It was my first time. Yeah, I was scared. Facing your inner demons, admitting your failures as a human being in front of several dozen strangers, trying to end an addiction that you cannot imagine living without—the sleepless nights, the vomiting, the shakes, the loneliness that would inevitably accompany the withdrawal. Why wouldn’t I be scared? But I understood that it was my last chance, my only way out from underneath my shame and degradation. So I went. And it changed my life.
“Hello,” I said, my voice cracking with emotion. “My name is Ron. And I’m a Higher Alcoholic.”
Every face in the room turned to me, and each one had a welcoming smile. As one, my fellow recovering higher alcoholics replied, “Hello, Ron.”
But let’s start at the beginning. At how my crippling addiction to ripe, voluptuous, generous, fat, high alcohol wines began. And how it ruined my life. It’s not unique. Many of you will recognize yourself in my story. My hope is you’ll join me in my recovery. Yes, it’s difficult. It’s the hardest thing I’ve done since I swore off cult wine mailing lists, the meth of wine geeks. You know the types—desperate for Carlisle, up all night emailing Saxum, prostituting their first-borns for a crack at Marcassin, disgusting, desperate, despicable Cayusers. So many sick, sad losers. You see them on chat rooms and it makes your balls tighten, knowing their horrible sickness, their racing pulses, their night sweats, their missing teeth and useless genitalia. Yup, you got a magnum of Favia, congratulations, I can tell—the fetid smell of death is all over you. Though that could just be really meaty Syrah. I was that guy once, too. But I managed to make it out, managed to get a real life, instead of measuring my worth by the labels in my cellar instead of the content of my character. That life is a living death. Those people deserve your pity. They are only barely human. They are walking Scarecrows in search of brains.
We’re taught at Higher Alcoholics Anonymous to accept the blame for our addiction, to not blame others. But that’s hard. I liked the way Turley made me feel. I couldn’t help it. I’d suck down a bottle of 16.9% Zinfandel, and love every drop of it. I’d lick the rim of the glass like a cokehead licks a mirror. Shouldn’t those wineries bear some guilt? They could have stopped sooner. They didn’t have to continue to make their high alcohol, addictive wines so delicious. They knew what they were doing. They lured us in, they took our money, and provided us lush, voluptuous, jammy, chewy, sweet wine crack. Those bastards. I’m sorry, I’m violating my HAA teachings, but it has to be said. Those damned wineries—and it wasn’t just California wineries, either; it was Australian and Spanish and French and Italian wineries, too (fucking Amarone, I sold my car for a goddam bottle of Amarone, a 1978 Corvina—a Chevy Corvina, sweet little convertible)—they used us. They profited off our pain and addiction.
We know now that wine, and, specifically, great wine, is better at lower alcohol levels. Sure, we know this now. Thanks to the greatest wine minds of our time, people In Search of Balance. They have shown us that there are wines that deliver too much pleasure, too much flavor, too much richness. Those wines are evil. They represent sin, the libido, the worst parts of our nature. Their message almost came too late for me. I was wallowing in the mindlessness, the oblivion, of big, chewy, intense Syrahs. Behind closed doors, where my friends and family couldn’t witness my humiliation, I suckled at the teat of ripe, fleshy, extracted, wondrous Napa Valley Cabernet. I fell in love with Grenache, big and ripe, and I did unspeakable things for a single bottle of Sine Qua Non. Pure, uncut, filthy Krankl. I paid thousands of dollars for the stuff. I sat behind park dumpsters with my Sine Qua Bong and inhaled it as quickly as I could. When, I know now, I should have been drinking some cool climate Sta. Rita Hills Grenache that tastes like wax lips.
Wine isn’t about pleasure, I’ve learned at my HAA meetings. It’s about the search for pleasure. With those sinful and shameful wines I’d been addicted to, there was no search for pleasure, the pleasure was right there in front of me as soon as I poured the first glass. It’s an empty, meaningless, pathetic existence—immediate gratification is for the mentally impaired, the desperate, the Wine Advocate
subscribers. The real wine lovers, the people of In Search of Balance, the folks who make Authentic Wines, they are the ones who understand wine, who see most clearly that finding joy in wine requires a lifelong search. God Bless Them, those Angels of Lower Alcohol, those truth-tellers doing God’s work, their message is resonating with lots of lifelong sufferers of the addiction to Higher Alcohol wine. HAA meetings grow larger each week.
I had to call my sponsor last night. “Hello, Raj.” Just hearing his humble, rather thin and weedy voice, comforted me. “I’m dying for a glass of 2003 Chateauneuf-du-Pape, maybe Rayas, or La Bernadine. I’ve got one in front of me. And I have a corkscrew. I don’t think I can stop."
“You must stop,” Raj told me. “You’re using those wines to fill a hole in your soul, a hole that will never heal until you fill it with leaner wines, with wines that won’t make you want a second glass. Trust God, Ron. If He had wanted us to drink wines over 15% ABV, wouldn’t He have made them taste better with communion wafers?”
“But I love these wines! The flavors! The texture! The richness! I don’t think I can live without them.”
“Put the corkscrew down, Ron. I feel your pain. Don’t forget, I’m also a recovering Higher Alcoholic. You can do it. Pleasure is just an illusion, a trick. It’s not what wine is about. Wine is about terroir, wine is about leanness and the search for authenticity, wine is about following the true path. Ours is the true path. Our path is sacrifice and the denial of pleasure. Our path takes work, and the ability to find satisfaction in places where none exists. Our path is what makes us human. Their path is about drinking what you like, when you like, as much as you like. Does that make sense to you? I think you’re smarter than that.”
Raj was right, and I knew it. My Higher Alcohol addiction had cost me everything. I’d lost all credibility as a former sommelier. I was a laughing stock at wine competitions. I had a wine cellar full of horrible, addictive, manipulated, sexy, delicious, sumptuous, evil, obnoxious wines only an ignoramus would drink. I had to stop drinking them. I was like a sex addict who was blind to the obvious fact that the hottest women are anorexic. So what choice did I have, really? One just doesn’t go against the tide of wine opinion based simply on personal preferences. That's stupid. That’s not what the wine business is about. It’s about trends. Trends make money. Jump on the latest trend. Because of the tireless proselytizing of the leaders of HAA, wine lovers know now that you judge wine like you judge people--fat is bad, skinny is fashionable. Fat is self-indulgent and speaks to something seriously unbalanced. Skinny is beautiful, desirable and closer to perfection. Fat means poor, thin means rich. Lean and low, that's the hot new trend. How had I not seen what is so obvious? I was grateful to Raj, and to all recovering Higher Alcoholics, for teaching me how wrong I have been about wine. My entire wine life a pathetic charade.
I put the corkscrew down. Raj’s job was done, and he went back to pretending he made wine. I had passed one more test. I opened a bottle of Lioco and felt the adrenaline rush of authenticity. I felt alive again. The pucker, the absolute absence of generosity, the comforting thought of “this would go good with oysters,” the overwhelming desire to put my glass down and not finish the bottle—I’d found the right path.
My name is Ron, and I’m a Recovering Higher Alcoholic. Anyone need a sponsor?
I mean... come on... nobody likes delicious things... delicious things are just wrong.
Fabulous. I laughed for 10 minutes. I must start a chapter of HAA in New York soon. It will be filled to capacity. Memebrs can bring their over 15% alcohol wines to the meeting and pour them down the drain as a sign of their conversion. Bob Millman
Vive la 15%+ ABVs! Amen.
My balls tighten too at the thought of 21% Ports and 19% Madeiras, such wondrous love lubricants. These LPR's (Liquid Panty Removers)in fact make my genetalia feel anything but useless!
Remember when Turleys were sold on the secondary market (they may still be) to slavering HAA folks (yours truly included). But as I got older, my tolerance for 17% ABV ended.
The last time I had one, I had to be driven from my sofa to bed!
Loved this piece. I am guilty of waving the low alc banner, but then my wines come from a cooler climate farm. When I taste a huge, rich, ripe red, I do smile. It is nice to have access to both; the oft food friendlier low alc wine, and the high alc fruit jam bomb that is more a meal in a glass.
Wine isn't about delicious, it's about terroir and acidity and denial of pleasure. Which is why we love it.
Thanks. Though I don't think NY needs a chapter. Doesn't everyone there drink Moscato?
You need help. You're in huge denial. Acceptance of your addiction to Higher Alcohol is the First Step. I'll be your sponsor.
I think you're supposed to drink those, not use them for lubricants. But to each his own.
I'm a good back seat driver if you ever need one again.
Thanks. Low alcohol wines are not, by definition, better with food. Residual sugar can be a food killer. As can out-of-balance alcohol at any percentage. Every wine stands on its own, and those who first glance at the alcohol level listed on the label are truly the lost.
I remember when I was trying to educate myself about wine, a hopeless task yes, but reading Karen MacNeil's Wine Bible where she wrote she'd scream if she drank one more chard that tasted of oak and butter.. well gee, I thought, I love oak and butter.. I'll scream if I taste one more chard that tastes like water or a pinot that tastes like KoolAid.. or one more review that uses the word balance.. sorry Ron, can't join you at the HAA meeting, I'd rather go to hell drinking wines I like..
Devil's Advocate alert.
To David: if you like oak and butter, why do you drink wine?
Alcohol is part of wine's makeup. Oak and butter, not so much.
Just so you know, I found the Wine Bible an insipid drink, but that's probably because I already knew everything.
Is there a better way to get oak into your diet? Become a beaver?
I agree about the Wine Bible, it's pretty dull, but I wish I'd thought of the name first. I'm so stupid. I went for the Wine Koran. Or is that Qu'ran? Or Korean?
Stop baiting my common taters.
Nuthin' like a little lightly toasted, buttered oak with my eggs! Hey Thomas - I thought malo-lactic fermentation was kinda natural and oak may have been used for a few years to stow wine?
When I went to my 28 day HAA retreat they said the first step was to acknowledge there is a higher power - and that I am not it.
"Wine as a denial of pleasure?" Hmmm, I'm going to try that line out today at lunch, where 4 of us will be bringing a bottle. Get back to you in about 5 hours with the reactions!!! :)
Hey Tim, nice to see, er hear you again:
I know that you know that the first use of oak was to traffic and store wine, not to age it and impart flavor--not on purpose anyway. That practice probably came about after someone noticed that a crummy wine had developed some sort of taste after a long time in wood. These days, the process seems to have been reversed...
ML certainly is natural, as long as your wine's pH is above 3.2 and your acids fit the profile. Of course, it isn't fun if it naturally takes place in the bottle, but that's another story. In any case, why do winemakers induce ML in wines that aren't going to go in that direction on their own? Wouldn't it be just as easy to add butter or cream?
One again, pee-in-your-pants hilarious!
Of course, you're a Higher Power! You're an M.W.! Just use your powers wisely, for good and not for evil. Don't follow the 12 Steps to Pancho Campo.
Too much of wine talk, these days, seems a bit in favor of the denial of pleasure--ultimately, isn't the assigning of points about the denial of pleasure?
Have a great lunch, come back and be a happy buzzed common tater--my favorite kind.
Would you add butter or cream before or after you de-alked? Oh, boy, this is tricky stuff.
Thank you. I think.
One of the first responsibilites of the humorist is to be bitingly honest.
This is great stuff and is already an instant classic.
What about Ron's post?
Instant classic!? Wow, that's very kind, and much appreciated. Is that like Instant classic Zin where you just add water?
Don't make me be bitingly honest.
the last couple paragraphs were fantastic. i just worked 50 hours in 4 days, and yours was the first wine blog i came to. which proves that i'm a terrible winemaker. and that your blog is ok too
That you dialed up HoseMaster first after your long harvest shifts, I'll take as a huge compliment. That you're a terrible winemaker I'll take as fact. No, I meant humility.
Thanks, Gabe, for being a loyal HMW common tater.
thanks for making laugh, ron. vintage of the holocene!
Dammit, I completely forgot to mention the 'wine as a denial of pleasure' theory over lunch :( I will save it for the next occasion :) I guess we were all practicing the 'wine as a source of pleasure' theory instead!!!
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