Monday, February 29, 2016
Due to recent circumstances beyond my control, namely an earthquake measuring 7.2 on the Richter Scale that I’m certain was intentionally triggered by North Korea in an attempt to silence my criticism of Kim Jong Un’s recent purchase of Domaine Ramonet in Burgundy and renaming it Top Ramenet, it has become necessary for me to rewrite my requirements for wine submissions for review. The earthquake, set off by the testing of underground nuclear weapons in blatant defiance of international law, or, perhaps, by the sudden shifting of the North American plate against the Alice Feiring “Eat Me, I’m Natural” commemorative plate proudly displayed above my mantel, no one can be certain which was the cause, toppled the thousands of wine shipping boxes stored temporarily in my safe room, nearly crushing the woman I keep there for amusement, and, not, as has been reported in the press, because she actually writes my tasting notes in exchange for being allowed to live. That’s not her, that’s Natalie MacLean.
In the past, any wine was allowed to be submitted, as long as it was safely packed using unmarked double-sawbucks as protection. With the proliferation of wines from every beautiful corner of the planet, as well as Lodi, this is no longer reasonable or manageable. As it is, I’ve been rating wines without tasting them, instead relying on the numbers generated on CellarTracker. Nah, I’m kidding, those guys are imbeciles. If I want to rely on fake wine authority, I can steal from “Wine Folly.” The problem is simply that I receive too much unwanted and unsolicited wine. Even with my crack team of reviewers—well, it’s really my team of reviewers on crack—there just isn’t enough time to taste and rate all the wines. And that’s considering that I can taste 250 wines in only three hours, and rate them all. I’m a regular Alder Yarrow. And you idiots believe him.
So from now on, anyone submitting wines for review will be required to conform to the following policies. Any submissions that do not conform to the standards will be refused and returned to the sender sans double-sawbucks. Shredded copies of “Loam Baby” will be substituted, without regard to possible wine or brain damage. Here then are the new requirements and explanations of our new submission policy.
1) I now openly accept cash. Frankly, I’m tired of playing the “I’m not for sale” game. It’s wine’s version of the Oscar’s “I’m just happy to be nominated” game. Who the hell believes that? And I’m sick of the double standard in the wine business. When you submit a wine to a wine competition, after all, you tender payment for the privilege of being judged by teams of wine professionals. Yeah, right, professionals. And those guys at the Apple store are geniuses. If you pay to have your wine rated at a wine competition, it’s only fair that you pay me to rate it. And, no, advertising is NOT enough. Only the big corporate wineries can afford advertising in my publication, I expect everyone to pony up some bucks for the privilege of having the chance I’ll rate your wine highly, and then you’ll sell a boatload of pedestrian plonk to Costco. Trust me, it’s just as easy to give an 89 as a 90. I don’t care. I taste the wines blind because, frankly, I’m usually relatively drunk and often get my notes confused so what difference does it make? And I taste blind because wine consumers think tasting blind creates objectivity and shows integrity, which is important to remember when you don't have either. Try to think of paying to have your wines rated as a kind of wine business Lottery. Think of the payment as buying a Scratcher. You give me scratch, I sniff.
2) Don’t send me wines that you know suck. Really. I’m not kidding around here. Submit wines that you have produced with pleasing my palate in mind! This is how it works in life. You don’t write an article about premature ejaculation for the AARP Magazine. You don’t write anything with any inkling of wit and expect Wine Spectator to publish it. You wouldn’t submit Meomi Pinot Noir to a diabetic. So do me the favor of not wasting my time with wines that you know I’ll hate. You know my palate. I’m old. I need wines that are more intense than a constipated John Malkovich trying to squeeze off a loaf. I’d think you’d know that by now.
3) You need to ship at least two bottles of every wine. If the wine is rare and expensive, six bottles. I like to give them more attention. I don’t sell them. I swear. I do, however, award slightly higher scores if I feel the winery has been generous with samples of rare and expensive wines. This has always been part of how wines are rated, by the way. It falls under the category of “emotional impact.” I’m just so happy when I get a six-pack of, say, Chateau Petrus, because it’s what I use to pay my tongue guy. Wine critics always have a tongue guy, and many have two. One for each fork.
4) Marketing people, pay attention! If you send a wine to a blogger, don’t send it to me. That’s insulting. That’s like being a book publicist, having Ian McEwan as a client, and sending his latest novel to Michiko Kakutani, and a chimp. One’s going to crap on it, and the other one can’t read. Yes, I know, the bloggers review it for free, they haven’t the slightest idea when a wine is reduced, or corked, or full of Brett, so your odds are pretty good you’ll get a positive review, but what does that get you? A link on page 34 of a Google search, pretty much. If I see a wine that you’ve paid me money to review on some blogger’s site, that’s an automatic 84. If it’s 1WineDoody, it’s 83. If it’s Terroirist, you have my sympathy. You’re entitled to a new marketing director. And an 82.
I hope these new rules for submission are clear. Yes, I know, not that much has changed, really. I’m still all about integrity. I don’t bend these rules for anybody. That’s integrity! And, as a reminder, I am now accepting wines for review that will be appearing in the June issue. It’s the annual “Great Wines Over $150” issue. Please offer more than $150 in order to be a Great Wine.
Monday, February 22, 2016
Aside from being one of California’s best winemakers, the woman was a babe. She was asking me if I had an opinion about why there aren’t as many women as men in the wine business, but I was staring at her fantastic breasts and wondering if each one tasted a little different, as bottles of the same wine can vary. I can’t say I understood the question, even after I asked her to repeat it while I marveled over the flair of her nostrils, her outrage showing in the way she was nearly breathing fire. Her neck was slightly flushed, the color of young Échezeaux, and I recognized it as a sign of an impending orgasm. She makes one of my favorite wines in California, but I don’t see how that matters. I asked her if she had any tattoos.
I don’t recall which started first, my wine collection or my collection of women. One collection I keep perfectly cool and locked in a cellar. The other is in racks all over my house. When women feel they are not treated equally, I share their outrage. I find that loosens them up.
Late last year, I was asked to be the keynote speaker at the Women in Wine Symposium held in Napa Valley. How could I refuse? Though I confess, I initially thought it was more about marination than job equality. Not that it mattered. In truth, it’s simply a venue for me to talk about myself and then cruise for chicks. Then I became interested in the question. Is the wine business sexist? Is it harder for a woman to achieve success as a winemaker, or vineyard manager, or working in the tasting room where they belong? Are women treated differently in a male-dominated field? God, I hope so, they’re just so damned delicious.
I only noticed recently that there are more and more women in the field of wine. I hadn’t really thought about it. Women in wine are like the Viognier in Côte Rôtie, they’re tossed in the bottom of the bin and crushed under the weight of men until what results is something fine, and special, and mostly about men. You’re not supposed to notice them, not when you do it correctly. But, now, suddenly, the Viognier wants an equal voice, wants to be valued for more than its lovely perfume. And, now, so do women in wine. What could be cuter?
The first evening of the Women in Wine Symposium I walked into a ballroom filled with women employed in the wine business. I was the only man in the room, though many had brought husbands. There’s a difference between husbands and a real man, as there is a difference between a Cru Bourgeois and a First Growth. I’m a First Growth. The one you had removed but then it grew back. The room was overflowing with estrogen, for which I am a Super Taster. Even blind, I can tell the difference between a ’68 Domaine Menopause from an ’85 Clos Zapine. What can I say? I like ‘em a little crazy.
I wandered around the ballroom and talked with several women, asking them about whether they’d ever felt discriminated against on the basis of their sweet, perfumed, warm, wondrous sex. One woman, a knockout in a form-fitting dress that hugged her curves like Mario Andretti in his heyday, told me that she had produced more than a few wines that had received scores from Robert Parker in the high ’90’s, but was paid far less than her male peers. I’m not sure what that had to do with it. She’s talking to one of wine’s greatest prose stylists, a man who could help her career if she’d simply ignore his hands coming out of turn 6 on that fabulous bottom and headed for the finish line, and Robert Parker’s name comes up? Perhaps, I thought, women might be more successful in the wine business if they weren’t constantly shooting themselves in the foot.
Yet there have been many women who succeeded in the wine business in California, women who changed the face of wine, many without having much of a face at all. I was standing in a ballroom with many of them, a few of whom seemed to suffering from red blotch virus, and one in particular whose limp handshake implied she had dead-arm. “Hey,” I quipped, “if eutypa, why not become a secretary?”
I spent a few minutes talking to a blonde bombshell about sexual discrimination in the wine industry. She’s very successful, and would seem to be the whole package. Leggier than an Eiswein in a dirty Riedel glass, she told me that she was expected to always be perfectly groomed, attired in short skirts and low-cut tops that exploit her sexuality because it’s still the case that most high-powered buyers and wine critics are men. “Works for me,” I explained. And I wondered how this could be understood as sexist. Dressing for success is as old as the oldest profession, and now, suddenly, it’s politically incorrect? I’m afraid, I told her, I just don’t get it. She simply walked away, and too briskly for me to get my selfie stick underneath that revealing skirt.
I was enjoying the evening. Wine loosens the inhibitions, and time was on my side. As I strolled around the crowded ballroom, sampling wines made by women winemakers, I thought about how women are almost as important to wine as men. There are 338 Masters of Wine in the world, and 112 of them are women, while nearly all of the rest are men, with several question marks. That seems about right. An almost even third are women, a third are men, and a third are all of the above. Can’t get more equal than that. There are 230 Master Sommeliers, and 32 are women! How is that not equal? That’s basically one in seven—better than Snow White’s dwarves. And when you think Master Sommeliers, you think dwarves.
I spoke to one last woman at the Women in Wine Symposium. She approached me and introduced herself. She was a big fan she told me. She had read almost all of my work, and she recognized that I modeled myself after a great American writer. “I know that you admire and try to emulate Hemingway,” she told me. “May I buy you the gun?”
Monday, February 8, 2016
My wife and I decided to try the newest restaurant in town. When I read the wine list, I didn’t recognize a single wine. There was some category called “Pet Nat,” which I thought was odd. I’d heard they don’t make good pets, though you can train them, I think, and have a Flying Flea Circus. LOL! And there were a whole bunch of orange wines, which, I don’t know, I thought must have been made by Green and Red winery. Green and Red makes orange. Get it? HA! Anyhow, I was frustrated that I couldn’t find a bottle I even recognized, and when I asked for the sommelier’s help, he just looked at me like I was a dolt, and then sold me some bottle of Pecorino, which I only bought because that was my nickname in high school. Why do so many new restaurants carry wines most people don’t know?—Brett in SF
This is a complaint I’m pretty much sick to death of. First of all, it’s the sommelier’s job to look at you like you’re a dolt. During the practical exams for becoming a Master Sommelier, one is required to perform an exemplary condescending face. Many wear it almost constantly. Though too many actually look constipated. But, more importantly, Brett, how is it the restaurant’s responsibility that you know something about wine? Maybe your new restaurant should have some kind of remedial wine list for cretins like you who think you’re entitled to understand the wine menu. All you idiots just want Pinot Noir anyway, or maybe some Silver Oak—the missionary position of wines. You know, Bretthole, why can’t you, and all the other restaurant customers, understand that it’s the sommelier’s job to educate you, not make sure you enjoy your evening? And how can the sommelier educate you with a list full of the stupid kinds of wines you think you like and want to drink? It sounds to me like you ran into a very professional sommelier at that new restaurant. And, truthfully, sommeliers create wine lists to impress other sommeliers, which makes sense when you realize how important we are. And then all the customers do is bitch and moan. It’s the worst part of the job.
I ordered a bottle of wine. When the sommelier poured me a taste, I smelled it, and it smelled worse than a Trump polygraph test. I complained to the sommelier, and she told me that it was supposed to smell like that, and she refused to take it back. She claimed it was a “natural wine.” I asked her what the hell a “natural wine” was, and she told me it was a wine that was made with “minimal intervention,” I guess like our strategy in Syria. So utter bullshit. Shouldn’t she have taken the wine back and offered to replace it with a different wine?—Joe in PA
What kind of an idiot are you? Actually, I know what kind of idiot you are. You’re the kind who thinks that wines have to smell clean and pretty in order to be palatable. Well, listen, Joe, there’s a whole category of wines that just don’t need to be judged by the likes of you and the establishment. If a sommelier tells you that’s how a wine is supposed to smell, then you may as well drink it and enjoy it, brother, you own it. Sommeliers and wine writers and winemakers don’t answer to you, Joe. Who are you? We answer to a higher cause. We answer to terroir. A wine is supposed to smell of a place, Joe, and, honestly, some places just don’t smell that good. Think a cat lady’s sofa, or the motel after the Wine Bloggers Conference. When you know a lot about wine, which seems like about Super Bowl 86, you’ll understand that. Have you ever been to the place where that natural wine was made? What you smell is the wine’s terroir if the sommelier, or the wine writer, or the winemaker, says it’s the terroir. It wouldn’t kill you to keep an open mind, Joe. Once again, a sommelier’s job is to impress you with her encyclopedic wine knowledge and recommend the wine she’s convinced you haven’t a clue about in order to help you understand your own wine ignorance. Is that so hard to understand? If your doctor prescribes medicine for you, you don’t actually research the side effects, idiot, you just take it and hope you don’t die. Give your sommelier the same respect.
My husband and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary recently at a very nice local restaurant, and we ordered a bottle of Caymus Cabernet with our dinner. It was $200 on the wine list for a current vintage. A few days later, my husband saw it at a local wine merchant for $70. Why are restaurant markups so high on wine? It seems to me that a restaurant would attract more customers, and make more money, if they priced their wine list at more sensible markups. I’m guessing the restaurant only paid about $50 for that bottle. Does $150 profit seem reasonable to you?—Jessica in NY
First of all, congratulations on your 20th wedding anniversary. My condolences to your husband. What a nag. You already kissed that 200 bucks goodbye when you ordered a Caymus Cabernet. Did you think it was even worth the 50 bucks you think it cost the restaurant? So, right there, you’re just talking out your ass. For $200 you could have had two bottles of Kenwood Sauvignon Blanc! But, OK, let’s take your question seriously, as if it were a good question. Though it’s not, it’s more like a “Is it pronounced ‘mare-a-tidge’ or ‘mare-a-taj?’” kind of stupid question. (It’s “mare-a-tidge.” An easy way to remember? It rhymes with “frottage.” Like what your husband does on the subway every morning.) That $150 “profit” goes toward paying the sommelier, who gets paid whether you see him on the floor or not, he could be at a tasting, or recording his weekly podcast that eight people listen to. That $150 “profit” goes to paying for the fancy stemware your wine was served in. You can’t drink Cabernet out of a Zinfandel glass, Jessica, for fuck’s sake, that’s basically a wine drinking cameltoe—just asking for inappropriate cracks. That $150 “profit” goes for proper wine storage. Some day. When we sell enough wine. So when you break it all down, that $150 profit is actually only $125 profit. And don’t forget it cost money to get that Wine Spectator “Almost a Best of Runnerup Award of Excellence,” too. Plus, you want familiar? You want Caymus? Not a Pecorino? You gotta pay the freight. Sommeliers don’t put wines like that on a wine list because we like them, we don’t. We do it because we know you’ll pay to make yourself comfortable, and because we need guest houses when we visit Napa Valley. So it’s a win-win, Jessica. Sheesh, what do you people want?
Tuesday, February 2, 2016
It’s a question from wine novices that comes up repeatedly. Just how do we know how long to age our wine critics? Furthermore, how can we tell which wine critics will age well, and which will fall apart? Are there any guidelines? I believe there are, and the best way to understand them is to look at wine critics of various ages we have now for clues as to how wine critics age. However, there is no exact measure, and certainly no guarantee. Many promising wine critics will mysteriously become dull and lifeless with age, though, in most cases, they were duller than Spätburgunder to begin with, and you were simply fooled by their slick packaging.
To better understand aging wine critics, you'll have to follow the monthly HoseMaster link to Tim Atkin's site. Tell him I said hello. Nice guy. Funny accent, but friendly. And while you're there, leave something witty behind. A choice comment, or something you stole from an internet site. Or, if you must, leave a choice little gift for me, all wrapped in a brown paper bag and set on fire.
TIM ATKIN MW