Thursday, February 27, 2014

Lo Hai Qu Attends the Napa Valley Wine Writers Symposium

I don't know how she came up with the cash, there are things you just never want to know about Lo Hai Qu, but my rather crazy intern attended the Wine Writers Symposium at Meadowood a couple of weeks ago. She asked me if she could write about the experience. Like an idiot, I said yes. OK, buckle up, here we go.

So when I decided to go to the Napa Valley Wine Writers Symposium I was kinda thinking that it would be a lot of fun to hang out with a bunch of wine writers. Like we’d get wasted on really good wines every night, wake up naked with somebody new every morning, like, wouldn’t that be the coolest thing if you had Alzheimer’s?, and the rest of the time we’d do fun shit like steal golf carts from room service guys and play Demolition Derby. Yeah, what the fuck was I smokin’? Those people put the “simp” in symposium. I mean, I walk in there all pornstarred looking, you know, like five inch heels, fishnets, and tight skirt that’s so short that whenever that old lech Jay McInerney exhales I can feel the blow on my blowhole, and nobody hardly notices. All these dorks, and, wow, this is one ugly crowd, it’s like they took the castoffs from “Biggest Loser” and asked them to dress like they’re in a trailer park, and they’re the fucking trailers, and all these fools can talk about is Robert Parker. I’m not even sure who that is. He invented some scale, but, shit, I hope it’s one helluva scale cuz lots of these writer types would have no trouble busting some ordinary scale.

I wasn’t very happy after the first get-together with these people. I was down like Motown, all lonely and abandoned, and looking at nothing but stupid writing seminars on stuff I don’t care about like How to Write Tasting Notes, and How to Pitch Stories, and How to Get Over How Sad Your Wine Writer Dreams Are. But, I told myself, Lo, come on bee-atch, make the best of it, don’t worry too much about that shit, just do what you always do. Find a way to annoy these losers. That will be fun.

So like me, these people were supposedly wine writers. I guess if you can pony up the couple of grand to attend this deal, you’re a wine writer, like if you go a couple of nights to bartending school you’re a fucking mixologist. Yeah, I went to Meadowood to Wine Writers school and now I’m Jonné Bonné Bo Bonné Banana Fanna Fo Fonné. But most of them just had lame blogs or wrote for online magazines, cuz, you know, that’s where the future of wine writing is. Like, they think me and my friends are totally givin’ the old wine critics memberships in the Go Fuck Yourself Club and are gonna start reading shit on blogs about what wines to buy. Really? Me and my friends just drink whatever cheap wine that, like, rappers are drinking, or whatever’s in the 50% off shopping cart at the Albertson’s. We go online to read about ourselves, not stupid wine. Or, most of the time, to see if our girlfriends posted their tits on Reddit. I don’t know about those people at the Napa Valley Self-Delusional Fest, but I write about wines, I don’t read what other people write about wine. That’s how it works. You just walk around pretending you read other people’s stuff, like, “Hey, I loved that post where your dog says that terroir is wherever you lift your leg and spray your love juice,” only you didn’t read their blog you just know they’d write something douchey like that. And then they pretend they read your shit. “Oh, you’re Lo Hai Qu! Didn’t you win a Wine Blog Award for your piece on what wines go with stir-fried endangered species?” Ever notice how the smaller the talent, the bigger the need for acknowledgment? 
The keynote address—fuck, I was embarrassed, I thought they said Keno address and I kept asking people where to buy the cards—was by that Robert Parker guy. I texted my friend Loqueesha, sent her his picture, and asked her if she knew who Robert Parker was, and she said, no, but she thought he was one of those guys on “Duck Dynasty,” which I guess is some weird fucking show where they take that old TV show “Dynasty” and have ducks act out the parts. People will watch any shit they put on TV for free. Which is like wine blogs, right? Oh, free?, sure, we’ll read that. You want me to pay? Check your mail, I’ll be sending you a Go Fuck Yourself Club membership card along with my check for zero dollars and kiss my ass cents.

The HoseMaster wanted me to take some notes during the speech made by the Duck Dynasty guy, which I did, but, a lot of the time I was dozing off, so I probably got some of it wrong. It seemed like a lot of those wine writers came to hear this Parker guy but they didn’t like him, so it’s like paying to go to a Yanni concert if you have any taste in music. You hate him as soon as your clenched little butthole hits the seat. So that was weird, it was like this weird mix of people who had the Duck man up on a pedestal, worshipped him like he was something they’d never achieve, like an original idea, and a whole bunch of people who thought he was an arrogant old windbag who’d fucked up their whole pathetic little wine business, like he was to blame for all that’s shitty in wine writing, like he’s the fucking A-Rod of wine. So I wrote down some of the stuff he said, but I was kind of wasted from this lunch I had with this wine writer dude who turned out to be softer than a four dollar Moscato, so I might have misheard some of it.

“The climb to the top is what makes it worthwhile. Once you get to the top, there’s nothing there except a shitpile of money.”

“My alleged thin skin is actually quite thick, like my wallet. Chew on that, wannabes.”

“I wish I knew more of you, but, really why bother? I also wish Miley Cyrus would return my calls, so I wish all kinds of shit I don’t mean.”

“The truth is on my side. History is on my side. A tattoo of Michel Rolland is on my side. Your foot is on my side. Get off my goddam side!”

I got kinda depressed for the rest of the simp/osium. Mostly everything was about how to make money at something where’s there’s no money to be made. It was like telling homeless people who ask you for money to “Go get a job.” Yeah, that’s helpful. Homeless people can’t get jobs, and they dress better than most of the wine writers. I went to this thing where I was supposed to “pitch” ideas to some chick named Talia who runs this online magazine called “Punch.” So I Googled this Punch, and surer than FaceBook is for old people, this site is just like actual punch—all sweet and sticky, but pretty much empty and worthless, and totally forgotten two minutes after you finish it. So they named it right. Let me Talia, she didn’t much like the ideas I had. So, like, what’s wrong with interviewing leading sommeliers and asking them if they cry about how worthless their lives are? That’s cutting edge. Talia just kinda stared at me, but I know she was just jealous cuz I was rocking my “Yellow Tail” tube top. And she didn’t like my idea for an article on sleeping your way to the top of the wine writing business either, which is how I was gonna write off this whole conference on my taxes, so there goes that.

You know, for my money, the whole thing was a total waste of time, which I guess is like most wine writing. So that figures. Like all I got was some really good advice from these gurus, like, “Don’t give your content away for free, but good luck selling it.” And “Maybe writer’s block is a blessing in your case.” But I did get to meet a lot of real, authentic, natural wine writers, though I didn’t know any of them. They’re kind of a sallow looking group of people, kind of all yellowish most of ‘em, like their kidneys moved to Pakistan. Everyone said they were some of the most powerful wine writers in the whole country, except that the Duck Dynasty guy was the one they were tired of, and couldn’t stop talking about, when they weren’t talking about their blog stats, so I figured he was the real powerful one. Funny thing, they could all tell you a million things wrong with that Parker guy, see all the harm he’d caused in the world, tell you how the wine world would be better of if he’d never been born. Not one of them had ever looked in a mirror.

Monday, February 24, 2014

The HoseMaster's Comprehensive Guide to Wine 2

Why waste your money on all of those Introductory Wine Guides written for Complete Idiots, Dummies, the Addlepated, the Thunderstruck and the WSET candidate when you have the HoseMaster's Comprehensive Guide to Wine? Here's Part Two. You're welcome.


You often hear the phrase, “Wine is made in the vineyard.” Really? Then why’d you build a fucking winery? I suppose you make T-Bone steaks in the pasture. There are endless little aphorisms about wine that you’ll have to learn to ignore. Another one: “Wine is proof that God loves us, and wants us to be happy.” God does not want us to be happy. That’s not what wine proves. Wine is proof that God loves us, and hates Mormons. Man, who makes up these stupid sayings?

Wine is made from grapes, and only grapes. Yes, there is a category called “Fruit Wines.” Don’t be fooled. Fruit wines are not wine. They’re basically spiked juice boxes. And they’re perfect for children! Some people also make wines from vegetables, like rhubarb. These are not wines. Fermenting vegetable juice to make wine is like grinding rose hips to make coffee. Just plain stupid. Grinding hips, everyone knows, is to make lap dances. Lap dances, in fact, are proof that God loves us, and wants us to be happy.

After the grapes are harvested (a fancy word for “picked”), they are brought to the winery where they are crushed. Many are crushed because they’ve been brought to such a shitty winery. Grapes have dreams, too. Once the grapes have been crushed, tiny little organisms go to work on them. These are called “cellar rats.” Yeast is also present, and the yeast go to work converting the sugar in the grape juice to alcohol. Yeast eat all the sugar until they die, much like we do to inner city children. Now the grape juice is officially wine! How easy is that? It begs the question, why do we put winemakers on pedestals? I guess because we’re too polite to say no when they ask us to.

Many wines are then placed in vessels to age. Most of the vessels are made of wood, like they were in the days of Columbus. Well, wood floats--all you need is a couple scoops of ice cream. And wood also breathes, though its breathing is rather labored because the barrels are smoky. Most of the barrels are made from French oak. The oak from France is preferable to, say, American oak because when it comes to nuance and flavor, as with everything else, France surrenders easily. France has many large oak forests that are devoted to wine barrel production, the most famous of which are Limousin, Nevers, Alliers, and, the most popular for winemaking these days, Chips. Chips is located near a nuclear power plant, the famous Fission Chips.

In barrel, red wines go through a secondary fermentation called malolactic fermentation, or ML, for short. During malolactic fermentation, bacteria convert malic acid to Euros, charging a small fee. This is why ML adds richness to wine. In recent times, ML was also introduced to some white wines, most notably Chardonnay, in order to make it more expensive. The result of ML is that the white wines often taste “buttery,” or “creamy,” or “overpriced.”

Some wines go through a third fermentation in the bottle, and are referred to as Wine-of-the-Month Club wines.

Corks are made from the bark of an oak tree, Quercus suber. No one knows who first discovered the properties of cork, but it’s believed to be a farmer who observed dead beavers floating.

Corks that aren’t sterilized properly can cause a wine to have off-notes. The same is true for members of the Vienna Boys Choir.



There are thousands of varieties of grapes from the species Vitis vinifera that are used to make wine. The exact number is not known. Only about eight really matter. This has many parallels with wine blogs. Yours isn’t one that does.

Vitis vinifera is native to the Mediterranean region. Many of the finest wines in the world come from the Mediterranean crus, though I had some good ones on an Alaskan crus once. Vitis vinifera is now cultivated worldwide, and also in New Zealand. There are about 60 species of Vitis, but it is vinifera that makes the best and most important wines. Wines made from other grape species will get you equally drunk, but, really, is it worth it? Have you had those wines?

These don’t make the best wines, and are usually found only in Native American casinos.

The botanical cycle of a wine grape is fairly simple. The vines are dormant all winter, and spend most of their time in Florida. When spring arrives, the vines awaken and begin to bud. The older and smarter vines bud a bit later, which is helpful in avoiding frost. This is why you’ll often see vineyard workers enjoying the frosty bud wiser.

Next, the vines will flower. Flowers are self-pollinating, like Lesbian couples. When the flowers pollinate they form the new grapes. This time of the grape’s cycle is called “set.” You want a good set. This is one of life’s truisms. Once the grapes have set they begin the job of accumulating sugar and forming clusters. Before long, the grapes turn color. The grapes have reached veraison. Depending on how the grapes are trellised, it could be regular veraison, or, if head-pruned, it could be veraison wireless.

Once the grapes have then reached the winemaker’s desired level of maturity and ripeness, they are harvested. Great attention is paid to the level of sugar the grapes have accumulated, which is measured in degrees Brix. Brix measures the sugar content of a solution. The origins of degrees Brix is shrouded in some mystery, but most experts believe it was conceived by the great French chemist, Dr. Francois Shitta.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Robert Parker on The Road to Shanghai

World-renowned wine critic Robert M. Parker Jr will kick off his "Grand World Tour", hosting a series of interactive wine events, in Beijing on Feb 26. He will then head to Shanghai on March 1 and 2 and Hong Kong from March 4 to 6. According to Parker, the events have been designed to engage wine lovers at multiple levels. --from a press release 2-12-2014

Good Evening, Ladies and Gentlemen. It’s great to be here in Shanghai, or as they call it in Bordeaux, “Our 2013 Warehouse.” My name is Robert Parker, and I’ve come to educate you about wine. I’m the most famous wine critic in the world. People say I am the most powerful tongue since Mao Tse. Tonight we’re going to learn a little bit about wine, how to evaluate wine, and how to recognize fake wines. The Chinese market is full of fake Bordeaux, just like the wine world is full of fake experts. How can you tell the difference between genuine and fake? Easy. The smell. Have you even met James Suckling? Oh, but I kid…

Now, listen, everybody and his goddam assistant winemaker is making their way to China to try and get in good with you people. Man, there’s a lot of you, and you know what those guys are seeing? Dollar bills. Moolah. Yen. They got a yen for your yen. They’re dreaming of yenburgers and yengasms. They want yen lining in their designer pants pockets. They’ll put their sticky fingers in your sticky buns. Translate that, weird guy making hand signals behind me. Don’t I know you from the Mandela funeral service? They’re all going to tell you their wines are the most prestigious, most desirable, most famous wines in the world. Don’t believe them. It’s my job to tell you what the most prestigious, desirable and famous wines are. Listen, I do it for white people, I can do it for you.

I started my publication, The Wine Advocate, back before Bordeaux was important. Just to give you a little background on the history of Bordeaux, there was a Great Classification of Bordeaux Vineyards done in 1855. Then nothing much happened until I declared 1982 the greatest vintage ever. You know, really, you don’t want to drink the wines from before that. They may have been good, but who was there to really notice? Sure, a bunch of British guys, but, well, these were primitive wine critics who were unable to use the 100 Point Scale. It’s hard to believe, but most of the Bordeaux produced between 1855 and 1982 were never evaluated using the 100 Point Scale. So buying those wines would be like having sex with a porn star who hasn’t recently had a blood test.. Think of the 100 Point Scale as your Guaranteed Condom of Wine Pleasure.

I can see that a few of you are unfamiliar with the 100 Point Scale. It’s the accepted measure of wine’s quality. It’s an easy concept to grasp. Think of it terms of Human Rights. Now, we start at 50 Points. Those are points awarded for simply being human. The Rights part isn’t something we take for granted. Add points for freedom of speech, for strict child labor laws, for freedom to worship any other wine critic or God, and so on. The highest points wins. So China would get 34 on the Human Rights 100 Point Scale whereas the United States gets a solid 93. OK, sure, we depend on your 34 for our iPhones and electronics and cheap clothes, but that’s a different story.

Wine works about the same way. It gets 50 points for being wine. Well, it makes sense. When we taste wines for ratings, we don’t spend much time with them. In a sense, we taste them halfway. So by starting at the halfway point, 50, we’re making it fair. Then we add points for color and aroma and texture and intensity. Just random points, it’s not really very precise. It’s a little bit like judging at the Summer Olympics. That gymnast from the USA gets 9.9, while the gymnast from China gets 9.2. Why? Well, it’s the same reason Cabernet Sauvignon can get a 99, but a damn Beaujolais is never going to go over 92. One is just naturally better than the other. So, great vintage in Bordeaux? 19 perfect scores. Great vintage in Chile? Yeah, right, Chile. So it’s pretty simple.

Once you’ve grasped the idea of the 100 Point Scale, you’re almost a wine connoisseur. In front of you are six wines. All of them have scores, but they aren’t listed on your programs. Now, if you want to cheat, you can sign up for my eRobertParker website and look them up. I’d encourage you to do that. For only what it costs you to employ 300 young girls for piecemeal labor for an entire year, you can utilize my wine insight year round! That’s a remarkable bargain. And, you’ll also have exclusive access to the most interesting wine chat room on the Internet. See, there’s one thing I learned from your government—control Internet access! You guys were so far ahead of us on that one.

Now let’s taste the six wines. Start by sticking your nose in them. Put your nose in as deep as you can. Good! You’re just like the guys on my chat room! Notice the color, take some notes on what aromas you’re getting from the wine, now taste it. Hold it in your mouth for a while, let the wine bloom in your mouth, then spit it out. What did it taste like, how would you characterize the texture, how long was the finish? OK, now that you’ve asked  yourself those questions, fuck it. Give it a number. That’s what matters. The rest is just like the plot in a video game—window dressing. It’s all about scoring.

How many said 92 for the first wine, raise your hands? Wow, a lot of hands. Looks like a North Korean rally. And you got it right. Can you tell me what grape it’s made from? Of course not! And who cares? What is this, Chinese Jeopardy? Actually, I tricked you all a little bit. All six of the wines are 92 point wines! Yup. I know, amazing. 92 is a pretty rare number. I tell my contributors to think about a 92 point wine like you think about ballet—hell, you’re just pretending to like it. See, every score has its own personality. You’ll learn. Just taste these six wines. Yeah, I can see, most of you are pretending to like them. There you go. 92 points. I’m making it seem easy, but it’s really not. Imagine having to taste 150 wines in one day, AND give them scores. It’s not like these are imaginary numbers either. These are the real scores. See, really hard to do.

Now that you’ve learned how to taste wine, let’s talk a little about how to spot a fake wine. You can’t. Hard to spot a fake when you don’t even know what a real one looks or tastes like. But it doesn’t matter! Your Chinese friends don’t know either. And, really, what matters about wine isn’t its reputation, or its history, or its rarity. What matters is how much you paid for it. The same is true for subscriptions to wine publications. Or sex workers. If there’s a difference.

Wine is about ceremony and privilege. Don’t let anybody tell you otherwise. Don’t believe idiotic statements like, “Just drink what you like.” That’s mealy-mouthed, Western society, democratic, Year of the Horseshit. The people who say that don’t know anything about wine. They’re just cheap bastards. Or worse—bloggers. Those morons.

I predict that one day, very soon, China will become the world’s largest consumer of the world’s greatest wines. Even if most of them are fake, so what? We’re just paying you bastards back for all the fake Chanel we buy.

Thank you and good night.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Ethics? Ethics? We Don't Need No Stinking Ethics!

It's hard to remember, but I think this piece was written after a wine blog written by one of the anonymous (at the time) judges of the Wine Blog Awards won a Wine Blog Award. It doesn't matter. The piece, written in the Angry Young HoseMaster style, received a lot of comments. When I recently re-read it, I felt like it could have been written yesterday, though it was originally written in August 2010. I like the voice, well, as much as I ever like what I write, so here it is at the pinnacle of publication--a Best of HoseMaster!

Ask any wine blogger what the biggest roadblock to success in the wine business is and he'll undoubtedly answer, "Ethics." Stupid, useless ol' ethics. And not because he believes in ethics, that's clearly a waste of time, much like reading wine blogs published east of the Mississippi, but because there are not guidelines to these imaginary ethics. Just where are the lines that one isn't supposed to cross? And where are the lines one is supposed to obey? And the ones they promised me I could snort? You start a wine blog for purposes of personal gain, get a little bit of notoriety, and, BANG, someone goes and ruins the whole thing by bringing up ethics. You win a Wine Blog Award, an achievement equal to passing your driver's license exam without the actual driving test, and some ethics cop, some self-appointed moron of morality, some pompous penis of principles, comes along and points out you were a judge in the competition. All because of ethics! How stupid is that? What does it matter that you were a judge? You won fair and square! There are no ethics on the Internet. The Internet wasn't created so that the cretins of conscience could ruin it for everybody! The Internet can't survive if you expect ethical behavior. What sort of an idiot thinks that? No, the Internet was created so that we can do anything we fucking want to do and not have to answer for it. Christ, it's so obvious.

Nonetheless, ethical guidelines are sorely needed in the wine blog world, if only to know what to ignore. It's tiresome to go to all the trouble of writing a wine blog yet not get the satisfaction of knowing that you're absolutely unethical. I've been giving this issue a lot of thought. OK, I'm actually just making this up off the top of my head, but that's what you're supposed to do when you're blogging--make shit up as you go along. It's what all the top bloggers do. It's how they got to the top. Once again, it's the Internet. What does it matter whether what I write is thoughtful or original or, God forbid, accurate? Only the addlepated, dimwitted, thunderstruck and the anencephalic believe what they read on the Internet. Though that is the core group that reads Palate Press. Anyhow, I have given this issue great thought and now present the core set of Ethics for Wine Bloggers. I'll thank you to follow them.

Free Stuff

This is simple. You're entitled to it. You've got a wine blog, you work at it every day, you're on your journey to discover wine, wineries are supposed to send you samples. And if they don't, wineries can be incredibly stupid about not sending out enough free wine to the people, wine bloggers (duh), who will determine their very existence, just call them up and ask them for it! It's your ethical responsibility to ASK THE GODDAM WINERIES TO SEND YOU YOUR WINE. And don't make the egregious mistake of not telling them your shirt and hat sizes--they'll want to send you swag and can be very pouty if you don't seem to want any.

You are not obligated to report to your readers that the wines you review on your blog were sent to you for free. Who made that up? If you're using them, get rid of your stupid disclaimers. It's no one's fucking business where you got the wine from! The only things that matter are that you liked the wine, that it paired well with the lavish dinner the winery treated you to, and, above all, what kind of closure it had. No one needs to know you didn't pay a nickel for it. What kind of a lousy world would this be if we had to reveal every goddam thing we get for free? The whole country would devolve into anarchy. The IRS would be buried in paperwork. Hookers and pimps don't report their income! Explain to me the difference between wine bloggers and hookers and pimps! Yeah, pimps drive nicer cars, but other than that. Sure, unlike wine bloggers, hookers spit, but other than that. It's outrageous. Your ethical obligation is to say nice things about the wineries that give you free stuff, and only nice things. First off, you're not really qualified to judge wines, so why would you risk appearing stupid and ridicule that Moscato d'Asti for having some sort of chemical problem that makes it fizzy? Just say something nice, you got it for free, didn't your mother teach you to say thank you? This is so obvious, I wonder why it has to be said. Sheesh.


Again, this is simple. Everything you can think of, especially you, to say about wine has been said before and said far better than your miserable vocabulary allows you to say. Oh, goody, you discovered Aglianico, a wine that's been around for thousands of years but you're the first one to notice it's pretty good wine if you like that Southern Italian crap even though the ones they're starting to make in California are sooo much better. Great. Fascinating. I'm quivering with excitement. Believe me, everything you have to say about Aglianico, the grape and the free bottle of wine you're talking about, and every other wine, has been said more articulately and more eloquently. And yet, it is your ethical responsibility to bring the level of discussion down to where the kind of dolts who read wine blogs can understand it. Your job is to educate the poor slobs who know less than you about wine, the fools who've only been learning about wine for eight months when you've been reading Lettie Teague for years, the sad group of humans who don't know what to buy when they're shopping at BevMo and someone has torn down the Wilfred Wong recommendations and put up pictures of kitties instead, though the kitties would be more useful than Wilfred for explaining the crap BevMo sells. Your job is to say, in very simple phrases and poor English, what has been said before. This is how wine blogs work. Don't go trying to be original. Really. This is important. Just look at the top wine blogs. See anything original? No. Take a hint. Figure it out. Genius.

And when you're not reviewing wines or writing about your annoying children or filling your pointless blog with more links than a Jimmy Dean warehouse, you can always plug local events. After all, your eleven readers really want to know about the $150 per ticket Insipid Producers of Oregon Tasting with music by Celine Dion impersonator, Celine Dion. It it your ethical responsibility to post as often as possible without regard to meaningful content. Try to see your wine blog as spam. The meat, not the junk mail. You call that meat? You call that writing?

When reviewing wines that you don't really understand or you are incapable of describing, it is
perfectly ethical to simply quote from the fact sheet the winery provided, or reword the back label. There's no need to try to make up descriptors when the correct ones are right in front of you! The only ethical responsibility you have is to make certain no one knows you've borrowed from someone else's work. That would be misguided and can only lead to uncertainty and chaos. Better yet, why not just skip the stupid description and simply assign the wine a score? Scores cannot be questioned, and make lovely graphics besides. Lately, wine bloggers have begun to use badges instead of scores. I am completely in favor of this trend. Poodles becoming badgers. After all, both wine bloggers and badgers are in the weasel family.

Photo: Best New Wine Blog Nominess 2010

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Valentine's Day at Restaurant Gougé

It’s almost Valentine’s Day. Don’t panic. There are still plenty of tables available here at Restaurant Gougé, and we’ve got something very special planned for you and your Valentine. Chef Juan Toque Oberdelein has created a special menu, which will be paired with wines from our famous Wine Spectator Grand Award of Markup Excellence. Restaurant Gougé is very proud of our wine list, which has received countless kind reviews on Yelp.

“When we asked Sommelier Larry Anosmia, MS for a Champagne recommendation, he asked if I was going to use it to christen the old tugboat I was with. Nice touch.”—Barry M. Enema

“I didn’t recognize a single bottle of wine on the list. When I mentioned that to the sommelier, he said I should be grateful not to know how much the wines were marked up. ‘Imagine how happy you’ll be when you go to a wine shop to buy another bottle and it’s 80% cheaper!’”—Sam N. Ella

“I asked the sommelier to describe what Trousseau Noir tastes like. He said, ‘Like you’re an utter failure.’ He was right.”—“Red” Blotch

Your Valentine’s Day dinner at Restaurant Gougé begins with a celebratory glass of sparkling wine. Let’s hope you’re the one who gets here first and gets to drink it. Latecomers get a celebratory handshake. Then you and your Valentine will be treated to Chef Oberdelein’s signature appetizer of candied vinegar, water and cranberry juice—that’s right, his legendary Amuse Douche. Now you’re ready to steal a kiss!

You’ll love the romantic ambience of Restaurant Gougé. All the rooms are candlelit, and, so you know, we did, too, pay our fucking electric bill. And for Valentine’s Day, we’ll have strolling street musicians wandering the restaurant for your enjoyment. All we ask is you remember to check the back seat of your car before you drive home. The valets often let the street musicians sleep there. Yes, your Valentine’s Day will be one to remember if you’re wise enough to make a reservation at Restaurant Gougé.

Valentine’s Day is a day we look forward to every year. Yes, it’s a lot of extra work printing up menus with higher prices, and Chef Juan Toque Oberdelein spends all morning making certain the portions are smaller than usual, but it’s all worth it to see the looks on the faces of the people who don’t know any better and dine out on Valentine’s Day. It’s that stunned look of recently bolt-gunned cows, perhaps the very ones you had for dinner, that restaurant folks really enjoy.

We strongly recommend that you choose to order Master Sommelier Larry Anosmia’s wine pairings to go with your Valentine’s Day prix fixe menu. Working with Chef Oberdelein, Larry has selected only the finest Natural, Authentic and Certified Sensitive® wines to accompany each dish. But we’ll let Larry tell you a little bit about how he selects the appropriate wines.

“As Restaurant Gougé’s sommelier, it’s my feeling that most of the people dining with us on any given evening are here to meet me and be educated about wine. Dining, and conversing with loved ones or business associates, is obviously secondary to learning all I have to teach them about wine. So I’ve assembled a list of wines that guests are certain to be unfamiliar with in order to insure that they spend their money on the right sorts of wines, wines I like. I don’t buy wines based on scores, or cult status. I buy wines that make me look smart to other sommeliers. I could give a shit what customers think of me. For the wine by-the-glass program, I select only the finest closeout wines. Receiving deep discounts from importers and distributors eager to move wines otherwise dead in the water allows me to expose customers to wines they’d never be able to taste otherwise, because local wine merchants and prestigious discount chains won’t buy that crap. Our guests taste adequate wines, and Restaurant Gougé upholds its long tradition of outstanding profit margins. It’s a Win-Win!

“For Valentine’s Day, I was lucky enough to acquire some seriously discounted wines which are all from Natural Wine producers. What’s important when it comes to pairing wine with food is inconsistency. Just as every course from Chef’s kitchen comes out quite a bit different every time, a tribute to his ability to substitute lesser ingredients at the last minute, so will each bottle of these Natural Wines taste very different. Yes, occasionally two bottles in a row will taste remarkably consistent, but, for the most part, each bottle retains the right to taste different from the others in the case. By not adding sulfites to their wines, these fine Natural Wine producers take the guesswork out of trying to figure out what wines from their appellations taste like, no need to wrestle with that ol’ bugaboo Terroir, while at the same time providing a kind of Wine Lottery—and we all know humans enjoy a lottery! Heck, even I’m not sure what these wines were intended to taste like. Aside from bacteria soup.”

You and your Valentine are in for gustatory Nirvana here at Restaurant Gougé. Many of you have called asking for a copy of the Valentine’s Day menu. We’re guessing it will be exactly the same as last year’s menu, but for slightly higher prices. We’ve asked Chef Juan Toque Oberdelein for the menu, but he’s busy defrosting several courses from the deep freezer labeled “2/14/2013.” Rest assured that your Valentine’s Day feast will be one you’ll remember for a lifetime, and one your soon to be ex-Valentine will eventually laugh about.

Just remember, you have been gougéd until you’ve been Restaurant Gougé’d.

Monday, February 10, 2014

My Fickle Friend, the Somerston

Somerston Wine Company Wines I’m Using to Talk About Myself
Somerston 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley $120
Somerston 2010 Stornoway Napa Valley $90
Priest Ranch 2012 Grenache Blanc Somerston Estate Napa Valley $22
Priest Ranch 2012 Sauvignon Blanc Somerston Estate Napa Valley $26
Priest Ranch 2010 Petite Sirah Somerston Estate Napa Valley $40
Priest Ranch 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon Somerston Estate Napa Valley $48

I live and work in Sonoma County, and living here you often hear visitors remark, “I like Sonoma so much better than Napa. It’s not as touristy. Napa’s like Disneyland.” The Napa/Disneyland comparison has become jejune. Yet the people who express it seem to think they were the first one to think of it. Like wine blogs that begin, “Please join me on my journey to discover wine.” Oh, bite me. And it’s odd that people use Disneyland, a place most people love, to refer to a place they find overcrowded and obnoxious. I always compared Disneyland to Viagra—a one-hour wait for a three-minute ride.

I happen to love Napa Valley. I remember driving home through Napa Valley after a trip two college friends and I took to several National Parks on the west coast. At the time, I was a junior at Occidental College, I had no interest in wine, and wasn’t old enough to drink anyway. I guess we thought of Napa Valley as some version of a National Park, and we wanted to see it. The three of us worked in the same restaurant in Pasadena, and every damn restaurant in Southern California in those days had Charles Krug Chenin Blanc on the wine list, and Inglenook Chablis as the house wine. Even then people talked dry and drank sweet. I can still remember entering Napa Valley via Calistoga and seeing Napa’s famous “And the wine is bottled poetry” sign. That hack Stevenson could have written for the Wine Advocate with that gift for bullshit.

It was 1973, the year of the Gas Crisis, and, if memory serves, there were only about six tasting rooms along Highway 29—Charles Krug, Christian Brothers, Beringer, Heitz (I think), B.V., Inglenook and Robert Mondavi. (I’m sure someone will correct me.) We didn’t stop to taste, although one of my friends was 21, but just leisurely drove down the valley making our way home. At 20 (I was a few months from 21), I had never had an alcoholic drink, save for a swallow of beer an older cousin had given me when I was about 14, which promptly found the closest exit out my nose. I had never been to such a beautiful agricultural area. Perhaps it was that side trip, after three weeks on the road, a trip we took at the very last minute to see Napa Valley out of simple curiosity, that planted a seed that one day bloomed into my long love affair with wine. More likely, I’m still searching for bottled poetry. It’s at your grocer’s, right next to the bottled orgasms. And, of course, Boner in a Can.

Many years later, when wine had become a full-blown passion, but before I was a sommelier, I won a bunch of money on a game show, and, to celebrate, took my girlfriend to Napa Valley. We had a great time. Sadly, one of the last great times she and I would share. She died very young, and tragically, and when I want to remember her at her happiest, I remember those days in Napa, when money was no object, and the wines were cheap, and she was radiantly beautiful. I do miss you, Josephine.

One last thing, I coined my HoseMaster moniker in Napa Valley, at the old Robert Pepi Winery, now Cardinale, along Highway 29. That was in 1987. I’m assuming there’s a plaque. Or a curse. So I have many fond memories attached to Napa Valley.

Napa Valley comes in for endless criticism, and yet there’s no denying its place in the pantheon of great winegrowing regions. I find far more to love in Napa Valley than despise. People who utter the name “Napa” almost in disgust (and use the “Auto Parts” joke—yet another measure of a human’s stupidity), are the same people who most likely would kill to own a winery there, or a cellarful of the wines. Napa Valley was trendy back in the 1970’s, like Sicily is today, or the Jura. Brands like Caymus, Cakebread, Clos du Val, and Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars were in their infancy. Chateau Montelena and Stag’s Leap won the Paris Tasting in 1976. Heitz “Martha’s Vineyard” was the cult wine. Everyone wanted the ’74 Martha’s, though the ’73 was better, and maybe the ’75, for its special label. Napa won’t ever be trendy again, but for a few acres of Ribolla, any more than Bordeaux will become trendy, or the Barossa will become trendy. But chase trendy in the wine business, friends, without first understanding the classics, and you’ll never really know much. You’re just the girl wearing the meat dress.

For many years, I bought Miner Family Wines from their National Sales guy Jack Edwards. Jack is a standup guy, the epitome of the guy who pounds the pavement, wears the soles of his shoes thin, but never complains, and never wears you out with a Woe Is Me story when sales might not be where they should be when it’s not your damn problem. After a long career at Miner, Jack recently went to work for Somerston Wine Company. Jack offered to send me samples of their wines, and knowing Jack wouldn’t work for fools making lousy wine, I accepted. Here’s the part of the Wine Essay where the winery being reviewed starts reading, and most of you stop. The part where I actually talk about the wines. Are these Wine Essays too long? Yeah, I know, if you have to ask…

The Somerston Estate, from the website, looks pretty spectacular. More than 200 acres of vines on 1628 acres. Funny, they’re specific about the acreage, vague on how many are planted. Why I’m more than 60 years old, having lived 22,308 days. The property is “sustainably farmed,” one of those phrases than can mean anything, like “New and Improved!” But their heart is in the right place. They even raise sheep.

Jack sent me six wines. The first wine I tasted was the Priest Ranch 2012 Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley. Apparently, they also raise priests to keep the sheep company. No, actually, part of the property was known, historically, as the Priest Ranch, after some unfortunate guy who had Priest for a last name. They’re never going to let you teach gym class.

Does it seem like everyone loves Sauvignon Blanc these days? Thank God the days of calling it Fumé Blanc are over. Never trust a wine under an assumed name. If Sauvignon Blanc can be called “Fumé Blanc,” why can’t I call my cheap Pinot Noir “Burgundy?” Is Burgundy more important than Pouilly-Fumé? Is it OK to call my Chardonnay “Chassagnes” Chardonnay? Chassagnesonnay? I don’t know, it’s just stupid. Fumé Blanc should be illegal, like 5¢ Sales.

Oh, the wine. I found the Priest Ranch Sauvignon Blanc ponderous rather than refreshing. The aroma was of pineapple and some other tropical fruits (very vague, but that was sort of the problem), but more like canned fruit than fresh. Even over the course of a couple of hours, the wine just never came together. It clobbered my palate rather than caressed. I kept tasting heat on the finish, and the wine’s overall impression is one of great clumsiness, like the first time you try ice skating. The wine kept falling on its butt. This is not what I crave in Sauvignon Blanc. I love the beauty and power of a great Sancerre, the delicacy of their fragrance. And I also love a good white Bordeaux, so differently structured, more tightly wound and muscular, yet still screaming Sauvignon Blanc (and its ugly sibling Semillon). But the Priest Ranch 2012 Sauvignon Blanc seemed hopelessly lost. Well, one of us was.

Luckily, the Priest Ranch 2012 Grenache Blanc was a different story. Grenache Blanc seems to be one of the darling varieties these days, alongside Torrontes and Ebola Gialla. I’m not sure why, maybe just riding the coattails of its Noir brother? At the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition in early January, the panel I was on judged 11 Grenache Blanc. Only a few years ago, out of 5000 wines entered, there might have been one Grenache Blanc. Of the 11 entered this year, we gave one Gold Medal, though I found the wine flabby, even for Grenache Blanc. Most of the others were just lousy. Looking through my notes (blind tasted, of course), the word that appears most often is “boring.” Sounds like my dating profile. So I wonder at the current fixation on the grape.

I quite liked the Priest Ranch version. Fermented in stainless steel primarily, there’s nice stone fruit in the nose, a bit of fresh lime, and, overall, it had a liveliness to it that the Sauvignon Blanc didn’t. Wisely, I think, the wine didn’t undergo ML, and that keeps its acidity in the right place. It’s not at all boring. It has a nice presence, a nice mouthfeel, and even seems like Grenache Blanc, though I certainly can’t claim any expertise in Grenache Blanc. I will say that I liked it a lot more than my wife did. She found something quite unpleasant in the finish that I didn’t, a bitterness. Well, she’s married to me, she knows the taste of bitterness. I liked the wine, and at the price, which I’ve seen as low as $18, it’s worth a try. Unlike most Grenache Blanc from California out there.

I was anxious to try the Priest Ranch 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley. It’s the first 2011 Cabernet I’ve tasted from Napa Valley. 2011 won’t go down as a classic vintage for Napa Cabernet, it was a miserably cool and wet vintage, but it’s always fascinating to see what ends up in the bottle. The 2011 Priest Ranch has a listed alcohol level of 14.6%, pretty low for most vintages of Napa Cabernet these days, and it seems relatively accurate. Alcohol levels on wine labels are usually about as accurate as a one-legged archer. I liked this wine quite a bit. The nose showed blackberry, a lot of spiciness, and some underlying tobacco notes that I like in Cabernet. Of course, those tobacco notes are indicative of the coolness of the vintage. It’s already drinking nicely, deeper than I expected, and very accessible. It gained some richness after a few hours, but it was very drinkable from the very first moment, and that’s clearly the winemaker’s intent. At the price, and considering its tony address, it’s a nice bottle of wine, about as easygoing as serious Napa Cabernet gets. (I’m sure you can find it under $40 if you try.) But I wouldn’t want to be the guy selling 2011 Cabernets, a vintage nestled between the elegant 2010’s and what will surely be the exuberant 2012’s. Go get ‘em, Jack.

A few nights later, we tackled the Priest Ranch 2010 Petite Sirah Napa Valley. I would assume that when you are a professional wine critic, it’s your obligation to try to appreciate every grape variety. For me, and luckily I’m not a professional, I have a hard time enjoying Petite Sirah. For the most part, I find them simply very big and one-dimensional, like the average NBA player. Petite Sirah’s only job in life is to be big, like a Kardashian butt. Well, the 2010 Priest Ranch is big. You know those women who can put their entire fist in their mouth? That’s how I feel about drinking Petite Sirah. Now, as an objective critic, this is definitely a powerhouse Petite Sirah. Huge doesn’t begin to describe it. Intensely blackberry, with the iconic dash of pepper, it also has fierce tannins. This is certainly a wine that will live another 25 or 30 years, but it’s kind of like those poor, dramatically obese people Dick Gregory used to rescue. It will live for 25 years, but it won’t be that much fun. If you are a fan of huge, dense, chewy, tannic, monolithic Petite Sirah, you cannot do better than this 2010 Priest Ranch. After four days, it wasn’t any tamer than the first. Wow. After a glass, I looked like I’d been chewing betel nuts in Papua New Guinea.

As good as the Priest Ranch wines were, and I liked them all but the Sauvignon Blanc very much, for different reasons, the two wines under the Somerston label were even better. In fact, both were superb. They represent what Napa Valley can do best, make amazing wines from the Bordeaux varieties.

The Somerston 2010 Stornoway Napa Valley is an estate blend that’s 89% Merlot and 11% Cabernet Franc. I loved this wine. I’m a sucker for a wine that’s gorgeous from the first taste but then just keeps getting better and better as the evening wears on. That sort of energy is thrilling. It’s like a first date with a beautiful woman who then turns out to be funny and interesting and brilliant as well. I married one of those. The Stornoway is powerful, but also shows the restraint that great wines exhibit. You feel when you taste it that there’s always something more to discover underneath. My tasting notes say blackberry, black cherry, violets, mint and plenty of new oak. But there’s plenty of stuffing to soak up all the new oak, new oak that graciously stays in the background. The finish is lovely and very long, holding a sweet note like Renee Fleming. What a beautiful wine, very expressive, full of tension and energy. Yeah, it’s $90, but it can play in that league easily. Wouldn’t surprise me to see it age gracefully for more than a decade.

Finally, there’s the Somerston 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley. Who doesn’t love great Napa Valley Cabernet? Here’s one. Everything about this Cabernet is right, sadly, even the price. Like the Stornoway, it is sensational from the very first sip, though I did immediately decant it upon opening because I felt like it. And several hours later it was still gathering steam. What a beautiful profile a wine like this has, maybe Lauren Bacall in partial shadow. The fruit has great depth and intensity, plenty of cassis and blackberry, as it opened I sensed a bit of green olive, and always mocha and cloves. The wine is seamless, beautifully rendered, completely thrilling. It shared restraint with the Stornoway, but has even more power. And the overall impression is one of great elegance, yet more Lauren Bacall, and classic Cabernet Sauvignon presence. If they can keep this up, Somerston will soar to the top ranks of Napa Valley Cabernet. I can’t afford to play in that sandbox, but if I could, I’d be putting half a dozen of these in my cellar.


Thursday, February 6, 2014

The New Wine Fairy Tales: The Hound and the Magic Squirrel

Once there was a blind man who loved wine more than anything in his dark and lonely world. All day and all night he dreamed about wines from the far corners of the world. Wine was all the blind man would talk about, which would explain why he was so lonely.

“Will you shut the fuck up about wine?” his faithful guide dog would say. He wasn’t just any guide dog, he was an enchanted guide dog, and was very knowledgeable about wine. The guide dog would have been an M.W., but during the service exam he ate his own poop. With white wine.

“No,” the blind man said, “I will not shut up about wine! Wine is all I love in this miserable world. Now get your leash and take me to the wine auction!”

Every month the richest men in the realm auctioned off the rarest and most famous wines from their collections, rare and famous wine they had purchased a few years previous from other rich men in the realm. The precious and magic bottles had changed hands many times, for most of the richest men had no intention of drinking such rare and famous wines. The wines were for trading, like their much younger wives. Rich men need expensive hobbies. Most preferred wine as a hobby to women, because locking a wife in a cellar to collect dust was considered poor taste, plus, wine actually gets better with age.

The enchanted guide dog walked his blind master to the wine auction, where, at first, the blind man who loved wine wasn’t allowed to enter. The security guard questioned the blind man’s money and credentials.

“Have you seen my master’s wine cellar?” the enchanted guide dog inquired of the security guard.

“Can’t say as I have,” said the security guard.

“Well, neither has he!” quipped the enchanted guide dog, and with that, the two were permitted on the auction floor. No one can resist a funny dog. They’re so enchanting.

Many very rare and famous wines were being auctioned that day. The blind man wanted all of them, but was outbid by a different rich man on every lot. “Why can’t I be rich?” the blind man lamented. “I’d give anything if I just had enough money to buy all the rare and famous wines in the world!”

Downcast, the blind man was led from the auction by his faithful guide dog. When they were almost home, a squirrel jumped onto the path in front of the blind man, and the faithful guide dog, unable to control his instincts, sprinted after the squirrel, dragging his master several yards before the blind man released the leash and stumbled face first into a tree.

“Oh, shit,” said the enchanted dog, gripping the squirrel between his teeth, “I am so screwed.”

“You’re screwed?!” said the squirrel, “I’m the one who’s a furburger.”

The talking squirrel startled the enchanted dog, who’d never met a talking squirrel that didn’t hang around with a moose. “Hey,” the dog said, “You can talk!”

“Yes, I can talk,” chirped the squirrel, “I’m a magic squirrel. I was just out for a June Foray, and I get caught by a fucking guide dog. My life sucks rodent dick. But if you release me, I’ll grant you a wish.”

The enchanted wine connoisseur dog immediately realized that he could get out of the doghouse with his blind master with one wish. “OK, magic squirrel, I’ll release you if you fill my blind master’s wine cellar with all the rarest and greatest bottles of wine in the world. So no New Zealand wines, OK?”

“It’s already done,” the magic squirrel said, and, having been released by the enchanted dog, he scurried up the nearest tree. “But I took his nuts as payment.”

“All three?” said the enchanted, and funny, guide dog.

When the blind man arrived home, a bit bruised and now a soprano, his enchanted dog immediately took him down to the wine cellar. “Look, Master, the magic squirrel was telling the truth! Your wine cellar is enormous! Every great and rare wine in the world seems to be here. There’s a complete vertical of Chateau Margaux! Cases of each year! And Henri Jayer Burgundies! And Vega Sicilia! Is that Sassicaia? What’s that crap doing in here? Fucking squirrel.”

“Oh, I can’t wait to start tasting them!” the blind man exclaimed. “Fetch me a corkscrew!”

For the rest of the day, and every day that week, the blind man and his faithful dog opened the rarest and most famous wines in the world and drank them. The blind man had never been happier. He owned the greatest wines in the world, his wine cellar was the finest in all the land, he was finally Somebody. Even a blind man can see that wine is a measure of prestige and power and sexual potency. If you had nuts, that is. But your friends, and other wine collectors, didn’t know you were emasculated. Except, maybe, for how much you talked about your fucking wine all the time.

“I’ll never get tired of this!” the blind man proclaimed. “I love wine, and I love these great wines from great producers, rare and unobtainable. It’s like having sex with every Playmate of the Month! If I could see their gigantic boobs, and that magic squirrel hadn’t cached my nuts somewhere.”

But the enchanted dog wondered. Did the blind man really love wine, or just the idea of wine? One day he decided to play a trick on the blind man.

“Let’s try this old and rare Burgundy,” the dog said.

“Which one?” the blind man said.

“Guess,” the enchanted dog said, and opened a bottle of old Côtes du Rhône instead, pouring the blind man a healthy glass.

“Amazing! It’s almost like I can see the vineyard where the wine comes from. Let me see, it must be somebody's Gevrey-Chambertin! Probably a '35, or maybe older! It’s the most glorious thing I’ve ever put in my mouth. Oh, thank you, faithful guide dog, for making me the happiest and most important man alive with this glorious wine cellar!”

From that day on, the enchanted dog poured his master swill and told him it was a rare and famous wine. The blind man was happy, which pleased the dog, and, meanwhile, the enchanted dog schemed to take the actual wines and sell them. That faithful thing only went so far.

One day while the blind man was asleep, the enchanted dog had a wine expert come look at the wine cellar to give him an estimate of the wines’ worth. After a careful inspection, the expert told the dog, “80% of these are fake.”

“Fake!” the enchanted dog howled. “Fake? What do you mean, fake?”

“These aren’t even clever forgeries. Where did you get them?”

“That fucking little squirrel. I’ll kill him!” And the enchanted dog rushed outside, where the squirrel was hiding up in a tree, laughing, and hurling rich guys’ nuts at the dog.

“Hey, magic squirrel, you screwed me and my blind master! Come down out of that tree.”

“I didn’t screw you or your blind master, you ignorant BurgHound. I gave you what you wanted. His cellar is full of rare and famous wine bottles. What’s in them, well, that’s your problem. Your blind wine connoisseur isn’t the first one this magic squirrel has fleeced. And I’ve got the balls to prove it.”

The enchanted dog, derisively called a BurgHound by a goddam little squirrel he gave life to, gave up on his dream of riches and went home, tail between his legs, to his blind master. Who spent the rest of his life happily drinking fake wines, never knowing the difference.

The magic squirrel is serving 25 years in a nuthouse.

Monday, February 3, 2014

The Golden Age of Tedious Wine Writing

I was thinking about how unbearably dull most wine writing is these days, and speculating that we may be part of the Golden Age of Tedious Wine Writing, though that may be simple vanity on my part, when I decided to thumb through some old wine books I own. I have a large collection of old wine books. I have an ancient old Egyptian manuscript called, "Wine for Mummies." It wraps up wine pretty neatly. A wonderful old cookbook from Papua New Guinea titled, "Who Goes With Red Wine." Some killer recipes. Anyway, it turns out that tedious writing about wine spans the centuries. To illustrate the point, I've published some excerpts from famous writers through the ages over at Tim Atkin MW. I think you'll be surprised at who turns up. As always, feel free to leave a comment over at Tim's Place, or leave your mindless and probably fake review here, with the obligatory five stars.