Wednesday, July 30, 2014

"Natural Wine"--A Blind Book Review

The endless and tiresome debates about natural wine that are raging around the wine world finally convinced me that I should make it a point to not read Isabelle Legeron’s “Natural Wine,” and to review it blind. Reviewing a book without having read it is the only way to objectively analyze its content. It is no different than reviewing a wine blind. Actually reading “Natural Wine” would only bring my knowledge and experience into play, qualities that have no place at the reviewing stand. As in wine reviews, ignorance is surely the reviewer’s most specialized and valuable tool. One has only to scan Wine Spectator scores for this to be self-evident.

First, allow me to note that I have a fondness for natural wine. I also like Renaissance Faires, and think Amish people are just so damned cute. Critics who don’t like proponents of Natural Wine, like Isabelle Legeron, MW, need to remember just how adorable they are, all anti-progress and anti-science. So sweet!  Come on, who needs sulfites when you have Luddites? Come to think of it, I also like cookie dough, or as I like to call it, Natural Cookies. Cookies baked in newfangled ovens are just so fake. Some flour, some raw eggs, some yeast--cookies make themselves! And here’s a tip: Nothing goes with Natural Wine Pinot Noir better than some juicy Salmonella you contracted from Natural Cookies.

Isabelle Legeron is one of only 312 Masters of Wine in the world. She achieved this distinction by learning about, writing about, and learning to identify blind all those second-rate, obviously poorly-made wines not produced in the natural way. Crap like d'Yquem, Vega Sicilia, and all of those stupid First Growths. This must have been murder on such a delicate, sophisticated, discriminating palate. Her accomplishment of earning an MW is, for her, akin to going undercover and passing as a sex trafficker. As a society, we owe her an enormous debt of gratitude for uncovering firsthand the nightmare that is modern wine, and can only imagine the suffering and indignities she witnessed and endured. I mean, come on, Clive Coates was always hanging around. What must that have done to her?

For those of you who have been living in a cave, and are, therefore, the target audience for Natural Wines, it would probably be useful to define “natural wine.” Yup, sure would be. The book is filled with hints, but an actual definition is elusive. It seems to start in the vineyard. Natural wines can only come from vineyards that are farmed organically or biodynamically. OK, this is starting to make sense. I like that Natural Wines give diseases a fighting chance. I think we all agree that vaccines are bad things, too, causing problems like autism, overpopulation, and unattractive scabs. Diseases are natural, and deserve a chance to impact the wine. So I’m in complete agreement on this count.

Also, according to “Natural Wine,” which I have not had the pleasure of reading (amazingly, English is Legeron’s third language, after French and Elvish), natural wines are made with as little intervention as humanly possible, sort of like Mexican cures for cancer. Frankly, I agree with Legeron on this point as well. I’ve long said that the best way to improve wines is to reduce the number of winemakers, though I advocated automatic weapons and anthrax. Grapes evolved for tens of thousands of years without human interference, and, honestly, made the finest wines in history. Bill Koch has some in his cellar he bought from a very reputable auction house. Amazing the vines were able to bottle.

If the ordinary wine buyer of today actually knew how wineries manipulate wine, knew all the tricks and additives they employ, they would be outraged. And for what? To make them taste good? That’s hardly justification. As Legeron points out, we constantly worry about where our food comes from and how it’s handled, why shouldn’t we apply the same criteria to wine? (Legeron is our Michael Pollan of wine. Yet the laugh is on her—grapes are self-Pollanating.) I think she’s right. When I dine at a fine restaurant that uses only sustainably grown produce and responsibly raised meats, I sure as hell don’t want a chef screwing it up. And wine is exactly the same as food, when you think about it—a luxury item. Not everyone in the world needs it. Oh, sure, people will complain, but someone has to draw the line and tell them, No, natural is the only way and if there isn’t enough, if it’s unavailable, you’ll just have to do without.  The best food available, just like the best wine, is all that matters. Well, when you’re at the top of the food and wine chain anyway.

As I neared the end of the book, having not turned a single page, I found myself in agreement with almost everything Legeron writes about Natural Wine. Of course, this isn’t surprising given that she is a Master of Wine, and their opinions are oenological Apostolic Exhortations, no matter how oeno-illogical they might seem. Legeron also declaims the overuse of sulfur (a certain sign of the presence of Satan) in winemaking, as well as sulfites at bottling. I think she’s right. Nearsighted critics of her work complain that the natural winemaking methods she outlines will almost always lead to faulty wines. As though this were a bad thing.

First of all, faults are in the eye of the beholder. It’s no different than falling in love. Are we going to let chemistry get in the way of recreational sex? Hell, no. Chemistry is just as detrimental in wine evaluation. It robs you in its relentlessly logical and unforgiving way of the pleasure of just holding your nose and getting drunk. And getting drunk on a beverage that was made the right way, has all its wet spots in the right place, to further my analogy. Chemistry has no place in winemaking.

Secondly, with time, those “faults” go away. How do we know this? Legeron tells us so, and if there is one thing you learn from reading “Natural Wine” it’s that what separates Natural Wine from all other lesser wine is Faith. And, truly, the wine business needs Faith. Faith is what separates man from lowly, filthy beasts. Faith is what separates Natural Wine from Stupid Wine. Faith that manure from a lactating cow buried for six months, blended with fermented flowers and specific herbs, mixed with untold gallons of water will restore micro-organisms to the soil. Faith that a winery is so clean you can ferment wine in it without fear of contamination. Faith that your senses are lying to you when you stick your nose in and then taste a “faulty” wine, not the salesman serving it. Faith that your purity of intention and love for the Earth will guide you to select the bottle of Natural Wine from the displayed case of Natural Wine that is the bottle variation that is drinkable and delicious.  Faith that wine is meant to be sackcloth, a lesson in humility, and not hedonistic pleasure.

I very much enjoyed Isabelle Legeron’s “Natural Wine.” I just wish they’d printed it with natural ink.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Is That MegaPurple, Or Are You Just Happy to See Me?

There is one important way that wine is like food—the cheaper it is, the more manipulated it is. But that’s the way we like it. Americans don’t like surprises. This explains 9-11. And condoms. When we buy a bottle of cheap wine, we don’t care about the vintage or the appellation, we just care that it tastes like it did the last time we bought it, five years ago. Just like we want McDonald’s french fries to always taste like salty cardboard regardless of where in the world we’re eating them. If they taste like potatoes, they’re disgusting. If cheap wine tasted like quality wine, that would be a horrible mistake. All that character getting in the way of the alcohol? That seems pointless. Winemakers understand this, and go to great lengths to manipulate those inexpensive wines into tasting as unobtrusive and bland as possible. How do they do this? They add stuff. Same as they do to cheap food.

There are many wine blogs devoted to “Great Wines Under $20.” Let’s get something straight. There are no great wines under $20. There are fools who think there are, but, for God’s sake, don’t believe them. The wines they recommend are not, never have been, and never will be, Great Wines any more than the new James Patterson piece of shit is a Great Book. So shut the hell up about “Great Wines Under $20.” Cheap and easy to understand doesn’t equate to great. If it did, my idiot cousin would be on Mount Rushmore. It demeans the hard work of the great vintners of the world to refer to cheapass, manipulated wines as “Great.” Even if you need to feel good about drinking Great Wines Under $20 all the time, and not knowing the difference, you don’t need to insult the truly great wines of the world, or the intelligence of your readers. What’s wrong with “Wines I Like Under $20?” We know you’re an idiot, and can take that into account. “Great Wines Under $20,” for fuck’s sake. That’s like shopping on Craig’s List for Bargain Plastic Surgery. It’s cheap dick enhancement.

I know, most of you believe in the “romance” of wine, the compost heap that marketing departments sell under the guise of “telling the winery’s story.”

We lovingly tend our beautiful and historic vineyards, coaxing the best out of them. We hire happy little brown people who sing and prance as they harvest the precious grapes. We don’t know where these little brown people come from, they just magically appear each year, despite the gunfire. Each cluster is praised and admired as we prepare it to meet its maker. Gently crushed, like your teenage daughter’s heart, it transforms itself, under our ever-watchful eyes, into Great Wine, which we bottle and reluctantly sell to our friends. We are mere stewards of the land, and too humble to intervene in this mystical process of transformation. We don’t make our wines, our wines make us.

Yup, and California cheese comes from contented cows. Why are they content? Their farts are causing climate change and killing humans, that’s why. Damned bovines.

Let’s take a brief look at some of the more popular wine additives, and what they add to wine.

Gum Arabic
Gum Arabic, which is made from the sap of two species of Acacia tree, so it’s tree bodily fluid, is added to wines to enhance texture. As an alternative, many wineries in Lodi add Maple syrup to their Zinfandels in order to receive high scores from Mrs. Butterworth, who writes under the name Natalie MacLean.

Most wines that are referred to as being “silky” can attribute that quality to just a splash of WD-40 added right before bottling. Many inexpensive Priorats can repair rusty locks. Pouring Apothic down your pants can unstick your zipper. This is a little celebrated quality of manipulated silky wines, but one you should explore.  No tool kit is complete without a bottle of Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc.

Often added to German Riesling, it helps with mileage. As they say in Germany, there’s no fuel like and old fuel. Or sometimes, petrol for one, and one for all. Germans are hilarious.

Copper Sulfate
Small amounts of copper sulfate may be added to a wine in order to remove hydrogen sulfides, which cause wine to smell like rotten eggs. Copper sulfate in sufficient quantity is poisonous to humans, but no more so than Sarah Palin, who, unsurprisingly, is also redolent of very old eggs. But don’t worry about copper sulfate specifically, wine is filled with poison. It’s called alcohol. Luckily, the antidote is readily available, and involves driving home.

Powdered Tannin
Powdered tannin is sometimes added to red wine to help fix color and add grip. Sadly, Michael Jackson tried this and, well, you know the result. He obviously lost his grip. The same additive is occasionally used on donuts, which then go great with Barolo.

James Earl Jones Voiceover
Often added to make an expensive wine seem classier. Cheaper wines use a high dosage of Morgan Freeman. Adding voiceovers is technically illegal in Europe, though they do allow the use of ventriloquists.

MegaPurple is a grape concentrate made from the hybrid grape Rubired. Manufactured by the wine conglomerate Constellation, it’s often added to red wine in order to ruin it. A single drop, however, is said to make any orange wine significantly better—bang, it’s even more orange! MegaPurple is also a common substitute for Viagra. If after consuming a glass of The Prisoner your erection lasts for more than four hours, consult a sommelier. That’ll make anyone go flaccid.

Monday, July 14, 2014


Splooge Estates, and our sister winery, The Linoleum Project™, are proud to announce the opening of our newest and most exciting project to date, AuthenticLand! Located in Los Angeles, California, AuthenticLand isn’t just a winery that focuses on Natural, Real, Authentic and Certified Sensitive® wines, AuthenticLand is also Southern California’s latest amusement park! Bring the whole family! While Mom and Dad sample the latest releases from The Linoleum Project™, the kids can experience the thrill of AuthenticLand’s most fearsome roller coaster, Shittin’ Brix! AuthenticLand promises to be all-natural fun for the whole family.

Those of you who love wine may be asking yourselves, Why Los Angeles? Why start a new winery in the Least Natural City in the World, a city where the movies are reel but the tits are fake? Splooge Estate’s Director of Winemaking Seaman Samples explains:

“We’re running out of weird old vineyards in Northern California to exploit. Every damned vineyard planted to Trousseau or Negrette (and if you haven’t had our co-fermented Trousseau and Negrette, you owe yourself a bottle of the The Linoleum Project™ “Trou Gret”—look for John Wayne on the label!), Chenin Blanc or Furmint (come on, haven’t you had our Furmint and Chenin Blanc combination, The Linoleum Project™ Chenin de Fur?—it’s our version of overpriced Night Train!) is overrun with creepy young winemakers looking to make names for themselves by producing Natural Wines from orphan varieties. These young winemakers are all over these orphan varieties like the sex trade on runaways. Pimp ‘em out, slap ‘em in some fancy wrapping, and sell ‘em to mouth-breathing perverts. At Splooge Estate, we saw this coming. We knew there were vineyards in Southern California, and we knew they were old. That’s all we needed to start lining up investors to build AuthenticLand. Are the vineyards any good? They’re old! That’s all you need to sell Authentic wine. If we say they’re great vineyards, well, we can take that to the bank, regardless of whether you can. And, besides, once we’re done with the fruit, hell, it doesn’t really matter how good the vineyard was.”

Once we decided to build yet another winery focused on producing fine wines that express the character of the land, even if that character is primarily pavement (which the first releases capture perfectly, having been fermented in cement eggs—not winemaking cement eggs, but eggs harvested from very old termagants), we then decided to make AuthenticLand a Southern California must-see tourist destination, like Disneyland, Sea World, and Kim Kardashian’s ButtBonanza. (What’s that brown mark on your forehead? Must be Ass Wednesday at ButtBonanza!) At AuthenticLand, there’s our Certified Sensitive® wines for the adults to taste and purchase. Remember, The Linoleum Project™ makes only Certified Sensitive® wines. Leave your critical faculties behind when you taste our wines! Judgment has no place in AuthenticLand, any more than quality control does. Don’t say anything negative about our wines, no matter how bad they taste! They’re right there, right in front of you, and they’re Certified Sensitive®! Have some human feelings, for fuck’s sake, the wines do. They’ve been crushed once, don’t crush them again. Even a dirty look can render them dumb, and ruin them for everyone. Just drink ‘em and praise ‘em, even if you don’t understand their reason to exist. It’s what the “wine critics” do.

While the adults are enjoying the wines, the kids can explore all of AuthenticLand’s worlds. Our aim is to make it both fun and educational for the kids.

What reflects the philosophy of Authentic Wines better than Fantasy? Kids will line up to experience “It’s a Small Lot World,” where singing and dancing dolls that bear remarkable resemblances to major wine reviewers (Look, isn’t that Jay McInerney dressed as a little Dutch boy about to put his finger in another dike!) teach the kids that wine made in small lots is better than wine made in big lots by definition! Unless, of course, as Thomas Mathews in his Little Lord Fauntleroy outfit (an exact replica of the one he wears to Wine Spectator Grand Awards!) reminds the kids, they’re major advertisers! “It’s a Small Lot World” is fun for all ages, but don’t let that catchy jingle get caught in your brain for the rest of the day! Mommy and Daddy are drunk in the tasting room, and even Certified Sensitive® can make Daddy belligerent. In 2016, look for the newest FantasyWorld attraction to open. It’s “Alice in Wonderland!” Ride magic earthworms as you follow Alice Feiring down the Rabbit Hole of Self-Delusion, dine with her at the Tea Party and Drink the Kool-Aid table with the Mad Hatter Randall Grahm and the March Hairless Terry Theise! Oh, the fun you’ll have!

We know that the great wines of today are Natural, Authentic, Real and Certified Sensitive®, but what will the future bring? We know that orange wines are the best wines, that sulfites cause brain cancer, and indigenous yeast have the highest yeast IQ’s. So what’s next? You’ll get a peek at the future as you tour AuthenticLand’s “Winery of Tomorrow!” Do you love those skin contact “orange” white wines? In the future, Natural Winemakers will make white wine using only the skins! Yes, peeling each Torrontes grape by hand is hard work, but it’s an ancient tradition passed down from Roman prostitutes—who are replaced in the future by wine bloggers. Then the skins are crushed, left unattended while the winemaker is serviced by the wine bloggers (a tradition handed down from today), and when fermentation is done, the resulting wine best expresses its site—it’s really brown and smells like cellar rat butt. And it’s got hardly any alcohol at all! Can’t wait! We don’t want to give all its secrets away, you’ll have to visit AuthenticLand for that, but also look in the “Winery of Tomorrow” for grapes harvested by mouth (“Hands off” is our motto!), wines aged in cactus (climate change will have made oak forests extinct), and corks that say “Shit!” when you put the corkscrew in.

FrontierWorld is all about nostalgia, about the long lost days of winemaking, when wine was intentionally, if wrongheadedly, made to taste good. Your and your family should spend a few minutes in “Great Moments with Mr. Mondavi.” A lifelike robot, think James Laube, that is a perfect rendition of Robert Mondavi talks about his love of fine wine, his love of Napa Valley, and his life dedicated to making wine part of everyday gracious living. It’s pathetic. We know now that the crap Mondavi spent his life promoting isn’t real wine, isn’t authentic wine, that it’s for indiscriminate suckers, and you leave feeling sorry for this California pioneering giant. What an idiot! Fun for the whole family. Spoiler alert! That’s a dummy of Fred Franzia in the background flippin’ ol’ Bob the bird! You and the kids will love FrontierWorld. Mom and Dad, don’t miss the old-fashioned tasting room where you can sample old favorites from the past like Mateus, Blue Nun, Mouton-Cadet, Green Hungarian, and Wente Brothers Blanc de Blancs! Then go back to The Linoleum Estate™ tasting room and, bingo, now the wines taste good!

There’s something for everyone at AuthenticLand. As we always say here at Splooge Estate and The Linoleum Project™, “If it’s taste you’re after, you’re in the wrong place.”

Monday, July 7, 2014

Call Me Jancis

Call me Jancis. Everyone does, even though it’s not my name. Well, it is when I’m conducting a wine seminar, or giving a speech at some God-forsaken outpost of weird wine that wants to pretend its wines are worthwhile, like the Jura. Many days I wake up and cannot recall my birth name. I think it’s Cameron, though it could be Mel. I’ve been Jancis for so long now, it doesn’t really matter. I look like her, I walk like her, I sound like her, I spit exactly like her—I was taught that the stream should most closely resemble that of the cherub’s as it urinates into a typical Italian fountain. So you may as well call me Jancis. I’ve been a Jancis double for the past ten years. I am Jancis, though she is not me.

For the rest of this surprising tale, leap on over to