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