Monday, September 30, 2013

The HoseMaster's Honest Guide to Grapes Vol. 3

I think I wrote seven volumes of The HoseMaster's Honest Guide to Grapes. It was always a solid premise, but coming up with endless material about grape varieties finally wore me down. In rereading a few of those volumes, one joke in Volume 3 made me laugh out loud, a rare occurrence, so I decided to republish it as Best of HoseMaster. So, here, from March of 2010, is one of the legendary volumes of The HoseMaster's Honest Guide to Grapes. (If you want to read the other six volumes, they can be found in my Compost Heap in the left column.)

There are lots of facts about grape varieties, but what we're interested in on wine blogs is opinions unsupported by facts. This is the great tradition of blogging, and one I intend to uphold. Facts are so boring. This is why the Internet was created, in order to end truth once and for all. Social Media is all about muddying the truth, and that's why wineries are so intent on hiring someone to do this for them on a daily basis. But I digress. There are the bone dry facts about grape varieties--you can look them up in Jancis Robinson's brilliant book "Vines, Grapes and Wines," or you can go to Wikipedia and read the plagiarized version. But when it comes to worthless opinions, I know you look to the HoseMaster of Wine. Let's explore a few more white varieties.


There is some dispute about how to pronounce Viognier. In France, it's vee-own-yay; in Texas, vee-og-near. I'm going with the Texans cuz they're scarier and they hogtie Frenchmen and brand them. Smells a lot like chicken when they do. It wasn't that many years ago that there were but a few dozen acres of Viognier in the entire world, all of it in the Northern Rhone appellations of Condrieu (KON-dry-u in Texan) and Cote-Rotie. At the rate it's selling, in thirty years it will be back to those same dozen acres in the world. Wine pundits predicted a few years ago that Viognier would be the next Chardonnay, and they were right, except they meant that it would be a popular wine instead of yet another wine to heap scorn upon. The best thing about Viognier is how it smells. The same is true for a leather thong. And the consumer knows that when he purchases a Viognier he can be absolutely certain that there is little chance he'll like it, though it does make a terrific gag gift.

Interesting facts about Viognier:

There is a long tradition in Cote-Rotie of mixing Viognier with Syrah in order to give the wines some aromatic character when they're young. In the New World, Viognier is added to natural gas to let you know when you have a leak.

The name "Viognier" is thought to derive from the Austrian city of Vienna, and refers to the men who drink it having tiny little sausages.

If you drink enough Viognier your breath will smell like your grandmother's girdle drawer.

Other names for Viognier:

My Mistake
Green Lantern
Sorry, Rhone Number


Contrary to popular belief, Pinot Gris is not what you call the smegma that gathers if you're uncircumcised. That's Gruner Veltliner. Pinot Gris is thought to be a mutant variety of Pinot Noir because, after drinking, it often comes back to haunt you and chainsaw your children. Pinot Gris goes by a slightly different name in Italy; there it's known as Pellegrino. The best versions come from Alsace, where they used to put "Tokay" in front of the name as a tribute to their favorite Little Rascal, Buckwheat, who was a dark shade of Gris. (For a short time in the 50's you could also buy Alfalfa Pinot Blanc.) In recent years, Oregon has become the home of many Pinot Gris producers, lending credence to the theory that Oregon is where you fly over from California to get to Walla Walla.

Interesting facts about Pinot Gris:

Pinot Grigio is Italian for "print money."

Another theory holds that Pinot Gris is actually related to Ambergris. And because ambergris originates in the intestine of the sperm whale, they smell remarkably similar.

Pinot Gris is considered one of the Noble Grapes of Alsace, but this is a region that is often confused about nobility.

Other names for Pinot Gris:

Sex in a Rowboat
Macy Gris


Chenin Blanc is a variety of grape capable of producing great wines that no one cares the least bit about. In California there was a time when Charles Krug Chenin Blanc was on every wine list in every chain restaurant in the country, which singlehandedly spelled Chenin Blanc's demise. Chenin Blanc is a very versatile grape, producing wines of every type, from sparkling wines to dry wines, demi-sec wines to dessert wines. So it's the Mel Gibson of grapes--doesn't matter if he acts, directs or produces, nobody cares. However, Chenin Blanc is one of the major grapes of the Loire Valley and, in particular, Anjou. Gesundheit.

Interesting facts about Chenin Blanc:

In South Africa, Chenin Blanc is known as Steen. In Germany it's known as Frankensteen. In Austria, it's called Mary Steenburgen.

Vouvray is famous for Chenin Blanc, and, oddly, is how people with a hairlip say the last word in Hip Hip Hooray!

Chenin Blanc is mentioned by Miss Manners as being the wine to bring to a person's house for dinner to ensure that you won't be invited back.

Other names for Chenin Blanc:

Wine Coulee
Shannon Blank (porn name)
Kruger Juice

Monday, September 23, 2013

Blind Book Review--Jon Bonné's "The New California Wine"

Crap. (No, that’s not the review.)

I’m so disgusted with myself. What a moron! I just finished not reading the review copy I didn’t receive of Jon Bonné’s The New California Wine and, of all the smelly piles of natural wine, it turns out my entire wine cellar is filled with Old California Wine. Now what am I going to do? I live in wine country, I can’t drink this embarrassing swill in public! Goddamit, I might as well just give away my old vintages of Spottswoode Cabernet to the homeless sommeliers hanging around freeway off-ramps with signs reading, “Will Condescend for Food—When Paired with Appropriate Wine.” I never should have bought that garbage in the first place. Napa Valley Cabernet! Jackass. I knew I should have invested in Trousseau Noir. It’s humiliating.

Luckily for us all, Jon Bonné has written “A Guide to the Producers and Wines Behind a Revolution in Taste.” Somehow a link between “revolting” and “taste” makes perfect sense as the book’s subtitle. I haven’t read the book, but actually reading it isn’t necessary to book reviewing. I prefer to review new wine books blind, in the same manner major wine critics claim to review wines. I’m behind the Revolution in New Book Reviewing. And, besides, just read the blurbs for The New California Wine. It’s a grand tradition in book publishing to solicit quotes from famous authors praising a new book. It’s a highly suspect practice. Often it’s obvious they haven’t read the book, but, wordsmiths that they are, they don’t need to. Here are a trio of actual blurbs for The New California Wine that I borrowed from Amazon.

The New California Wine delivers some of the most insightful wine writing you’ll read anywhere. This is the real skinny on cutting-edge California wine from somebody who’s on the ground, knows his stuff, and could care less about offending the Establishment.”
—MATT KRAMER, author and columnist for Wine Spectator

“There are few greater authorities on California wine than Jon Bonné. Dispassionate but engaged, enthused but objective, Bonné brings a forensic rigor to his work. But The New California Wine is no textbook, in spite of its comprehensive scope. Instead, Bonné’s narrative moves at a rattling pace, delving into California’s colorful past and vividly describing its future. A must-read for anyone who is serious about the state’s wine.” 
—GUY WOODWARD, former editor at Decanter

“A gutsy, inspiring book driven by the same ideals as the movement it has so gracefully defined. Not only has Bonné delivered one of the most important and relevant books on California wine ever written, he’s also redefined our notions of the wine book. The New California Wine is at once a manifesto, a guidebook, and a narrative peek inside the motives and methods of California’s new avant-garde.” 
—TALIA BAIOCCHI, editor-in-chief, Punch

I love this kind of baloney.

Matt Kramer is clearly confused, and thought the publishers asked that he write a blurb about himself—they just changed “Matt Kramer” to “The New California Wine.” And even then it’s nonsense. What “Establishment” is he unafraid of? The San Francisco Chronicle? Wine Spectator? Richard Milhous Nixon? Guy Woodward displays why he’s a “former editor” with his use of the classic and shopworn huckster’s label “must-read.” Unless he means you should read it while fermenting must. Tacking on, “…for anyone who is serious about the state’s wine” is unsettling. You know what I’m thinking…Woodward is the damned Establishment Kramer warned us about!

But leave it to Talia Baiocchi, Millennial wine visionary and Bonné Buddy, to reach new heights of dizzying drivel with“…he’s also redefined our notions of the wine book.” Let’s see, I’d define a wine book as a well-written, useful, informative collection of paragraphs printed on quality paper and professionally bound. I can’t wait to see how Bonné tosses all that aside. But, then, after all, the book “…is at once a manifesto, a guidebook, and a narrative peek…” Hell, it’s Mein Kampf.

The greater truth, I’d guess, is that Talia has thrown down the gauntlet to Jon to write an even more outrageously preposterous blurb for her forthcoming book on Sherry--a book, you’ll be amazed to learn, from the same publisher!

“Baiocchi has not just written a book about Sherry, she’s delivered the wine book of the year—indeed, of any year since Gutenberg invented the printing press. She has a consummate palate, and a bigger vocabulary than William F. Buckley, who one hopes is now covered with a lovely flor. There will never be the need for another book on Sherry, so if you’re writing one, well, you are so screwed.”
--JON BONNÉ, author, manifesto maven, forensic wine editor of the San Francisco Chronicle

It must be said that I love the book’s cover. For me, it conjures up the image of Grant Wood’s famous painting American Gothic, only the farmer has bludgeoned his harridan of a wife and just finished burying her in the vineyard. Either that, or Buster Posey makes wine.

The New California Wine pays tribute to the new breed of California winemakers, winemakers unafraid to work in appellations where land and grapes are cheaper even if their resulting wine prices aren’t. Winemakers who shun California’s outdated traditions of using the best in modern winemaking techniques to make clean, expressive, delicious wines in favor of the winemaking ways of our ancestors, rolling the viticultural dice and not caring if it comes up Craps. Winemakers who courageously follow their own vision of what wine should taste like with no regard for public opinion and general standards of taste, knowing that there are dozens of gullible sommeliers around the country happy to champion their wines in order to appear hip and part of the New California Wine movement. Bonné chronicles these visionaries in the grand tradition of Sonoma County’s most famous journalist, Robert Ripley.

The New California Wine is about expressing the unique terroir (I always wonder, can terroir not be unique?) of California. And what better way is there to express terroir than extended skin contact for white wine, putting it into a traditional plastic egg to ferment, using only indigenous yeast (their papers are rigidly checked at the border to be certain they are not illegal alien yeast), and then bottled without sulfites, which only serve to protect wine in the same unquestioning manner of Syrian thugs protecting Assad, in anti-technology Stelvin closures? This is the real future of California wine, and Bonné provides insightful commentary on why this is a good thing. Simply put, the new California wine takes elitism and wine babble to an entirely new level, putting California in the forefront of the worldwide explosion of wine oneupsmanship. California can produce novelty wines on a par with any country in the world.

Here are a few excerpts from The New California Wine that I made up:

“For too long, the California wine industry has manipulated their wines like a rabid baboon handling his little primate peepee—out of habit, and right in front of a perplexed public. But that’s changing, and now all the masturbating goes on behind winery doors where it’s more private, and where it's also easier to jerk off the public.”

“For years wines have been tailor-made for the palates of Robert Parker and James Laube. Palates, it’s safe to say, that are more worn out than the Hundred Point Scale, and just as worthless. The best new California wines are for finer, more sophisticated, palates. Palates like mine, and Alice Feiring’s. So they’re not as dogmatic.”

“Balance is the key to defining great wines, as long as you understand that great wines are also the key to defining balance. Ask any Highway Patrol officer. The new California wines epitomize balance and integrity. If you just want something good to drink, well, California’s new breed of winemakers is leaving you behind.”

I don’t know about you, but I feel grateful that I have Eric Asimov to teach me how to love wine, Matt Kramer to make sense of wine, and Jon Bonné to prove when it comes to California wine, making sense of it and loving it are a colossal waste of time.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Next Winemaker Dinner at Restaurant Gougé

Restaurant Gougé is pleased to announce our upcoming winemaker dinner with Splooge Estate on Tuesday, October 29th. Chef Ptomaine will create a special menu to pair with the Natural, Authentic and Certified Sensitive® wines of Splooge Estate, one of California’s many wineries. Joining us to talk about the wines will be owners Richard and Lotta Splooge, as well as Splooge Estate’s winemaker Seaman Samples.

At Restaurant Gougé, winemaker dinners are not just a way to fill empty seats on a Tuesday night. Don’t be cynical. We have empty seats damn near every night. But that’s because it’s so hard to get reservations. Yes, our phone number is unlisted, and if you try to make a reservation on Open Table, you get a message saying, “There are no reservations available within five hours of your requested time—not the way you dress.” That’s the way we like it. So, no, unlike so many restaurants who have “special” winemaker dinners every two weeks, which makes them about as “special” as One Day Only sales at Macy’s, Restaurant Gougé will only create winemaker dinners when a winery comes along that produces wines that rise to the level of our food. And regular guests of Gougé know that our cuisine is nothing if not risible.

Upon arrival, guests of the Splooge Estate winemaker dinner will be greeted by proprietors Dick and Lotta Splooge with a celebratory glass of their very special The Linoleum Project™ Sparkling Blue Hungarian. Blue Hungarian is a very rare hybrid grape, a cross between Green Hungarian and Zsa Zsa Gabor (so shouldn’t it be “Blew Hungarians?”). Only 29 bottles of Sparkling Blue Hungarian were produced before the rest were confiscated by Homeland Security. Be forewarned, the wines of Splooge Estate, and its sister label The Linoleum Project™, are Natural. There may be some bottle variation, and, with Sparkling Blue Hungarian, there may even be shrapnel. Authentic Sparkling Blue Hungarian is fermented in the bottle, using an ancient, nearly forgotten, process where a small mushroom is placed inside each bottle, and the bacteria and yeast present on the mushroom create the bubbles. This process was known by 17th Century monks as Méthode Champignon. Seaman Samples tells us that he uses very special mushrooms for the process, so, don’t worry, those monkeys flying out of his butt aren’t likely to be real.

Like most winemaker dinners the world over, the Splooge Estate dinner isn’t the least bit about pairing wines with food. Food and wine pairing, it is generally recognized, is a fairly stupid pursuit, like jogging, or how they caught O.J. Food is only necessary at a winemaker dinner so that you can drink more. And at home, it’s just an incredible waste of time to try and match that slop you call dinner with a fine wine. In the case of Splooge Estate, their wines are Certified Sensitive®. Let’s say you tried to pair the 2010 Splooge Estate Tempradillo (a very rare variety, much prized by chefs because it brings its own plates) with hamburgers. Are you kidding me? Hamburgers? With a Certified Sensitive® wine?! Do you even have feelings, for Christ’s sake? Do you know what they put in hamburger these days? Cows, and parts of cows that dangle. Meat fucking byproducts. I don’t even know what that is. Really. What are human byproducts? Bougars and pus? You can’t drink a Natural wine with that. That defeats the whole goddam purpose. Splooge Estate does its best to be carbon neutral, and you’re accompanying their wine with food from animals whose burps have turned the planet into Death Valley? Jesus. What a bunch of idiots. And you wonder why we prefer empty seats here at Restaurant Gougé.

So Chef Ptomaine will be serving food with the wines of Splooge Estate without particularly caring if it tastes good with them. It’s a winemaker dinner, that’s how they work. What would be the point of spending countless hours trying to find the perfect match for each wine when we can simply use up the stuff we haven’t been able to sell off the menu? After the first two courses, no one cares anyway. It’s a drunkfest, face it. That’s why you come, isn’t it? Sure seems like it. So what do you want? Wines you haven’t tasted before AND food you haven’t had from us before, too? No, of course not. That makes no sense. Good. Glad we agree.

Don’t worry, we won’t let the Splooges talk very much, and we certainly won’t allow Seaman Samples to drone on and on like he usually does. First of all, he’ll probably show up drunk. Which is fine because at least he’s an Authentic drunk. But, then, if we let him, he’d babble incoherently for hours about all the Natural and Orgasmic and Holistic and Spiritual ways Splooge Estate farms its vineyards. We’ve heard this speech, believe us, it’s out there. Do you really want to hear how they use the cadavers of wine club members who leave them their remains in their wills as insectories while you’re eating your tournedos of beef? Didn’t think so. And, really, who doesn’t sucker their vines in the spring with trained beavers? Who gives a dam?  At Restaurant Gougé, we understand that you have dozens of winemaker dinners to choose from all over the city on any given slow week day. We strive to make ours appear exclusive, and to assure you that you won’t have to listen to a boring winemaker who’s eating up your valuable drinking time.

It’s hard to imagine a more magical evening that the Splooge Estate winemaker dinner at romantic Restaurant Gougé. We’ve rented special glassware just for the occasion, so you’ll want to get here early to find the ones with the fewest hard water stains. The evening begins promptly at 6 PM, but if you’d like to come a little early and beef up on our Happy Hour buffet, that might be a good idea. Don’t tell Splooge Estate, but Sparkling Blue Hungarian is great with Buffalo wings. Put some in your purse, our service tends to be especially slow during winemaker dinners, and you may get hungry between courses, because, well, a microwave is only so big.

Seating is limited, so be sure and grab a chair when the music stops. The Splooge Estate winemaker dinner is a rare chance to taste the wines our sommelier calls, “Heart-pounding, like CPR.” Remember, it’s a winemaker dinner. Please leave your critical faculties at home, where they belong.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Tempting the Hangman of El Dorado County

El Dorado County Wines I'm Using to Talk About Me
Lava Cap Winery 2011 Chardonnay "Battonage" $18
Skinner Vineyards 2010 "Seven Generations" $26
Boeger Winery 2011 Cabernet Franc $15
Perry Creek 2009 Zinfandel "Altitude 2401" $30
Illuminaire Winery 2010 Malbec $24
Synapse Wines 2007 Syrah "Hangman's" $30
Narrow Gate Vineyards 2008 "Dunamis" $32
Madroňa Vineyards 2009 "Quintet" $28
Cedarville Vineyard 2010 Grenache $25
Cedarville Vineyard 2010 Zinfandel $22
Skinner Vineyards 2010 "Eighteen Sixty-One" $30

The last time I spent any time in El Dorado County tasting wine was the week after my 50th birthday. I don’t think I ever expected to live to see 50. I always assumed I had the lifespan of a bonobo, not just the reproductive organs. Somehow I did, and I decided to celebrate that milestone in Yosemite. I love Yosemite, and have since I was a kid and our family spent time there every summer. Yosemite speaks to me, though I’m no historian of the place. Hell, for years I thought “John Muir” was a pussy cat trapped in an outhouse.

On the day commemorating the end of my 50th year on this tiny blue bubble in the universe’s Champagne mousse, my wife and I picnicked in a pristine meadow in the shadow of El Capitan. We drank a bottle of Chateau Rayas, which did not disappoint. I could look it up, but I believe it was the 1985 Rayas, and it competed with Yosemite’s granite monolith for best natural wonder. My wife, Yosemite, Chateau Rayas—never has anyone been so undeserving.

After a few days in Yosemite at the Ahwahnee Hotel, I said to my wife, “Ahwahnee go to wine country.” Well, I would have said that, but I was near a cliff and stupid jokes like that can lead to one getting gently shoved off into space, creating the fleeting beauty of HoseMaster Falls. We drove to Jackson from the Ahwahnee, a few hours from Yosemite, through a gentle snow, and spent a few days exploring the wineries of Amador and El Dorado Counties. That was ten years ago. Since then, I’ve wanted to return a dozen times, but have never gathered enough momentum.

We tasted first with Bill Easton at Terre Rouge. It seemed to me that Bill was raising the bar for quality back then, in that neighborhood, the Sierra Foothills; and I’d met him several times when he was in Los Angeles promoting his wines. After tasting through his impressive wines (his “Ascent” Syrah is often one of the best Syrahs in the state), I asked Bill what new wineries in the area were also making great wines. It was on his advice that we headed over to Fair Play, and Cedarville Vineyard. We showed up unannounced, after managing to find the place somehow (GPS in those days stood for Grab a Passing Stranger—which worked better, by the way), and Jonathan Lachs and Susan Marks, the owners/winemakers, couldn’t have been more cordial. We crashed a tasting they were doing for some other folks, well, hijacked is a better verb, and, as Bill had promised, came away very impressed. Cedarville is a great winery to visit, by the way, if you’re ever in Fair Play. They have a nifty little wine cave, sort of where Barbie might make wine, or keep her captive Kens until they grow genitalia.

We also tasted at a few miserable places. I learned early on in my sommelier days to never present my business card in a strange tasting room. It’s better to pay a tasting fee than to have an optimistic winemaker calling you every week to see if you’d like any of his “neutral propane tank-aged Sauvignon Blanc” for your by-the-glass list. Hell, all the best fire breathers use it. For every Terre Rouge and Cedarville Vineyard, there was a winery that made you wonder how they ever sold a bottle. And it’s always a wondrous experience in a tasting room to sample a wine on the 15th of the month, and notice that the number on the back of the bottle, which proclaims the date the bottle was opened, clearly says “9.” Oh, it’s always better after six days! Like oysters.

All of this mindless rambling because the good folks marketing the wines of El Dorado County offered to send me a sampler of wines called “Taste at a Higher Level.” From the title, I was pretty sure they’d been talking to the panel members I’d been judging with at wine competitions. I hear that a lot. Or were they referring to V.A.? Oh, I was badly confused. But I accepted shipment, curious to see how things were shaping up in El Dorado County. It ended up being quite interesting.

The shipment contained eleven wines, only two of which were white—a Chardonnay and a Rhône White blend. This made me wonder. Don’t we tend to judge most wine regions based on the quality of their red wines? This implies, it seems to me, that red wines are superior to whites. It’s a kind of wine racism. Where else but a tasting room can you walk in and loudly proclaim, “I don’t like whites,” and not get beat up? Sure, Napa Valley has some fine white wines, but who cares? Am I wrong in thinking white Burgundy takes a backseat to red, with the exception of Chablis? Outside of Chateau d’Yquem, who forges white wines? Yes, it’s always been a red wine world, but why? It’s hard for me to see that red wines are superior, though even my own collection is heavily red wine.

In wine terms, we judge Germany great for the greatness of its whites. Man, that’s almost too ironic. Same for Alsace, and Austria. We line up for Pinot Noir tastings, but Chardonnay draws the wine crowd equivalent of a Latoya Jackson concert. Yet served in black glasses and at the same temperature, we struggle to tell Pinot Noir and Chardonnay apart. Why is Pinot Noir so much more revered?

When vintages are discussed, it’s about Cabernet, Pinot Noir, or Zinfandel, never Sauvignon Blanc. Is there a reason? Is red wine better than white wine? I don’t think so. But I’m certain my viewpoint is the minority viewpoint. It almost always is.

The first wine I opened from El Dorado County was the Lava Cap Winery 2011 Chardonnay “Battonage.” I remember Lava Cap when it was Lava Beanie, a long time ago. They’re one of the steadier producers in El Dorado County. I can’t remember the last time I tasted a Chardonnay from them, but this beauty completely surprised me. I confess, I came to it with low expectations, the words “battonage” and “Chardonnay”  on a wine label reminiscent of “hall” and “oates” on a record label—a serious risk of it being treacly and stupid. But the Lava Cap was splendid. Yes, it had the creamy, leesy character one would expect, but with a brightness and liveliness that completely carried it through to the long finish. Certainly not a profound Chardonnay, and not a source of your precious and presumptuous minerality, but the spiced apple and pear flavors, its preciseness and clean lines, its undeniable richness, make it worth all of its eighteen dollar price tag. It killed it with the baked corvina (the fish, not the grape) we had for dinner that night, the voluptuousness of the Chardonnay really highlighting the sweetness of the fish.

The other white wine in the shipment was the compelling Skinner Vineyards 2010 “Seven Generations,” a blend of Marsanne, Roussanne, Viognier, Picpoul Blanc, and Grenache Blanc. More blancs than a vasectomy. I first encountered Skinner Vineyards at a Rhône Rangers tasting a couple of years ago. I tasted through their lineup of Rhône varieties and was amazed. Each wine, from the Viognier, to the Grenache, to the Mourvèdre, and all the others, hit the varietal nail on the head. Believe me, that’s a rare occurrence, and speaks to a winemaker who has a sure grasp of the varieties and the talent to display them. Chris Pittenger is the guy, and he has a terrific touch. I immediately bought a bunch of Skinner wines, and they are fantastic bargains. The “Seven Generations” is really lovely, with an aroma focused on lemons and Key limes, but has a lot of floral notes as well. I’d draw a picture of it, in the manner of my friend Lily-Elaine Hawk Wakawaka, but it would look like those rubber things you put in your bathtub so you don’t slip. I can see mistaking this wine for a nice white Rhône, maybe from St. Joseph or Crozes-Hermitage—it doesn’t have the physique of white Hermitage. The texture is, appropriately, on the oily side, but there’s no shortage of freshness, and the wine is impeccably balanced. Here is white wine that is so expertly blended it compels you to raise your glass to your nose to inhale it over and over again. What style this wine has!

So those were the two whites. But you don’t care. You want to hear about the reds. The nine red wines were all over the place in quality, something of a shambles. But it did remind me of my wine tasting trip to El Dorado, and the juxtaposition of a terrific winery like Cedarville Vineyards with the kind of winery right down the road where the wines have more chemical problems than Major League Baseball. There are some amazing wines coming out of the Sierra Foothills, and the region has immeasurable promise. But there are still a lot of weak links. But, hell, what do I know?

Let’s start with a wine I despised. I know, I shouldn’t write about wines I hate. The wines I dislike the most are not bad wines. Bad wines are interesting, like really bad movies, or really bad wine blogs. You almost can’t believe your senses. They get a reaction, and they can even teach you something. So it’s not flatout terrible wines that get me. The wines that drive me nuts I call stupid wines. Wines that are so dull and devoid of genuine character they remind you of Ryan Seacrest. The Boeger 2011 Cabernet Franc actually ticked me off. I took one sniff, and then one tentative taste, and said to my wife, “I hate this wine.” Why? It has no charm, it has no personality, it has no Cabernet Franc-ness, it has no reason to exist except to get you drunk cheaply. Drinking it is like spending an evening watching BookSpan TV. Just shoot me.

I can’t say I had much love for the Perry Creek “Altitude 2401” 2009 Zinfandel either. In this case, though, it’s just not my style. I had mixed feelings about this Zin. I appreciate its generous fruit, ripe and unpolished, and reminiscent of the kinds of Zin that once were ubiquitous in those parts. But I was bothered by the blast of heat at the finish, the Zin’s overall gawkiness. It may one day come around. That wouldn’t surprise me. Well, actually, given the ripeness, it would surprise me quite a bit. But it’s not impossible. However, Perry Creek is a solid producer, and has a consistent style, so, in that perspective, this is perfectly fine Zin, true to what they do.

I was also nonplussed by the Illuminaire Winery 2010 Malbec. I don’t know this winery, but their 2010 Malbec didn’t make me want to seek their other wines out. My impression of this wine is that it’s a Malbec that was squeezed and extracted and nipple-clamped within an inch of its life. You know those wines you finish because you’re too lazy to get off your butt and open a different bottle? Yeah, here’s one. I’m guessing this isn’t the best wine in the Illuminaire portfolio. And I’m not sure I even want Malbec from El Dorado County. Not now, anyway.

Synapse Wines has a pretty good reputation for Syrah, and the shipment included the Synapse Wines 2007 Hangman’s Syrah. I have to admit, a winery selling a wine from 2007 isn’t usually a good sign, but you never know. It’s Syrah after all, a harder sell than Anthony Weiner for Mayor. Now there’s a guy who should get rid of his “sin apps.” “Hangman’s” is also named for Weiner. No, it’s not, it’s named after Placerville, where the winery is located, once known as Hangtown for its enlightened criminal code. This is very chewy, very black fruit, very intense Syrah, but it’s not especially noteworthy. I’ve reviewed a lot of great Syrah here, from Gramercy Cellars to MacLaren to Stolpman, and the Synapse isn’t in their league by any measure. Oh, it’s Syrah, and it’s huge, and it’s extracted, but it’s far too over-the-top for my taste. And it feels like it’s already slipping away into raisiny, clunky Syrahdom.

Narrow Gate Vineyards is new to me. The Narrow Gate Vineyards 2008 “Dunamis,” a mix of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre, was good. I liked the wine’s harmony, and it’s very well-made. It seems to want to be Chateauneuf-du-Pape, at least that’s what the structure and the blend imply. It’s not that. It has a very large frame, and a very broad kind of aromatics that speak of leather and smoke and oak, all of which serve to conceal the underlying fruit, which is mostly red fruit, plum and strawberry. It slowly opens up, but even the second day the fruit seemed secondary to everything else. The “Dunamis” had enough interesting and delicious about it, that it won me over. I’m not sure it succeeded with my wife. That was a rather useless tasting note, but I’m trying to leave you with the same mixed emotions I had when I drank it.

I thought the Madroňa Vineyards 2009 "Quintet" (all five Bordeaux varieties, with Merlot leading the way at 51%) was really elegant and restrained. Everything about this wine appealed to me. It has subtlety, complexity, beauty, restraint, judicious and seamless oak, and a long, beckoning finish. Now, it’s not some big damn Napa Valley red that’s going to get 95 points from some nitwit in a fright wig. But the classic black currant, tea, vanillin, spice rack character pushed all my Bordeaux buttons. You know, it might actually fit in a lineup of 2009 Cru Bourgeois Bordeaux, and do swimmingly. This was one of the wines that gave me the most pure, simple enjoyment. I was very impressed. "Quintet" achieved what any wine should; it made me want to taste the rest of Madroňa Vineyards' lineup.

And now we come to Cedarville Vineyard, which was represented by two wines, the Cedarville Vineyard 2010 Grenache, and the Cedarville Vineyard 2010 Zinfandel. I have a fondness for Cedarville’s wines. These folks are great growers, talented winemakers, and the prices for their wines are ridiculously fair. If they haven’t taken a vow of poverty, it would be news to me. I’d describe their style as bold, on the bigger side of every variety, wines that are never shy, but wines that hold up to all that size and bombast. The 2010 Grenache is ripe and chewy, rather than lean and pretty. Notice I don’t say overripe. It gets to plum and cherry flavors, nice and spicy, and is a good example of the deep, dark, red fruit richness that is Grenache. It’s not shy on backbone either—Cedarville’s wines don’t tend to be. If you’re a fan of the wines of Gigondas, as I am, here’s a wine that feels like one, one from a warmer vintage. It’s probably sold out by now, but just get on Cedarville’s mailing list, their wines are a steal.

The Cedarville Vineyard 2010 Zinfandel is a Zin I can highly recommend. I just like this wine because it tastes like Sierra Foothills Zin. Red fruit, raspberries mostly, a spicy rim, cinnamon I’d say, a lusciousness that good Zin can deliver (Samantha would call it “sweet,” and as long as that is a positive term, I’m fine with that), and plenty of backbone to stand up to the lamb we drank it alongside. I love Zinfandel with lamb, and I insist you try it (yeah, I know I’m a Wooly Bully, Wooly Bully, Wooly Bully…watch me now, hey!). There isn’t a lot of Estate Bottled Zinfandel this good for $22. Get on the Cedarville Mailing List. Now.

And while you’re at it, get on Skinner’s Mailing List too. I’ll FINALLY end with the Skinner Vineyards 2010 Eighteen Sixty-One, a blend of Grenache, Mourvèdre, Syrah and Counoise. What I like about Skinner’s wines is their purity, how the flavors pop on your palate, and how elegant and polished they are. Grenache seems to love El Dorado County, and may ultimately be the variety that distinguishes it. At least judging by Cedarville and Skinner. Here it gives beautiful aromatics, the underlying pretty red aromas that are accentuate the savoriness of the Mourvèdre and make the wine ethereally powerful and pretty. It’s medium-bodied, and it’s wonderfully complex (throw in lavender and forest floor and Mourvèdre’s exotic spiciness), and it improved in the glass every ten minutes. A lot going on here, and the price tag is a mere $30. If this were Pinot Noir, it would be $60. And it’s every bit as elegant and beautiful.

So there you have it. El Dorado County. The good, the bad, and the ugly. I’m due for a visit, but now it will have to be anonymously. Which, as the HoseMaster, I’m getting used to.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

You're Watching TAINT TV

Coming this Fall, the cable network American wine lovers have been waiting for makes its debut! It’s the long-awaited Premiere Week on the brand new, All Wine network TAINT TV! Finally, a channel devoted exclusively to wine, for wine novices and connoisseurs alike! No crafty beer, no stupid spirits, no distracting food. You know, that boring crap so often lumped together with the miracle of wine. What do they have to do with wine? No matter what “experts” tell you, food and wine don’t go together. Like foreplay and sex! Food and foreplay are just two things you pretend to like in order to get more of what you really want. But not on TAINT TV. No foreplay on your TAINT. Only high quality television about one subject, and one subject only. Wine!

TAINT TV has recruited the greatest names in wine to produce and star in its original programming. Our stars are entertaining, informative, and just plain shitfaced. If you’re a wine lover, you won’t want to miss a single one of our new Fall shows. Here’s a sneak preview of a few of the original programs available exclusively on TAINT TV.


The most influential wine writers alive compete for the title Iron Palate. The first match pits favorite James Laube against sleeper Jay McInerney. In this first round battle, it comes right down to the wire, each man able to taste and spit the finest wines of the world without a single clue as to what they’re tasting. Calling upon their supernatural powers of memory and outright guesswork in the face of their withered old taste buds, both men bedazzle the live studio audience with their ability to make the best wines sound amazingly mundane. We don’t want to spoil the ending, but let’s just say there’s a new cult Cabernet in town from a little AVA we like to call Brokeback Mountain. The winner will take on Jancis Robinson, or some other critic who will be doing the work for her.

MADD MONEY with Matt Kramer

Sick of Mothers Against Drunk Driving? Tired of all the stupid warning labels on wine bottles? Here’s what Matt Kramer has to say about that on his new TAINT TV show MADD Money. Contains Sulfites? “It’s the goddamed alcohol that will kill you, moron!” Do not operate heavy machinery. “If I could operate heavy machinery I’d have a job that had some meaning, not the one I have writing pablum for wine dweebs who don’t mind having their intelligence insulted twice a month in Wine Spectator!” Do not drink alcohol when pregnant. “That’s what got you knocked up in the first place, slut!” You won’t want to miss Matt Kramer letting his hair down (it’s an expression, jackass) every week against the forces of prohibitionism. He’s angrier than Natalie MacLean without Cut and Paste.


Watch on hidden camera while some of America’s finest sommeliers play pranks on unknowing restaurant customers! Why, here’s a sommelier presenting a wine list to an unsuspecting couple that doesn’t have a single wine under $70. The couple is obviously on a first date, and as he scans the list for something he can afford, well, he’s sweatier than an old bottle of Beaucastel. Another prank involves a sommelier serving a flight of three different Pinot Noirs—only they’re exactly the same wine! Hilarity ensues as the unwitting customer describes each wine differently to his date. And the kicker—it’s not even Pinot Noir, it’s Syrah! And you won’t want to miss the segment where our sommelier informs the customer he can’t order the 2009 Lynch-Bages because the restaurant is out of clean Riedel Bordeaux glasses. When the customer insists, the sommelier announces to the rest of the dining room that, “Mr. Uncouth is drinking his Bordeaux from a Zinfandel glass,” and the customer is humiliated into ordering a glass of Zweigelt instead. You’ve never seen any of this in a restaurant before! Or have you? But it’s the customer who tells the sommelier his wine is corked, only to have the sommelier disagree and never return to his table, that will make you laugh ‘til you cry.


Destined to be the most popular new game show on television, The One Hundred Point Pyramid pairs two contestants with celebrity wine critics, both teams competing to get to the bonus round. The contestants, wine dorks chosen for their encyclopedic knowledge of wines that have received 100 point scores, so mostly really lonely men, have to guess the 100 Point wine being described by their celebrity teammate. The celebrity wine critics have 30 seconds to rattle off descriptors of the 100 point wines. Each descriptor subtracts two points from the score. Here’s Steve Heimoff giving clues to contestant Harlan E. State: “Cedar, cassis, ripe blackberries, uh…” “2004 Screaming Eagle!” “No! Um, sweet fruits, marvelous tannins, um, um…” “2006 Cardinale!” Ding ding ding ding ding ding! Easy. So obvious when you’re playing at home. 90 Points! Finally, wine lovers, the fucking points actually matter! The winning contestant goes to the bonus round, where, competing against the clock, he tries to climb the 100 Point Pyramid in 60 seconds, only to find that there actually isn’t any point.


TAINT TV’s continuing dramatic series is the story of three dedicated winemakers, one in California, one in Italy and one in France, and their struggles to produce Authentic Wines. Beset by skeptics, and nagging investors who insist on profits, these three winemakers fight heroically in the name of “terroir.” Or, as they call it in California, “any single vineyard wine.” It’s the story of courageous winemakers, and the tiny, really weird, women who love them. In Episode One, “A Week From Fruit Day,” Italian cult winemaker Moe Ripeness catches his wife Lotta in prolonged skin contact with a natural winemaker, lead character Frank Cornholessen. “Don’t worry,” Frank insists, “I never inoculate.” Meanwhile, in California, marketing directors for a major corporate winery concern scheme to put “Authentic” on all their wine labels. “Hell, it worked for Levi’s, and people are just plain stupid.” And in France, our hero Guy Spott, convinces his importer there’s a market in America for his wines. “Sure,” Guy says, “they’re funky. But I just had a famous American woman who loves Authentic wines here. I opened my wines with my handy-dandy corkscrew, sweet-talked her with my usual bullshit, and Alice followed me right down the Rabbit™ hole.”  

Monday, September 9, 2013

DIAL M.W. FOR MURDER--The Wine Ecdysiast


Chapter 11 The Wine Ecdysiast

It must have been a root day for Biola Dynamic. She was urging me to plant my seed, anyway. My office was a mess. I hadn’t had sex on a desk since my last appointment at the DMV. I was confused about Organ Donation. Biola was something of a wildcat. Her claws left scratches on my back that looked like Chinese tasting notes of counterfeit Margaux. Her screams of pleasure set off the smoke alarm. Her sexy lisp saying, “Oh HosthMaster, oh HosthMaster, you’re so thick…” briefly confused me. Then I remembered--I can be sick.

A few hours later when it ended, Biola lay in a puddle on the floor. Damn, I needed to see a urologist for that bladder thing. As she slept, the trace of a smile on all her lips, I sat at my desk and stared guiltily at the photograph of Avril Cadavril. Where was she? And what would she think if she found out I’d buried my testosterone horns in Biola Dynamic? Would she know the truth? That I’d done it for her? I knew that in order to get inside the murders of MW candidates, I had to get inside MW candidates. Judging from Biola, I’d passed the service part of the exam.

It was time to go looking for Tiny. I tossed my coat over Biola to keep her warm while she slept. I’d gotten what I needed from her, a free ride on the sommelier Slip ‘n’ Slide. From what she’d told me, people were out to kill Mallory O’Lactic; and it was probably the same killers who’d put Crystal Geyser in an early recycling bin. Biola would be safe in my office. I locked the door behind me, and headed down the stairs.

When I came to at the bottom of the stairs, having forgotten that my pants were still around my ankles, I tried to figure out where Tiny might have gone after leaving Avril’s office with some of her paperwork. He couldn’t have gone far. Tiny moves about as fast as Lodi Zinfandel by-the-glass, and with the body type of a concrete egg, I knew he’d find a place to stash those mysterious papers as quickly as he could. So I knew that even if I found Tiny, and that wouldn’t be hard, about like finding a haystack in a needle, he probably wouldn’t have Avril’s papers on him. And he’d most certainly lie about it. But Tiny knows just about everything that goes on in the underbelly of Healdsburg. His own underbelly provided shade for six Mexicans on a hot harvest day.

There was a time when Tiny was one of the most powerful wine critics in the country. He didn’t talk about it much now. But twenty years ago, a high score from Tiny meant your wine would sell out quickly. As it turned out, Tiny would sell out quickly, too. In his newsletter, The Wine Ecdysiast, Tiny awarded wines from one to five Pasties. Five Pasties guaranteed a wine would become highly collectible. Two Pasties? Well, two Pasties were for boobs. At first, Tiny had been incorruptible. He paid his own way, he was completely independent. He tasted every wine he rated completely blind. He worked sixteen hour days tasting wine—he put the “fat” in indefatigable.

But Tiny got greedy. He was working long hours and not really making that much money. Yet everywhere he went, he’d see people selling wine off his reputation. Pasties were everywhere, but Tiny was still broke. The Wine Ecdysiast began to sell advertising. At first, it was just for wine novelties. Wine gizmos, wine vibrators, wine ben wa balls, wine ticklers, things like that. Then the big boys started advertising in The Wine Ecdysiast. Spending thousands of dollars for full-page ads. A busty woman working the pole with the caption, “We think you’ll like our Treasury chest of wines.” A shot of the night sky over Napa Valley, only the stars were sparkly Pasties, and the caption just read, “Constellation.” And deep in his congestive heart, Tiny must have known that the big boys expected tit for tat.

It wasn’t long before an intrepid investigative reporter working for Juggs uncovered the whole scandal. Tiny was taking money for Pasties. When the news broke, The Wine Ecdysiast was finished as a wine publication. Tiny had a big following, and a loyal fan base. They spent most of their time on Tiny’s chat room, colloquially called eBoob. At first, most of them refused to believe what was apparent to everyone. Tiny was corrupt. Pasties inflation had been growing. More and more wines were getting four, and even five, Pasties. Wines from Constellation. Wines from Treasury. Even Bronco had to change the nickname of their biggest selling wine to “Three Suck Chuck” to honor its Pasties. But Juggs brought Tiny down. He put on weight, and a lot of it. He wasn’t welcome at any winery in the world. He became a figure of scorn. So, normal stuff for a wine critic. It had been twenty years since The Wine Ecdysiast folded. Tiny was bitter and defeated. He still drank wine, but, as far as the business was concerned, he no longer stayed abreast.

It was approaching the dinner hour, so I knew Tiny would be hungry, and probably headed to one of his usual places to eat. I started walking around the Healdsburg Square glancing into all the restaurants to see if I could see Tiny taking up a table for six. Hell, he was a table for six.

When I’d first moved to this wine country town, the restaurant scene was pretty dismal. None of them had any Michelins, though they almost all had skid marks. Now the place was overrun with fancy eateries featuring organic local ingredients, extensive wine lists, sommeliers, and other rodent infestations. I knew Tiny wouldn’t go anywhere near those joints. He couldn’t afford them. He’d be at a more local hangout, or maybe one of those new, trendy Food Wagons. Food wagons. Where I come from, food on wheels is called a dumpster.

Across the square I spotted Tiny. There were four men around him, and they were gesturing frantically, and it appeared angrily. Tiny was just shaking his head. I watched for a few minutes, ready to intervene if the discussion became violent. Just as it seemed the argument was beginning to escalate, a limo pulled up to the group. A woman got out of the limo, her long legs first, a brief flash of panties as she emerged from the limo hurriedly, without the help of the invisible driver. Everything began to move in slow motion, like the service at a Napa Valley tasting room. With my eyes locked on her panties, I almost missed the gun she was holding.  I screamed out a warning. Two shots rang out, a bullet whistled past my ear, and I took off running toward the woman.

She glanced at me as she got back into the limo. She seemed to recognize me. I shouted for her to stop, but the limo was already speeding off. I was momentarily in shock.

Whoever she was, she had a beard.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Something Fishy About the HoseMaster

I love zoos and aquariums. (Yes, I know, that should be aquaria, but, really, we’re already wine snobs, let’s not be grammar whores.) I always have. When we were kids, my siblings and I could always choose where we wanted to go for our birthdays. My brother and sister always chose Disneyland, or Knott’s Berry Farm, or the local drunk tank. I wanted to go to the San Diego Zoo. As a kid, every Sunday morning I watched “Zoorama,” hosted by a San Diego TV reporter named Bob Dale, which was filmed entirely at the San Diego Zoo. (I can still hear the theme song in my head. Great, now I’ll be hearing that all day.) So I knew lots of the animals from watching “Zoorama,” and I wanted to visit them.

All this to say that if I lived anywhere near New York City, I would be attending Sip For The Sea on Thursday, September 12th. At the Central Park Zoo! How cool is that? A wine and food event at the zoo?  I’d insist they feed me from a plastic bucket like they do the sea lions. And I just might fling my feces at folks who annoy me. Well, there goes my invite.
Sip for the Sea

Thursday, September 12, 2013
6:00 - 9:00 p.m.
6:00 p.m. Grand Taster admission
7:00 p.m. General admission
Central Park Zoo
Fifth Avenue at 64th Street
New York City
Festive Attire
21 and Over only
Purchase Tickets
The Wildlife Conservation Society hosts its first SIP FOR THE SEA benefit to support the New York Aquarium as it recovers from Hurricane Sandy. SIP FOR THE SEA features pairings of sustainable wines from The Hess Collection with sustainable seafood and other special offerings from some of New York's top restaurants. This signature event will be a festive evening and an opportunity to learn about the importance of marine conservation in the waters around New York.
New York Aquarium

I’ve never plugged an event on HoseMaster of Wine™, and I suspect I won’t again. But when my friend Jim Caudill (he’s a big shot at Hess Collection, responsible for hospitality and squeegeeing the artwork) asked if I’d help a bit to get the word out for this event, I instantly agreed.

Sip for the Sea is a benefit to raise money for the New York Aquarium, which was badly damaged by Hurricane Sandy (oh, man, that takes me back—I once dated a girl I called Hurricane Sandy cuz she blew me at the beach). The event is built around sustainable food and sustainable wines. Don’t get me started. That crap gives me a sustainable headache. Tickets start at $200, but, hell, that’s not even lunch at a decent New York restaurant, which isn’t tax deductible either. And, I have no doubt, that Jim and his sustainable friends will be serving the top drawer wines from the Hess portfolio, and those are damned impressive wines. Paired with food from some great New York restaurants, served in the setting of the historic Central Park Zoo! Man, I wanna go, I wanna go.

There are thousands of worthy causes. We support the ones that speak to us. Zoos and aquaria gave me great pleasure as a child, and the work they do on behalf of the other creatures we share this big blue planet with is laudable and necessary. Sip For The Sea sounds like a blast. Just go. And, please, forward this to anyone in the New York City area who loves fine wine, zoos and the New York Aquarium. If you can't go, maybe you know someone who would. I'd take it as a personal favor.

And when you see Jim at the event, tell him the HoseMaster sent you. You'll get a much bigger pour.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Making Sense of Matt Kramer

The first Monday of September honors the American work force as part of the Endangered Species Act. But the first Monday also means the HoseMaster is in England at Tim Atkin's award-winning website. This month, inspired by a comment from Tim, I've written a tribute to Wine Spectator's Matt Kramer. One of my favorite blurbs in the wine business is Wine Spectator referring to Kramer as "irreverent." He's about as irreverent as Velveeta. I don't know about you, but, to me, he reads like a cross between Dear Abby and HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey.

As always, please feel free to be a common tater over at Tim Atkin, or leave your thoughts here in a paper bag you've set on fire.