Monday, September 4, 2017
Wine is simple, folks. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. It’s simple. Believe me, I know simple. I married simple. Wine isn’t hard to understand. It isn’t hard to understand, trust me. Angela Merkel is hard to understand. I think she’s German. Must be German, she has that little mustache. Why is there a woman running Germany? I don’t get it. It’s crazy. No wonder the country is so cold it can only grow mediocre Riesling, it’s basically Herr-less.
This piece was inspired by Andrew Jefford's recent series about wine published at Decanter.com. Here's a link: http://www.decanter.com/wine-news/opinion/jefford-on-monday/guerrilla-guide-to-wine-part-one-374001/ When I read Jefford's piece my first reaction was that he was trying to outFolly Wine Folly. Who do they think reads Decanter? Aspiring sommeliers with head trauma? I found the piece hilarious, but not for the reasons Jefford probably thinks it's hilarious. So I decided to resurrect Donald Trump, the New Emperor of Wine, to lampoon it. As I've written previously, the Trump voice is fun to do, and easy. But you'll have to jump to Tim Atkin's remarkable site to read the rest. I hope you decide to leave a comment there, perhaps in your own version of our beloved President's voice.
TIM ATKIN MW
Monday, August 7, 2017
The Emperor of Wine was brooding. What had it all been for, he asked himself. The power, the points, the bluster. Now, nearly 70, the body breaking down like En Primeur sales without his scores, collapsing under its own weight, mired in the useless numbers assigned by wine writers with the combined integrity of a pack of hyenas, he was transitioning into a new time in his storied life. Where once the very mention of his name struck fear into every winemaker’s heart, now they felt only ennui. No more Emperor? Ennui go.
Since reading George Saunders' first novel, "Lincoln in the Bardo," I've had this title in my head. I wasn't quite sure what to do with it, but it just wouldn't leave me alone. "Bardo" was an unfamiliar concept to me, except for Brigitte. I take it to mean a place between death and one's next rebirth--which is essentially wine blogging, though no one seems to know it. Anyhow, I finally wrote this piece, which is rather dark and strange and different. Perhaps I'm trying to make sure no one actually misses me around here.
I think it's worth your time. But you'll have to jump over to Tim Atkin's site to read the piece. While you're there, feel free to leave a comment. You can leave one here, but I think the place is deserted.
TIM ATKIN MW
Tuesday, July 18, 2017
I’ve had a grand time writing HoseMaster of Wine™. It changed my life in countless unexpected ways. Many of those changes were wonderful, many were heartbreaking. Isn’t that life in a nutshell? In hindsight, I would do it all again, only much more critically, much more relentlessly. I’ve churned out more than 500 pieces of satire in the past five and a half years, and made the acquaintance of some strange and remarkable voices in my head—Lo Hai Qu, Larry Anosmia MS, Avril Cadavril, Sam Euthanasia, Trump the Emperor of Wine, and a host of others. I’ve always written for my own enjoyment, and never for money or influence or fame. And I’ve never run out of fools, buffoons, frauds, liars and cheats to write about. I never thought I would.
I’m taking a hiatus. It may be permanent. I intend to still publish on Tim Atkin’s site once a month, because I admire Tim and I am honored to be part of his stable of wine writers. And I may occasionally send a piece to Lisa Perrotti-Brown at the Wine Advocate site, if she'll have me, because I admire and adore her, but I will be publishing far less frequently. You’re welcome.
My hiatus will be good news for many people in the wine business, and bad news for just about nobody. I’ve never taken myself seriously, not on this blog, and not in my entire adult life. It’s people who take themselves too seriously who have been my targets as often as not. I’m happy with the work I’ve produced here, particularly in the past couple of years. It was always my goal to see if I could rediscover my comic voice. I’m content with the results, and, more than anything else, that’s why I’m beginning the process of stepping away. I’ve achieved in my own heart what I set out to achieve. It’s been a long six years. It’s been a lot of hard work. I’m ready to begin to wind down.
Frankly, another reason I’m taking a hiatus is because I’m weary of being part of the noise and worthlessness of the online wine world. Stepping away means I no longer have to spend any time at all perusing the absolute shit that passes for wine writing on the internet these days. I recently received a press release about a new wine website called Seven Fifty Daily. I glanced at it, and it’s such predictable drivel, such shameless marketing mixed in with the kind of hard-hitting journalism one associates with “Tiger Beat” magazine, that I nearly screamed in agony. Fuck, I thought, who reads this shit? Worse, who writes it? Too much Pay for Play going on in the wine biz—but ’twas ever thus. I’m just unspeakably tired of it.
Many would say I’m part of the utter shit that passes for wine writing. I wouldn’t argue. At least I understand I’m part of the crap. No matter. I’ve had a blast. There are dozens of people and common taters to thank, but you know who you are, and you know how I feel about you. I’ll leave it at that.
I’m not entirely disappearing. I don’t think I’m capable of quitting HoseMaster of Wine™ cold turkey. So, if you are an email subscriber, you’ll see when I’m publishing at Tim’s (first Monday of the month), and you’ll know if I’m over at the Wine Journal. And then one day, not so far off, you’ll wonder, whatever happened to the HoseMaster…
Monday, July 10, 2017
On the rare occasions I read wine blogs, I usually wonder what motivates the person behind the blog. Notice I avoided using the word “writer.” It’s a word thrown around far too casually in the wine world, much like sommelier, or authentic, or award-winning. None of those words seems to have any real meaning anymore. It’s painful to read most of the wine blogs out there if you love the written word, or love wine. I recently read a blog that seemed to be aimed at being funny, but was tragically witless. Then I realized it was mine. So what motivates all these folks to review utterly contemptible commercial crap they get for free and rave about it? Why do they think it would be interesting for us to join them on their “journey to discover wine?” They’re the dullest companions imaginable, why would I go an a journey with them? Do they hit “Publish” and really believe they have influence outside of their little circle of other crappy blog owners?
Or do they publish a blog for the community they find online? I think that’s probably the answer for the majority of folks. It’s a perfectly lovely answer. Over the years, I’ve met dozens of bloggers. Most of them don’t like me. Maybe because when they tell me they write a blog, I reply, “No, you don’t write a blog, you type a blog.” I confess, I’ve never been a wine snob, but I am a tiresome writing snob. The human need for self-expression is a wonder to behold, but few possess much talent. But if their self-expression leads to community, that’s a powerful drug. It’s an emotional Opioid (which I mistakenly thought was a rectal problem for a young Ron Howard).
I’m something of a recluse. My idea of a good time is knowing that others are not having a good time. I’m uncomfortable with groups of people. I live in my head, which makes sense if you’ve seen my body. (I found it on AirBnB. It’s a dump, but it’s cheap.) I write because I love wandering around the place where I live. I think it’s pretty obvious that I don’t write in order to find a community. As painful as it is, as personally challenging as it is, as utterly worthless as it is, I love to write comedy and satire. Yet despite my best efforts, through writing this blog, I found a community. Just stop and think about how frightening that is.
Last year, I won a Louis Roederer International Wine Writers Award. Out of nowhere. It meant a great deal to me, for personal reasons having to do with my late mother always wanting me to be a writer, not a worthless sommelier (is there any other kind?). Over the Fourth of July weekend, I learned that I am again on the short list for a Roederer Award as the Ramos Pinto (without question the finest producer of Port) Online Communicator of the Year. I’m thrilled, and humbled. It’s a short list of great wine writers. And me. Last year’s win, for me, represented satire being given a seat at the wine writing table. This year, I feel the shortlisting on a more personal level. It’s more about acceptance.
I don’t expect to win. Look at my fellow shortlisters: Tim Atkin MW, Julia Harding MW, Richard Hemming MW, Andrew Jefford, and Wink Lorch, who I thought was a game show host. I’d say that I’m happy to be on a list of wine writers with these five talented people, but, hell, they’d all say they’re happy to be on a list with four talented people, and a clown. I want to win, I want to win very much. The Roederer I won last year looks so lonely when I set it down in front of me wherever I go. I need one for my other hand. But I won’t win, and I’m perfectly content with that. This is the first list I’ve ever been on with five people whose work I can honestly say I admire. Not that they give a Trump what I think about them.
We love to give awards. Boy, do we love to give awards. I always try to remember that awards are for the people giving them, not the folks receiving them. That was hard to remember when I won a Roederer last year, which didn’t make it any less true. I’ve toyed with giving HoseMaster Awards, but it’s sort of what I do anyway. A black eye is a kind of award, I think. If there were awards for awards, I think the Roederer, at this point, might win the award for best wine writing award. I tell people that the Roederer International Wine Writing Award is the MacArthur Genius Grant of wine writing—if you ignore all three of those words. There are the Wine Blog Awards (the Poodles), which are a joke and utterly worthless—the Barefoot Moscato of wine writing awards. I think I’m the only person left in the restaurant and wine business who hasn’t won a James Beard Award. Honestly, I think the number of Beard Awards would have embarrassed James Beard. That’s sort of sad. Yet it speaks to our love of awards, ingrained in us as children, symbols that we are loved when we so often doubt it. Winning an award is reliving childhood moments when a parent expresses pride in your work. You glow, you feel loved, you gain self-esteem, and then you ask if there’s money attached to it.
What amazes me the most about the entire experience of writing HoseMaster of Wine™ is that I sit in my room in my rented house in Sonoma County, all alone, in front of the hated blinking cursor, gazing out at a vineyard, writing the kind of foolishness and dreck that I used to write all alone at a typewriter for eight hours a day when I was young, which almost no one would read. Now, because of the astonishing existence of the internet, at least fourteen people instantly read what I write. There’s an entire generation that takes the internet for granted, who don’t know life without it. It changed my life in ways I don’t completely understand. But the most amazing change of all is that because of the internet and this stupid blog, a recluse found community. I didn’t think that was possible.
The winners of the Louis Roederer International Wine Writing Awards will be announced on September 12th in London. Wish me luck.
Thursday, July 6, 2017
The threat of global terrorism has finally reached the wine business. Wineries, importers, sommeliers, wine writers—all have found themselves under siege from various loosely organized but determined groups of wine terrorists. Each of these groups has an agenda and is unafraid to use violence, force, and even weaponized Coravins to make themselves heard. It’s a story that the wine press has been reluctant to cover for fear of reprisal, but I’ve spent the last few years infiltrating the secret online hangouts and covert terrorist wine bars (some have fantastic wine by-the-glass selections, and often serve the wines in the new Riedel “Suicide Bomber” stems which self-destruct after each use) where terrorists meet and plot their attacks. In order not to arouse their suspicions, I often posed as someone completely ignorant of wine, using the initials CSW after my name as proof. I carried a dog-eared copy of “Wine Folly” under my arm and wore a T-shirt with the words, “If God exists, She’s Jancis” in multi-coloured sequins. Nearly all the terrorist organizations attempted to recruit me, and several told me I rocked the T-shirt.
I've blown the lid off the terrifying story of global wine terrorism, at great risk to my personal safety. You're welcome. But you'll have to head over to Tim Atkin's site to read the rest of my exposé. While you're there, be sure to leave a comment, I'd recommend anonymity, the terrorists are always watching, or return here in a hazmat suit and drop off your thoughts.
TIM ATKIN MW
Monday, June 26, 2017
I’m not sure what happened, but, apparently, my review copy of Reverend Alice Feiring’s latest sermon was misdelivered. I have no idea how this happened. I am certain that the publishers want my opinion of the book and must have sent me a copy. I can’t find it. But that’s not a problem. I’ll simply write my book review blind. Much as Feiring can predict the nature of a wine by the soil from which it originated without having to actually taste it, I can review one of her books without having actually read it. It's probably the same old schist. I can truthfully say that I have never enjoyed not having read a book as much as I thoroughly enjoyed not reading “The Dirty Guide to Wine.” If I were you, I would rush to my nearest book store and pick up a copy! Then put it down, and leave.
Can Feiring write a book without a stupid title? “The Dirty Guide to Wine” is about soil. I was sure from the title it was going to be about exposure. That’s dirtier, especially near a playground. She saved the world from Parkerization with her first book, and then wrote a book called “Naked Wine,” and now we have “The Dirty Guide to Wine.” What’s next? “Orgasm in a Glass”? “WILF Hunter”? Does the publisher really think the title will sell more books? It’s not clever, it’s stupid. And, hey, who knows more about that than I? For maximum sales, I would have entitled it, “The Dirty Guide to Wine for Idiots.” Though, honestly, maybe just carrying this book around implies the idiot part.
Feiring is proposing a “new” way to think about wine. Her way. The way where you have to subscribe to her newsletter to know what to drink because she’s out there grilling natural wine producers on your behalf. She’s a truth teller, she’ll have you know, and, you, well, you’re sort of a sucker. You believe it when a winemaker says he makes natural wine, and, spoiler alert, he might be lying! People lie to you in the outside world. They’ll tell you what you want to hear. They’ll corrupt you. You can only trust one truth-teller. And you should subscribe to her site and buy her book! There is but one truth, and it’s the redheaded one who speaks it. This is how cults work. Is the natural wine movement a cult? Have you ever met anyone who managed to escape? But, I guess, better the redheaded cult than the orangeheaded cult. It’s only wine. At least the natural wine cult is benign. The orangeheaded cult is malignant.
“The Dirty Guide to Wine,” which I’m looking forward to not reading a second time, is, at its heart, about terroir. “Terroir” is French for “I haven’t any fucking idea how to explain why this wine tastes like that.” But “The Terroiry Guide to Wine” is too hard to say without sounding like you have a speech impediment. When someone tells me I can taste terroir in a wine, I immediately wonder if they can sense my aura turning red. Feiring focuses on soil in this book, which is one of the elements of terroir. Which is like being one of the cards in the Tarot deck. Isn’t it meaningless without all the other cards around it? Or is it more like a book about biodynamics that is 250 pages about cow shit? I’m so confused.
Wine confounds us much as our reason for existing confounds us. So we turn to a sort of spiritualism, a religion of wine. We assign all sorts of emotional power to wine. We go into mystical rants about our favorite wines, we dance around in ecstasy and speak in bungs. Feiring finds that natural wines, unlike the wines she’s disqualified as high priestess of natural wine, speak to us on an emotional level. Which is just peachy, though what if one is emotionally crippled? Lot of that in the new world of sommeliers and wine experts online, as I can attest. Isn’t that part of how wine speaks to you, through your own emotional demons? Does wine elevate our souls, or just drown our sorrows? Must there be more to wine than the simple fact of its ability to alter our consciousness? Yes. I guess there must. People can’t stop writing dumb books about it.
Is wine from a chalky soil more alive? Does wine from a granite soil have a different energy? Don’t you find these questions embarrassing? Wine might make us feel more alive as we consume a great bottle of it, but the wine’s not alive. Wine is made from a living organism, true, but so is cotton, and I don’t think my shirt is alive. It’s loud, but I can’t hear it. As for emotion, we bring the emotion to the wine, not the other way around. To say that a natural wine, however you define it (and it’s mostly defined by the writer, who demands your trust), is one that is not only better but also speaks to you on a more emotional level is profoundly fatuous. The wine isn’t doing that. YOU are doing that. You see the label and you get emotional. You bring your emotional baggage to the glass just as surely as you bring your palate. The wine speaks to you of your values, perhaps, or of your visit to the winery, which changed your vinous life. It speaks to your human weakness, too. You so want to be right and so want to be admired that when you know it’s natural wine it tastes alive to you, and when you know it’s not a natural wine, you immediately sense the evil that lurks within. The fervor with which natural wine proponents write and speak about wine is eerily reminiscent of people who have found Jesus. And I don’t mean that in a good way.
Different soils affect grapevines in different manners resulting in different flavors in the wine made from those vines. Skilled tasters can detect those differences. They can taste the differences in oak barrels, too. I’m pretty sure the oak forests used to make barrels aren’t organically farmed, but somehow that doesn’t enter into the definition of natural wine. Hey, screw that habitat. It’s also obvious that the health of the soil is of utmost importance to the vines and the wine. I dislike manufactured wine as much as the next wine expert, though it probably represents the vast majority of the wine produced in the world. And I love many wines considered natural. But the natural wine world, represented so famously by Feiring, is the new face of wine snobbery. It’s an attractive face because it leans on environmentalism and spiritual, feel-good, mumbo-jumbo. But it’s still snobbery, and it’s unpleasant to read and be around.
Snobbery was once 100 point wines. Natural wine lovers would have you believe that only wines farmed organically or biodynamically and made with minimal intervention are the true reflections of beauty and greatness in wine. The points they award are for doing what they tell you is the right way to make wine. It’s snobbery, plain and simple. There are shit wines that received 100 points, and there are shit wines that are natural. Feeling better about yourself because you drink 100 point wines or feeling better about yourself because you think the wines you drink aren’t ruining the earth is about the same thing. It’s not about the wine, it’s about feeling better about yourself. Either way, it’s about wine speaking to the emotionally crippled. I just want to drink interesting wine, I don’t want to ascend to natural wine nirvana.
It’s lovely to think that Alice Feiring and Pascaline Lepeltier MS (Run!) are crusaders for a better wine world. It was lovely to think that Robert Parker was our wine advocate, too. Pick your guru, worship at the church of your choice. Now I just want to know who’s going to save the world from Feiringization.
Monday, June 19, 2017
The Linoleum Project™ originated as a spoof of Abe Schoener's The Scholium Project, and as a reaction to a particularly loathsome puff-piece about Abe in the New York Times Magazine written by Bruce Schoenfeld. I returned to The Linoleum Project™ in this piece, originally written in September 2014. We're still talking about natural wines in 2017, but rarely about Scholium Project or the New York Times (the original piece may have been the first example of FAKE NEWS). I hope this piece is funny the second time around. It wasn't the first time.
Harvest is in full swing here at Splooge Estate, and while our neighbors are bringing in their incredibly boring Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc—the so-called “workhorse” grapes (“workhouse” because their only worth is to get you plowed)—we’re harvesting more important varieties, varieties you haven’t heard of. The best and most obscure are earmarked for The Linoleum Project™. We thought we’d take a moment of your time to explain in a bit more detail the philosophy behind the wines of The Linoleum Project™. Unlike most wines produced, these are not wines aimed at pleasure. These are wines meant to express the ultimate meaninglessness of life, the charade of importance that is human existence—the very things that make you want to drink. Everyone pays lip service to a philosophy of winemaking, but they put the cart before the workhorse. At The Linoleum Project™ we put philosophy first, and winemaking a distant second. We believe in winemaking by philosophy. We are teachers first, winemakers second. We truly believe in the old saw that, “Those who can do, those who Kant philosophize.”
Perhaps the best way to understand our winemaking by philosophy is to understand how each individual wine is made, how philosophy and overthinking combine to make wines that reflect not only their terroir, but each person’s hopelessness in the face of a godless universe. Certainly one can enjoy wines that only express a sense of place, a minerally and precise Grand Cru Chablis, for example. But there is a price to be paid for living an unexamined life. Isn’t it far more rewarding and satisfying to murder an innocent oyster with a blunt knife and then wash it down with a crisp white wine that celebrates not only the oyster’s salinity, but your own feeling that life is worthless, nothing but a snotty slide down eternity’s esophagus? Of course. Welcome to our world.
The vineyard that is the source of our Gaglioppo is in the Carneros region of Napa Valley. While many wineries have complained about the unfortunate earthquake that struck the region this year, at The Linoleum Project™ we celebrate it. In truth, our Gaglioppo perfectly reflects its tumultuous terroir. Put your nose in a glass of any vintage. What do you smell? Faults! You might be tempted to think that those faults are the result of poor winemaking. This reflects your usual simpleminded approach to wine, an approach that believes pleasure is wine’s chief goal. Don’t feel bad. Your limited intelligence is how you became one of our mailing list customers. In truth, it’s philosophy that defines our Gaglioppo.
When we reflect upon our own character, it’s our faults that plague us. As Kafka memorably put it, “Wir sind ein Haufen Scheisse.” (“We’re a pile of shit,” which considering his intestinal problems, is a loose translation.) So not only will our 2014 Gaglioppo reflect its origins in Calabria, it will also reflect man’s ultimate unworthiness. We are our faults, and our faults are us. We live our lives trying to embrace our faults. It’s this basic philosophy that informs the wines of The Linoleum Project™. If you love our wines, you must embrace faults. You cannot love yourself if you cannot love our faulty Gaglioppo. This is how wine can enrich your life—through following philosophy instead of cold, hard, unfeeling chemistry.
2014 Ebola Gialla
We very much like the look of our 2014 Ebola Gialla clusters. Ebola Gialla is a very rare variety, thought to be Ribolla Gialla crossed with a fruit bat. Over the past few vintages, our Ebola has done very poorly with the press. James Laube called it, “maybe the worst white wine I’ve ever had that wasn’t Grüner.” Robert Parker thought it “despicable, though it helped me lose some weight.” Jon Bonné says our Ebola is “maybe the finest white wine coming out of Napa Valley, though, in truth, I hate wine.” These quotes are exactly the point of our Ebola.
At The Linoleum Project™ we take a nihilistic approach to our Ebola. Nietzche is our guiding light, and it was his assertion that all values are baseless, that absolutely nothing can be communicated, that nothing is known. This is the precise basis for all scoring systems and wine reviews—indeed the 100 point scale is baseless, and wine descriptions communicate nothing. “Nothing is known” is pretty much the resumé for Neal Martin. So it seems appropriate as a philosophy of winemaking as well. We even take it a step further, utilizing the truth of existential nihilism (not just Nihilism Lite)—the certainty that life itself is meaningless. Then isn’t winemaking itself meaningless? Isn’t trying to assign meaning to wine futile and ignorant? Isn’t this apparent when you read wine blogs? Our Ebola reflects the words of Nietzche, “Nihilism is . . . not only the belief that everything deserves to perish; but one actually puts one’s shoulder to the plough; one destroys” Starting with your liver.
We encourage you to share a glass of our Ebola at your next meaningless meal with someone you don’t particularly care lives or dies. This is more than likely yourself.
Tannat is a variety that has gained some popularity in recent years, perhaps because, like life itself, it’s the same thing backwards or forwards. In France, Tannat is the primary grape in Madiran, and an important component of many wines from Cahors. In terms of philosophy, it may have been tempting to place Descartes before Cahors, or maybe mullah over how mad Iran is. But, fundamentally, at The Linoleum Project™ we hate Tannat. Which is why each vintage we seek it out. We don’t believe in working with varieties we actually enjoy. That would give us pleasure, and pleasure leads to complacency, a quality prevalent in winemaking today. No, we make our Tannat with a focus on anhedonia, and we think that makes it taste better because it is incapable of delivering taste.
In our view, too often we expect pleasure from wine. We reach for a bottle with an expectation of joy and sensual pleasure. Only to be routinely disappointed. We want you to know that our Tannat is made with the philosophy that life is better when you are unable to experience happiness, and that our wine is designed to make sure you do not. In this respect, our Tannat shares much with rating wines on a numerical scale, for isn’t that very scale about anhedonia? Can you consume a wine rated 89 and enjoy it knowing that somewhere someone richer than you, smarter than you, and better looking than you is drinking a wine rated 100? When you drink 89 point wine aren’t you denying yourself pleasure, illustrating your basic self-contempt, but, more importantly, not caring. Not caring because you cannot feel joy anyway? This is our Tannat in a nutshell.
Enjoy it alone, in the darkness of your soul, with a nice venison stew.
Monday, June 12, 2017
When I think of June, I think of weddings, Father’s Day, and the Napa Valley Wine Auction, none of which has any importance to me. I’m rarely invited to weddings, my father died in 1980, and if I want to see rich people pretend to be charitable I can watch Congress on CSPAN. This year’s auction raised $15.7 million for charity, a bargain compared to what the folks bidding should actually pay in income tax. I didn’t attend the auction (yes, I know, that’s a surprise), but I thought I would check in with Sam Euthanasia, the World’s Oldest Wine Critic, and ask him what he thought about the whole thing.
“I only went because Francis Ford Coppola was the honorary chair,” Sam told me. “I went up to him and said, ‘Smell that? You smell that? Napa, son. I love the smell of Napa in the morning.’ That’s a quote from one of his movies. I think the actor who said it was Clos Duvall. I could be wrong. I’m old. But, anyway, I thought an ‘Apocalypse Now’ reference suited the occasion. War is hell, and so is the goddam Auction.”
Sam Euthanasia, a spry and incontinent 95, has been covering the Napa Valley Auction since its inception in 1981. “Back then, I think they raised a 100K. That’s chump change now. Jean-Charles Boisset spends that on sequined Depends. All I remember about that first auction is that it was hotter than tasting-room-only dessert wine, and stickier. I was sweating like a Treasury shareholder. Jesus. But it was fun. Mostly just normal people there. I think the highest bidder was a drifter who thought the paddle was for swatting the flies. It was pretty casual.”
“It’s perfect that Coppola was the honorary chair. Overstuffed chair, for sure,” Sam went on. “The Napa Auction is turning into the Oscars of the wine world, may as well honor Francis. It’s about wine about as much as the Oscars are about movies, which is to say, not hardly at all. The wine is basically the equivalent of the designer gowns and borrowed jewelry—just there to make the players seem like they have taste. If you’ve been a wine writer as long as I have, and I covered the wine by-the-glass choices at the Last Supper, Jesus White and Jesus Red, the Auction is the worst weekend of your year by far. It’s even more fake than en primeur week in Bordeaux. Just so much wine business baloney.”
Sam can be a bit cantankerous. I told him that at least all the money raised goes to charity. He stared at me for a minute, chewed on his ever-present cigar, and said sarcastically, “Yeah, the money goes to charity, and that’s why people attend. Like the reason there are beauty pageants is because of the scholarship money. Don’t be a putz. It’s another kind of beauty pageant. People competing to look more beautiful and giving than others. They sell overpriced wines to other rich people, auction off trips and dinners like a Silicon Valley ‘Price is Right,’ give the money to charity, and take a big tax write-off. They’re just tossing crumbs to the poor unfortunates the guy they voted for wants to send back where they came from. All the folks who tend their vineyards and pick their grapes. It’s modern day Marie Antoinette saying, ‘Let ‘em eat Cakebread.’”
“Listen,” Sam continued, “I’m all for charity. The money from the Auction has probably done a lot of good. How can you be against that? But how sanctimonious can it get? Isn’t there a way to do it with some dignity? Don’t these clowns see how the rest of the world perceives their annual wine debauchery? The Auction intends to help Napa Valley’s image. It intends to show how compassionate the wineries are, how much they want to do good in the world, how they want to help those less fortunate than themselves. By opening hundreds of large bottles worth unimaginable sums, getting lavishly shitfaced, eating meals that would shame the Roman emperors, and dancing to recording stars? By auctioning off trips around the world on private jets? Hey, why don’t you use those jets to bring in more people to pick Cabernet? Easier to get through security, and you’re going to need them. Is auctioning off priceless overpriced wine in huge bottles accompanied by dream vacations with other wealthy people the image that sells Napa Valley as a caring and compassionate community? It’s a public relations nightmare, only they don’t see it. They only see how wonderful they are, how caring, how generous. I had no idea Narcissus could see his reflection in a lake of Chardonnay.”
“You want respect for your charity, Napa, tone it down,” Sam continues. I’m beginning to wish I hadn’t brought up the subject. Sam looks like he’s going to have a heart attack. He’s chomping at his cigar like it’s an aspen and he’s one pissed-off beaver. “Have some dignity. Make it about wine, not consumer excess. Make it about heart, not about wallets. Then regular people might see it as beautiful and heartfelt. Yeah, you’re the big boys in the wine auction world, your wines cost the most, your Auction makes the most money for charity, take your bows. Just stop waving your dicks around like size matters, and waiting for the admiration to begin.”
Sam Euthanasia probably won’t get invited to the Auction next year. I don’t think he cares.
“Frankly,” Sam tells me, clearly exhausted from his tirade, “I’m too old for all this. I mean, there I am in Napa Valley, once this beautiful and humble agricultural Eden, looking at a huge hot air balloon in the shape of Marvin Shanken. I was so depressed. How much more self-indulgent and self-congratulatory can a charity auction get? Really, it was horrifying to me.
“And then a ray of hope! Turns out, it wasn’t a hot air balloon.”
Thursday, June 8, 2017
The Court of Natural Sommeliers is pleased to announce that it is now accepting applications from qualified people in the wine trade who wish to pursue their N.S. There are currently 256 Natural Sommeliers in the world—220 are women, 30 are men, and the other six are wine writers, about whom no one is certain. Candidates who are accepted into the program are expected to pass three exams. There is the Practical Exam, where candidates blind taste six wines in front of a panel and then carefully wash the feet of their N.S. proctors. There is an oral exam that guarantees the candidate has the correct amount of teeth. And, finally, there is the service exam—a rigorous testing of the candidate’s ability to properly open a bottle of natural wine tableside, as well as demonstrate utter contempt for a customer who brings his own bottle of unnatural wine to the table. Candidates must pass all three exams within three years and never once smirk.
I'm about to stand for my oral exam for the N.S. degree, but, dammit, I'm missing a couple of teeth. I bit my wife yesterday, and it turns out I'm Gummo Marks. Nevertheless, I still receive the Court's occasional newsletter, which I've posted over at Tim Atkin's site. (I recently met Tim Atkin MW for the first time--a story for another time.) You'll have to cyberleap over there to read the rest of the news from the Court of Natural Sommeliers. Oh, it's fascinating!
TIM ATKIN MW
Tuesday, May 30, 2017
I didn’t choose wine as a career. Wine chose me. How many of you feel the same? I woke up one day and I was beginning a job as sommelier in a prestigious old steakhouse in Los Angeles. How did that happen? I haven’t any idea. It’s not something I set out to do. It wasn’t a lifelong goal. I wanted to be the next Neil Simon, Carl Reiner, or Mel Tolkin, not the next, well, pretentious wine dude in a bad suit.
In much the same fashion, I don’t feel that I chose to be a wine satirist, either. When I sat down five years ago to begin writing the blog you’re reading, satire was just what seemed the most appropriate. When it began to catch on, when I began to gain some notoriety, I knew what I was in for. Plenty of adulation and an equal amount of hatred. Frankly, I’m not fond of either. But if you have any success as a satirist, if you manage to do your job and make people laugh at uncomfortable truths, as well as make people angry at the way in which you do that, that’s what happens. I learned a long time ago, in a previous life as a comedy writer, to never take the admiration or the anger to heart. If I use them as any sort of measure, and I am loathe to, I think about which people love what I do (or profess to), and which people actively hate me. For the most part, I’m very comfortable and proud to say that I’m happy with the folks that are in each camp. I love my fans, and, perversely, I treasure those that despise me. They all make the job worthwhile.
I agree wholeheartedly with the Garry Trudeau quote at the top of the page. “It’s not personal. It’s a job.” Wherever I go, I am constantly reminded by wine folks that it’s an important job. Though I am not an important writer.
I want to write about wine from a skewed perspective. So much wine writing on the internet focuses on tasting notes. Nothing is more worthless to wine writing than tasting notes. Taking notes for yourself is very worthwhile, and forces you to actually think about the wine you’ve just consumed. I have 30 years of tasting notes. Believe me, my tasting notes make “The Fountainhead” seem brilliant. My notes have no value to anyone but me. Yes, if you’re a wine critic, tasting notes are your preferred medium, and I feel sorry for you. Assigning scores is easy, writing coherent tasting notes is hard. And tasting notes never capture why we love wine any more than a list of qualities can capture why we love another person. “Honest, compassionate, kind, beautiful, with just a hint of trashy” might be an adequate description of a person’s character, but it doesn’t explain why we love that person. Not at all. Tasting notes are a clinical approach to what is, at heart, an emotional connection. I can describe my favorite wines, but that will not explain why I love them. Yet that’s what matters.
It’s a wine business cliché that stories sell wine. Scores also sell wine. No one claims that tasting notes sell wine. Are tasting notes necessary? At all? I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t miss them. I used to think pay phones were necessary, but I don’t miss them now. And too often, tasting notes make me feel ignorant. For example, I’m not sure I know what cardamom is. I thought it was what bartenders do to get better tips. I described Gewürztraminer as tasting of lychee for fifteen years before I ever tasted a lychee. Turns out that’s an accurate description much of the time. But I was faking it. I’ve still never had a gooseberry, but I swear Sancerre can smell of them.
To a great degree, we learn to talk about wine by imitating tasting notes, much as we learned language by imitating adults. Slowly, the more we practice, we begin to understand what we’re saying, and we begin to understand wine. And then, it seems to me, it’s time to move on to greater forms of expression. Tasting notes will always be a part of wine writing, but it’s the least important part. We learn simple language so that eventually we can begin to express ourselves in a meaningful way, not just parrot others. Tasting notes teach us the language of wine, but eventually there has to be more. Stories. We make up stories. We’re human, it’s what we do.
The stories we tell about wine are so often false. More often false than true. The wine business is always selling you romance. Which makes sense. For most of us, wine is about our love for wine, and our love of how alcohol makes us feel, why wouldn’t we fall for romance? Apart from the wine business, on a personal level, wine, for us self-proclaimed wine experts, also becomes part of our identity. A part we cherish and brag about. And what is the internet if not a place to create a new, completely fabricated, identity. The place is littered with people who want to be recognized as authorities on something or other. Wine attracts its share. Eventually, we begin to believe our own stories. We believe we’re right. We believe we're talented. We believe we're fascinating. We must be. We’re experts. Hell, we have our own blog! What we say must be true, it must be right. We have a President like that. He’s as much an Internet creation as the HoseMaster of Wine™, only a bit more dangerous. Yeah, but I’m more delusional!
Satirists go after the stories that have come to be seen as truth. Everyone knows that Bordeaux en primeur is a fraud. The critics know the wines are doctored, the wineries know the wines are doctored, the scores that are published are aimed at self-promotion for both the wineries and the critics, but no one says anything. Except the satirist. Truth is hard for everyone to swallow. The dull don’t like to be called dull. The hypocrites don’t like to be pointed out. The talentless don’t like to be told so. They often react with indignation. But it’s the job. I must like the job, I’ve been at it for a while.
I started out to write a piece about how tasting notes are inadequate and nearly useless by definition. That every great wine writer worth a nickel has to move on from tasting notes to something better, something different, in order to adequately express what she loves about wine. The wine writers who engage me express their love for wine in many ways. With stories of how wine has changed their lives, with insights earned through years of tasting and paying attention, with honesty about the wines they love and the wines they hate, and with truth, not marketing stories. They are few and far between these days, but well worth seeking.
I express my love for wine through satire. Satire, without exception, relies on outrageousness, profanity, raucousness, venom, anger, and, one hopes, wit and laughter. I’ll admit that I often miss my target. Which can be embarrassing. I often make people angry. That’s pretty much the point. Angry people unfailingly betray who they really are. SNL helped show the world Trump’s character. But as much as anger drives comedy, it’s love for wine that drives me to lampoon the stories we tell ourselves about wine and the wine business. When I do hit my target, I’m proud and I’m energized. That makes it worth it. I guess I could have published a little blog filled with tasting notes and podcasts, but that would mean nothing to me, that would have been entirely unsatisfying. Satire makes me happy.
Satire isn’t about telling truths. It’s about examining truths, and seeing the absurdity underneath. It doesn’t take courage, it takes fearlessness. It isn’t about hate or prejudice, it’s about love. If it weren’t, it wouldn’t make you laugh.
Tuesday, May 23, 2017
ACTS 1-7 ARE HERE
Everyone’s starting to feel a little cooped up here in Hell, which turns out to be a Natural Wine bar somewhere in Lodi. If there’s a somewhere in Lodi. Weary of the first seven acts of the play, and aren’t we all?, the wine critics are scattered about the bar sitting quietly, seemingly contemplating their horrible fate. As it turns out, Act 8 is part of that horrible fate… It’s the Stranger who breaks the silence.
Stranger: (standing up from the table where he’s been playing with his Tarot cards) I thought it would be a lot more fun to be in a bar with six famous wine critics. Instead, it’s like “The View,” only everybody’s Whoopi. It’s like talking to the starting lineup of the NHL’s All Head Trauma Team. I brought you all here not just because you deserve it, but because I thought I might enjoy your company. I don’t know what I was thinking.
Galloni: Sorry to disappoint. I’m happy to take my Vinous elsewhere.
Stranger: I thought you learned this already, Antonio. Nobody gets to leave this room, not ever. There is no elsewhere. I can leave, and I’m sure I will soon the way this play is going, but the rest of you…well, you’re my little repertory company. So you know, this is just the rehearsal. It’s going to get a lot better.
Kramer: What do you mean, “I brought you all here?” Who are you? I keep thinking I’m just dreaming and I’m going to wake up any minute now.
Stranger: Oh, you’re sort of dreaming, Matt. But you’re as awake as you’re going to get. (He pauses and looks around at all the critics.) It doesn’t matter who I am. Everyone I meet sees me as someone, or something, different. In here, I don’t know, maybe think of me as the Wine Buying Public. The Wine Buying Public getting its Day of Reckoning.
Suckling: So you’re like a blogger?
(The Bartender loudly slams a baseball bat against the bar. Everyone but the Stranger is startled.)
Laube: Fuck, I wet myself again.
Feiring: (she holds up her wine glass) Oh, I thought that was this Vin Jaune I was drinking.
Stranger: (angrily) I’m not like a blogger, James. Be careful about insulting me. The Bartender is very protective of me. Wine bloggers are fools. They have no power, no clout. Tell me, honestly, what’s the difference between a dick and wine blogger?
Suckling: Beats me.
Stranger: Not much. Only a dick has a mind of its own. (Laube laughs a little too much.)
Parker: So, Stranger, we’re here, and we’re here for eternity, according to you, but what’s the point?
Stranger: Now there’s irony. Parker asking me about points. What if there isn’t a point? Oh, then it could be like an Alice Feiring wine review—not just without points, but naturally pointless. There doesn’t have to be a point to all this, Bob. Who says there has to be a point? Every wine critic’s life is either a comedy or a tragedy. But it doesn’t necessarily have a point. I think you’d all agree with that.
Parker: So which was my life, Oh Great and Powerful Oz? Comedy or tragedy?
Stranger: (after a long pause) I’m glad you asked me that, Bob. That’s an interesting question. And it gets to the very heart of why we’re all here—here in this God-forsaken natural wine bar. (Looking around.) You know, I really could have done better. Oh well. It’s a question each of you has to answer for himself, or, dear Alice, herself. Was your life, in particular, your life as a wine critic, a comedy or a tragedy?
(No one is looking very eager to participate in the discussion. Introspection isn’t on the list of qualifications for being a wine critic. In fact, it’s a significant handicap.)
Stranger: Nobody? (He walks back to his Tarot cards, which are laid out on the table.) Maybe think of your life as one of these Tarot cards. (He holds one up.) Look at it right side up, and it means one thing. Turn it upside down, it means something else entirely. (He holds up the card for everyone to see.) Comedy. (He turns it upside down.) Tragedy. Or (he tosses the card as far as he can), perhaps, worthless.
(The door to the bar opens and a young woman walks in. She looks utterly lost. She’s very pretty, well-groomed, and openly surprised to be in a strange bar with a bunch of old people.)
Woman: Oh. Hi. You’re all staring at me. I’m kinda lost. I was just looking for a glass of wine.
Bartender: (as he speaks, and he speaks loudly, everyone is astonished that he is able to) You got any ID?
Woman: Why, yes, I do. (She takes her driver’s license out of her purse, walks over to the bar and hands it to the Bartender.) I’m 25.
Stranger: We’ve been expecting you! Welcome. Allow me to introduce you to this marvelous cast of characters. (One by one, he introduces the wine critics to the woman.) This is Robert Parker. The gentleman with the wet trousers at the bar is James Laube. That’s Alice Feiring. The guy salivating is James Suckling. Matt Kramer is off by himself in the corner—you get used to it. And, finally, that’s Antonio Galloni.
Woman: Nice to meet all of you.
Stranger: Anyone’s name ring a bell?
Woman: No. I don’t think so. Should I know any of you?
Laube: Oh, Jeez. Fucking Millennial.
Tuesday, May 16, 2017
I thought you’d like to be one of the first to discover the Napa Valley’s newest and finest winery, Prick Family Vineyards. If you haven’t heard of it yet, you will. In fact, you just did! Are you interested in writing an article for your website about Prick Family Vineyard? Feel free to reach out to me for the usual fresh pack of lies about our newest client.
Richard Prick, the owner of the beautiful Prick Family Vineyards, made his fortune with his innovative ED product, Boner-in-a-Can™. Perhaps you’ve heard of it. It seems Boner-in-a-Can’s™ motto is on everyone’s lips these days. “You may not win the popular vote, but at least you won the erection.” Maybe you’d like a free sample. Word is you need one! Mr. Prick tells me it not only helps with erectile dysfunction, but it also works as a replacement cartridge for your Coravin! Gives your wine a raging argon.
Rich Prick fell in love with wine when he realized that having a great wine cellar gave him status. “It’s not so much that I love wine,” Prick says, “it’s more that I love the thought of myself drinking great wines that most other people can’t afford. I wanted to make wines like that.”
Ten years ago, Rich began searching for the perfect estate. He found it on Pritchard Hill, high above the Napa Valley, away from the hustle and bustle of the valley floor. It was a pristine 100 acre property, and Rich Prick sees himself as a steward of the land. “Once I cut down the pesky old growth forest to put in a state-of-the-art Cabernet vineyard, I knew I wanted to protect this beautiful land. The earth is covered in forest, but there aren’t nearly enough Napa Valley Cabernet vineyards. My neighbors and I up here on Pritchard Hill are trying to change that. I wake up every morning to the sound of chainsaws and cave digging equipment. I don’t know how to steward the land any better than that!”
The winery at Prick Family Vineyards has to be seen to be believed. Designed by noted architect Frank Gehry, it resembles nothing so much as a pile of panty shields, like most of Gehry’s works. Rich sees it as a tribute to his product line. Inside the winery, you’ll find only the best and most expensive winemaking equipment. Prick Family’s Cabernet Sauvignon is aged in 100% new French oak barrels, which are lined up in the cellar so that they all face magnetic north. This is done for harmony, and because it’s expensive to do so. “When I got into the business,” Rich tells me, “I was told that wine was made in the vineyard. So explain to me why I had to build a goddam 50 million dollar winery. Cuz Helen Turley says so? Christ!”
If you’d like to visit Prick Family Vineyards, perhaps I can arrange a tour with Prick Family’s Master Sommelier Larry Anosmia MS. Here’s what Larry says you can expect:
“The tour lasts for about 90 minutes, and includes a taste of our latest Cabernet Sauvignon. Please don’t ask for more than the ounce and half I serve you. The wine is served in a special hand-blown Riedel Rich Prick Cabernet Sauvignon glass. No, the glass wasn’t named for the winery. It’s just the name of the Riedel Cabernet glass. I think it’s named after Georg, but don’t quote me. The tour is $100, but it includes a selfie with me.”
Rich also has the most beautiful and elaborate wine cave anywhere! Hand dug by inner city children, the cave features an underground waterfall, a dining room that can hold up to 100 people, and Rich’s collection of antique airplanes. “Maybe a cave isn’t to everybody’s taste,” Rich admits, “but, to be honest, I fully intend to leave behind a shrine to myself. One day, a couple of thousand years from now, an archaeologist is going to stumble upon Napa Valley, unearth my winery, and realize that a Rich Prick lived here. Hell, a whole lot of us live here. And we got the caves to prove it!”
Rich fell in love with great wines that most people can’t afford, and now he makes his own. The wines come in three-bottle boxes made from only the rarest of endangered hardwood trees. But don’t worry, for every box sold, Rich donates $1.00 to the Rain Forest Make-a-Wish Foundation, which grants wishes to terminal lumber. Each bottle is numbered and signed by James Suckling, because he broke in one night with a Sharpie and we couldn’t stop him. The first release of Prick Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon was recently served at the White House, for obvious reasons. We think you’ll agree that Prick Family Vineyards is the new Screaming Eagle. Screaming Eagle is so Parker Past.
If you’re interested in reviewing Prick Family Vineyards for your site, I’m afraid that’s just not going to happen. Really. What do you know? Why would I let a blogger review my wine? What am I, desperate? However, if you’re interested in featuring Prick Family for a future blog post, I can offer you a chance to interview either Larry Anosmia MS or Richard Prick himself. I’d pick Rich if I were you. I mean, Larry’s an MS. You’d be better off interviewing the terminal lumber.
I’ll look forward to hearing from you. I know you’ll want to share the story of Prick Family Vineyards with your eleven readers. Maybe you have a story about wineries to visit in Napa Valley coming up. If so, we’d like to make sure you don’t include us. Send them to that stupid castle. Or that place with the sky ride. That’s what your readers want. But if you happen to know anyone with a lot of money, we’d be happy to hear from them. While our wines are heavily allocated and unavailable to the public, they are always available to anyone with a trophy wife and a lot of cash.
Chlamydia Jones PR
“We Spread the Word, and Just About Everything Else”
Monday, May 8, 2017
One morning, when Gregor Sommsa woke from troubled dreams, he found himself transformed in his bed into a horrible vermin. He lay on his tuxedoed back, and if he lifted his head a little, he could see a silver tastevin glistening in the morning sun. There was a strange pin placed ominously in his lapel, and he was certain that he could name all the rivers that course through every major wine-growing region. The bedding was barely able to cover him, and his arms, weak and thin as commercial Pinot Grigio, waved helplessly around him, each hand holding a Zalto.
“What’s happened to me?” he thought. He wasn’t dreaming. His room appeared normal, if small, and the table in the corner was covered with wine samples—Gregor was a wine sales rep—and above it there hung a picture that he’d recently cut from an illustrated lifestyle magazine that had nothing to do with wine, “Wine Spectator.” The picture showed an older balding white man, the author of a regular column in the lifestyle magazine, so it could have been any one of a dozen who fit that description.
Gregor thought he should just go back to sleep, and when he awoke, his nightmare would be over. But he liked to sleep on his stomach and the tastevin bore into his solar plexus. “I hate the world,” he thought. “My sales rep job is terrible. I spend all day sucking up to young sommeliers who lecture me on why my wines are terrible, or I have to beg them to taste a wine that got 98 points because it’s Napa Cabernet and they only want wines from Mt. Etna. They seem to think people go out to dinner because they love being around sommeliers, and being made to look ignorant. That’s not why you go out to dinner, that’s why you read Matt Kramer.”
At that moment, Gregor’s mother entered the room. Like most wine sales reps, Gregor still lived at home and was single. Gregor looked up at his mother and tried to say “Good Morning” to her, but when he spoke all he said was, “Pyrazines.” His mother looked at him with horror, unable to grasp the nightmarish image of what Gregor had become, that horrible vermin that infests fine restaurants other than roaches. She clapped her hand over her mouth and fled his bedroom, slamming the door behind her and calling for Gregor’s sister Grete.
Gregor slowly eased himself out of his bed. He could hear his family arguing about him in the other room, his mother expressing her disgust and fear at what he had become. “That’s not a real job,” she was saying to his father, “that’s just an excuse for a job. What will we tell our friends?! That our Gregor is a Master Sah…” “Don’t say it!” his father cried. “I’ll squash him like an insect if that’s what he’s become.” Gregor walked over to his table and began to put his wine samples into his rolling carrying case, as if he were going to go to work like any other day, as if nothing had changed. Then he noticed that all of his samples had changed, too. Instead of his interesting portfolio of small producers from all over the world, the wines were all from Constellation! “My God,” he thought, “I must really be that horrible vermin if this is what I have to peddle for the rest of my life!” He called out to his family, to his loving sister Grete.
“What are those horrible noises he’s making?” his mother said. “It sounded like, ‘Donkey and Goat Radikon Abbatucci Joly’” his sister said. “It’s gibberish! He must have had a stroke!” Grete rushed in to help her brother, whom she loved very much, only to find a very different man, one that made her skin crawl and her grip tighten on her purse. Gregor had gained thirty pounds, his teeth, once whiter than a WSET graduate, were stained purple, and he was looking at her lasciviously. “Creep,” she thought. And then she ran, slamming the door behind her as her mother had done. Gregor was a wine sales rep, having doors slammed in his face seemed like just another day.
When his father entered the room Gregor could see the anger and odium in his eyes. His father was carrying a copy of “Somm Journal,” and was waving it at Gregor. Gregor cowered at the publication, and felt his own unexpected wave of revulsion. He didn’t want that magazine to touch him, though he didn’t know why. His father was swatting at him with the magazine, and stomping his feet, frightening Gregor into cowering in his closet. Gregor was pleading with his father to stop, but his father showed no sign of understanding a single word out of his mouth. Content with forcing his son into the darkness, his father turned to leave the room. Gregor tried to follow, his tastevin pounding against his heart. His father turned and removed a Screwpull from his pocket, throwing it with all his might at him. It lodged in Gregor’s back as he turned to try and avoid it. Gregor screamed in pain, an unearthly sound that reminded his father of something horrible, like the beginning of another Levi Dalton podcast. Gregor didn’t know what to do, how to remove the tool. Vermin like he’d become had never known any sort of Screwpulls. He rolled around on the floor of his bedroom in agony, his father kicking at him, forcing him to crawl on his hands and knees like a maȋtre d’ looking for a quarter, a trail of blood from the Screwpull wound like inexcusable drops of Tannat on the carpet. Gregor whimpered, and his father told him, “Go ahead, Gregor, you’re one of them now, whine away. You’ll need it to get out those carpet stains.”
His father kicked the door shut with his foot, Gregor lay on the floor in his expensive tuxedo, and, then, finally, all was quiet.
Tuesday, May 2, 2017
While other critics try to be the first to publish scores of a new Bordeaux vintage, Sam Euthanasia, who, at 95, is the World’s Oldest Wine Critic, as well as the most influential, takes his time. “Listen,” he tells me, “I’m in no hurry. I sit on my scores like I sit on my bedpan. Sometimes it takes a while for my scores, but the result? Hell, it’s Bordeaux, it’s en primeur, it’s a carnival sideshow—no matter how hard you push to get the scores out of your ass, it ends up just the same old shit.”
I have become rather fond of Sam Euthanasia, the World's Oldest Wine Critic. First of all, there's a lot of competition for that title among regular wine reviewers of the most famous wine publications. I couldn't exactly make him 75--I think a bunch of them are older than that. Or seem like it. I thought it would be fun to check in with him about the highly-touted 2016 Bordeaux vintage. He has a lot to say about the en primeur tasting, but you'll have to head over to Tim Atkin's prestigious site to read what Sam has to say. Feel free to engage Sam with your comments over there, or return here and write your comments really loudly so that Sam can hear them.
TIM ATKIN MW
Tuesday, April 25, 2017
We’re well into veraison here at Climate Change Cellars, so it must be Spring! And that means new releases, just in time for mosquito season. There’s something about those cute little disease-ridden bloodsuckers that makes me think of wine bloggers visiting Climate Change Cellars and asking for free samples. Yet another sign of Spring! I’m old enough to remember songbirds, and how their music used to fill the Spring air. Remember them? Sure you do, they were just like pigeons and crows, which are all that’s left now, but tinier, and they ate a lot of insects. Luckily, because Mother Nature is resourceful, now we have the beautiful buzz of mosquitoes to let us know it’s time for the release of our newest vintages of Climate Change Cellars’ Zika Red, and Zika White. It’s Spring, and time for a case of Zika!
I think you’ll really like our new vintage of Zika White. It’s a very versatile wine, made to accompany both food and famine! Let’s face it, not everyone has enough food these days, yet you still might like a nice glass of something affordable to accompany your empty dinner table. Our Climate Change Cellars Zika White is perfect! I’ve been drinking it on a regular basis, and I find I like it better on an empty stomach. In the old days, the common wisdom was that fine wines were meant to accompany a meal. But regular meals just aren’t possible for a lot of people in our new world, so at Climate Change Cellars we decided to make a fine wine that goes great with starvation diets. The 2125 Zika White is 100% Malnutria Bianca, and would also be great with seafood. Were there any.
The 2124 Zika Red might be my favorite vintage ever. 2124 was a classic Climate Change year. Winter rains were virtually non-existent here on the Arctic tundra, but melting glaciers provided more than enough water. (As an aside, I felt blessed that winter to witness the annual migration of the reindeer—his name is Sven.) We had bud break right around Valentine’s Day, a lovely Spring marred only by the usual plague of locusts, though, thank God, they mostly only ate the wheat crop, and a leisurely harvest around the end of July. So, in a word, perfect! The Zika Red is a blend of Petite Sirah and Tannat—a great match for your scavenged meal of tree bark. Buy it by the case, and we’ll throw in an exclusive Climate Change Denier’s T-Shirt—like their arguments, it's full of holes!
Before I talk about our highly allocated wines, I want to talk a bit about our sustainable, Earth-friendly, natural farming practices here at Climate Change Cellars. First of all, it would be impossible to grow grapes in these dramatic environmental conditions were it not for the array of herbicides and pesticides we rely on to keep our plants alive. But we’re very proud that here at Climate Change Cellars, all of that herbicide and pesticide residue runs off into our local streams and rivers, which are, of course, completely devoid of life. Our ancestors made sure of that, and we honor them for their legacy of truly clean, lifeless water into which we can dump our chemicals. We do no harm to any living thing by emptying our chemicals into the river. Just ask my son Johnny, who loves swimming in the river—though it’s a big advantage that he was born with flippers instead of arms, and a blowhole on top of his head (called a “Bill O’Reilly,” though why is something of a mystery).
Our vineyards are Certified Biohaznamic®. We follow the Biohaznamic Calendar, which tells us what days are best for planting, harvesting, and even tasting. Our winemaker only tastes on extinction days, when every taste might be your last, so the wines taste especially good. And if the Brix are just right, we only pick on greenhouse gas days, so that our mechanical harvesters work to their greatest potential. There was a time when we used migratory workers to harvest the grapes, but they were mostly rapists and murderers. And we don’t need rapists and murderers, we have world leaders for that.
Climate Change Cellars has also been a leader in finding replacements for French oak barrels. Now that the oak forests of the world are being devastated by beetles, we’ve taken to aging our best wines in barrels made from yucca. We prefer neutral barrels so that our wines don’t taste too yucky. No one wants an overyucked Chardonnay.
Being Certified Biohaznamic®, we never add sulfites to our wines. We treat our wines as living expressions of the earth, living beings that need to be protected, not altered. So we don’t add sulfites, or any of the other 320 chemicals currently allowed to be added to wine. Though, in the spirit of protection, we do spray sunblock on the grapes. SPF 35. Kinda smells like coconut. In a good way.
We also have a couple of special wines to offer with this newsletter. Quantities are tiny, so it’s first come, first served—just like natural resources!
2123 Fossil Fuel Reserve
There wouldn’t be a Climate Change Cellars but for fossil fuels! We honor them with our best red wine. Each vintage sports a different label, and the 2123 is a lovely rendition of a classic Ford F-150, the bestselling truck at a time when burning fossil fuel was a lively First World tradition. What a honey! And with the F-150's size and height, why you could see everything in front of you but, apparently, the obvious effects of greenhouse gases. We think it’s a sweet tribute, and worthy of the great 2123 Fossil Fuel Reserve. This great red wine should last 25 years—drink it when the last elephant dies! Hey, the F-150’s didn’t have any trunks either.
2122 Way Too Late Harvest Red
Made in small quantities, our Way Too Late Harvest Red is our Desertification wine. Made from grapes carefully dried on straw mats just out of the reach of hungry locals, the wine is fermented until just the right sweetness, and then fortified, like our Southern borders. We think you’ll love it. At Climate Change Cellars, we strive to leave you with one final bittersweet taste in your mouth.
Tuesday, April 18, 2017
So it was the first guy I killed that gave me the taste for it. You know how you were a young wannabe somm once, and you’d tell your wine-ignorant friends that you hated Chardonnay, but then your mentor tasted you on a Raveneau Premier Cru Chablis and from then on you couldn’t ever get enough Chablis? My first taste of blood was like that. I mean, back then I was kinda squeamish. My palate was pretty primitive. Now, well, now I can blind taste and tell the difference between type O and type AB. O has more garrigue in the mid-palate. AB smells like Côte-Rôtie. Oh, man, I love a good saignée.
I don’t remember that first guy’s name, but I remember why I killed him.
Goddamit, I’m a Master Sommelier, one of the few women who’s achieved that goal. You’d think I’d get some respect. You’d think that pin on my lapel would convey the same authority for me as it does for a guy. If a guy has one, he wears it around on his suit and people think it’s the fucking Congressional Medal of Honor. That’s pathetic. Knowing a lot about wine isn’t particularly admirable. The people who make the wines don’t wear any pins. Wearing a Master Sommelier pin is like declaring yourself a Nobel Laureate because you know the words to every Bob Dylan song. Who the fuck cares? But I wear my pin and people think I got it on my prom date. They think I found it in a Thrift Store and thought it was cute. Have you seen the MS lapel pin? It’s ugly! It looks like Michael Jackson going to a toga party, fer Christ’s sake. I deserve the same respect as a dude who’s a Master Sommelier, don’t I? Maybe more. None of those dudes had to put up with being hit on by their mentors.
So I’m working the floor one night and this guy wants to speak to the sommelier. I go over to his table, he’s there with a bunch of other guys, and he looks at me and says, “Is the head sommelier here?” Well, to be more accurate, he looks at my tits and says, “Is the head sommelier here?” I tell him I am the head sommelier. “Oh, good”, he says, “I could use some head.” Then he runs his eyes over me like he’s judging for the 4H club and says, “I’m looking for something to go with my meat.” His buddies start to chuckle. “Looking at you,” I tell him, “I’m guessing it’s not the bone-in cut. Must the the old hanger steak.” He just smiles and orders the Silver Oak. Death was too good for him. I mean, Silver Oak? Really? Why don’t you just wear a hat that says, “When Only Mediocre Will Do.”
I made sure to get him nice and drunk. I bought him several glasses of Port as an apology. Then I ambushed him in the parking lot and cut his throat with a box cutter. Wow, I remember thinking, Raveneau Chablis all over again! I need some in my cellar. So that’s where I put him.
You always remember your first. How many since that asshat? I don’t really know. It’s like when you’re a sommelier, people always ask you how many bottles you have in your cellar. You’re never sure. A lot. That’s all you know. You can’t remember the names of all of them, but you know there are a lot. But you do have your favorites.
I love the guys who slip me their phone number when their wife goes to the bathroom. Like I’m supposed to be flattered. You want me to be flattered? Leave me a tip as big as you leave the guy somms, jackass. It does make it easy though. I call them up, arrange to meet them somewhere dark and intimate, and then I kill them. For laughs, I make them share a bottle of orange wine with me before I poison them. I find I like poison more and more. And the orange wine makes the poison undetectable. They’re virtually indistinguishable when you drink them. Hell, some of them don’t even need the poison to paralyze you from the neck down. But, in fact, a bit of anti-freeze nicely fills out the middle of a skin contact Pinot Gris. I’m told, anyway. Adds a tiny bit of stone fruit to the finish. Prestone fruit.
The misogyny in the wine business is terrible, and it’s everywhere, and no one seems to care. Yeah, I know, there’s misogyny in every damn business. But wine claims to be so civilized, so emblematic of sophistication and learning. And then, like our President, it grabs your pussy and shouts, “It’s gonna be YUGE!” And nobody says anything about it. I guess I just decided to make being a pig a little bit more dangerous. Maybe you’ll remember me the next time you meet a woman in the wine business, maybe you’ll think twice about harassing her. You’d better.
I really thought I’d quit after a couple. But I’m an overachiever. Duh. I’m a Master Sommelier. Come on. Being a woman AND a Master Sommelier? That’s the equivalent of being Jewish AND a Breitbart contributor. Killing, it turns out, comes easily to me. Though, really, I don’t have the time to kill all of the idiots I meet. There are so many! It’s like being a Peregrine falcon in New York City. Jesus, how many stinking pigeons are there in the world? Same in the wine business. Only in the wine business, nobody notices how they’re crapping on everybody.
If I somehow managed to kill every guy in the wine business who mistreats, belittles, infantilizes, insults, gropes, condescends to, mocks, patronizes, overlooks, propositions, embarrasses or underpays women, there’d be more empty suits than an executive meeting at Treasury Wine Estates. So I’ve got my work cut out for me. In more ways than one.
I don’t mean to say that killing misogynists is right. No. It’s not right. It’s fun! I’m sure I’ll get caught eventually. Just hope it’s not in the middle of my shift. Fuck, the chef I work for is a real stickler for being arrested on the floor. “Do it on your day off,” that’s what he’d say. I’d have killed him by now, but, well, he was on “Top Chef.” I love that show.
Monday, April 10, 2017
Scork Dork: Another Wine-Fueled Adventure Among the Pestilential Wine Critics, Score Whores, and Fake Scientists Who Taught Me to Live for Crappy Wine
The first thing that happens when you’re thirty years old, you write a landmark book about wine that lands on “The New York Times” bestseller list just below Bill O’Reilly (and what’s creepier than being thirty, gorgeous and trapped under Bill O’Reilly?), and you tell people you’re going to walk away from your book tour and the unprecedented adulation, the near universal praise for your precocious genius, to become a professional wine critic is that your phone begins to ring.
Phones don’t really ring now, do they? Not like they did in our parents’ homes. Let’s say a person, or a machine, (I met many who review wines who are both, but I’ll get to that) dials your smartphone. Whereas once all telephones sounded virtually identical, now each person has a ring tone that, in some personal way, speaks to the smartphone owner’s view of herself. Recent studies done at places of higher learning have shown that you can discern a great deal about a person’s self-image by the ring tone of their phone. I’m pretty sure you didn’t know that. It’s the kind of insight you’re going to have to expect as I tell you about how I became an important wine critic. Have I mentioned yet that I’m a journalist? And a fine one, at that. I worked for the “Huffington Post,” which is to “The New York Times” what roadkill is to the Westminster National Dog Show. Barely recognizable as the same thing.
My phone never stopped playing, “Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better.” I’m not sure what that says about me. Except I should stop giving out my phone number. The people telling me I was nuts to want to be a wine critic were the same ones who told me I was crazy to try to become a sommelier. Idiots. I had to become a sommelier. I had a book proposal, and the blurbs for the book had already been written. I had to write the book to go with them.
Now that I was a recognized wine expert after twelve months of study, the equivalent, I was told, of learning fluent Klingon in two weeks, only less useful, I had noticed when I was shopping at my favorite local wine merchant that many wines had been assigned numbers by men and women known as wine critics. I became fascinated by them. I wanted to become a wine critic for a prestigious wine publication, though I couldn’t think of any. I knew that wine critics didn’t have any prestige. Sommeliers have prestige; wine critics have gum disease. It’s their own specific type of gum disease—gingivitis vinifera.
I carpet-bombed all the wine critics I could find with emails, much like one does when your house is infested with fleas and ticks. The sommeliers I’d met, and easily surpassed, had often referred to wine critics as a form of pest, most closely related to leeches. “You don’t really think,” one told me, “that the name ‘Suckling’ is coincidental, do you?” Pests or not, wineries had to cater to the most powerful wine critics, and I liked the idea of that. I gave myself a month to become a regular wine critic for a national publication. I didn’t need to be the critic for Bordeaux, or Brunello di Montalcino, or Champagne, I was willing to settle for being the lead critic for a far lesser region, maybe Australia. You always get Australia when you’re a new wine critic, I discovered, the best critics avoid it and leave it to the newcomers. It’s essentially hazing. I was willing to endure Australian wines for a while, then I’d walk away from the job (it’s what journalists do—did I mention I’m a journalist by trade?) with a witty, “You’re not the Barossa me.”
Almost every important wine critic (an oxymoron, according to Tim Hanni MW, who calls me way too often) ignored my letters. While I waited for a break, I studied wine criticism. I knew how to write wine descriptions, I’m a journalist after all. (I’ve been published in the online “New Yorker.” Which is just like the print “New Yorker,” only desperate for content.) I felt pretty comfortable using the 100 Point Scale. It’s not that hard to assign numbers to wine. And it turns out that humans are not the only animals who assign numbers. Scientists in Italy (I didn’t know Italy had any scientists, that surprised me) demonstrated in a series of carefully designed experiments that dogs assign numbers to trees. Usually number one, and occasionally number two. So, apparently, assigning numbers is a part of natural brain function. I might write a chapter about that. I want to get my brain scanned again. I think I might need a bigger head. If that were possible.
One evening my husband and I were practicing with my 100 Point Scale flash cards (I have a mental block on 89) when I heard “Anything You Can Do” coming from the bedroom. A voice on the other end said, “Hello, Bianca? This is Tim Fish with ‘Wine Spectator.’ I got your email. I’d be happy to show you what it’s like to be a wine critic.”
I hung up. I’d attended Princeton. I’d studied journalism. I had standards. Fish just didn’t measure up. I threw him back.
I had set my sights pretty high. I wanted to learn to be a wine critic from Robert Parker, the man who had imposed the 100 Point Scale on wine. With that master stroke, Parker had done for wine what Garanimals had done for fashion—made it accessible for the clueless. “You don’t need to know shit about wine to use the 100 Point Scale,” Jay McInerney had told me while staring at my cleavage, “you just put a stupid tag on it and people buy it.” Sort of like one of his novels at the remainder table at Barnes and Noble.
Robert Parker never responded to any of my emails. This made no sense to me. He employs a lot of amateurs as critics, and I was willing to do it for free. I was on the verge of giving up when I heard a fateful version of “Anything You Can Do.” I answered the phone and a rather sultry, smoky voice said, “Hello, Bianca? This is Jancis Robinson. I think you and I should chat.”
A month later, I was reviewing wines for her site. She’ll hire anybody!
Cover Blurbs for Scork Dork:
“I loved this book. It’s the last one I’ll ever read.”—David Foster Wallace
“The Cat in the Hat of wine.”—Madeline Puckette
“Written in English, and plenty of it.”—Walter Isaacson
“The best book about wine since Cork Dork, Scork Dork is Bosker’s Bright Lights, Big City but without the drugs and rave reviews. Bosker is the voice of her generation, so sort of high and squeaky.”—Jay McInerney
For my serious review of Cork Dork, go HERE
Friday, April 7, 2017
There’s something interesting about writing satire. It’s a way to express a part of yourself that much of the time you suppress—the part that is cynical, that despises the human tendency to prevaricate, our tendency to give in to pride and self-righteousness. I try to make fun of anyone and everyone, and make people laugh along the way. When I’m successful, I am, curiously, both widely admired, and widely despised. I guess it’s in my nature to like that.
In February of 2016, I attended the Napa Valley Wine Writers’ Symposium. For the farewell dinner, which has much in common with the last meal given to death row inmates, I was seated between Virginie Boone and Lana Bortolot. I’d never met either woman. Virginie is, of course, one of the lead reviewers for Wine Enthusiast. She’s a very self-possessed and fascinating woman, with a very difficult job. Assigning numbers to wines. You not only have to know wines, you have to know numbers! So, there you go. I adored Virginie.
Lana Bortolot was attending the Symposium as a freelance writer. I fell in love with her that night. We went from nervous tablemates to sharing a lot of personal stories in about twenty minutes. I may have proposed to her. Several months later, she informed me that she had taken a job as Senior Editor for Wine Enthusiast. Lana is, in a word, brilliant. Wine Enthusiast is lucky to have her onboard. She will make everyone at the magazine better.
In August I won a Louis Roederer International Wine Writers’ Award for my column on Tim Atkin’s amazing wine site. If you’ve never heard of the Roederer Awards, they’re the wine equivalent of the MacArthur Genius Grants, if you ignore all three of those words. (Lana cut that joke from my Wine Enthusiast piece, for which I might have divorced her if I didn’t love her so much.)
Lana proposed to Wine Enthusiast that it would be interesting to hear from me about what it’s like for a guy who spends his life insulting everyone in the wine biz to win an award from those folks. Originally, Lana told me, she was going to have Virginie interview me. But then Virginie would get paid for the piece, not the HoseMaster. Thoughtfully, Lana commissioned me to write a brief piece for the back of the magazine. I noted in a previous post that I’d been published in the March 2017 issue of Wine Enthusiast, but they have only now published the piece online.
For those of you who didn’t read the piece in the magazine, here’s the link:
Frankly, everyone talks about how the wine business needs more satire, but no one publishes any. The only one writing comedy is Matt Kramer, he just doesn’t know it yet. Tim Atkin MW has published my crap for more than four years now, without ever changing a raucous, tasteless, profane word. That has taken courage. I owe him an enormous debt. Obviously, I can’t be that outrageous or tasteless in Wine Enthusiast. But it’s important to be acknowledged. I don’t care about the fame or the money (there isn’t much), but I care about the often under-appreciated art of satire. Being granted space in a mainstream and important wine publication matters to me.
Thank you, Lana. I love you. Thank you Wine Enthusiast for the exposure. And thank you to everyone who reads HoseMaster of Wine™. I don’t do this for you, I do it for my personal demons, but I very much appreciate that you support me.
Monday, April 3, 2017
Hello, my name is Ronald. And I’m a Crapaholic.
This is my first time speaking at a Crapaholics Anonymous meeting, but I’ve been thinking a lot about the wines I drink lately. I drink wines I like. I think I know a lot about wine. I drink wines from all over the world. I drink wines from California, France, Washington, New Zealand, South Africa…I love South African wines! Have you had Pinotage? Do you know where the name comes from? It’s Pinot Noir crossed with a little Garbage. I think it’s required by law to be at least 15% Garbage. Anyway, I love wine. I buy wines based on experience, and the reviews of reliable critics. So, mostly experience. I thought wine was just wine. There’s bad wine, good wine, great wine, and really great wine. But it turns out I was wrong. I was fooling myself, probably like all of you Crapaholics here tonight. It’s a hard thing for me to say. But I need help with my addiction to Crap. I’m a Crap whore.
I'm taking a big risk here. Normally, what's talked about at a Crapaholics Anonymous meeting is kept secret to protect everyone's privacy. But this is too important an issue. The burning issue of our wine times. So I'm allowing my readers inside a meeting. Be prepared, it's a sad tale of addiction and woe. The kind that tears families apart, and ruins lives. Have a hankie nearby. You have time to grab one before you jump over to Tim Atkin's great blog to read the rest. It's a tale of addiction rampant in the wine business. It's time it was exposed.
TIM ATKIN MW
Thursday, March 30, 2017
I’ve been wondering for a couple of years when a book like “Cork Dork” would come around. It seemed inevitable to me that an enterprising journalist would one day decide that writing about what it takes to become a Certified Sommelier in the world of fancy schmancy restaurants would make for an interesting book. I’m glad that journalist was someone as talented as Bianca Bosker. This could easily have been a dreadful book, just as “SOMM” was a dreadful film for me to watch. Instead, it’s a wonderful read. I especially admire Bosker’s prodigious research about wine, and about our senses of smell and taste, and her unflagging sense of humor. I rarely laugh when I read, but Bosker made me break out into noisy smiles quite a bit. I blamed the dog.
In her acknowledgments, Bosker mentions Susan Orlean and John McPhee as inspirations, but reading “Cork Dork” made me think more about the late George Plimpton. Plimpton, founder of “The Paris Review,” and quite the literate raconteur, may have reached the pinnacle of his popular fame with his book, “Paper Lion.” “Paper Lion” is about Plimpton’s desire to find out what it’s like to be a quarterback in the NFL. He talks the Detroit Lions into allowing him to train with them for a season, and takes us along. Plimpton is a writer with a gift for the extraordinary and telling detail, and his misadventures in the NFL are very funny and surprisingly poignant. The book made Alex Karras, a defensive lineman for the Lions, into a star. It’s Karras who famously knocks out a horse with a punch in “Blazing Saddles.” Bosker shares Plimpton’s keen eye for detail, and she also sports the exuberance of youth. In a business as stuffy as the wine business, these qualities serve her wit well. Bosker also echoes Plimpton’s editorial game plan. Plimpton, of course, takes a beating as a quarterback, has to win over the skeptical pro players who slightly resent his presence, yet he triumphs in the end. Bosker is often humiliated in her attempts to understand wine and work the floor as a sommelier in exclusive, service-oriented restaurants, she is warned by many Master Sommeliers about the folly of her task as she gives herself a year to accomplish what has taken others many years, but, of course, in the end, well, you know… And she’s worked pretty tirelessly to make Morgan Harris, a young New York sommelier, her Alex Karras, though Harris struck me as less horse pugilist and more horse’s ass.
The book is really eleven set pieces organized into a whole. You may have read parts of “Cork Dork” already, one chapter as a “New Yorker” piece, “Is There A Better Way to Talk About Wine?,” and part of another chapter served as a piece in the Opinion pages of the “New York Times,” “Ignore the Snobs, Drink the Cheap, Delicious Wine.” The latter piece stirred up the hornet’s nest of natural wine’s alt-right. The eleven chapters stand on their own, you’ll learn a lot about your senses of smell and taste, and how sommelier’s brains are different than yours (I’m a prime example of that), but it makes for a very clunky ride taken as a whole. A chapter about working the floor in a fancy New York restaurant, a visit with Ann Noble in California, a brain scan in South Korea, a wine exam in Virginia… All of it’s interesting, but most people trying to become Certified Sommeliers don’t have expense accounts that cover their curiosity. Much of that serves to make Bosker less sympathetic to the reader, harder to identify with, which works against her. And yet her talent is so great, she wins us over and makes us glad we signed up for her journey. I may have a crush on her.
Bosker has talent, and, apparently, a great agent. (So, really, it doesn’t matter one iota what I think about her book.) “Cork Dork” is a stereotypical work of participatory journalism. Poor man’s Plimpton. The risk in that kind of journalism is that the work can eventually come to be about the writer, and not the subject. John McPhee is the master at this sort of creative nonfiction, and clearly someone Bosker (among many others) idolizes. McPhee has a talent for knowing what to leave out in his work. In his work, you always sense his presence, his intellect, but he is very much in the background most of the time. You see through his eyes, but you don’t think McPhee is his own subject. In the end, “Cork Dork” is very much a book about Bianca Bosker. Don’t get me wrong, she seems like someone I’d like to know, though there’s fat chance of that (though, I, of all people, understand that a voice should not be mistaken for the actual person writing in that voice). Wine transforms her, though I’m not sure I cared. It’s certainly not why I decided to read the book.
I want to be clear about a few things because I ramble like Professor Irwin Corey with head trauma. Bianca Bosker is a flamboyantly talented writer. I could read her work all day long. She’s genuinely funny, and wit is a precious asset that’s absent in most wine writing. She does have McPhee’s work ethic. She doesn’t want to just understand a subject, she wants to master it, destroy it, and perform an autopsy on it. “Cork Dork” is a great glimpse into obsessive personalities, especially Bosker’s. I’d read it for that, and be grateful I’m not one. If I have issues with the book, it’s not about the quality of the writing. I’d go on any journey to which Bosker invites me. I’d already been on much of this journey long before Bosker could hold a pen, so I bring an old and odd perspective to the book. But I loved the book for its youthful bravado, and for Bosker, especially when she stops to think about what a stupid obsession wine can become.
When Bosker travels to Virginia to take the Certified Sommelier Exam she meets Annie Truhlar. I found Annie’s story to be the most interesting, and the most revelatory, in the book. Annie is the one “sommelier” (she isn’t really) in the book who loves wine with a passion, and not obsession. I got tired of the obsessed sommeliers in the book who give up what’s actually important in life, love and family, for a life in wine. I know a lot of people like that in the biz, and I feel sorry for them. (I wish Bosker had spent a bit more time talking about the rampant alcoholism in the trade, but I get that she didn’t.) It seemed that Bosker’s view of wine, and of being a sommelier, changed after her time spent with Annie as they endured the Certified Sommelier Exam together. Annie can barely afford the money to take the test. She’s never been able to go to a La Paulée kind of event, which is Bosker’s subject in one of the chapters, or even taste any Champagne tête du cuvées before she’s tested on them. She’s never dined at Eleven Madison Park, and probably thinks it’s the name of a Korean M.W. Annie just loves wine. It’s her story that holds the book together for me. She’s a breath of fresh air amid all the fetid breath of too many yammering young sommeliers. Annie Truhlar is the one person in the book with whom I’d like to share a great bottle of wine, aside from Bosker herself. Annie, you’re ever in Sonoma, call me!
I cannot imagine this book will have much resonance for those who love wine but don’t live in New York. It will teach you a lot, but won’t speak to you. It’s a very New York-centric book. I found that tiresome. There were endless and casual dismissals of California wine throughout the book, which is very New York somm. In her quest to learn about wine, Bosker learned far too much elitism, despite the chapter excerpted in the “New York Times” about how Treasury manipulates cheap wine to taste good, which she defends to a degree, but which, of course, takes place in California. Reading the book made me grateful to have grown up in the wine business outside of New York. So much of what Bosker writes about on her path to becoming a sommelier was foreign to me. I wasn’t unaware of it, as I’m not unaware of the behavior of dung beetles, with which sommeliers have a lot in common, but the book reads like this is how the wine world and the restaurant business works everywhere. That’s certainly not true. I found myself disliking almost everyone in the book, aside from Bosker herself and Annie Truhlar. Ah, but that’s me. However, if you’ve never been a New Yorker, or worked in the New York wine trade, you might be rather perplexed by much of “Cork Dork.” I actually wondered why Bosker would want to be part of that group. They read more like Swiftian fools to me than wine lovers.
If you read this stupid blog regularly, I think you’ll like “Cork Dork.” I wouldn’t hesitate to buy it. It’s in paperback, it’s cheap! Buy Bosker’s book! I mean it. It's not even ten bucks on Amazon. She’s such a great young writer. She deserves our support. I’ve had my say here, but this is a book easily worth reading and recommending to friends that love wine. All my reservations aside, it’s terrific work.
I’m obviously not a professional book critic. There’s a very vapid review that the “New York Times” published (it’s a good review, which the book deserves, but it’s emptyheaded, and I get the feeling the reviewer might even know Bianca, though I don’t know that). And there are some of the most transparently fake blurbs I’ve seen on a book cover in a long time. For example, late in the book Bosker recommends “Wine Folly” to her readers for their summations of grape characteristics. And then there’s a blurb on the back cover from Madeline Puckette calling “Cork Dork,” “The ‘Kitchen Confidential’ of wine.” That’s pretty shameless. It’s more the “L.A. Confidential” of wine, really. Jay McInerney, whom Bosker meets at La Paulée, has a blurb proclaiming her a “gonzo nerd prodigy.” So you know he grabbed her ass. The blurbs are completely FAKE NEWS! Sad.
Bianca, I love your writing. “Cork Dork” shows the wisdom and the foibles of youth. With no added sulphur.