his bucket of manure.

MORAL: Live by shit, die by the shit.

                                                     The Critic and the Gnat
A famous wine critic was reviewing wines, but every time he assigned points to the wines, a gnat spoke in his ear.

“Hey, Tubby, you don’t know what you’re talking about.,” the gnat said, buzzing in and out of his ear, making as much noise as an insignificant insect can make, “and assigning numbers to wine is stupid. Plus, I know you’re on the take from big corporate wineries, you have no integrity, and you like big, oaky, stupid wines that winemakers make just to please you.”

The famous wine critic ignored the gnat, mostly because he really couldn’t hear the worthless insect. He decided to score his friend the screaming raptor’s wine 99 points.

“Moron,” the gnat screamed, though the famous wine critic couldn’t hear him, “I’m going to expose you for what you are to all the other gnats. I’m going to start my own Intergnat blog and tell everyone what a phony you are, how they shouldn’t listen to you, that they should trust their own taste, or, better, they should believe me and all the other gnats on the Intergnat. Soon you’ll be as insignificant as I am.”

Glancing up from his tasting notes, the famous wine critic finally noticed the gnat. With amazing reflexes, the critic brought his two hands together and extinguished the gnat.

MORAL: Most of the annoying insects on the Intergnat will die of the clap.

                                           The Sommelier and the Weird Zebra
The sommelier was touring wine country, searching for the Next Big Thing in grape varieties no one cares about, when he spotted a zebra standing in a field. Normally, you spot a leopard, but that’s a different fable. The sommelier wasn’t touring South Africa, Pinotage is so pre-Apartheid, so a zebra was a strange sight.

“Zebra,” the sommelier asked, “what are you doing in wine country?”

“Leave me alone,” the zebra said, “I hate sommeliers. They’re all such phonies.”

The sommelier paused, not from the insult, a sommelier is used to insults, but because this zebra had a strange accent for a zebra. He sounded like a horse. Neigh, he had to be a horse.

“You’re not a zebra! You’re just an ordinary horse painted to look like a zebra.”

“And you,” retorted the zebra, “are just a glorified waiter who’s been interested in wine for about eight years, took some stupid online wine course, bought a tastevin, and actually just locks the restaurant doors at night. I’m as much a zebra as you are a sommelier.”

The sommelier replied, “I’ve fucked nicer horses than you.”

MORAL: Zebras and sommeliers have to earn their stripes, not just pretend they’re real, because once you speak, everyone knows you’re a fake.

                                                      The Vixen and the Grapes
A vixen who was famous for her beauty made a career out of having sex with as many reynards as possible in front of a camera. Sometimes other vixens too. When she was young, it was mostly silver foxes she had sex with. As she got older, it was kits. She was the most famous tail in foxdom.

One day, while strolling around the hillsides near where she lived, she came upon a vineyard. It was September, and the vines were pornographically endowed with grapes. The vixen was aroused. She had grown tired of ignorant and musky reynards inserting themselves into her various organs. Turns out there are atheists in foxholes. She’d felt most of them. But now, in this mystical vineyard, she had found her true calling. Grapes. 

The vixen had saved a lot of money from her reynard sexcapades, and the next day she bought the vineyard and vowed never to have public fox sex again.

The vixen hired the best winemaker she could find, paid him handsomely, and then used her renowned beauty and promiscuity to sell her wines. And it worked. Soon people began to write about her story. In fact, her story overshadowed the wine, which, if truth be known, was rather pedestrian. Once again, she laughed all the way to the bank.

MORAL: If you can fake orgasms, you can fake Brunello.