Thursday, December 5, 2013

The HoseMaster's Best Wine Books of 2013

Every December I anxiously await the publication of the New York Times Ten Best Books list. The five that are non-fiction I ignore. Like most wine bloggers, I despise facts. But every year for the past I don’t know how many, I’ve made it a point to read their five picks for best fiction. Some of them suck. And I mean really suck, like self-published-autobiography suck. Like college-student-poetry suck. Like Best-of –Mutineer-Magazine suck. But not very often. Often I’ve read one or two of the books already. But at least, unlike the Top 10 Wine Spectator Wines of the Year, I can buy the damned things--and at their original price. (By the way, in a year when the legendary 2010 Bordeaux were released, and the great 2010 Napa Cabernets, as well as astonishing wines from the Southern Rhone and fantastic wines from Barbaresco and Tuscany, it was nice to see an old Spanish Gran Reserva Rioja named Wine Spectator’s #1 Wine of 2013. Reminiscent of the year Bert Parks was actually named Miss America.)

I’ve spent countless hours this year not reading countless wine books. Christmas is nearly upon us, so I thought it might be helpful to present The HoseMaster’s Best Wine Books of 2013. Plus, it’s a really easy premise. They make perfect gifts for the wine lover in your life, who will happily place it unread among his hundreds of other unread wine books. Nobody reads wine books, after all, like only weirdos read cookbooks; but they look mighty pretty on the bookshelf, and serve to convey the wine lover’s dedication to his chosen method of getting fucked up and ruining the Holiday for everyone.


Sure, there are a handful of experimental winemakers in California, but, as Tim Fish writes in his provocative new book, “They’re just historical farts.” Fish dismisses the current trend for seeking out unusual varieties, using interesting but little-known facts. “Ribolla? How good can that be? Humans got that from chimpanzees.” Consumers who want to understand wine, and appreciate wine’s long history in California, should focus instead on The Same Old California Wines. Fish profiles luminaries such as Mike Grgich. “Grgich has made the same damn wine for almost fifty years. You want history? Well, my friends, Grgich is definitely history.” Of Beaulieu Vineyards Georges de la Tour Private Reserve, Fish reminds us, “If it weren’t for Georges de la Tour, there wouldn’t even be a Napa Valley. It was his buses that filled tasting rooms.” And Fish conveniently lists the only twelve wine grapes in California you really need to know. “Any more than that, and, frankly, you’re just showing off.”

WHY TO LOVE WINE by Eric Asimov

A sequel to his blockbuster “How to Love Wine,” “Why to Love Wine” focuses on, well, why to love wine. Asimov, in his usual Annoyingly Patient Parent voice, explains in simple terms why everyone should love wine. “A glass of wine represents history, agriculture, car wrecks, unwanted pregnancies, and terroir, that’s why.” Along the way, Asimov relates interesting personal stories. “I think I was born to love the feeling I get when I drink a couple of glasses of wine. You would think the same thing if your uncle made you dress in tinfoil and obey the Three Rules of Robotics.” Asimov writes convincingly about so many of the reasons you should love wine. Among them, “The wine industry is the largest employer of misfits and drifters in the developed world.” Also, “Do it just to piss off the Mormons.” And, best of all, “Wine makes you seem important.”


Everyone knows it’s not easy to be Alice Feiring. Just ask her. Traveling the world, alone, talking to the kind of men your mother warned you about. Men living in remote places with little income and a few too many farm animals residing in the house. In her indefatigable campaign to preach the gospel of the One True Living Wine, the Only Wine Thou Shalt Worship, she has forgotten one thing. Her own peace and happiness. Wait, that’s two things. Never mind. In this unforgettable book, called simply “SAVED!” by both its admirers, Feiring confesses to self-doubt, “with absolutely nothing else added.” She writes about the early days of her wine religion, “when everyone drank wine more manipulated than a teenage boy’s dingdong.” In the end, it’s a book about the three P’s of self-promotion: Perseverance, Proselytizing, and Prevarication. It’s one woman’s struggle with a business that just doesn’t love her for who she really is, just uses her, like everyone else always has. Eric Asimov, in his blurb, insightfully remarks, “Hell, at least you didn’t have to wear tinfoil panties.”

MAKING FUN OF CELEBRITY WINES by Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson

What in the wine business can deliver a healthier dose of schadenfreude than lousy wines made with celebrity money? Oh, sure, rich Mammon worshippers buying fake DRC from an Asian dork triggers the same lovely glow, but the damn prison sentence ruins the laughs. Johnson and Robinson examine the recent glut of celebrity wines and find that the power of stars only works for biodynamic wines, not highly-paid consultant wines. “I’m not sure which is more offensive,” writes Johnson, “the idea that people will pay more for wine because there is a celebrity behind it, or the insipid marketing materials that imply the celebrities actually do any work.” Among the wines discussed and dismissed, Yao Ming’s Napa Valley Cabernet (“It’s 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Pituitary Gland”), Drew Barrymore’s Pinot Grigio (“Thin and empty. And the wine’s no good either.”), and Dave Matthews’ Virginia Viognier (“If you think his singing is flat, wait until you put this in your mouth. Yes, Virginia, there is a de-alc machine.”) All in all, Making Fun of Celebrity Wines is an indispensable guide to everything wrong with our culture.


Daniel said...

you left out Brangelina's $15 rose that sells for $25...

Unknown said...

Making fun of Dave Mathew's insipid music.... Samantha is going to kill you...

Steve Lay said...

Was Boone Farm a Daniel Boone wine?

Quizicat said...

“The wine industry is the largest employer of misfits and drifters in the developed world.”
And here I thought that was the TV industry.

Quizicat said...

Oh, and speaking of the 'Top 100' Who says that putting lovely multi-page advertisements in a magazine doesn't pay off?

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Yeah, I did, though I thought of it. In fact, I deleted a rather tasteless joke about African orphans that I shan't repeat. As for the pricing, as Brad Pitt found out, you always pay for the packaging.

Oh, my Gorgeous Samantha has more than enough reason to kill me aside from that joke. I'm just hoping he contacts me before he contacts her--now that would make her kill me.

No, that's Fess Parker winery.
Sorry, too easy.

I've worked in both industries. Believe me, the wine biz has way more misfits and drifters. TV has more prevaricators and douchebags.

And no one says putting full-page ads in industry rags doesn't pay off--no one I know anyway.

Marcia Macomber said...

Scary, I can see Bert Parks wearing the Miss America tiara! ...and singing his own theme song.

So that would be natural self doubt for Ms. Feiring. (No comment on the tinfoil panties...)

And I thought the problem with Yao Ming's wine was not being able to find a glass with a long enough stem...

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Marcia Love,
Yao's wine would probably demand a dribble glass.

I view this kind of piece as a throwaway, and I wish I'd avoid them. But I've seen a dozen lists of recommended wine books, and none showed any imagination. That said, it's at least better than everyone's lists of their favorite wines of 2013. There's something about that conceit that annoys me. My first response is "Who asked you?"

But then, I'm just tired of the list thing in general. It's a lazy way to kill space. And usually has ulterior motives. Even The New York Times Ten Best Books list has always only been about the major publishing houses. But here's one list clearly compiled by a genius:

Samantha Dugan said...

Castrate. I would castrate you if he contacted you first. Won't happen, he loves me, I can hear him tell me over and over. Of course the trap door to the hidden "play room" under my bed isn't insulated, and he loves me best when I bring him the Gruner Veltliner so he's clearly deranged. Whatever I love him but nearly as much as, well you know.

Thomas said...


I went to that blog of six. Got past the cutesy writing--barely--and was glad to see that you made it on the list of six, which included Palate Press and an aggregation blog.

Is that going up or going down?

Ron Washam, HMW said...

My Gorgeous Samantha,
Hey, have you ever had Dave's wines from Virginia? Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Margherita.

As for castration, you're way late. I had that done years ago so I could sing like Earth, Wind and Fire.

I was pretty shocked to see my name on that list, or any list, of notable wine bloggers. But I was really pleased by the absence of so many of the online boneheads I wouldn't want to be associated with.

To answer your question, Hey, who doesn't like to go down every now and then...

Unknown said...

that was really f'ing funny.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Thanks, Gabe.

Hmm, reading HoseMaster at midnight, drinking a bit...yeah, that would make me fucking funny.

Great to see you, Gabe. Thanks for the kind words.