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


Unknown said...

Speaking of Mel Gibson.. go to YouTube.. Mel screaming at Hitler, LeBron James are priceless.. but the topper mashup is Mel screaming at Dora the Explorer posted by sickandwrong... twisted enuff for Hosemaster readers... my all time fav mashup is Neo Lebowski for all those morons who think the Matrix is so great..

Unknown said...

Now I know how to order Chenin Blanc when I visit Germany or Austria. I think maybe I'll find a German restaurant locally and see if I can find some Frankensteen on their wine list.

The Sommeliere said...

Ron, this line got me!

"Contrary to popular belief, Pinot Gris is not what you call the smegma that gathers if you're uncircumcised."

And Pinot Gris made me think of the great example (not!) of the grape in Santa Margherita PG. Why would anyone pay $18 for this swill?

Before I retired from somming, someone actually left a restaurant I was subbing in because we did not have Sta. Margherita PG. She was actually pissed er, insulted that I suggested an Alsatian PG!

Unknown said...

i'll let the oregon diss slide, you got me with the kruger juice

WineKnurd said...

Ron what was the line that made you gaggle like a lil' school girl? My money is on the Oregon layover theory.

Chris / Knurd

Ron Washam, HMW said...

I can say that I actually met Mel Gibson once and he was a strange little dude. And I might be the only person alive who has never seen "The Matrix." Is there a porn version?

To find a really good Frankensteen, just follow the angry villagers.

Marlene Darling,
I'm someone who thinks Pinot Gris is a relatively insipid variety. If the Pinot family were the Jackson family, Pinot Gris would be Tito.

I have no idea why Oregon wants to be identified with Pinot Gris. It's like being a Cubs fan.

Nope, that wasn't the line that got me. I'll keep the joke in question a secret. In most of the pieces I write, there is one joke that I like, and only one. I hope other people find more than one thing to laugh at, but I almost never do. Anyway, it's usually the stupidest joke, but I might laugh at it every time I read it.

But, like most comedy writers, I almost never find myself the least bit funny.

WineKnurd said...

Like most comedy writers? That sounds pretty close to an actual profession Ron. Mastering hoses is your passion!

Chris / 'Knurd

Unknown said...


i describe pinot gris as acceptable white wine.

the sad thing is that it outsells complex, interesting, food friendly riesling by a mile

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Comedy writer is my former occupation, but, truly, once a comedy writer, always a comedy writer. Sadly.

I look at what Washington is doing with Riesling, and I wonder what the hell is wrong with Oregon. Some really terrific Rieslings from Washington. Aiming to be a great Pinot Gris producer is like aspiring to make the world's greatest baked potato.

Unknown said...

I'm obviously biased, but i think Oregon is producing great rieslings. I can't understand why pinot gris is so much more popular, but it sure sells. I think our riesling is our best white wine, but we literally sell five times as much gris for the same price.

I could talk about this forever, and if this rain doesn't stop soon, harvest will never start, and I probably will talk about this forever. For your sake, I hope the sun comes out soon.

Anonymous said...

I like the girdle drawer best because it requires foreknowledge( not skin ) on the part of the reader.
And yes, but the scene with the multiple villains is not as good as you might think.

Anonymous said...

Having read another paragraph I now favor Buckwheat.
And no, he's not in it either.

Charlie Olken said...

Not trying to predict what made you laugh but I like several lines including some you might think of as throw-aways like "Sorry, Rhone number". So quiet, yet so smart.

Smegma for the uncircumcised was pretty smart if a little unrelated.

And Buckwheat, another shade of Gris, was another smart line.

I always liked this series because each entry had so many gags.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Pinot Gris is much simpler to understand, and doesn't come with Riesling's baggage of being "sweet." Riesling seems to be the Syrah of white grapes--a magnificent grape that nobody buys.

I hope the sun comes out for you, Gabe. It was a little wet here in Healdsburg yesterday, but I know most wineries are almost finished harvesting. For the most part, it appears to be a pretty good vintage.

You could at least issue a Spoiler Alert. Now there's no point seeing it without Buckwheat in it. Sheesh.

The sheer number of mindless puns was what made the series so tiresome to write--and probably read. But I occasionally toy with the idea of returning to it. Though not for long, and not when I'm in my right mind.

Beau said...

You nailed it with regard to Gris in Oregon. :)

Unknown said...

We definitely got dumped on, but the acids were high enough to protect our grapes. I would say that grape quality is surprisingly good so far.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

It's not much better in California, or Italy, for that matter. But people like it, so what do I know?

Sounds like the marketing department got to you.

No matter, time will tell. Easy to talk about vintages and weather, but the wine, bottled and released, always has the final word. I'm sure you'll produce one of your finest Pinot Gris.

Thomas said...

Personally, I don't hate any grape variety, Some are better than others, sure, but it's winemaking that counts.

Pinot Grigio from a good producer in, say, Trentino can be a revelation (in a small but educational way).

When I operated my wine shop, I stocked PG from only Trentino and Friuli Venezia Giulia.

One day, a friend of mine's daughter ordered a case of Santa Mywhatapieceofshit PG from me. I told her I didn't have it but at two-thirds the price I could sell her a much better version of the varietal wine. She asked me to get the Santa M. PG because, in her words, "I don't want a better wine for less money, I want that one."

You cannot argue or teach stupid, especially when it's a customer.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

We do tend to speak in generalities when we speak about wine varieties. I completely agree that Pinot Grigio from Northeast Italy can be compelling white wine in the hands of a great producer. There are exceptions to every Rulander.

Thomas said...

Ron, your puns give me a Mal-ala-bec!

Unknown said...

lol. it's at least the vintage of the millenium. we'll see if it's good enough to be the vintage of the holocene.

Actually, I think I've finally done made enough wine that I've stopped worrying about the weather. You can make good wine in a bad vintage, and bad wine in a good vintage. Do i check the weather report every ten minutes? yes. but I've worried less about this vintage than the less stressful vintages of years past

Ron Washam, HMW said...

What I love is that, in California, everyone I've spoken to picked BEFORE the rain in 2011. Every single one. Makes me wonder why we even bother to talk about the weather, except to mention how we outsmarted it.

Unknown said...

lol. man vs nature. in oregon, every vintage is ruined by mid-september. then the grapes start coming up the hill in october, and everything looks and tastes great. then we swear we will stay calm next year, and forget that lesson ten months later. fortunately, it only took six years for me to learn my lesson.