Thursday, August 4, 2016
EPHEMERA: The Spirituality of K-Y Jelly
I find myself tuning out the news lately, and reaching for a book. A great book, not brain candy, a work of art. The news is filled with death and stupidity these past few weeks, a gory litany of massacres, assassinations and murders, fueled by our old friends hatred and ignorance. I have been having hard times of my own. Nothing unmanageable or tragic. More the unbearable triteness of being. I don’t have the heart to tune in to every day’s latest expression of hatred, hear how yet another man decides the best way to obliterate the anger and fear in his head is to kill as many people as he can before he himself is blessedly relieved of duty here on Earth. I was an emotional wreck. I felt completely abandoned and worthless. Which is terrible for every day life, but wonderful for writing satire.
You’d think that the uglier the world gets, and it’s particularly ugly now, it might be harder to write jokes. I write about wine and the wine business. Almost nothing could be less important. Maybe awards shows. Or Pokemon. Or cat videos. You know, shit that pinheads like. In the big picture, the picture that includes the ugliness of racism, homophobia, climate change, gun violence, a big dishonest narcissistic prick running for President, religious fanaticism, and Bill Cosby, wine is the playground, it’s never the classroom. It just doesn’t matter. Not the lies of Riedel, not whether wine is natural or not, not whether ratings have meaning (they do not), and not how many fucking initials are after your sad, forgettable name. On HoseMaster of Wine™, I’m just kicking down sand castles in the playground sandbox. None of it matters. Which is why, of course, this blog doesn’t matter either.
In my desperate hours, as I mentioned, I reach for art (if you are a literary sort, and you haven’t read Elena Ferrante’s four novels in her Neapolitan Quartet, you must—her brilliant works of literature changed me forever). I don’t instinctively reach for a glass of wine. I’m not someone who has ever believed that winemaking is art. It’s not art any more than fixing automobiles is art. Though, to their credit, I’m not sure I have ever heard a winemaker, not a talented winemaker anyway, claim that winemaking is art. And if one did in my hearing, I’d probably laugh like the maniacal madman I am. In my mind, art needs at the very least to be transformative to the person experiencing it. Inebriation doesn’t qualify. Winemaking is certainly harder than it looks. Anyone who has judged wines as often as I have can tell you that. I hear people parroting all the time the opinion that wines are better than ever. Not in my experience. I’d say that wines are far more mediocre than ever. Maybe I mean there are more mediocre wines than ever. I guess I mean both. There are countless sites that write about “Great Wines Under $20.” Let’s be clear, there are no great wines under $20. None. Must we devalue the word “great” at the same time we devalue “art?”
That winemaking is an art is most often expressed in marketing material. If there is a group of humans less qualified than wine marketing people to be the judge of what’s art, I’m not sure what group that would be. Bodybuilders? Members of NAMBLA? The wine marketing business has always been about selling wine as romance (so, like NAMBLA). I guess you can’t sell it as a really good way to get drunk, though that’s why all of us drink wine. Romance sells. Not as well as sex and fear and death, but pretty well; and winery owners are sensitive souls, just ask them. Well, maybe not the Resnicks, but you take my point. And nothing is more romantic than an artist. So winemaking is an art. Trust me. If you believe Madison Avenue, so is making cars and producing little blue pills that get your dick hard.
If winemaking isn’t art, then is wine art? No, I don’t think it is. Nor do I think it matters. I won’t enjoy Cheval Blanc any less because I don’t think it’s art. Actually, I think I could effectively argue that what’s really art are the fake bottles of wine that have flooded the marketplace in recent years. Maybe Rudy Kurniawan is the wine world’s greatest artist. Vincent van GoghDirectly to Jail, Do Not Collect $200. Wine itself? It’s an alcoholic beverage made from grapes. The greatest beverage known to mankind, with the exception of water, but a beverage still, no more and no less. Oh, we make a fuss about it, but that’s what drunks do. I’m even of the opinion that the overwhelming acceptance of the 100 Point Scale proves that winemaking isn’t an art, and that wine isn’t art either. Art isn’t measurable. That’s stupid on the face of it. If we accept that the 100 Point Scale is meaningful, we must also accept that winemaking isn’t art. It’s as stupid as me giving Ferrante’s great Neapolitan novels numeric scores because great literature is, most certainly, art. Only a pretentious asshole would assign a number to a great work of literature. Volunteers?
I like wine to be wine. I want to love it for what it is, not for some mystical or spiritual reason, not because knowledge of it grants me social status in the world, not because wine is art. I want to love wine the same way I love my wife and my closest friends, unconditionally. I don’t need wine to be more than what it is—a wondrous product of grapes that acts as a social lubricant and brings joy to my life. K-Y Jelly without the guilt. I don’t know why so many wine writers want to hoist wine onto a pedestal, except that it gives the writers more importance. Isn’t it strange that there are so many wine writers who once wrote about sports, or restaurants, or some other less prestigious subject, but yet there aren’t any wine writers who quit to start writing about college hoops, or politics, or vegan Nobel Prize winners. It’s cool to be a wine writer because wine writers venerate wine. Sports writers are Oscar Madison. Food writers are Oscar Mayer. Wine writers are Filet Oscar. I have no idea what that means.
Having an extensive knowledge of wine isn’t something to be particularly proud of. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, but it hardly makes you special. Except among other wine dweebs, it’s a surefire yawn-inducer. Being educated in the history of music would seem more worthwhile. Have the ability to rate Beethoven’s Fifth a 97 and not look like a jackass. Knowing how to nurse babies back to health—that seems undervalued. Writing a blog and pretending you’re a wine authority? You’re just Donald Trump with a drinking problem, truly Wine Folly.
I’m not sure what I’m trying to get at. Maybe it’s that the older I get, the more wine experience I’ve accumulated, the less I enjoy wine writing, and the less I see wine through rosé-colored glasses. I just want to drink my wine. Wine writing these days (especially mine) reminds me of going to see a film I’m really looking forward to seeing, and there are five other people there talking all the way through it, telling me what to look for, telling me how I should be enjoying it. When I read wine writing these days, the words I think of the most often are, “Shut the Fuck Up.” I’m trying to enjoy my wine.
The world and I both had a miserable couple of weeks. So much loss. I reached for a great book to help me though it, and, because I’m the luckiest man on the planet, I found one that did. I also reached for wine, but not because it was going to soothe my tired old heart, not because it could speak to me and help me to understand the currently miserable human condition. I just needed a drink. I didn’t give a shit how many points those wines received. I didn’t care who the artist was who made them. I cared about the amazing people with whom I shared the wines. It’s not the K-Y Jelly, after all, it’s who you lube up with.
Now, I’ll Shut the Fuck Up.