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.



Daniel said...

Buongiorno Hose
The photo perfectly sets the scene...nice touch.

new shelftalker: Meomi, served in the hottest wine bar around!

Gillywine said...

Move over, Mamet. You've been hosed.


Goddess of Wine said...

Hell is other wine critics!

gbgolfer71 said...

Wonderful! Says the man who likes Meomi and has hands smaller than Donald Trump.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Hey Gang,
I have no idea where this piece came from. I sat down to write for HoseMaster yesterday, and I had this odd vision of a bunch of dead wine critics sitting around a bar in Hell, reminiscent of a scene from "The Iceman Cometh," one of my favorite plays. I had no idea where it was going, what it meant, or why I felt compelled to write it. Ideas can be like that--nagging and persistent as a dog after a bone.

I don't know if there's more to come. Or if anyone wants there to be more. As ever, just trying to write about wine and the wine business in a different, and, one hopes, entertaining fashion.

Charlie Olken said...

I had to think about this one for a bit. Not loaded with great gag lines, but interesting as a premise. I could see it coming back with a little more stylistic personality for each of the protagonists. Or are they antagonists?

The great value here is putting them all together and letting them have at it.


A heavyset guy walks into a bar in Hell. Sidles up to the bar. Says to the bartender, "I'll have a glass of your best bretty Bordeaux".

Bartender says, "you like familiar, don't I know you from somewhere"?

Guys says, "Just arrived in town, but maybe you've heard of me". Names Parker, Robert Parker.

Bartender says, "Oh, I thought you were Harvey Steiman".

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Puff Daddy,
When I publish something "odd" like this, it's always met with resounding silence, very few FaceBook links, and fewer than usual hits. Ho-Hum. After more than 500 pieces for HoseMaster of Wine™, I can look back, and the pieces I'm the most fond of are often the strangest pieces, the posts with the fewest comments. I'm rather contrary that way. If the folks who read my crap scratch their heads at my latest post and wonder what the hell I'm doing, note the absence of great gag lines, I'm actually rather satisfied. I write what I'm moved to write. That's not a way of defending the piece, but a way of explaining it. I just had a hankerin' to write in the format of a play, and this is the result.

But my greatest reward was that my wife came into my office yesterday to tell me she really liked the piece. Believe me, that doesn't happen much. So I'm happy.

Ziggy said...

Good for you, Hose.

BTW, perfect place for a Spittoon.


Marcia Macomber said...

Luuuuuuuv It! Oh, man, it's a cross between O'Neill and Waiting for Godot and The Caretaker. (You'd have to have muuuuuuuuuuuch longer descriptive paragraphs to make it true O'Neill. He could go on for-eeeeeeeeeevvvvvvvvvvvvvvuuuuuuhhhh!) The mood and tone are brooding, but with that stinger at the end. Part II, please!

Unknown said...

Quite a relief after reading Wine Critics in Hell. I was influenced too much by Michelangelo and the Last Judgement and never knew that folks could drink and hang out and even get service from a bartender in Hell.

Unknown said...

very cool piece. but I am sorry to discover that gruner veltliner is no longer the glass pour in hell. looks like I lost another by-the-glass account

Unknown said...

Ron, this is one of your finest!

Reddangel said...

I verbally (and probably badly as I was giggling) told a few english wine hacks to read this post at a posh wine dinner. Hope they did and got as much of a laugh as I did.

Paul in St. Augustine said...

Looks like female writers don't go there. Parts of this made me alol.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Marcia Love,
Thanks. It's my usual, Write a thousand words, look for a closer. Glad you enjoyed it. There might be an Act 2 in me, I have no idea yet.

Everyone's idea of Hell is different, of course. My thought was that a wine writer's idea of Hell would certainly involve hanging around with other wine writers for eternity. Having a bartender just makes it weird.

Sorry. But Pet Nat is just so much more Hellish. Keep trying, though. You just might make it back onto the BTG list in Hell. Can you get any Lemberger?

That's very kind, especially coming from you. Thank you.

Thank you.

Female wine writers have their own Hell. Sounds like a sequel.

Bob Henry said...

Article headline from this morning's email news blast (courtesy of

"Matt Kramer REALLY Didn't Like UC Davis Professor Mark Matthews' new book, 'Terroir and Other Myths of Winegrowing' "

I guess Matt is in psychological Hell over this dust-up . . .

Samantha Dugan said...

One of my favorite parts about being home, catching up on your posts!
I needed this one...but my idea of hell is a wine bloggers conference. Thankfully I'm neither a wine blogger or a critic!
I love you!

Unknown said...

This is my absolute favorite piece. Bravo HoseMaster!