Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Twitterchimps


Have you ever been at the zoo when the resident chimpanzees become excited? It’s an amazing cacophony of hooting, screaming, chest-beating, and teeth-baring aimed at displaying dominance and power in the troop. It’s very loud and very aggressive, and ultimately meaningless. It’s soon over, until the next moment someone rattles the cage.

A simple Darwinian analysis would conclude that chimpanzees are the inspiration and model for what has evolved into Twitter—a lot of hooting and chest-beating displays of dominance that amount to nothing. Though for the primates who live in the zoo, it certainly gives them something to do. Especially the bright orange orangutan who currently rules Twitter.

I, apparently, provoked the Twitterpated with a satiric piece I wrote for Tim Atkin’s wine website. It was a piece based on a simple premise. Robert Parker officially retired. It had been unofficial for some time, so the announcement wasn’t met with shock, but with countless, unfailingly dull, postmortems. The talentless rule the wine writing world these days, sad to say, and they were out in force. I wondered, as one does when one has a twisted comic mind, who might be positively happy to see Parker gone from the wine universe. Several names jumped to mind, but the one that resonated was Alice Feiring. After all, she wrote a book about saving the world from Parkerization, she made a career of insulting him and insisting he had ruined wine, why wouldn’t she be tickled that he was finally gone?

When I sat down to write the piece, another thought occurred to me. It’s an old comic and psychological trope: what we loathe is often what we secretly desire. From there, I had the beginnings of a piece. The rest came relatively easily.

Does satire have boundaries? That’s a question I’ve contemplated, and frequently been asked over the many years I’ve published HoseMaster of Wine™. Yet the answer is simple. No, satire does not have boundaries. Put any boundary in front of a satirist and his first move is to attempt to breach it. And, anyway, who would decide the boundaries? You? The great unwashed public? Me? And what sort of gerrymandering would go on? As it turns out, "Does satire have boundaries?" is a stupid question. Satire certainly needs boundaries, for without boundaries, the boundaries of good taste, the boundaries of fake morality, the boundaries of tradition and culture steeped in ignorance, satire would have no purpose and no comic effect. In essence, satire needs your boundaries.

Satire thrives in a free society, and is necessary to it. Satire is profane and tasteless, ribald and outrageous, fearless and uninhibited, angry and unapologetic. It is often said that satire’s job is to speak truth to power. I don’t see it that way. In my mind, satire’s aim is to take another person’s truths, or the truths of a group, and dismantle them comically. Hold those truths up for ridicule. The self-righteous hate to be mocked. They immediately play the victim, and profess indignant outrage that anyone could belittle them when they’re so clearly beyond reproach. This is absolute catnip for comedy writers.

Writing about the Supreme Court’s recent decision to strike down a law that banned foul language from trademarks, Justice Samuel Alito, with whom I almost never agree, wisely wrote, “Viewpoint discrimination is poison to a free society.” The more I think about that quote, the more I admire it.

I’ve never met Alice Feiring. As far as I know, I’ve never even been in the same city at the same time with Ms. Feiring. I don’t care even the least bit about her. Nor do I hate her. As I said, I don’t know her. Several well-meaning and well-known people wrote to me on her behalf after my recent piece about her. Each of them used the word “fragile” when describing her, as though she is a character in a Tennessee Williams play, a Folle Blanche DuBois.That’s rather sad, but it also implies, of course, that I shouldn’t lampoon her mercilessly. Which, to my mind, is profoundly sexist. I shouldn’t write about her because she’s a woman? Because as a woman, she’s “fragile?” I didn’t lampoon her because she’s a woman, her sex is unimportant to me. I lampooned her because she claims a moral high ground when it comes to wine, and I learned a long time ago that people claiming a moral high ground do so only to look down on the rest of us. You may think that’s fine, you may be one of her unquestioning sycophants, or you may be one of those Knights in Shining Armor who defends her with your imaginary honor, but I am not. My instinct is to take those folks on the moral high ground, no matter who they are, and bring them down to earth. Alice Feiring is hardly Rosa Parks or Desmond Tutu or Gandhi. She’s a wine writer. We all occupy one of the lower circles of Hell.

Feiring’s book about Parkerization is filled with sexual references and stories about ex-lovers. In my mind, that makes her sexuality fair game for a parody. In fact, it is fair game for parody. That I can mimic her writing voice effectively is testament to her gifts as a writer. She has a very strong literary voice. It’s damn near impossible to parody a lousy writer. It’s easy to parody a talented writer. They have style, they understand pace and tone, and they write stories in a distinctive way that is particular to them. After I skewered Terry Theise, he wrote me a very funny and gracious note about how painful it was to read himself being lampooned. I told him what I’ve written here about Feiring. It’s a tribute to his talent that he’s easy to parody.

So I wrote the piece. Tim Atkin MW foolishly published the piece. He can’t help it, he’s my most fervent and eloquent supporter, for which I’m very grateful. The Twitterchimps went berserk, or so I’m told. I didn’t read a single word written about me anywhere on social media. Well, to be more accurate, I didn’t read a single word written about the HoseMaster on social media. In truth, the piece was written by a fictional character, the HoseMaster of Wine™, who I created, about a fictional voice Alice Feiring created in her books. I didn’t “attack” Alice Feiring. The HoseMaster lampooned the Voice of Alice Feiring. That’s a big difference. Sadly, the moral police out there in the Twitterverse don’t care about subtlety or viewpoint. They care about hooting and screaming about their own self-righteous causes in an attempt to change the world to suit their liking. Like chimps everywhere, they do this by hurling their own feces at you. I don’t mind, I’ve thrown plenty of my own in my time. It’s all part of the fun.

I didn’t read or react to any of what was written about me because I know that if folks go to a lynching and there’s no body to tar and feather, they quickly lose interest. And if I’m the body, what the hell am I doing there? I heard about the fracas from friends. And as the Twitterchimps grew louder and did more teeth-baring, I began to receive a large volume of personal emails from people supporting me. All of them were from people famous in the wine business in their own right, and most of them were women. I know who I am. I do have boundaries as a satirist, personal boundaries that I would not impose on any other satirist. I go after everyone and anyone. I always have. I don’t see Alice Feiring as a fragile woman, and I didn’t treat her as such; I see her as a self-righteous, humorless blowhard claiming the moral high ground. Why wouldn’t I try to dismantle her truths?

When it comes to my work, I keep two lists in my head. One list is of those who like, perhaps even admire, my comedy and satire. The other list is of those who hate what I do. It matters to me who is on each list, it matters a great deal. We are judged by our enemies as often as we are judged by our friends. I’m quite proud of my list of admirers, but I am even prouder of my list of detractors. It’s a long list of some of the worst fools in the wine business. Were the two lists to switch places, I would be distraught.

One of my strongest assets as a satirist is my thick skin. I don’t care what anyone thinks of me, with a few exceptions. After the piece was posted, and before all the hooting and chest-beating, my wife came to me unsolicited to tell me she had loved the piece. She almost never does this. As it turns out, she’s a woman. She found the idea that it was sexist absurd. Hers is the only opinion I care about.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Six Wines to Drink Before You Die Next Wednesday


I didn’t want to be the one to tell you, but come Wednesday, you’re history. I’m not trying to be funny. Word is you’re a goner, and there’s no reason to believe otherwise. On the bright side, pretty much everyone believes you have it coming, so it should be good news for most people. And you’re not that young, so there’s that. Now is the time for you to say your farewells, to get your affairs in order, and to Drink These Six Wines Before You Die on Wednesday.

Chateau Rayas 1990 Châteauneuf-du-Pape

You might have time to find a bottle of this legendary wine. I’m not sure how good it’s going to taste with that nasty pain medication you’ll be on, but what choice do you have? Everyone who ever rated this wine awarded it 100 points, so even with your dulled senses and unpredictable vomiting, it should be terrific! Notice the length of its finish. You should be so lucky.


Screaming Eagle 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon

All that fun money you’ve been rather foolishly saving (at least it’s foolish in hindsight now that you know Wednesday, and I mean early Wednesday, is your last day) will be well-spent on this legendary Napa Valley Cabernet. The ’02 Screaming Eagle is astonishing; notice the silkiness of the texture—a bit of foreshadowing for that coffin lining you’ll be feeling for eternity. Oh, that’s right, you’ve asked to be cremated. Smell that toasty oak!

Chave 1999 Hermitage

The ’99 Chave Hermitage, unlike you, has a long life ahead of it. When you get your hands on this wine, be sure to decant it for a day. So, by Tuesday. I still have a couple of bottles, and I’d invite you over to share, but I’m guessing the CDC won’t allow you out of quarantine with that virus you’re going to have. Turns out you’re going saignée style—bleeding from a lot of different pores. Your future, it turns out, is very rosé.


Jayer 1978 Richebourg

Most people don’t understand just how long Pinot Noir can live. They were wrong about you, too, of course, so it’s no big surprise. Everyone who loves wine should have the opportunity to spend a few hours with a Jayer Burgundy. You’ve got the chance now that you won’t need to make that next mortgage payment. What I love is that you’re using a Coravin to have only one glass. You’re hilarious!


Nicolas Joly 1996 Coulée de Serrant

Maybe if you’d spent your wine life drinking biodynamic wines, you wouldn’t be under this death sentence. You should have been more careful about what you put into your body. Beyond that, you should be ashamed of yourself, drinking all that industrial wine. You not only ruined your own life, you fucked with this planet we supposedly share—at least for a few more days. Is it any wonder we don’t really care you’re a dead man walking? Sure, what do you care now? Selfish prick. Maybe a taste of Joly’s wine will make you see how stupid you were, although, sure, we’re all going to die anyway. But if you’d drunk only wines made organically or biodynamically or naturally, those of us you’ve left behind may have had more respect for you, and you might have lived a lot longer. I think I say this on behalf of all the natural wine advocates, this is what they all really think of you, Fuck You, Industrial Wine Drinker, You Can't Die Soon Enough! You were a moron, anyway.


A Wine From Your Birth Year

Yeah, poetic. Hasta la vista, Baby.


Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Biodynamics is Out, Phrenology is Wine's New Trendy Pseudoscience!


HoseMaster of Wine's™ Cabinet of Curiosities

Biodynamics is so 2000’s. It’s just not interesting anymore. I’m as big a fan of pseudoscience as anyone, even POTUS (Prevaricator of the United States). I find it yugely encouraging that wine has finally embraced the pseudosciences vigorously. I’m the guy who only drinks wines on a fruit day. Wine on a leaf day? Gack! How stupid is that? Leaf days are for drinking Bud, obviously. I live my life by the pseudosciences. Like I drove my old Ford in reverse downhill the other day because my wife told me Mercury was in retrograde. I even believe in the tongue map, though I almost choke every time I try to re-fold it. There’s comfort in believing things just because you need to despite convincing evidence to the contrary. Like aerators work, and wines taste better in expensive Riedel stemware, and “Sideways” was a good movie, and the wine business treats women equally. Science is about the quest for truth. Screw that. When you think about it, the internet is the most powerful force on the planet right now, and the internet is the death of truth. Which side do you want to be on? Science is for losers.

OK, sorry, all that preaching just to introduce the newest thing in the wine business that I, personally, am really excited about. Phrenology!

Rudolf Steiner? Aren’t we just a little sick of that wacky Austrian? Steiner didn’t even drink wine; though, when you think about it, that’s probably smart when your national variety is Grüner Veltliner. I’d rather stuff cowshit in horns, too. Steiner is out, my friends, and Franz Joseph Gall is in. Gall originated phrenology, so among people who make shit up, he has few peers. Phrenology was the 100 Point Scale of its day. Yet another triumph of subjectivity over objectivity. It seems right, so it must be right. Only recently have wine experts realized that you can’t even spell “phrenology” without “enology.” Oh, maybe those were spelling experts. Either way, I can’t think of more conclusive proof that it works.

After becoming certified biodynamic by the Demeter Association, vintner Gio Desic determined that, frankly, his wines weren’t that good. He had a fantastic vineyard in the best part of Fruili, so he knew it wasn’t the climate. He spared no expense on the finest barrels, even bringing in an albino to burn sage in every new barrel in order to rid the barrel of evil spirits, like bourbon, and provide much needed jobs for albinos. And then it hit him. His winemaker, Alberto V. Ofive, had a very unattractive and misshapen skull. Desic knew that the shape of a human’s head, in the hands of a trained phrenologist, reveals nearly everything about the person’s personality, her strengths and weaknesses, not to mention the shape of mom’s birth canal. Gio’s father had been a gondolier in a famous birth canal, so he was familiar with the concept.

Desic decided to hire world-renowned phrenologist Sarah Bellum to take the measure of Alberto V. Ofive’s skull. “Just as grapes need to show phenolic ripeness,” Bellum told Gio Desic, “so do humans need to show phrenolic ripeness.” It made inarguable sense.

Sarah Bellum spent hours taking measurements of Alberto V. Ofive’s head. Placing her calipers carefully and meticulously around the winemaker’s skull, she took notes on the various “Organs” on his skull, the bumps and depressions giving her insight into his suitability as a winemaker for biodynamic wines. A picture began to emerge.

“His Organ of Sustainability isn’t prominent enough,” she told Gio Desic. “And there’s a very large protrusion on his Organ of Davis, which indicates he’s read too many winemaking textbooks. There’s a significant bump on his Organ of Self-Esteem, but that’s very common in winemakers. And I was impressed with his engorged Organ of Chapoutier, but that’s another story.”

Gio Desic, after Sarah Bellum’s assessment, was forced to fire Alberto V. Ofive. As Bellum predicted when she gave the big thumbs up to his next hire, Angelina Joly, daughter of the famous proprietor of Coulée de Serrant and Jon Voight (long story), the wines at Gio Desic’s estate now garner scores in the high 90’s from every major wine critic, as well as Jeb Dunnuck.

Sarah Bellum is the first phrenologist to make her mark in the wine world, but she won’t be the last. Already, wine writers like Alice Feiring are praising her work. “Great wines are as much about the winemaker as they are about the climate and soil,” Feiring has said. “Genuine natural wines are made by winemakers with the right bumps on the right Organs of the Skull. Close inspection of winemaker’s Organs is critical to appreciating wine." I think anyone with any common sense would agree with that.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Lo Hai Qu Reviews "Wine Country"


It seemed fitting to allow my intern (still!) Lo Hai Qu to review the recent Netflix movie, "Wine Country." It's been a long time since I've turned my blog over to her, but I'm happy to have her back. I've missed her.


So, my girlfriends Shizzangela and Loqueesha, and Loqueesha’s total loser cousin Klamydia, I mean Klamydia’s entire Instagram page is pictures of her ongoing armpit electrolysis trying to make her pit hair resemble Justin Bieber, wanted to come over to my house to watch “Wine Country.” What a stupid fucking idea, but they were bringing some Natural Wines, which means wines that Shizzangela would normally use to wash her Afro because they taste like someone threw up in your mouth, and they were determined to watch this flick with a bunch of girls because they heard it was like some sort of menopausal “Sideways.” I told them I hated “Sideways,” but I thought they were talking about sex not some other dumbass movie about wine.

First of all, movies about wine are always stupid and never about wine. Wine is boring. Ergo, wine movies is boring. Duh. They have one plot. Show how stupid people are about wine. I already know people are stupid about wine, I’m on the internet, for fuck’s sake. Whenever I watch a movie about wine I want to give up drinking wine. I hate the pretentious assholes they show, and I hate the other people in the movie who just like to drink wine, make fun of the pretentious wine people, and don’t care about wine, they just like to get drunk so they can talk like they’re all profound but all they’re really being is full of self-pity, all weepy and full of fake love and insight. In “Wine Country” the ladies spend way too much time getting drunk and all Brené Brown-nosing each other. Fuck, I hope I never get that old and annoying.

At least I didn’t pay to see “Wine Country” seeing as how I use my parents Netflix password. Netflix is spending like 5 gazillion dollars to make shows for its streaming service, so they still have 5 gazillion minus the $800 it took to make this movie Quaalude. So, I know how this flick got made, Amy Polar goes to some male exec at Neflix and makes this Hollywood movie pitch, “SNL chicks go to Napa Valley and barf on ‘Sideways.’” Guy says, “Sold!”  Amy Polar vortex goes to her buds and says, Hey, I got us a free trip to wine country where we just have to fake comedy for a few weeks. It’ll be fun and we get to hang out and get our butts kissed, drink a bunch, have a paid vacation girls trip, and I got Tina Fey to go for it because no one has heard of any of the rest of you for about ten years so people might actually watch this egofest.

We were all pretty bored by about half way through “Wine Country.” The movie is exactly like an episode of “Saturday Night Live.” You get all excited that it will be funny for 90 minutes, even though it never is, you turn it on and it has some cool guest host, the opening sketch is pretty funny, and then all the other sketches start to be a slog and you just start waiting for Michael Che cuz the only really funny people ever on SNL are the black people. Shizzangela has this thing for Michael Che, she has this sparkly tight T-Shirt she wears all the time that says, “Che Ate Here,” that’s kinda weird, especially when she wears the matching panties, but I get it. Anyways, “Wine Country” is like a longass episode of SNL without Weekend Update. There’s a sketch at a wine tasting bar, a sketch about paella, a sketch about a natural wine vineyard, a sketch about drunk friends in a bar and one falls off a piano, a sketch about an art show with stereotyped Millennials—fuck, that’s the tone deaf scene of the movie year, we’re much meaner than that. This movie didn’t need a director, it needed fucking Jack Kevorkian. Actually, it didn’t have a director, so there’s that.

So if, say, Shizzangela and Loqueesha and I turn 50 some day, which seems unlikely and scary and I don’t really want to end up like those women in “Wine Country,” all rich and spoiled and suffering from some illusion that they’re Everywoman, and we go to Napa Valley for a long weekend, without that crazy fucking Klamydia who is now learning to be a ventriloquist and sneaks up on you with her armpit and makes it say, “Kiss me, I’m Justin Bieber,” the first thing we’re not going to do is hire a driver. There is a guy in the movie who comes with the house?! What the fuck kind of house is that? The movie just doesn’t even try to make sense. Women trying to bond over being older and they rent this $2500 a night house in Napa Valley that comes with a paella guy that drives a limo? Yeah, that’s a premise I can identify with. This is clearly a movie that speaks to me as a woman. I’m here to be with my girls on a trip for my 50th birthday, what the hell is this paella guy doing here and why is he fondling a giant calamari like its somebody’s afterbirth? Some kind of weird symbolism.

The whole time I’m watching “Wine Country” I’m thinking, Who did they make this snorefest for? Of course, the answer is, Themselves. I don’t know what I was expecting. Well, I don’t know what Shizzy and Loqueesha were expecting, to be more accurate, because I never wanted to watch this crap in the first place. I wanted to watch that Beyoncé thing, or that movie about Ted Bundy because serial killers are way more interesting and funnier than girl buddy movies. You know what would make a good movie! “Wine Country” women run into Ted Bundy in a Calistoga bar and only the Lesbian one makes it out! I’ll be calling you Netflix guy. That’s a surefire pitch.

Friday, May 17, 2019

The Emperor in Winter


This is a piece I wrote in December of 2014. Lisa Perrotti-Brown MW, Editor in Chief of Wine Advocate, announced the official retirement of Robert Parker yesterday.


For more than thirty years I was the most powerful critic in the history of the world. I say that with complete humility. There were many critics in my chosen field, but they were to me as carbuncles are to my hairy butt—I never saw them, but they were forever riding my ass.  My words alone were enough to make fortunes, while their weak exhortations were the critical equivalent of Bitcoin—imaginary money, imaginary influence. I declared geniuses and goddesses in an occupation that otherwise generated only pretenders, robots and dinosaurs. I found no joy in being the most powerful critic in the history of the world. I’m glad to be done with it. I hope to miss it someday.

Now that it’s over, I can reflect on my accomplishments. With the clarity of hindsight, I can see the reach of my influence. Wine will never see my like again. The world has changed. I began in the print era, when reviews had the timeliness of messages in a bottle. Reviews had to be delivered by the Postal Service, which is like wiping your nose two weeks after you sneeze. Really doesn’t do anybody any good. Every review seemed to be published months too early, or weeks too late. There were only a few important regions to cover—Bordeaux, Burgundy, Napa Valley, Tuscany, and the Rhône Valley. No one bought German wine. They still don’t buy German wine. Who buys German wine? German Riesling is the greatest white wine in the world that nobody buys. It’s the Edsel of wine. It’s the Betamax of wine regions. It’s the Conan O’Brien. I drink it about as often as I read Decanter. Which is also too often cloying.

I was in the right place at the right time. Wine publications are in their death throes now. Many of them are magazine zombies, still stumbling around stiff-legged, eating the brains of their contributors, which are slim pickings, and not even aware they’re dead. They’re frightening consumers, all these wine critics walking around dead, still publishing scores when they should be resting in their Graves. And now the zombies are eating other zombies. Vinous devoured the brains of International Wine Cellar to create a super-zombie. Tanzalloni! Tanzalloni wants to become the most powerful critic in wine, but even a super-zombie is still the walking dead. Even a team of Tanzalloni zombies walking the wine regions of the Earth won’t have the power that I once possessed. Everywhere they go there is the smell of death on them, a smell that will not go unnoticed by winemakers. Marketing people won’t smell it, of course, they’re used to the smell of death, having killed truth a long time ago. But the wine world has begun to notice that there are nothing but magazine zombies among us, and that their days of walking the Earth, dead or undead, are numbered.

When I ruled the wine world, people knew what to expect. “Integrity” was my middle name. Even my severest critics at the end of my career acknowledged that. They always referred to me as “R.I.P” in tribute to it being my middle name. When I had all the power, the wine world was a simpler place. I made it that way. I introduced the 100 Point Scale to criticism. What’s simpler than that? I understood before anyone else the wine-buying public’s deep-seated need to be shallow, their passion for the easy answer, for shortcuts to expertise, their love for distilled wisdom, their willingness to pay for someone else to make them seem savvy to their friends. I wrote complex and florid tasting notes to go with the scores I awarded, but I knew that those notes were read about as often as Miranda rights in Missouri. It was the numbers that were magic. Wine doesn’t have to be complicated, the numbers said. No wine is unique, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. No matter what, they all have numbers, somewhere between 80 and 100. Only 21 different kinds of wine. Even you can understand that. This is my proudest accomplishment.

When I was at the peak of my power, wine knew it had to answer to me. When I awarded a wine 100 points, everyone knew how to make a great wine. Before I came along, the wines of the world were all over the place stylistically. This was stupid and confusing for the average consumer. Imagine that every time you read a James Patterson book it was different! How annoying would that be? You want it to be the same formula every single time. Same with Bordeaux, or Australian Shiraz, or Super Tuscans. Thanks to me, the average consumer can go to his local wine shop and buy a $150 Napa Valley Cabernet that will taste exactly like the last $150 Napa Valley Cabernet he purchased! Sure, there’s some variation, winemakers aren’t perfect, they don’t really know a 96 point wine like I do, but it will be pretty damned similar. Again, I’m proud of this. I standardized Bordeaux and California, Oregon and Washington, Spain and Italy.  There may be 5000 different grapes, but, dammit, there are only a handful of styles. Someone had to do it. It was chaos when I started. Someone had to set some standards. I was to wine what The New York Times Book Review is to literature. Its savior.

And now I’m through. I refuse to become a zombie. Let the damned Singapore mafia be the zombies, I’m finished. I’m the Emperor in Winter. I leave the wine criticism to the current tribe of zombies—Laube, Robinson, Olken, Meadows, Teague, McInerney, Bonné, Asimov… Be careful out there, wine lovers, they’re here to eat your brains. McInerney will probably go for your nuts, too. As for who will replace me, and the zombies still walking the Earth, I don’t know who that will be. Surely not the feckless and tiring voices of the Internet, that loud chorus of poodles barking into the darkness. If they ever move the needle, it’s just the irritating sound of it scratching along the surface of the LP. Their influence is that of a single Saccharomyces in a puncheon of hedonistic Syrah—not measurable or unique, and destined to die once all the sugar has gone. And the sugar is almost gone.

No, there will never again be a most powerful critic in the world. Oh, certainly wine will endure. People will still buy according to the 100 Point Scale—it is so stupid it is immortal. But wine will be adrift. Lost. Untethered. Wine drinkers will have to fend for themselves, try to understand wine on its own terms, find their own measure of its quality.

More’s the pity.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Failed Master of Wine Dissertations 2: The Examiner's Feedback by Peter Pharos


One of my fellow columnists from Tim Atkin MW’s site, Peter Pharos, sent me this response to my previous post. It’s damned funny. I’ve never met Peter, but now I hate him. The only other wine person who’s funnier in print than I am is David Schildknecht—but you have to read his work translated into English. For years, I’ve asked for people to write guest posts for HoseMaster of Wine™, but Peter’s is only the second one I’ve published in, lo, these ten years. Though I do have the funniest common taters in the wine blog biz.
 
It’s always the stupidest posts that catch on. “Failed Master of Wine Dissertations” seems to have stuck some sort of chord. I’m glad. And I’m really glad I got this free post out of Peter.


The Paris Tasting of 1976: Who the Fuck Cares
While the examination committee considered you have answered the topic correctly and exhaustively, “Stephen Spurrier” is below the required word count.

The Effect of Climate Change on BevMo’s Five Cent Sale
The research paper has to cover a wine-related topic.

Vineyard Dogs: Their Effect on Sales, and Why They Do That Thing With Their Legs When You Scratch Their Stomach Just Like Angelo Gaja Does
Your methodology lacks primary data, specifically any experiments of you scratching Angelo Gaja’s stomach.

Natural Wine: Does All That Hair Get Stuck in Your Teeth
The topic has a very limited scope, as if one drinks natural wine often enough, one is left without teeth.

Sommeliers on Tinder: Always Pick the Second Cheapest One
The work rests on the faulty premise that there is a second cheapest sommelier on Tinder.

Champagne: How They Missed the Boat on the Charmat Process
Have you tried Moët NV? Does it strike you as being fermented in bottle?

Do Sexually Suggestive Wine Labels Sell More Wine to Stupid People, Drunk People or People With Serious Signs of Traumatic Brain Injury
While the Institute applauds inclusive terminology, using “people” to refer to males leads to semantic confusion.

If Tastebuds Were on Your Nipples, Would Wines Smell Better Cold
How do you think Tim Hanni tastes wine?

Are Wines Really All That Different: I Can’t Tell Them Apart and Neither Can You
Shhhhhh!

Women in Wine: Is Three Hours Enough Time to Marinate
The topic is redundant, as in the end the man will be picked.

Is Every New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc Under $25 the Same Wine With a Different Label
SHHHHHHHHH!!!

South African Pinotage: Is it Better or Worse than Apartheid
Your work failed to highlight that they were both propped by the English.

Case Study: Slurping or Gargling, Which More Effectively Annoys Fellow Judges at Wine Competitions
Your work failed to consider judges who introduce themselves as “Name Surname MW”

Blind Tasting: Party Trick or Desperate Cry for Attention
Your work failed to consider the effects of wearing a pin.

Variety or Varietal: The Predictability of Lower I.Q. in People Who Use Varietal as a Noun
The Institute has a zero tolerance policy towards abuse of its members.

Swartland: Where Swart Comes From
The research paper has to refer to a wine-producing area.

When Austrian Wines Were Considered the Best in the World: What a Day That Was
Your work correctly identified the day as the 11th of March 1940, but did not mention that it applied only in the Axis-occupied World.

Is a Penis Effective for Bâttonage. No, I’m Just Happy to See You
Students have been told repeatedly that what happens in the MW study trip, stays in the MW study trip.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Failed Master of Wine Dissertations


Stuff I think about...


The Paris Tasting of 1976: Who the Fuck Cares

The Effect of Climate Change on BevMo’s Five Cent Sale

Vineyard Dogs: Their Effect on Sales, and Why They Do That Thing With Their Legs When You Scratch Their Stomach Just Like Angelo Gaja Does

Natural Wine: Does All That Hair Get Stuck in Your Teeth

Sommeliers on Tinder: Always Pick the Second Cheapest One

Champagne: How They Missed the Boat on the Charmat Process

Do Sexually Suggestive Wine Labels Sell More Wine to Stupid People, Drunk People or People With Serious Signs of Traumatic Brain Injury

If Tastebuds Were on Your Nipples, Would Wines Smell Better Cold

Are Wines Really All That Different: I Can’t Tell Them Apart and Neither Can You

Women in Wine: Is Three Hours Enough Time to Marinate

Is Every New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc Under $25 the Same Wine With a Different Label

South African Pinotage: Is it Better or Worse than Apartheid

Case Study: Slurping or Gargling, Which More Effectively Annoys Fellow Judges at Wine Competitions

Blind Tasting: Party Trick or Desperate Cry for Attention

Variety or Varietal: The Predictability of Lower I.Q. in People Who Use Varietal as a Noun

Swartland: Where Swart Comes From

When Austrian Wines Were Considered the Best in the World: What a Day That Was

Is a Penis Effective for Bâttonage. No, I’m Just Happy to See You


Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Rich Prick Wants a Lower Score


Dear Ms. Erin Brooks,

In the most recent issue of Wine Advocate you rated my estate Pinot Noir 97+. Thank you, but that’s a stupidly high score. I don’t want a score that high. Is there any way you can lower it? If I want an inflated score for my wine, I’ll buy one from James Suckling like everybody else.

While I’m thinking about it, what the hell is the “+” for? I don’t want the 97, so I sure as hell don’t want the “+.” I don’t even know what that means! You’re the damn critic. Is it a 97 or isn’t it? You think maybe my Prick Family Vineyard Pinot Noir is better than 97? MAYBE? MAYBE? You’re using cold, hard, objective numbers to rate wine. Critics claim their numbers have value and meaning. Where does MAYBE come in? “MAYBE I underrated it?” Now you’re feeling insecure? You put it in your mouth, swill it around, call on your decade of unaccredited expertise, pronounce it, “97,” and then you think, “Oh, it might be better than that.” Then give it 98, fer Chrissake! You’re assigning numbers, Ms. Brooks. “+” is NOT a number. It’s a symbol. I have a few more suggestions for your scoring system:

    97#—It might do better on Twitter
    97:—I may have smelled butt
    97&—It seems like it was grown in ampersandy soils
    97…—Bob Parker just likes us to throw in an ellipse now and then.

See how stupid that is? Stupid+.

I’m certain that most winemakers write to you to complain about their lousy scores, or to gush over you for having the talent and wisdom to see that their wine is, indeed, a near perfect 98. Trust me, Ms. Brooks, most of these winemakers have IQ’s that are a perfect 100. When I submitted my Pinot Noir for your consideration, I was hoping for a more realistic score. Believe me, I’ve tasted a lot of great wines in my life, and that Pinot Noir is by any measure about a 90. That’s all I wanted. A lousy, stinkin’ 90! 97+ is a terrible score. I don’t want it! Please, lower it. Would it help if I told you I added raspberry Jell-O to the fining agent? Yeah, I know, like I’m the only one.

The problem is, you’ve raised expectations for my wines going forward. It’s like listing my penis size as 11 inches on Tinder. Wait, as 11+ inches on Tinder. I can’t live up to those expectations! Yes, that will come as a huge relief to my date, but it’s really embarrassing to me. She’s expecting a big mouthful of Pinot and I end up with a lot of explaining to do when it’s tired and thin. No one is happy. Now, if you’d given my wine a 90, bang!, I over-deliver. I’m a hero. Like if you’d said I was hung like a travel blogger! That I can live up to, with an extra testicle thrown in.

Wine critics often say that wine scores aren’t inflated these days, it’s just that wines are better now than they’ve ever been! Bite me. Let’s say that’s true. I don’t think it is, but let’s just say that’s true. Then why don’t you wine critics get together and raise the goddam standards? Look, it wasn’t long ago that gymnastics judges began giving out perfect 10’s in the Olympics, and other international competitions. Notice how they don’t do that anymore? Why? Because they raised their standards to account for how much better gymnasts are these days! They stunt gymnasts’ growth at a much earlier age now. You gotta love science. How else can we get mutant athletes to perform for us but with high-tech drugs? Anyway, my point is, why don’t wine critics decide that 90 is the new 100? The 100 point wines of 30 years ago just wouldn’t make it in today’s world as 100 point wines. Can we just raise our standards? I’m volunteering to begin the process by taking a 10% cut in my score. I’ll bet you an awful lot of wineries would volunteer to do the same.

You’re probably too young to remember when 90 meant something. It doesn’t mean diddly-squat any longer. It’s sad to see 90 fall into irrelevance. It’s the Brian Williams of wine scores. No one gives a shit about 90. 90 is second runner-up in the Miss Leprosy pageant. Yet 90 out of 100 is amazing! People get MWs for lower scores. You’re young, Ms. Brooks, and you’re the future of wine criticism. Wine scores are the next Venezuela. Hyperinflated and run by tyrants. Maybe you can do something about it. Though I’m guessing it’s too late.

Sincerely,
Rich Prick
Prick Family Vineyards

Monday, May 6, 2019

On the Island of Lost Master Sommeliers


It's been many years since I've been on a wine junket. I can't even remember the last one. I can't even remember the last time I was invited on a free trip anywhere, not counting jail. The same eleven bloggers go on every trip anyway, and, believe me, this is not a good-looking group of humans. Their liver X-rays are even worse. I paid my own way to the Island of Lost Master Sommeliers for this exclusive peek at what happened to the poor souls who were stripped of their MS pins, and what was left of their dignity after the Practical Exam. For the startling exposé, you'll have to jump over to my Home Away From Home timatkin.com. Oh, it's well worth the price.

Feel free to leave your thoughts and witticisms and threats there, or hop the first cargo ship back and bless me with your wisdom.


You can’t find it on a map. Believe me, you don’t want to. It’s one of those God-forsaken places in the world we all do our best as a civilized society to forget. Places like leper colonies, massive Brazilian garbage dumps, death row prisons, and En Primeur week—horrible places populated with the very worst of the unfortunate. You might be able to get in, but, like the inmates, you’re unlikely to get out. There is nothing you can do for those who live there. You can feel sorry for them, but your tears won’t end their exile, their shame, or their struggles with blind tasting. Allow me to take you to the Island of Lost Master Sommeliers.

TIM ATKIN MW

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

The HoseMaster of Wine's™ Report on the 2018 Bordeaux Vintage


After reading the authoritative and exhausting report on 2018 En Primeur by Lisa Perrotti-Brown MW...


For the 30th consecutive year, I failed to attend En Primeur week in Bordeaux. My unparalleled consistency is, I believe, a major factor in my unquestioned objectivity when it comes to each vintage in Bordeaux. Too many other critics enjoy the wines of Bordeaux, and especially enjoy the sycophantic bacchanal that is En Primeur week. This must necessarily color their scores and opinions. Alone among my colleagues, I review each vintage without the handicap of actual attendance. Indeed, I believe that an honest and impartial judgment demands staying home and not letting those weasels influence my powerful opinion.

2018: The Vintage

What am I, the Weather Channel? I’m going to say what is always said every year by winemakers in Bordeaux. It was a challenging vintage. Because God knows it’s really, really hard to grow Cabernet Sauvignon!

Early in the year, it rained. It rained a lot. It rained so hard that all the cigarette butts in the vineyards decomposed. Wow. This doesn’t happen much in France, but it may explain the presence of tobacco leaf in the aromas of many of the 2018 wines. I’m just hoping not that many smoked menthol. I hate that in wine.

Then it got really hot because it’s summer. This was a common theme among the winemakers with whom I talked via Skype. “Summer is often hot in Bordeaux,” one told me, “hotter than winter and spring. I don’t throw my butts in the vineyards then.” There wasn’t any expectation of rain reaching even into October, so it was hot and dry. This affects the grapes, but no one knows why. You can taste that uncertainty in the wines. It tastes like that weird metallic thing you taste after taking opioids. It may be the signature of the 2018 vintage—the bitter aftertaste of opioid abuse.

Bullet Points About the 2018 Bordeaux

  • The vintage is not as consistent as other vintages like 2009, 2016, and 1855. It is as inconsistent as other inconsistent vintages, and, thus is consistently inconsistent in keeping with all the other inconsistent vintages that we consistently avoid.
  • At its best, the wines will be worth buying in ten years when the prices plummet.
  • Hail in July wreaked havoc on a few producers. A quick shower in August would have benefited an awful lot of the winemakers, I thought. Luckily, and this is something of a surprise, nearly everyone escaped the huge potential damage of September’s sharknado.
  • Many of the wines are approachable early, while others will perhaps reach their peak in fifty years, and still others are weak and lame as scrofulous wine writers on deadline. Still, they’ll all be overpriced.
  • Organic and biodynamic vineyards, as well as other vineyards that you should pretty much just ignore because they’re not very evolved and don’t give a shit about the state of our beautiful, lost, utterly doomed world, had some mildew problems. Turns out Lysol is fine with Demeter.
  • Really, you’d think somebody would make a goddam Rosé. 
Can you spot the hole?

Conclusions and Recommendations

I don’t know anyone who buys Bordeaux anymore. OK, maybe in England they do, but with Brexit, that’s going to pretty much condemn them to bending over and kissing their Ausoneholes goodbye. I wonder who is going to buy all the 2018 Bordeaux primeurs. The Chinese? Hell, good luck with that. You’d be better off just selling them very expensive labels at a big profit to cut out the middleman on the fake wines. So I’d expect primeur prices to be rather stupidly high because it doesn’t make any damn difference what they want for their precious red wine, so they’ll try to make it seem like they’re still in big demand when they’re not. Sort of like tickets to see Celine Dion.

I’d recommend not giving a second thought to the 2018 Bordeaux. Others might disagree, but, remember, they want to go to En Primeur again next year and get their Ausoneholes kissed, so they’re really just shills for the whole shebang.

Next, my assessment of not attending VinItaly. Which I believe was held in Italy this year.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Reasons You Failed Your Master Sommelier Exams


During the service exam, you stuck your tongue into the neck of the wine bottle you’d just opened and moaned, “Oh, God, I love you, Lettie.”

In your description of Grüner Veltliner, you used the word “taint” without mention of cork.

Mistakenly wore your diaphragm around your neck instead of a tastevin. Made the wine smell funny.

May have been overheard calling Fred Dame MS, “Wine’s Donald Trump.”

When asked by the examiner if you thought a Duckhorn was good, you said, “Yes, it’s perfect for when you have a really tight duck.”

Forgot to bring the answers you found in your email to the blind tasting exam.

Your answer for a question on soil samples was 1000 words on Depends.

You mistakenly identified “sommelier” as the primary grape in Sauternes, and declared Barsac a venereal disease contracted from stools in natural wine bars.

During the blind tasting exam, you spit each wine into your hand and yelled, “Baby needs a new pair of shoes!”

Beyoncé is not a variety. It was not crossed with Kanye to make Pinotage.

When asked for a wine to accompany Hamachi, you suggested Yellow Tail.

You wore clown shoes.

Identified all six wines in the blind tasting as “kinda bitey.”

When asked to identify the seven subzones of Chianti, you left out Sneezy.

When finished serving a bottle of Grower Champagne, one is not supposed to spike it and yell, “In your face, cocksuckers!” That’s only allowed after serving Dom Perignon.

You thought part of the service exam was blowing a balloon animal in the shape of your MS mentor. Where did the balloon animal figure in, stupid?

You misunderstood the word “proctor,” and asked to have your prostate checked. Luckily, it was fine.

When asked what is your favorite German TBA, you said, “The winner of the Angela Merkel lookalike contest.”

You have a vagina.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

The HoseMaster of Wine's™ Commencement Speech for the Shemp Howard Wine, Food and Dog Grooming Institute


Inspired by reading Karen MacNeil's commencement speech to grads of the C.I.A., a speech about "the last true things" (so, yes, it's a short speech), I thought I'd reflect on my own notion of wine's last true things...



I had the honor of being asked to be the commencement speaker at the recent graduation ceremonies for the unaccredited Shemp Howard Institute for Sommeliers, Wine Professionals and Mexican Hairless Dog Groomers. Here is my speech in its entirety.


Let me start by saying that when it comes to wine, wine writing, and the wine business in general, it’s all been done before. There just isn’t anything new you can add, and it’s best if you just understand that from the get-go. For one thing, I think we all know there are too many sommeliers as it is. I recently read a statistic that there are more sommeliers per capita in the United States than there are lab rats; though one group is used for drug experiments, and the other to run mazes for paltry rewards. Guess which group is which. Hard to tell, right?

Don’t let this discourage you. Every day, thousands of unqualified wine professionals just like  you write blog entries, assemble wine lists, host wine tastings, and annoy unsuspecting patrons of wine bars. The wine business seems to have an endless capacity to absorb graduates of wine programs from all walks of life into meaningless, poorly paid, and strictly tangential jobs. This could be you! You have every reason to be proud. The diploma you’re receiving today from Shemp U. has as much value as any wine education diploma from any other institution. Virtually none. There’s comfort in that.

But before you go out into the real world of wine, I have a few words of advice I’d like to share, advice gathered from a lifetime wasted in the wine business.

First, Have a Backup Plan
I hope you paid attention in your required Mexican Hairless dog grooming classes because there are thousands and thousands of wine biz wannabes who want to get into the business, most of whom will fail. Looking around at this handsome group, I’m guessing your real future is in credit card fraud. That’s great! Just have a backup plan. The job you’re dreaming about, whether it’s a sommelier job at a prestigious restaurant, or a much-admired wine critic (which, by the way, is an oxymoron), or a wine auction consultant selling fraudulent wines for quick bucks, is probably taken. Be smart. Go ahead and plan on spending your life stacking wine boxes at supermarkets at 4AM because that’s where most of you will land.

Second, Learn to Pretend
One thing I tell all the young people who ask me how I became so successful in the wine business is it’s important you know how to pretend you know more than you do. This is the key to success in the wine business. Indeed, I don’t know anyone in the business for whom this isn’t true. “Wine Folly” has built a shabby Tinkertoy wine empire on pretending, and you can, too! In almost every conversation I have with successful, even famous, wine people, I realize with astonishing regularity that they’re faking it. If you cannot learn to pretend, your chances of success in the wine business are very slim indeed.

Third, Don’t Make Waves
The wine business rewards dullness and unoriginality. We don’t like new ideas, and we don’t like to be challenged or made fun of. Do things the way they’ve always been done. This is especially true for those of you pursuing a job in wine marketing. The same old lies have worked for decades. It’s your job to walk the same path. But I can see by your faces that’s probably already a done deal. Good for you!

Fourth, This is a Man’s World
Get over it.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Proper Etiquette For Taking Your Own Wine Into a Restaurant



This is a piece written as a reaction to Matt Walls' piece on TimAtkin.com about the tired old subject of corkage fees.


Just what is the etiquette for bringing your own bottle of wine into a restaurant, you self-entitled twerp? Oh, I don’t know. You may as well ask, what is the standard etiquette for bringing my own semen to a Tupperware party? It’s about the same situation. There is no answer. But you can certainly expect some disgusted looks from the help. What did you think was going to happen? People were going to ask for a small taste?

Let’s say you’re determined to take that highly overrated wine to dinner. It is overrated, you know. You’re the kind of idiot who complains about the high prices on wine lists, but then goes out and spends several hundred dollars on an overrated wine because some wine critic everyone knows is on the take gave it 99 points. You think you’re saving money by bringing in your own overpriced trophy wine, that’s how smart and savvy you are. Hey, I know, next time you go to the movies, take your own projector! That’ll save you a fortune.

Sure, you have an impressive wine cellar. Good for you. It’s at home, right? So here’s what you do. Eat at home, Wineboy. Listen, I have pedigreed dogs, champions of their breed, but I don’t take one when I go out for Korean BBQ. What sense does that make? It’s like taking a chicken hawk to a cockfight. What are you thinking? Kinda rude, don’t you think? There’s gonna be dead chickens, anyway. You’re just being stupid.

But if, after all that, you decide to take your own bottle to a restaurant, what can you expect? Pretty much what you deserve—condescenscion and ridicule. Suck it up and take it like a man. Listen, these are people trying to make a living working in a goddam restaurant. They don’t care that you brought in some dusty old Bordeaux out of your amazing wine cellar. They already hate you, and now you want them to admire your taste in wine? Sure. I know, offer them a taste, that should make them suddenly smitten with your charm! Only offering them a taste of your ’59 Margaux is like offering caviar to a duck. And then expecting that nothing will be on the bill. Get over yourself.

Oh, everyone is going to tell you it’s fine to bring your own wine, that the restaurant is just happy to have your business. And, like whatever that is in your Tupperware, you’ll probably swallow it. I don’t know what you do for a living, but it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that a customer trying to save money on your services isn’t exactly your favorite. I mean, you don’t take your own oil to Jiffy Lube, do you? Knowing you, you probably do. You probably also try to buy Girl Scout cookies with Bitcoin and ask for exact change. Dick. You’re sneaking hot dogs into baseball games and using their mustard and relish for free, without even calling ahead to ask if they have a weenie fee. You’re insufferable, you know that?

It’s fine. I don’t care. Take your own wine the next time you go out to dinner. Just don’t act like you’re doing the restaurant a favor. That’s obnoxious. And the least you can do is leave a generous tip, maybe some of that money you stole from the Girl Scout.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Worst Wine Marketing Slogans


Wine as natural as asphalt.

Your wine tasting experience isn’t complete until you visit wine country’s only vomitorium!

Our wines are as sustainable as an erection at a slaugherhouse.

Our wines are made in a natural and environmentally-conscious way as a promise to our customer that only the alcohol will kill you.

If it makes you feel any better, our ABV is completely fabricated.

Your tasting fee back if we check your ID.

If it weren’t for the herbicides, we’d be organic.

Voted “One of Ten New Wineries to Watch” by the Department of Health.

We’re marginally better than wines half our price.

Wine Spectator said of our Cabernet, “Now I know what my dog tastes when he licks his balls.”

Wine for people who still giggle when they hear, “bungholes.”

We always note the date our bubbles were disgorged, just like Michael Jackson did.

It was a trip to Napa Valley in 2003 that convinced us to pursue our dream and buy a vineyard in Lodi.

All of our wines are fermented by native yeasts. An Arapaho sits in our Pinot Noir.

We’re not happy with our wine unless you’re not happy with our wine.

Our favorite red blend was recently awarded, “Most Likely to Be Seen at Traffic Accidents”

The grapes come from a vineyard right next to a famous Superfund site!

Ask yourself, if our wines weren’t natural would we be able to say they were? Of course we would!


Monday, April 1, 2019

The HoseMaster of Wine™ Solves the Enduring Mysteries of Wine


I wasn't able to solve ALL of the enduring mysteries of wine. Many simply remain mysteries. Like why anyone reads wine blogs. Or why Esther Mobley has suddenly become Erica Asimov. Or whether biodynamics works for personal hygiene. Or who told me I was funny. I may have to write a sequel. But for now, you can head over to Tim Atkin's site to discover once and for all the answers to many of wine's mysteries.

As always, feel free to add your answers to any and all mysteries at Tim's place, or gently break the truth to us here on HoseMaster of Wine™. Wine isn't so much a mystery as it is noir--Grenache noir.


Wine is more mysterious than the success of Andrew Lloyd Webber, the Yellow Tail of musical theater composers. It’s more mysterious than North Korean FaceBook. Wine has more secrets than auction houses have fake wines, or R. Kelly has fake tears. Wine is more perplexing than Brexit (short for Brextannomyces, which causes a distinct sulfurous smell). Wine befuddles us like nothing else, except maybe IKEA instructions. In short, everyone knows nothing about wine. Especially people with letters after their names. What are those WSET, CSW, MS, MW things? Surname dingleberries?
 


TIM ATKIN MW

Monday, March 4, 2019

How I Taste


Admittedly, that's a scary blog post title. Maybe one that John Wayne Bobbitt might use. Though I understand his wife was under a gag order, so maybe not. No matter. As a recovering sommelier, I have often been asked how to taste wine. I think everyone has to learn their own way of tasting wine, but, as a matter of interest, I thought folks might like to know how the HoseMaster of Wine™ tastes wine. I wouldn't recommend my techniques for beginners, meaning those studying for the Master Sommelier pin. 

The first part is posted here, but to read about my legendary wine tasting technique in its entirety, you'll have to take the quantum leap over to Tim Atkin's wonderful, newly remodeled site. I particularly like new sauna, and indoor bullfighting arena. I would encourage you to leave your usual witticisms and ill-fitting toreador pants on Tim's site. But, if you must, feel free to leave comments here, right behind the newly reupholstered Jancis Robinson shrine.

The first, and maybe most important, step is to put on my tasting clothes. You cannot produce consistent tasting notes wearing different clothes all the time. Duh. The best critics know this, which explains why Richard Hemming MW is always in a ball gown. You just can’t underdress for the finest wineries. Wearing a different set of clothing for different varieties is acceptable, however. For example, if you want to wear a track suit every time you taste Merlot, that’s fine. Merlot is Old Man Wine anyway, so a track suit makes sense. A pee stain is a nice touch.


TIM ATKIN MW

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

The HoseMaster of Wine™ Among the Wine Illuminati at Dalla Valle Vineyards: My Oh Maya


A friend of mine in Los Angeles was an annual seat filler for the Grammy Awards. Awards shows hate for there to be an empty seat when they cut to a shot of the audience. They want to give the impression that their inevitably tedious production is riveting. Yet, as it turns out, even famous musicians need to urinate. The wealthiest rock musicians hire underlings to urinate for them, of course, but, for the most part, urinating is the rare instance they unpack their own instruments. My friend Joe worked the Grammys as a seat filler every year. Eventually, he became a seat filler for the biggest stars, the stars who sit down front. One memorable year, he was the seat filler for Sting. He never did get the pollen out of his suit pants.

That year, I arrived home from work in time to watch the end of the Grammy Awards. I don’t remember the year, and I don’t remember why the hell I was watching such a stupid award show. What I remember was that Carlos Santana was presenting the big award of the night—Best Album. The tension was palpable as he read the names of the five nominees. Santana opened the envelope, which had been sealed in a glass jar on the porch of Funk and Wagnall’s until noon that day where no one could ascertain its contents, and said, “And the Grammy goes to…” The crowd gasped and cheered at the winner’s name (I have no idea who it was), and the television director cut to Sting for his reaction. Only Sting was draining his stinger, and he had cut to Joe.

I imagine 20 million people watching the Grammys at home saying to themselves, “Who the fuck is that guy?” Me, I leapt from my couch screaming, “It’s goddam Joe Lozano! Oh my God, it’s goddam Joe Lozano!” Joe had no idea he was on camera, but there he was, nicely tuxedoed, smiling, and applauding vigorously for whomever had just won the big Grammy of the night. It was his five seconds of fame. It was the Seat Filler’s Wet Dream.

In Napa Valley, the third week of February is when the Napa Valley Wine Writers’ Symposium is held, and on the following Saturday, it’s Napa Valley Premier, a barrel tasting and charity auction of some of the best wines in the Napa Valley. There are a lot of wine writers and other disreputable people around, so many wineries schedule other private events. I was kindly, if inexplicably, invited to Dalla Valle Vineyard for a special vertical tasting of both their estate Cabernet Sauvignon and of Maya, their proprietary blend. Among the dozen or so wine writing Illuminati gathered at the vineyard, I was, by all measures, the seat filler.

Gustav Dalla Valle was a legend in the diving business, like Jacques Cousteau or Jake LaMotta. He spent more time underwater than New Orleans homeowners. In the early 1980’s, he and his wife Naoko purchased a 25 acre property in the hills to the east of Oakville intending to build a luxury hotel on the property (the Dalla Day Inn, I imagine). Instead, the Dalla Valles planted a vineyard, though with a free buffet breakfast. The first winemaker for Dalla Valle was Heidi Barrett, and, if I’m not mistaken, it was Heidi’s first consulting job after she left winemaking duties at Buehler Vineyards. It was Heidi who put Dalla Valle on the map, though she had trouble folding it afterward. And it was Gustav, I believe, who recommended Heidi go directly down the hill from the estate and help the woman who had been Gustav’s real estate agent, Jean Phillips, make wine from her property. That vineyard was Screaming Eagle.

In the 1992 vintage, Heidi managed what was then a very rare feat. She received two perfect 100 point scores from Robert Parker. One for the 1992 Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon, the other for the 1992 Dalla Valle proprietary wine Maya. Parker anointed Heidi Barrett “the first lady of wine,” but I’m thinking that may have been some sort of weird marriage proposal. Thanks to Heidi and Parker, Dalla Valle Vineyards, and especially the Maya bottling, was officially a cult wine.

The definition of a cult wine is, “You can’t get it, and if you could, you can’t afford it.” You post pictures of a cult wine on your Instagram account, and everyone knows you’re lying when you claim that you actually drank it. I’m looking at you, Raj. In order for me to believe them, photos of rare wines on Instagram need to be accompanied in the picture by a newspaper with the day’s date prominently featured, and/or, even better, the severed finger of the person who purports to have consumed said cult wine, as proof. That’s how you know it’s a cult wine. You drink it and give everyone else the finger.

The Illuminati and I sat down to taste seven vintages of both the Dalla Valle Estate Cabernet Sauvignon and the Maya. The vintages were ’92, ’01, ’08, ’09, ’13, ’15, and the unreleased ’16. I was filling the seat between the inimitable Karen MacNeil and urban legend Elaine Brown (California correspondent for Jancis Robinson, but you knew that). Next to Karen was Deborah Parker Wong, seated next to Elaine was Tina Caputo, and across the table was The San Francisco Chronicle wine critic Esther Mobley and Laurie Daniel, who was in the San Jose Mercury News weekly for 30 years for a crime she did not commit. Like my old friend Joe, you’d look at that group shot, spot me, and wonder, “Who the fuck is that guy?”  



Maya Dalla Valle was also in attendance, as was the current winemaker for Dalla Valle Vineyards, Andy Erickson. I’d never met Maya before, but I used to sell her. Insert Robert Kraft joke here. Maya has a wonderful energy, an obvious intelligence, and a welcoming and warm presence. It can’t be fun to have your first name on a bottle of wine and have so-called “influencers” making Robert Kraft jokes at your expense, but Maya radiated a sweet but firm authority. Her father Gustav, who would have been justifiably proud of such a lovely and brilliant young woman, was a larger than life figure, a man who didn’t just take over a room, he damn near dismantled it. Maya didn’t inherit that gift. Rather than dismantle the room, she brought it light and warmth. It was a pleasure to meet her.

I remember obtaining a few bottles of the 1992 100 Point Maya for my wine list back in the day, but they vanished quickly from the list. I was eager to taste it 24 years later. (Spoiler Alert! It didn’t disappoint.) We tasted quietly, then Maya opened the table to discussion.

It’s safe to say that the Illuminati and I were suitably impressed by the wines. The vertical of Maya bottlings was brilliant. I’m sure that many of the writers and wine critics there will also write about the experience, going into great detail about the wines, their ABV, their flavor profiles, the terroir of Dalla Valle and other technical data. While I understand all of that, when I write about it, I come off like Jamie Goode writing satire. Jaws drop in disbelief and shock, as when one sees a baboon in a wedding dress. It seems funny, but, really, it’s just a monkey more reluctant to wear a wedding dress than Andrea Dworkin. You feel sorry for the primate. That might be the weirdest analogy I’ve ever done. You’re welcome.

I also don’t award points to wines when I write about them. I think it’s safe to say that my writing about wine is completely pointless. I’m not good with points. I find them useless, like music in pornography. Why the hell does this have a score? I don’t need a score. I’m not interested in the score. I just want to put my nose in it.

The flight of Cabernet was, I thought, pretty erratic, like a Mexican free-tailed bat. The wines were all over the place. Yet there was an iron-rich character that ran through all the wines that one would have to think emanates from the site. The vineyard is currently organically farmed, and Maya mentioned that she intends to begin biodynamic practices. Oy. There’s enough pseudo-science in the world, the results of which lead to climate change deniers and Reidel stemware, so why does the wine business so love biodynamics? If the result of being certified biodynamic is that you pay more attention to each grapevine, you pay more attention to the health of the soil, you pay more attention to your entire biosphere and its health, why don’t you simply do all of that and leave out the magic tinctures, the selenophilia, the stuffed cow horns (I’ll have mine lightly breaded), and the rest of the hogwash that crazy Rudy Steiner invented? Steiner was famously a teetotaler. As is Trump. Two of a kind, both residents of the Offal Office. Can we just lose both of them, please? But I digress.

Of the seven Cabernets tasted, my heart was won by the ’09 in particular, as well as the ’15 and the ’16. The ’09, it seemed to me, was a sort of benchmark for what Dalla Valle represents, or could represent. Of all the Cabernets, it displayed the most restraint, walked that perfect line between power and grace. There was intensity, but it wasn’t showy. It was poised and beautiful; Misty Copeland in a bottle. And that’s what I love in great Cabernet. Ballet analogies! I think the ’15 and the ’16 will get there, too. The ’15 showed clearly the iron rich nose of Dalla Valle Cabernet. The note I wrote for it read, “Flirtatious.” Mind you, I was sitting next to Karen MacNeil, and she rubs off on you. The ’16, not yet released, was full of energy, a Jack Russell terrier on dog crack. It will settle down, I feel certain, and achieve that achingly beautiful elegance of the 2009. Many of the Illuminati loved the ’92 Cabernet. It was my least favorite of the day, and, I thought, had the least in common with its siblings. Whereas the ’92 Maya was splendid.

Maya blends Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, and is one of Napa Valley’s greatest wines to feature Cabernet Franc, if not the greatest. I think of Crocker and Starr’s Cabernet Franc as its main rival, as well as the more Loire-styled Lang and Reed wines (if you’ve never had either of these two wineries’ wines, just go out and get some) but there may be others as well. Nevertheless, Maya really shines. Cabernet Sauvignon, the most full-bodied of the Cab on the property according to Andy Erickson, slightly dominates the percentage in the blend, but it’s the Cabernet Franc that makes it so ineffably sexy and seductive.

The 1992 Maya, which received the 100 points from Robert Parker (I think it was the second
California wine to receive those pointless points), was glorious. At 27, it still possessed a wonderful sweetness of fruit, and didn’t strike me as particularly tired at all. One of my notes reads, “Cheval Blanc?” Though I’m far from an authority on Bordeaux (I’m more of a bridal baboon), something about the ’92 Maya reminded me of Cheval Blanc in its prime, there's a richness that both possess, and a sense of soil that is hard to express but easy to pinpoint when you taste it. I thought about the ’69 Chappellet I was lucky enough to taste a few years back because the ’92 Maya strikes me as a wine that just might achieve that legendary status. I wish I owned a bottle.

Yet all the Mayas were splendid. Esther Mobley remarked that compared to the Cabernets, the Mayas had a “quiet” about them. I think I know what she meant, which can be frightening. They’re centered. They have an innate balance that astounds you, the unwavering sense of a Wallenda walking a tightrope. As great as the ’92 was, I think the 2016 is its equal. The density and purity of its fruit is breathtaking. There’s the floral quality of great Cab Franc in its nose, the spice box, the whisper of pyrazine. It sings on the palate, the notes carrying on and on like a string quartet holding the last note of a Beethoven concerto. Yup, it’s that good. But it’s a cult wine, so if you can get it, you can’t afford it anyway.

That’s the thing about being a seat filler/influencer. I don’t think any of the Illuminati at the table could easily afford a bottle of 2016 Maya (it’s somewhere near $400 per bottle). We were there to praise it in print so that our wealthy readers will want to buy it. Though why anyone thinks the wealthy read my blather is beyond me. It’s often been said that my writing is poverty defined. We, at least, were able to taste both the ’92 and the ’16 Maya. Readers have to take our word for their greatness. But we’re influencers, dammit! You can trust us. We all drink.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

The Emperor of Wine Donald Trump Wins Best Wine Ever Made at San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition!


OK, let me just say this. I’m very proud to announce that my Trump 2014 Blanc de Blanc was named the Greatest Sparkling Wine Ever Made by the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. Ever made! That includes Donald Perignon and Vulva Clicquot, a bottle I grabbed last night because I can. This fantastic sparkling wine carries on a proud Trump tradition—it will certainly sell out.


In a previous life, I was a judge at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. It's been several years since I last participated. At the 2019 judging, held a few weeks ago in Sonoma County, the Trump Blanc de Blanc was judged the Sweepstakes Winner for Best Sparkling Wine. I had schadenfreude so bad I had to have the smirk surgically removed from my face.

The result gave me the excuse to drag out the old Trump voice once again in service of lampooning the annoying institution of wine competitions. I'm as guilty as every other wine writer in giving a free pass to what a mockery of wine evaluation wine competitions are. We all probably share the same reason for ignoring their many flaws and hypocrisies--we love being invited to judge! After publication of this piece, those days may be over for me.

To read the rest of POTUS' (Prevaricator of the United States) victory speech you'll have to jump to Tim Atkin's site. You're always welcome to leave your thoughts, reactions, criticisms or car keys there. Or, if you prefer, you may, of course, leave your comments here--that is, if you can make it past the wall.

TIM ATKIN MW

Monday, January 7, 2019

Wine's Dark Web


There are wine sites on the internet where you don’t want to go. I’m not just referring to the horrors of PUNCH or Wine Anorak, but sites even worse for wine (and language) lovers. Worse than Forbes.com! Worse than Wine Folly!  Sites that expose the vulnerable underbelly of the wine business. Sites where everyone and everything is for sale. Sites that you cannot believe exist. Yet they do.


I think I must be the first wine writer, and I use the term loosely, to explore the seedy and dangerous world of Wine's Dark Web. It's the scariest place in the wine business outside of my brain. I urge you not to go there, but to go here, to Tim Atkin's award-winning site, on Wine's Lite Web, to read about all the nightmarish things on the Dark Web.

I hope you'll leave your thoughts, reactions, and insights over at Tim's. You're also welcome to leave them here, though this is also a scary place. Tighten your Depends, we're off to the ninth circle of Wine Hell.

TIM ATKIN MW