Tuesday, May 27, 2014


It's very difficult to avoid burnout writing satire and comedy. Especially for free, and no promiscuous groupies either. It can be a tough viewpoint to carry around all the time, and being funny is far more difficult than most think. Hell, it's hard being not funny, but I manage. I think about quitting every single day. Back in 2010 I did quit. I stopped writing HoseMaster of Wine™ for 16 months, not that anyone noticed. Then the Jay Miller scandal hit. My personal email was bombarded with people asking me to write about it. And then inspiration, as it usually does when you don't want it to, struck. Parker as Dr. Frankenstein, Dr. Jay Miller as the Monster. Everything worked, and I wrote the piece very quickly. It was published in three posts, which I've assembled here (the original chapters are separated by the ******). I've been at this crap ever since.

So here, from January of 2012, is the chilling saga of "PARKENSTEIN!" It's long, but I think it's worth your time. Frankly, your attention span is fucking shameful.

Monkton, MD, 20 October, 20__

My Dearest Sister,

And so it was that I made the acquaintance of Robert Parkenstein on my stop in Maryland. He was washed up on shore, but, then, I was later to learn that he had been washed up for a very long time, a victim of his nefarious scheme to defy Creation and play God himself. And as we were marooned in the God-forsaken shithole that is Monkton, my ship awaiting better weather, the storm blowing harder than a Michelle Bachman speech, I heard the horrifying and sad story that is Parkenstein’s. We had long hours to talk, and I came to feel sorry for him, though it was simple hubris that destroyed him. That and his mortuarial creation. I will tell his story in his words as I remember them, though his breath was most foul, smelling of hedonism and Gruner Veltliner, and it was hard to be in a small room with him as he had the figure and charm of a beanbag chair.

I became fascinated with power, Parkenstein told me, and the more power I accumulated, the more I felt this feverish desire to transfer it to another being, to give power to a cipher of my own creation. The thought obsessed me. Yes, I had created monsters before, horrible monsters—Turleystein and Rollandstein and that hideous Kranklstein—but they had life before I gave them power. I wanted to start from scratch. I wanted to give life and power. And I believed I could do it. There was nothing I couldn’t do, aside from duplicate my scores in a blind setting.

I set about obtaining parts for my creation. I thought it would be difficult, this assembling a windbag, this scavenging for a bag for my douche, but it wasn’t. There was Craigslist. “Man seeking body parts,” read my ad, “won’t pay an arm and a leg.” In less than a day I was overwhelmed with offers. A man in Napa Valley offered me the head of his late father, but he wanted 100 points in exchange, and I don’t trade points for money, I trade them for integrity. But I had mountains of body parts to choose from, and I selected carefully and, I believed, wisely.

I worked day and night, removing the parts from my freezer as I needed them, at one point mistaking a fish stick for a penis. I was so crazed I forgot to change it. It was only later, when it was alive, that I noticed him sticking packets of tartar sauce from H. Salt down his pants hoping to attract someone horny and hungry, and let the chips fall where they may. Time was of the essence, for as the parts thawed, my house began to smell like corruption. Little did I know…
Parkenstein toasts his Creation--the HORROR!!

Finally, he was assembled. I beheld my creation. To me, he was beautiful. Perfect for the life and power I intended to bestow upon him. He was bulky, I confess, a nod to my own physique, a visual clue that the good life is about overindulgence, and, more importantly, the unquenchable need to talk about it, to rub it in the faces of my followers, to write endlessly of gluttony and debauchery with the eloquence to make it seem desirable and admirable in a world of starving people, and people who would sell body parts to a madman for a pittance just to buy a bottle of one of my Best Buys Under $20. I’d used the arms and hands of a maitre-d’ to give him the natural gift of taking handouts and bribes. I’d found the brain, only slightly used, of a fellow hedonist who’d gone insane, and I took it, leaving him still functioning, yet no one could tell his skull was empty because it had always appeared that way, and never more so than recently. So with my creation’s head full of Suckling, I had to find the right nose. The nose, the most important part of my monster, the part that would define him. I had to carefully pick my nose. Hell, I thought, I know how to do that, I was once an attorney.

And so it was that I gave him the nose of a Bassett Hound. It just made sense. His nose would be sensitive, powerful, and forever in my butt, where there’s plenty of room for everyone. I was ready to give him life.
Parkenstein had been the most powerful critic in his field, feared as a man fears his God, his every proclamation a Judgment Day on a 100 Point Scale, his commandments followed assiduously if not asininely. Thou shalt not filter, nor fine, nor covet thy neighbor’s bunghole. Thou shalt not worship false Gods, Tanzers and BurgHounds of Hell, for their palates are the spawn of Satan, and that spawn is slightly salty, with a creamy texture, and tastes of asparagus and hedonistic DNA. Thou shalt not question my scores, for they are the Word and are Blessed, and are not subject to your mortal and weaker tastes. Parkenstein, now washed up on the shores of Monkton, found his commandments no longer relevant or obeyed, his power vanished, his name, once spoken in reverent whispers, now spoken with contempt and the insertion of noises that emulate the flatulence of a Shanken, which is Almighty Flatulence. But I shall let Parkenstein tell his own story.

My Creation, my monster, if you will [Parkenstein said to me], for he was at once beautiful and horrible to behold, like Nancy Grace only less manly, lay on the table awaiting life. He was a blob, a meaningless mound of fat and muscle and more fat, and he would be worthless until I bestowed upon him life and power. And when I gave him life, everyone would have to concede my infinite power and infallibility. Even blobbers, who are scum, the living excrement of Poodles.

I gave him life as a mother gives life. I suckled him at my own breast. My man-tits were fully developed, often admired and jealously envied, and when I placed one on the monster’s lips, he awoke! He had tasted the milk of my genius and it had given him life. It had been wise to give him a Suckling brain, for he took to it instantly. The monster arose, stared at me with the mouth-breathing gaze of an imbecile I would come to know well, and said his first words, “What’s it worth to you?”

Yet most of the monster’s speech was made up of grunts and snorts and slurping sounds. I had succeeded beyond my wildest dreams—he already spoke like a critic. Now my job would be to give the monster the tools it would take for him to function as my surrogate so that I could transfer my power unto him. One day I would unleash him on the world and his bequeathed power would make him a man, make him a god, and I would be the god-maker! I was crazy with lust, with a lust for omnipotence and power. I felt indomitable, I felt indestructible, I felt immortal. Parkenstein! I destroyed and created at will. My words, my numbers, were as if written in stone and carried down from the mountaintop by brave knights and their blithering idiot Squires (and his bulletin board). I was at the pinnacle of my profession, and yet I needed more. I needed immortality, and I knew it was not just one, but a procession of monsters I needed to create, a roving band of nonhuman Parkenstein robots who would not be me, but would carry my authority, would be my army of ventriloquist dummies, their opinions voiced as if they were their own. My first monster was just the beginning, I understood in that instant of creation, and one day I would have a retinue of monsters with borrowed brains who were mere impersonations of real humans, and the better for it. Real humans would never follow me.

Parkenstein Losing Face
I see now that my hubris blinded me, and was my downfall. I thought I could pass along my own success and power to creatures of my own making, as one might pass along goobers at a baseball game and in return pass back the money for them, for my monsters were clearly nuts and I certainly ended up with all the money. It was a horrible blunder, and one that has left me in the pathetic state you see me in now. I had created this monster and one day he would destroy me, just as modern man has declared God is dead and destroyed Him. But that was in the future then, as were the other horrible monsters I would create, and that moment I gave birth to the monster and decided to ship him to Spain I remember as a glorious and wondrous achievement. I wonder now how I could have been so stupid.

Could I have foreseen that my own creation, my monster, would want to ruin me? It was the ancient story of Oedipus, only I was both Mother and Father to the monster. He wanted to sleep with me and kill me both, which is how I felt about Alice Feiring. I’d created the script for my own snuff film where I was the star and the victim. Yet I believed I was doing good unleashing the monster on Spain, allowing him to roam the Spanish countryside dispensing my wisdom and my authority and my points. Perhaps my first clue to his hatred of me should have been how profligate he was with my points, how he handed them out like pedophiles hand out promises of puppies. Everything was a 96 to this Sucklingized zombie, the stupidest Mencia and the most insipid Albarino. At first I found it cute, as gods find the behavior of mere mortals entertaining, but then my points, my scale that I had spent decades perfecting, became a laughingstock in the monster’s hands. People saw the monster’s byline, his byline validated by my power and authority, and they began to laugh! To laugh! At me. At Parkenstein! Those meaningless numbers had actually become meaningless in the monster’s hands—something so many had tried to achieve with their own overblown scores and hollow, pathetic defenses of them, yet somehow only my loathsome Spanish dummy had succeeded in making an actual mockery of what had always been mockery. The monster had exposed my scale for what it was--yet another joke God has played on Man. I confess, now I find that joke mordantly funny.

And yet I loved my monster, his jowls reminded me of my beloved bulldog, so I didn’t do anything to stop him. He was my Creation, his existence without me as worthless as Republican rhetoric, and I was blind to the damage he was doing to me. And so I headed recklessly toward my downfall.
I had a hard time believing all that Parkenstein told me. Only a madman could believe himself a God, and then believe he could pass along His Doctrine of Infallibility to monsters of his own making, thereby making each of them a sort of Pope, emissaries who speak the word of Parkenstein and have direct access to that almighty God and his insane system of Numbers—they were Parkenstein’s Howdy Deuteronomy. And, though he was clearly insane, I came to accept his story as truth. Parkenstein, his life, his career, his reputation, had been destroyed by a monster he had created with his own hands. It had the makings of a tragedy, a classic Geek tragedy. But I shall let Parkenstein finish his own tale.

The monster I had created [Parkenstein said to me] had come to hate me. He had learned my language, the language of countless adjectives, exaggeration, numbers, +’s, and disingenuousness, and he had learned it too well. His work on my behalf took on a crazed quality and I began to believe he was simply assigning numbers randomly, perhaps using a dartboard or by drawing them from a hat, which is what I do, only what the hell else can you do when you have to do it 150 times a day? I didn’t give the monster permission to do that. I was the last to recognize how ridiculous and meaningless his work was. I was just so proud of my creation, so amazed that I had given him a life, I just couldn’t believe that his numbers were that bizarre, that inflated. That was the first sign, I see now, that he wanted to destroy me.

Why did he want to destroy me? I don’t know the answer to that. But it must have been money. I had had ideas of creating a female monster to keep him company, but what female monster wants to marry a guy with a fish stick dick? And, besides, I’d already hired Karen MacNeil, so a female monster would have been redundant. No, it was the monster’s desire for money, which I assume came from that damned Suckling brain I’d used, that must have driven him to hate me. I paid him what he was worth—chump change. He was NOBODY. He was only someone because Parkenstein! said he was someone. They’d have laughed his verga de pescado out of Spain if it weren’t for me. They’d have made a blubber piñata out of him. But the monster believed in his own power, believed he had earned it. It was like I had created a twin.

The monster set out to gather money and ruin me at the same time. I admit now, the monster was a lot smarter than I’d thought. It had been a mistake to give him a brain—it’s not necessary for the job. It just seemed like the right thing to do. But it doesn’t take a brain to be a wine critic and assign numbers, it just takes balls. And I’d given him two salmon croquettes to go with the fish stick. That would have been plenty.

The monster began to accept money. This was strictly forbidden. No one I created could accept money in the line of duty. I scolded the monster, but he swore up and down he only accepted money for speaking engagements. I turned my wrath upon him and the monster broke down and cried (those John Boehner tear ducts were all I could scrounge), and swore to me the money was on the up and up. And it made sense. Who wouldn’t pay tens of thousands of dollars to sit and listen to a manufactured expert lecture and proclaim? Why wouldn’t the people who had the most to lose or gain by the monster’s numbers want to pony up big ticket prices to hear him babble? Why wouldn’t an entire Spanish region chip in to make sure that he got his facts straight?

But if it wasn’t evil, if it wasn’t corrupt, it certainly smelled of it. As his body parts had when I’d first assembled them. When the rabble got wind of the monster’s money-grubbing ways, they were incensed. I did what I always do in that situation—I ignored them. They revere me. I had nothing to fear. Sure, he was my monster, I’d loosed him on the world, but surely I wasn’t responsible for the appearance of impropriety he’d created. No one questions my integrity. NO ONE! Parkenstein is incorruptible and completely objective, like an NBA official.

And then the rabble surrounded my house. They had come for the monster. They wanted his head on a platter and his gigantic ass in a sling. I fought them off as best I could, but I knew that for the first time in my life, I was not the most powerful man in the world. And I knew that when the rabble, the scum, the ungrateful, number-munching cretins I had given my life to, for whom I had suffered endless nights of insobriety and gluttony, found out that I wasn’t the perfect, incorruptible, infallible God they’d believed me to be that I was doomed.

I should have given the ugly mob my monster. Instead, I defended him. It was foolish. But I loved him, I’d created him, I’d made him and he was Me, as surely as if I’d given birth to him, which would have hurt like a bastard. And with his actions, with his calculated acceptance of money, money he would never ever have been granted were it not for my imprimatur, he knocked me from my heavenly throne and I rejoined the rabble. My creation had ruined me.

Yes, I’m still here. I’m not the God I was, I have fewer and fewer Believers, only a sad collection of sycophantic Followers. But Parkenstein! still lives! And I have other monsters of my making roaming the Earth, assigning Numbers in my name, and I shall make my way to new worlds to conquer—the Far East!  My minions and I will one day again ascend to the Heavens, wait and see, my friend. Wait and see…

And with that, dearest Sister, Parkenstein died. He lay sprawled on the newly wet pavement. It had begun to rain, and the air, for a brief moment, the moment I like to believe that his soul left that cetacean body, had the smell of Brettanomyces, a fitting tribute to Parkenstein’s end.

But, dearest Sister, his monsters still roam the Earth. For now. With his Life extinguished, how much longer can his creations live? Only so long as the foolish rabble continue to heed those most horrible of Parkenstein’s creations—the Numbers!

THE END, or is it?

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Lo Hai Qu Starts Her Wine Club!

Lo Hai Qu, my somewhat crazy intern, asked me if she could once again publish her thoughts on HoseMaster of Wine™. I never know what the hell Lo is going to say, but I'm sure it will be her usual brand of outrageous. So let me apologize in advance for this latest post by Lo Hai Qu.

So me and my friend Loqueesha are in this wine club, though I don’t know why we’re in this stupid wine club, I can boost plenty of wine from the HoseMaster’s free samples, and a lot of it is the same shit we get from the UPS guy, who Loqueesha has a crush on and keeps asking if he'll deliver his package to her overnight. So, like four times a year we get a case, exactly like Loqueesha’s bladder infections. It’s usually half white and half red, like Oprah’s Book Club—get it? Half white and half read! Shizzangela made that joke up, but she loves Oprah cuz Oprah makes her weight fluctuations seem normal, which isn’t easy considering one day you see Shizzy and she looks like there might be trapeze artists under her dress, and the next month it looks like she must have flown around the inside of Staples Center like a leaky balloon. She crazy. Anyway, I don’t know how Loqueesha talked me into being in this lame wine club with her. I don’t even know where she signed up for it. Anybody else heard of the Preparation H Wine Club? What’s weird is all the wines come in shrink wrap. I think she got a deal because she buys Preparation H in bulk, mostly to put on her little Mexican Hairless, which is not her dog.

I’m not really an expert on wine, but I know what I like, which is what kids who torture pets say, but it seems like most of the wines we get are really cheap crap. Like I try to Google the appellations and I can’t find any of them. “Cotes de Tongue?” Where the fuck is that? If I want Cotes de Tongue I’ll go down on a hippie. That’s the kind of shit we pay like $100/case for. I mean, I’ve heard of a “California” appellation, which means all the grapes have to come from California, but not from places that make good grapes. It’s sort of like “Locally Grown” at Safeway—yeah, it’s grown near some Safeway somewhere, just not yours. We get a lot of wine from “California.” "California" wine is wine that’s Wine Country adjacent, like it’s wine tofurkey. And last time we got some Spanish white wine--first of all, who wants Spanish white wine, man, that’s like Mississippi vodka or something, you just know when you put it in your mouth you’re gonna start playing some albino banjo, and bad enough it’s Spanish white, it’s from some weird grape called Hondarribi, which my Dad used to drive a beat-up 1989 one, and one time almost backed over Loqueesha’s Mexican Hairless, even after he saw it in the rearview mirror, which about caused him to have a heart attack. She needs to not let that thing out.

Why do people join these stupid wine clubs? Like everybody has a wine club! The NRA has a wine club, cuz, you know, the only thing missing when you own a gun is alcohol. Every magazine and newspaper has a goddam wine club, like it’s some kind of public service, or their responsibility. There’s an article in the New York Times about alcohol-related deaths happening somewhere in the world like every three seconds. Shit, there goes another one. Fell asleep at the wheel. Hell, there’s another one. Every three seconds is like fifteen every minute or so, and five more innocent bystanders! But on the opposite page of the paper is a full-page ad for the New York Times Wine Club! What the fuck? So then you have an article about how heart attacks are the number one killer of women and on the next page you print a giant-ass BOO!? Yeah, the New York Times, the Newspaper of Drunk Driving Record.

Anyways, I told Loqueesha I’m done payin’ for the Prep H Wine Club (nice motto, though, “You’ve already picked your seat, let us pick your wine!”). But then I started thinkin’ I should start a wine club. It’s like super easy money! You get these fake wines, well, they’re real wine, but they’re like totally fake labels, like you can’t find them in any stores, so the “retail prices” you just make up. “Oh, this sells for $25 a bottle, if you could get it, which you can’t because we just now slapped the labels on it, but your wine club price is only $15, so that’s 40% off!” What's better than 40% off an imaginary price?! All the prices are made up, but that’s perfectly legal cuz the whole wine business is built on made-up prices, I guess, judging by how none of them make any sense. I might as well cash in, too.

But the HoseMaster says I can’t start a wine club without a license, like I’m a goddam cockapoo, from some gay porn or something. I’m not sure I believe him. I mean, we wouldn’t sell to anybody under 21. They’d have to click on that little box on the website that says they swear to the Internet God that they’re 21. If you lie to Internet God you go straight to Internet hell, which is basically having aol.com for your email. So I’d be OK legally, I think. And then that fucking wet blanket HoseMaster, and, believe me, wet blanket is right up his alley, he has more nocturnal emissions than Mauna Kea, tells me that I won’t be able to ship to every state. Like I’m so stupid I’d believe that. Yeah, sure, I know Utah is out cuz the whole state is Church of the L.D.S., which stands for Let’s Drink Secretly. But who cares, I can sell to everybody else.

Yeah, I know what you’re thinking. How am I going to choose the wines for the “Lo Down Wine Club™?” It won’t be that hard. Let’s say I send out four different cases a year. That’s only six whites and six reds every twelve months! I mean, I can use the same white wine in every quarterly shipment, I just have to make up some new label. Shit, the people in those wine clubs, they can’t tell! You send ‘em a nice little made-up information sheet every shipment, tell ‘em one time the wine is made from “Trebbiano,” and then the next time it’s made from “Ugni Blanc,” and they don’t know. They’re in a cheap and stupid wine club, what the hell do they know about wine? It’s like free dating sites—nobody’s on there because they have a fucking clue about people, they’re on there because they wanna get fucked once in a while. See, this is perfect. There’s my “Lo Down Wine Club™” motto!

Join the new Lo Down Wine Club™! It’s for when you want to get fucked once in a while!

And HoseMaster of Wine™ readers get a special discount! Join now!

Monday, May 19, 2014

Dr. Conti Pleads for Leniency

Your Honor,

It wasn’t my fault. It was that fucking Jackie Chan. I just wanted to be besties with Jackie Chan, and he wouldn’t give me the time of day unless I was opening bottles of Domaine Ponsot for him. I can’t afford Ponsot. Jackie Goddam Chan can afford Ponsot; he should have been serving me old bottles of Burgundy! Jackie Chan ruined my life. It’s like I’m Chris Tucker. Just another black guy going to jail.

Before you sentence me, Your Honor, I want to tell you that I am deeply and sincerely sorry for selling fraudulent wine to rich assholes. This was never my intent. My intent was to become a rich asshole. On the backs of wine connoisseurs. This is a time-honored tradition in the wine business, Your Honor, one that every auction house in America relies upon. One often hears that wine snobs drink labels. Well, I gave them labels. And damned fine labels, if I do say so myself. They fooled even the best wine experts at the most prestigious auction houses. Though that’s a bit like fooling a kid into thinking he’s got quarters in his ears. What else would explain the existence of the quarters? Where would they have come from except his ears? It seems too good to be true, but the eyes don’t lie. Magic quarters, magic cellars—it’s easy to fool those who want to be duped. That’s not fraud, Your Honor, that’s illusion! They can claim they were fooled, as the auction houses did, but what validity does that argument have when the five-year-old next to them sees right through it?

When I first moved to Los Angeles I didn’t have any friends. Yes, this is hard to believe given my natural charisma, but I swear it’s true. I was lonely. But then I discovered wine. What a lucky break! It turns out that almost everyone who is involved in wine, who passionately follows and collects wine, is a lonely loser. And the worst kind of lonely loser, a drunk lonely loser. Sure, they have lots of tastings to attend, and they have all kinds of internet chat rooms, and they have this little wine community, but, really, they’re just a bunch of lonely people desperately seeking some kind of attention and admiration, like puppies in the animal shelter relentlessly wagging their tails and licking strangers’ hands trying to find a home. But if you take one home, what does he do? He shits on your carpet. I’d found my people.

It didn’t take long before I was the toast of the wine world. All I had to do was open rare and expensive bottles of wine for my new friends, praise their discerning palates, laugh at their tired jokes, and I was in big demand. “Oh,” I’d say, “I’d only open this magnum of 100 Point wine for people who can appreciate it!” They’d all look humble and smug, nod their heads at my common sense, and then loudly proclaim the wine to be the finest wine they’d ever tasted. My credentials were quickly established. Everyone knew I had a great palate because I admired theirs. Lonely people are so easy to manipulate.

But, Your Honor, what harm was I doing? I never said the wines were real. Honest. I just showed them the labels. The rest, as always happens in wine tasting, they made up in their heads. I would open wine bottles they knew to be worth tens of thousands of dollars, had they been real, I’d do this three or four nights a week, and when they asked where I got all of these rare wines, I’d just say, “My cellar.” No one ever saw “my cellar,” or even asked to see “my cellar.” They didn’t care if the wines were authentic. I guarantee you, Your Honor, even after my unfair conviction, those same guys are still bragging to their friends that they’ve tasted ’47 Cheval Blanc that was direct from the Chateau. Yeah, Chateau Gullible.

Once I knew the wine business is populated with the lonely, it just got easier. But am I responsible for people not seeing what is right in front of them? It was just like selling a car, or a house, “as is.” That’s no crime. Or if it is, it doesn’t deserve a harsh sentence. I just consigned wines to Acker Merrill “as is.” I mean, I’d had lunch with people in their wine fraud department, asked them lots of “innocent” questions about how they spotted fake wines, all of which they answered in depth. I did everything but confess, when I look back. I mean, let’s say you sell large loads of fertilizer for a living and a guy shows up in a windowless van and asks you all about how dangerous it might be to carry a ton of fertilizer around in his windowless van that he parks in front of the local IRS, would you tell him how to make a bomb? Acker Merrill told me how to make bombs. Are any of them going to trial?

I’m the victim here, Your Honor. I did nothing but spread inebriation and joy. I gave happiness to some of the saddest and loneliest people on the planet—wine collectors. I fulfilled countless of their wine wet dreams. But that’s the thing about lonely losers, they can’t ever leave happiness alone. They pick at it and pick at it until it bleeds, and when they found out it bled money, they got mad. Now they want to kill the messenger. And I’m that poor messenger. My message to them was simple. Stop taking the joy out of wine, assholes. Wine isn’t about rarity, and labels, and stupid numerical scores given by people as easily fooled as you are, and how much money you spent on 25 ounces of yeast excrement. Wine is about genuine passion and pleasure, and not the gratification of your miserable, rich prick ego. I think I delivered that message to the wine world loudly and clearly. I should be thanked, not punished.

But I accept the will of the lonely losers, as they accepted mine for a brief time. I ask only that you show me the leniency and forgiveness I deserve, Your Honor. And fuck that Jackie Chan.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Corkage Policy at Restaurant Gougé

Recently, there has been some grumbling in the press about the corkage fees here at the World Famous Restaurant Gougé. While we do not feel that we need to justify the $150 corkage fee, Restaurant Gougé is the proud recipient of Three Michelin Tires as well as the prestigious Just for Men® Beard Award after all, we did feel the need to clarify our generous corkage policy. Just so you’ll shut the hell up.

First of all, Restaurant Gougé is under no obligation to allow any patron to bring in his own bottle of wine. What the hell is wrong with you? We’re trying to make money, and you’re bringing in some poorly stored, overpriced trophy wine from your own collection? We have an award-winning wine list filled with poorly stored, overpriced trophy wines! We don’t need yours. And then you expect us to charge you only $25 for the privilege of serving you your own bottle of wine as some kind of thank you for choosing us for your special occasion? How about this? We take $25 off the cost of your meal and then we get to open your “special occasion” wine and pour it down the sink. That’s pretty much what you’re doing anyway when you serve it to your idiot friends, only now, at least, you get $25 out of it. That works for us. Hey, $25 is two martinis that cost us $6 in ingredients—we’re fine with that.

Our generous corkage fee helps us to employ the many sommeliers who work here at Restaurant Gougé. Many have initials after their name, like M.S., or C.S.W. or LOL. These men and women work for virtually nothing so that one day they'll be able to add Restaurant Gougé to their résumé. It’s really cool. We get to pay salaries far below industry standard just because we’re such a famous restaurant and these clowns hope our misplaced good fortune will rub off on them. We’re proud to be known as the industry’s premiere Sweat Shop of Sommeliers, and your generous corkage fee contributions go a long way to sustaining this indispensable form of sommelier slavery. When you pay the corkage fee at Restaurant Gougé, you can sleep peacefully knowing that somewhere a sommelier is being vastly underpaid thanks to your reverence for our dining establishment. Surely, there is no way to measure in dollars what that’s worth. At Restaurant Gougé, we solemnly promise that not one single penny of your $150 corkage fee will see the inside of a sommelier’s pocket! It goes straight to our bottom line with no regard for the folks serving you, just as it should. You have our word.

There are enormous costs involved in having a great wine list. When you are widely acknowledged as one of the great dining establishments in the world, you simply cannot serve pedestrian wines. Not unless you’ve gone to the trouble to find them encased in bottles with very fancy and famous labels. At Restaurant Gougé, we promise that every great bottle of wine on the list is authentic enough to fool any auction house expert regardless of what’s actually inside it. Can you say that about your own wines, even the ones you bought at some shady New York auction house? And even if you don’t care about that, what about us? We’re running an upscale restaurant, world famous, patronized by some of the biggest food and wine fame fuckers you could ever imagine, do you think we can afford to have those bozos see us opening your lame old bottle of Sterling Cabernet and setting on the table?! Are you nuts? Might as well just fart the opening eight bars of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

There are some restaurants that will list all the expenses involved in running a great wine program—the cost of storage, the ridiculously costly inventory, the expensive stemware, the salaries of the sommeliers—and say those costs justify their exorbitant corkage fee, but that’s just a smoke screen. It’s like saying the food is expensive because we have to pay for all those goddamned plates we serve it on, and have you seen the cost of knives and forks! The Chinese are right! No, here at Restaurant Gougé we make no claims that our corkage fee is based on anything other than greed, vanity, and contempt--the very qualities that personify our best, most regular clients. Sure, we could charge a lot less than $150 to open your wine, but what sense does that make? You didn’t make a reservation with us to get a bargain! You dine with us for the ambience, for the experience, for the bragging rights. The big dinner tab at the end of the meal is critical to your enjoyment, and you know it. Tacking on a mere $25 is a slap in the face, and that’s not how we treat our clients. We respect you, and your ability to cough up $125 for the privilege of having our sommelier turn up his nose at your measly little wine. We wouldn’t have it any other way. Your needs always come first at Restaurant Gougé.

If you are mortally offended by restaurant corkage fees, we encourage you to vote with your wallet. Sadly, those of you who complain about our $150 corkage policy have little girls’ wallets and no one here gives a tasty Samoa’s sphincter how you vote. There are countless restaurants with countless corkage policies, but they’re not Restaurant Gougé. Go ahead, write a scathing review about us on Yelp. OOOH, we’re shaking. Yelp is just pinheads talking to other pinheads, a carnival sideshow of sadly deformed humans making a public spectacle of themselves. We’re Restaurant Gougé, we’re review proof now. The more the little people complain, the more the 1% want to be here, away from your lousy table manners and sentimental cheapass celebratory bottles. They don’t want to see you dining in their restaurant, they want to see you busing the tables, washing the dishes, and carefully fetching their Teslas from the valet lot. So please gripe about our corkage policy, gripe as often as you like. It’s exactly what we want.

We hope to see you soon at Restaurant Gougé! Remember, we're not happy unless you're not happy!

Monday, May 12, 2014

Kind of a Tribidrag When Your Baby Don't Love Ewe

Limerick Lane and Marietta Wines I’m Using to Talk About Myself
Limerick Lane 2011 Zinfandel Russian River Valley $32
Limerick Lane 2011 Syrah Grenache Russian River Valley $36
Limerick Lane 2011 Rocky Knoll Zinfandel Russian River Valley $45 (190 cases)
Limerick Lane 2011 1910 Block Zinfandel Russian River Valley $48 (190 cases)
Limerick Lane 2011 Headpruned Syrah Russian River Valley $44 (150 cases)

The first red variety that I fell in love with was Zinfandel.  It’s my high school sweetheart for whom I still carry a torch (Evelyne), my first great dog (Lucy), the first time I got a big laugh from an audience (junior high school talent show emcee, dressed as a girl), and that first time I woke up and the bed was dry (freshman year in college) all mixed into one bottle. I know a lot of wine folk who have very little affection for Zinfandel. It’s almost trendy not to like it, like Chardonnay and Kardashians. And yet Zinfandel has quite a large fan club. At least compared to, say, head lice.

I understand why some people don’t like Zinfandel. It can be too much. I have friends like that. Zin can be a wine that you want to tell, “Shut the hell up.” I love its exuberance, but I agree that it can go too far, be too much, and in ways other varieties don’t. But when it doesn’t go over the top, I adore it, whether it’s from Dry Creek Valley, the Sierra Foothills, Paso Robles, Mendocino, or the Russian River. All of those appellations strike me as very different kinds of Zin, and yet they are unmistakably Zin. And isn’t it something of a bonus that Zinfandel is never, and can’t be, compared to some classic Old World example? I think we are all tired of domestic Pinot Noir being referred to as “Burgundian,” especially by marketing types who wouldn’t know Burgundy from Apothic, or truth from spin. Cabernet gets Bordeaux, Sauvignon Blanc gets the Loire, Sparkling Wine gets Champagne, but Zin is Zin. If another country wants to hang their wine hat on making great Zinfandel, they’ll have to suffer comparisons with California. I find that refreshing.

The Zinfandels I first fell in love with were from the likes of Ridge, Joseph Swan, and Ravenswood. Along with a few others, they were the standard bearers of Zinfandel in an era where Sutter Home’s big mistake was yet to happen, and everyone knew Zin was red. I was smitten by Ridge’s Geyserville bottling, and still am.  Joseph Swan’s Zinfandels were legendary, and for good reason. Seeking out old vineyards, Joe Swan was the first guy to vineyard designate Zinfandel, and he was clearly nobody’s fool. His protégé, Joel Peterson, began, a little later, to bottle the Ravenswood single-vineyard Zinfandels. These three made very different styles of Zin, Ridge leaning more toward polished and elegant Zinfandel (rather ineptly referred to, not by Ridge, but by others, as “Claret style”—what genius came up with that vague descriptor? It’s like calling a Sauternes, “Sticky style.”), Swan having a very bright and graceful style, while Ravenswood has always just let it rip, show Zinfandel’s flashiest side. I loved all three. It is weird to think how I once used to sit around after work at night and drink a bottle of Zinfandel without any food. That seems insane to me now, like most of the things I did in my 20’s, I guess. Having full-bodied wines without food is like playing music really loudly while turning up the bass all the way. You’re missing the point, and you’ll have a nasty fucking headache when you’re done.

There were other smaller, and more colorful, Zinfandel producers back then, too. Lytton Springs, before it was purchased by Ridge in 1991, produced an estate Zinfandel that was ridiculously flamboyant, and usually filled with volatile acidity, but had a big following. I seem to recall that there were rumors that pornography had been produced on the property, or that the owner had made money in the porn business. Anyone else recall this? It would explain why they call them “bush vines.” And there was also Limerick Lane, though their first vintage was later, in 1986. Their Zin burst onto the scene with its first release, and developed quite a following. The Collins family elevated the old vineyard’s reputation, originally planted in 1910, to cult status. But they seem to have been a troubled family, a series of tragedies occurred, which it would be unseemly to talk about here (unlike pornography!), and the label basically vanished from the marketplace.

Enter Jake Bilbro. Jake’s father, Chris, is the owner/winemaker of Marietta Cellars, and Jake’s brother, Scot is also a winemaker. Their brother, Sam Bilbro, along with his wife Jessica, own Idlewild Wines.  (There’s another son who works at a grocery store, you’ve probably heard of him—Bilbro Baggins.) Wine is in the Bilbro blood, and vice-versa. Jake stepped in and purchased the legendary Collins Vineyard a few years ago, and he and his brother have brought back this great Zinfandel label. For a short period of time, I worked with Sam Bilbro, who informed me that Jake was a fan of my stupid blog. Jake and I met at Limerick Lane Winery a while back (where I also had the pleasure of meeting his father Chris and listening to great stories about the early days of Marietta), and then recently Jake gave me these samples for me to potentially write about. Yeah, so here we go again, more of my insufferable wine reviewing.

I can't make any sort of lamb dish for dinner and not crave Zinfandel with it. Once in a while, I might prefer an aged Cabernet Sauvignon, one at least fifteen years old, to accompany lamb, but I usually reach for Zin. I don’t want a Zin that’s hugely extracted, or high in alcohol, or with any residual sugar; though “highly extracted” is subjective. In my mind, Zinfandel can be considered highly extracted when you pull the cork and your dog runs into the other room and hides under a blanket. The kind of Zin that’s like sucking on a Taser. It might be interesting to taste, and it certainly commands your attention, like a pit bull with a vise grip on your testicles, but if I drink three glasses of a Zinfandel like that, I wake up in the morning and feel like someone kicked me in the kidneys.

I roasted some lamb one night and opened the Limerick Lane 2011 Zinfandel Russian River Valley. 2011 was, to say the least, a challenging vintage in Sonoma County. It was very cool, and wet enough to be troublesome, like those unobtainable girls I yearned for in high school. (You don’t get that kind of vintage insight from Parker.) But there were certain varieties in certain places that did quite well. Limerick Lane’s Vineyards are on the far eastern side of the Russian River appellation, and the long, cool summer ripened the fruit nicely. Sure, Zin is prone to mold, for which my jokes also have an affinity, but that’s what careful harvesting and sorting tables are for. In the end, the Limerick Lane 2011 Zinfandels are very successful wines. The flagship Russian River Valley bottling is truly evocative and wonderful Zinfandel. I think it was Doug Nalle, an old hand at Zin under his own label and others, who coined the word “Zinberry” for the unique fruit profile one can get from great Zin. It’s here in this wine, I think, a sort of cross between red fruit like raspberry and black fruit like blackberry—not one or the other, but some kind of hybrid, and with all the fresh fruitiness of an imaginary Zinberry freshly picked and tasted. It’s just delicious, and lighthearted. And those of you who think that a wine over 15% alcohol can’t be lively and balanced and gorgeous, well, here’s proof you’re mistaken. I loved this Zinfandel, and it’s worth every penny of the $32 I didn’t pay for the privilege of drinking it with lamb. Oh my, was it good with the lamb.

So the next time my wife and I dined on lamb, we consumed the Limerick Lane 2011 Rocky Knoll Zinfandel (though I thought “Rocky Knoll" was another maudlin Sylvester Stallone movie sequel starring Beyoncé). Yeah, I’m in something of a lamb rut—must be mating season. The “Rocky Knoll” is a crustier, meatier big brother to the flagship Zin. The “Rocky Knoll’s” nose is more about power, where the flagship’s nose is more about the beautiful fruit. The background meatiness of the nose married marvelously with the seasoned lamb, and the aroma of the meal and the wine together just made my mouth water. Here is a Zin that, like the best Syrahs and Pinot Noirs, relies on texture to deliver the goods. It’s a big Zinfandel, filling your mouth with blackberry and briary fruit, but that cool 2011 vintage has graced it with the acidity to feel fresh and vibrant in your mouth. Blockbuster stuff, and to make a Zinfandel this powerful and graceful at the same time takes great talent as well as a lot of experience.  It’s classic Russian River Zinfandel, and that means it’s a Zinfandel with the sort of elegance, richness and balance I associate with the Pinot Noirs of the region. Yeah, that's right, it's "Burgundian!"

Holy Cow, is the Limerick Lane Zinfandel 1910 Block Zinfandel something special! One of the great and historic vineyards in all of Sonoma County, the fruit sought after by the likes of Zin masters like Morgan Peterson of Bedrock and Mike Officer of Carlisle, Limerick Lane’s oldest block has produced this spectacular 2011 Zinfandel. But there’s a lot to the wine besides Zin. This old block is home to many varieties, including Peloursin (Petite Sirah’s sire), Negrette, Grand Noir, and even a few vines as yet unidentified. A wine like this is the history of California wine in a bottle, and, in my mind, deserves some reverence, as well as thanks to the folks who preserve these old vineyards. It teeters on the edge of overwhelming, but its impeccable balance keeps it from falling over the edge. I don’t have anywhere near the talent to describe a wine this interesting and profound. It’s huge, which is a style that seems to be badmouthed a lot lately, but you can’t put this wine in your mouth and not reflexively raise your eyebrows in awe. Bigger might not be better, but it sure as hell is as good. So, my notes read, “Inky, spicy, chewy, very intense Zinfandel.” And as the meal (beef this time!) progressed, the wine blossomed and revealed uncountable layers, and truly impressive complexity. I found a new flavor just about every time I tasted it. For a person who has always loved Zinfandel, the 1910 Block was damned near orgasmic, so maybe don’t order it in a restaurant if you’re a screamer. It reminded me of a Ridge Geyserville bottling only turned up a notch or two. It belongs in that league anyway, and I hope I get to taste it again in about ten years. My hunch is it will be even more breathtaking down the road a piece. A great Zinfandel, and by any definition, a great wine.

They don’t just make Zinfandel at Limerick Lane. Jake also gave me a couple of terrific wines from Grenache and Syrah to drink. The Limerick Lane 2011 Syrah Grenache (2/3 Syrah) transported me instantly to the Southern Rhône, a trip I’m always willing to make. It reminded me of Gigondas from a juicy, warm vintage. That luscious sweetness that typifies Grenache is nicely expressed here, and is able to stand apart from the rather brooding Syrah. But all of the Limerick Lane red wines that I tasted were notable for their grace and lightness of foot. Yeah, they are big and concentrated wines, but they dance quite gracefully. Sort of like all the great fat comedians who were so filled with grace—Oliver Hardy, Jackie Gleason, John Candy… The Syrah Grenache was even more graceful the second night, revealing even more lusciousness with all the air. You’ll never guess what we ate with it. Lamb. (I eat so much lamb I’m starting to grow curly white hair. Well, that could be age. I’ve got plenty of mutton, and mutton’s plenty for me.) For Rhône lovers, give this a try. Sundrenched, powerful and delicious.

And, finally, the Limerick Lane 2011 Headpruned Syrah, spectacular Syrah made from old headpruned vines (“Hey, I’m not bald, I’m headpruned.”). This Syrah is a doozy, a nice example of Syrah in all its glory. Meaty, spicy, bold, peppery, all in equal measure. The nose gets more and more captivating as it breathes. But, again, considering the power here, and the intensity, it has the grace on the palate that all great wines have, but so many merely good wines need. I think the more I taste wine, and I’ve been tasting wine since I was sommelier at the Last Supper, the more I seek out wines with both power and grace, both intensity and precision. This Syrah has all of that. Even if you think you don’t like Syrah, I dare you to not like this wine. It’s glorious. There are times Syrah can be more intellectually pleasing than sensually pleasing, but not this Limerick Lane 2011 Headpruned Syrah. It’s sexy and smart.

Limerick Lane has arisen from the ashes with a vengeance. Zinfandel lovers need to own these wines. Wine lovers need to own these wines. Shall we close appropriately?

There once was a grape known as Tribidrag
A name with the charm of a kitchen rag.
It said, “What the hell,
I’ll become Zinfandel,
Turn white, and make shit that will make you gag.”

Thursday, May 8, 2014

My Little Wine Snob™

When we were children, around eight or nine years old, most of my friends liked to play Cowboys and Indians, or Cops and Robbers, or Priests and Don’t Tell Anybody. But there was a group of us who spent a lot of our free time playing Wine Steward and Customer. Man, that was so much fun. We couldn’t wait to get home from school and set up the tables to play, and then we’d play until our mothers called us for dinner, or until one of the stupider kids ordered Chardonnay to go with his loogie.  Everyone knows Riesling always goes with loogie.

I think all kids idolize wine stewards. (We couldn’t pronounce “sommelier” very well, and it seemed like a dirty word, so we wanted to. Once, in a fit of childhood rage, I called my sister a “slutelier," and my mother washed my mouth out with Blue Nun.) We’d see a wine steward on the bus on his way to work, maybe, and we’d steal glances at him, admiring his shiny shoes, and being amazed at his ability to tell the homeless guys apart just from the way their urine smelled. I never had the courage to go up to a wine steward and talk to him (in those days, only men were wine stewards—women weren’t allowed to wear a tastevin in public and were thought to be queer if they did), but my friend Frankie did one time. He walked right up to a wine steward who was waiting at the bus stop and nervously asked, “Are you a sombullyay?” When the wine steward looked at Frankie, I think he peed a little. Not Frankie, the sombullyay.

“Yeah, Kid,” he said, “I’m a wine steward. Pretty cool, huh?”

“Are you a MS or a MW?” Frankie asked. I was tongue-tied with fear at Frankie’s audacity.

“MS” the wine steward said.

“Oh,” said Frankie, “that’s too bad. My dad says an MS is basically the Learner’s Permit of wine.” And then Frankie took off running, the wine steward chasing him until he stepped on his own self-importance and fell down. That Frankie, man, was he fearless.

I was the oldest of the kids who played Wine Steward and Customers, so I mostly got to be the Wine Steward. Plus, I had the toys to be one. I’d relentlessly begged my parents to buy me Hasbro’s “My Little Wine Snob™” kit. I can still remember how badly I wanted it from the first time I saw it. Other kids wanted cowboy outfits or Army uniforms or their own Wham-O Asbestos to play with, but I had to have “My Little Wine Snob.” It had everything—a shiny little tastevin you could wear around your neck (which was also part of Hasbro’s “My Little Sammy Davis, Jr” kit, complete with glass eye), a little corkscrew, a wine list with imaginary prices (just like real ones!), a little lapel pin with the words, “Sommelier in Training” on it, and, best of all, a sweet little three inch marble tube you could shove up your butt, which really made the Wine Steward illusion complete. I begged and begged my parents to buy it for me, and, finally, my dad let me earn it by spying on my mom when all my uncles came to visit and writing down their license plate numbers. When I had ten, he’d buy it for me. The next day, it was mine.

I’d never been to a restaurant with a wine steward, so I had to make up what a wine steward would do. My parents didn’t take us kids to nice restaurants. In those days, parents just didn’t take their kids to nice restaurants unless it was to put us in a wheelchair in front of the restaurant and panhandle. I wasn’t very good at this, but my brother could make ten bucks in no time by tying his chair to a customer’s car bumper and asking for a pull home. One time a drunk said OK instead of giving him money to go away, and we didn’t find my brother for a couple of days because going 60 miles per hour in a wheelchair, he’d missed the offramp. My dad was pretty pissed at how messed up the chair was though. Anyway, I had a good imagination, and I acted like I thought a real sommelier would act.

Frankie was the best at playing customer because he was such a jackass. So he’d sit at the table with one of the neighborhood girls, usually Ellen because he had a crush on Ellen and was always playfully banging her head into a fire hydrant, as boys like to do, and act like he was reading my play wine list. I’d improved the Hasbro “My Little Wine Snob™” wine list by adding my own selections. I added my own categories of wines to drink, like “Cat Pee,” and “Girl Parts” and “Orange Wines.” I had so many wines on my list that I gave myself a Wine Spectator Grand Award, and just like the real restaurant winners, I also didn’t really have most of the wines!  Frankie would pretend to read the wine list, and then ask Ellen what she wanted. Ellen, however, didn’t speak much any more.

Then I’d approach the table and say, in my most serious voice, “Good evening, sir, may I help you select a wine to go with your dinner tonight?” Frankie was supposed to say Yes, but sometimes he would just throw food at me to make me go away. I later learned to do this as an adult when I was at an industry wine tasting and a lot of sommeliers were around.

“Yes,” Frankie would say on cue, “I’d like you to choose a wine to go with my steak. What do you suggest? I was thinking maybe Silver Oak.”

“Silver Oak?” I’d say, simply aghast, “I’m out of that.” I wasn’t, but I’d pretend I was because I knew wine stewards hate to open Silver Oak because it’s popular and not hard to get. “But how about this wine?” And I’d point to a cult wine I’d put on my wine list for Eleventy Hundred Dollars, which, really, was a bargain since I’d seen the same wine at an auction price of way over a Gazillion.

“OK,” Frankie would say, and I’d go into the wine cellar, which was this old refrigerator box we had in the backyard, and bring out my one bottle of wine that I used no matter what one of my friends ordered. It was empty, and it had a screw top because I couldn’t really work the “My Little Wine Snob™” corkscrew, but I’d unscrew it and pretend to pour Frankie a little taste. Ellen was usually asleep by then and had her head in the food.

One time, Frankie yelled, “A fucking screwtop! Eleventy hundred bucks and I get a goddam screwtop?! Stupid wine steward, I hate you.” Apparently, Frankie had been to dinner with his grandfather and that’s what his grandfather had said. We laughed so hard. Even we knew that screwtops are for crappy wine. Even now Stelvins give me the giggles. Which is embarrassing when I’m peeping into my neighbor’s windows.

Frankie would swirl the empty glass (we used Hasbro’s “My Little Pretentious Asswipe” Riedel stemware), and then say, “I don’t know, I think it’s corked.”

I’d grab the glass from his hand, swirl it very dramatically, take a deep, snot-filled whiff, and exclaim, “It’s not corked, you poophead, it’s got terroir! You’ll drink it and pay for it.”

And before he could object, I’d hear my mother screaming in her happy voice and I’d have to run home to write down another uncle’s license plate.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Forbidden Love: A Confession

I’m not sure how I’m going to get through this confession. And, to be perfectly honest, I know that after reading it, you’re going to think differently about me, think much less of me, for the most part. But I’m tired of hiding who I am, tired of pretending that I’m “normal.” Whatever that is. Like you’re so normal. I can’t help who I am. It wasn’t a choice I made, it was simply about accepting what I felt, no longer keeping it hidden from the world. So please try to keep an open mind. Don’t judge me.

I mean, I was raised to believe, like most of you, that romantic love was meant to be between a man and a woman. Or maybe a man and several women. Or maybe a man and a really ripe bleu cheese. So it’s been hard for me to accept my own desires, to finally admit to myself, and now to the world, that I’m not like “normal” men. I feel a strong sexual desire that most people, especially religious people, would find repellent. I get that. I look in the mirror and I feel repulsion. I can’t believe this is happening to me. I’ve heaped scorn upon people, insulted them, called them derogatory names, for feeling the desires and needs I’m feeling myself now. But I think I’m ready to accept the name-calling, the dirty stares, the revulsion people will feel when I make my confession. I hope I’m ready. OK, here goes.

For the rest of the truth about my Forbidden Love, you'll have to go to Tim Atkin's site. Oh, it's sordid, and hugely embarrassing, but, well, it's simply time for me to admit my horrible sexual persuasion.

Feel free to leave your taunts and name-calling at Tim's place, or hurl your epithets here, where hurling is King.


Thursday, May 1, 2014

The HoseMaster's Comprehensive Guide to Wine 5


It’s gotten a lot harder when it comes to choosing red wine. It used to be there were only a few kinds of red wine. There was Cabernet and Merlot and Italian wine, a couple of French red wines from hard to spell places, and that was it. Those were the good old days for Americans. Now there’s all kinds of stupid red wines from places you wish would just go away, like Germany. Why do we need German red wines? Nobody wants German red wines. If you see an article about German red wines, you can be pretty sure you’re reading the wrong publications, and you should cancel your subscription. German red wines. What next? British sparkling wines? First you make shitty cars, then you make shitty bubbly. Are you trying to make France look good? Next thing you know we’ll be drinking wines from Uruguay. What the hell! Because jackasses think they can make wine wherever they live, we have to import it and serve it in creepy wine bars that specialize in unusual wines and an air of superiority? Know why they serve these screwy wines from all over the world, Freisa for fuck’s sake, who the hell wants that, or Abouriou, which sounds like some kind of dung beetle, at those trendy wine bars? Because you know when a $12 glass of Cabernet sucks, but what the hell do you know about Tannat? Drink it and shut up.

Let’s take a quick look at the major red grapes that you need to know something about so you don’t look like a total wine ignorant ignoramus.

Cabernet Sauvignon: OK, so here’s the thing. You’ll start off loving Cabernet Sauvignon, drinking a lot of it, collecting it, boring the crap out of everyone talking about the difference between Cabernet from Howell Mountain and Cabernet from Mt. Veeder, which is that one has a buttload of tannin and the other one has a shitload, and then one day you’ll grow tired of it. Cabernet Sauvignon is the FaceBook of grapes—you look at it all the time, but, frankly, you’re sick of it and wish you’d never wasted your time. Plus, when you’re talking about Cabernet, all you’re really talking about is money. Money and Cabernet go together like poverty and beer. When you think about Napa Valley Cabernet, and Bordeaux, and the Cabernets from Bolgheri, the first thing you think of isn’t elegance and refinement and longevity, the first thing you think of is money. Got change for a Mouton? So do yourself a favor and start out sick of Cabernet. But if you have to order it, order the ones with castles.

Pinot Noir: Of all the red wines, Pinot Noir is the prettiest. It’s basically red wine in drag. You take home a bottle, finally get it where you want it, and, bang, you realize it’s sportin’ a little Beaune in its barnyard. It’s just full of surprises. Winemakers often say that Pinot Noir is the grape that most vividly reflects its terroir. No one knows what this means. It sort of means that it tastes like where it comes from, which is good, I guess, unless you’re talking bodily fluids. The best Pinot Noirs have an ethereal grandeur to them, like RuPaul. Pinot Noir is most famously the grape of Burgundy, where the best vineyards are called Grand Cru, followed by vineyards nearly as great called Premier Cru, and all the rest of the crap is grown all over the place and is thus referred to as Motley Cru. When speaking knowledgeably about Pinot Noir, it is best to dismiss Oregon Pinot Noir while talking up Pinot Noir from New Zealand. Remember, people in Oregon hate you, while Kiwis are unfailingly nice.

Syrah: Syrah is also known by its rap name, Shiraz. DNA profiling has shown Syrah to be the offspring of Mondeuse Blanche and Mondeuse Stanley, which is why it’s a grape that has always depended upon the kindness of strangers. Which isn’t really working out. Syrah is the grape of the great Northern Rhône appellations, so they’re stuck with it. For many years, wine pundits (yes, there are wine pundits, though they are often referred to in the trade as “buffoons”) predicted that Syrah would be the next Merlot. For once, they were right. No one buys either one any more. Except when they buy cheap Pinot Noir. As for me, I’ve always said that Syrah would be my desert island grape—basically, like Australia.

Zinfandel: Just don’t ever make a stupid pun with the word “Zin.” They’ve all been done by Randall Grahm, doon what comes naturally. So resist the urge, you’ll just sound like an idiot. A few years ago, Carole Meredith of UC Davis tracked down the origin of Zinfandel to Croatia, where it’s called Tribidrag. Carole is the Tribidrag Queen. Women hate Zinfandel, making it the Three Stooges of grapes, which is Fine by Larry. I have no idea why women hate Zinfandel, but it’s true. Oh, some pretend to like it, but they really don’t, like oral sex. So Zin is like oral sex with the Three Stooges. I think that sums it up. Drinking Zin is like a Nyuk-el sandwich to the mouth. See, puns make you sound like an idiot.

Oh, let’s just talk about a few more red grapes that don’t matter as much:

Grenache: Pape music to my ears. Also, Cannonau fodder for cheap red wine.
Negroamaro: The Audacity of Hope for Southern Italy
Mourvédre: A happy grape, needs a lot of sun. Bet your bottom dollar, the sun’ll come out Mataro.
Freisa: A little brain damaged after Ali was through with him.
Malbec: Cot Wine?
Monica: Oh, Baby, Monica goes down easy.
Trousseau: Fucking Bastardo
Pinotage: The epitome of Boering.