Monday, January 12, 2015

The Year in the Wine Family 2014--Goodbye to All That

New Year's Greetings to All of Our Wine Family Friends!

Oh, friends, the years march on, and the older you get, the faster they pass—as if years were Mexican food. And there we were at the end of last year’s big enchilada wishing we hadn’t eaten it so quickly. My cheeks are squeezed tighter than Nat MacLean’s smile trying not to let too much news slip out. So much has happened to our wine family in 2014.  I’ll try to be brief.

Most of you will have heard that Uncle Antonio got so drunk one night that he bought Cousin Steve Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar. Oh, we’ve all been there. The story goes that Uncle Antonio was up really late drinking and watching reruns of Gary Vaynerchuk on Wine Library TV. He gets nostalgic when he drinks, and it was by watching the original episodes that Uncle Antonio taught himself to speak English, so he was brushing up on his hyperbole and shitty grammar. Plus, who doesn’t love to watch a talking chimp? Well, between episodes, Uncle Antonio fell prey to those late night infomercials and bought a Flowbee, a Jancis Robinson Chia Pet© (simply add water and it sprouts a lifelike moustache!), and Cousin Steve’s wine magazine. Cousin Steve had been wanting to sell IWC for a while, even tried to get Acker Merrall to auction it, but they couldn’t be certain it was fake, so they passed. Now Uncle Antonio owns it. Cousin Steve was so happy with the deal he threw in Josh Raynolds for nothing! Uncle Antonio just had to pay Shipping and Handling. The whole family is excited for Uncle Antonio. He really needed that Flowbee.

It’s kind of a family secret, but Uncle Antonio wants to replace Uncle Bob as Emperor. He thinks reaching Cousin Steve’s audience will help him achieve that ambitious goal, which is like believing buying a ton of roofies will make you Bill Cosby. Though it’s hard to say which is more effective at putting women to sleep—roofies or Cousin Steve’s magazine. Anyhow, Uncle Bob’s life hasn’t been without its usual controversies either. Uncle Bob has a new magazine, too, called “100 Points.” I think it’s about Wilt Chamberlain, but I’m not sure, I don’t know anyone who’s actually read it.  But that’s what happens. It’s no different than when he reviews wines—people only read the number and nothing else. So sort of stupid to name the magazine that. Uncle Bob is still reviewing wines, though everyone is expecting him to retire soon. All the pundits say that Uncle Bob has lost most of his influence, which is what they say about climate change. Keep saying it and eventually it will be the truth.

The wine family has noticed, however, that Uncle Bob, as he gets a little older, is starting to give away his stuff for no reason. In the old days, he would almost never give away his perfect scores. He really hoarded them, kept them locked in a closet, right next to his Wine Spectator voodoo doll (oh, yes, that Wine Spectator is full of pricks). Now, suddenly, in the past few years, Uncle Bob has started handing out his perfect scores willy-nilly. Sure, they’re his, and he can give them to whomever he pleases, but the wine family is worried he’ll give them all away before they get some. And a lot of people think the old guy has lost his marbles, that he’s in the first stages of Score Dementia. But I can tell you, we had him checked. Doctors gave him a thorough brain scan. Nothing there.

On a sad note, Score Dementia has been ravaging our wine family, especially the older generation. The causes are unknown, though most believe it has to do with retail, and we’re told there is no cure. Score Dementia shows itself differently in every person. Uncle Suckling rants and hurls big scores around in a comic nonsensical way, often mistaking luggage for a wine bottle, or confusing fame with influence. Morose Uncle Laube doesn’t even recognize 89 points any more—and it was once his favorite. Now 89 walks in and he screams, “93!” It’s sad for 89. In the wine family, it’s like nothing under 90 even exists. 89 often talks of suicide. Uncle Fish has Score Dementia and is often seen floating near the top of his bowl, bloated with big scores. It’s just a shame when you overfeed them. Uncle Neal Martin would seem to be too young for Score Dementia, but this ravaging mental illness knows no boundaries. Uncle Neal is too often spotted cavorting amid brand new barrels of Bordeaux mimicking Uncle Bob in an endless loop of echolalia. It’s an insidious form of Score Dementia to parrot, “100 Points, 100 Points, 100 Points.” Psychologists think it’s a form of One-Aught-Aughtism. In this blessed New Year, we’d ask that you say a small prayer for our elders suffering from Score Dementia. And, remember, don’t be angry with them, the scores are simply their illness speaking.

And while you’re at it, try to say a little prayer for our California family members currently suffering through an historic drought. Many didn’t have enough water to add to their Cabernet Sauvignon ferment this year. Zinfandel producers were forced to pick grapes and not their usual raisins. Remember them in your prayers. They are among the more unfortunate among our wine family, and may be forced to raise prices. And yet, God Bless Them, they are the most supportive of our family to those suffering from Score Dementia. What would we do without family?

Oh, there’s lots of other news from 2014. Cousin Eric Asimov started a wine class in his little newspaper. It’s so cute. Sort of a “Goodbye Mr. Oak Chips.” Cousin Eric schools his readers and encourages them to develop his taste in wine. It’s the same technique ISIS uses to recruit suicide bombers, only slightly less subtle. Check it out! You might find yourself actually learning something about wine instead of reading this drivel.

Last year, all the gadget talk was about the Coravin. Piercing is so 2014. This year, it’s about the Durand. The Durand is a corkscrew designed to efficiently remove corks from very old bottles of wine, a hybrid that crosses the traditional sommelier’s wine key with an ah-so. Just what the world needs. Another ah-so sommelier.

From our wine family to yours, a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

HoseMaster of Wine


The murders of the cartoonists and editors of Charlie Hebdo have been weighing on my mind the past few days. It was a shocking story, and tragic. Shocking because satirists tend to kill themselves. I don’t have much to contribute to what has already been written about the murders. It was heartening to see the outpouring of affection and support for men who spent their lives fearlessly and shamelessly insulting everyone and everything they could think of, even if they crossed every imaginable boundary—society does need satirists, more than most people ever acknowledge. No one much likes to be lampooned and insulted, yet we never think of the toll that lampooning takes on the lampooners. It’s not easy work, and it takes enormous amounts of self-loathing and insecurity, qualities not easy or fun to live with. It’s stressful, and for all the laughter you might generate you also generate great amounts of hatred and anger. It can be as thankless a task as being Charlie Manson’s wedding planner.

Yet I feel like I owe an apology. I don’t know to whom, but an apology nevertheless. I’ve written previously about producing HoseMaster of Wine™, about my perceived role as a satirist--to speak truth to power. Which makes the job seem heroic somehow. I see now that’s stupid. The murders forced me to acknowledge that. Yes, I do my best to speak the satiric truth about the charlatans, liars, fools, pretenders and prevaricators that work in the wine business. But to represent them as “powerful” is simply hubris. I don’t have to fear that Robert Parker will break into my house and shoot me. Alice Feiring won’t ride her bike to my door and then kill me with an Authentic Walther PPK. Tim Fish won’t try to hang me from his car’s rearview mirror. The men and women killed and injured at Charlie Hebdo by two of the stupidest men to walk the Earth spoke their satiric truth to something truly evil, the scourge of this, and every, millennium—religious zealotry in all its forms. You might argue it was stupid of them, and you might find their publication egregiously offensive, but they were murdered serving for the good of their society. Our society. We owe them tribute, whether we agree with their satire or not.  But I am most certainly not Charlie Hebdo.

In what has become a new tradition, several folks who judge at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, held every January in Cloverdale, California, get together and blind taste a particular variety. Last year it was Cabernet Sauvignon, but this year we landed on Riesling. We tasted 21 Rieslings--three each from California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Michigan, New York’s Finger Lakes, and the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia. Wonderful and interesting tasting, but when the tasting was through, I opened an old magnum of Riesling I had in my cellar for us to taste. It was the 1985 Von Hövel Oberemmeler Hütte Spätlese. Oberemmeler Hütte is a monopole of the estate, certainly their signature vineyard. And out of a magnum, well, this was simply splendid. Everyone was amazed at its freshness and energy. We had spent a lot of time during the blind tasting talking about the alcohol levels of the various wines we tasted—balance is so precarious in Riesling. So I quizzed my compatriots, talented wine tasters all, on the alcohol level of the ’85 von Hövel. Most guessed on or around 10% ABV. It was actually 7.1% ABV. While many wine regions are staking their reputations partially, or wholly, on Riesling, where else but Germany can a Riesling be 7.1% ABV, carry all that residual sugar, but have the backbone of acidity to keep for 30 years? Amazing wine, one I will long remember. 


karlodagrape said...


nojomo said...

But what about dear cousin Rimmerman?

renzo said...

Happy New Year, Ron.

I have been lurking... 'cause how can I resist... but I grew weary of the woe is me and I'm quitting... followed by all the fawning in the comments.

You have reinvigorated me (like this matters) by putting your role in perspective against the likes of Charlie Hebdo.

Though your efforts are as essential and cutting and funny as ever. 100 on the points scale.

I'm a hose master sick-o-fan-t too! Shine on...

Ps. Of course, you reserve the right to continue to wear your insecurities on your sleeve and share your existential dread whenever needed ;)

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Thanks, karlodagrape--nice handle by the way.

Nojomo, I don't have any dealings with cousin Rimmerman. He's on the side of the family we don't talk about. Isn't Rimmerman his gay porn name? Not sure...

Happy New Year to you, too.

I think you speak for many when it comes to my "woe is me" streak--it is tiresome, especially for me. I can't do much about the fawning by common taters, any more than I can stop my hate mail. I am glad that, however inadvertently, I seem to have created a place where folks feel free to participate in their own particular, often peculiar, fashion. I look forward to Monday when I begin to get responses to my post. Always new people, and always many of my always smart and funny regular common taters.

It's my insecurities and self-loathing that keep me writing comedy. They'll be on display here no matter what. And "Ephemera" gives me a chance to simply speak as myself instead of as the HoseMaster or Lo Hai Qu. There's some fun in that for me.

Thanks for lurking, Renzo, and for being a common tater.

Charlie Olken said...

Three lovely pieces of writing, and all deserving separate attention.

A very fine and typical Hose effort on The Year That Was. Great reading. Full of Hose one-liners, knee-slappers, insightful arrows.

The piece on Charlie Hebdo is brilliant. Not because you have separated yourself from them, which is too modest by half as your wine satire certainly skewers without mercy, but by taking up the cause for satire. It is a much needed art and far better for the world than shooting up whatever and whomever raises your hackles.

And, finally, a column of sorts about Riesling, my single favorite white grape, thanks for asking. It is not so much the alcohol level that interests me, although some low alcohol west coast wines led the way in my latest late harvest tastings. No, it was the comment on freshness and its relationship to acidity. That is a nutshell is what the low-alc movement should be about--better not in numbers but in character.

LeoFerrando said...

Said app 300 years ago, these words fits like a glove to today's Charlie Hebdo issue :
« Je ne suis pas d’accord avec ce que vous dites, mais je me battrai jusqu’au bout pour que vous puissiez le dire. » (Voltaire, 1730 ).

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Je Suis Charlie,

Thanks. It was wonderful to see the hundreds of thousands of people in the streets of Paris marching in solidarity for the right to free speech. Maybe their own government will take it more seriously now. They often hassled Charlie Hebdo, but, in some ways, that's what satirists want. To be hassled, of course, not murdered. If I had a dollar for everyone who expressed the pathetic and stupid sentiment, "You shouldn't make fun of people, they're just expressing themselves..." I wouldn't need to satirically ask for donations. To a satirist, everyone is a target. And we all, deep down, know we deserve it.

I love Riesling, too, but rarely drink it. A terrible character flaw, but there it is. That 30-year-old von Hovel was a revelation, and a testament to the greatness of German Riesling, and the light years to go for any domestic region to rival them in the variety.

Voltaire's is a lovely sentiment, but certainly, in the Internet age, hyperbole. I'll defend a person's right to speak their opinion, but not to the death. There is no defense against those who would kill you for saying the "wrong" words, and, truly, for all of my satiric bravado, I'm essentially a coward. It was my own stance, my professed speaking truth to "power," when, in reality, I speak truth to imbeciles and fakes, that prompted my confession.

Unknown said...

Ron - Three great pieces. They give rise to one comment and one request: While I like and support my old friend Al Franken, I think he was much more effective (certainly we can agree that he was a lot more amusing) as a satirist than as a Senator. Please don't run for office.

Thomas said...


Be patient; I'll figure out which it is.

Back in the day, I represented von Hövel through the distributor for which I worked. Oh, what beautiful wines.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

I have no desire to run for office. I'd never pass the background check. Too much dirty laundry. I mean actual dirty laundry, much of which I'm wearing.

Yeah, I certainly create enormous ennui in my readers. It's a gift.

Somewhere in my cellar is an '83 mag from J.J. Prum, an Auslese as I recall. Time to open that baby as well.

Thomas said...


Bring the Prum with you when you come to the Finger Lakes for the blogger conference to accept your award for blogger that best instills ennui.

Charlie Olken said...

Thomas--do you take reservations? I could be easily persuaded to follow the Prum and Ron across country.

Je suis Charlie

Divine Miss M said...

Lots of good giggles today, thank you for (age-related) score dementia, brain scans proving nothing there...

Ron Washam, HMW said...

I've got no chance for that Ennui award so long as Vornography is still going. I might win the Award for Best Use of Profanity, but I won't fucking be there to accept. I'm putting the finger in Finger Lakes. You want the Prum, come and get it.

Divine Miss M,
Thanks for giggling and being a common, and divine, tater.