Thursday, December 29, 2016

2016: Based On a True Story

I must be out of my mind to still be writing HoseMaster of Wine™. Another year has passed, and I still spend my drive time to work kicking around ideas for my next post. A White Supremacist Sommelier? Really? Who thinks about shit like that? Wine Critics in Hell? Well, yeah, we all think about that, but I’m the idiot who makes it a play. I thought it was faux Eugene O’Neill. Turns out it was more Shaquille. Alice in Naturaland? Just nuts, really. In the words of the great Elwood P. Dowd, “Well, I've wrestled with reality for 35 years, Doctor, and I'm happy to state I finally won out over it.”

This is the final post for 2016, and I often use the last post of a vintage as an opportunity to reflect on the past year. Not all of you will want to wade through this sentimental garbage. I don’t blame you. You’re excused. No offense taken. If you want self-indulgence you can read any blog on Wine Spectator’s site, you don’t need me. The Wine Spectator columnists are like the CIA in Afghanistan—they drone endlessly until death actually seems like a relief. My turn.

I’ve had one of the strangest years, not just in my wine writing career, but of my life. I spoke at a wine writers’ symposium, I was asked to write for Wine Advocate and Wine Enthusiast, I met Hugh Johnson, I became friends with Lisa Perrotti-Brown MW, as well as Lana Bortolot, and, most astonishing of all, I won a Louis Roederer International Wine Writer Award. I also lost an old friend in the wine business, one of the nicest men any of us will ever meet, Ben Pearson. I pissed off folks at the Court of Master Sommeliers enough that one of them tried to influence my employer to fire me. In other words, I had a blast in 2016.

When I was young, in my 20’s, I was that lonely guy who sits alone in his room all day writing jokes. Somehow, I became a sommelier, so in my 40’s I was that guy who knows a lot about wine. Here I am in my 60’s and, well, once again I’m that lonely guy sitting alone in his room writing jokes. Where does the time go? The internet changed my life, though I’m not sure how it happened or if that’s a good thing. More and more I think maybe the internet is puberty. You’re glad it’s here, but it scares you, you haven't the slightest idea how it's affecting you, and everyone thinks you have a weird voice.

Among my first few posts of 2016 were both my first “Trump, Your New Emperor of Wine” piece and my parody of “Wine Folly.” At the time, I failed to see how they were linked. When I spoke at the Napa Valley Wine Writers’ Symposium in February, a lot of other writers thanked me for calling out Ms. Puckette and her brand of internet wine post-truth. Now she’s one of the writers featured at the 2017 Symposium. Simply put, that's depressing. The Trump pieces were wildly successful, and a hoot to write. Now his brand of internet truth, that is to say, lack of, has put him in the White House. We don’t seem to care about honesty and facts any more. In fact, they tend to hamper success (though Hillary is hardly an exemplar of honesty and facts, she is, at least, not a bald-faced, orange-haired liar). The internet, like puberty, has confused us. We have all these powerful new urges. We’re finding weird hair where it never was before. We’ll let any old fraud screw us. Oh, but one day we’ll look back and laugh!

The truth is we are all frauds. Only some of us know it and admit it. The internet is this imaginary place where we create new personalities, exaggerate our own worth, and hope like hell we don’t get caught. We have FaceBook profiles that read like the back labels of corporate wines—slick, but virtually devoid of truth. We pretend we have thousands of Friends when, in truth, we have but a few—you know, the ones who don’t ever read your feed on FaceBook because they actually love you. We flame people anonymously, bully them, and feel great pride in doing so, especially without revealing who we are, which would take courage. Frauds almost never have courage. We have our real life identities, our weaknesses and our flaws, and then we have our selves as portrayed on the internet. We are all a Hollywood biopic now. Who we are on the internet is simply “Based on a True Story.”

So many nice things happened to me as HoseMaster, my fictional persona, in 2016 that I was made to feel like a fraud constantly. Who am I to harangue Master Sommeliers, imagine a bar full of dead wine critics, satirize every wine writer who inadvertently stumbles across my crosshairs? And then win a bigshot award for it? In a weird way, I understood how Bob Dylan acted when he won the Nobel Prize. I also didn’t have the nerve to show up at the Roederer Awards ceremony. I knew I didn’t deserve it, and so I was sure it was a setup. Yes, here’s your award, Ron, now stand right there for a minute while we…drop buckets of pig blood over you! In my dreams, come January, I hope a little bit gets splashed on the robe of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Though when it comes to pig blood, 45 is more a universal donor.

I’ve never had more fun in the wine business than I’m having now. The internet allowed me to be reborn as the obnoxious and unrepentant HoseMaster of Wine™. Thanks to him, I’ve become a household name in the wine business, both adored and loathed. I receive far too much praise, and equal amounts of scorn. What’s weird is how I’m more comfortable with the scorn. The praise makes me feel like the fraud that I am. At industry events I am often recognized, though just as often the mention of HoseMaster is met with a blank stare that would do Rick Perry proud. Which is humbling, and much appreciated. It’s the same stare of non-recognition I see every morning in the bathroom mirror. So, it says, who the hell are you?

I’m going to miss 2016. It was a very rewarding year for the HoseMaster, and gratifying as well. I keep writing because I am forever curious about where my mind will take me once a week. I feel like 1WineDoody, or Jamie Goode, always on a junket to somewhere weird, and then making shit up about it. My agenda has always been to try not to be dull. To make it about the writing, to try to find some value in writing about wine, not write about wine in order to get things that are valuable for me. I almost never live up to my own expectations. I think that I either have a really great idea which I then completely ruin, or I have a stupid idea and run with it anyway. I keep hoping I’ll get it right one of these tries.

I’m very curious about what 2017 will bring for the world. Satirists are, contrary to what you may think, optimists by nature. We point out human foibles and follies, insult liars and fools, lampoon the powerful, because we think that will change them, or change peoples reactions to them. Pretty stupid and hopeless when you think about it. So, yeah, that’s optimism right there. The internet, like TV and advertising before it, is about selling you death, fear and sex. And the pills that will help you with them. I spend very little time here compared to most people. I’m not fearful of Trump, or of Brexit, or of ISIS. I’m more fearful that I won’t live long enough to have the last laugh.

So long, 2016. Like my old friend Ben Pearson, I suspect your like will never come around again.

Monday, December 26, 2016

My Little Wine Snob™--A HoseMaster of Wine™ to Treasure

This piece was originally published in May of 2014. I have a fondness for it that defies explanation. So I thought I would trot it out again as a Boxing Day treat. I'm still waiting for the Hasbro My Little Wine Snob™ to appear under the Christmas tree. Maybe next year...

When we were children, around eight or nine years old, most of my friends liked to play Cowboys and Indians, or Cops and Robbers, or Priests and Don’t Tell Anybody. But there was a group of us who spent a lot of our free time playing Wine Steward and Customer. Man, that was so much fun. We couldn’t wait to get home from school and set up the tables to play, and then we’d play until our mothers called us for dinner, or until one of the stupider kids ordered Chardonnay to go with his loogie.  Everyone knows Riesling always goes with loogie.

I think all kids idolize wine stewards. (We couldn’t pronounce “sommelier” very well, and it seemed like a dirty word, so we wanted to. Once, in a fit of childhood rage, I called my sister a “slutelier," and my mother washed my mouth out with Blue Nun.) We’d see a wine steward on the bus on his way to work, maybe, and we’d steal glances at him, admiring his shiny shoes, and being amazed at his ability to tell the homeless guys apart just from the way their urine smelled. I never had the courage to go up to a wine steward and talk to him (in those days, only men were wine stewards—women weren’t allowed to wear a tastevin in public and were thought to be queer if they did), but my friend Frankie did one time. He walked right up to a wine steward who was waiting at the bus stop and nervously asked, “Are you a sombullyay?” When the wine steward looked at Frankie, I think he peed a little. Not Frankie, the sombullyay.

“Yeah, Kid,” he said, “I’m a wine steward. Pretty cool, huh?”

“Are you a MS or a MW?” Frankie asked. I was tongue-tied with fear at Frankie’s audacity.

“MS” the wine steward said.

“Oh,” said Frankie, “that’s too bad. My dad says an MS is basically the Learner’s Permit of wine.” And then Frankie took off running, the wine steward chasing him until he stepped on his own self-importance and fell down. That Frankie, man, was he fearless.

I was the oldest of the kids who played Wine Steward and Customers, so I mostly got to be the Wine Steward. Plus, I had the toys to be one. I’d relentlessly begged my parents to buy me Hasbro’s “My Little Wine Snob™” kit. I can still remember how badly I wanted it from the first time I saw it. Other kids wanted cowboy outfits or Army uniforms or their own Wham-O Asbestos to play with, but I had to have “My Little Wine Snob.” It had everything—a shiny little tastevin you could wear around your neck (which was also part of Hasbro’s “My Little Sammy Davis, Jr” kit, complete with glass eye), a little corkscrew, a wine list with imaginary prices (just like real ones!), a little lapel pin with the words, “Sommelier in Training” on it, and, best of all, a sweet little three inch marble tube you could shove up your butt, which really made the Wine Steward illusion complete. I begged and begged my parents to buy it for me, and, finally, my dad let me earn it by spying on my mom when all my uncles came to visit and writing down their license plate numbers. When I had ten, he’d buy it for me. The next day, it was mine.

I’d never been to a restaurant with a wine steward, so I had to make up what a wine steward would do. My parents didn’t take us kids to nice restaurants. In those days, parents just didn’t take their kids to nice restaurants unless it was to put us in a wheelchair in front of the restaurant and panhandle. I wasn’t very good at this, but my brother could make ten bucks in no time by tying his chair to a customer’s car bumper and asking for a pull home. One time a drunk said OK instead of giving him money to go away, and we didn’t find my brother for a couple of days because going 60 miles per hour in a wheelchair, he’d missed the offramp. My dad was pretty pissed at how messed up the chair was though. Anyway, I had a good imagination, and I acted like I thought a real sommelier would act.

Frankie was the best at playing customer because he was such a jackass. So he’d sit at the table with one of the neighborhood girls, usually Ellen because he had a crush on Ellen and was always playfully banging her head into a fire hydrant, as boys like to do, and act like he was reading my play wine list. I’d improved the Hasbro “My Little Wine Snob™” wine list by adding my own selections. I added my own categories of wines to drink, like “Cat Pee,” and “Girl Parts” and “Orange Wines.” I had so many wines on my list that I gave myself a Wine Spectator Grand Award, and just like the real restaurant winners, I also didn’t really have most of the wines!  Frankie would pretend to read the wine list, and then ask Ellen what she wanted. Ellen, however, didn’t speak much any more.

Then I’d approach the table and say, in my most serious voice, “Good evening, sir, may I help you select a wine to go with your dinner tonight?” Frankie was supposed to say Yes, but sometimes he would just throw food at me to make me go away. I later learned to do this as an adult when I was at an industry wine tasting and a lot of sommeliers were around.

“Yes,” Frankie would say on cue, “I’d like you to choose a wine to go with my steak. What do you suggest? I was thinking maybe Silver Oak.”

“Silver Oak?” I’d say, simply aghast, “I’m out of that.” I wasn’t, but I’d pretend I was because I knew wine stewards hate to open Silver Oak because it’s popular and not hard to get. “But how about this wine?” And I’d point to a cult wine I’d put on my wine list for Eleventy Hundred Dollars, which, really, was a bargain since I’d seen the same wine at an auction price of way over a Gazillion.

“OK,” Frankie would say, and I’d go into the wine cellar, which was this old refrigerator box we had in the backyard, and bring out my one bottle of wine that I used no matter what one of my friends ordered. It was empty, and it had a screw top because I couldn’t really work the “My Little Wine Snob™” corkscrew, but I’d unscrew it and pretend to pour Frankie a little taste. Ellen was usually asleep by then and had her head in the food.

One time, Frankie yelled, “A fucking screwtop! Eleventy hundred bucks and I get a goddam screwtop?! Stupid wine steward, I hate you.” Apparently, Frankie had been to dinner with his grandfather and that’s what his grandfather had said. We laughed so hard. Even we knew that screwtops are for crappy wine. Even now Stelvins give me the giggles. Which is embarrassing when I’m peeping into my neighbor’s windows.

Frankie would swirl the empty glass (we used Hasbro’s “My Little Pretentious Asswipe” Riedel stemware), and then say, “I don’t know, I think it’s corked.”

I’d grab the glass from his hand, swirl it very dramatically, take a deep, snot-filled whiff, and exclaim, “It’s not corked, you poophead, it’s got terroir! You’ll drink it and pay for it.”

And before he could object, I’d hear my mother screaming in her happy voice and I’d have to run home to write down another uncle’s license plate.

Monday, December 19, 2016

What to Buy Your Master Sommelier for Christmas!

If you’re like me, right about now you’re wondering what to buy for the Master Sommelier in your life for Christmas. There are 230 Master Sommeliers in the world. Though it’s possible the one in the Philippines was shot by the President. Oh, yes, it’s true. You always Duterte the one you love. One down, 229 to go. Those 207 men, and 23 of these other kind of people, not sure what they are really, but they smell good, how did they get their pins again?, can be difficult to buy gifts for. They’re picky by nature. For example, most of them will only put their nose in a fine Burgundy, a Grower Champagne, and Fred Dame.

Holiday shopping is coming down to the wire. I have a few ideas for you for what to buy for that persnickety Master Sommelier on your Christmas list. The catalog is over at the Wine Advocate's newish Wine Journal site. Grab your Apple pay and head on over there. No comments allowed over there, but feel free to return and leave your milk, cookies and automatic weapons here for good ol' Santa Hose.

Have a Merry Christmas, everyone!  

Thank you for your support of my stupid blog throughout 2016. Perhaps in 2017 I'll get it right. Don't bet on it!


Monday, December 12, 2016

The HoseMaster of Wine's™ Holiday Wishes for the Wine Business

Well, one thing about Trump winning the election, we’ll have a White Christmas this year. And a lovely tree decorated with big shiny balls, courtesy of Anthony Weiner. Though one would assume that Hillary will have a Blew Christmas.

The holidays are upon us. I’m not sure I’m in the mood to celebrate, though after reading about plans to clearcut several hundred acres and threaten watersheds for more vineyard development in Napa Valley for Walt Wines, I am ready to deck the Halls. However, in the spirit of the season, which seems to be Bourbon-barrel-aged wines (what’s new about that? Silver Oak did it for 30 years), I wanted to express my wishes for gifts I hope the wine business receives this holiday season.

Let’s begin with the gift of forgiveness. I hope that we find it in our hearts to forgive poor Rudy Kurniawan, and all the other wine forgers in the world. It’s only wine. Furthermore, it’s wine coveted by the worst sorts of people—wealthy wine collectors. It’s mostly dirty money used to buy fake wines. There’s a poetry to that. There’s peace of mind in knowing that the cellars featured in glossy wine publications, the doting owner standing in front of his collection like King Tut in his tomb, are probably full of fakes, much like the staff of the glossy magazine itself. We have Rudy and his like to thank for that. And consider this, the more fakes there are in the market the greater the value of the real things. It worked for tits! Try to think of Rudy as the breast implant king of wine. Hard to be mad at the guy.

Though it may be much harder to forgive the auction houses that have gone unpunished for their part in the scam. They received a healthy cut of Dr. Conti’s ill-gotten gains, and laughed all the way to the Left Bank. I would wish this holiday season that everyone take a year off from buying wines at auction. Throw away your Acker Merrall catalogs, your Sotheby’s wine porn strokebook. Give the money to your local wine merchant. Buy wines from struggling young producers. Invest in your local wine bar. Boycott auctions. Fakes only go away when there’s no market for them—the Cosby Effect. And Acker Merrall practiced Cosbyism—Convince them there’s something good in their glass, then fuck ‘em!

While we’re at it, let’s forgive John Fox of Premier Cru for peddling phony wine futures. As if there are any other kind. He did the best he could. Give me tens of millions of dollars for pieces I have to write two years from now and, trust me, there are going to be some mighty happy hookers out there. It’s sweetly ironic that his name is John, and Fox. I’m reminded of Aesop’s fable of the Fox and the Grapes. If a bunch of sheep had come along and offered Aesop’s fox a bunch of money for grapes he knew he was never going to able to obtain anyway, he would have taken it, too! That we cannot forgive John Fox is sour grapes on our part. Hey, it’s not like he sold them fakes! Or burned down a warehouse full of other peoples wines. He had integrity! He sold people imaginary wines from a warehouse that didn’t exist. Think of the money he took as gratuities for his wonderful storytelling. Hard to be mad at the guy.

And what about the gift of peace of mind? I think the wine business needs a big dose of peace of mind. I, for one, am tired of all the people taking potshots at the Natural Wine movement. That’s cowardly, and I won’t stand for it. These Natural Wine people are doing God’s work, freeing Him to create more Master Sommeliers from the ribs of Fred Dame. You’d think they’d be women once in a while, but He works in mysterious ways. As does God. Anyhow, it’s time for the wine business to make peace between the Natural Wine folks and the people who make inferior wine. I know this, the wine doesn’t care if it’s Natural Wine or not. Wine is wine. Is it organic, biodynamic, authentic, honest, natural or Certified Sensitive®? Who cares? Let’s not judge. Let’s love wine unconditionally. Let’s embrace each wine for what it is. A way for us to get hammered. A way to impress others. A way to feel better about ourselves. That’s why we got into the wine business, after all. The wine is only secondary to our need for affirmation and envy. Let’s not muddle that with unnecessary and pointless conversations about how authentic a wine might be. Does it make us feel superior? That’s the only job of a wine.

Also, this Christmas, how about the gift of humility? Can we stop pretending that being a sommelier is an important job? Or wine critic? Or wine writer? /satirist? There are more sommeliers now than there are homeless veterans. I saw a somm at a busy intersection with a cardboard sign that said, “Will Decant for Wine Spectator Award of Excellence.” It’s really sad when they aim so low. In Sonoma County, near where I live, there’s an encampment of unemployed sommeliers living under the freeway. On warm nights, they huddle together for cold.

Is there a chance this holiday season that wine critics will stop gloating all the time? It isn’t that hard to be a wine critic. I think that’s rather apparent. In fact, the only hard thing about being a wine critic is having to write countless descriptions of wine and not sound like a complete jackass. Which no one has done yet. Reading Parker’s descriptions of California wine remind me of one thing—they gave Bob Dylan the Nobel Prize for Literature! For less. Parker’s body of work is every bit as unintelligible and pretentious as Dylan’s! Every bit. Of course, Parker isn’t eligible for the Nobel. It’s never awarded posthumously. Dylan only got it because his lips still move.

Awarding points to wine doesn’t take any talent at all. There’s nothing to gloat about. It’s essentially the same job as calling Bingo at the church social. People worship you because you give them the numbers they want, but, for you, it’s just random. You pick them out of a bowl. Yes, you can gloat because you get to taste all the best wines in the world, and you get your butt kissed endlessly, but deep down you know you’re a fraud. It’s a game, and you’re holding all the cards. And then you throw in a little false humility. “I gave the wine a 95+ because I may have underrated it.” Oh, how nice of you to admit you may have been a little bit wrong. We’re so grateful for your candor, your sense of honesty and purpose. It’s OK, really, give it a fucking 96! When the day comes that we taste it, which won’t happen because only 40 cases were produced, we’ll forgive you if it turns out to be a 95. Whatever the hell a 95 is.

As for wine writers, try not to be so predictable. Try to remember that every damn thing you have to say about wine was said more articulately by someone more talented than you fifty years ago. Asimov, no more wine school! Every damn month, more wine school. It’s just filler. The New York Times Wine School is the styrofoam peanuts of wine writing. How the hell do we get rid of that useless filler crap? Wine Folly! Way to be trendy. You were way out in front of the fake news phenomenon! You can fool all of the people all of the time. Now go. Matt Kramer! “Drinking Out Loud” is called belching! And it sounds the same every time you burp it up. Take some damn Gas-X. You’ll feel better, and we can get some peace and quiet.

My final wish for the wine business this holiday season is that we take ourselves and our wines a lot less seriously in the coming year. Wine is not the romantic and mystical product so many of those invested in it want us to believe it is. Wine experts are not more sophisticated or intelligent than other people. Wine reflects place like dumps reflect their neighborhood—nothing magical about it, just a lot of inevitable and endless garbage. Enjoy wine more, every wine, while you have the chance. Too much of the business revolves around making you feel there’s something better out there than what you’re drinking right now. And that has never been true.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Ask Sid Heil, Your White Supremacist Sommelier!

As a young boy, Sid Heil decided he wanted to make wine his career. “My Dad taught me that white people had invented wine, and that it was an industry that was still about 99% white. But that was a long time ago, and things have changed. That might not be the case any longer. It’s probably only 97% white now. Bunch of Yao Ming types buying property, which nobody seems to care. None of those on my wine list.”

I have no idea what's wrong with me. This premise occurred to me over lunch with my beautiful wife, but I was very uncertain whether I could make it work. A few minutes later, the name "Sid Heil" jumped into my head, and I knew that the piece was demanding to be written. In a strange way, it's connected to my feelings about how sexist, even misogynist, the wine business is. If it can be misogynist, why not bigoted? And so it goes...

You'll have to jump over to Tim Atkin's award-winning site to finish reading the post. I wasn't sure Tim was going to accept the piece, truthfully, but he loved it. It says much about his character, and his four-year support of my HoseMaster nonsense. I hope I get to meet the man one day.

As ever, please feel free to leave your brilliant comments on Tim's site, or come back here and leave your remarks while disguised under a big tall, white hat.


Monday, November 28, 2016

R.--I.P.OB: The Death of Balance

OK, so here’s what sucks. Now no one is going to pursue balance anymore. That’s it? Five lousy years and now, the hell with it, I’m just not going to pursue balance again? It’s pretty depressing. For five years I knew where to find wines with balance. There was a list! These guys and girls are pursuing balance! I want a balanced wine? Easy. Read the In Pursuit of Balance list. Buy those wines. Not on the list? Run!!! Those are wines of the unbalanced, especially Bonny Doon.

Oh, Jasmine and Raj, my friends, my mentors, how did the romance end? Who gets custody of the little ones, like Jon Bonné? Where are the true believers to turn? First, Parker and Galloni, then Brad and Angelina, and now this?! You’re turning my wine world upside down! I don’t know where to turn for points, or Rosé, and now Balance. I’m a wreck. I’m drinking wines from the Jura, for God’s sake. And so I left behind a note… I was in a wine shop the other day LOOKING AT ZINS FROM LODI!! Jesus, what the hell? They’ve got the balance of a dead Wallenda. I BOUGHT THE TOP 100 WINES ISSUE OF WINE SPECTATOR! God, somebody help me. It’s only pure luck that all those Top 100 wines are always sold out, and only suckers buy that issue. Which makes sense, Rajmine (see what I did there? I brangelized you two, Raj and Jasmine, desperately hoping you’ll get back together), because IPOB, well, it made a sucker out of me. Out of all of us.

It’s just not fair. Before you came along, Rajmine, I didn’t have any idea what balance was. But then I started to taste the wines you recommended, and I suddenly knew. Balance is simple. Mostly, it’s about how little I now have in my checking account after buying the wines you recommended.

What was especially nice was that you took the trouble to define balance for me, Rajmine. I’ll confess, I was faking it. It turns out, balance is like orgasms. Wineries were faking balance! Oh sure, they’d look you in the eye and say their wines were balanced, but you just knew they were faking it. You’d gone to the trouble of putting it in your mouth, pretending you liked that, so the wineries would fake balance just to tell you what you wanted to hear. Now, thanks to you, I know better. Just like an orgasm, once you experience the real thing, well, you can’t be fooled again. Right? Not that that’s anything I have to worry about. I’m a guy. Women don’t have orgasms, right? Not that I've seen. Not real ones, not the messy kind, right? I’M CONFUSED! DAMMIT, RAJMINE! IPOB is just like me in bed—finished far too soon. I still need you.

I only heard FROM SOMEBODY ELSE that it was all over between you. OK, fine, it’s personal, but I think I deserved better. I have to read about your breakup on the GODDAM INTERNET?! Sorry. But it hurts. Other people writing about it like they meant something to you. People saying that in your short life, FIVE FUCKING YEARS, THAT’S IT?, you did a lot of good. Saying that you changed the conversation. WHAT CONVERSATION?! I don’t remember any conversation. Where was I? Was there some sort of new conversation about balance that I wasn’t invited to join? You didn’t change any conversation. You tried to end the goddam conversation. “Hey, idiots! We know what balance is, and you don’t. End of conversation.” I guess that’s changing the conversation, sort of like how Pierce’s disease changes grapevines.

Look, I’m sorry, I’m a little out of sorts, right now. I mean, a huge part of my world just crumbled. It’s scary out there now. NO ONE IS PURSUING BALANCE, PEOPLE! What if they suddenly announced, “We’ve given up trying to find a cure for cancer?” How would that make you feel? Especially if you had cancer! Think about that for a minute. All of these stupid wines that don’t have balance, that weren’t officially declared to have balance, WHAT THE HELL ARE THEY SUPPOSED TO DO NOW, RAJMINE? Just give up? Try crackpot cures for balance? I mean, after biodynamics, where the hell can crackpot cures go? And it’s all on you, Rajmine. We just have that one lousy list. I’ve tasted most of the wines on that list. Wow, are they fucking balanced! You can’t fake that. Right? You said they were balanced, so they’re balanced. BY DEFINITION! Now, next step, TRY TO TASTE GOOD, TOO! How about In Pursuit of Taste? Though IPOT sounds more like an acronym for my diet plan. Oh, hell, let’s face it,  having balance AND taste are just too much to ask of most wines.

OK, I guess it’s my fault, too. I took you for granted, Rajmine. I’m sorry. I selfishly assumed that you’d always be here to tell me which wines were balanced. I didn’t see the warning signs. The little quarrels, the cold silences, the limelight turning more toward those fruits and nuts in the natural wine movement. Hey, they stole your bit! Creating a fake movement in order to generate attention and sales, that’s your routine! And then they stole your champions. They went out on the free agent market and went big on Asimov and Bonné. And what did that leave you? Nothing but minor leaguers. So maybe you just cut your losses and ended the whole thing. I get it. You must have been tired of it. All the infighting, and all the losers clamoring to get in. It must have been tiring constantly telling people, I DON’T LIKE YOUR WINE! YOU DON’T BELONG HERE! FIGURE OUT YOUR OWN GODDAM MARKETING STRATEGY! Which, in a word, is “Balance.”

But think about this, Rajmine. You left us without a definition of Balance. Yeah, you pursued it. Like Hillary pursued the White House. Five years of pursuing that ends in a big fat zero. I went to the rallies, I drank the Kool-Aid, I campaigned, I donated, I believed, I believed, I believed. And then I wake up in November and you’re conceding defeat. Just walking away with a pathetic little farewell speech. Leaving it all behind.

You’re just like Hillary, Rajmine. Cold, calculating, self-interested, and leaving us behind to deal with the unbalanced.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Flying the Friendly Skies

Here’s what I’ve been feeling the past few weeks.

We were on this large jet flying to somewhere beautiful, some sort of Paradise, we thought, when it was hijacked and now it’s headed toward a skyscraper. We had no idea there were even hijackers aboard, though we should have known, they’d been making a lot of noise back here in economy class. We certainly didn’t think they could overpower us, take over the plane and fly it into a building. If I’d known the pilot had orange hair, I’d have stayed at the airport. My mother always told me, “Never get on a plane with a pilot with orange hair. Nothing good can come of it.” What’s odd is that the hijackers seem exuberant about going down with us in a burst of inescapable flames. It will take years to clean up the wreckage.

The rest of this week's sermon appears on Wine Journal over at the Wine Advocate site. The rest of the piece wanders about quite a bit, going from Asimov to Kermit the Lynch, and lands on a heartfelt wish that all of you have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

You can't leave comments there, but I'd love to hear your feedback here. Everywhere I go, friends, people remark that the best part of HoseMaster of Wine™ is the Comments Section. Oh, they're just flattering me, but it's true. Thank you, Common Taters, one and all.



Monday, November 14, 2016

I'm Sorry I Didn't Run for President

I’m sorry. It’s my fault. My wife wouldn’t let me run for President of the United States, and now look what’s happened. And, yes, I already asked, she won’t let me be nominated for the Supreme Court either. I should spend more time cleaning the house is what she thinks. The House and the Senate is what I think. I’m sorry. I let everybody down.

I would have won. There’s no reason I wouldn’t have. I have plans. I’m for the little guy, the forgotten people. I can lie like I’m the spawn of Ann Coulter and Sean Hannity. If I were Pinocchio, my nose would be in a different zip code. But I would have won because of my vision. Make America Great Again? What is that? That’s just nostalgia. And like all nostalgia, it’s stupid. I can’t believe people fell for that. Well, white people. Who knew the albino vote would swing an election? Great, now we have a President who put the “pig” in “pigment.” Let’s just hope he doesn’t put the “dick” in “dictator.” Unless it’s in Putin.

I had policies I was ready to debate. I had some money left over in my GoFundMe account I could have used to run my campaign. I had Roederer Award money, which is like MacArthur Genius Grant money—if you live in Botswana. I was ready to run. And now my plans to Make America America Again (catchy, right!) are all for naught.

Imagine this. I would have banned all imported wines from the United States. There are too many foreign wines competing for shelf space in this country. Why are we buying wines from foreign countries? What does that do for us? OK, the ones that are already here, fine, they can stay. You’d have a month to drink them all, and then that’s it. No more new ones coming in. Believe me, you wouldn’t miss them. Let’s keep America’s wine money in America!

You’re not going to miss Port. Let’s face it, Port is the stupidest wine of them all. Tawny, Ruby, LBV…sounds like backup singers for Tony Orlando. We don’t need Port. Having a cellar full of Port is like having a cellar full of teenage hostages—you’re just a weirdo. And we don’t need Champagne either. We have perfectly fine sparkling wines made in America. Ever had Sparkling Catawba? All you have to do is drink a Sparkling Catawba and you’ll never want Champagne again. It will cure you of wanting any sparkling wine again. I think they use that stuff to induce cat abortions.

To make America America again, we have to stop importing wines. Who the hell needs Shiraz? What the hell is Shiraz? It’s just Syrah. Shiraz is Syrah’s rap name. Fershizzle. We don’t need that in America. If we need cheap gooey red wines, we can buy Apothic. It’s great, now every case of Apothic comes with its own insulin injection. Every wine made in a foreign country is made better right here in the USA. We don’t need Burgundy, we have the Williamette Valley, the King of Pinot Noir regions. Hail Oregon, long may it reign Côtes. We don’t need German wines, we have Michigan Riesling. Drink Michigan Riesling—the state is full of unemployed Kabinett makers. There’s absolutely no reason to drink wine from Chile either. Which goes without saying.

I also believe that what this country really needs is a much stronger three-tier distribution system. Only idiots want to dismantle the three-tier system. That system supports countless American wine salespeople, many of them otherwise unhireable alcoholics. Under my presidency, I’d add several tiers. Two or three, anyway. What the hell, maybe another ninety-three! Put ? and the Mysterions back to work with 96 tiers. This country doesn’t need to cut out the middlemen! I’m for the middlemen. We need more middlemen. Middlemen made this country great. Think Ozzie Smith and Dick Butkus. Think Anthony Weiner. The wine industry needs more levels of protection for the consumer, more middlemen making money from the at least five-tier distribution system. Let’s put Americans back to work. Wine is expensive. The more people who take a cut of the action the better. Lining the pockets of rich winery owners with only three tiers has to stop. In my country, it’s five tiers at the very least. Honestly, after this election, don’t you think we’ve shed enough tiers?

In my administration, everyone would have a voice. Regardless of race, religion, or income, I would seek to find a way so that everyone would have the means to take a seat at the table. I even have a sensible plan to achieve that. I call it the Affordable Chair Act. Cheap chairs for everybody so that you can sit at the table. You cannot be denied an Affordable Chair because of pre-existing conditions, like a negative stool sample. All Americans would be taken care of. Under my plan, also, every American would be guaranteed a nice bottle of wine with every meal, and we’d make the wineries pay for it! Man, I wish my wife would have let me run.

Immediately upon assuming the Presidency, after my legendary Inaugural Address, and my stirring rendition of Paul Anka’s “Havin’ My Baby,” I would remove all Government Warning labels on wine. The government has no business intruding on our enjoyment of getting completely shitfaced. No more “Contains Sulfites.” Sulfites don’t harm anyone, except people with severe sulfite allergies, and, believe me, we’re better off without most of them. They’re the weakest in the herd, and, anyway, they’ll get an Affordable Chair no matter what. Much of the problem with the country’s crumbling infrastructure is that on every bottle of wine we tell people not to operate heavy machinery after drinking wine! That’s lunacy! That’s costing Americans jobs. Get that warning off of our wine labels! I don’t care if the guy operating the bulldozer had a glass of Prosecco at lunch, just get the goddam road paved. And why are we telling pregnant women not to drink wine on the label? How is that the government’s business? OK, maybe they shouldn’t drink wines from the Languedoc because their child may be born with Fitou Alcohol Syndrome, but we’re banning foreign wines, so that’s not a good argument. No more government warning labels on wine!

I’m also tired of the push for vineyards and wines to be organic. We need to spray more chemicals, not fewer. How did the priorities in our country get so screwed up that we care more about micro-organisms than the people we employ to spray our crops, our homes, our children? You want wines to taste better? Take the handcuffs off the people who make them. Let them add some flavor to their dull, manufactured wine, don’t make it a crime to add raspberry Jell-O to Meiomi Pinot Noir, that’s what people want! The natural wine movement is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese government aimed at taking down our American chemical industry, the very backbone of our economy. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t ban natural wines. Just the people who make them.

I’ve got four years to talk my wife into letting me run for President. I want to Make America America Again. Trust me, folks, the wine establishment is scared to death I’d win. But no more than I am.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Tips for Enjoying Natural Wines at Home

You have finally come to the realization that the only wines worth drinking are Natural Wines, but what’s the best way to enjoy those Natural Wines at home? Many people make the mistake of thinking that the only thing that matters is that the wines are Certified Biodynamic, or made from organic grapes with minimal intervention, or are Certified Sensitive®.For those of you unfamiliar with the terms, just go away. This isn’t for you. Keep drinking that crap you usually drink knowing that you’re not only doing harm to the environment, you’re an insensitive slob and should run for President of the United States.

It's a waste of money to purchase Natural Wines and not serve them properly. I've written a little manual that will teach you how to get the most from your Natural Wines. You'll have to jump on over to Tim Atkin's award-winning site, featuring this award-winning fraud, to read the rest. While you're there, pick up a dozen bangers for me. Whatever that is, it has to be good if it's called bangers. And feel free to leave one of your patented, witty, common tater remarks there, or, if you insist, leave your thoughts here, you're not using them anyway.


Monday, October 31, 2016

Wine Critics in Hell Act 5


Hell, recognizable as a natural wine bar in Lodi, is crawling with dead wine critics. Much like an editorial meeting at Wine Enthusiast. Parker is at a table in the corner, a 97 on the Marlon Brando scale. Laube is at the bar passed out, mustache-deep in the peanut shells. Suckling sits alone, contentedly staring at his image in the large mirror behind the bar. Matt Kramer is pacing, agitated about something. Feiring is sitting at the bar upset that no one is paying attention to her—it’s as if Hell is her life on endless replay. Galloni, who has just entered Hell, is looking around, taking his measure of the place. There is also a Bartender, who only observes and never speaks, and a Stranger, who is at a table by himself, and now seems to be playing with a Ouija board.

Kramer: I need to get out of here. I don’t understand this place. What am I doing in Hell with a bunch of wine critics? Where’s everybody else? I thought Hell would be full of all kinds of people, people from all walks of life. Not just wine critics. I hate wine critics. I have to spend eternity with other wine critics? I mean, I was an asshole and everything, but even I don’t deserve this. What are we doing here?

Stranger: You may as well sit down, Kramer. You’re not going anywhere. You’re never going anywhere. It’s been decided.

Kramer: What do you mean, “It’s been decided?”

Stranger: (he looks up from his Ouija board and takes a deep, contemplative breath) I mean, it’s been decided. It’s done. There’s no appeal. OK, look at it this way. All of you here made snap judgments about wines. It’s what you did for a living. You tasted them, you maybe sat with them for an hour or so; or maybe you just Sucklinged them, gave them an off-the-cuff rating. No matter. You made a judgment, and you moved on. The wine was forever stuck with your rating, with your pronouncement. It would be, eternally, an 89-Point wine. You know what an 89-Point wine smells like? It smells like failure, my friends. And now all of you have been rated. You’re stuck with the pronouncement. There’s no changing the reviews. You’ve suffered the same fate as the wines you wrote about, the wines you rated. You’re in 89-Point Hell. Where all decisions are final.

Kramer: But why put us all together? And why here?

(The Stranger just stares at his Ouija board, his hands following the planchette as it moves over the board’s letters. He occasionally smiles.)

Galloni: (standing over the Ouija board, following the movements) The real question, Kramer, is what am I doing here? It’s pretty obvious what all of you are doing here. You’re old. The only thing you could smell at the end was your reputations decaying. Notes of forest floor and hubris. Your scores were starting to creep up annually, just like your old-man-pants. Your subscribers were dying off like polar bears—lumbering old white creatures, living fossils of a different age, destined for extinction in a world not meant for their kind anymore. The whole wine business was focused on selling wine to Millennials, and using wine critics a thousand years old. Perfect. But, still, what the Hell am I doing here?

Parker: Oh, doing what you always do, Antonio. Following me.

Feiring: (rather meekly) I didn’t rate wines. Why am I here? I saved the world from Parkerization.  I was the antithesis of what these…gentlemen…stood for. I championed the little guys, the natural winemakers, the men and women who strove to make honest wines, wines that spoke of terroir, wines made with minimal intervention. How is that the same as what these men were doing? Assigning numbers to an endless parade of wines that essentially taste exactly the same. Wines made by formula. CBS sit-com wines. Parker’s numbers were just the laugh track. Laugh tracks exist to convince you the sit-com is actually funny when you know better. Scores are there to convince you the wine is great when, really, you know better. Ratings are canned, just like more and more wines will be. (On the verge of tears) I can’t believe I’m stuck here with these human laugh tracks.

Suckling: Oh, get over it, Alice. The truth is, you should feel honored to be here. We’re all more powerful and influential critics than you ever were. We don’t know why you’re here either. Although it occurs to me that maybe we’re not actually here.

Kramer: If only.

Suckling: (excitedly) No, listen, Matt, what if this is not Hell? I mean, what if this isn’t our Hell? What if we’re just in Parker’s Hell?

(The bartender laughs loudly. Everyone turns to look at him. He grins sheepishly and goes back to polishing the Riedels, most of which break off at the stem“Riedel: The Official Stemware of Eternal Damnation”®.)

Kramer: So, Suckling, you’re saying we’re not dead, we’re just here in this stinking natural wine bar because we’re in Parker’s Hell?

Suckling: Oh, we’re dead alright. Doesn’t take a genius to know that. We’re dead as a Samsung smartphone. But maybe this is Parker’s personal Hell, and he’s summoned us up, or someone has summoned us up, because our presence here makes this his personal Hell.

Parker: (laughing) I like it! Christ, Suckling, that might be the only smart thing you’ve ever said. I was kind of thinking along the same lines when Antonio walked in here. “What fresh Hell can this be?” That’s a quote from another Parker.

Suckling: Somewhere there’s a personal wine Hell for all of Us! If this were my Hell, for sure Shanken would be here. And the guy who does my hair. But look around. Feiring, Kramer, Suckling, Laube, Galloni—enemies and impersonators. This isn’t our Hell, Matt, it’s Bob’s Hell!

Stranger: (still fiddling with his Ouija board) That’s an interesting theory, Suckling. I have to say, it makes a certain amount of sense. And I’ve just finished consulting with my office (he nods towards the Ouija board). Guess who’s coming to dinner?

(The Stranger hands the piece of paper he’s been using to write down the letters transcribed from the Ouija board to Suckling. Suckling reads the letters one at a time.) 

Suckling: J-A-Y M-I-L-L-E-R

Parker: Shit.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

EPHEMERA: The Malcolm Gladwell Paradox

A number of people sent me a link to a podcast by Malcolm Gladwell called, “The Satire Paradox.” Richard Hemming MW also mentions the same podcast in a piece he wrote for Jancis Robinson MW, a piece where I also receive a brief mention. So, of course, I listened to Gladwell’s podcast.

There isn’t a duller subject to write about than satire. E.B. White famously, and accurately, said, “Analyzing humor is like dissecting a frog. Few people are interested and the frog dies of it.” Gladwell’s podcast is forty minutes long but seemed to last several generations of drosophila. Only the examples of satire broke the dullness. I can hear you saying what goes around comes around. Yeah, I get that.

Gladwell’s point, and the point of the experts he quotes, the “paradox” of satire in the title, is that satire is essentially toothless, that it speaks truth to power, but doesn’t actually influence anyone, change minds. So, exactly like podcasts. I happen to agree with all of that. Gladwell also says that we live in a Golden Age of Satire. Are you as amazed as I am at how many Golden Ages we’re currently living in? It’s the Golden Age of Wine Writing, too, I hear. And the Golden Age of Wine as well. Every time I hear the phrase “Golden Age,” I automatically assume the writer knows nothing about the subject. I live in the Golden Age of Skepticism.

Listening to Gladwell’s podcast (and I know nothing about Gladwell, have never read any of his books or listened to any of his podcasts before this), I began to realize that Gladwell knows absolutely nothing about satire, except what he’s read about it. Yet I agree with his conclusions. Satire is toothless, and does not change minds. But Gladwell misses the point.

I’ve been writing HoseMaster of Wine™ for five years, in this incarnation, and another three before that. I write satire. Or, as W. Blake Gray once said when writing about my disagreement with Riedel (and this is my favorite quote about me that I’ve ever read), “Washam, who claims to be a satirist…” That always makes me laugh. Anyhow, in all the years I’ve been writing wine satire, it was never my intention to influence anyone, to change anyone’s mind about the wine business or a wine critic. I don’t care about that. And I don’t think anyone who writes satire actually believes he can alter the course of human events. We do address the coarse of human events, but that’s slightly different.

Satire is often, and predictably, said to be a way of speaking truth to power. Perhaps. I’m slightly uncomfortable with that definition. Satire is more often a way of speaking truth to the ignorant. Perhaps that’s the same thing; I might concede that. But “truth” is a slippery concept in satire. Every reader brings their own truth to a piece. And they find funny in the piece only where they agree with it, almost never where they don’t. No one reads satire to discover truth, they read satire to laugh, and to laugh at other people they think are stupider, or more arrogant, or more powerful, or more important than they are.

Power, unfortunately, is unable to hear truth very well. So only an idiot would spend his life trying to speak truth to power. That’s like debating Donald Trump. A yuge waste of time. Sometimes the glass is half-empty, and sometimes the glass is half-empty. Satire depends upon viewing the world from a skewed perspective. It tries to show truth by glancing at hypocrisy and hubris and evil out of the corner of the eye, or by exaggerating its victim’s weaknesses and/or foibles to make them laughable. The aim isn’t to change a reader’s mind, but to make him laugh at the absurdity of the human condition. There’s no paradox in that.

This is not to say that satire isn’t a powerful weapon. It can be. Except that it’s a weapon rendered harmless when the object of the attack plays along. Smart and powerful people play along. It’s safe to say I’ve insulted just about everyone in reach in the wine business, lampooned them mercilessly, but, while fun, it doesn’t succeed unless the “victim,” reacts in a negative way. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Georg Riedel. Smart people understand satire’s ultimate impotence. Others do not, and feel the need to respond. Which, of course, plays into the satirist’s very weak hand. If Riedel doesn’t threaten to sue me (and Tim Atkin MW), I have far fewer readers, far less influence (which ain’t much anyway), and I probably never get invited to speak at the Napa Valley Professional Wine Writers Symposium, never meet Lisa Perrotti-Brown MW, never get asked to write for the Wine Advocate’s new website, and more than likely never win a Roederer Wine Writing Award. So maybe it was Riedel’s reaction to the HoseMaster of Wine™ that changed minds and influenced people, in a way satire cannot. And doesn’t intend to.

Gladwell’s podcast is harmless. But it’s certainly not insightful (which, I hear, is how people think of Gladwell, that he’s a perceptive thinker). The premise is false, and so the conclusions become rather useless. Satire is written not to influence people or create change, but to make people laugh, occasionally make them think, and often make them uncomfortable. It may speak truth to power, but that’s simply a starting point, a way in to a place where it can make people laugh at the world, at the constant foolishness of men, at the hypocrisy and lies that take up too much of our time and consciousness. As a weapon of mass destruction, it’s as toothless as a guppy. Satirists don’t want power, Malcolm, satirists despise power. We reap the benefits of powerlessness. Laughter and courage.

There’s great joy in writing satire and making people laugh, making them squirm. Satire intends to be raucous, often tasteless, it intends to be outrageous and fearless. You cannot pull punches and be good at it. It requires a mean-spiritedness that is tempered with truth and laughter. It’s an outlet for the outlier, a way of trying to make sense of a world gone irredeemably mad. That’s enough of a burden to hang on satire. To see its goal as changing the world, influencing people, is simply, well, laughable.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Nobel Laureate Bob Dylan on Wine

While it may have come as something of a shock to many people when Bob Dylan was awarded the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature, it certainly wasn’t a surprise to those of us who have followed Dylan’s brilliant wine writing over the years. At least it wasn’t as much of a surprise as the announcement that Pete Rose had won the Nobel Peace Prize, or that Julian Assange won Miss Teen USA. Won her in a Trump for President raffle.

I'm not one of those people who thinks Bob Dylan is a great American poet. Now, Smokey Robinson, there's our generation's Emily Dickinson. But I do admire Dylan's wine writing, which, it seems to me, has been shamefully neglected. So I've collected a few of Dylan's best pieces of wine writing and posted them over at the Wine Advocate's Wine Journal. Wander over there and see what you think. I can hardly wait for Dylan's thoughts on 2016 Bordeaux. Though more than likely it will be his usual assessment, "Don't think twice, it's all right."


Monday, October 17, 2016

The Godfather Parker and Pretty Boy: The Movie

Here's a piece I'm quite fond of, written in March of 2013. Parker had just sold the majority shares of Wine Advocate to Singapore investors, and Galloni announced he was leaving the publication. I'm not sure what triggered me to write this as a "The Godfather" parody, but it seemed to work. I rarely revisit a piece and laugh, but I liked a lot about this piece. It just seems to work. I'm enjoying my little October vacation, and this Best of HoseMaster, I think, actually qualifies for that title. Of course, by definition, that's a low bar to get over.

The Story So Far: Don Parker has increasingly been feeling the ravages of time. His back hurts, his gout is acting up and his prostate is the size of Mary Lou Retton, and performing better backflips. He checks it constantly with his thumb. Don Parker’s power is waning, his once indomitable empire is challenged on every front, his influence is still powerful yet he wields it clumsily now, bestowing gifts of 100 points willy-nilly where once he bestowed fear and envy. Don Parker is used to being feared and revered, but now the talk is only of his age and weakness—he feels the wolves nipping at his heels, trying to separate him from the rest of his pack of critics because he is one of the old and infirm; and though they are all old and infirm, it’s more fun to take down the one who was always the most powerful. Plus, he’s the only one with any meat on his bones.

Don Parker has recently told his Family that he is selling his empire to an Asian Family. The Family is in an uproar. Things are made worse when he hands the reins over to the only woman in the Family, Donna Lisa “The Blowfish” Peretti-Brown. This is no business for a woman. The Parker Family fortune is based on the 100-Point Scale; most women don’t like scales. The Family sees it as a mistake. On top of that, a year earlier, Don Parker had been forced to make one of the Family, Jay “The Walrus” Miller, disappear. “The Walrus” got caught with his hand in someone else’s till, and Don Parker didn’t like it. “The Walrus” begged, he even blubbered (blubber is how he got his nickname), but Don Parker had no choice. In a powerful and poignant scene, Don Parker kisses “The Walrus” on the lips. “86,” he whispers to “The Walrus,” whose face shows he recognizes it’s not a score.

But now Don Parker’s favorite son, Antonio “Pretty Boy” Galloni, wants out of the Family. Don Parker had personally groomed “Pretty Boy” Tony to be his ultimate replacement, the new Don of the Parker Empire. But the impeccably mannered, yet headstrong and temperamental, Galloni doesn’t want to work for “The Blowfish” and her shady Asian overlords. He intends to leave, and take the Family secrets with him. As the scene opens, we are in Don Parker’s office in Monkton. Don Parker sits behind his desk, the head of “The Walrus” is beautifully stuffed and mounted on the wall behind him, with what appear to be the testicles of an M.W. dangling from his mouth. A plaque beneath says, “Miller Teabagging Campo.” Next to Miller’s head is a crucifix. It’s “The Walrus” and the Carpenter. Antonio “Pretty Boy” Galloni enters. Don Parker stays seated.

Don Parker:  Come in, Pretty Boy, come in. It’s nice to see you. How’s your wife? I’d stand up to greet you, Tony, but my back hurts from carrying Bordeaux all these years.

“Pretty Boy”:  My wife is good, Don Parker. She asks for you. She wants to know when  you’ll grace us with a visit.

DP:  Soon, I hope, Tony, soon. (He pauses.) Does she know about your decision to leave the Family?

PB (Tony is clearly shocked Don Parker knows of his plans to leave.) No, I… I haven’t told anyone. I wanted to speak to you first, Godfather. How did you know?

DP:  I know you like I would know my own son, my own flesh and blood. I gave you life, Tony, I made you somebody. I gave you money and power and the knowledge to abuse it. And this is how you thank me? (He glances over his shoulder at “The Walrus.”) You take everything and just walk away? Is this how you show your gratitude to me, and to the Family?

PB(humbly) Godfather, I always told you that I wouldn’t do contracts. Didn’t I? Didn’t I always say, “I don’t do contracts?”

DP(quietly) You come to me, how many years ago now, Tony, three? And you’re tired of being nobody, your little publication, you’ll excuse me, it’s shit. Twelve guys and a chimp read it, and the chimp wants a discount because he’s a blogger. So I give you a real job, I hand you my name and my reputation, I teach you how to use the 100 Point Scale the way a man uses the 100 Point Scale—like you use your salami on a woman, Tony. It’s the tip that matters. 95 to 100, the tip, that’s what gets you in. In return for all that I’ve given you, Tony, you won’t do a contract? I’m the Don of this Family. If I say contract, you do a contract.

PB(deliberately) I cannot work for “The Blowfish.” This was never a part of our Family, Godfather. (now angrily) You sold the Family! You sold it and took all the money. And then you ask me to work for some Asians and a woman? Like I’m some miserable Napa Valley winemaker? No, Godfather, I have my pride. Why couldn’t you have made one of the other family members Don?

DP:  Who, Tony, I ask you, who? David “The Windbag” Schildknecht? Mark “The Pretender” Squires? Neal “Buttkiss” Martin? Come on, Tony, it was supposed to be you. Don Antonio. But you couldn’t wait, you couldn’t just sign a contract and wait until I die. No, you had to try and kill your Father, betray me, betray the entire family. For what? Another of your shit publications? I know you, Tony, I knew you would try to leave. So I gave my title to “The Blowfish.” To teach you.

PB(A long pause, Tony trying to stare down Don Parker.)  I’m leaving, Godfather. I ask you for your blessings.

DP(he is thoughtful) If you go, Tony, you must not take anything of the Family with you. You must not betray any of our secrets, our codes—the Family business stays here. This you must swear to me on your life, on your wife’s life.

PB:  But I must use the 100 Point Scale. That is no secret, Godfather. Everyone uses the Scale, it is not yours.

DP:  I will not have you abuse it!

PB:  Abuse it?! You’re the one who abuses it, Don Parker! Everyone, all the other families, the Strums, the Shankens, they’re all talking about your abuse of the Scale. They want to destroy you, Godfather. But, no, you’re smarter than they are. You’re destroying yourself first. Handing out 100 point scores like they’re Cuban cigars to celebrate that you’ve screwed another wine region.

DP:  It was you, Pretty Boy, who didn’t hand them out often enough. You disappointed me, Tony. In front of everyone, you insulted me. Lowered my scores, MY SCORES!, on wineries I made rich and famous. You made me a laughingstock. Made me look like a tired, bloated old man. And now this. You leave me, my lifetime of work paving a path for you, my money lining your pockets, my fame the only light your name has, and you leave me. Go, Tony, never darken my door again. I’ll have your head up there with The Walrus if you do.

PB:  I take my work with me, Don Parker. It was always mine. It was never yours. If you try to take it from me, I’ll give it away, and with it, all your secrets.

DP(wearily) Fine, Tony. No one gives a crap about Sonoma, or your scores for Sonoma. Even I barely showed my face there. Farmers, they’re just ignorant farmers. It’s Burgundy all over again. (He sits up straighter. There’s a long pause.) I want you to know I wish you the best of luck, Antonio. Come here.

(Tony walks over behind the desk. Don Parker slowly rises. He looks at him squarely in the eyes. Tony lowers his, and Don Parker gently kisses him on the lips.) 

DP:  Goodbye, Antonio.

(The music swells, Pretty Boy leaves, a look of satisfaction on his face. And as the next scene opens, we see Pretty Boy in bed, the sheets covered in blood. Tony awakens, feels and smells the blood. He begins to panic, his breathing accelerates, and when he throws the sheets aside we see the bloody head of James Suckling, his mouth wide open and his eyes bulging, as in real life.

Antonio screams.)

Monday, October 10, 2016

My Favorite Year--With a Short Break

My Roederer Award--What the Hell is it?

I've had a rather memorable year. It began with speaking at the Napa Valley Wine Writers' Symposium in February. My speech wasn't memorable, but meeting Hugh Johnson was on my pail list, and I was also privileged to meet Jane Anson and Karen MacNeil, as well as befriend the lovely Lana Bortolot and, circuitously, meet Lisa Perrotti-Brown MW. Lisa asked me to write for the new Wine Advocate site, which has been fun, and has exposed me to many new readers. And, of course, I won a Louis Roederer Wine Writing Award, of which I am incredibly proud. One last time, I acknowledge my debt to Tim Atkin MW, who has tirelessly, and often foolishly, been my influential advocate. In terms of writing, it's been my best year.

Now, as I did last October, I'm going to take a brief break. Not that anyone will notice. We're all busy rubbernecking at the train wreck that is our democracy. It's my birthday on Thursday, and I'm going to take a couple of weeks off from writing this nonsense. I found last year that the brief hiatus really helped recharge the comedic batteries.

I do have a simple request. I never lack for ideas. I have long list of ideas for HoseMaster of Wine™, three of which might be worth something. But if there's a subject, or a person, that you'd like to see me lampoon here, I'd love to hear about it. I am not fishing for comments. There was a time early in my blogging career where comments were a measure for me of my success. No longer. I'm genuinely interested in what bugs you about wine, about the wine business, about the personalities who dominate wine writing, even what bugs you about me. Is there some issue you'd like me to tackle? Do you want me to continue "Wine Critics in Hell?" I think I've got one more Trump piece in me, but now every jackass is doing Trump, maybe I should abstain. I'm simply curious what folks think. I always write what I want, and I never pander to my audience, but I do wonder what you think.

You can bet I'll have very few common taters now...

I'll be back in a Monday or two. Keep an eye on the place. Yeah, I know, I'll miss you, too.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Larry Anosmia MS, Frontier Sommelier

Episode 1: “By-the-Glass at the O.K. Corral”

A famous Tombstone watering hole hires Larry Anosmia MS to increase sales and keep an eye on the Clanton gang. Doc Holliday takes a liking to the new sommelier in town, even switching from his shots of rotgut whiskey to the occasional glass of skin-contact Ribolla. Larry’s fallen in love with Miss Jancis, the town Madam, but she wants nothing to do with Larry, who wears an effeminate tastevin and brags about spitting.

Surprisingly, there hasn't been a successful TV show that featured a sommelier. That may be about to change with the new HBO series, "Larry Anosmia MS, Frontier Sommelier." I've summarized the first six exciting episodes over at Tim Atkin's world-famous award-winning site in my own inimitable award-winning way. "Frontier Sommelier" looks to be the hit show of the new television season! Do feel free to express your critical opinion of the new show over at Tim's, or, if you feel the need to blog surf, hang ten here with your reviews.


Monday, September 26, 2016

Donald Trump, Your New Emperor of Wine, Explains His Rating System

I’m doing a fantastic job as the new Emperor of Wine. Fantastic. The wine business has never been more honest, folks. It’s not exactly a secret that wine reviewing is completely corrupt. I mean, there are publications giving scores to wine that don’t accept advertising! I’m not kidding. Not a single advertisement. Not for wine, not for cars, not for jewelry. Nothing. That’s not the America we want to live in. You can’t trust a magazine that doesn’t take advertising. I think that’s obvious. Ask yourself, where does a publication that doesn’t accept advertising get its money? Not from subscriptions, that’s crazy. You can’t make money from subscriptions. There’s no tax breaks for subscriptions, and that’s where the money is, believe me. I’ll tell you where they get the money, folks. The Saudis.

Well, before the days of Trump are done this November, I thought I'd run this bit into the ground. Only this time the rest of the piece is over at the Wine Journal, part of the Wine Advocate's new free content site. Hey, they pay me, which is more than you can say. I won a damn writing award! Time to sell out!

Comments aren't allowed there, they probably can't afford a fulltime moderator to keep out the haters, so return here, if is suits you, to do your common tatering. I appreciate it. Now go!


Monday, September 19, 2016

Wine Critics in Hell Act 4

Act One is here   
Act Two is here   
Act Three is here

Our four dead wine critics, Parker, Laube, Suckling and Kramer, are listlessly hanging around in Hell, which appears to be a natural wine bar in Lodi. Alice Feiring is sitting at the bar deep in conversation with Laube, who is visibly inebriated, while she sips from a bottomless glass of natural rosé. There is a Stranger sitting alone in the corner who listens intently to everyone’s conversations. Everyone appears to be waiting for someone.

Laube: (drunkenly) I don’t know what I’m doing here with these idiots, Alice. I’m a lot more influential than any of them. I ran California! If I said a wine was 95 points, then, goddamit, it was going to get somewhere around 95 points. Give or take. I mean, there were other factors, weren’t there, Alice? I’m not to blame for that. There’s always other factors…(he drifts off).

Feiring: (consoling him) Oh, Jimmy, you did your best. And isn’t it better to be here in this sort of Hell than the one of your own making? I mean, Honey, you stayed at Wine Spectator for all those years. You had the courage to stay, not go out and try to make something of yourself like other wine critics. You were dependable, like a morning bowel movement. You had no aspirations to be better! I admire that. Get a big paycheck and just phone it in? Why, that’s inspiring! You gave the best years of your life to that magazine, and what do you have to show for it? Why, you’re a household name, like washrag, or doormat!

Laube: And I wrote a book! Don’t forget that. I wrote a goddam wine book.

Feiring: Why, yes, yes, you did, Jimmy. (a long pause) When was that?

Laube: I don’t remember. Maybe 1989? But it was a helluva book. It was about Cabernet.

Feiring: It sounds fascinating. Did it have numbers, Jimmy? Say some numbers to me, Jimmy. I love when you say numbers to me in that whiskey-laden voice of yours. It’s sexy. Tell me, Honey, what sort of a number would you give me?

Parker: One for the nearest shrink would be good.

Laube: (looking Feiring over) I’d have to taste you first.

(Feiring slaps him. His moustache flies across the bar. Parker rushes over and grabs Feiring’s wrist, which is poised to strike again. The bartender hands Laube his moustache back, which is now covered in peanut shells. Laube puts it in his glass of wine, wrings it out in the glass, and puts it back on his face. He then sips the wine, and his eyebrows show approval.) 

Parker: Leave him alone, Feiring. What’s he ever done to you? Laube’s like tsunami debris—he was washed up years ago.

Kramer: Look who’s talking about being washed up. The Great Robert Parker! That’s rich! We’re all here in this Godforsaken Lodi Hell because our opinions stopped mattering, because we’re dead to the world. Sure, we used to be somebodies. Our scores could make or break people. Our pronouncements carried weight. But not recently. Not right before we ended up in this Hell Hole. We were reduced to being just more internet wine chatter, the old fucks trying to talk over the party noise. A bunch of weary old men with fading senses trying to pretend the party ain’t going anywhere without us. Well, we didn’t leave the party, but the party sure left us. We’re not respected critics anymore, we’re just a string of numbers with initials after them. Like a goddam electronic wine ticker tape. 94RP, 93WS, 94WE 92CG… It’s pathetic. When we started, Gentlemen, we turned fine wines into a bull market. We taught people to love great wines with our tireless palates, our considered opinions, and our easy-to-use numbers. The wine business owes us! Now, it’s a bull-shit market, and we’re just a bunch of tired wine critics trying to hang on to past glories. We’re wine critics in hell. We’re great men. We even tried to pass the wine reviewing torch to a younger generation, but it was too late, there was no torch. Consumers blew out the damned torch. We had our day. But we stayed at the party way too long.

Suckling: Oh shut up, Kramer. Hell is listening to you pontificate. Do I have to go through eternity listening to you? Making Sense of Whinging? (to bartender) Christ, this crappy Grüner Veltliner isn’t even making me drunk! (the bartender shrugs, Suckling is clearly stating the obvious) Jesus, we have to drink this shit forever and it doesn’t even get us drunk? How come Laube’s drunk?

Laube: (slurring his words) I’m not sunk, Druckling. Uh, druk, Sunkling. I need a nap. (He puts his head down on the bar. Feiring breaks free from Parker and rushes over to see to him, caressing his head as Laube dozes on the bar.)

Feiring: Oh, Jimmy, I’m sorry I struck you. You’re the only kind one. I don’t know what got into me… (turning to the rest) You leave Jimmy alone! Can’t you see he’s miserable? You’re horrible people, all of you. You’re not even sweet enough to be Extra Dry. And you’re certainly not Natural. Why, you’re Bruts! Tasteless, cruel Bruts. You’re Veuve Clicquot! All of You! You're Yellow!

Parker: Oh, Alice, nobody here gives a Grande Dame what you think. Nobody cared when you were alive either. You only spoke for the fringe wine lovers. The ones who don’t enjoy wine, but see wine as some sort of symbol. Sure, lots of people bought my 100 Point wines to feel better about themselves. But is that any different from buying natural wines because they’re more authentic? Yeah, we fuck up the planet, ruin the environment, but we can feel OK about ourselves because we drink wines that are natural! Oh, we’re such thoughtful and engaged people. We don’t drink any of that terrible crap that wasn’t farmed biodynamically! Why, how can I enjoy a wine that wasn’t made properly?! We’ve raped the Earth, but if we’re really nice to this fifteen acres, all will be forgiven. It’s bullshit.

(The Stranger starts to laugh. He’s laughing quietly to himself at first, but then his laughter builds and he seems downright giddy. Everyone stops and stares at him.)

Stranger: (gaining his composure) Oh, I’m sorry. I’m just enjoying the show. Wonderful stuff. Why, this couldn’t have worked out any better if I’d planned it. Oh, wait, I did plan it. I have to say, the five of you are so much fun to watch. And we’re just getting started! But, I don’t know, does it seem a little…uncrowded in here?

(The door opens and in walks Antonio Galloni.)

Galloni: (to the bartender) Hey, where’s the men’s room? I need to drain my Tanzer.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The HoseMaster of Wine™ Wins a Roederer International Wine Writers' Award!

Every now and then, something happens that makes you feel great. An unexpected love letter from someone you have feelings for. Praise from someone for whom you have great respect, and who praises an example of your work for which you too have great fondness. A stray dog walks up to you in a park and curls into your lap. You feel great.

I won a Roederer International Wine Writers’ Award. Imagine that.

Hell, maybe Trump does have a chance. And don’t bet against the Cubs now. It could be that kind of year for Losers.

My category was the Ramos Pinto Online Communicator of the Year Award. I think it’s abundantly clear from my work that I believe the universe has a sense of humor. Irony is not a rare and precious mineral, it is as common as the fetid air we breathe. I laughed out loud when I read the list of previous winners of the Online Communicator Award. Three names in particular gave me some perspective on the prestige of having won—W. Blake Gray, Alice Feiring, Natalie MacLean. Life does have a way of keeping one humble.

I have often remarked here that awards are more about the group handing out the awards than about the recipients. Yet I’m damned pleased to have won, if not outright astonished. The Roederer Award becomes a permanent part of my resumé, and I am honored. Is it tasteless for the winner to demand a recount?

Is it at this point that I praise the others on the short list? Why do I have the feeling that not a single one of them was that thrilled to be on the short list with the HoseMaster of Wine™? No matter. Andrew Jeffords has won six Roederers now. I think that means next time he gets the free buffet and car wash. Mr. Jeffords is a far better writer than I, I think we can all agree on that. I expected him to win, though I hate betting the sure thing. Jane Anson is a wonderful writer as well, and I had the great pleasure of meeting her at the Napa Valley Professional Wine Writers’ Symposium in January. She was my sentimental favorite to win. And win she did, luckily for me, in the Features Writing category. Well-deserved. Andrea Frost also writes a monthly piece for Tim Atkin MW, and, while her style is the sort I love to lampoon, I admire her writing ear, her ability to turn a strikingly original phrase. I don’t know anything about Yolanda Ortiz de Arri, but she has the coolest name. And Alder Yarrow and I go back a long way.

I do believe that it’s important that wine writing be recognized in a serious fashion. The Roederer International Wine Writers’ Awards are doing exactly that, and I commend them. Hey, you’re going to make mistakes, but the concept is bulletproof. There are not any other awards that only honor wine writing. (First clown that brings up the Wine Blog Awards, welcome to the Go Fuck Yourself Club®!) Most awards throw in the wine category as an afterthought, a way to bring a few more eyes to their ceremonies and results. Wine writers as Miss Congeniality. In the event Miss America dies, we go to your house for the wake. It’s insulting. So I hope that the folks at the Roederers stay the course, focus solely on wine writing. Any of you who have tried to write about wine on a regular basis know how difficult it is to be thoughtful and original about what is at heart a very narrow subject. Yet it’s a beloved subject to millions of people in the world, and the people who endeavor to make it more accessible and entertaining deserve recognition. My sincerest thanks to the people at Louis Roederer. Yours is the only wine writing award I wanted to win. I never once expected I would.

And a very big thank you to the five judges. Maybe I'm wrong, but I have to think that selecting me as the winner had to feel like taking a risk. My profane and often controversial writing for Tim Atkin MW's site (all the pieces I submitted for review were originally published there) is a long way from the traditional wine writing practiced by the others on the short list. Perhaps that worked in my favor, but, nevertheless, I very much appreciate the support of the judges who had the courage, or the whimsy, to vote for me. It's a distinguished panel of judges, which makes the award that much more meaningful to me. Charles Metcalfe, Tim Atkin MW, Fiona Beckett, Sara Jane Evans MW, Bill Knott--thank you, one and all. I've never had the pleasure of meeting any of you, which also worked in my favor, I'm certain.

Writing is a peculiar compulsion. I’ve written that I do this simply to make people laugh, but that’s not entirely true. I do it primarily for myself. I publish it to make people laugh, but I write to open that door in my mind where the voice now called the HoseMaster dwells. I’m not an interesting person in real life. I’m not well-traveled, I’m not especially brilliant, I’m deeply insecure and often withdrawn. Yet I can find this part of my mind that makes people laugh, that is able to see the farce that is every day life, that is fearless and quick-witted, unafraid to tell truths that others will not, that appeals to intelligent people and attractive women. I’m only that man when I’m here writing in that voice, and that requires I be alone a lot of the time, and lost in my thoughts much of the time otherwise. I live in my head. So often the rest of the world is a disappointment. You don’t want to be me.

I most certainly did not begin HoseMaster of Wine™ in order to become an award-winning wine writer. I had no aspirations when I began, and I still have none. I’m not a journalist. I write about wine, but wine isn’t my subject. Human foible and folly are my subjects, with wine as a mirror. I’m not really sure what it is I communicate online as Online Communicator of the Year. Maybe that wine and the wine business are not above satire any more than any other subject is above it. Maybe that wine isn’t just a terrible financial investment, but it’s also a terrible emotional investment. Maybe that knowing a lot about wine doesn’t make you important, or valuable, or admirable. We all take wine too seriously. Yes, it’s a miracle, but so is pizza. Maybe we should stop lying so much about wine.

I’m very flattered and extremely proud to have won a Louis Roederer International Wine Writers’ Award. Thank you to all the judges, and to Champagne Roederer and Ramos Pinto, the finest Port producer in the history of Port producers. Suck it, Fonseca.

I’ve been at this for a long stretch now, and the rewards have been immeasurably life-changing and rewarding. Awards recognize past accomplishments, and are fleeting. In the real world, you’re only as good as your recent work. The people I’ve met because of my work are the real reward. They are too numerous to mention, but you all know who you are. A writer writes alone, but lives among those who read his work. Being unread is death to a writer. A voice unheard is no voice at all. Thanks to all those who have heard me.

I know I offend people. I intend offense. Satire is intended to outrage and offend people. I measure my own success by who it is I’ve offended, who I’ve driven to outrage. I judge myself by that list of people, and I am content when everyone on that list is a fool, an idiot, or an asshole. So far, so good. Most have been all three. But satire is more than that. It spits in the face of false authority. It questions the establishment (oh, yes, I grew up in the ’60’s). It makes us laugh while it makes us think, and that is a rare kind of doubleheader. I am not a great satirist, or a comic genius. But if I’ve somehow paved the way for that kind of talent to emerge by being recognized with a Roederer Award, if I've made satire seem more vital to the wine business, then I’ve succeeded beyond my wildest dreams.

Thank You, Louis Roederer International Wine Writers' Awards. I feel great.

Monday, September 12, 2016

A Child's Garden of Wine Verses

There was a crooked man, and he had a crooked view,

He owned a crooked business by the name of Premier Cru.

He’d sell you crooked Petrus, he’d sell you fake Mouton, see,

He’d bugger your dumb ass with his little scheme of Ponzi.

Mary had a Coravin,
She’d been fleeced, you know,
And every wine that Mary drank
Convinced her it was so.

It pierced the foil and the cork,
Which was against all rules,
The air replaced with neutral gas,
The wise replaced with fools.

But Parker had come out for it,
And praised the way it works.
They sold a million tubes of gas—
Symbolic of the jerks.


“You pierce the cork with stainless steel,
Remove it and it heels.
I remember my virginity,
I know how that cork feels.”

“But filling me with nasty gas,”
Said Mary to the makers,
“Just doesn’t keep my insides fresh—
Ask any undertakers.”

So Mary took her Coravin,
And all its stupid needles,
And tossed them in the fucking trash.
“It’s just as fake as Riedels.”

Simple Simon met a Steiman                                         
Living in an RV.
Said Simple Simon to the Steiman,
Your first name must be Harvey.

Says Simple Steiman to our Simon,
What about it, jerk?                           
Says Simple Simon to the Steiman,
I’m a big fan of your work.

Simple Simon went Tim-Fishing,
It was his stupid hobby.
“You must be quite an imbecile
To be beneath Jim Laube.”

“You all write just alike to me
Your works could not be samer.
Pretentious is your middle names,
Its last name ends in Kramer.”

We taste blind. We taste blind.

For all you know. For all you know.

We give the points that we think are due,

Them use them for our ad revenue,

But we swear to God that it isn’t true,

How stupid are you?

Little Miss Puckette

Sat on a bucket

Stealing her charts from prey.

Then came a real writer

Who sat down beside her

And frightened Miss Puckette away.

Monday’s wine is full of sweet,  
Tuesday’s wine goes great with meat.

Wednesday’s wine is full of Brett 
Thursday’s wine smells like ball sweat.

Friday’s wine is fucking corked. 
Saturday’s wine makes you feel porked.

But Sunday’s wine you think is rare will
Prove a fake from Acker Merrall.