Monday, July 29, 2013

Lo Hai Qu on Lo's New Blog for Millennials!

Ever since she won a Poodle for her “The Death of Wine Critics,” Lo Hai Qu has been insufferable.
She’s convinced Hollywood is going to make a film about her life starring Justin Bieber in the title role. It would be his second role portraying a woman, the other being his entire life. She’s already started writing the screenplay. It’s about her life in servitude organizing my wine cellar, and is entitled “House of Racks.” I told her Russ Meyer made that film, but the allusion was a bust. But in order to get her off my aching back, I’ve agreed to once again turn over HoseMaster of Wine™ to her so she can express her thoughts about wine. I’m sure she expects, at the very least, to win another Poodle Award, if not a James Beard Award, or a Pritzker. I told her that the Pritzkers are for Architects, but she said she was sure Cambodians could win as well. Which may be true, but she’s not even Cambodian. Anyway, here she is, the one, the only, Lo Hai Qu.

First of all, let me say that this blog is stupid. I don’t understand hardly any of the stuff the HoseMaster is talking about. And who the hell are these supposedly famous people he’s always making fun of? Tim Fish? Who’s he? I have no idea, but when did he say goodbye to his partner. Mr. Chips? He’s always making fun of Alice Feiring. I asked my girls if they ever heard of her. Nope. But they all guessed with a name like Alice she was either really old or a dude. And then there’s some Heimoff maneuver guy, and 1WineDoody, which is what was in my panties after I drank some Lodi Petite Sirah and had to fire off a Lo-flying rocket. The whole thing doesn’t make any fucking sense.

So, come on, ask yourself, why would somebody decide to start reading wine blogs? Duh. To learn about wine. I’ve been reading this lame blog since I started working here, and what have I learned about wine from the so-called HoseMaster of Wine? (fuck that ™ thing, what does that stand for, Tiny Manhood?)—zip, nada, zero, Bublé. Who reads this crap? Best Writing on a Wine Blog? It’s not even the Best Writing on the Head of a Pin. It’s the Best Writing by a Pinhead, though. HAHAHAHAHAHA, you been Lo-balled, HoseBoy.

Me and my friends decided we would start our own wine blog. We’re going to make a wine blog just like one we want to read, and with a lot of cool pictures of us like photo-bombing winemakers, or posing with really big bottles of wine (one of the biggest ones is called a “Meshuggenah” and was named for some crazy old Jewish king—so, like an ancient Harvey Weinstein), or hanging with cute guys working in tasting rooms. And it’s going to have lots of good information about wine so that when other Millennials read it they’ll learn not to be scared of wine. There’s nothing to be scared of. One thing I’ve learned here, for sure, is that there can’t be very much to know about wine. Look at the comments section! Yeah, those are some smart people... And I’m Yao Ming’s dental floss. You mostly just have to tell everybody you’re a wine expert, and they believe you! That’s how wine blogs work. People are fucking stupid. Like they watch America’s Got Talent and believe that Howie Mandel and Heidi Klum know about talent. Which is like saying you know what diarrhea feels like when you never had it. HAHAHAHAHAHA, Howie and Heidi got Lo-Botomized!

Me and my friends are going to call our new wine blog Lo on Wine. Get it? Yeah, I know, it’s perfect. I’m gonna be the one who writes the wine reviews. At first, I’ll just steal wines from the samples the HoseMaster gets. That’s easy. He’s mostly drunk all the time. And then he talks to his little white thing. I still don’t know why he calls it Jay Mac. So I already wrote my first wine review! Here’s a preview!


This is three different whites blended together, like a Mormon wedding. It’s got Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc and Muscat Alexandria. I’ve heard of one of those grapes, and it’s not the last two. Or is it the last four? I thought Chenin Blanc was one of Beyoncé’s backup singers, the one with the booty that looks like a Honey Baked Ham franchise. White wine all tastes the same to me. Like it’s all fruity, and smells like the inside of your fridge. This was good, but I think I’d rather die than drink it again, really, really good, like sex with two other people at once.

See! A little bit of education, and then some honest tasting notes. Oh, man, we are going to get a million samples. Especially with that new ending. Fuck, I almost blew that. No Jay Mac jokes! HAHAHAHAHAHAHA, his dick got Diss-Lo-Cated!

We’re going to get a million hits a month on Lo on Wine. I won a Wine Blog Award! With my very first post! Who’s ever done that? So everyone is going to want to read Lo on Wine. We’re gonna have lots of regular features too. Like my friend Shizzangela, she’s this really hot white chick, and we’re going to take pictures of her that will illustrate how wine is made! She’s not afraid to be pretty naked, and she has like these amazing tattoos. Millennials think tattoos are hot because nothing says hot like drunken sailors. So one idea is to have one of the guys wear a hockey mask and carry a chainsaw and pretend to be sawing off Shizzangela’s legs and the caption reads, “Destemmed.” Did I say Shizzangela is only wearing panties and two Dom Perignon labels covering her nips? Tell me that won’t get a link from Eric Amazon. And then we’ll have a regular feature about all the different grapes and we’ll just copy the text from that Janice Robinson book. You know, really, one of the best things about my generation is we don’t think plagiarism is any big deal. Got us through college, what’s so bad about that?

So now you won’t have to read this stupid blog any more. All the wine stuff you want to know will be on Lo on Wine. Like information you can use, and cool photos and links to all the other cool Millennial blogs out there. I even have my first sentence written!

I hope you’ll join me on my journey to discover wine.

Fuck, I love plagiarism.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Le Petomane of Wine

Here is a piece from March 3, 2010. At the time, wine bloggers were actively soliciting samples from wineries, bragging of their imaginary abilities to sell a lot of wine. I doubt much has changed. And yet samples are still shipped to hapless and unqualified Poodles daily, the lazy winery Marketing Director's answer to what he's been doing lately. But my real motivation for writing the piece was probably as an excuse to mention one of history's greatest performers, Le Petomane. So, here, from the dark days of 2010, is my blog counterpart, Le Petomane of Wine:

I asked a friend at a small winery to allow me to read a typical note from a wine blogger asking for samples. He receives several solicitations every month, even more right before Christmas. Here is the letter he gave me.

To Whom It May Concern,

I know that it's going to be a little hard for you to believe that you're actually hearing from me. No one ever expected Ed McMahon to send them a letter from Publisher's Clearing House
either. And few women ever expected to get to sleep with Warren Beatty, though none of the thousands who did complained, even if they did have to put Vaseline in their eyes to make him look younger. It's just not every day you have contact with a celebrity. But I assure you it's true. I really am contacting you for samples of your wonderful wines. I know how much excitement this will cause you, and I certainly know that what's running through your mind now is the amount of sales a review from my wine blog, LePetomaneofWine, will generate, but I urge you to calm down, take a deep breath, good, now think about hiring some extra help for your shipping department before the surge.

As you undoubtedly have heard from other winery owners in your appellation, wine blogs are now the most important source for reviews and sales. Sure, once upon a time it was the media, but those days are long past. Wine lovers have caught on to the fact that 40% of the wineries Parker critiques are fictional, not to mention 100% of the numbers. And, of course, Parker is dead and his recent reviews were generated randomly by machines formerly used for tabulating Florida elections. Wine Spectator only makes money giving restaurants awards for their fictional wine lists in much the same manner every kid on the soccer team gets a trophy no matter how spastic they are. No one believes Wine Spectator numbers any more, anyway--not when you've got professional wine bloggers reviewing the very same crap! Do I even have to mention Wine and Spirits Magazine? Have their reviews ever sold wine? Have you ever met anybody, anywhere who subscribes to Wine and Spirits? If your leg had their circulation you'd have to have it amputated. No, my friend, more and more the wine buying public is turning to wine blogs, and my blog, in particular, for their wine buying advice. But you already knew this, and that's why your hand is shaking right now, as you read this, knowing that this is your chance. I know, I know, it's hard for me to believe too.

Mind you, I didn't ask for this sort of power and responsibility. I began my wine blog six months ago on a whim. Well, to be honest, so many people have urged me to write about wine, so many of my friends and family turn to me for wine advice knowing that I've learned a lot in the past six years I've been an avid wine drinker, I only felt it was fair to let everyone in on my expertise. When you think about it, it makes perfect sense. It saves them time and money. Honestly, we should apply the same logic to the Health Care Debate. Next time you need surgery, get it from a second year medical student--hell, they know plenty, certainly more than you, what could go wrong? See what I mean? Training and knowledge are vastly overrated. It's opinions that matter. Best of all, it's guaranteed positive opinions that matter! And, here's a bonus, on the off chance that I don't like your wine you can always say I wasn't really qualified to judge it--try saying that about Sunset Magazine! OK, bad example.

You may be wondering just what kind of audience, and how large an audience, my blog, LePetomaneofWine, attracts. Since I began my blog six months ago my numbers have increased tenfold from just my parents reading it! And if you look at my Facebook page you'll see that I have more than 300 friends, many of them part of the local prison population. I am a prolific user of Twitter, and after I taste your wine samples you will see the Twittersphere come alive with comments I post like, "Want a great Syrah tonight, check out my blog!" Wait! What was that noise? Oh, sorry, it's the sound of cash registers ringing--always happens when I Tweet. And what does all this cost you? The price of two bottles of each of your wines (one to review, one to sell on Craigslist) and shipping! I know, it seems too good to be true.

You must know that ignoring wine blogs is foolish. Everyone in the wine business knows this by now. Read any wine blog! It's right there in print--wine blogs are the most influential force in the wine business today. It's on the Internet, and you can't say it on the Internet if it's not true. Except on Facebook, which is all about lying. Why waste your time courting critics, risking the chance that someone will detect the many flaws in your wine? I'm not going to notice. The only flaw I notice in any wine is the price tag. Why waste all that time and money traveling to wine shops? They have no influence! Wine shops are just like gas stations, people go there to fill up, not get advice on how to drive! One mention on my blog and those wine shop buyers will be phoning you begging for wine! Don't be the one winery left behind by the Social Media revolution! And don't settle for any second-rate wine blogs either. OK, they're all second-rate, don't settle for any third-rate wine blogs.

I eagerly anticipate your case of samples. Please note that I do not guarantee I will review your wines on LePetomaneofWine. But you can trust that I will drink them.

Le Petomane

Monday, July 22, 2013

Dr. Conti's New Lawyer Rests His Case

Ladies and Gentlemen of the Jury,

Now, I came to this case a little late. You may have heard that I was busy in Florida getting a guy off for shooting an unarmed kid. Was he guilty? Hell, yes, he was guilty, but, you know, he didn’t just shoot any kid. He shot a kid in a hoodie. Which is different than shooting a kiddie in the hood. Or is it? No matter, the point is, he shot that kid in self defense. Luckily, he had a gun. Otherwise, the kid beats the living crap out of him in self defense. But having a gun makes you brave, makes you a man. Like wearing droopy pants makes you guilty. Which is why we should kill all the plumbers.

My client, Dr. Conti, is also not guilty, and for essentially the same reasons as my Florida client. But I’ll get to that, ladies and gentlemen, I’ll get to that.

Now, here we have a case that involves wine. It’s a case of wine! Who doesn’t love a case of wine? Only this was fake wine. Well, now, that’s not entirely accurate. It was actual wine, only it was wine that was put in the wrong bottles! Is it possible it was just a series of honest mistakes on my client’s part?  Who hasn’t made the mistake of putting, say, lubricant on their toothbrush? Which is better than putting toothpaste on your dingdong, by the way, unless you’re brushing someone else’s teeth with it. Dr. Conti had wine; he had a lot of wine. An overflow of wine. And, in a panic, or maybe he was a little tipsy, he took some of that wine and he poured it in the wrong bottles. Honest mistake. Did he then recork those bottles and reseal them? Yes, and that was wrong. Did he then sell those wines to a whole bunch of rich wine snobs, a bunch of old men, most of whom made their money on the backs of honest people like you, men who collect rare wine just for the status it gives them, just for the prestige of the labels? Yup. And here’s where my Florida case comes back in. Didn’t they deserve to get screwed? Given the chance, wouldn’t you brush their teeth with your meat thief? I know I would. Then give ‘em something to gargle with.

Dr. Conti saw these alleged victims hanging around auctions, loitering around places where extremely valuable wines were being sold, and he knew they were up to no good. So he followed them, as any good wine-loving citizen would, learned their habits, went undercover to understand their terrible corruption, and then, when no one else had the courage to, he lured them into his trap and exposed them for the greedy, ignorant, dangerous men they are. Men who make a mockery of wine appreciation. Men who collect the greatest wines ever made with no intention of ever drinking them! Men who believe having old and rare wine makes them more masculine, like owning a gun. Dr. Conti took these men on. And for his courage he is incarcerated. 

You’ve seen evidence of Dr. Conti’s fraudulent label making equipment found by the police when they searched his home. It’s not illegal to possess that printing equipment, ladies and gentleman, just like it’s not illegal to possess a gun. Where the law comes in is when you actually use it. Why you used it. What motivated you to use it. Who was hurt when you used it.  Was the person you hurt of some societal value? That’s what we ask juries to decide. In Florida, they know when a life is not a life worth worrying about. They’re old and wise there in Florida, and they know the Fountain of Youth needs restocking. I think here in New York, you’ll know when a victim is not really a victim, too. They’re not victims when they’re pretentious, rich, arrogant titans of the One Percent. They’re not victims when they are scammed in a way that defends the very hobby they insult and abuse with their greed. And no victims, ladies and gentlemen, means no crime.

I want you to think about what my client actually did. Some of it isn’t right, I’ll admit that. But he’s not guilty of these charges, not in the legal sense. Guilty of stupidity? Well, sure, but, ladies and gentlemen, wine auctions and wine collecting are built on stupidity as their very foundation! Everyone involved in this, from the auction houses to the alleged victims, engages in a legalized form of stupid behavior. Every wine the alleged victims buy at auction is a bottle with questionable provenance, a badly decomposing cork that has affected the quality of the wine, and sports a label that has almost no meaning any more. How were the wines Dr. Conti sold to these suckers any different than those? Because he knew they were fakes? Does it matter? When one of these wealthy corksuckers actually opens a bottle for his friends, will they know the difference? Trained and experienced sommeliers wouldn’t know the difference, how would a bunch of drunk old Texans know the difference? They’re getting the same thrill from one of Dr. Conti’s fake bottles as they would from an actual bottle of Screaming Asshole, or whatever that wine is.  Isn’t that what they paid for when they purchased his bottles at auctions? The prestige and excitement of opening the bottles they purchased whether they knew where they were actually from, or what they would end up tasting like? The auction house knew they were fakes, or should have. Why aren’t they in jail, or at least being prosecuted? Because, then, ladies and gentlemen, the entire foundation of stupidity is removed from the monument that is big money wine auctions, and the entire institution collapses, leaving all these rich corksuckers with virtually worthless wine cellars. They won’t stand for that. Try taking their Viagra from them, might as well. You’ll find out why they aren’t old softies.

So instead they’ve gone after my client. He had money. He didn’t do this for the money. Dr. Conti did it to save us from ourselves. Those of us who love wine, who believe that wine is proof that God loves us and hates Seventh Day Adventists, who draw daily joy and strength from Jesus’ first miracle. These alleged victims were out to destroy wine, to inflate its value beyond the means of the Ninety-Nine Percent, to leave all of us to aspire to twelve dollar Lodi Zinfandel as the pinnacle of our wine drinking. Dr. Conti exposed them. Dr. Conti made a mockery of wine geeks, of the habitués of mindless wine chat rooms, though the phrase is redundant, and of the attendees of glamorous wine orgies masquerading as charity auctions, where the One Percent can give back to those poor people they’ve so ruthlessly exploited by bidding lavishly, and stupidly, on the same labels Dr. Conti so easily reproduced and made worthless. Like my Florida client, Dr. Conti proves that judging a book by its cover, be it a boy by how he’s dressed, or a label by how it looks, is perfectly legal. It's fine to destroy either one. It’s not his fault, it’s the victim’s. Nothing could be clearer, or more legal.

We don’t owe him conviction, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, we owe him thanks.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Glass Half Empty, or Glass Fulcrum?

Fulcrum Wines I’m Using to Talk About Me
Fulcrum Wines 2010 Pinot Noir Londer Vineyard Anderson Valley $54
Fulcrum Wines 2011 Pinot Noir Gap’s Crown Sonoma Coast $57
Fulcrum Wines 2011 Pinot Noir Brosseau Vineyard Chalone $54
Fulcrum Wines 2011 Pinot Noir Wildcat Mountain Carneros $54

It’s been a couple of months since I last tried my hand at reviewing wines. (“Tried my hand” is an odd phrase, when I think about it. Reads like a diary entry from my high school prom.) I don’t solicit wines for review. But now and then a regular reader, or a marketing person who follows the Poodles, perhaps cleaning up after them with a shovel, offers to send me wine. I never promise to write about the wines, and I’m not certain anyone cares. I’ve had many winery marketing directors tell me that HoseMaster of Wine™ is the very last blog they would choose to submit their wines for review. I like to believe that’s because they fear that I may just tell the truth about their wines, but that’s  my own egotistical fantasy. What’s closer to the truth is that they just don’t see HoseMaster of Wine™ as a wine blog that is taken seriously, or has any sort of influence. And, even closer than that to the truth, they think many in the biz find my blog distasteful and, therefore, they want to steer clear of this place. They’re probably right.

David Rossi, whom I’ve never met, has been an occasional commentator here. (I prefer the word “commenter,” though I don’t think it’s in the real dictionary, because “commentator” sounds like a Russet or a Fingerling. But I digress.) I once idly mentioned, in a response to one of his comments on a blog post, that I’d never tasted his wines. He kindly offered to ship me a few bottles. This was a few months ago, but I like new vintages of wines, newly shipped, to rest a bit before I drink them. I wasn’t sure, after consuming them, that I was going to write about Fulcrum’s Pinot Noirs. But, after some recent experiences, I decided I’d take a crack at them.

A lot has changed around California Pinot Noir in the last ten or fifteen years. While Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon has always had a large number of “cult” wines, beginning with Yverdon in the late ‘60’s and followed by Heitz “Martha’s,” Caymus “Special Selection,” (both Heitz and Caymus have seen better days than recent releases), Grace Family Vineyard, Bryant Family, Harlan Estate, and, the Easter Seal poster child for “cult” wines, Screaming Eagle, in recent decades Pinot Noir has captured the public’s desire for trophy wines. Williams Selyem seems to have started that trend. History will look back at what Burt Williams accomplished with Pinot Noir in California with awe and reverence. Yes, there were others before him, Tom Dehlinger and Joseph Swan most notably, but it was Burt Williams and Ed Selyem who made Russian River Pinot Noir desirable to influential wine buyers with money. Starting as Hacienda del Rio (I’ve never tasted or even seen a bottle of the original Hacienda del Rio—but it would be cool to run into one some day), they had to change the name when they were threatened with a lawsuit by Hacienda Winery (once a pretty good winery, but now something of a dumping ground for reprehensible plonk). That name change was their first bit of luck. Hacienda del Rio? Pretty stupid name. Sounds like the slutty sister of Dolores. Or was that Vanessa?

After Williams Selyem’s incredible success came Marcassin and Kistler, and then Kosta Browne, and now Pinot Noir possession had the same bragging rights as owning a vertical of Colgin Cabernet. As a sommelier with all that cult stuff on the wine list, I started to see demand for those Pinot Noirs skyrocket. There was a brief time, really the ’85 vintage, when Oregon Pinot Noir was the choice of wine trend chasers. That didn’t really last. But, suddenly, a few years after that, I couldn’t keep up with the demand for Williams Selyem and Kistler, Marcassin and Rochioli Reserves. And that demand hasn’t seemed to have let up.

Meanwhile, new techniques for making Pinot Noir started to pop up. I’m far from an expert on this sort of thing, so far I shouldn’t even mention it. But introducing enzymes during fermentation for more extract and color started to make much beefier and darker Pinot Noir. It wasn’t always a dollop of Syrah that made a Pinot Noir dark and intense. Pinot Noir got oakier and oakier. (A winemaker once said to me something I’ve never forgotten, “Oak is catnip for humans.” Yes. So many people say they don’t like much oak, but then they drink wines with lots of it and swoon.) A lot of Pinot Noir tasted like it had been picked at 28 Brix and then watered back. I’m fine with any sort of technique a winemaker chooses to employ—it’s their wine, after all. I don’t take advice about what I do on HoseMaster of Wine™ very seriously, otherwise I’d spend all day attempting to place it several feet north up my inseam tunnel. But too often the prettiness and delicacy of Pinot Noir was left behind for boldness, while an exaggerated texture substituted for actual depth of fruit. If that reads like gibberish, that’s probably because it is. I think I’m saying that, in many cases, Pinot Noir got too ugly for me. Like the Republican Party, though they could actually use more extract and a lot more color.

Fulcrum Wines only makes Pinot Noir. I always wonder if that’s a good thing for a winery, even a small one like Fulcrum (it seems David’s production is fewer than a thousand cases). Wouldn’t you get bored just making one variety when there are six thousand others to play with? It’s sort of like monogamy when you think about it. It seems like a good idea, and every vintage is a challenge, but there are a lot of varieties to explore that you’re pretty sure you could put your thumbprint on given the chance. Hey, some might even want to try a hybrid, that’s kinky. But David Rossi chose grape monogamy. You won’t catch him getting his pipette wet with some strange.

David gave me his four current release vineyard-designate Pinot Noirs. It’s a privilege to be able to taste them individually, with a meal, and over the course of a day, and mostly two. You get a sense of the house style, of what David is trying to do with Fulcrum. It’s a long way from going to a big public tasting and putting an ounce in your mouth, then expectorating into a disgusting bucket full of wine-people spit. I taste wines that way, but I’d never consider reviewing wines that way, and never believe the reviews of others who do. Tasting wine and drinking wine are two different things entirely. It’s like reading only one chapter of a book and then raving about it (this from a guy who reviews books without reading a single word, of course). It just makes very little sense. As for Fulcrum, if you like Pinot Noir that is intent on purity and delicacy, on aromatics and subtlety, on the conversation between winemaker and vineyard, on Pinot Noir as the prettiest girl in the room, I think you’ll like Fulcrum Wines.

The 2010 Fulcrum Pinot Noir Londer Vineyard Anderson Valley is sourced from one of the great Pinot Noir vineyards in Mendocino County, and that’s saying something. (Remember the old Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In bit?…If Anderson Cooper married Rudy Vallée, and the Supreme Court says he can, he’d be…well, he’d Anderson Vallée married to a dead guy.) This was the first Fulcrum wine I drank, and it proved to be a bellwether for the brand. It leans on its aromatics, which are compelling and beguiling. Red fruits dominate, but it’s the floral aspect I liked. I thought of violets, and I liked the tension between the dark floral notes and the lighter red fruit notes. It was something interesting to talk about. And it captures the beauty of Anderson Valley Pinot Noir nicely with its grace, and with its touch of earthiness that speaks to the coolness of the place. Very refined, and very pretty, but, at first, I found myself subtly wishing for more power. But the longer I sat with the wine, the less I cared about the sort of tastebud-numbing power we too often associate with greatness these days. We forget that grace has its own power, and a more genuine power. And here I’m thinking of Nelson Mandela as an example. Wines, these days, could use more grace and a bit less power. There’s beauty in that.

A few nights later we opened the Fulcrum 2011 Gap’s Crown Pinot Noir. Gap’s Crown Vineyard is in a very cold part of the Petaluma Gap (come on, who doesn’t hear that as a place to buy pants?), yet another interesting place for Pinot Noir.  Again, this Pinot Noir is driven by its gorgeous nose, an entirely different nose than the Londer. As it should be, and can be, when you focus on the fruit and not the oak regimen or extraction. The fruit here is darker, and more feral. That feral quality, sort of like forest floor mixed with a sage character, a wild and untamed impression, is a quality I seem to get often in Petaluma Gap Pinot Noirs—some from Sangiacomo Vineyard have it. It’s a quality that pairs really nicely with earthy foods--mushroom enhanced meals, or duck, maybe cassoulet.  But I thought this was beautifully rendered wine, with Fred Astaire-like masculine grace, and I was very impressed by how the flavors lingered. Like Astaire, not just style, but grace.

David is savvy enough to seek out a Pinot Noir vineyard in the Santa Cruz Mountains, for me, maybe the best appellation for Pinot Noir in California (though I can certainly live with the Russian River Valley being called that). I saved the Fulcrum 2011 Brousseau Vineyard Chalone to drink when I wanted something really good— and it was the appellation that made me assume it would be special. From my early days of drinking wine and “discovering” Chalone, Martin Ray, Mount Eden, David Bruce and the old Ken Burnap Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyards, I’ve loved that area. Toss in Calera after that, and now Rhys, and that’s a damned impressive roster of Pinot Noir. And it’s the limestone that does it, I’m certain. Hard to find limestone soils in California wine regions, but the Chalone appellation has plenty. They yield wines of uncommon and distinctive beauty, as they do in Burgundy. And this was my favorite of the Fulcrum Four. Spicy and dark fruit dominate, and while it ends up being another aroma-driven Pinot Noir, it takes a lot longer for this wine to open up. It was far prettier the second day, and the blackberry/raspberry fruit was joined by a nice herbal presence, lavender, I thought, a dash of pepper, and thyme. My feeling is (and I’m probably just making this up in my head—you may have noticed I do that a lot) that the limestone soils contribute a vibrancy to the fruit that’s unique. The wines seem more alive. And it’s structure is more seamless that the others, the tannins more aligned, and that also contributes to its sense of grace. I just adored this wine.*

*Much of what I wrote here is true, but, as my alert reader Anonymous 1 pointed out to me in a private email, the Chalone appellation is nowhere near the Santa Cruz Mountains. In fact, it's in the Gabilan Mountains east of Salinas. Duh. It's still limestone soils, and in a very cool region, but it sure as hell ain't in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Luckily, none of this hurts my credibility. I don't really have any. My thanks to Anonymous 1 for beginning my day with a large serving of humble pie.

Finally, and thank you for reading through all this, even if your eyes are glazed over like Lindsay Lohan at an acting seminar, we drank the Fulcrum 2011 Wildcat Mountain Carneros Pinot Noir. It must be said that as much as I like Santa Cruz Mountain Pinot Noir, I don’t tend to be enamored of Carneros Pinot Noir. There’s always something undernourished about them. They often strike me as muddled, windswept and ungenerous (like my blog, really, which may be why I don’t like them very often). This is dangerously general, like Egypt, but I’m simply trying to explain my own prejudices. And from the very first, the Fulcrum Wildcat Mountain smelled like Carneros. That sort of leaner, greener, thinner version of Pinot Noir, though it’s better than that, really, and does have nice fruit aromas, though it’s simply not as lovely to me as the other Fulcrum Pinot Noirs. It’s clean and well-made, has elegance and style, but it was my least favorite.

Fulcrum’s wines aren’t cheap. Not sure how they could be given the quality of the fruit sources and the obvious care they receive. Are they worth it? Hey, they’re your pockets, I don’t know how deep they are. They’re certainly worthy of your attention, and I suspect they will emerge from a bit of cellaring, say six or eight years, with even more depth and complexity. They’re all made in lots of about a hundred cases, but for the Gap’s Crown, which is 200 cases. Not much wine, really, so many thanks to David for sharing. And a quick suggestion, David, how about an Allen Vineyard Pinot Noir from the Russian River to fill out your portfolio? Make an old comedy writer happy to drink an Allen and Rossi.

You can find his mailing list here:


Monday, July 15, 2013

Matt Kramer on Bull, and Other Literary Endeavors

Our nation’s dullest form of writing is the writing of wine descriptions. Unless you count USA Today. (I love USA Today’s motto, “We sell it in airports cuz it’s terminally dull.”) Do you actually read wine descriptions, or do you just skim over them like everyone else? Here’s a real wine review lifted from Wine Spectator:

GIANFRANCO FINO Primitivo di Manduria Es 2010 (91 points, $75)
A toasty version, with ample notes of baking spices and mesquite to the rich plum reduction and macerated blackberry fruit. Mouthcoating, featuring a long aftertaste of fruit, spice and tarry mineral. Better than previously reviewed. Drink now through 2015. 1,250 cases made. —Nathan Wesley

And here’s how a normal wine consumer reads it:

GIANFRANCO FINO Primitivo di Mandiblahblah 2010 (91 points, for $75 fucking dollars!)
A toasty version, with ample something or other spices, damn I’m horny, mesquitoes and plum reduction, whatever, macerated blackberry fruit, oh who doesn’t macerate blackberry fruit…mouthcoating, oh man I need a new mouthcoat…long fruit, spice and tarry mineral…wait, did I read that right, tarry mineral?...yup, that’s what it says…what the fuck is a tarry mineral?…I used to own Atari video games… a tarry mineral must be like when James Cagney says, “You dirty copper…”…Better than previously reviewed…man, must have gotten a nasty letter from Advertising. Drink now through…my balls itch.

I read that original description and I have no idea how that Primitivo tastes, though it did make me want to invest in tarry minerals. But it takes a special gift to be able to write hundreds and hundreds of wine descriptions every year. It’s not a gift I want any more than I want to be able to fart “Stars and Stripes Forever.” OK, I actually would like that gift. But then I started thinking (ah, here comes the premise, I knew it was here somewhere), what if wine critics famous for their wine descriptions wrote actual literature? What would that look like? I have a couple of ideas…

ROBERT M. PARKER writing as Mystery Writer ROBERT B. PARKER

In my experience, absolutely the greatest private detective is Spenser. In 2010, generally a cool year, though there was a heat wave the second week of August that made the whole city of Boston smell like a fat guy in a wool suit with hints of marzipan, Spenser was already the greatest private detective in my experience, and every genuine crime fan should get to know this awesome Juicy Fruit gumshoe, with that distinctive note of leather sole.

When his phone rang, a high note tone reminiscent of a tuning fork clanged on the metal plate in James Laube’s head, Spenser answered it in his usual sophisticated and unctuous manner, “Hello.”

Regular readers will know that at this point I introduce a femme fatale, and only one that’s 96+. Long and supple, she is redolent of sandalwood, Asian spices, and lingonberry, with a distinct perfume of Elizabeth Taylor’s newest fragrance, “Rigor Mortis,” the perfume designed to make him stiff. I’d lay her down for 3-5 years.


It was a hot and dusty day in the arena and the bullfight was about to begin. Robert was alone and he was thinking about what he would tell his friend Marvin about bullfighting. Marvin didn’t understand bullfighting. He was new to bullfighting, and Robert felt Marvin needed his insight.

It’s fine to like what you like, Robert would begin. Don’t let anybody tell you otherwise. If you like it for the gore, that’s fine, gore is a good place to start. Once you understand gore, how it affects the soil and how it affects your sense of smell, you can move on. If you like the pageantry, I get that. Once I only came for the pageantry, but the pageantry isn’t really the essence of the bullfight and one day you will come to see past it. Only then will you be a real connoisseur of bull. I am proud to say that I am a highly respected connoisseur of bull. Hear me, and one day you will be, too. Maybe you just like little Spanish boys in tight pants. I can see that, but you must also begin to see that there are some fine French boys in tight pants too. We are living in a golden age of boys in tight pants from all over the world.

The bullfight, Robert continued to lecture Marvin in his thoughts, is more than just man against beast. It represents respect and reverence for death. Many times the bull dies, but a matador risks his life as well. But throughout the battle, he champions the bull. As do I. We, the matador and I, pretend to attack the bull, pretend to cut through the bull, but, in truth, we are glorifying bull. Remember, there is no business here without the bull. Therefore, I am the bull.

The corrida was about to begin. Robert was in his usual poor seat. Right behind his stupid column.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

What We're Reading

Compiled by the editors of HoseMaster of Wine

PALATE PRESS: The big news over at Palate Press is that editor David Honig, in tribute to the wooden prose of its contributors, has rechristened the online wine publication, “Pallet Press.” Hell, he can do what he likes, he’s Chairman of the Bored. Among the current features is one exposing the inadequacies of wine competitions. You can’t miss it, it’s right above the vacuous Pallet Press wine review of a Merlot that was awarded 92 points by somebody or other. Dorothy Gaiter, who once wrote the wine column for Wall Street Journal with her husband Wally, contributes an interesting piece on the 2010 vintage in Bordeaux. “While most of the famous Bordeaux went to the Chinese market, I found a few bottles in a Korean liquor store you might like.”

STEVE HEIMOFF: It’s “Out of Ideas” Week over at STEVE!, and you won’t want to miss a single day of it. Monday begins the week with a post on what you do when you run out of ideas, “Post about wine bloggers.” Tuesday, STEVE! makes the case that “my post yesterday should be nominated for next year’s Wine Blog Awards.” Wednesday, it’s a personal reflection on how Wednesday’s piece “strongly affected the way I want to live.” Thursday, a fun-loving return to Monday’s topic, “And I’m the only critic who will even talk about how he’s completely out of ideas, though they all are.” Friday’s post is a return to his usual cry for help.

WINE SPECTATOR: Foodies rejoice! It’s the Grand Awards Issue! Wine Spectator honors restaurants that have wine lists that weigh more than 100 pounds--restaurants that set their tables with a knife and forklift. This year’s new recipients include Thomas Keller’s newest restaurant, Per Rina, where the cuisine is made entirely of dog and cat food. “We like to think,” Keller has said, “that Grandma needs a special restaurant too.” The wine list at Per Rina has more than 1500 selections, including a large selection of Burgundy, as well as a large cuisine-appropriate selection of bottled waters from European toilet bowls. And, something of a surprise, Paula Deen’s new establishment, Minstrel Show, wins an Award of Excellence for its extensive selection of Malbecs. “Somebody tol’ me it’s the black wine of Cahors,” Deen says in the magazine, “so I wanted to have plenty for my darkie friends.” Côt with her gigantic panties down again. Tim Fish writes about tipping sommeliers, “You sneak up on ‘em just like you do with cows and shove really hard.”

WALL STREET JOURNAL: Jay McInerney takes us on an exclusive tour of billionaire Bill Koch’s wine cellar. “Now that you’re here,” Koch tells him, “my collection of wine frauds is complete.” Koch offers McInerney the chance to try any bottle in his legendary cellar. “Tens of thousands of bottles, the history of wine in a single room, the ghosts of every legendary winemaker from Andre Tschelistcheff to Leroy hovering over us, an open invitation to open bottled history; I didn’t want so see the expression on Koch’s face when I chose the one wine I can never resist. ‘Wow, you have Turley Zin?!’” Lettie Teague opines on concrete eggs, “It saves you a lot of money on birth control.”

Fermentation has another post on the American Wine Consumer Coalition that compares it to Lincoln freeing the slaves with the Emancipation Proclamation. “Wine consumers are the 21st Century version of slaves; and if I’m exaggerating, well, someone can shoot me in the balcony.” Might be more appropriate to plug him in the lobby.

Charlie Olken over at Connoisseurs’ Guide reflects on his involvement with the AWCC, “Every new member receives a free 1-year subscription to our online publication, or a tostada. One will give you gas, the other is a nice meal.”

Terroirist’s David White reflects on his participation in AWCC. “Consumers need a voice, and, as a former speech writer for George W. Bush, I can tell you, that voice doesn’t have to be smart or honest, it just has to say it with a straight face.”

1WineDoody weighs in on the AWCC, “If you people aren’t willing to stand up to the big distributors and your state legislatures, if you won’t put your money where your winehole is, then you’re just going to end up like Supertramp—no one will give a s**t about you.” Yeah, we don’t know what that means either. I guess he wants us to Give a Little Bit.

Alice Feiring has opened her own branch, “I’ve decided to found the American Natural Wine Consumers Coalition. It’s just like the AWCC, only we try to intervene as minimally as possible. We’re the Authentic voice, though we’re almost always alone.”

The New York Cork Report isn’t convinced, “ We’re skeptical of the AWCC. The last ‘great’ idea Wark had was the Wine Blog Awards. Look at the idiots who win those. The HoseMaster? He writes jokes and insults people. Wine writing is serious business and we won’t tolerate it being any other way.” New York Cork Report is the Taliban of wine blogging, only without the native charm and cool hats.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Here Come Da Wine Judge, Here Come Da Wine Judge...

At least once a year, the subject of countless wine bloggers (excuse me, Mr. Wark, I meant wine writers
—though the vast majority of wine blogs are not written, they’re hurled) becomes wine competitions. These are often hilariously misinformed or outright stupid. Which comes as no surprise. So I thought I’d provide my own misinformed and stupid views, as I am wont to do.
"Pigmeat" Markham--Look that up in your Funk and Wagnall's.

There are many things to complain about when it comes to wine competitions. Results aren’t one of them. I don’t know exactly how many times I’ve been a wine judge, but it’s somewhere around twenty-five to thirty times (could be more) among a dozen or so competitions. Every competition is different. Different standards, different judges, different sorts of judging conditions. And each competition has a different approach to awarding medals as well. Therein lies the main problem. The average person seeing a “Gold Medal” medallion on a bottle of wine hasn’t the vaguest idea what it actually represents. I suspect competitions like it that way. Mystery adds weight to the significance. And “Gold,” well, it conjures up Walter Huston dancing in “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.” “Silver” conjures up the Lone Ranger (Johnny Depp as Tonto? Really? Wait, was Lou Ferrigno already booked?). And “Bronze,” that lowliest of medals, reminds us of the lowliest of actors, George Hamilton. Though putting a “Bronze Medal” sticker on your bottle of wine is like advertising that 1 out of 5 dentists recommends your toothpaste.

There are many ways to evaluate and “score” wine. Every one of them is flawed. This is the single fact you need to remember. If you are a person who buys wine based on numbers, or based on Gold Medals, or based on “blind” tastings done in a newspaper office, you cannot get around the fact that there is no foolproof way to evaluate wine. Period. But we like rankings and we like numbers, and we award them great significance and power. This is our fault as humans, not the fault of those who conjure up magical numbers in their heads after smelling and tasting a wine for a few minutes, or of those panels of judges who quietly taste, then compare their notes to all the other judges and decide, somehow, it’s Silver. Why is it Silver? Well, because three out of four of us say so. Wine competitions are the Supreme Court of wine—heavily male, pretty damned old, and utterly convinced of the righteousness of their decisions. And, truly, most of us die in office.

A critic with many years of experience, the rare one that hasn’t made himself into a buffoon, provides enormous insight. There are critics I trust. I often don’t agree with them, I often think they are wrong about specific wines, but I trust them and I read them. Who? Well, Charlie Olken and Stephen Eliot of Connoisseurs’ Guide for their perspective on California wines, Robert Parker for Rhône wines (though he has passed that region on to his new reviewer Jeb Clampett), Paul Gregutt for Washington wines, Tim Atkin MW has great insight, a formidable palate and is a talented and engaging writer, Steve Heimoff is always solidly informed, Nick Ponomareff and his California Grapevine crew do consistent and learned tasting notes, and there's always the iconoclastic, informative and idiosyncratic Dan Berger. There are others. But, for the most part, I rely on friends, people I’ve tasted with for many years, people whose palates I understand, for new wines to try. But I’m blessed with some friends who are among the best wine buyers around—Samantha Dugan of Wine Country in Signal Hill, CA, Gerald Weisl of Weimax Wine and Spirits in Burlingame, CA, Ben Pearson of Bottle Barn in Santa Rosa, CA. These folks know wine better than any M.S. I’ve ever met, and are far more engaging. If you’re not in the wine biz, chances are you don’t have friends like mine to advise you on wine.

But think of a wine competition (and, frankly, the word “competition” is wrong—each wine is judged individually, not competitively, which is why there can be many medals in each category) as a conversation. Among wine lovers, isn’t that how we “rate” wines? We don’t give them goddam numbers, except as a joke. (“I’m 97 on that.” “Yeah, what about my wife?” “I’m 69 on that.”) We open a bottle, share it with four or five or six people, talk about it, argue about it, agree and disagree about it, and, finally, just drink it. But we usually come to a kind of unspoken consensus as to its quality, usually demonstrated by how fast we drink it. It’s the conversation, the input of other humans who love wine, that makes it fun and educational. That’s all a wine judging is.

At wine competitions, we usually judge with other people we know, admire, and like (panels can be three, four or five judges, sometimes more). Or we come to like them by the end of the judging if we hadn’t met them before. With the occasional arrogant and petulant butthole thrown in. Anyone who has been a wine judge for any length of time can tell you stories. I’ve seen an MS and an MW thrown out mid-competition for aggressive and insulting behavior to other judges. Judging wine! We’re not arguing abortion rights or invoking the death penalty, we’re talking about fucking Merlot. Almost every judging I’ve participated in has had one moron judge who thinks he knows far more than the other people on that panel. The arrogance is astounding. It’s not standing up for principles to refuse to budge on your evaluations, it’s the most immature form of one-upmanship. The only consolation is knowing that the egocentric judge lives in a private hell of his own making. Yet one person like that on your panel can sour you on wine judging for a long time. Come to think of it, invoking the death penalty just might work.

When you are part of an interesting panel, it’s great fun. Every wine gets discussed, and the discussions are often extremely educational. Winemakers and Enology Professors make for really challenging days. They are trained to hunt faults, and the smallest thing might make them want to give a low, or no, medal. In a very recent competition, our panel consisted of me and another wine buyer/sommelier type, and two winemakers. There were several wines that the two of us felt were Gold Medal wines while the two winemakers found them unworthy of any medal. I learned a lot about faults that competition, mostly of the teeny kind. But faults, in my opinion, don’t disqualify beauty. A large, obvious and regrettable fault—sure, disqualify it. But something minor (“The yeast were probably a little nutrient starved” is not something I have ever read in Wine Spectator), well, that might even define the wine a bit. Lots of gorgeous people have little flaws—Cindy Crawford’s mole jumps to mind, and Marilyn Monroe's, and Marty Feldman’s eyes. Can’t a lovely wine? It’s an interesting discussion, and out of it comes a medal that makes some sense. Not definitive, not written in Gold, definitely debatable, but, yet, sensible.

So how do stupid wines get Gold Medals? Charles Shaw most recently. There have always been rumors that there are “special” bottles of Charles Shaw that are sent to wine competitions, bottles with wine better than and not representative of the brand.. This is mindless crap. I could be wrong, but I don’t think so. How could I be? I’m a wine judge, dammit. Would Fred Franzia cheat? Sure. He’s been busted lots of times. For a wine competition? No. It wouldn’t be worth it. He’d be guaranteed to be caught eventually, outed by a wine whistleblower, and looking that foolish for a three dollar bottle of wine that’s already sold fifty million (!) cases would be stupid. He ain’t stupid.

Let’s understand that for the most part, the majority of the wines entered into a competition are not the great wines of the world. The finest wines don’t need to enter a wine judging any more than George Clooney needs to audition. Gold Medals do nothing for them. Yes, there are a few very prestigious competitions that have many famously great wines entered—but those competitions do not have entries like Charles Shaw. Also, varieties that have hundreds of entries (Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Zin, Merlot…) are often segregated by price. In many competitions you’re judging “Chardonnays under $15,” for example. And you taste, and you discuss with your panel friends, and you might say, “Hey, for 10 bucks, this is damned tasty, why not Gold?” That bottle is never compared in any way with a $50 Chardonnay. Consumers like to see “Gold Medal” on eight dollar bottles too. I’m sure that the Charles Shaw wines that won in Orange County were in low price categories. The folks at Charles Shaw know that, and just like in horse racing, you only enter a race you think your horse fits. And they won. But that doesn’t make Charles Shaw Chardonnay a Grand Cru Chablis. It makes it a three dollar wine that’s worth three dollars.

And, finally, it’s the stupid wines that create the most controversy. The best wines usually win a Gold or a Double Gold easily. (Double Gold is a wine that received a vote of Gold from every judge on the panel—very tough to do. If you buy wine by medals, buy Double Golds and not necessarily Golds. Words of advice which won’t endear me to wine competitions.) Horrible wines, and they are legion (and their names are never revealed to the public, though judges know), are the subject of derision and occasional wit. (An old chestnut, “What I liked about this Chardonnay was the fruit didn’t get in the way of the oak.”) But it’s the stupid wines, the wines that stun your palate with mediocrity, that can sometimes sneak by and get a Gold Medal. Sometimes the least objectionable wine rises to the top, the "American Idol" Law. Every panel member, when seeing the results of his judging, alone in front of his computer, will spot a few wines that received Gold Medals that he wishes hadn’t. But if you judge 200 wines in two days, and only see two or three in the results that you feel are undeserving, that’s fine, that’s just how it goes. However, it explains why a single wine entered in many different competitions will often get completely different medals. Those, almost without fail, are stupid wines. Even the least talented nag may eventually win a race if you keep entering; champions win consistently.

There’s a lot more to say, but I’m done here. Don’t take any wine ratings seriously. Trust your friends, trust a few critics who seem to enlighten you, trust a decent wine shop… There are no guarantees. Get over it. But thinking that wine competitions are useless or invalid or unreliable isn’t insight. Insight is knowing that wine always has, and always will, get the better of us. All of us.

Monday, July 1, 2013

The World Cup of Wine

Welcome to July! It's my least favorite month of the year. It's the Gruner Veltliner of the calendar--some people like it, but, for me, it's just another endurance test. But at least I begin the month over in England at Tim Atkin's place. My piece focuses on my proposal that we have a World Cup of Wine, along the lines of what they do every four years for football, or, as we Yanks call it, That Sport the Mexicans Like. I think you'll find it a modest proposal, but filled with non sequitur. They were all out of regular sequitur, so I had to use I Can't Believe It's Not Sequitur. See. As always, friends, feel free to leave your insightful comments in England, or here in HoseMasterland. And I won't be here on the Fourth of July, so this is your only chance to hate me this week.

Tim Atkin MW