Thursday, April 28, 2016

Our Forgotten Wine Critics (A Post for Berry Bros. & Rudd)

I have to confess that I was completely astonished when the lovely Sophie Thorpe contacted me on behalf of the legendary British wine merchants Berry Bros & Rudd and commissioned me to write a satirical piece for their wonderful wine blog, a blog with actual content. How is that even a wine blog? After a brief negotiation, which involved far too much weeping on my part, I came up with "Our Forgotten Wine Critics." You can find it here.

I feel honoured to have been asked. There's a kind of acceptance for what I'm doing here at HoseMaster of Wine™ that is heartening and encouraging. I'm grateful for the recognition. What's surprising, to some extent, is that I'm much more "accepted" in the U.K. than I am in the U.S. Or maybe Berry Bros & Rudd is hoping to get sued, too.

Please click over to their blog, where you'll find my piece. This may be a one-off for me, but I'm hoping they'll occasionally commission some work from me in the future. It helps, of course, if they get a lot of traffic from my appearance. So here it is, my inaugural piece for the esteemed Berry Bros & Rudd, "Our Forgotten Wine Critics."


Monday, April 25, 2016

The Master of Natural Wine Certification (MNW)

You’ve been waiting patiently for it, and now it has finally arrived. A wine credential you can be proud of. A wine credential for a new era in wine. The only wine credential that will matter in 2020. And you can be one of the very first to qualify to be a Master of Natural Wine!

Let’s face it, most wine credentials aren’t worth a thing anymore. Yes, there was a time when having those letters after your name had meaning in the wine business. It was important to be an MW. It gave you a certain gravitas in the biz, inspired admiration and wonder. Nowadays, everyone you meet has a CSW, a WSET, an MS, or an MW. Kids are trading them online like so many Pokemons. Those countless credentials are basically the celebrity sex tape of the wine business—a way to show you’re important because people want to see how you were screwed. Some people even go so far as to get TWO credentials, a kind of wine biz double penetration. No one sees those credentials as relevant anymore. Meeting someone with a wine credential is a lot like meeting someone who’s still a travel agent. Really, you think, people still want to be one of them? They survive on nostalgia, like vinyl records and missionary sex. Many people have donated their wine credential letters to their local homeless shelter where they are handed out to winos who can use them to get free passes into industry wine tastings. It’s very hard to tell the hobos from the local wine buyers at most tastings these days, though the bums tend to be more polite and have more buying power.

Into the fray over worthless wine credentials steps Master of Natural Wine. The M.N.W. program is the first of its kind, and destined to become the only truly important wine credential. Society is only now facing the frightening truths of climate change. Consumers are spending more time and more money on products that have very low impact on the environment, that are healthier and better for the planet. Or at least make those claims. No one really cares if the claims are true, and no one really investigates either. A wine has to be “natural” only insomuch as the consumer believes it’s “natural.” And that’s where we come in. As an MNW, you’re an arbiter of what’s natural in winemaking, you’re a gatekeeper, you’re an authority! We give you the tools to be able to promote natural wines, and do so with a straight face! No other program can do that.

Here’s what a few of our recent candidates, newly minted MNWs, have to say about our program:

“I used to hate Natural Wines, but it wasn’t until I sat for the MNW exam that I understood why. The days when wine was about pleasure, about sensuality, about joy, are over. Wine isn’t about that anymore. Wine always reflects life in the current culture; and in the current culture, life is just one, long, incomprehensible chemistry test. I proudly proclaim my MNW as proof that I’ve failed that exam.”—Noah de Sulfites MNW

“Natural Wines are far superior to other wines exactly as Master Sommeliers are far superior to other people—because they say so! Now that I’m officially an MNW, it’s safe to say I’m superior to everyone in the wine business. And that’s why I got into the wine business! Thank you, Court of MNWs. Only you could provide me with a piece of paper that so adequately replaces actual knowledge!”—Les Intervention MNW

“The MNW program is the manure you bury in the cow horn.”—Viola Dynamics MNW

We know that many wine lovers are skeptical about Natural Wines. Once you become a Master of Natural Wine, however, you’ll have learned that skepticism has no place in the world of Natural Wine. An MNW is uniquely qualified to take what producers, wine writers and importers claim at face value. The winemaker says that her wines are made with only minimal intervention, you have the clout and the credentials to believe her. You don’t need specifics! You’re a goddam MNW! Who cares what her definition of “minimal” is? It’s not important. Just like when we use drones against radical Muslims we don’t care about the “minimal” civilian casualties. We’re just doing what needs to be done. If the winemaker says it’s Natural Wine, and you, the MNW, say it’s Natural Wine, guess what? It’s Natural Wine. Imagine how many doors that will open for you in trendy San Francisco restaurants, or upscale Millennial wine bars, or wine educator positions at Constellation! An MNW doesn’t just say you’re a Master of Natural Wine. It also says you’re an unassailable authority. In the wine business, letters after your name don’t simply mean that you know what you’re talking about. More importantly, they mean no one else does. Imagine how much that’s worth!

You’re probably wondering how much it might cost you to earn your Master of Natural Wine. Well, let’s put it this way. More than it cost us, because we made it up! If you’d have thought of it, you could have had one for free, then charged everyone else for the right to tack your imaginary degree onto the end of their name! This is how wine credentials work. Making one up is the easy part. Getting others to think they have value is where it gets tricky. We think we have a winner with the Master of Natural Wine. We’re going to clean up! Hey, why should shady importers and unethical wineries make all the money from Natural Wines? Ask yourself that. Then apply to be an MNW candidate today, and grab a hunk of all that stupid money naive wine drinkers are willing to spend! Remember, if you don’t, someone else will.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Wine Critics in Hell

The scene takes place in Hell, which appears to be a Natural Wine bar somewhere in Lodi. The bartender, who never speaks, sports a Master Sommelier pin the size, and value, of a sewer cover on his lapel. There are several dead wine critics sitting at the bar.

Kramer: Is it me? Or is…

Parker: (Interrupting) It’s always you, Kramer. It was you when we were alive, and now it’s you when we’re dead. I thought Hell was going to be spending eternity with the buttboys on the eBob chat room, but this is worse. Just for once, Kramer, can we not talk about the importance of your wine legacy? Hey, somebody wake up Laube.

Laube: (raises his head from where it was resting on the bar) I’m awake. Oh, crap, I wet myself again. (Sniffing his wine glass) Oh, no, I didn’t. Sorry, it’s not me, it’s this fucking Pét Nat. Why do they all smell like Shanken’s office?

Kramer: (muttering) For once it’s not you.

Laube: Hey, fuck you, Kramer, I never liked you. You and your high and mighty wine wisdom. You know what we used to call your column around the office? “Excre-Matt.” “Yeah,” we used to say, “here he comes. By the looks of that pinched face, he’s almost ready to give us another big pile of excreMatt.”

Parker: Oh, will you two knock it off. Can we try to be a little bit civil today? Rumor has it that we have a new arrival coming today. I wonder who it is. I hope it’s a woman for a change.

Suckling: You say that every time, Parker. It’s never a woman. Give it up! I wish it were a woman, too, but it won’t be.

Kramer: (muttering) Yeah, you wish it were a woman. You’d be 69 on that.

Suckling: I wonder if the women wine critics have their own Hell. Maybe just being a woman wine critic when you were alive is Hell enough. And where are all the foreigners?        

Parker: I think this Hell is just for those who write in English.

Suckling: Oh, no wonder Schildknecht isn’t here.

A stranger enters. He slowly glances around at everyone in the wine bar, and finally takes a seat at the end of the bar, where the bartender has already placed a glass of red wine for him. There is a long, uncomfortable silence. The dead wine critics just stare at their wine glasses. 

Parker: You guys smell sulfur?

Kramer: Oh, it takes being dead for you to finally smell sulfur? What next? Brett? It’s probably that shitty house wine they serve us here. What is that?

Laube: I think it’s Meomi Pinot Noir. It’s wine by-the-glass in Hell. Constellation has the exclusive for Hell. On every five cases they buy, Constellation throws in another soul.

Parker: Didn’t you give this garbage 92 points, Laube?

Laube: Yeah. (He smiles) I always did like to fuck with consumers.

Suckling: You? Hell, I used to hand out 99 points like they were ten cent cigars and my wife had just had another little Suckling. You know why? People love wines that score 99 points. You give a wine a hundred points, nobody believes it. They think you’re losing your palate. You give it 99 points, they think you can tell the difference, that you’re “discerning.” Idiots. You guys know. What’s the difference between a 99 point wine and a 100 point wine? The swag. (Everyone laughs.)

Parker: (angrily) It was I who came up with the 100 point scale, and you clowns who bastardized it! You made my scale a laughing stock. When I started out, if I gave a wine a perfect score, I made that winery. That wine sold out faster than a Republican to the NRA. None of you had that power. Nobody talked about Laube points, or Suckling points, or Kramer points. Kramer didn’t make a single point in ten years of writing a column. But you sure as hell used my points. You abused my points. When I started, people were happy to get 91 points. They thought 91 points was a damned great score. 89 was the most feared score. I knew what an 89 point wine smelled like. So did everyone else. It smelled like failure—like Le Pan magazine, like Wine Blog Awards, like Dr. Conti’s fake life. And then you guys came along and started giving higher and higher numbers to lesser and lesser wines. Just to get your miserable names on more shelf talkers. Suddenly 91 is a lousy score. Then 93 ain’t so good. 94 was starting to seem worthless. 94! A winemaker would say his wine got 94 and he was ashamed. There was a time a winemaker would thank me for 94 points. At the end, no one even glanced at a 94 point wine. It had to be 96 or above. I gave my life for that scale. I gave the wine business that scale. It was brilliant!  I created it, and all of you, all of the wine critics after me, made a mockery of it.

Suckling: (after a lengthy silence) Weren’t you the guy who gave nineteen 100 point scores to 2009 Bordeaux?

Parker: Suck you, Fuckling.

The stranger suddenly stands up and walks center stage, and the dead wine critics fall silent. He is gazing out at the distance, hardly moving. The dead wine critics watch him apprehensively while the bartender seems completely oblivious. 

Stranger: (softly) There was a time when I believed in wine critics. I read every reputable wine publication religiously. “Wine Advocate,” “Wine Spectator,” “Wine Enthusiast,” “Connoisseurs’ Guide,” “Decanter.” Heck, when I needed a laugh, I read “The SOMM Journal,” or its sister publication, “The Ladies’ SOMM Journal.” I loved wine. I wanted to understand wine. Don’t ask me why. I guess I always felt like wine had something to say to me, something important, something about being human, something about the beauty of being alive.

The stranger turns slowly to face the dead wine critics. 

Stranger: I looked to wine critics, I looked to all of you, to teach me about wine. I was sure that if I understood wine, I would somehow understand what it was like to be alive, what it must be like to be human. I wanted wine to make me human. I wanted you to make me human. I was a fool.

The dead wine critics begin to object. The stranger erupts.

Stranger: (loudly, his voice reverberating, only the bartender doesn’t look up) We had a deal, Gentlemen! I gave you power, a voice, a 100 Point Scale. I had hoped you would use it wisely. I had hoped you would teach me what it’s like to be glad to be alive. Instead, what do I have? A bar full of egotistical accountants. Number crunchers. Point shavers. Braggarts and the Self-Important. Well, Gentlemen, your deal has come due. I own you. I own your souls.

Laube: Fuck, I knew it. It’s Shanken.


Monday, April 11, 2016

The HoseMaster of Wine™ Dreams of Terroir

Terroir came to me in a dream. Like most of you here, before I had my epiphany I never believed in Terroir. I was of the opinion that only the ignorant believed in It, only the desperate and the delusional—wine writers and marketing people, for example. And delusional is putting it mildly. These people dream dollar signs, and those dreams are wet. What’s the old saying? “If Terroir did not exist, it would be necessary to invent It.” Which, if you’d asked me then, I would have told you was just a lot of hot air; or as the French call it, voltaire. The French have stupid words for everything, like pommes frites. They can’t even name their own potatoes right.

Terroir is just another one of those stupid French words. That’s what I believed at the time. Wherever I traveled, wherever I tasted the finest wines, I ran into folks who blindly and faithfully believed in Terroir. They would smell and taste a wine and declare that it was filled with Terroir, as though wine were a Twinkie and Terroir its luscious creamy filling. Far too often, they would try fervently to convince you of the existence of Terroir. They would ask if you could sense Terroir in a wine. They would insist that, if you knew where to look, if you just opened your heart to the wonder of wine, wherever you traveled in the wine world you would sense the loving embrace of Terroir. “Accept Terroir,” they would say, “and Terroir will be the Answer to all of your wine questions.” Many wore shirts that read:

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, which is a subappellation of Napa, I shall fear no evil, for Terroir art with me; your rod and your tasting room staff, they comfort me.”

This they believed. Before my conversion, I often asked the true Terroir believers to define Terroir.  For every forty believers I asked, I received forty different definitions. These are truly stupid people. Every one of them thought that they knew the true definition of Terroir, though no such definition exists. Terroir is unknowable, like minerality or how “Wine Folly” has any readers at all. Terroir encompasses everything that makes up the finished wine, from the soil and climate to the winemaker and the winery, and, one supposes, to the spinning cones and micro-oxygenation. Oh, yes, Terroir keeps up with all the latest technology. It can be said that without Terroir, there is no need for that new winemaking technology. Or, perhaps, that Terroir transcends technology. Though I always believed that technology, man’s hand, created Terroir. We create wine, and therefore we create Terroir. Does Terroir exist without man? No. It cannot. Terroir is the 100 Point Scale of yesteryear. We moved on. We don’t need Terroir anymore, we assign points. One fantasy always replaces another.

You see, discussing Terroir is like practicing biodynamics—both demand endless bullshit.

I was the Richard Dawkins of Terroir. I believed that other people believe Terroir exists, but I knew that it did not. When Terroir encompasses everything, how can you smell it? How do you know you smell Terroir and not the finger you just pulled from your ass? There are dozens of compounds to smell in wine, yet a human can only smell four at a time—how do you know those four are the wine’s Terroir? It’s like licking a dirty plate in the French Laundry and declaring it the finest gourmet meal of your lifetime. (Which I highly recommend, by the way, if simply for how much money you save for essentially the same experience.) Claiming to understand a wine’s Terroir based on your indisputably pathetic sense of smell is simple hubris. A way to claim superior knowledge and skills. A way to pass “Go” and Collect $200. A cocky “Checkmate.” A macho “Yeah, I did her.” No one believes you, and everyone hates you.

Yes, friends, I was a skeptic. I found pleasure in denying the existence of Terroir. To be truthful, I felt superior because I knew that Terroir was a manmade conceit and, therefore, by its own definition, not real. I looked down upon those who believed in Terroir, who believed Terroir had meaning, that Terroir existed. Terroir, I believed, was a sad illusion, the refuge of wine hucksters and wine writers with no discernible knowledge or talent. Saying a wine expressed its Terroir was like saying your Doberman had just silently expressed his poor diet via his GI tract. You call it Terroir, I call it He Who Smelt it Dealt it.

But I was wrong. Yes, fellow converts, I admit it. I was wrong. Terroir doesn’t have to be definable to exist. Terroir, I know now, is about Faith. And as we get older, we long for Faith. The young want certainty, they yearn for control. With age, we find a place where we can let the illusions of certainty and control vanish. The young cannot understand Terroir. For them, it is a word they can use as a crutch. But, for the most part, they cannot sense Terroir. Terroir does not live in their heart. They need more time, they need to walk the wine road a while longer. Terroir is not a quality, my friends, Terroir is destiny. Why am I talking like fucking Alfonso Cevola?

Terroir finally came to me in a dream. In my dream, I was wandering around a beautiful vineyard near harvest. I was naked and had an enormous penis, so I knew I was dreaming. Or I was a Percheron, I don’t remember. The vineyard was talking to me. “Get the fuck out of here,” it said. That was the Syrah, with its shitty attitude. I think it was drunk. It was also singing, “The Cornas is high/as an elephant’s eye…” Syrah loves the theater, and especially musicals, I remembered in my dream, and I felt it was suspiciously eyeing my gigantic junk.

And then I felt a powerful energy surround me in my dream. I felt embraced by something much larger than me, like I’d been swallowed by Robert Parker. I realized I was no longer naked sporting a gigantic magic dong, though for some reason it had been replaced by Georg Riedel. I was slowly sinking into the soil, becoming part of the vineyard. I felt the caress of the Syrah’s roots. Actually, they were more like groping my engorged Riedel stem. I sensed the life-giving moisture in the soil coursing through my body, upward into the grapevines, reaching toward the Heavens. I became one with the vineyard. And a voice, a disembodied voice, like Stephen Hawking ejaculating into Siri’s throat, said, “I am Terroir. And you are Terroir. I live in You.”

Terroir had come to me. As a wine professional, I had never known such certainty and such peace. I knew Terroir. And now, friends, whenever I inhale the fragrance of a new bottle of wine, Terroir fills my lungs, and my heart. I am home. I am a man of Faith. Terroir is my Faith. When I smell Terroir, I am joyous to be home, naked, in a vineyard, gently touching my throbbing Georg.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Celebrating the 1976 Paris Tasting Hoax

Forty years later, it’s time to finally reveal that the Paris Tasting of 1976 was staged, much like Neal Armstrong’s phony moon landing, Elvis Presley’s death, and auction wines. Furthermore, the person claiming to be Steven Spurrier is actually a woman in a bad hairpiece,  and George Taber, the journalist from “Time” magazine, is a fictional persona of Salman Rushdie, not that anybody gives a fat wa.

This is investigative wine journalism at its finest! The debunking of the '76 Paris Tasting myths. Oh, you won't want to miss this. But you'll have to jump on over to Tim Atkin's site to read the rest. I'm like that the first Monday of the month. While you're there, feel free to light up his site with your legendary HoseMaster common tater wit. Or just leave your thoughts in my usual dump bucket.