Monday, January 26, 2015

A Master Sommelier Judges at a Wine Competition

I knew I shouldn’t have accepted. Isn’t life just like that? You always know when you’re about to do something stupid, like mistake a 100-Point Chateauneuf-du-Pape for Ruby Port when clearly a Ruby Port would be lower in alcohol (hey, I passed the exam anyway), but then you do it anyway. You insert your warm meat Coravin in the wrong spongy mass. You order wine by-the-glass at a Thai restaurant. You answer your phone at three in the morning even though you know it’s Alice and all she wants to do is ask you if your favorite sexual position is reverse osmosis, you asshole. You do it, and then you regret it, and swear you’ll never do it again; but you will. I did. And I’m Larry Anosmia, MS. I like to think of myself as better than human. I have the letters to prove it.

I was invited to be a judge for the Tim Fish Celebrity Wine Challenge and Sausage Fest. I’m not sure he knows what a “sausage fest” is. But, to be sure, most wine competitions are sausage fests. As far as judges go, men tend to outnumber women by a factor of five. And outweigh them by a factor of twenty. It’s a lot like the United States Supreme Court, only without any minorities. Mostly old white guys wearing robes and passing judgment. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an African American wine judge at a competition. Well, maybe once at a Hungarian Wine Competition, but I think he was basically a Tokay black judge. Anyhow, in a weak moment, I accepted the Fish bait. Stupid.

There’s nothing wrong with wine competitions. Except that there are other judges. Sometimes there can be as many as FOUR other judges on my panel. Remember that I’m a Master Sommelier, and there is no chance that any of the other judges will be Master Anygoddamthing. I might have to sit and judge wines with someone who buys wine for a grocery store! Do you know what kind of wine they buy for grocery stores? EVERY DAY wine! Believe me, you spend your life tasting EVERY DAY wine and you know what you actually know about wine? Which wineries have the best cardboard boxes, that’s about all you know about wine. You have a grocery store palate, which is like entering the Westminster Dog Show with a turd on a leash. Or I might have to judge with a wine writer, for God’s sake. Not a wine writer anyone’s ever heard of. Well, to be fair, there aren’t very many famous wine writers. There are probably more famous accordion players than famous wine writers. And you don’t want either one at your wedding. One squeezes everything he can get out of his meager instrument, and the other plays the polka. Wine writers make lousy wine judges. Most of the time they just steal the other judges’ ideas.

I was lucky that at the Tim Fish Celebrity Wine Challenge and Sausage Fest there were only three judges on each panel. All I had to do was use my superior and faultless wine knowledge to persuade one of the other two “judges” to agree with me and I could award as many, or as few, gold medals as I desired. Wine competitions that have lots of entries, or want lots of entries, love to have three-judge panels because then any wine entered only needs two votes for gold medal to be awarded a gold medal instead of the three votes it would need with a panel of four or five judges. Of course, the public doesn’t know how many judges are on a panel at any given competition. They just see Gold Medal and are impressed. Most of the time, winning a Gold Medal at a wine competition is akin to thinking you struck the hitter out with the bases loaded after strike two. You’ve really won nothing. But you certainly need two balls to brag about it. The panel next to us had five judges, and the one next door had four. If I’m submitting a wine to a wine competition, I want my wine judged by the three judge panel—I’d insist on it. But, hell, most wineries haven’t the slightest idea how wine competitions work either. They fork over the $85 entry fee, pull the arm, and hope the slots fill up with three cherries. Jackpot! Want to go again?

My two fellow “judges” (I’m being kind—like saying Dawn were Tony Orlando) were nice folks. And it certainly wasn’t their fault that no one had informed them that my opinions were final. But those letters after my name? I don’t have them tattooed around my nipples because that looks good on my Titter feed. I have a degree! I passed a test administered by some of the greatest wine experts on the planet—and Larry Stone. Why, after smelling and tasting a wine and making my decision, would I change my opinion based on someone else’s opinion? Does that make any sense to anyone? Some woman who buys wine for a grocery store? Sure. “The weimaraner, the French bulldog, and the turd on the leash—once more around the ring!” No, Larry Anosmia MS says Silver Medal, the damned Merlot is a Silver Medal. Why are we having this discussion? Because the wine writer thinks it’s a Gold Medal wine? Well, strap on your accordion and play “Lady of Spain” because then we’ll believe you have talent, but it’s still a Silver.

And, really, should it take more than five minutes to judge a dozen wines? We only have 175 wines to judge today. Alder Yarrow can do that in two hours with his ego tied behind his back. You need all damned day? These wineries should know better. No one who makes wine worthy of a Gold Medal enters a wine competition to win a Gold Medal, so why are we awarding Gold Medals? You won’t catch Larry Anosmia MS giving any Gold Fish Awards! And you won’t catch any MS worthy of his string of initials after his name changing his vote. We’re Master Sommeliers, goddamit. We don’t make mistakes. We point them out.

I knew it was a mistake to judge the Tim Fish Celebrity Wine Challenge and Sausage Fest. For one thing, I was the only celebrity there. I was told a Kardashian would be there, but I don’t even know where Kardashia is. And the judges weren’t even given an honorarium. Though I will treasure the souvenir Talking Tim Fish you mount on your wall. It’s cool. You clap, and he moves his lips and randomly awards scores! It’s eerily lifelike.

I’ve been drinking a lot of 2012 Chablis, and mostly the cheaper stuff. One of the first great white wines I ever purchased for cellaring was a Raveneau Chablis. I had no idea what it was at the time, and bought it for the simple reason that the guy at my local wine shop, who knew that I was completely hooked on wine, told me to. I knew Chablis was Chardonnay, which was fine, it was in an era long ago when Americans were in love with Chardonnay, a time when Chateau St. Jean could produce ten different vineyard-designated Chardonnays and people would flock to a tasting just to taste them all. So I knew that Raveneau was Chardonnay, but I had no idea Chardonnay could be Raveneau. I get cold sweats just picking up a bottle of Raveneau, like the kind of nerves you get the first time you undress a new lover, though it’s considered bad form to then put that new lover into a cold cellar for ten years. 2012 seems to be a remarkable vintage in Chablis, and the wines I’ve consumed, all of them under $25, have been sensational. Piuze, Domaine des Melandes, Domaine des Bois d’Yver, William Févre—all of the 12’s have that purity and power, that razor’s edge of acidity, that kind of verve that vibrates on your palate, that I associate with Chablis, and only Chablis. These are insanely underpriced wines.

My oldest love is for baseball. I don’t care at all about other sports, though women’s roller derby is kinda hot. So when I heard the news that the great Ernie Banks had died, I was sad. You know you’ve been a success in life when the word “great” easily attaches to your name. (I’m not holding my breath for the great HoseMaster.) And Ernie Banks was a great baseball player. The very first baseball game I attended was in 1959, when the Los Angeles Dodgers played in the LA Memorial Coliseum. I went with my Cub Scout troop, and we watched a game between the Dodgers and the Chicago Cubs. The Dodgers won the game 4-2, but Banks hit a beautiful, majestic home run over the very close, but very high, left field screen—it was but 250 feet from home plate to the screen, but it stood 40 feet high. Very few home runs were hit over that screen—I read a statistic that in 1958 only 9 homes runs were hit at the Coliseum in 77 games! So I loved Ernie Banks for hitting that amazing home run, the left fielder for the Dodgers, the wonderfully named Wally Moon, staring high into the sky to watch it soar over the screen—a rare occurrence. The Dodgers won the World Series that year, beating the Cubs’ crosstown rivals, the White Sox. But it was Ernie Banks who was the League MVP that year. Excuse me, it was the great Ernie Banks who was the League MVP that year.

Was there ever a more optimistic person in sports than Banks? I loved Ernie Banks. But, then, if you play for the Cubs for 19 years, you’d better be optimistic. I heard Banks interviewed a few years ago on NPR, and what I remember him saying was, and I’m quoting him from memory, “I loved winning, but the thing I loved more than winning was making friends.” As famous and as remarkable a ballplayer as he was, he never charged for an autograph, like the talented but despicable Pete Rose. He spent hours and hours after games talking to kids, making friends. On the diamond, he was talent and joy rolled into one graceful shortstop. I’m sure he would say he had a great life playing the game of baseball. But Ernie Banks wasn’t lucky he found baseball--baseball was. It was a gorgeous day here today, Ernie. Let’s play two.


Unknown said...

There was a Sopranos episode when Tony gets pissed off about the singing fish because it reminds him of the talking fish that told him he had to whack Pussy.. so watch your back Ron!!! those last lines killed!

Bill Ward said...

LOL-o-rama, my friend, even though I am a major contributor to the weight/gender disparity among competition judges. Sweet tribute to Mr. Cub, whom I had the privilege of sharing a beer with, and was all that and more.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Thanks, David. Though a fish leading to a pussy whack had me rather flustered.

I never had the pleasure of Ernie Banks' company, though I would have loved to have judged wine with him. No one spits like a ballplayer.

Thomas said...


Can i even start to count how many times I felt the way Mr. Anosmia felt during the panel consensus rounds. Oi vay!

As for the Great Ernie Banks: right on.

The first ballgame I attended was a Dodger-Cub double header at Ebbets Field. Ernie was young then (as was I, very). He annoyed the hell outta me for threatening my team...

(As for the Dodgers who abandoned Brooklyn, I don't consider anything that team did after 1955 to have merit.)

renzo said...

I came for the satyr and stayed for the ephemera... It may be greek to some but to this observer it's all good!

Don Clemens said...

As always, I loved the post; no one throws around puns and double entendres like you can.
Then, you had to get all serious about one of my favorite baseball players. Thanks for the kind words about Ernie Banks, "Mr. Cub". He was and always will be a treasure.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

It was the '59 Dodgers that made me a baseball fan forever--or maybe it was Vin Scully. I have dozens of childhood memories that are tied to baseball. It was, obviously, a different era in the game. Players now are paid a lot of money and are under constant scrutiny. Most crumble under that scrutiny. Yet, were he a modern-day player, Ernie Banks could have withstood any and all scrutiny and come out as the class act that he was. Not just a remarkable shortstop, but an inspiring man.

Famous people die every day. It is only rarely that I feel the loss personally. The great Ernie Banks...I shed a few tears.

Thanks. "Ephemera" began as a way for me write a little bit every day, after work, or first thing in the morning. I struggled with the idea of how egotistical the concept is. Does anyone care what I think? Folks come here to laugh, or get angry. Who cares what I think about Ernie Banks? But I'm enjoying the routine, and the back and forth it's generated. A short break after the comedy. Seems to work.

I usually publish Monday. Maybe I should switch to Satyrday.

This piece was another exercise in trying to find Larry Anosmia's Voice. I like the idea of him, but it takes time to hone in on his voice and persona. Lo Hai Qu came a lot easier. OK, that may not have come out how I mean it.

You can't even think about Ernie Banks without smiling. That's a legacy to which we should all aspire.

Marcia Macomber said...

So many wonderful zingers. I heard the rimshot play in my head after each and every one. This one may be one that lasts into eternity: "We’re Master Sommeliers, goddamit. We don’t make mistakes. We point them out."

As a former Chicagoan I'm rather used to the always-behind Cubs. But we love them. The Great Ernie Banks made it easier.

kcp said...

"No one who makes wine worthy of a Gold Medal enters a wine competition to win a Gold Medal, so why are we awarding Gold Medals?"

Thank you. Wine competitions are merely window dressing for the supermarket trade.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Marcia Love,
You have to do something about that rimshot playing in your head--could be coming from your eardrums. Ba-dum-bum.

You're welcome. I've always wondered why we bother with Silver and Bronze medals. You never see an obit that begins, "Former Olympic Silver Medalist..." It's all about Gold. And Bronze? Well, it's the Miss Congeniality Award.

Thomas said...

I thought Nixon took us off the gold standard.

Charlie Olken said...

Rimshots, gotta love 'em, are one thing. Wisdom is another.

Hard to top "No one who makes wine worthy of a Gold Medal enters a wine competition to win a Gold Medal, so why are we awarding Gold Medals?"

Andy Rooney could not have said it better.

As for Mr. Cub, they don't make many like him. Sad that his team never won anything.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

I miss my dead Andy Rooney posts. He had a very easy style to parody. Thanks for the kind words. Wisdom is hardly what I peddle here.

I think it's safe to say the Ernie Banks might be the greatest baseball player to have never made the playoffs. Though in his time, only two of the 20 teams made it in any given year. And with the likes of Billy Williams and Ron Santo and Ferguson Jenkins, it's amazing he didn't.