Thursday, December 10, 2015
EPHEMERA: "UnCorked"--the Heitz of Stupidity
I always hated winemaker dinners. They were more often catastrophes than not. And so were the dinners. Early in my sommelier career, Joe Heitz was the featured winemaker at one. It’s hard to write about the late Joe Heitz without using the word irascible. Late in the meal, as the guests were tasting the Heitz “Martha’s Vineyard” Cabernet and Joe was speaking about it, one of the restaurant’s best customers, a lovely woman whose husband probably spent twenty grand a year entertaining in the place, asked Joe, “Why does the Martha’s Vineyard always smell like eucalyptus?” Mr. Heitz took a short breath, seemed rather resigned, and then told her, “Shut the hell up! Eucalyptus smells like cat piss. My Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet smells like mint!” Joe always hated when people referred to his most famous wine as smelling like eucalyptus. Which, by the way, it doesn’t. Though it may have been more accurate to say eucalyptus smells like koala farts. Cat piss is way off.
I tell this story because it came to mind when I watched an episode of “Uncorked.” In that episode, one of the sommeliers participating in the Top Somm challenge was asked to describe the aroma of a “’68 Heitz Martha’s Vineyard” that he was supposedly opening and serving three Master Sommeliers. The sommelier guessed that it smelled of “spearmint.” The Master Sommeliers pushed him, belittled him, questioned him, until he finally said the magic word, “eucalyptus.” In a brief scene a moment later, after the sommelier had left the room, one Master Sommelier, Laura Maniec, says, “How could he not know that Martha’s Vineyard smells like eucalyptus?”
All I wanted was for the late Joe Heitz to appear and tell her, “Shut the hell up.”
“Uncorked” is the worst hour of television since Geraldo Rivera opened Al Capone’s vaults. Both are utterly and embarrassingly empty. I’m sure most of you haven’t seen “Uncorked.” It’s on EsquireTV. Why is there an EsquireTV? No one has read Esquire since the Kennedy administration. You may as well have LOOKMagazineTV, for Christ’s sake. I didn’t even know I had EsquireTV as part of my cable package until I went looking for “Uncorked.” Fuck me, I did.
I know, I know, “Uncorked” is already yesterday’s blog post. Truthfully, I was avoiding the show. A reality show produced by The Hair and the guy behind SOMM? The whole concept made me cringe. But then curiosity got the better of me. I watched an episode. Then I watched one more (I think there are six). And I fast-forwarded through a couple of others. So remember to take everything I write with that in mind. I’m not a professional reviewer. I didn’t take notes. I didn’t watch every frame. I just couldn’t. It made me want to gouge my own eyes out.
“Uncorked” follows six miserable humans who aspire to become Master Sommeliers. It also features about six miserable humans who are Master Sommeliers. Oh, they’re a lively bunch. The show is edited in the way of all reality shows—that is, in such a way as to make a stereotype of each miserable human competing. The editing is designed to try and construct a narrative out of this mess, giving you someone to cheer for, someone to laugh at, someone to identify with; but the show seems to have been edited by someone suffering from narcolepsy. Scenes drag on and on, and then suddenly the editor wakes up again, remembers to cut, and we move on. The only thing worse is the music. I began to find the music hilarious. In one dull scene after another, the music would try to convince you something dramatic was going on. Yes, trying to guess which of the three Chablis is the Grand Cru is harrowing, and needs three or four cuts to different faces, and an intense musical score to build that suspense. This is high drama, wine’s Sophie’s Choice. Why, it had me on the edge of my coma.
It’s no crime to produce a landmark in dull television viewing. I can’t say that I found “Uncorked” offensive in any way. Well, except for how often a Master Sommelier would say something like, “She did that just perfect.” Perfect? Sigh. There’s something about watching an hour of inarticulate people interacting that grates. I never heard a single person say anything insightful, wistful, original, or, God forbid, funny. Wine terminology they can handle—speaking as interesting, intelligent people, not so much. Well, maybe that was the damned narcoleptic editor.
I don’t want to belabor the subject. “Uncorked” is simply as bad as television gets. I was dozing off when Fred Dame appeared, and in my stupor I thought I was watching an episode of “Law and Order” with the late Fred Thompson. click here Geoff Kruth, for whom this is a vanity project, has the charisma of most game show hosts—he’s essentially Alex Trebek, only not quite as witty. I kept expecting him to ask the sommeliers to put their answers in the form of a question. “What is eucalyptus?” He seems constantly aware that he’s being filmed, always as carefully casual as his hair. It’s a show filled with unlikable people, now forever associated with wine. I was a bit mortified. For me, it was like stepping back and watching your family and realizing how essentially dull and witless and self-absorbed they all are.
But, most of all, the entire series is an insult to wine. Sommeliers, too, but they richly deserve it. In “Uncorked,” wine is nearly joyless. It’s like a cadaver that medical students are dissecting endlessly in order to become doctors. Like a cadaver, the wine is DOA. During the blind tasting segment, where each sommelier has twenty-five minutes to identify six wines blind, Kruth, as the game show host The Hair, explains that a candidate is awarded points for everything correct he says about a wine, its color and aroma and body and blah blah blah, and that if he correctly describes each wine in perfect detail, it can only lead him to one correct conclusion about which specific wine he is tasting. Only a loser unworthy of an MS after his name could fail to make it add up. I wanted to throw my cat at the television, but I don’t own a cat. There it is, wine pared down to its essence, wine made as simple as a box score, all the hundreds of thousands of wines produced in a single vintage easy as ABC to categorize—just check the appropriate boxes on the wine description chart and, bingo, you've pinned all the wines down like butterflies in a natural history museum. It's what death looks like.
If I were a wine novice, I think “Uncorked” would have made me hate wine, and sommeliers. Loving wine was never meant to be the point of the show, I know. The point, I suppose, was to illustrate how difficult it is to become a Master Sommelier, to become Geoff Kruth. But that never for a moment seems like an accomplishment because there’s so little palpable passion for wine shown by anyone on screen. Certainly not any more than medical students show their cadaver. “Uncorked” shows sommeliers as necrophiliacs, the wine just lying there as they fuck with it. It’s not just unsettling to watch, it’s creepy.
“Uncorked,” what I watched of it, left a bad taste in my mouth. I’d call it eucalyptus. The show was the Heitz of stupidity.