Monday, March 30, 2015

The IPOB Rejection Letter

Dear Applicant,

It is with profound regret that we inform you that your winery has not been selected to become a member of In Pursuit of Balance. Our panel of winemakers, and a world famous and widely admired sommelier, tasted the wines submitted from Splooge Estate and decided they did not meet our standards of balance. We urge you to continue to try to achieve balance in your wines because, basically, that crap you sent, like all of the wines not a part of In Pursuit of Balance, is a crime against wine humanity. Please consider getting out of the wine business entirely. Or joining Family Winemakers, essentially the same thing.

In Pursuit of Balance is dedicated to one thing and one thing only. Publicity. But Our Beloved Founders believed that In Pursuit of Publicity wasn’t an especially wise name. Though iPoP would make a cool logo. Our long term goal is to promote the kind of wines we make, not, for the love of God, that disgusting stuff you bottle. Maybe you should start your own organization. Though I’m sure In Pursuit of Splooge is already taken (I’d advise you NOT to Google it), perhaps In Pursuit of Scores might work. At least that was the impression our panel of distinguished and balanced winemakers, and a world famous and widely admired sommelier, received from your samples. What the hell enzyme did you use to extract that Splooge Estate 2013 “Queefer Ranch” Pinot Noir, anyway? Beano®?

We are especially careful at IPOB that all of the wines who claim membership have one important thing in common. A large price tag. This is not because we’re dismissive of inexpensive wines, but rather because Balance is a quality only found in more expensive Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays. We don’t look at prices before we judge the wines submitted for IPOB membership, of course. All of our tastings are done blind, which attending any of our events will prove to you. There’s a couple wineries among us that we must have tasted not just blind, but blind drunk; but once you’re in IPOB, you’re in for life. IPOB is the ISIS of wine associations—there is our way, or there is the people we’re going to destroy’s way. But no matter. Your Splooge Estate wines were plenty expensive enough, but our professional wine tasters, led by a world famous and widely admired sommelier, felt that they had the balance of a one-legged hippie with an ear infection. Though he’s a helluva wine judge.

At IPOB, we are grateful every single day for the fact that Our Beloved Founders discovered balance. Oh, sure, balance existed in Nature, much as gravity always existed, and long before that Gravenstein conked Sir Isaac Newton in the cabeza; it just took our own world famous, widely admired, and sure to be knighted one day sommelier, and his Princess, to see it, define it, and explain it to the rest of us. Sadly, their message seems to have escaped those responsible for Splooge Estate. Did you really think you had a chance of becoming an IPOB member winery? With that many Brix you could build Fort Knox.

For future reference, and you might want to pass this along to as many of your misguided friends as you are able, IPOB says that “…a wine is in balance when its diverse components – fruit, acidity, structure and alcohol – coexist in a manner such that should any one aspect overwhelm or be diminished, then the fundamental nature of the wine would be changed.” Yeah, we know, kind of vague and obvious. Think of it like people. Attractive people have certain qualities in common, they fall in a certain range of height, weight, hair and skin quality. If someone is too short, too fat, extremely hirsute, or has a bad case of acne, that someone is just flatout ugly. We all know they’re ugly, even the people who made them know they’re ugly, despite the fact that they love them. As people, we don’t look any further than that. Wine is the same way. And your wines, my friend, were short, fat, hairy and pockmarked. Though we’re sure you love them.

We urge you to not feel too bad about being rejected for IPOB membership. Far better wineries than Splooge Estate have been turned down. Hell, far better wineries than our current membership have been turned down, primarily because we don’t really want members anyone has ever heard of. One of Our Beloved Founders, remember, is a world famous, widely admired, certain to be knighted, winemaker-impersonating sommelier, so he insists on obscurity. And balance. Don’t forget about balance. We are unanimously in pursuit of it, and if we ever catch it, hell, there will be no stopping us. You’d be wise to be on our side if we do.

Membership dues for IPOB are used to conduct tastings in major cities across the United States, and for our efforts on social media to attract 15-year-old girls to our cause. IPOB is the future of wine, and we understand the future will be filled with people our age who are younger now. See, we have foresight. Dues will also be used for projects to be unveiled to the public in the near future. IPOB member wineries will have special stickers on all their wines that say, “Certified Balanced,” and “Without Balance, You’re a Dead Wallenda.” In development is a special “balancalyzer” that measures the balance in any wine you exhale through it. If the wine isn’t an IPOB member’s wine and you breathe into the “balancalyzer,” the device says, in Jon Bonné’s voice, “Put the glass down! This wine is unbalanced.” And he would know.

IPOB does offer, at a nominal fee, a Balance Auditor who can help guide Splooge Estate along the path to membership in IPOB. The IPOB Auditor can tell if a wine is balanced simply by putting his finger into the mouth of the winemaker and holding that finger up to the breeze. At IPOB, we know which way the wind blows, and we’re giving you the finger to prove it.


I don’t mind traces of arsenic in my wine. I’m sure there are worse things in there. Like the alcohol that’s killing me. At least arsenic is vegan. What I mind are all the pointless blog posts about it (yes, including this one), posts that are entirely predictable. Tom Wark’s alarm call that this blip in the wine radar will have dire consequences for the wine business. The wine business can ill afford to have stupid people stop buying wine—remember, stupid people are who marketers rely on. And then there are all the “exposés” about how the plaintiff in the lawsuit is playing an extortion game. Duh. ’Twas ever thus. Suddenly every muttonhead starts regurgitating the same facts he garnered from the reply published by the Wine Institute as if he were an authority on wine chemistry and litigation. Yeah, we know the arsenic limits refer to water, not wine—we read it just like you did. It reinforces the dullness and unoriginality of wine blogs. Well, if the clown wanted to get publicity for his company, he’s succeeded, thanks to the endless chatter about him. He certainly hasn’t done anything illegal, as far as I can tell. Filed a frivolous lawsuit. Pretty much destroyed any good will he might have had in the wine business in California. So the guy is clearly a genius. Suing Trader Joe’s for not listing ingredients on wine? Hell, they list Cabernet Sauvignon on the label, and it doesn’t taste like it. That doesn’t stop people from buying it. What’s the difference?

People who are worried about arsenic in wine are the folks the business doesn’t really need. Though I wonder what the Natural Wine people will say to defend the presence of arsenic in their wines. Arsenic is terroir, after all, pretty much everywhere in the world. So I guess there’s that. I think it’s a little titillating that there’s arsenic in wine. Because wine is all about balance, and perhaps the arsenic is there to counteract the life-extending qualities of resveratrol. Every time you drink a bottle of wine, friends, you die a little, and you live a little longer, too. It’s perfect.

Most of you probably don’t know that I have a race in the Sport of Kings named for me:

Yes, that’s right, the wonderful people of Australia have named an important sporting event after me. As far as I know, there is no 1WineDoody Stakes anywhere, though if there were, it would make the jockeys feel tall. There’s no Fermentation Derby, no Vornography Stakes, no STEVE! Memorial Handicap (would have to be a Maiden Race). But, yes, my friends, there is the prestigious Hosemaster Handicap.

Of course, it’s the only race where the thoroughbreds run backwards, and the biggest horse’s ass wins.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, MADD World of Pinot Noir--PART THREE

World of Pinot Noir isn’t an industry tasting, that is, a tasting that is invite only and aimed at the trade, but a large public tasting. There’s a considerable difference. The large public tastings need “anchors,” just as shopping malls do, to attract the public. Malls have Nordstrom or Macy’s. Pinot Noir tastings have Kosta Browne or Williams Selyem. WOPN had both. The anchors are there to attract consumers who might then also buy something at Radio Shack or B. Dalton books (yeah, I know, bankrupt and no longer, but that’s my point). Or, in WOPN’s case, taste the Pinot Noir from Michigan or Canada. But when you go to the mall, there’s never anybody in the Radio Shack, they’re all at Nordstrom. And when you go to WOPN, they’re lined up at Kosta Browne, while the person serving the Michigan wines is looking like the forlorn puppy in the ASPCA ads, the one about to be incinerated unless you help. As our culture struggles with the Grand Canyon between the Haves and the Ain’tGotShit, so, too, do new and small wineries struggle with getting anyone to care about them. Yet, most of the time, they’re making the most interesting wines. If you attend these kinds of tastings, I’d urge you to spend more time at the tables of the wineries you’ve never even heard of, and less time imagining that you’re hip and in-the-know because the guys at the famous wineries know you.

I do want to talk about some of the wines that stood out to me over the weekend, in no particular order. There were many wineries I wish I had had the time to visit. So it goes. I spent very little time with Russian River vintners because it seemed stupid to drive six hours to taste wines from my own backyard. I tried to taste the “oddball” wines, wines from other places like South Africa, Michigan, New Zealand, Canada and Australia, and also wines from producers I had never heard of, as well as the wines from winemakers I admire, which I use as a kind of touchstone. I would guess I formally tasted about 150 wines over the weekend. A few stuck with me.

I fell in love with a Tasmanian sparkling wine, Jansz NV Brut Rosé. The Jansz sparkling wine was the very first wine I tasted at WOPN, and I was smitten. No one would ever mistake it for Champagne, which is, in some ways, to its credit. It’s not trying to be Champagne any more than I’m trying to be Terry Theise. To my credit. Very fine bubbles, beautiful red fruit running up and down its sturdy spine, clean, refreshing, a beautiful Pinot Noir base wine, and all of $25. Jansz only makes sparkling wine (I think), and this was my first experience with any of their wines. While this certainly does not compete with the great Brut Rosés from Champagne, not in style and not in quality, it is as much fun to drink as any sparkling wine I’ve had in a while. I retasted it on Saturday, and liked it as much as the first time. If I were still a working sommelier, I would be serving this by-the-glass. Obscure and good? It’s what sommeliers live for. Though an awful lot settle for just obscure.

As long as we’re traipsing around the Southern Hemisphere, I want to mention a few wines that captured my imagination for their very strong and distinctive voices. You walk around a large tasting like WOPN, and the vast majority of the wines are of pretty high quality. I ran into a few wines I intensely disliked, but only a few. But another few, these from New Zealand and Australia and South Africa, seemed to sing their own songs, speak with a beautiful and distinct voice, show beauty and charm and quirkiness, and made me smile. Maybe that’s a definition of terroir, though it could as well be mental illness. No matter. I just loved these Pinot Noirs.

Firstly, Felton Road 2013 Bannockburn Central Otago. Felton Road is one of the great estates in New Zealand for Pinot Noir, the inspiration for so many others to believe in Central Otago as a great Pinot Noir appellation. I hadn’t tasted one of their wines in many years, but one sniff of this wine and I flipped all over again. It’s a red fruit nose, but laced with a bit of earthiness, and a clear streak of savouriness, that umami thing. If you ever wonder what wine writers mean by saying a wine has “great energy,” or as the French say, “nervosité,” just taste this Felton Road. It’s a living thing on your tongue, and who doesn’t like that? Truly gorgeous to drink, the red fruit is luscious, the wine vibrates beauty, and the finish is lingering and harmonious. Cool wine.

I was also quite taken with the Burn Cottage 2012 Central Otago. It caught me offguard when I tasted it at the Media reception. I’d never heard of Burn Cottage, so I glanced at the tech sheets and noticed that the winemaker is Ted Lemon, of Sonoma County’s “Littorai” fame. That explained it. Naturally, the vineyard is biodynamic, though in New Zealand the manure coils in a clockwise direction (due to the Cowiolis Effect). The wine is cherries and red plums, with a dash of anise. It’s powerful but with a really delicate touch, with that ineffable aliveness and energy that really good wines have. Ted Lemon’s wines always have integrity, not false note in any of his wines, a purity that makes them racy and alive. Though Burn Cottage sounds like where they hold Celebrity Winemaker Roasts.

When you think of great Pinot Noir regions, Australia doesn’t exactly kangaroo to mind. Drinking Australian Pinot Noir is like going to a sushi restaurant and ordering the chicken. That image may be changing, albeit slowly. I tasted two very interesting and dynamic Pinot Noirs at the Australia table at WOPN, neither of which, thankfully, was down under. The first was Ocean Eight 2012 Mornington Peninsula, a lovely, very bright and vibrant Pinot Noir, brimming with red fruits, underneath which is what I’d call a leafy character, which sounds like something out of Tolkien, an Ent perhaps, but isn’t. This is brilliant wine, in a very graceful and elegant style, that drew my nose back into the glass repeatedly. I’ve learned to notice how often I feel compelled to smell a wine, even as I converse with the sales rep, because it’s that complexity and interest that makes for the finest wines. Brutish wines, that is, big, chewy, extracted wines, can smell fantastic, and be very compelling, but just as you get tired of sniffing them when you're at a wine tasting, you will certainly also get tired of them as you drink them with a meal. I compare it to people. Who would you rather have to dinner, the big, loud, in-your-face person, the one who dominates the conversation with his bravado and bluster, or the person who’s bright, subtle, witty and endlessly interesting? Wine’s the same way at the table. This Ocean Eight Pinot Noir is perfect dinner company, it was endlessly interesting to me.

The other Australian Pinot Noir that intrigued me was the BK Wines 2013 Skin & Bones Pinot Noir from Adelaide Hills. I think I’d like to meet the guy (Brendon Keys) who made this Pinot Noir. I can’t say I’ve ever had a Pinot Noir anything like it, and as much as I liked it, I’d also caution anyone weird enough to ever take any wine advice from the HoseMaster that this isn’t at all typical Pinot Noir. The wine is macerated on its skins for 90 days, there’s a fair bit of carbonic maceration as well, it’s unfined and unfiltered, and probably spends six months in a marsupial’s pouch. Yet all that winemaking seems to be done with intent and focus, as the Pinot Noir doesn’t taste like someone’s science experiment. The nose almost reminded me of Nebbiolo, as did the rather pale color. But the carbonic seems to whip it back to the Pinot Noir fold, and the abundant red fruit is lovely in the nose, with just a hint of that carbonic, yet there’s also a lot of spice and even a bit of pepper, maybe even bacon fat. Yeah, I know, strange. Yet it holds together, delivers pleasure (which too many odd wines don’t), and was unique in a giant room filled with cookie-cutter Pinot Noir. If you’re feeling adventurous, try it. Just don’t expect Sea Smoke Pinot Noir.

I also want to mention a South African producer new to me, Storm Wines. At the first evening’s reception, I swooned over the pretty and precise Storm 2012 Vrede Hemel-en-Aarde Valley Pinot Noir. I kept going back to it, primarily for its haunting aromatics, red fruits and floral notes. It has the kind of delicacy mixed with power that draws me to great Pinot Noir (and Chardonnay). Foolishly, I did not try the Storm Wines from Santa Barbara (the winemakers are brothers). I have no idea why. I think I got distracted, as one does at large wine tastings, and wandered away. But I loved the South African Storms. Though they seem to be very small production wines and may be hard to track down, for which I apologize.

As I mentioned in a previous post, there had to have been at least 500 wines at each day’s WOPN tasting. I didn’t taste anywhere near even 15% of the wines available. Aside from the crazy numbers of wines, there are also a lot of distractions for someone like me who has spent a lifetime in the wine business. Having “HoseMaster of Wine” on your name tag doesn’t help. But there are also old friends in the business who are kind enough to glance surreptitiously at your name tag and pretend, relatively convincingly, that they remember you. Which comes from a place of kindness, so I didn’t mind. I’m not a memorable person in real life. I seem to cause blunt force head trauma just from meeting me, with serious short-term memory loss. I’m a walking NFL. I’m about as unforgettable as an Oscar speech. I just want to emphasize that I only tasted maybe 150 wines all weekend. So my notes are simply my experience at WOPN, not a genuine reflection of how another’s experience might have been. I won’t insult you with scores, especially scores appended to several hundred wines ostensibly tasted objectively. That kind of crap is just for winery marketing departments, and is essentially a blogger's lazy way of begging for more invites on junkets and more free samples. I don’t much care about either.

I don’t want this piece to be too long, I know the attention span of most of the people who read wine blogs is shorter than Sean Hannity listening to the truth, but I do want to give credit to the best Pinot Noirs I tasted. For those of you still reading. Both of you.

I’d heard their wines were good, but I still walked away from Dragonette Cellars very impressed with the two Pinot Noirs they were showing. Both the Dragonette 2012 Radian and the Dragonette 2012 Fiddlestix were terrific. You have to admire the sheer craftsmanship of these two wines, their purity and seamlessness. I’m tempted to say that they are almost too sculpted, except they’re also incredibly delicious. The Radian really impressed me with its power mixed with restraint, that lovely quality that allows a wine to unfold in front of your eyes over the course of a meal, the kind of slow striptease that makes up the best kind of seduction (if I remember correctly, or at all). It’s simply lovely, very sexy and unmistakably Sta. Rita Hills. Whereas the Fiddlestix was darker fruit, considerably more open-knit and generous right now, but still had the winery’s elegant fingerprint. I slightly preferred the Radian, but that’s so subjective and based on so little (a few sips of each) that it seems stupid to quibble. I’d gladly drink either one. (Sadly, both wines appear to be sold out at the winery, but I thought about joining their wine club based on these two wines—maybe you should.) I now understand the buzz about Dragonette Cellars, and hope I get to taste their Rhône varieties one day soon as well. In my experience, a winemaker who is good at Pinot Noir is usually also very good at Syrah and Grenache. (Why aren’t you at the Rhône Rangers Tasting, Dragonette? I’ll be there! Where are you?)

He doesn’t need my endorsement, but the wines of Paul Lato were the epitome of what I mean when I say I love wines that match delicacy and power. Paul, quite the charmer, was serving three of his 2013 Pinot Noirs, from Solomon Hills Vineyard, Sebastiano Vineyard, and Drum Vineyard. I slightly preferred the Sebastiano, but I seem to be drawn to this vineyard because I love The Ojai Vineyard’s version as well. But it’s fair to say that any of Mr. Lato’s wines are worth buying. His wines are all about purity and finely delineated fruit, the word “vibrant” appeared in every tasting note I wrote about his wines, and he just seems to be born to make Pinot Noir. Judging from WOPN, a lot of people think they’re born to make Pinot Noir, but, then, a lot of people think they’re born to review wines, and you see how foolish that is. If you love Pinot Noir, and the Pinot Noirs of the Central Coast, it seems to me you should certainly be on the Paul Lato mailing list.

Ryan Cochrane was standing quietly behind his table waiting to pour his eponymous wines, one of those Ain’tGotShit wineries in the crowded room, so, having never heard of him, I stopped and tasted. Hey, these are very, very good Pinot Noirs. He had both his ‘12s and ‘13s from the aforementioned Solomon Hills and Fiddlestix Vineyard. Ryan’s wines were, well, tasty. I love tasty. He seemed to use a bit of whole cluster fermentation, but that bit of stemminess was appealing and seemed to fit in perfectly with those two vineyards. I preferred the ‘13s to the ‘12s, they seemed to have better balance, better acidity and richness, perhaps part of his learning curve as a winemaker. Ryan, according to his website, came from advertising. Seller to cellar. I wish him luck. And all his Pinot Noirs were $43, which is eminently fair.

A quick mention of a few other wines that I loved. Charles Heintz 2013 Swan Clone was gorgeous, a bit earthy, very rich, very satisfying Pinot Noir. Heintz’s wines are now made by Hugh Chappelle, once Lynmar’s winemaker in the days they routinely scored huge numbers. I wasn’t at all surprised at how good Hugh’s wines for Heintz were.  The whole lineup of 2013’s from Cotiere Winery was excellent. (Formerly Luminesce Winery—poor guy got sued by somebody, I presume the makers of Luminesce face cream, which claims “cellular rejuvenation”—so rub some on your busted iPhone, see if that works. Who the hell is stupid enough to confuse anti-aging cream with Pinot Noir?—oh, that old woman with purple skin. Fucking corporate lawyers.) All five of his Pinot Noirs were interesting, had great juiciness and intensity, and, amazingly, all tasted different! That’s not often the case when tasting a winery’s single-vineyards. The 2013’s from Freeman Winery were also brilliant, but I always love their wines. The Freeman 2013 Keefer Ranch is a classic, from one of the great vineyards in the Russian River appellation. And the Freeman 2013 Akiko’s Cuvee is also wonderful; it just struck me as one of the absolutely prettiest Pinot Noirs of my weekend.

Who else? (I feel your attention wandering, friends.) The 2012 Hanzell was very rewarding, with a ridiculously long finish—though at $98 it’s no longer the steal it once was, yet it’s still nice to see this old guard Pinot Noir having a popular resurgence. The MacPhail 2012 Mardikian Estate also impressed me, but was probably the biggest Pinot Noir that I would be willing to drink. I don’t usually like my wines this extracted, and the pH seemed a bit high, and there was a lot of oak, but somehow it worked. Those lined up at the “anchor” wineries probably missed this wine, but they would have loved it. Patz and Hall worked their usual magic with their 2012 Hyde Vineyard Pinot Noir, and their 2013 Gap’s Crown. The Hyde is all about texture, as most great wines are, and its subtly powerful fruit, where the Gap’s Crown is, even though younger, more ebullient and luscious.

Let’s end with someone who may be an up-and-comer, Cris Carter of Weatherborne Wine Corp. Here’s a classic “garagiste” winery (another word I hate, like “barista”, a fancy French word that’s completely unnecessary, like Gérard Depardieu), and the two wines I had, the ’12 and ’13 Weatherborne Sta. Rita Hills, both showed great promise. The ’13 was better, I thought, again, maybe just experience instead of vintage, but both were great examples of Pinot Noir from their appellation. Flashy and fleshy, yet bragging bracing acidity and vivid Pinot Noir red fruit, Weatherborne is a good way to get familiar with Sta. Rita Hills. And for $35, they’re a good deal, too.

This piece was way too long, and not nearly comprehensive. Sounds like my usual drivel. My thanks again to the organizers of WOPN who invited me and paid my way. And to all the folks who said kind things to me about HoseMaster of Wine™. The best thing anyone has ever said to me about my blog was said to me three times at WOPN by three different people who told me that they had never read anything on HoseMaster of Wine™ that wasn’t the truth.

People drink way too much at these things.

Monday, March 23, 2015

California's Dear Jon Letter

O Jon,

I guess I knew this day would come. Doesn’t make it any easier. I knew you were unhappy with me, that you were feeling the itch to move on. Did you ever think that itch might be wine business herpes? That you walked around too many vineyards with Red Blotch Virus waving your meat dowser around? Just a joke, Jon. Though I know you were sleeping around, you didn't exactly make a secret of it (you made me a laughing stock, thanks for that) sleeping around with those Natural Wine whores. Don’t bother denying it. I could smell them on you. You should wash your hands after you cheat on me—a little Brett might be fine for some, but for me, it smells like “fucked.” You fell in love with them, with their “natural” ways. They smell, Jon, and not good. That’s not terroir, Jon, that’s carelessness, not that you care. I dressed up for you, I was always perfect. I spent hours and hours making sure that I was polished and professional, not a flaw to be detected. That’s the way it’s supposed to be, Jon. Not like some “natural” slut who just steps directly out of the vineyard, doesn’t worry about cleanliness, doesn’t worry about preservation or beauty, just pretends to be about being earthy and open, but thinks smelling like a barnyard is attractive. Which it is. To pigs.

I’m sorry. I’m a little angry. Relieved, but still angry. And I think I have every right to be. You used me. You never loved me. I see it now. I kept thinking I must be wrong. That it was just my insecurity. I’m young, I’m still learning, I’m still growing. Those others you love, they’re older, more sure of themselves, and they’re French. God, I should have known when you went on and on about the French, making me feel like a second class citizen. The French wouldn’t have you, so you tried to make me French. Tried to make me leaner and more subtle, make me speak with an accent. Merde! I know what those French whores do for you. They make up for your insecurity, they make you feel like a man. I get that. But they don’t care about you, Jon. I care about you. Or I tried to. But you just wouldn’t let me get close. You fucked with me, Jon, and now you’re proposing we just see each other once a month? So you can just play me? Insult me in your subtle way. Say I’m full of potential while implying I’m overly alcoholic and clumsy? You want to just show up at our old place, where you first came into my life, and fuck me once a month? Are you nuts?


No, forget it. How can I forgive you, Jon? You wrote a goddam book about me. A book that praised me as “New.” But you didn’t mean “new,” did you, Jon? You meant Hopeless. The title you meant was “The Hopeless California Wine.” Admit it. You hate me. You traveled all over to find the smallest people you could find, wineries with less production than the prostates of the Vienna Boys Choir, and then praised them with all of your mightiest journalistic firepower. Can’t you see how that felt to me? You tell me you love me, but you only praise the freckle on my butt, the birthmark in my most intimate place, my quirky left nipple? WTF, Jon? What about the rest of me? I gave you everything I had. I let you inside places I never allow anyone else. And all you do is praise the places no one else can see or ever taste? How do you think that made me feel?

My friends warned me, but I didn’t listen. They told me that you saw me strictly as a fixer-upper when you first appeared in my life. That you saw yourself as Professor Higgins, and that I was your Eliza Doolittle. I was just your little ego project, wasn’t I, Jon? You thought you could waltz into my life and make me better, that with your infinite wisdom and perfect taste you could teach me to be better. You could teach me how to enter the world stage and fool everyone into thinking I was from somewhere else, that I wasn’t just some juicy, dolled-up, manipulated, hot tramp from California. And then you could brag about it, brag how you “fixed” me. I’m so stupid. I hate myself.

You knew I had low self-esteem from my last boyfriend, the one you have always been jealous of—Bob from Maryland. At least he loved me for what I am, Jon. Well, maybe not. He wanted me to get implants, to be the absolute biggest I could be, go with him to Hedonist retreats. Yes, he treated me like an object, and that made me do a lot of things I regret now, just to please him--a lot of foolish pandering and very sad makeovers just for him. He fucked me up for good. I was stupid with him, too. God, I’m such an idiot when it comes to men. Maybe I should switch to women—but Virginie Boone? Please.

You were just jealous of Bob, of his power and virility. His points were always bigger than your points, and you couldn’t get over that. I never should have told you when you asked me. I should have said, “Oh, Jon, you’re just as big as Bob, only your points are harder.” But I didn’t. I told you the truth. That Bob was bigger than you. Maybe that was the beginning of the end. I don’t know. I didn’t say it to hurt you. I see now it made you angry, and you made me pay. I did this to myself. You’re right to move on from such a loser. I don’t blame you.

O, Jon, what am I going to do without you? Who’s going to tell me when I’m going overboard? Who’s going to correct me? I think I’m this successful person, praise and success are heaped on me, everything you hate about me makes me the envy of the world, but I need you. Like the shark needs the remora. I know you’ll keep doing it, keep correcting me, but it will be from the safety of your true lover’s arms. I hope she knows what she’s in for. You’ll probably write another “Hopeless” book about her, "The Hopeless French Wine." One that will insult her in the guise of praise. Oh, you can write, Jon. But so could the Marquis de Sade. Maybe one day people will refer to gleefully painful wine writing as “Bonism.” Wouldn’t surprise me.

And yet I wish you luck, Jon. Our romance, if that’s what you want to call it, was brief. I like to think there were times you loved me, all of me, but as I look back, I see now it wasn’t very often. I was just someone you used. I was a stepping stone to something bigger. You got your book and your reputation out of me, and then you threw me away like a used condom. Well, I’ve been around bigger dicks, Jon, don’t forget that.

I’ll be fine. Bob still loves me, and I just might run back into his arms. Jim is steady and reliable, if a bit dull and, well, impotent. There are a lot of Fish in this wine critic ocean (Oh, God, please, no, not Fish). For a while I’ll look forward to those monthly “checkups.” But I’m forgetting about you right now, Jon. You’re fading from my life. You left me scarred, but unbowed. A little part of me will always love you. I plan to have it amputated.

Farewell, Jon,
I’ll Forever Be,
California Wine

Thursday, March 19, 2015

It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World of Pinot Noir--PART TWO

My Saturday at World of Pinot Noir began with a pair of wine and food seminars, given the umbrella title “Foodie Frenzy Seminar Pairing.” “Foodie” is one of those words I associate with a poverty of vocabulary and imagination. It sounds like “Groupie,” as though a Foodie is someone who tries to fuck great chefs. A Puckfucker. And a Frenzy was not something I wanted at ten in the morning after a long Friday tasting dozens of Pinot Noirs. Except that I was hungry, and not in the mood to eat a $20 bag of Funyuns from my room, so a frenzy of Puckfuckers seemed OK. The alternative was a Burgundy seminar. Do your best, friends, to NEVER attend a Burgundy seminar. There is almost nothing duller in the wine business, aside from a Michel Chapoutier presentation, than a Burgundy seminar. They inevitably slide into really lame comparisons. Different crus of Burgundy as automobiles (Volnay is like a Pinto—it’ll get you there, but everyone knows it’s cheap). Or Burgundy as some epitome of beauty, the supermodel of wine—some voluptuous, some clearly so lean as to be bulimic. Burgundy worship is banal and tiresome, and often espoused by people who know just a tiny bit about it. I love great red Burgundy, I was lucky enough to have tasted more than my fair share, but I rarely have the chance to drink it any more. I don’t miss it that much.

The first half of the “Foodie Frenzy Seminar Pairing” (could they have come up with a worse name?) involved mushrooms. Pinot Noir paired with mushrooms is a gimme. You’d think. The mushroom expert on the panel was Bob Cummings (anyone remember the comic actor from the 50’s TV show, “Love That Bob!”?—not him).  Mr. Cummings is a retired professor of mycology, and was a very engaging speaker on the subject of mushrooms; a man accustomed, it seemed, to speaking on a panel. He understood how to wait his turn to speak--it's always the smartest one on the panel that understands that. Coincidentally, I had recently been to a mushroom seminar in Occidental, so I felt I was already something of an expert on the subject, a Shroomie. But Mr. Cummings was charming and articulate and clearly passionate about funghi. I’m guessing he’s single. No matter, it was a lively 90 minutes exploring one of the stranger life forms on Earth. And also mushrooms.

The chef at Bacara prepared three small mushroom dishes to accompany three different Pinots. The winemakers of those three Pinots were part of the panel, and all of them, to some extent, were engaged with mushroom hunting. Luke McCollom, of Left Coast Cellars, is even trying to cultivate a truffle orchard, a regular Johnny Trufflespore. He was very intense and interesting on the subject. I wish I had found the time to chat with Luke. He seemed like an interesting guy to know, like that guy down the street who wears a helmet with a lot of antennae sticking out of it.

The mushroom and wine pairings inadvertently emphasized how food can sometimes highlight how much oak is on a Pinot Noir. One of the wines was the Gainey 2012 Limited Selection Pinot Noir. As soon as you see “Limited Selection” you know that’s code for more new oak—not just in Pinot Noir, but in any variety. It was perfectly fine Pinot Noir, but one bite of the savoury mushroom dishes, all that seductive umami, and the Gainey tasted very hard and woody. The pairings did it no favors.The Bouchaine 2012 Pinot Meunier was a nice addition to the lineup for the curiosity of the variety, but I found it a bit too lean and attenuated—nice balance and acidity, but short in the intensity department, an angry midget. Maybe unsurprisingly, Luke’s Left Coast Cellars 2012 “Truffle Hill” Pinot Noir was the perfect mushroom wine. The vineyard is planted to the Swiss “Wädenswil” clone of Pinot Noir, and its earthiness and bright red fruit coupled with the lively acidity the clone is noted for made it splendid with the mushroom dishes.

Every damned winemaker and marketing person will tell you his wines are “food wines,” but that’s a tired old slogan, and one that has almost no meaning. It’s like saying, “You know, these plates were made for food. They’re food plates.” When a marketing person would say to me that his wines were meant to go with food, or if that phrase were in a wine’s marketing material, I would usually get angry. And an angry buyer is a non-buyer. I hated to be treated like an idiot.

Many years ago, an Australian winemaker (I cannot remember the winery) showed me his wines and proclaimed, “I make food wines.” I was having a bad day, as usual, and I responded, “You know, just once I’d like to have a winemaker say to me, ‘I love this wine, it’s great wine, but it really sucks with food.’” A year later, the same winemaker appeared at the restaurant with his new vintages, and after he poured me his first wine he said, “I think this is really good Shiraz, but it sucks with food.” I’d forgotten my tirade, but I burst out laughing. And I bought a bunch of wine from him.

After a short break, during which I walked to Bacara’s Ocean House restaurant where a couple of cool sommeliers, Branden Bidwell of Wine Cask and Eric Hanson of Bouchon, were tasting what was left of a bunch of Burgundies from various dinners and seminars. They very kindly invited me to taste, and expertly guided me to the best of the bunch. Clearly, they had no idea who I was or they might have had me summarily evicted. Always nice when I’m just another nobody and not the HoseMaster of Wine™. That was a real treat. Thank you, Branden and Eric, for that unexpected and warm hospitality.

The second half of the Foodie Frenzy was devoted to uni. I was a little disappointed. I was a little confused, and thought the seminar was about Street Urchins, and had dressed as Fagin. Well, that was my story. I actually always look like that.

The uni and Pinot Noir seminar was maybe the highlight of my weekend. Stephanie Mutz, the sea urchin diver, could not have been more fun. I’ve met hundreds and hundreds of people passionate about wine. Stephanie had unbounded passion for sea urchins. Some people find their calling, even when it’s spiny and strange and underwater, like some kind of Mafia hit. I was skeptical, because I always am, about pairing uni with Pinot Noir, but the chef’s pairings, from sea urchin Stephanie had harvested the day before, were nothing short of enlightening. Gray Hartley, winemaker at Hitching Post, was on the panel, and, it turns out, had been a commercial fisherman for most of his life. He and Stephanie had great rapport, and a lot of stories. Again, maybe not surprisingly, Gray’s wine, I thought, paired the best with the uni dishes. It was the Hitching Post 2012 Santa Rta. Hills Reserve (equal parts Fiddlestix Vineyard and Rio Vista Vineyard). On its own it had lovely red fruit intensity, raspberry and black cherry, great reserves of energy and a lovely long finish. But with the uni, it soared. The uni brought out the wine’s earthiness and salinity, the old salt Gray contributing a part of his soul. A perfect match.

Another wine, the Zotovich 2012 Estate Pinot Noir (a producer new to me) I liked fine when I tasted it, it had some unexpected elegance and a nice finish to go with its juicy red fruit, but it didn’t wow me. It seemed on the simple side. But the uni made it better. I’m not sure the wine made the uni better, but the uni certainly made the wine better, emphasized the fruit, made the wine seem more whole. Funny how that works. The food made me think I’d underestimated the wine.

The third wine was Rocky Point Cellars 2012 La Colina Pinot Noir from Oregon, presented by the vivacious Amy Lee. This is gorgeous Pinot Noir, ripe by Oregon standards, with sweet blueberries and blackberries, a sexy texture, with all the vivaciousness of its maker. But I didn’t much care for it with the savoury uni dishes. Just too ripe, not much of the earthy character that made the other wines work with the uni (one dish dusted with black truffle). Yet it’s wonderful wine, as were Amy’s other wines (aside from a 50% new French oak, 100% barrel-fermented, 0% malolactic Sauvignon Blanc I didn’t care for—come on, Amy, you have great fruit, stop dressing it up like JonBenét Ramsey in a beauty pageant). Some kind of beef dish with a black currant sauce and her Pinot Noir is a home run. It was just the wrong wine for the uni.

The uni seminar was great. After the formal presentation, Stephanie had more sea urchins at the dais, and she showed those interested how to open them (who knew there was a kitchen tool to open sea urchins? I think it’s trademarked as the Uni-Bomber™), clean them, and then we ate them fresh. As she opened them, Stephanie pointed out which urchins were female, which were male. You could see the salmon-colored eggs of the females, and the cream-colored semen of the males. We ate appropriately. I had heard it tastes salty.

Such strange creatures with which we share this planet we’re ruining. Stephanie assured us as she opened the still-living urchins that, like Master Sommeliers, sea urchins have no central nervous systems and, thus, cannot feel pain. I wasn’t sure if I was glad, or a wee bit disappointed.


Monday, March 16, 2015

Lo Hai Qu at a Wine Country Bachelorette Party

My crazy intern Lo Hai Qu has been driving me nuts asking to publish another post on HoseMaster of Wine™. I told her that I would publish her work if she promised to quit smoking. She told me she’d quit smoking if I’d stop crying every time I watch “SOMM.” (I can’t help it, it’s just so moving, all those brave and talented drunks.) “I’ll swap you butts for holes,” Lo explained. No deal. Lo wore me down, however, and so today’s piece is her doing. Oh, man, here we go again.

Me and my girls Loqueesha and Shizzangela were invited to a bachelorette party, which I hate bachelorette parties. But we had to go because it was Shizzangela’s cousin Malvasia, and Malvasia is meaner than a sackful of vegans at a Ruth’s Chris. Malvasia even scares me, and I don’t scare easy. OK, I do have one unusual fear. Clowns. Coulrophobia. See, even my fears start with “coul,” and come with “pho.” So, yeah, something about clowns scares the crap out of me, maybe it’s all that scary-ass makeup. You won’t be catching me at the Napa Valley Wine Auction. Anyhow, we and a bunch of Malvasia’s other girlfriends, like Fondue and Rotundone and Crystal Meth, rented a limo and went wine tasting. So fucking cliché. Whatever happened to parties where you’d give the bride lingerie and condoms and edible panties and wines like “Bitch” and “Ho” and “Duckhorn?” Though buying lingerie for Malvasia is like putting eye shadow on a giant squid. So maybe wine tasting wasn’t such a bad idea.

And, of course, we had to get all dressed up. Getting all dressed up to go wine tasting is just stupid. It’s like going to the gym in pantyhose. Shizzangela wore her best, brand new, sparkly wine shirt. Fuck, I hate her choice of clothes. Everything she wears is about her big gazongas. This one said, “For Best Results, Let These Breathe.” Loqueesha’s skirt was ridin’ higher than Keith Richards on a mule. If she bent over you could see all the way to the Petaluma Gap, and, boy, can that get windy. We piled into the limo to go wine tasting. I learned a lot.

Tasting room people hate bachelorette parties, but you can’t blame them. We weren’t going to spend any money. Millennials don’t have any money, we just all try to act like we work for some kind of cool startup, like we got software money, so they’ll pour us really expensive wines which we won’t buy because, well, because have you tasted that expensive crap? It’s all intense and kinda weird, like dating Johnny Depp. You see, for us bachelorettes wine tasting is just a cool way to get really drunk. Like, when my uncle Oh Fuh Qu goes out to a bar from ten o’clock until five he’s just an alcoholic. If you go wine tasting from ten to five, you’re a connoisseur! So much cooler. I mean, who’s going to subscribe to “Stinkin’ Drunks’ Guide to California Wine?” Oh, look, that wine got Three DUI’s, I want that! Some of those tasting room people got kinda nasty with us, especially towards the end of the day. I mean, we’d only been to like seven tasting rooms, we weren’t that shitfaced. One old guy pouring at a tasting room told Crystal Meth she’d had too much to drink, so she told him, “Oh, yeah, old man, then take your pants down and let me blow into your Breathalyzer. No way I’m blowin’ an eight.” Fondue laughed so hard she wet herself, but we were tasting Sauvignon Blanc so nobody noticed.

Everybody talks about tasting room etiquette. It’s a tasting room, not High Tea with the Queen, why are we talking about etiquette? We’re drinking in a room full of old retired people—it’s like the average age of people working in tasting rooms is Death minus two. Rotundone was kinda funny. She asked the old fuck serving us in one tasting room if he wanted to trade. He said he would, so she said she wanted a bottle of the Merlot and she’d give him a six-pack of 2013 Ensure. But as far as etiquette goes, I guess you’re not supposed to wear perfume to a tasting room, which seems kinda stupid and pretentious. I told Loqueesha she wasn’t supposed to wear her favorite perfume, “Black Hole” by Stephen Hawking, but I knew she wouldn’t listen to me, she uses perfume the way arsonists use accelerant. And she wasn’t the only chick in our bachelorette party sporting perfume. Shizzangela had on something I think she bought at the Dollar Store. It smelled like a carnival had an orgasm on her shirt. So when we walked into one tasting room, the fire alarm went off. Which was cool cuz then the crowd left and we had lots of room. People complain about the perfume, but then these are the same people dragging their kids into the wineries. Why do people take little kids to tasting rooms? They don’t let drunks hang around the playground. What kind of parents take their kids wine tasting with them? No one wants kids in the tasting room. They’re bored, they want to make noise. That’s the drunk people’s job! It’s embarrassing to see kids in a tasting room, it’s like having sex in front of a bunch of pregnant women—takes all the fun out of it. There’s your etiquette to learn. Leave your kids in the car and crack the windows if you have to.

Even though I hate bachelorette parties, I had a pretty good time. We made Malvasia wear a tiara with a veil, and a sash that said, “Tasting Fee Waived with Purchase.” I don’t remember much after the fourth or fifth winery, but somehow I signed up for like four wine clubs. Well, let’s say Shizzy signed up for four wine clubs. That should be funny when she finds out. She won’t remember if she did or didn’t so she won’t know it was me who signed her up. We got pretty trashed, but I think the wineries should be grateful that we showed up, even if we didn’t buy anything. They need us, we’re the FAA. Future Alcoholics of America. We need the practice.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World of Pinot Noir--PART ONE

Maybe the most common observation about wine is the old chestnut about Pinot Noir being the hardest varietal wine to make. You’d only have to attend World of Pinot Noir to agree. Perhaps it’s all the clones of Pinot Noir that make it challenging. It seemed to me at this 15th edition of World of Pinot Noir, the clones were running the circus. Yes, I felt the need for an obligatory clone joke. Wanted to get it out of the way early.

The Board of Directors of WOPN decided to invite me to their event this year. Yeah, I don’t understand either. I’ve always wanted to attend, so I happily responded yes to the invitation. Let’s get this out of the way early, too. World of Pinot Noir may be one of the best run events I’ve ever attended. From my perspective, that of an attendee, everything ran seamlessly, from the small seminars to the grand tastings to the dinners. I know how hard that is to do. Imagine wrestling with more than 100 wineries each day, co-ordinating the service of a bunch of sommeliers (I think the proper phrase is "a mixed case of sommeliers," or "a caravan of Coravins"), getting the resort kitchen to perform on time, create the right menus, have everything set up and running on time, and make it seem like you’re enjoying it. If I wore a hat, I would tip it to Damon Miele, and the rest of the people involved. Bravo. I cannot think of a single thing about the event itself to criticize. At the time, I even thought the hookers were a nice touch—my apologies to the girls at the Uber table.

The current obsession with Pinot Noir fascinates me. The crowd at WOPN was an upscale crowd, as you’d expect at Bacara. Except for wine maven, and Bacara resort owner, Bill Foley, who looked remarkably like Otis Campbell from Mayberry, I was the least stylish person in the room. I have the fashion sense of a homeless Olympic ice dancer. Zinfandel doesn’t attract the same crowd. They hold ZAP at the Presidio, which is beautiful, but is basically old Army barracks. It’s like Zinfandel is the troubled kid who enlisted in the service, now has PTSD and needs a service dog. Pinot Noir is the drink of the Beautiful People these days, and Bacara was the perfect place for them to hang out and get completely shitfaced on the wine of the moment, made by the wineries of the moment. And that’s what they did.

The weekend began with a seminar conducted by Jancis Robinson MW. I didn’t have a ticket to that event, understandably; I’m sure it quickly sold out to paying customers. Instead, I went to the Santa Barbara Zoo. I find a zoo to be a good warmup for a large public tasting. You walk around and stare at the various exhibits, their inhabitants pacing nervously back and forth doing the same thing over and over and over, contemplating whether they want to throw feces at you, while you try to figure out where that smell is coming from, and dodge kids pushing frantically to the front. It’s just like a big wine tasting. The zoo prepared me for the Friday afternoon Grand Tasting.

I passed up the chance to introduce myself to Jancis Robinson at the Thursday evening Media Dinner. I don’t know why. Cowardice, I guess. And feeling out of place. I’m not really, in any sense of the word, a journalist. I’m a clown, a Fool, and not a very accomplished one at that. I didn’t want to walk up to Ms. Robinson and say, “I’d like to introduce myself. I’m Ron Washam, the HoseMaster of Wine™.” I didn’t know how to pronounce “™,” for one thing. Also, I’m not a person who is ever starstruck. Thirdly, I was pretty sure she was packing heat. A lot like many of the Pinot Noirs.

I never have a plan when I go to a huge wine tasting event like WOPN. For example, I didn’t have a list of wines I needed to taste. I’m actually glad when there are so many wineries at a tasting, there were more than 100 each day at WOPN, because I know I won’t be able to taste a statistically significant number of the wines no matter what (100 wineries means there were probably more than 500 wines available to taste), and so I don’t try. I relax. If a tasting only has 150 wines to taste, I’ll try to taste them all—which is stupid. But it feels doable, and I’m fearful I may miss one or two of the best wines there if I don’t put every single wine in my mouth. At the Friday Grand Tasting, I tasted about 60 wines in three and a half hours. That’s a reasonable pace for me, time to focus a bit on each wine. So I tasted about 10% of the wines. Of course, there may be no worse way to evaluate wine than a large public tasting, so poorly evaluating 10% of the wines is what I set out to do. A job for which I am well-equipped.

Most of you reading this have attended large public wine tastings. They have lots of different vibes, depending on the location, the wines being served, and the price to attend. WOPN had quite the upscale, fashionable, wealthy crowd. At ZAP, there are herds of older women wearing spangled shirts reading “Got Wine?,” a wine yoke grungy from years of work around their neck, in numbers rivaling the glory days of passenger pigeons. If you own one of these shirts, I want you to get rid of it immediately. You look pathetic. You look like Lady Gaga threw up on your blouse. Just donate it to Goodwill. Though I’m guessing even homeless people would refuse to wear them. I swear, I thought I saw one on a Liberian woman in a story about the Ebola epidemic on CBS News. Really. But, oddly, she was rocking that top. Though the yoke was real. So, yeah, people see you in that shirt and think about fatal diseases. Wishing you’d get one.

It was a very good-looking crowd at WOPN. Which tells you instantly they’re not wine people. Wine people, I’ve always found, are not, in general, a good-looking group. We tend to pale complexions and watery eyes. We shuffle, and our shirts are ugly and stained. This crowd was handsome. Whiter than a Ted Cruz rally, but I guess all the black folk were in Selma that weekend. They sure as hell weren’t at WOPN. Glancing around the room at the couples tasting, it looked to me like a Father and Daughter Cotillion in Utah. Young girls all dressed up with their beaming older male escort. I’m exaggerating, but not that much. It was great people watching.

But let’s talk Pinot Noir. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say they hate Pinot Noir. Lots of people claim to hate Chardonnay, Merlot, Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Riesling and most of the other familiar varieties. But Pinot Noir seems to be a crowd-pleaser. And like all crowd-pleasers, think your favorite sit-com, maybe that’s because Pinot Noir is ultimately rather predictable, that it falls between relatively narrow parameters. I’m not saying that all Pinot Noir is alike. But go to a Zin tasting and the wines are all over the place stylistically, from lean and restrained to hugely extracted and sweet, from field blends to 100% Zinfandel, from wildly bad to amazingly delicious. Taste a huge number of Chardonnays and be amazed at the variety of styles. Same with Riesling. Tasting through the Pinot Noirs at WOPN, the differences were there, but around the room, the differences weren’t much. Yes, you can tell Russian River Pinot Noir from Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir, but they seem to be made in the same style, as most sit-coms have stock characters, situations and rhythm. It’s a little boring, really. Though there were a few exceptions, which I’ll get to.

And does every winemaker and marketing person have to say about their single-vineyard wines, “I try to stay out of the way and let the vineyard speak for itself?” What if it’s just a stupid vineyard? Then I don’t want it speaking for itself. I want you to help it. I am of the opinion that very few Pinot Noir sites are worthy of an exalted single-vineyard status. Is every site different? Sure. But different doesn’t mean singular. The main reason wineries use the single-vineyard designation on wines that really don't deserve the status is to charge more money. This might sound cynical, but, in my experience, it’s true. It’s not at all uncommon for a winery’s, say, “Sonoma Coast” blend to be superior to its single-vineyard wines that cost quite a bit more. At least to my jaded palate. But reading most wine critics, you’d think single-vineyard wines are always better, that all Pinot Noir aspires to vineyard designate. Which is horse manure. The single vineyard trend is way out of control in California. An eight-year-old vineyard should be venerated as a unique site, its voice already understood? Don’t be stupid. However, it’s not the naming of the vineyard on the label I object to, it’s making it more expensive when the price of the fruit or the quality, the singularity of the vineyard, doesn’t justify it. It’s gouging, pure and simple. Or, as they call it in the wine business, Sales and Marketing.


Monday, March 9, 2015

The Supreme Court of Wine Rules

The Supreme Court of Wine ruled on some important issues this week. Arguments before the distinguished Justices were animated and contentious, but Chief Justice Parker continued to exert his unprecedented power over the other Justices. There has been much speculation that Chief Justice Parker may be stepping down soon, but in a written statement, Parker wrote, “I won’t be stepping down until I’m dead, and even then it’s not a sure thing. I may continue to review wines after I’m dead. Hell, Laube’s doing it, why not me?” Parker has been Chief Justice since 1982, when he was unanimously self-appointed.

Here are the most important rulings to come from the Parker Court in 2015:

In the case of Consumers vs. Bordeaux En Primeur, the Court ruled 7-1 against Bordeaux. Chief Justice Parker wrote for the majority, “I’ve ruled in favor of Bordeaux 37 goddam years in a row. I made those clowns, and in the twilight of my career, I intend to break them. I tasted so many doctored wines out of barrel over the years I should get an honorary M.D. Buying wine futures based on a barrel tasting of Bordeaux is like buying a Thoroughbred based on sniffing the horseshit. It might tell you something, but mostly it tells you you’re one step removed from an asshole. The En Primeur system is broken. Buying wine En Primeur is like paying for an expensive hooker and getting a blowup doll instead. The inflation kills you. Only an idiot would participate in this old Bordeaux sham. So I’m sending Justice Neal Martin in my place.” The lone dissenter, Justice Perrotti-Brown wrote, “I’m in charge now, why isn’t anyone listening to me? I’m the only M.W. on this Court. Shouldn’t you all be bowing to me? I’m a Master of Wine, dammit, my opinions are indisputable. I wasted the best years of my life studying for those letters after my name. Listen to me! Since when do we favor the consumers? ‘Wine Advocate’ is just a figure of speech, like blind tasting—no one really believes it. In my view we should send our top talent to judge the 2014 Bordeaux out of barrel. Who’s going to buy expensive red wine based on numbers from Justice Martin? We owe it to the Bordeaux producers to promote their outdated system. After all, they certainly promote our outdated system.”

The Supreme Court of Wine’s ruling will have a significant effect on the Bordeaux market, although much depends on how well the decision is translated into Chinese.

In the case of Galloni vs. Larner, the Court ruled 7-1 in favor of Larner. Writing for the majority, Justice Squires said, “Listen, that pretty boy Galloni had to go. We all knew that. He just showed up here one day, years after I’d steadfastly been the head janitor in the chat room, doing the thankless job of cleaning up after that sausage fest, what a Macy’s Parade of hot air wine balloons that gig is, and he gets all the plum jobs—Italy and California—while I’m tasting stinking Portuguese wines. Yeah, Portuguese, like that’s where all the glory’s at. Well, he can kiss my low-hanging Baga and floss with the hairs. If you ask me, it was always a setup so he could make enough dough to buy Tanzer. Oh yeah, all the critics say they can’t be bought, what does that tell you? We’ve got Justice Larner now and she knows Italian wine like a horny pig knows truffles. Did I mention I’m a lawyer?” The only dissenting vote was Justice Larner, who wrote, “For the love of God, help me.”

In the case of Singapore vs. Return on Investment, the Court ruled that Return on Investment had no standing. Chief Justice Parker wrote, “I’m not sure how they expect to make that money back, but that’s not my problem. I’ve already blown that money on foie gras and cases of Just for Men® for this half-ass beard. Justice Perrotti-Brown has to worry about it, but this Court rules that she also has no standing—she’s sitting on her ass like the rest of us. Hahahahahaha. I don’t know how Singapore intends to win with this set of second stringers sitting next to me. We’re now the damned Oakland A’s of wine, and I’m Billy Bean-o, trying to keep this place from smelling like Natural Wine. It used to be Schildknecht and Galloni, a helluva lineup, now it’s Dunnuck and whoever that guy in Spain is, Pancho Something-or-Other. Campo, Pancho Campo. No, that’s not right. Whatever. Who are these guys? Not that it matters, I’m cutting back. I’ve got my little nest egg, and my stellar reputation as the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Wine, the most powerful man in the wine world, so all I have to do now is have these occasional meetings and pretend the other Justices matter. Which no one believes, of course, but Singapore held up their end of the deal, so the least I can do is pretend I’m handing my empire over the ’27 Yankees instead of the ’62 Mets.” Justice Perrotti-Brown issued a second opinion, writing, “As the sole M.W. on this esteemed Court, why is it no one cares what I say? I know more about wine than the rest of this Court combined. I’m the smart one. Well, yeah, OK, I see it now. However, the Singapore investors are entitled to a return on their investment, though it’s becoming more and more unlikely. But I’ve got ideas. And not just that glossy ‘100 Points’ magazine. No, I have a lot of moneymaking ideas. What about glassware? There’s money in glassware. The Chief Justice Parker Bordeaux Wine Glass Collection—whatever you do, don’t drink out of the 89 glass, the wine will smell like failure. How about lunch food? Come on, lunch food is a huge deal. What wine lover doesn’t want to have a Perrotti-Brown and Jelly sandwich for lunch? I’m thinking Action Figures! Kinda like G.I. Joe. We can call it Upper G.I. Joes. Collect the whole set! Parker, Dunnuck, Martin, Gutierrez, Larner, Perrotti-Brown, Reinhardt, Squires--well, we won't make a lot of Squires. We'll make a killing! But remember, 'Scores sold separately.'”

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Ephemera: A Few Thoughts About Satire, Entirely Witless

Wine is a relatively finite subject, especially when it comes to satire. There just aren’t that many things to lampoon, really. Consequently, much of what I write revolves around the people involved in wine. The reactions I get can be fascinating.

To begin with, I often wonder why anyone reads what I write at all. I can’t. The hardest chore I’ve ever had on HoseMaster of Wine™ was selecting past pieces for “Best of HoseMaster” (a wondrous oxymoron). I’d sit at the computer and cringe while I read old posts, give my sphincter a world-class workout. I’m not especially proud of my work; I just feel driven to write. Were it not for the Internet, and the existence of blogs, I probably wouldn’t be writing wine satire at all. It’s hard work, and takes up a considerable amount of my time. But over and over I think, someone has to do it, someone has to hurl a bit of truth, in the form of satire, at all the pompous blowhards and tired pretenders that dominate the wine business, burst all the pretentious bubbles that litter the wine terroir. So I do it. I was fully aware when I started HoseMaster that there would be a price to pay. I don’t mind. It comes with the territory.

When I was first writing HoseMaster, I tended to go after the gigantic pool of numbskulls writing other wine blogs. It was too easy. I look back now and see that period as a time when I was loosening up, like a pitcher tossing a baseball softly in the bullpen. When I finally got into the game, I went after bigger opponents—famous wine writers and publications, famous winemakers, whoever seemed to me to be full of crap. That’s when things got interesting.

It reached a point where it became something of a weird badge of honor for someone to be insulted or mocked by the HoseMaster. That’s all good, that means I’m doing something right. Some took it well, others did not. I’ve had one pompous walrus refuse to shake my hand. I’ve been verbally assaulted more than once. I’ve received some pretty nasty hate mail (I love those). And what I began to realize was that the best course of action was to completely ignore the real jackasses. Not from fear, not from intimidation, but rather from understanding that it’s the smallest people who get angry at pointed satire aimed at them, it’s the least talented and the dullest who take offense, who don’t have the wits to understand that a person who is voluntarily in the public spotlight is fair game. And my intent wasn’t to lambaste the small people, the pretenders with a modicum of talent, those morons, but to have fun with the important people in the business. So those small people have vanished from these pages. And, in my view, my work has gotten a little better.

I love what I do. It doesn’t take courage, but it takes a certain fearlessness to write satire. As well as the ability to let anger bounce off of you. What’s hilarious to me is that almost every bit of hate mail I’ve ever received (and this goes back to when I was younger and writing comedy) is exactly the same. Being the butt of a joke takes a lot of emotionally insecure folks back to their playground days. Almost every single letter reads something like, “You’re not funny. Nobody thinks you’re funny. Who told you you were funny? You’re just an asshole, a bully. Why can’t you say nice things? What you do isn’t funny at all, and I’m never going to read you again.” I never respond. There’s really nothing to say.

I do try to be fair, in the sense that satire can be fair. But that’s not my first consideration. My first consideration is to try to be funny, to make my audience laugh. I’m alone here behind this screen, and I can’t hear any laughter. I only hear the voice in my head, the HoseMaster, or maybe Lo Hai Qu. I cannot hear any reactions. But the one thing I do know about satire is that satire is intended to go too far, to push the reader’s taste limits, to tiptoe up to the lines we’re not ever supposed to cross, the line where laughter becomes cruelty, where funny becomes crass, and toe those lines mercilessly until that line is erased. And in doing so, we all become a little more human, a little more aware of our own foibles, and the foibles of those who seem more powerful or more successful than we. Laughter is the great equalizer. I express my anger, and I have a lot of it, through comedy and satire, and if I make people laugh, that soothes my rage. For a moment. And then it’s back.

I’ve been lucky. People like Tim Atkin MW and Charlie Olken and Lettie Teague, even Robert Parker, people with actual clout and reputation in the business, have been surprisingly supportive of my work. I never could have foreseen that, nor does it feel deserved. Satirists are judged by their detractors, and their advocates. I can proudly look at my lists and say that my advocates are far more impressive humans than my legion of detractors. Thanks for that.

Some mornings I spend a little time cruising around the Intergnats looking for inspiration or ideas. Primarily, it’s a way to waste an enormous amount of time. I try to view it as meditation. I have trouble emptying my mind, but reading wine blogs is a great way to deaden it. In order to navigate the thousands of wine blogs out there (does anyone know how many wine blogs there are?—my guess is there are thousands, with at least as many abandoned ones as active), I read compilation sites, like or Terroirist. But, lately, Terroirist is worthless. Or more worthless, depending on your point of view.

I did notice that David White has stopped doing the compiling on his site, and turned the job over to Shelby Vittek. If I’m not mistaken, and I may be, Shelby was 1WineDoody’s intern, and, thus, the inspiration for Lo Hai Qu (something Shelby should have on her resumé). So I owe her one. But since Shelby has taken over, the recommended blogs on Terroirist are of the most mundane variety. This trend may have begun before Shelby took over, I don’t know, or care. However, every day the recommendations are from the same tired sources—it’s always Jancis, or something edited-to-death on Wine Searcher, or the latest Blinky toss-off, or something from Wine Spectator or Wall Street Journal. In my mind, Shelby is phoning it in.

There are a lot of hard-working, if marginally talented, bloggers out there screaming for some attention. Screw them. There, also, must be some talent out there that could use some hits. Not that many hits—I can say that when Terroirist cites HoseMaster of Wine™ I average about an extra 50 hits (though I’m guessing I can say goodbye to that after this post). I get far more interesting leads from Lewis Perdue’s Wine Industry Insight daily newsletter—but I don’t expect anyone else to be as industrious and wade through as much manure as Mr. Perdue. It’s like he’s biodynamic. Just try a little harder, Shelby. Lettie Teague and Jancis Robinson MW don’t need your “clout.” Reading Terroirist lately is like playing the same Greatest Hits of the 60’s album over and over and over… Even your favorite song starts to make you sick.

Monday, March 2, 2015

How to Enjoy Wine--A Simpleton's Guide

Wine might be the most difficult beverage on Earth to enjoy properly. Coffee is easy. No matter what coffee “experts” tell you, coffee is all the same. It’s roasted beans, for God’s sake. Powder it and run hot water through it, and, bingo, it’s coffee. Essentially, coffee is human Drano. You don’t need anything to enjoy it, just open your trap and pour it down the drain. And beer is just beer. It’s not about complicated human enjoyment. No one worries about cellaring a great beer collection, or enjoying just the right beer with dinner. Beer and food go together like opera and pole dancing. You want a lot of each, just not on the same night. And it’s really over when the fat lady dances.

Wine Spectator decided to rip off Eric Asimov (How to Love Wine) and publish their own guide to How to Enjoy Wine. This is the equivalent of writing How to Enjoy Orgasms. Really? How hard is it to enjoy wine? Just lay there until the swelling subsides. The rest of my "Simpleton's Guide" is over at Tim Atkin's award-winning blog. And watch for my new book, "The Tantric Guide to Wine," arriving soon. I'm the Sting of wine writers. Tantric sex is like calling the plumber--you're in all day and nobody comes. Anyhow, wander over to Tim Atkin MW, and feel free to leave a comment there, or, if you prefer, leave me a little wet spot here.


My old computer recently passed on to the great Cloud in the Sky, taking with it some cherished photos I had stored, without backup (backup is for cops and toilets), as well as my continually updated list of ideas for HoseMaster of Wine™. It’s a bit disconcerting when all of your ideas disappear. Suddenly, you’re the editors of Wine Spectator. Not that I can’t come up with more ideas, but I miss that old list. It had years of ideas I’d enter as I thought of them, and was a kind of calendar of stupidity, greed and scandal in the wine business.

Many of the ideas came to fruition, but more than half didn’t. To be honest, at least that many were just plain stupid ideas. I would write an idea like “Asimov parody.” Oh, that’s brilliant. How did I think of that? Oh, I know, here’s an idea—what wine goes with Tony Award nominees? That’s pure wine writing gold. Mostly, my idea list was a way of keeping track of what I was thinking about, and of what I wanted to lampoon. Those ideas were jumping off points, a way to kickstart my imagination, and were usually quickly abandoned once the actual writing began.

So few ideas are actually any good. The list was a reminder of that as well. Inspiration is a fickle dominatrix. When I would sit down to write and felt like I had nothing to say, I would get frustrated. Looking at that list reassured me that writing HoseMaster of Wine™ has never been easy, and never really been fun. It reminded me that I could use an editor, though one is never forthcoming. And it reminded me of something I’ve only slowly learned to believe over the course of writing comedy most of my adult life—the well never runs dry. I always fear that I’ll sit down one afternoon to write and not a single joke will appear. That I’ll search futilely in the desolate landscape of my simian mind and not find a single banana peel to slip on. But, so far at least, that hasn’t happened. The writing starts, and the weirdness and jokes appear. And when I’m done, I gleefully hate ever word of it.