Thursday, February 23, 2017

Thoughts, News and Reviews

I seem to have collected a whole bunch of random thoughts, reviews and news. The HoseMaster of Wine™ Universe is a busy place, though, like all universes, it mostly consists of inconceivable emptiness. How I wish there were more black holes, but that’s another post altogether. Here then, in no particular order, are many of the thoughts and reviews and news I feel the need to get off my 98-lb-weakling chest.

In the March issue of Wine Enthusiast, on newsstands now, inexplicably, I wrote the piece for the last page of the magazine called “Last Drop.” The lovely Lana Bortolot, whom I met at Meadowood last year, and who then went on to become a Senior Editor at WE, commissioned the piece, and I’m very grateful. Since I first began writing humor, I always wanted to be published in either The New Yorker or Wine Enthusiast. Suck it, New Yorker! I love you, Lana!

I happened to check my stats last Sunday and noticed that I had passed the 2,000,000 page views mark. I have no idea what that measures, but it looked cool. Sort of like those McDonald’s hamburger signs, “Over 50 gazillion served.” You know that at least half of those were actually eaten. I’m very technignorant, but I do know that many of those two million hits were generated by Google’s search engines, spammers, and people to whom I owe money. Still, I’m grateful for whatever success and fame I’ve accumulated here. In many ways, HoseMaster of Wine™ has become one of the most rewarding activities I’ve ever engaged in, and that includes becoming Yelp’s “Biggest Butthole of the Year,” which is a very tough competition. Without the constant attention, I wouldn’t keep doing this crap. Thank you, truly and sincerely, all of you who check in here now and then and laugh at my hijinks. I am in your debt. Keep those cards and letters coming!

I read two wine books last month that impressed me, and I wanted to recommend them to you. I had considered writing full reviews of the books, but I went back and read my review of Kelli White’s wonderful “Napa Valley Then and Now” and I realized I just stink at book reviewing. I wanted to write a parody of myself. But that’s what I do every week, I guess.

I was browsing in my local book store right before Christmas and picked out a book from the Wine section called “Neuroenology: How the Brain Creates the Taste of Wine” by Gordon M. Shepherd, a professor of neuroscience at the Yale School of Medicine—which is like having a CSW, only not as prestigious, obviously, because there are no letters after his name. Frankly, I learned more from the 200 pages of this book than I’ve learned from any other wine book I can remember over the past decade or so. If your career is about tasting wine, you’d be an idiot not to read it, and I don’t care how many letters are after your name. The title tells you what it’s about, but I guarantee you that if you read this book it will change the way you think about tasting wine, and change the way you taste wine professionally. Shepherd is hardly a compelling science writer, he’s no Stephen Jay Gould, but he writes about a complex subject in a clear and precise style. I thought I knew how the senses of taste and smell work, but “Neuroenology” made me feel like Donald Trump at a Mensa meeting. Shepherd clearly knows the subject. Wine, well, he clearly likes it, but doesn’t quite get it, but that’s not the point of his book. His passages about Memory and Wine, about how your brain processes smell, about how the way you smell a wine to some degree dictates your impression of it (the length of time you sniff, deeply or quickly, changes things), his chapter on how much and how subconsciously seeing the wine alters our perceptions, the insightful things he points out about tasting notes—I’ve never encountered another book as authoritative and useful on such an often overlooked subject in the wine writing world. And there’s a lot more wonderful information in the book than that. It’s the coolest wine book I’ve come across in a long time.

I’ve known Patrick J. Comiskey for a long time. I finally got around to reading “American Rhône,”  Comiskey’s history of the Rhône varieties in California. The subject might not be fascinating to the every day wine lover, but Comiskey is a very talented writer, with, to paraphrase J.B.S. Haldane, an inordinate fondness for “peripatetic.” His verbal portraits of the characters who became part of the original Rhône Rangers (which I always thought was a typically Grahmesque pun, but turns out to have been coined by Steve Edmunds) are so perfect and precisely observed that I found myself eager to see what Comiskey had to say about all of these famous California wine figures, most of whom I have encountered in my wine career. He nails them, one long home run after another. If you’re one of those folks who thinks this isn’t an interesting subject for a book, you should reconsider. Comiskey is such an engaging writer, he could probably make even Oregon Pinot Gris interesting. I said, “probably.” His essays on the different Rhône varieties are very good, and would be useful for anyone who isn’t versed on these wonderful grapes. It’s as well-researched a book as I’ve come across in a while—the wine book world is awash in lazy writing, so it’s nice to read someone who cares about facts. Remember facts? I am so weary of reading fact-adjacent wine writing, writing which is not only worthless and dishonest, but dull. Comiskey has a lively sense of the absurd, a journalist’s eye for the telling detail, and he knows how to tell a damn story. I lived through just about everything in this book, went to the first Rhône Rangers tasting, and many thereafter, have met most of the characters in the book, so I was sure I would be bored. Nope. This is wine journalism at its best, which is not meant as faint praise, but the way things are going, it just might be. Support one of the wine journalists who actually lives up to the name, and buy Comiskey’s book. It’s terrific.

There’s a restaurant in my home town of Healdsburg, named Bravas, that features Spanish tapas. I go there fairly often. The food is consistently good, it has wonderful ambience, and a decent selection of Spanish wines. But the idiots who own it think that it’s part of the Spanish restaurant experience to use water glasses, you know, flat-bottomed, cylindrical glasses, in place of wine glasses. If you ask for a “regular” wine glass, they don’t have them. You know why they don’t have them? Because every single wine lover who eats there would ask for them because drinking wine out of a water glass is insulting to the wine, insulting to the customer, and completely disregards the basic purpose of a wine glass, which is to focus the aromas towards your nose. Maybe my Rolls Royce isn't authentic because the steering wheel isn't on the right-hand side--that's how they are in England, after all. I'm too ashamed now to drive it. I feel more authentic in my Prius. Because I'm also a hybrid.

I hate faux Spanish restaurants and faux Italian restaurants that pretend the only wine glass you ever get in Spain or Italy is shaped like a water glass. And for a restaurant to use them in the heart of wine country is unforgivable. I don’t want to order a really nice Rioja and drink it from your cheap, crappy, inappropriate water glass. And I don’t want to be made to feel like a pretentious jerk by bringing in my own wine glasses. Your customers, Bravas, are more important than your attempt at authenticity at your Disneyesque Spanish joint. Why not make the waiters speak Spanish? That’s more authentic for a restaurant in Spain than water glasses for wine. You own five (or is it six?) other restaurants with actual wine glasses. What is your fucking problem with wine glasses at your fake Spanish place? Get some. Put water in the water glasses. Lastly, don’t buy Riedel or Spiegelau. Thank you.


Daniel said...

are all the common taters hung over today? how did I get to be first?

amen to your wine glass comment. I haven't eaten at the place you mention, but they aren't the first and certainly not the only to do that. The irony is that the only time you'd ever see glasses like that in Spain or Italy is in an inexpensive small tavern or osteria, and only for cheap house wine. Even a small enoteca that we found called "La Sirena Ubriaca" (the drunken mermaid!) in Marsala brought us quality stemware with our bottle of rosado.

thanks, Hose!

Zzzz said...

For the record, here in Spain, the only place where you find water glasses used for wine is in the shittiest of old man bars where they throw all the garbage on the floor to sweep up at the end of the day and there's a trashy video slot machine that no on ever wins anything from. If these appeals to you, then the interior of Spain awaits.

Otherwise, due to to this association, absolutely ever restaurant will give you a wine glass for wine because to do otherwise infers that the wine is some bulk shit that was 0.25€ a liter from La Macha that not even the French wanted to truck in and bottle as cheap "Domaine Espagne" wine. Your restaurant is asshole if it does this. Like any restaurant anywhere that has canning jars for its glasses is likewise asshole.

Cheers and admiration


Bob Henry said...

Is this an early April Fools' Day prank -- you actually READING wine books before reviewing them?

Regarding that award on Yelp? Sorry to break it to you, butt it was for the "Biggest BUNGhole of the Year."

Samantha Dugan said...

Just here to admire and tell you, I love you.

Unknown said...

Thanks so much for the kind words Ron!

Fenton said...

Bravo for bravely berating and upbraiding Bravas.

Jim Caudill said...

Bravo on Bravas!

Wines for the People said...

Thanks for the book reviews. I have already read--and thoroughly enjoyed--Comiskey's book, which my wife very thoughtfully gave me for Christmas. And I read and was astonished by Shepherd's Neurogastronomy. I was unaware of Neuroenology but shall seek it out directly.

Unknown said...

So excited to read this book (Neuroenology), I ordered it while I was reading you. If you are skulking around Napa this week with the other yahoos, stop by for a shit glass of wine in a nice glass...

Ziggy said...

Damn, 2,000,000.
When I get home tonight I'll hoist a Riedel water glass full of orange wine to your accomplishment.


Ron Washam, HMW said...

I just finally got fed up and decided to rant a bit. I don't think it will change anything, but it should. And these are people who are proud of their wine selections! It's irredeemably stupid.

Thank you for being an authoritative witness. The restaurant is in Healdsburg, not Bumfuck, Kansas (is that the capitol?). It's nuts.

Oh, I read them now and then. Hard to do a Blind Review of "Neuroenology." I'd be even more in the dark than usual. Great book, though. As is Patrick's.

You don't need my approval, but it's great work! I thoroughly enjoyed it. Though I was hoping for a mention... Yeah, right.

Mr. Alliteration! Yeah, it feels good to get that off my concave chest.


Wines for the People,
Do that. It's a fascinating book. And enlightening.

I just might have a moment tomorrow. I'll email you! I always love tasting your shit wine from those wonderful, stemless Riedels of yours. At least they're actually tapered...

Only seems right. Many thanks. I'll never make 3 million.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

My Gorgeous Samantha,
I love you, too, Baby! I miss you terribly.

Fenton said...

Hose, be aware that Dave Minor is a liar! He has no shit wines and never has. I know nothing of his glassware.

Unknown said...

Hey Ron. American Rhone is in my pile of books to get to. Very much looking forward to it. I'm ordering Neuroenology. Thanks for the tip!

Ok, you know my direct connection to it, but, may I state that with a handful of exceptions, Oregon Pinot Gris is not made to be "interesting". It's meant as basic wine for basic food and basic occasions. That said, there are some interesting exceptions to the rule. Try Chehalem's "Ridgecrest Vineyard", Eyrie's "Original Vines" and/or a 20+ year old, cellar-certified Eyrie Gris. Cheers and write on!

Aaron said...

So, I'm quite late to this party, but I just ordered Neurogastronomy, sounds really fascinating. Thanks!

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Neurogastronomy was his first book, the recent one I wrote about is Neuroenology. I'm sure both are worth reading. Next up, Neurophrenology.

Aaron said...

Ah, thank you. I just checked my Amazon order, I did order Neuroenology :) Guess I just saw Neurogastronomy from elsewhere in your post and copy & pasted that because it had Neuro at the start, lol.