Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Secret Official Sommelier Manual--Leaked!

I’m not supposed to do this. I signed a document when I became a full-time sommelier that prohibits me from revealing the contents of the Official United States of America Sommelier’s Manual. But I think every restaurant patron should read it. I sent it to WikiLeaks, but Julian Assange wouldn’t touch it. “Too incendiary,” he wrote to me, “and, besides, I only accept secret documents from gay servicemen, or members of the Village People.” To which I say, “I like to stay at the WHY EM SEE AY.” Everybody now! So, at great personal risk, I am publishing excerpts here on HoseMaster of Wine™. I think you’ll find that everything you long suspected about sommeliers is not only true, but a requirement of the job. Failure to live up to the standards outlined here is punishable by significant fines, or, in the case of the worst violators, by mandatory attendance at Evan Goldstein lectures.

From Chapter 1 “Creating the Wine List”

The wine list is your personal fiefdom, a reflection of your bizarre taste in wine, and in no way is it meant to offer customers wines with which they might be familiar. The crap they drink at home has no place in a fine dining establishment. The reason for this is twofold. First of all, if no one needs your assistance in selecting a wine, you’re out of a job. Secondly, if a customer knows a wine, he is also likely to know its normal retail price. The wine list is the one vulnerable area of the restaurant where people can see that you are gouging them. And, boy, will they bitch. Sure, they’ll pay six bucks for ten cents worth of coffee at Starbucks, but mark up your wine to four times cost and they just won’t shut up about it.

Always try to offer wines from off-vintages. When a winery gets a big score on their 2009 vintage, make them an offer on their lousy 2008’s. You get a big discount. Then “accidentally” list the 2009 on the wine list at its normal gigantic markup. When a guest orders a bottle, simply bring out the 2008. They won’t notice. If they do, act surprised at the “typo,” and offer to bring your incomprehensible wine list back for them to select a different bottle. Guests will simply accept the 2008, and, BANG, you’ve got a big profit.

Never arrange the list by price. It’s best to arrange the list under annoyingly cutesy categories meant to reinforce the neurotic guest’s pathetic self-image. “Adventurous Whites,” “Powerful Reds,” “Sexy Alternatives,”—crap like that. Be creative. Try “Big Girth Imports,” or “Remarkable Stamina Whites,” or “Penetrating Deep, Dark Aussies.” People will pay anything to feel better about themselves.

From Chapter 2 “Attitude”

You’re a god. No, you’re God. You’re Karl Rove with a tastevin. You’re Rush Limbaugh with breast reductions. You’re Paul Ryan with a boner. You’re Barbra Streisand with replacement rhinoceros hormones. You’re Larry Mathers as The Beaver. You’re Michel Chapoutier with lifts. You’re God with a Robert Parker complex.

From Chapter 3 “Wine List Pricing”

Always remember that wineries make up prices haphazardly and without any sort of rational reasoning, and that you’re entitled to do the same damn thing. This is just how the wine business works. It doesn’t have to make any sense. You can’t fix it, don’t even try. Being known for a reasonably priced wine list only attracts the sort of people who really should just stay home and eat dinner.

When calculating prices, always round up to the nearest hundred.

White wines should be marked up higher than reds. No one orders white wine in a restaurant anyway. The chumps that do need to pay for it.

From Chapter 4 “Stemware”

That Riedel crap breaks like old people’s hips, and costs damn near as much to replace. Use knockoff brands in various sizes. The more expensive the wine, the larger the bowl of the wine glass you bring to the table. Ideally, you want to empty the bottle into four glasses equally and have it look like each glass is virtually empty. The optical illusion leads to sales of a second bottle. Especially if the fourth person poured, the host, gets less than everyone else.

Never offer to bring fresh glasses for the second, or third, or any other, bottle of wine. Remember, dishwashers are on your team, the clients are the opposing team. Remind the offending customers that they wouldn’t use fresh glasses at home, would they, and your job as a hospitality professional is to make them feel at home.

From Chapter 5 “Service”

Flunkies are attentive and eager to serve. Professionals make you wait and give the impression they are doing you a favor by taking care of you. Which are you? Take the wine order, open the bottle, then stay the hell out of the waiter’s way.

It’s always best to appear with the bottle of wine when the meal is half-eaten. It just tastes better.

Oh, there’s more…if I live long enough to publish another installment.

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Golden Age of Wine Writing?

I like to write about wine. I don’t think I have any particularly interesting insights about wine, but that doesn’t seem to be one of the qualifications for writing about it. On HoseMaster of Wine™, of course, I spend my meager talent writing about wine, or, more accurately, the wine business, from a satiric point of view. I suffer no illusions that my work on HoseMaster has any influence or benefit. Nor do I think very many people care what I think. But you don’t have to be in the wine world long to see how it drags the pretentious out of almost everyone. Casting a cold, hard eye on the “tastemakers” and wannabes in the trade is what I try to do. That, and try to exorcise my comedy demons. 

What amazes me is how wonderful and entertaining and fascinating wine itself is, whereas wine writing is, with few exceptions, dreary, pedantic, insipid and repetitive. Perhaps that’s because so much of it revolves around descriptions of aromas and flavors we, as humans, are poorly equipped to perceive, much less express. Wine outmatches us. I can summarize an awful lot of people in a few concise phrases. Describing Chave Hermitage, however, seems beyond my capability. And everyone else's.

It is often said that what’s interesting about wine writing is capturing the “story” behind a wine. Yet so much of what passes for the story is simple marketing propaganda, the glorification of a winemaker, or the Grimm’s fairy tale of an owner on a “journey,” or some mystical talk about the magic of their terroir. There’s more truth in an election year political ad. As soon as I read the word “journey,” my eyes glaze over, anyway, and my patented BullShit detector goes off.

I’m all for romance in wine, but romance, as we all know, ends most often in disappointment. Don’t fall in love with falling in love. So much of what I read about wine on wine blogs and in wine porn rags (Wine Spectator and such) is just that. Someone in love with the idea of being in love with wine, a new wine producer, or a new region. That’s not wine writing, that’s infatuation.

I have been kicking around the idea of doing some wine reviewing here. Though I’m no longer a sommelier, and no longer taste thousands of wine every year, I’m still constantly around wine, constantly tasting wine, and I thought it would be fun to add my voice to the cacophony (accent on the “phony”) of voices on the Internet. I go to winery open houses, I go to industry tastings, I judge in professional wine competitions, I still try to be involved in my trade, but, honestly, who cares what I think? Does the world need my opinions of Siduri wines, to pick an example? I know Adam Lee doesn’t. Does anyone care about my favorite wines at Family Winemakers? Now that I don’t have any direct buying power they sure as hell don’t. My opinion won’t sell wine, nor will it ruin anyone’s reputation. And God knows there’s not a marketing director in the country who’d send free samples to the HoseMaster for review. So why bother to even consider writing wine reviews?

I had myself convinced that I could bring my experience, along with a somewhat jaded eye, and a large dose of honesty, and that might result in something interesting to read. Maybe some long form pieces that focus as much on my personal history with a winery or winemaker, the setting where the tasting was held (at the winery, at home, in a cattle call tasting at a huge hall), the mood I was in at the time, as much as my impressions of the quality of the wines. It would be interesting for me to write. But I questioned whether it would be interesting for anyone to read.

Much of what bothers me about wine writing is how uncritical it is. I love wine as much as anyone I know, but I also really dislike boring wines, stupid wines, and what I think of as fatuous wines. And there are lots of them. I see them getting 91 points, or A-, or somewhere between 9 and 9.5 (so, 9.23567?) from people with the qualifications of a raccoon. I think, more worrisome (though it’s only wine), is the exclusion of wines from review that are subpar or overrated or stupid for the simple sake of not burning bridges, not offending someone, or, worse, no longer getting free samples. I understand it, wine is a gentleman’s sport and we abide by the rules of courtesy, integrity be damned, but it means I dismiss most of what I read for the propaganda or ill-informed opinion or ass-kissing it is. It is, I still believe, primarily the attention-barking of lonely poodles. I wonder, at times, if I could do better. The barking, I mean.

What’s always missing is context. Or maybe truth. (And usually talent.) Perhaps that the blogger is thrilled to have received free samples in the first place. After all, 1WineDude and Vinography get so many, and they can’t stop reminding us of how many. 1WineDude has an indentured serf to manage his, apparently. We’re meant to feel sorry for them when they tell us their tales of UPS shipper woes, though wine reviewing is the damn job they’ve chased for the past seven years. Talking about their free samples is a way to remind us of how successful they are, how important their opinions are. It’s notches on their conjugal wine headboard. I’ve been there, I’ve done the junket circuit, had my ego stroked like a soft kitty, I know the seduction. And I can’t claim at the time that I was any less affected or less blind to it. But I think I am now. Now that no one cares what I think.

There is so much blather about the influence the blogosphere has on wines sales. It may have some, though it’s so immeasurable as to be meaningless, maybe the equivalent of .01 of an inch of rain. The wine blogosphere is about the wine blogosphere, and almost nothing else. I think most of the bloggers I know personally understand that. It’s a strangely isolated island that the outside world doesn’t know exists, and even if it did, it would have no desire to visit. And it’s an island of humans prone to the usual human catalog of fallibility—jealousy, greed, hubris, narcissism, intellectual dishonesty and pettiness.

Which is what makes it fun for me to be here, hurling insults, pointing fingers and, I hope, making folks laugh.

So I'm still chewing on the idea of writing about wines from my admittedly limited and peculiar perspective. Those pieces may appear here, and, I'm sure, that will be a shock to everyone's system, all eleven of you. I won't be abandoning the satire you've all come to abhor, but I feel like doing something else now and then. Feel free to criticize, unsubscribe, belittle, or bemoan. Just don't act surprised.

Thursday, November 22, 2012


For Black Friday
Didn't we use to give them a Month?

For the 100 Point Scale
I love the 100 Point Scale. It reduces something wondrous to an easily understandable number. I'm simply surprised it hasn't been adopted in more miraculous areas. Healing Lepers--88 points "Nice, but really just a parlor trick." Yosemite Valley--96 points "Spahn and Sain and pray for moraine." Sofia Vergara's caboose--95 points "Worth a special search." 

What do dyslexics use to buy wine?

For Quercus Suber
Even if one miserable day the Stelvin triumphs, it will be this noble evergreen tree that changed the way we preserve wine. Unique in its ability to regenerate its outer bark, try to imagine the history of wine without corks. And now all the selfish whiners want to discard it like last month's issue of Wine and Spirits. Make that this month's issue of Wine and Spirits. For plastic and aluminum. Will we ever be happy with what God provides, or will we decide we need the wine equivalent of breast implants?

For Sommeliers
Som-mel-ier / noun / A hospitality professional with an exaggerated knowledge of wine, and the rare capacity to completely offend wine novices, amateurs and connoisseurs alike. See My Hero.

For Wine Blogs
That comforting and incessant barking of so many sorts of Poodles--Standard, Miniature, and Toy--in all their many colors--Black, David White and Blinky Gray. May we all continue to lift our legs in the vain desire to flagrantly, make that fragrantly, let people know we're here.

For Masters of Wine
Who bless us with their very presence among us, like the micro-organisms in our colons. We wouldn't know shit without them.

For Saccaromyces
One cell can change the world. Ask Al-Qaeda.

For Georg Riedel
Who took wine snobbery to a new level with an entirely innovative way to make wine drinkers feel inadequate using the tongue map as validation--"science" proven incorrect fifty years ago. I'm grateful that a Riedel wine glass at a wine tasting makes spotting the jackholes a lot easier--it's the pocket protector of wine dorks.

For Everyone Who Reads HoseMaster of Wine
God Bless You, Happy Thanksgiving, Get a Life.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Decorating My Thanksgiving Tree

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. There’s just nothing about it I don’t like. Decorating the festive Thanksgiving tree with human scalps, what a marvelous tradition! In our family, we used real ones collected from the special education class at the local Barber College. And, boy, was it hard making sure our dog Lung Oyster (I named him after our chain-smoking nanny, whose name was Spotty) didn’t eat most of them before we could get them on the tree! But I’m sure most families have the same problem.

My family was also very musical. My father was a banjo player, though his fingers were webbed, a genetic trait that pops up in our family every now and then due to a quick dalliance an ancestor once had with a platypus. “Lips are fine,” she said, “but a bill really enchants the little man in the boat.” Mother played raw kidney. I can still hear it slapping against her leg in time to one of our favorite Thanksgiving Carols, “Blessed be Those Who Shove Stuffing in Cavities.” Our family would go house to house on Thanksgiving Day playing our instruments and singing everyone’s favorite holiday songs. I was the least musical of our family, so I would carry Lung Oyster and play him like a bagpipe. The neighbors would gather on their porches, most of them wearing their traditional Thanksgiving crotchless bicycle pants, just like the Pilgrims wore, their blunderbusses dangling, to listen to our renditions of classic Thanksgiving Carols like “Grandma’s Stuffed Yams in Her Girdle Again,” “O Come All Ye Butterballs,” and “We All Know Sis Prefers the Dark Meat.”

It seems like Grandma would be preparing the Thanksgiving feast for the whole week before the big day. She’d usually spend an entire day just baking up her famous Thanksgiving specialty, cat pie. She made enough cat pies for dinner, and for everyone to take one home with them. I liked Siamese the best because after a slice I’d have less fur in my teeth. Sis liked Abyssinian. I still laugh when I think about how after every Thanksgiving meal she’d grab her favorite cat pie and say, “Abyssinia guys next year!” as she walked out the door. Grandma didn’t really enjoy making cat pies, but she respected all great American traditions. “The Pilgrims offered cat pies to the Indians,” she used to tell us, “so they’d teach the Pilgrims how to grow marijuana. That’s why the Pilgrims came to this country. For the dope, you know. Now light your old granny a splif while I whack the tail off this Persian.” If we were good, we got to hang the fresh cat tail on the Thanksgiving tree! If Lung Oyster didn’t eat it first.

Our family also believed in helping the less fortunate on Thanksgiving Day. Most of the morning we’d spend volunteering at the local homeless shelter, serving up big helpings of loose screws and lugnuts from Dad’s jars he kept in the garage. Sure, it was sacrifice, but the looks on the faces of those needy people were heartwarming. Every year I thought we’d run out of loose screws. But not in my family! We were never out of loose screws. After we were finished, when every last person in line had had his fill of lugnuts, Mom would always invite a few over to the house to join us in our Thanksgiving celebration. They always added so much color to our feast. We’d all laugh and give thanks as Lung Oyster grabbed their legs and wouldn’t let go. “Those screams,” Dad reminded us, “take us back to that first Thanksgiving, and the Indians decorating their Thanksgiving tree with Pilgrim scalps.” That always made us think about what it must have been like, that first Thanksgiving, how bloody and disgusting it was. Which we thought was cool. And at the end of the evening every one of the invited needy guests went back to his cardboard box where he slept with his own cat pie. I’m getting hungry just thinking about it. Sprinkle a little bit of tropical fish food on top of a warm piece of cat pie, and, man, that was mighty good eatin’!

During the meal, everyone had to talk about what his favorite food was on the table and how it related to Thanksgiving. Of course, all of us usually picked the same food and the same story every year, just like everyone probably does in your family. I always chose the creamed leeches to talk about. How the Pilgrims had come to this country to escape religious persecution and grow pot, but almost starved to death because they’d forgotten to pack eating utensils. But they were lucky, those Pilgrims, they’d come to America, the land of leeches. You could eat leeches, even as they were eating you. And you didn’t need a fork. So we eat creamed leeches on Thanksgiving to remind us of that miracle, and of what the Pilgrims’ descendants, now called Tea Party Republicans, believe. America is full of leeches. Eat them before they suck us dry. You know, no matter how many times I tell it, it still touches me.

So I’m sorry for writing just another boring Thanksgiving wine blog post. But, you know, we all just have to. Our readers want to know what wine to drink with the Thanksgiving feast, and I know that almost everyone in America now turns to wine blogs for their wine and food pairing needs. And it’s a good time to remind everyone to be grateful. For sulfites. For the blessing that is an alcoholic blackout. For 89 point wines, and not that crap with lower numbers. For drunken harvest interns and their genitalia. For genitalia. For the miracle that is the Internet, which replaces the voices in our own head with the voices of even sicker people, and for pennies a day. For back labels, the mattress tags of wine. For laughter, for joy, for armpit orgasms.

Every Thanksgiving, it’s my job to go down to the wine cellar and bring up a surprise to serve with our dinner. Most years, I bring up Grandma, wondrously taxidermied, more carefully stuffed than the bird on the table, usually a cassowary. And I bring up wine. Lots of it. What kind of wine goes best with Thanksgiving’s many bounties? The good stuff, the stuff you share with the people you love. You know what it is. Go get it.

Happy Thanksgiving! 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Blind Book Review--"Wine Grapes"

I don’t know where my review copy of Jancis Robinson’s new tome, “Wine Grapes,” was sent. I never got it. I wrote a brief email to the publisher, ECCO (How smart can they be when they publish books and their damn name is a typo? Is it ECHO or ECO? Morons.), asking politely what happened to it. “It’s 175 dollars! Maybe your name should be GECCO, like Gordon in the cheeseball Michael Douglas movie. I can’t afford to buy a copy, and now you’ve gone and shipped mine to some inarticulate, marginally literate blogger who will get all hot that he got my free copy, touch himself, and then the damn pretty pages with the naked grapes on them will be stuck together.” I didn’t hear back.

But, honestly, is there a point to actually reading a wine book before reviewing it? None that I can think of. You already know when you see the author’s name what it’s going to say. If it’s Robert Parker, it’s regurgitated tasting notes remolded to create something new. Basically, a new Parker book is the equivalent of Spam. Almost meaty, but not quite. Not a wine book, but a wine book byproduct. Matt Kramer? He’ll “make sense” of something you didn’t even know you were confused about. He’s the guy at the party everybody hates because he’s constantly correcting everyone about things that couldn’t be less important to the conversation. (You get the feeling from the way he writes that if you met him his voice would remind you of Stephen Hawking.) You don’t have to read their books to review them. It would only prejudice you. Reviewing books without having read them is the most objective way to review them. Just like wine reviewing is done blind. The more you know, the more your intelligence can guide you, and that’s not particularly desirable in wine reviewing. This is the same philosophy behind as well.

Television hosts never read the books of the authors they interview on the air either. Yes, they pretend to have read them, and they have interesting questions, but they have people who read the books for them. Yeah, Charlie Rose reads all those books. Yup, and “Survivior” isn’t scripted. Listen, if it ain’t on a teleprompter, those talking heads can’t read it.

I haven’t read Jancis Robinson’s (and two other no-names who probably did 90% of the work but won’t get squat out of it) new book, “Wine Grapes.” So you can count on the HoseMaster’s review to be objective and honest. Can you say that about any other wine blogger who received a free copy for review, one of which had my name on it and the bastard still kept it? Those bozos who proudly review any crap wine they get for free, and never say anything bad? OK, yeah, trust them.

“Wine Grapes” is the long-awaited book about the DNA of grapes. Yawn. If you read the entire book you may need a DNR from whomever has your medical power of attorney. The book is massive. It’s seven pounds. Seven pounds of DNA. Sounds like a party at Silvio Berlusconi’s house. Everything you ever wanted to know about how grape varieties are related is in this book. Turns out, most of the grape varieties are more closely related than you think, sort of like your hill people relatives.

The book is pornography for wine geeks. I know this, and I haven’t even read it. They’ll start to look at it, promise themselves they’ll only flip through it for another ten minutes, I swear to God, just another ten minutes, but they won’t be able to stop. It’s kinky wine grape smut that, honestly, should be enjoyed behind closed doors, and only by consenting adults. “Wine Grapes” has dozens of big, lurid, full-color reproductions of paintings of the reproductive organs of your favorite variety. Just hanging there making you wish you could pop them in your mouth. Bunches of them, plump and juicy, dripping with moisture, staring right back at you from the page like the strumpets they are. God, I want this book.

Robinson and the two other authors, who don’t matter and will almost never get mentioned in reviews, and why should they, have written entries about all 1,368 wine grapes currently grown to make wine. It’s amazing to think that there are 1,358 grapes nobody gives a crap about, but they’re all here. And you’ll learn some amazing things about them. If I’d read the book, I could probably give you some examples of amazing things. Like Grüner Veltliner is a natural cross between Riesling and some sort of snot. Harsh, I know. But, hey, don’t blame me. It’s DNA. DNA is like the Internet, it’s always true, and if your girlfriend checks its history, you’re so screwed.

I read somewhere, or else I made it up, doesn’t matter, that “Wine Grapes” took four years to write. At least someone accomplished something the past four years, not like Congress.

Not having read “Wine Grapes,” I reluctantly want to point out some of the book’s shortcomings. No blurbs. Come on, ECCO, the big wine book of the season needs blurbs! The big damn book is in a slipcover, which looks just lovely propping up the 1968 Fiat in my front yard, but, honestly, you need blurbs. Here’s a few:

Wine Grapes is just like what comes out of a wine press—a must!”—Randall Grahm

“Finally, a wine book that costs more than my Special Selection Cabernet!”—Caymus Vineyard

“I couldn’t put this book down. Because I couldn’t pick the damned thing up.”—Karen MacNeil

“I loved the recipes!”—Lettie Teague

Another shortcoming is the lack of a pronunciation guide. I’m fine with the grapes, but how the hell do you pronounce, “José Vouillamoz?” The closest I could get is “Chell-a-cheff.”

There’s no doubt in my mind after not reading “Wine Grapes” that it is a major accomplishment. In book binding, anyway.

Thursday, November 8, 2012



Chapter 9  Yeast the Size of Nerf Balls

It had been a while since I’d last lost consciousness. I’d forgotten how much I liked it. The way you wake up and your mouth feels like you could dry Moscato in it and make Passito di Pantellaria. And how you also Passito a little bit in your own Pantellarias.  I think the last time I’d lost consciousness was reading Lettie Teague. Which will teach me not to read the Wall Street Journal in the car. Damned air bags save your life, but they smell like James Suckling’s blow dryer. Funny how a nasty blow to the head makes your mind wander. I was wondering what wine went with head trauma and wanted to call Alice Feiring because I knew she’d know. Her work sounded like she had been trying to find out through trial and error. Maybe a nice red blend of Barbaresco and something from Croatia. A nice, big CroBar. That’s what I’d been hit with, I thought. And why does it take so long for wine to ferment? Wouldn’t you think it would just take three or four days? Maybe we need bigger yeast. Like the size of Nerf balls. Though it’s getting harder and harder to find Nerfs that will drop their pants. Whoa. Who hit me?

It took me a few minutes to gather my thoughts. One of them was way in the corner covered in dust. But I wasn’t surprised; I have a lot of dirty thoughts. Mallory was gone. The look in her eyes right before somebody did a punch down on my skull cap told me that she knew the person. It wasn’t just fear on her face, but also recognition. Like when you see Silver Oak on a wine list. My hunch was that whoever had cold-cocked me had also taken Mallory O’Lactic. Or had she gone along voluntarily?

I used my desk to help raise myself from the floor, and, there, right in the middle of my blotter, right next to my autographed picture of Veuve Clicquot (“HoseMaster, You put the Yellow in my Yellow Label. Love, Veuvie”), was Avril’s bracelet. Just to make sure it was Avril’s I checked for the inscription I had had engraved in it. It was there alright. “Avril—Happy Trails to You, Till We Meat Again.” Still made me tear up.

The bracelet left behind was clearly meant to deliver a message. I was getting the bracelet back, but not Avril. At least, that’s what they thought. Whoever they were.  

A shadow appeared beneath my office door. Someone was outside. After several minutes, there was a knock.

“Come in,” I quipped.

Biola Dynamic
She was a knockout. So I knew I was in trouble. Beautiful babes bring trouble like Santa brings gifts, and Pancho Campo brings cash. You think they’re going to be worth the trouble, but they never are. Like opening a wine with a waxed capsule. Sure, you can get in, but when you pull out it’s a big mess. But I had been having nothing but trouble since Chapter 1, so more wasn’t going to make much difference.

“How can I help you?” I was looking her up and down, reading her like a wine country map. I’d already figured out a few places where I wanted to stop and taste.

“Are you the HoseMaster?” Even her voice was sexy. She had a very slight lisp, so the “s” slipped out with just the slightest hiss, like uncorking a great Champagne, or when Tim Fish walks into a winery.

“I am. But I’ve just awakened from a blow to the head from my previous visitor, so you’ll have to excuse me if I seem a bit dazed. Who are you?”

“My name is Biola Dynamic.”

“So you’re a natural blonde.”

“Yeah. Look, HoseMaster, I don’t have a lot of time. There are some men after me, bad men, men who want to hurt me. I need your help.”

“I’m sorry Ms. Dynamic, I don’t have the time right now. I’ve got more problems than a one-armed sommelier with his corkscrew in the wrong pocket. You know I knew a one-armed sommelier once. Lefty Zraly, M.U. Bastards wouldn’t give him a W. Worked at Hemingway’s Bar and Grill. His nickname was Farewell to Arm. Better than the ugly waiter, For Whom the Bell Troll. But I digress. I’m pretty sure my girlfriend has been kidnapped, my last client was murdered, and I just got a free concussion. I wish I could help, but…”

“Did you say sommelier? That’s why I’m here, in Healdsburg, to study for my M.W. But everything’s gone wrong. Those people are evil, HoseMaster. If they think you’re going to pass their exams on the first try, they kill you! I know it sounds crazy, but it’s true. They’re the most powerful people in the wine business, and the power has driven them insane. And if you do pass the first level, somehow avoid being murdered beforehand, maybe because you’re a gorgeous blonde and they think you’re stupid, then they want you to kill for them. You have to help me. They want me to kill an M.W. candidate. And if I don’t, they’ll kill me. Please, HoseMaster, I’ll do anything.”

I didn’t like where this was going. But I knew that somehow it would lead to Avril Cadavril and Mallory O’Lactic and the stink at the center of an M.W. I didn’t see that I had a choice.

“OK, Biola, I’ll help. Tell me who they want you to kill. We have to warn him.”

“Mallory,” she said. “Mallory O’Lactic.”

Monday, November 5, 2012

What We're Reading

Compiled by the editors of HoseMaster of Wine 

WINE SPECTATOR: It’s the much-anticipated Top 100 Wines issue for 2012. And for the first time ever, all 100 wines are from the 2009 Bordeaux vintage. “Hey, the 2012’s will suck from there so, God knows, they could use the help,” writes the magazine’s publisher, Marvin Shanken. James Laube has a rebuttal post, which had to hurt going in, and he also spends his column offering up the 10 Best Things he put in his mouth this year. Write your own joke. Matt Kramer reflects on the meaning of being the smartest wine writer to ever live, and decides it’s his humility that sets him apart. That, and the array of solar panels installed above his eyebrows. And don’t miss Talia Baiocchi’s new blog post in which she realizes old, fat, rich white guys can, in fact, buy young white women and make them do what they want. Tim Fish wonders where fruit flies live.

THE FEIRING LINE: The premiere issue of Ms. Feiring’s independent newsletter, subtitled “The Real Wine Newsletter” (using “real” in the exact same sense as “Real Housewives of New Jersey”), specializes in “honest viticulture and minimal intervention wines.” As it turns out, “minimal intervention wines” are not what you drink while watching Kitty Genovese get murdered. Nope, Ms. Feiring explains, “minimal intervention wines are wines the winemaker manipulates as little as possible,” preferring, instead, to spend his time manipulating admiring, starry-eyed wine writers. No one knows what “honest viticulture” means.

WALL STREET JOURNAL: Lettie Teague has a fascinating column about South Africa and all the innovations in winemaking coming from that country. “California wineries could learn a valuable lesson from their South African counterparts and begin harvest in February,” she notes. “It’s also a lot easier to find seasonal help that time of year. And the lions aren’t as active.” Jay McInerney finds that tasting white wines makes him think of female breasts. “Is it just me, or does everyone think that California Chardonnays have humongous hooters? Whereas, say, a good German Riesling has those little girl perky tits that will age nicely and are just a touch sweet. Champagne has perfect breasts, though Dom’s are fake.” When it comes to red wine, McInerney writes, “I think of testicles. And, when it comes right down to it, most of us would rather have balls in our mouths.”

PALATE PRESS: Discerning readers have discovered that Palate Press isn’t just a place for industrial wines to be reviewed by simpletons. A quick visit yields an informative article on pruning shears, tracing them back to their roots in the bris ceremony. (Note to PP: don’t use “root” and “bris” in the same sentence.) There’s also an opinion piece by Meg Housonfirst Maker about Wine Spectator. “I don’t understand why they hired that Talia Be-ach and left me in this Godforsaken virtual hellhole.” She makes a good point. “Talia may be the voice of her generation, but I’m the snore.” W. Blinky Gray wonders why wines that are lower in alcohol aren’t cheaper than other wines, “We buy wine to get drunk, so less alcohol should be less expensive. It just makes sense. Wineries should get on the bandwagon and lower both.” Refreshing to read someone with years of experience who doesn’t actually seem like it.

WINE JULIA: Julia won Best New Wine Blog at this year’s Wine Blog Awards, and a visit shows why. There’s an in-depth report on Oregon’s 2012 Harvest, a spirited discussion of Oregon terroir, and fantastic tasting notes on hundreds of Oregon new releases. OK, no there’s not. There’s notes about free wines she received, free junkets she participated in, and free tastings she got invited to. So, yeah, they got it right, she’s a wine blogger.

WINE ENTHUSIAST: Don’t miss Wine Enthusiast’s 2012 lists of Top 100 Cellar Selections, Top 50 Spirits, Top 25 Beers, Top 10 Cheapass Moscatos, Top 7 Cocktails for Pukeathons, Top 5 Sommeliers with Harelips, and Top 3 Wine Magazines with Inflated Scores. Steve Heimoff pays a visit to the Sta. Rita Hills appellation only to discover, to his dismay, that Sta. Rita isn’t short for Strawberry Margarita. Paul Gregutt walks in the footsteps of Lewis and Clark and finds that even then tasting room employees were surly. “They even carded Sacajawea.” Roger Voss on the back roads of the Languedoc, “Look at all the trees…!”

ON THE WINE TRAIL IN ITALY: Alfonso Cevola with a haunting piece about how much in common Texas and Italy have. “My native Italy, land of my ancestors, the womb I gwew up in, is, after all, shaped like the iconic footwear of my adopted home Texas—a boot. As I worship my beloved Italy, am I not just another Texas bootlicker?” Alfonso makes an interesting observation about the two cuisines as well. “Where Italy has garlic, Texas has iced tea.” As usual, Alfonso leaves you wondering if there’s a plate in his head that sets off airport security alarms On the Wine Trail in Italy.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

The World of Jenna Talia

"I kid you not, I love Jenna Talia."’s Jenna Talia Baioppsi brings her hyperfresh questions to some of the country’s leading sommeliers. Be prepared for her incisive, cutting-edge, computer-generated ideas, and the fascinating answers they elicit. We’re lucky when we’re exposed to hyperfresh Jenna Talia. She’s the voice of Millennials, the ventriloquist to those dummies.

Rog Subparr

I have a really interesting question for you, Rog. What do you think will be the next trend in wine? I thought of that question myself. I can’t stop thinking about you.

I haven’t quite decided what I’m going to make the next trend in wine, Jenna Talia. Orange wines are already so yesterday. You can tell, even Steve Heimoff knows what they are now. However, orange wines were a fabulous trend. Average wine consumers hated them! This is the very definition of a successful wine trend. I hated them too, but, as a famous sommelier, I felt the obligation of my calling—educating people what to like while ignoring what they have to say. It’s so rewarding to recommend a wine using the influence of the sommelier position and then watch the person struggle to understand why the hell you’d drink a wine that smelled like the underside of man boobs.

But to answer your brilliant and probing question, Jenna Talia, the next trend is going to be adding your own alcohol to wine. My colleague over at San Francisco’s hottest new wine bar Dick is already doing it. It’s simple, really. You convince a few winemakers to have a few cases of their wines de-alked. You offer those de-alked wines by-the-glass—Dick has wines from wineries like Kosta Browne, Littorai and Siduri, as well as three de-alked Jura wines—and then, on the side, you give the customer his own glass of alcohol to add. It’s cool. One person in the party likes really low-alcohol wines, so he just adds a splash. Another wants 16.5 ABV and adds a huge dose. It’s very democratic. Sure, wineries always preach to drink what you like, but then they dictate the alcohol level. And you’d be surprised what you learn. Like when you taste the Jura wines without alcohol they taste surprisingly like Super Balls.

Again, this will be the hot new trend, and your average wine lover will hate it and generally ignore it. I’m the master of that.

I like how you give really long answers to my questions that I made up without anyone else’s help. I could listen to you talk all night. You have the cutest lips. What wine region has you really excited right now?

Well, Jenna Talia, I love off-wines from interesting regions. Wines that even the locals don’t really want to drink. I’m compiling a long list of German red wines for my new restaurant client Mein Kampfo Fina—it’s an Italian-influenced German restaurant. I love their steamed mussels with pasta dish, the Musselini. I pair it with another one of the wines I’m excited about lately, white wine from Uruguay. It’s a white made from a relative of their black grape. It’s called Tannat King Cole.  I’m telling you, Uruguay will be the next big thing in wines from places you’d never visit, replacing Lodi.

Oh, there is just so much obscure wine in the world, it seems foolish to spend any time at all on the boring old great wines. Who wants to spend a lifetime tasting Bordeaux and Barolo and Rioja? It’s like only having sex with three beautiful women when there are all these needy homely women out there. And, you see, it’s what we do when we become wine experts. We put down the classics and celebrate the plonk. Who needs Alsace when you can get wine from the Canary Islands for a song. Get it? Canary Island? Song? Never mind. And the upside for us wine experts, whether we own a wine shop or run a wine list, is that no one knows the difference between crappy wine from Irouleguy and great wine from Irouleguy! Is there a difference? There is if I tell you there is.

Of course, I’m also making my own wines under the Subparr Cellars label. You know when you taste a wine made by a famous sommelier, it’s going to be Subparr. I have a Subparr Assyrtiko/Vignoles blend called “Assgnoles.” It’s on the list at Dick, the Dick List. I’m often featured on the Dick List. And I’m about to release a Subparr Red from Cabernet Pfeffer—the “p” is silent, like in swimming pool.

I really like how you talk down to me. I feel it’s only appropriate. Do you like my questions? I wrote them for you. Here’s another one. What’s the biggest change in the wine scene you’ve noticed since you became the most famous sommelier in the world?

That’s a very good question, Jenna Talia. I love that you’re smart, and not just a face. What’s changed is how many more people want to be sommeliers. There used to be hardly any, now they’re like cockroaches.  “Hello, I’m Gregor Samsa and I’ll be your sommelier this evening. Oh, crap, who turned the lights on? Gotta go.” Sommelier isn’t a job, really, it’s a title. Like Prince, or Ambassador, or President. You’re not an average person any more, you’re a title. And carrying that title obligates you to certain things. Mention it at every opportunity. Never admit you like Zinfandel. Never, never win a Wine Spectator Award for your wine list unless you work in some hillbilly state. And always come off as pompous in interviews.

Promise me that you’ll always remember our time together.

I promise, Lettie.