I’m writing to invite you to join the National Rifle Association Wine Club. Because, really, what goes better with loaded weapons than drinking? Wines in the NRA Wine Club have been chosen especially for our members by leading wine authorities who don’t just like high caliber automatic weapons, they like high caliber wines as well! Each month you’ll receive six bottles of the finest wines the world has to offer at amazing low prices. Our prices are so low, you might think we’d threatened the wineries to get them. Prove it.
For new NRA Wine Club Members, there is a limited time offer we think you’ll be unable to resist. Six amazing bottles of fine wine whose retail price is normally $180 retail for only $69! That’s six bottles of liquid courage for just a bit more than $11 per bottle. And look what you’ll get!
From My Cold Dead Hanzell2010 Chardonnay—A special bottling from one of California’s premiere Chardonnay producers, with a likeness of Charlton Heston on the label. Don’t drink too much or you’ll Ben-Hurl.
Newtown2009 Unfiltered Chardonnay—One of the great California wineries sold us the last few cases of their legendary 2009 vintage Chardonnay, with a portion of the proceeds going to fund a new school project in Connecticut, the Kindergarten Firing Range, where toddlers learn how to be comfortable firing guns in close quarters. Is it naptime, or was there a stranger in here? An armed child is a safe child.
Chateau du Gabby Giffords2009 Canon Fronsac—Robert Parker called 2009 “the greatest Bordeaux vintage of my lifetime…worth holding up a bank to obtain.” We couldn’t agree more. The 2009 Chateau du Gabby Giffords features the former U.S. Congresswoman's photograph on the label, a lovely head shot. That may be a poor choice of words.
Kosta Freedom2010 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley—A few deaths here and there, and what is that, gun lovers? Yes, it’s the Kosta Freedom. Another gun massacre got you down? Open this silky, smooth Pinot Noir and let it wash away your better instincts.
Gunlock Badshow2009 Zinfandel Sonoma—Background checks at gun shows are like checking ID’s at liquor stores—totally unnecessary, and bad for the small businessman. Here’s an old vines Zin that everyone can enjoy—from the mentally ill to your high school freshman. It’s killer Zin.
Sonoma-Cutrer 2010 Chardonnay “La Pierre Vineyard”—Named for our beloved CEO Wayne La Pierre because it’s white, it’s powerful, and when you’re done, you’re loaded. Bottled under screw, slightly loose.
How can you resist this introductory offer? Six great bottles of wine for a fraction of their value if you join the NRA Wine Club today. This is a six-month trial offer, and if you’re not fully satisfied with each month’s selections, just give us a call, see if we give a rat’s ass. Yes, that’s right. We just don’t care! It’s the NRA attitude; it’s why you’re a proud member.
And there are more benefits of being a member of the NRA Wine Club! Here are just a few:
• Recommendations of gun-friendly winery tasting rooms. Show up with a weapon, and taste for free!
• An automatic vote in the annual NRA Award balloting, the award given to the outstanding member of society who has done the most to promote guns in society, the Bullet Surprise. Previous winners of the Bullet Surprise include Mark David Chapman, John Hinckley, and Junior Seau.
• An NRA Wine Club Membership Card good for discounts at gun shows, 7-11’s, and MW exams. (Bullets with MW names on them require an additional charge.)
• Free subscription to the NRA monthly wine magazine, DUCK!!!
• Your personalized Second Amendment corkscrew—just twist it to suit your purposes.
Won’t you act now? Whether you’re a proud gun owner for sport, or hunting, or even if you’re just contemplating suicide, these six bottles of wine are guaranteed to enhance your life, no matter how much longer you put off ending it.
At the NRA, we believe that the two things most precious and valuable to the American way of life are shooting stuff and getting shitfaced. And that those two pursuits go together like the other great American rights—unprotected sex and getting shitfaced, driving without a seat belt and getting shitfaced, and carrying a loaded weapon and getting shitfaced.
Stand up for your rights! Join the NRA Wine Club today!
It’s bound to stir up some controversy, and the results will be fiercely contested, but I’m rather pleased with the new Wine Writer Classification of 2013. Now wine consumers have a guide to the voices in the wine writing world that have meaning, and those that are basically bus stop ads. It has taken several years for the classification to become final, and a lot of bickering and insider politicking went on behind the scenes, but I think the committee, overall, did a wonderful job. From the First Growths down to the Fifths, wine writers have been assigned their level, and the wine buying public is better off for knowing it. It’s a nice bit of irony that the men and women who have made their living assigning imaginary values to wine now find themselves in a similar situation. A wine might be forever branded an “89,” but now, at least, the critic finds himself forever a Fifth Growth Writer. Admit it, it just feels right.
You may notice a few wine writers who were omitted. Perhaps because they lack any significant influence. Or perhaps because they’re just unpleasant people, pushy and demanding to a degree directly inverse to their actual clout. The committee was overwhelmed with pleas from wineries and winemakers to add a sixth level, Cancerous Growth, but this became unworkable when every single wine writer’s name was nominated.
The committee, whose work was done in anonymity for their own safety after repeated threats from Natalie MacLean to “cut their balls off and feed them to Guy Fieri in a nice tomato sauce with a whisper of oregano” if she wasn’t at least a Second Growth Wine Writer, spent long hours assessing the scope and influence of the greatest living wine writers. When they finished with those two, they slapped together the rest. In the time it took for the final classification to be decided, a few of the writers had died. Death does increase popularity, of course, and the committee urged wine writers unhappy with their ranking to strongly consider it.
You may disagree with the Wine Writer Classification of 2013, but it is done. The classification will be revisited in ten years, at which time the committee hopes the writers will have finally found gainful employment in a field at which they actually excel. At that time they will also establish a Veterans Committee to acknowledge wine writers they may have overlooked, or, like Oz Clarke, they were unable to translate into English.
Wine writing is important to the popularity of wine. The committee expressed its sincere wish that it might, one day, also be important to its enjoyment. Wine writing has its roots in man’s love for wine, and his inability to shut up about it. The Wine Writer Classification of 2013 celebrates those who educate and enlighten us at the expense of entertaining us.
Each category, or Growth, represents a different level of influence, talent and longevity. A First Growth wine writer is one whose every word can move wine markets, cause buying frenzies, or ruin family businesses forever. Think Bernie Madoff, just hasn’t been caught yet.
A Second Growth wine writer will have valuable name recognition and a discerning palate, like Monica Lewinsky. Not as influential as a First Growth, this causes a distinctive bitterness to the tone of their work.
A Third Growth wine writer is particularly knowledgeable but has the communication skills of Koko the talking gorilla. They often simply point at kitties.
A Fourth Growth wine writer hasn’t had an original idea since he pulled the chair out from under Harry Waugh at a Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin meeting and said, “Ever mistake the floor for a chair, Harry?” Irrepressible Harry dutifully replied, “Not since lunch, asshole.”
A Fifth Growth wine writer is utterly convinced he is a First Growth because his blog gets over four hundred hits a week, and two wineries sent him free wine that had been refused by their wine club members and was sitting in a UPS warehouse for three months. Wine writers who also play in bands are automatically Fifth Growth because almost everyone hates them.
Here then is the Wine Writer Classification of 2013, the undisputed list of who’s who in the wine writing world. Next update: 2023
Welcome to the 2013 Lodi Professional Wine Writers’ Symposium. We hope you’ll enjoy your stay at the Lodi Bed or Breakfast Suites—you choose! Sorry, no free WiFi, but there is an Etch-a-Sketch in every room.
Our Symposium is dedicated to providing three days of nonstop immersion in the worlds of wine and wine writing. You bring us your dreams, your ideas, your talents, and we do you the favor of crushing them like hundred-dollar-a-ton Zinfandel—quickly and carelessly. We’ve invited some of the most famous names in professional wine writing, all of whom were busy. Instead, we have a lineup of second and third tier writers who you may have heard of if you carefully read the magazines left in your Bed or Breakfast suite. Many have been published in some of our most prestigious wine magazines, but more likely Wine and Spirits, Mutineer and Juggs. They may not be the cream of the current wine writing crop, but they’re certainly the Reddi-Whip.
There are many exciting seminars, workshops, tastings and road trips for you to participate in. Look over the lists carefully and make your decisions. We guarantee that by the end of the 2013 Lodi Professional Wine Writers’ Symposium you’ll have a much clearer vision of your lack of talent.
Tuesday The Great Wineries of Lodi
To be honest, we came up with the name of the road trip before we really thought about it. We had to visit all 80 Lodi wineries. So Tuesday is a free day!
Wednesday You Know, There are Some Damn Nice Wines in Lodi
Join Tim Fish, Mister of Wine (it’s Master of Wine Lite) as he takes you to his favorite Lodi wineries. Learn how to tell the difference between Lodi Zinfandel and Hershey’s syrup, not that easy since both come in squeeze bottles. (Hint: the syrup flows faster.) And, as a bonus, Tim will demonstrate how to taste with a helmet on.
Thursday Lodi Cult Wine Producers
Again, we just brainstormed ideas and this came up. We probably should have done some research first. We meant to, but we were busy. We had all these applications to read from wannabe wine writers. Jesus, they’re just awful. So Thursday is a free day!
WORKSHOPS AND SEMINARS
Tuesday “Writing Effective Wine Reviews”
Ever wonder how today’s finest wine critics write such fascinating descriptions? We do too! So we’ll have a few other critics taking some pretty good guesses. A few of them actually know those famous wine critics! Join moderator Jay Miller, disgraced former critic for The Wine Advocate, Natalie MacLean, Canada’s Distinguished Wine Scholar and James Beard Award Winner for Cut and Paste, and Gary Vaynerchuk, in a rare appearance, but we promised he could wear a Nat Fright Wig, as they discuss how to make your wine reviews memorable. Special emphasis will be placed on meaningless words that can be placed in reviews when you have no idea what you’re smelling and tasting—Asian spices, brambly, unctuous and terroir among them.
Wednesday “Make Shit Up”
Want to get published in today’s best wine journals, like Saveur, Food and Wine, and Juggs? You need to have an unusual angle, you need to tell the editor something he doesn’t know, you need to do what every successful wine writer and blogger does these days—Make Shit Up. Yes, plagiarism is easier, though you didn’t hear that here first. But making shit up is the future of wine writing. It’s called blogging.
Thursday “No One Cares if You Have Talent”
A fascinating seminar on how you don’t need talent to be a wine writer, you just need to be pious. Not about wine, but about wine writing. Irreverence and wit are the enemy of wine writing, and our esteemed panelists will prove they have little of either. Join Mother Superior Alice Feiring, Jamie Goode, Greatest Living Wine Blogger Other Than Alder Yarrow, and Alder Yarrow, Greatest Living Wine Blogger Other Than Alder Yarrow, in a spirited, if lifeless, discussion of the power of piety and self-absorption. Remember, it’s not journalism, it’s wine writing. Only say nice things. You catch more flies with honey than with Authentic Wine. TASTINGS
Tuesday “Blind Tasting the Way the Pros Do It”
There are many ways of tasting blind, and we’ll explore them all at this tasting. Taste wines “double blind,” “single blind,” and then the way professional wine critics usually taste, “kinda blind.” It’s what they call “Ray and Roy.” People think you’re tasting blind like Ray Charles, but you’re actually pretending to be blind like Roy Orbison.
Wednesday “Kinda Blind Tasting of Varieties”
Practice identifying many different varieties of grapes using your new kinda blind technique. Once you know it’s Cabernet Franc, you’ll be amazed at how quickly you can identify it kinda blind! Once you’re an expert, you can do like all the pros do and refuse to try and replicate your results. And why not refuse?! They’re bogus in the first place.
Thursday “Stuff That Was Donated Tasting”
Local wineries want to get their wines in front of the future wine writers of America, but they’ve settled for you.
Thank you for participating in the 2013 Lodi Professional Wine Writers’ Symposium. Somebody’s making money in the wine writing profession thanks to hopeless folks like you!
I thought I’d break from my usual practice and actually read Paul Lukacs’ new book Inventing Wine before I reviewed it. Well, not read it very thoroughly and over a long period of time. What sense does that make? I planned to spend about five minutes skimming it, digesting it, and then I’d review it. This is how wine is reviewed, after all. Smell it, take a taste, spit it out, review it. I like to review wine books the same way, only you don’t need to smell them. One can assume they smell. Reviewing wine books in this manner certainly makes as much sense as reviewing wines that way, and has equal worth. But, somehow, once again, the HoseMaster’s review copy was lost in the mail. By the way, you can tell a review copy because it’s stamped along the edge, “Review Copy, Not for Resale.” I buy them all the time from yard sales at wine bloggers’ houses. This is called “monetizing your blog.” Of course, you don’t know for sure they’re a wine blogger until you actually go into the house and run into their parents.
The subtitle of Inventing Wine is “A New History of One of the World’s Most Ancient Pleasures.” Wine has been around about 8000 years. I wonder what the other world’s most ancient pleasures are. My first thought is lap dancing, which historians tell us goes all the way back to the discovery of the lap. Few people know that the Aztecs used lap dancing the same way we now use a mortar and pestle. Makes my pestle happy just thinking about it. Then there’s eating meat; I’m guessing that goes back at least 8000 years. I’ve had jerky at least that old. So wine, the title implies, is at least as pleasurable as lap dances and meat. Of course, wine is not as ancient a pleasure as the ones that go back to man’s discovery of fire—lighting farts comes to mind.
Also, for how long is this a “New History?” When it’s stacked up on remainder tables at Barnes and Noble, is it still a “New History?” Can’t it just be a history? New history is, by definition, history about ten minutes later. And what about “World’s Most Ancient Pleasures?” Shouldn’t it be “Man’s Most Ancient Pleasures?” The world’s most ancient pleasure would be, oh, I don’t know, gravity? Maybe rotating on its axis for several billion years. Try getting the world to do that if wine were one of its ancient pleasures. It would spin around a few times and fall right on its axis. So I didn’t read the book, but I sure as hell read the subtitle closely.
Wine, as we know it today, is certainly a modern invention, much different than it would have been even two hundred years ago, like the Internet. The wines everyone raved about in the 19th Century were the equivalent of dialup—mostly faulty, and left a bad taste in your mouth. The wines we obsess about today, the wines we endlessly compare and rate, the wines we try to pair with our genetically engineered foods, are the result of 20th Century technology and would be unrecognizable to a wine connoisseur from the 1860’s. To him, they’d taste like Chicken McNuggets taste to a coyote.
I haven’t read Inventing Wine, so I hope it doesn’t turn out to be about spinning cones, reverse osmosis and Vinturis (it always seems to me that using an aerator before drinking a wine is like using a vibrator before sex—sure, you’ve opened it up and released the bouquet, but what’s the fucking hurry?). From the brilliantly written subtitle, I’m assuming Lukacs examines how wine has evolved over the last 8000 years. And I think there’s a fantastic book in there somewhere. Judging from the blurbs on the back cover of Inventing Wine, scripted by some of the biggest names in wine, most of whom haven’t read it either, as is the custom with blurb writing in publishing, this is that book! Is there higher praise?
For hundreds, if not thousands, of years, wine was seen as a gift from God, like children, or Sofia Vergara. There were times when wine was a substitute for potable water, a tradition carried on today with Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio, which is indistinguishable from it. But those were wines that would be unidentifiable to modern man as wine. They would have been bacterial broths, spoiled, foul, and vinegary, like the Soup of the Day at Chili’s. The chemistry of wine was little understood until the time of Louis Pasteur, who proved once and for all that living organisms spoiled wine, thus foreseeing the rise of the wine critics and sommeliers who’ve spoiled it for everyone.
And who are the people responsible for Inventing Wine? Jeez, I hope Lukacs talks about them. Why else write a book called Inventing Wine? You couldn’t write a book called Inventing Fried Chicken and not talk about Colonel Sanders or Popeye. So I liked the section of the book, had I read it, where Lukacs talks about the Cistercian monks, who were the first to recognize that wine reflected the place where it was grown. So not only can we blame the church for its subjugation of women, serial child molestation and homophobia, we can add terroir to the list. Bastards. Leave it to the church to take the fun out of everything it touches. And then there’s Dom Perignon, the Abner Doubleday of Champagne, yet another mucking funk. Pierre Perignon didn’t invent Champagne, he wasn’t blind, and he didn’t say, “I’m tasting stars.” That was Louis B. Mayer on the casting couch. Dom Perignon may have been responsible for figuring out the closure for a bottle of Champagne. I’m sure you’ve all heard of the monk seal. To this day, the most overrated monk of all time is commemorated by the most overrated Champagne of all time.
Oh, I’ve left out so much of what’s in the book, I think, I’ll find out if I ever read it. Man has a long history with wine, but for much of that history wine sucked. Man crushed a bunch of grapes, left the juice to ferment however it wished to ferment, incapable of controlling the temperature, or what bacteria or yeast was doing the fermentation, content to just let it finish, slap it into a holding vessel, hope it didn’t spoil too quickly, and then drink it to forget his worries and find some kind of joy in his altered state of consciousness. So, Natural Wine. Sure, they sucked, but Alice Feiring would have loved them. She had the bad luck to be born two hundred years too late.
I just don’t have the time to answer all the questions I get as HoseMaster of Wine™. It seems people are fascinated with how I go about my job. Nearly every day an admiring wine business fan writes to invite me to explore the possibility of using myself as the receptacle for my own DNA. Many others kindly remind me that as long as I have my head in that place, I might as well look around for polyps and save myself the colonoscopy. Others wish that I were already enjoying a lovely afterlife, while others seem to want to sexually satisfy the horse I rode in on. I wish that I had the time to answer each thoughtful note individually, but, as loyal readers know, I’m incredibly busy practicing coprophagy, though on freshly baked bread, and with a nice glass of Lemberger. So, to save time, and perhaps answer everyone else’s questions in advance, I thought I’d respond here to the questions I am most frequently asked. I am constantly surprised at their insight and eloquence.
I read your blog twice a week, and can’t seem to stop. You have so many opinions about wine and the wine business that I don’t see anywhere else. Here’s what I’d like to know, Why don’t you just fuck off and die?
You know, that’s an interesting philosophical question, and one that has been posed to me often, most recently by everyone who makes Prosecco. (I do love Prosecco’s motto—“Prosecco: For when you need a reason to quit drinking.”) There’s really no simple answer to the question. I suppose that I could fuck off and die; after all, it’s a lovely wine business tradition. Look at Jay Miller, Natalie MacLean, James Suckling, and all the former wine bloggers buried at the National Bloggers Cemetery, known colloquially as Forest Yawn. Look at all the sad boys over at the chat room Wineberserkers, who were not asked, but told, to fuck off and die by Robert Parker. Not to mention that fucking off and dying is the basic wine writer’s retirement package--being a valued employee is so rewarding! So it’s an option for me, but then who would fill my role? There is much left to do for the HoseMaster. So much hypocrisy, so much pretentiousness, so much pompous and boorish behavior yet to lampoon. And that’s just me.
How do you think of that shit?
This may be the question I have been asked the most often my entire life. I have no idea. I always wonder how you don’t think of this crap. Much of what I do writes itself, which explains why it reads that way. How hard is it to make fun of wine bloggers? It’s like shooting Tim Fish in a French oak barrel. Alice Feiring is self-parody, stubbornly defending her philosophy in the manner of Rudolf Steiner, who is to science and humility what Stephen Hawking is to tap dancing and playing the bagpipes. McInerney is Satan, tempting the hapless to taste the fruit from his Tree of Imaginary Knowledge and be condemned to wine hell. How hard is he to make fun of? I don’t remember a day in my career in the wine biz that I wasn’t astounded at the foolishness of it all. Not wine itself, which is beautiful and mysterious, like love, the star-filled heavens and Sea Monkeys®, but our ways of speaking about it, of rating it, of finding ways to make wine incomprehensible and complicated when it’s the simplest joy in our lives, aside from doing the Boner Limbo. Simply, I don’t know how to stop thinking of this shit. That fucking off and dying thing is starting to look a lot better.
Who told you you’re funny, douchebag?
So kind of you to imagine people tell me I’m funny. I do fantasize that certain people tell me I’m funny, but they’re only fantasies. Like I imagine one day at a large industry tasting Alderpated Yarrow will walk up to me after tasting 350 wines and say, “Aren’t youuu za-uh, uh, the Holesmattzer, um, Whoresmapper, fuck, I’m drunk, Hooozemaster of Wine? Oh, crap, I wet myself.” That would be a dream come true. Or just once I’d like to get a fan letter from another of my heroes, the hilarious Karen MacNeil. She wrote the Bible! The damned Wine Bible! You know how crazy people think every word in the Holy Bible is the truth? There are cretins that think the same thing about the Wine Bible! I know, I know, who’s written a better spoof than the Wine Bible? She’s the funniest redhead since Lucy, or the guy at the Batman movie. Now if she told me I’m funny, wow, wouldn’t that be an honor! And, really, if I were funny, wouldn’t I be getting paid for this horse manure?
Where’s your “like” button, asshole?
I like people, really I do. I like a lot of people. It’s people I can’t stand. When I was growing up my mother always used to say to me, just like your mother probably said to you, “If you can’t say something nice, just lie like all the other asshole men.” I often write posts about the things I love, but then I delete them because I sound like a weenie. And there are way too many weenies writing wine blogs. Don’t you find yourself reading endless blog posts and at the end of them saying to yourself, “Jesus, that idiot’s a huge weenie.”? Like Tom Wark is going on and on about some insight he had about how much wine and urinal cakes have in common and at the end you say, “Man, what a weenie.” Or Alfonso Cevola writes some nostalgic post about the good old days when he and his Mafioso friends used to kill sommeliers and make their tongues into bowties, and at the end you want to say…OK, not a good example. But, come on, the only bigger collection of weenies than Palate Press is at Oscar Mayer’s house. You read their posts and you want to stick a little toothpick in them and serve them on Super Bowl Sunday. Wait, am I answering the question?
Hello I am a Very Successful Wine Righter with Big Magazine that is Famous and Obeyed. I am in Need of Some Money to Get Back Home from Singapore Where I am Being Held by Pirates in Pantyhose. If you immediately send me 15 Million Dollars You Will Become Next Famous Righter of Wines. Can you send the Money soon?
Check’s in the mail, big boy. Check’s in the mail.
PALATE PRESS: The crack investigative team that brought Natalie MacLean to her well-worn knees does it again with Meg Houston Maker’s expose of Jenna Talia Baioppsi. According to Ms. Meg “Meetyour” Maker, Jenna Talia borrowed her World of Fine Wine™ muumuu without proper attribution, or undergarments. “It’s one thing,” writes Meg “Widow” Maker, “to borrow my property whole cloth under the Fair Use clause, but it’s another thing to claim it’s yours and that Jon Bonné lives underneath it and takes care of the bushes.” Jenna Talia responds, “I have no fucking idea what Meg is talking about. I’d sue her, but I feel sorry for her, she lives in a trailer behind Marvin Shanken, where there’s plenty of shade.” In another investigative report (oh, the gang at Palate Press is fired up—there hasn’t been this quality of investigative journalism since Geraldo opened Al Capone’s safe), Blinky Gray shines a light on the shameful Fantasy Wine Leagues where players draft undocumented migrant workers to their teams, track what vineyards they harvest, and win points by how the resulting wines are rated. “It’s despicable what these leagues are doing. It’s degrading to an uneducated, often illiterate, wildly exploited minority—so it’s basically like college football.”
JAMIE GOODE: The wine world’s Hobbit, Jamie Goode writes glowingly about Authentic Wines. “Here in the Shire, we like our daily tipple, but we insist it be authentic, and not from the Land of Mordor, which is what I call Yellow Tail. When Bilbo and Frodo and I hold a blind tasting, we can always tell the one that’s the most manipulated—it’s that frigging Bilbo stroking himself dreaming about Elves! We’re going to all chip in and get him sex with an Elvish impersonator.” It’s lovely to visit the mythical land of Authentic Wine with our diminutive host. In the wine world’s epic fight of Goode versus Evil, it’s nice to be rooting for Evil.
DECANTER: Hugh Johnson brings his insight to what the wine world can expect now that Robert Parker has surrendered editorial control of The Wine Advocate. “He’ll probably take up gardening and rate pansies,” writes Johnson. “I don’t think anything will really change very much. The people of the world will go on buying oceans of crap like they always have. Parker didn’t change that. He just got famous selling high end crap to score sheep, of which there are too flocking many. Now I like to think of him in retirement spreading manure around pansies instead.” That Hugh is wine’s poet. Elsewhere in the magazine, there’s a comparative tasting of English sparkling wines and Champagne that concludes, “Is there nothing we can’t beat the bloody Frogs at?” Oh, I don’t know, dentistry comes to mind.
WINE SPECTATOR: James Laube goes in search of “Great California Sangiovese.” Should be back in a year or so. Natalie MacLean joins the reviewing team and contributes her thoughts on writing tasting notes. “Once you get the hang of it, that cut and paste thing gets easy. I can do it with my drunky-ass goggles on. Copying from your neighbor, hell, it’s how Parker got through law school, and everybody loves him. Look for my reviews of the new 2010 Cabernets, which I think Tanzer is just about done writing.” And we answer the question on everyone’s mind, “What’s a Molesworth?” As it turns out, it depends on how smartly he invested. Tim Fish wonders how old Century Vines are.
WALL STREET JOURNAL: Jay McInerney attends a vertical tasting of Quinta do Noval’s “Nacional” in a post entitled “Tongs for the Memories.” “The grapes for ‘Nacional’ come from a part of the Noval vineyard where the vines are ungrafted, yet have never been touched by phylloxera. That plot is to vineyards what Charlie Sheen is to STD’s.” McInerney prefers the ’96 to the ’94 because, “I couldn’t tell the difference, but ’96 was the year I nailed Princess Margaret.” Lettie Teague reviews the latest wine fridge magnets.
WINE ENTHUSIAST: An issue devoted to the wines of South America, the cover story. “Tannat Decants,” is about the thrilling wines of Uruguay and how most of the grapes are harvested by migratory capybaras. “They’re plucky little rodents,” one winemaker declares, “and their teeth can actually stand up to Tannat, unlike humans.” A riveting article about Argentina exposes wineries that sell underperforming Malbec to local cowboys entitled, “Gaucho Marks.” And Roger Voss writes about Chilean wines, “How come when I write that Chile extends the length of South America, I get ads from Google for penis extensions?” Finally, a tasting of all the great wines of Brazil that takes three minutes, but afterward you look better without the curly hair at the edge of your bathing suit.
ROBERT PARKER ONLINE: Robert Parker unloads on his critics who say he’s been too liberal awarding 100 point scores. “You know how Presidents start handing out pardons to convicted criminals on their last days in office like a huckster handing out massage parlor brochures on the street in Las Vegas? It’s like that. I’m in my last days in office before the whole joint starts to turn an ugly shade of Lisa Perrotti-Brown, so I'm handing out 100's like a Singapore sex tourist. When that floor mannequin Laube decides to quit, he can hand out all the 100 point scores to Napa Valley prune juice he wants. The old moneyed farts who buy it need it to make them more regular anyway.” Don’t piss off The Lion in Winter.
Wow, this is a short piece, you're saying. Yeah, it is. But it's packed with wit. OK, not really.
On the first Monday of every month, from now until he gets either sick of me or sued, I'll be publishing my usual foolishness on Tim Atkin, MW's blog. So go there and read it. Really, this is cool! My post there today consists of more excerpts from the The Secret Official Sommelier Manual. Tim recruited me last month, even before I became the first wine blogger to become Parkerized, which undoubtedly means there will soon be hundreds of HoseMaster lookalikes, created using micro-oxygenation and spinning cones, and I'm thrilled to be part of his site. And I get some loot for writing this crap. So today's post is here. Tell Tim I said Hello.
And if you want to comment here, gang, I'm all for it! Or comment over at Tim's place. Or both.
Fox Farm Wines I’m Using As An Excuse to Talk About Me
Fox Farm Vineyards 2010 Pinot Noir Williamette Valley $28
Fox Farm Vineyards 2010 Pinot Noir Ana Vineyard Dundee Hills $42
Fox Farm Vineyards 2010 Pinot Noir Madrona Hill Vineyard Chehalem Mountains $32
I don’t remember what year I attended Oregon Pinot Camp, but it was after 2001 because I remember going through airport security. The line took forever, but, in hindsight, I know now not to get in line behind Edward Scissorhands. Or Mary Switchbladetits. I had never been to Oregon’s wine country, and I was pretty excited to go. I boarded a plane in Burbank, Bob Hope International Airport (“But I want to tell ya…I don’t mind having a full body scan at airport security. When the officer asked if I had anything to declare I said, ‘Yeah, can you make my nuts look bigger?.’ I’m not saying the airline I was flying had trouble being on-time, but the stewardess was Amelia Earhart. Gorgeous girl, I didn’t mind her going down in a plane.”), and landed a couple of hours later in Portland.
I had a blast at Oregon Pinot Camp. Those junkets are ostensibly about the wines, but, in reality, they’re about being drunk all day away from home, and, to a lesser degree, networking. It was at OPC that I first met Dini Rao, now one of the head honchos at Lot18 (which is, sadly, always preceded by the words “troubled startup,” which reminds me of my rental car at OPC). We bus-bonded, which is not a kinky public transportation game, though it would bring a whole new meaning to “Yank the cord if you want to get off.” Years later, I worked for Dini procuring wines for Lot18. But that’s a story for another post.
The restaurant where I was the sommelier had been an early supporter of Oregon Pinot Noir, which is how I got invited to OPC. When I started working at the restaurant, the list already had a nice lineup of Williamette Valley Pinot Noirs, mostly from the much-talked-about-at-the-time 1983 vintage, from notable producers such as Eyrie, Ponzi, Knudsen-Erath and Adelsheim. I tasted through them, one at a time, and don’t recall being very impressed. In fact, over the years I’ve only rarely been wowed by a bottle of Oregon Pinot Noir. It happens, but not nearly as often as I am awed by wines from Burgundy, the Russian River (particularly Pinot Noirs grown on Goldridge soils), and the Santa Cruz Mountains. After that we can talk about Anderson Valley, the Sta. Rita Hills, and Edna Valley. And then there’s New Zealand. Everybody wants in on the Pinot Noir gold rush. Have you tasted director Peter Jackson’s New Zealand Pinot Noir? Kind of a cute name, “Mordor Merrier.”
OPC is a three-day brainwashing for people in the wine biz, those referred to now as “Gatekeepers”—sommeliers, wine shop owners, wine writers… We’re like Saint Peter, we decide who gets past the Pearly Gates. What wineries don’t know is they’re already dead when they finally get to us. OPC is as well-run an industry junket as I’ve ever attended, which is a low bar to get over. And I came home from the experience with newfound enthusiasm for the Pinot Noirs of the Williamette Valley, as well as some kind of rash on my battonage.
I dutifully began to recommend the wines frequently. Everyone seemed to like the wines, and, truthfully, what’s not to like, but I began to notice that customers rarely returned to them on their next visit. Sure, they enjoyed the Oregon Pinot Noir last time, but tonight they wanted something else. In general, once a regular restaurant customer falls in love with a category he usually marches through the rest of the category like Dominique Strauss-Kahn through hotel maids. (I think DSK misunderstood when they said he could have chocolate on his pillow at night.) In my experience, this didn’t happen with Oregon Pinot Noirs like it often did with California Cabernets or Chateauneuf-du-Papes or even Baroli. I’m not sure why, but the wines didn’t seem to excite anyone so much as they simply played the role of Tonight’s Bottle of Wine. There was an incredible buzz about Oregon Pinot Noir in the late ‘80’s and early 90’s. Every wine shop had a big collection of the wines for sale. Where did that excitement go?
As often happens in the wine business, now that the buzz has gone away, the wines have gotten better. I always felt, and this is just a feeling, unsubstantiated by facts, because, really, facts have a way of ruining conversations, that the wines back in the ‘80’s were far too uniform, as though the entire state of Oregon had planted only the Pommard clone of Pinot Noir (I read much later that, essentially, Oregon wineries only had three clones to choose from at the time). It’s kind of like how 50% of the kids in Florida have Shaquille O’Neal for a dad (which is a fact, or as they say when a fact comes out of your butt, a factoid). Now when I get a chance to taste some Oregon wines, I’m more impressed, at least with their widely differing personalities. I do know I’ve been wanting to revisit the Williamette Valley again.
Thomas Ratcliff and David Fish met, according to their website, at OPC in 2005. The OPC is a cesspool of coincidence. After OPC, they ended up starting Fox Farm Vineyards. I’m writing a fucking blog. So I win. David, a regular reader here, a man of exquisite taste, recently sent me three bottles of Fox Farm Pinot Noir. Drinking those bottles over several evenings brought back those OPC days. The hills around Dundee and Newberg, about an hour west of Portland, are beautiful, even from the window of a bus full of drunks, an OPC experience eerily similar to the bus stealing scene from “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” only without the hookers. (If you’re listening, junket planners, hookers are a nice touch.) Wine’s intimate connection to memory is what has enchanted humans for 6000 years. (Now it seems Turkey may be the original winemaking site—at least that’s the newest speculation based on the discovery of an ancient amphora, thought to be 6000 years old, that Michael Broadbent drank upon its release at his college graduation.) Sure, there is pleasure in a beautifully made wine, and lots of it. But there is joy and laughter, enlightenment and grace in the memories and experiences that same wine summons almost mystically from the darker corners of our brains And it's those memories we share when we share wine with those we love, not descriptions and numbers and ratings. That's what loving wine is about, and always has been. One may come to understand wine from ratings and descriptions, but one comes to love it from the opposite direction.
Recently, speaking of reviewing wine, over at Jeff Siegel’s blog Wine Curmudgeon, Jeff quoted from my “The Golden Age of Wine Writing?” post thusly:
“The Hosemaster of Wine, best described as the Wine Curmudgeon on an especially bad day, wrote a very nice bit that I wish I had written:
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.”
Nice of Jeff to mention the HoseMaster. In a comment, Rusty Gaffney, who blogs as the Prince of Pinot (I’m never sure if he’s royalty or a short, black, gay wine writer) wrote:
“Two points: 1) The problem with brutally honest criticism of wine based on a personal opinion, unless it is absolutely warranted (ie the wine is flawed), is that it can potentially and irreparably damage a winery's reputation and ultimately put it out of business.
2) There seems to be a fan base for wines regardless of how "fatuous" they are. One critic's boring, stupid wines are another man's preferred drink.”
Does this make sense to anyone? Criticism of any art form is, by definition, based on personal opinion and experience. If you’re a film critic and a movie sucks, your job is to say so, not worry about ruining a director’s career. He should be pursuing a different career. If you go to a restaurant and the food is disgusting, witness the New York Times recent review of Guy Fieri’s American Kitchen, it’s your job to say so, not worry about how it affects Guy Fieri, now host of the new game show, “Minute to Hurl It.” But if you’re a wine critic you’re not supposed to do that? Wow, is that ever crap. The job of a critic (and I’m not a critic, I’m just a guy who likes to write about wine now and then) demands honesty; it’s not about being right, or doing the right thing. People heed your opinions because they respect them, and if you pull your punches, you haven’t earned anyone’s respect. Not even your own.
There are only one or two critics who could destroy a winery with a poor review, and the Prince of See No, Hear No, Pinot Evil ain’t one of them. Neither am I.
Wrong Vintage, but cool critter label
But that has nothing to do with Fox Farm Vineyards.
I sat down one night and opened both the 2010 Williamette Valley Pinot Noir and the 2010 Ana Vineyard Pinot Noir with the intention of just drinking half of each bottle the first night, the remainders the following night. After drinking a glass of the Williamette Valley Pinot Noir I was pretty sure it wouldn’t be that good the next day. But I’m often wrong about these things, so I stuck to my plan.
The 2010 Williamette Valley Pinot Noir didn’t thrill me. There’s nothing wrong with it, it’s pretty, it has a simple approach of red fruit and spice, but it never finds its way. Looking for a style from Fox Farm Vineyards, I wouldn’t be able to find one here. Maybe that’s too much to ask from a general appellation bottling. I liked it right out of the gate, but then it faded on me, just like so many of the horses I used to bet on at Santa Anita, the ones now gracing menus at Guy Fieri's place. On the second evening, as I’d feared, it just didn’t have much left. This is unimportant if you just want to drink a bottle of wine and not overanalyze it. I think one could be very happy slugging this wine down. Maybe that’s what I should have done.
And it wasn’t fair tasting it next to the spectacular Fox Farm 2010 Ana Vineyard Pinot Noir. Ana Vineyard is one of the more famous vineyards in the Dundee Hills, sourced by many of the elite Oregon producers. I was surprised to read that the vineyard, which is about 35 years old, is planted on its own roots. It took guts to plant a vineyard on its own roots in the ‘70’s, the Golden Age of Phylloxera and Richard Nixon, a couple of louses fixed on graft.
The Ana Vineyard 2010 Pinot Noir took about an hour to blossom in the glass. If I had judged the wine only from the first few sips, I wouldn’t have rated it very highly. One might sense its potential, but also hesitate to bet the farm on it. Yet after an hour or so, and certainly the second day, I found it immensely satisfying and delicious. (I often say, “Wine’s first job is to be delicious,” which even I’m sick of hearing.) There is a lot to talk about when you drink this wine, from its wonderful depth of fruit to its youthful acidity, which would seem to promise a long future. I remarked to my wife that the wine certainly had the characteristics of great Pinot Noir from the Pommard clone--the vibrancy of the fruit, the seamless texture, the spiciness, and the earthy edge. It really took me back to tasting wines during OPC, which is how this essay got started. Like the best wines, it just picked up steam the longer it was open, gaining depth and richness and complexity. Now the bad news. Fox Farm only produced about 75 cases. Grab some if you’ve been down on Oregon Pinot Noir for a while, it’s easily worth the price, especially in this age of corporate plonk that sells for a lot more money and delivers very little personality.
The Ana Vineyard is a hard act to follow, but I very much enjoyed the 2010 Madrona Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir. It has a racy structure in common with the Ana, clearly a signature of the Fox Farm style, but is entirely different. It was far more accessible right out of the bottle, had a youthful exuberance and embrace, and seemed eager to please. One of those wines that comes right up to you and licks your face, like a puppy, or that creepy guy wearing a Hot Dog on a Stick uniform even though he doesn’t work there. The wine has personality and energy, and is very fairly priced. But, again, only 68 cases were produced. David, come on, stop wasting them on damned Poodles.
OK, here’s a link to the site. You can’t order there, apparently the website is also planted on its own roots, but it has the information for ordering from David. Considering quality and price, damn nice wines.
After 19 years as a Sommelier in Los Angeles, twice named Sommelier of the Year by the Southern California Restaurant Writers' Association, I moved to Sonoma County to explore the other aspects of the wine business. I've spent, OK wasted, 35 years learning about and teaching about and swallowing wine. I am also a judge at the Sonoma Harvest Fair, San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition and the San Francisco International Wine Competition--so I can spit like a rabid llama. I know more about wine than David Sedaris and I'm funnier than James Laube. Stay tuned for an informed but jaded view of everything wine and everything else.
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