Monday, November 25, 2013

Gratitude, It's the Gravy for This Thanks Giving Turkey

Writing HoseMaster of Wine™ has been a remarkable and, for the most part, gratifying experience. I have much for which to be thankful. I’m not the only wine blogger who’s primary goal is laughter, but I’m one of very few. (And here I tip my cap to Chris Kassel, who has far better comedy chops than I.) Writing satire is something of a lonely endeavor. It requires a certain amount of distance, and a great deal of time alone at a keyboard. The work itself is, most days, drudgery. But when it’s over, and I’ve written a new piece, there’s elation. That is the feeling I seem to endlessly chase. For no apparent reason.

When I look back at my body of work here, I usually wonder what the hell I’ve been trying to say all these years. Aside from, “Somebody help me!” In some measure, this entire experience has been about my mother. She died in 2007, a few months before I began this blog, but she always wanted to think of me as a writer. I was, for a while, and she was very proud of that. When I left the writing profession and ended up a sommelier, she was still proud, of course, it’s what mothers do, but it isn’t especially easy to be proud of a son who is a sommelier. In the grand scheme of things and by any measure, it’s a meaningless occupation, ranking somewhere just above 7-11 cashier and just below serial murderer. Whereas a writer, in her world, was something to brag about. Maybe all of this, this ridiculous work I’ve done here, is about pleasing her. Of all the things in life there are to be grateful for, is there anything more important than to whom you were born? It’s the only lottery that ever really matters.

Unlike most of the dunderheads who prattle on about social media and blogging, and they are legion, and they are boring, I don’t throw the word “writer” around lightly. Writing is a noble craft, and a difficult one. I certainly make it look difficult. I am offended when people say that we should stop using the words “wine blogger” and instead say “wine writer.”  I think I’m being generous when I say that maybe 1 percent of the people blogging have any talent for writing. And, no, you’re probably not on that list. (You are on that list, Samantha, and you are astoundingly gifted.) Great writing, in fact, just good writing, should convey meaning and excitement, should gift the reader with insight and a love for language, all the while entertaining. There is precious little of that in wine blogging. I wish I could say it better than I said it five years ago, but I can’t. Wine blogging is the attention-barking of lonely poodles.

The writing process is very hard for me. No, I don’t ever have writer’s block. I don’t even believe there is such a thing, but, then, I say that about female orgasm. Comedy comes from a place of anger and self-loathing, at least for me it does. Not all comedy, not every time, but, in the human heart, that’s where it dwells. I created the character of the HoseMaster a very long time ago, though he didn’t have a name then. I know his voice, and I know what lines he will cross and what truths he will tell. He has far more courage than I do, and also far more insecurity. I have to be very careful not to let the HoseMaster into my everyday life. He can be toxic. Yet it is easy to keep him from my daily routine because I am married to the kindest, smartest, most compassionate woman alive. Her love for me, and for the angry, petulant little child who is the HoseMaster, allows me to write. Because I know that when I’m done writing for the day, I can put the HoseMaster away and simply spend my life loving her. How does one express the kind of gratitude you feel for a lifetime of unconditional love? Every day, in some manner or deed, and several times a day, that’s how. And yet it can only fall short. I love you, Darling, and everything I do, I do for you. “I do.” Words I am very grateful to have spoken to you.

Many years ago, when I wrote comedy, I often wrote for an audience. Now I do not. But I can feel you out there, reading HoseMaster of Wine™ on your laptops, your tablets, your phones. I can’t hear you, but I’m accustomed to silence when it comes to my work. It is not false humility to say that I am amazed at how my readership has grown. I am dumbfounded. Those of you who have taken the time to write to me personally have given me constant inspiration, and the desire to continue writing. That goes for the fan mail and the hate mail. Most humans are born with a burning desire to be heard. To be singled out by the people who read HoseMaster of Wine™ from the cacophony that is the Internet is an honor, and one I don’t take lightly. On the rare occasion that I go to the column to the left of this babbling, the portion labeled “What the Critics Are Saying…,” and reread the kind words that famous wine folk have said about me, it seems surreal. They exaggerate my talent, and I am deeply grateful. Anyone who knows me knows that I hate everything I write. My biggest fear is that I will be found out, exposed as the talentless, humorless schlub I really am. It’s the final quote that speaks to me the loudest and clearest. I couldn’t have said it better myself.

To everyone who subscribes, to those who take the time to write me, to my illustrious and talented common taters, Thank You. I’d get counseling if I were you, but you have my sincerest gratitude. Your enthusiasm for my work, the way you have spread the word, it’s all been incredibly gratifying. I hate Twitter and FaceBook and all the other forms of social media. They dehumanize us. Yet word about HoseMaster of Wine™ has been spread by the generosity of you who have tweeted about me, linked to me, or posted me on FaceBook. You all have my gratitude. But, really, get more of a life. Put down your damned iPhone and live.

Wine has been my career, and it has been kind to me. Though I’ve tried, tried my damnedest at times, I’ve never lost my passion for wine. It trumped my other passion—writing comedy. I’ve never been very good at either, but I’ve had a helluva time chasing them. I like that the word “passion” derives from the Latin for suffering. Passion is a kind of aching, an emptiness that you try to fill but never can, a painful yearning for satisfaction of something that can never be sated. Wine has always been that for me. I think I’ve forgotten 90% of what I learned about wine in my life, but I can’t unlearn the remarkable sensory memories of all the great wines, and the not so great wines, that I’ve drunk in the company of too many extraordinary people to name here. After all these years, it feels like every new wine I taste takes me to some sort of memory, perhaps of a better time, perhaps of a time I’d rather forget. Or to a place I’d forgotten I’d been, or to a person I was lucky to have known, or to somewhere in my heart I’d been afraid to visit for a while. What makes our tastes in wine personal isn’t that we all have different palates and sensitivities, though that’s true. What makes our taste personal is that we all have different memories, different lives, different reasons we live. And when I drink wine on Thursday I’ll be grateful for my memories, and for my life in wine, and for one more day to live in this world.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Foreword by Hugh Johnson

In the past five years, by my count, only two new wine books did not feature a foreword by Hugh Johnson. One of the two books was written by him, and the other was by Natalie MacLean. The two books are a little hard to tell apart, though MacLean’s book has a foreword by Jayson Blair.

Actually, Johnson’s ubiquitous forewords read eerily the same, no matter what the wine book and who the author. I began to get suspicious. And then I remembered. I’d seen his forewords before, in an old copy of Mad Libs, originally published in the mid-1980’s. It took some digging, but I finally found the Mad Lib I was looking for. If you’re ever asked to write the foreword to a wine book, and what are the (tasteless adjective) chances you will, (slang for someone very stupid), here is your template. It works for Hugh!



Just when (second person pronoun) think there is nothing new to 

say about wine, along comes (author’s name). You’re holding in 

your (anatomical part) a wine book that manages to (bodily noise) 

about wine to novices in a way that is both provocative and (oh, 

just pick a goddam adjective). I found myself (verb) aloud how 

(author’s name) has managed such a remarkable piece of 


When I first began (gerund) about wine, I never dreamed that I’d 

be so (adjective). Or that wine would become so much a part of 

every day (activity). Now it seems that everyone (verb) a glass of 

wine with every (noun). Never in the history of man has wine been 

more (adjective). And, for that, we have a new generation of 

writers to thank, most notably (author’s name). I tip my 

(appendage) to him/her, and hope he/she grabs it and (verb) it all 

night long.

Human history and wine go together like love and (sexual position)

If you try to separate the two, someone’s (noun) gets hurt. 

(Author’s name) understands this, and is able to explain (plural 

noun) and wine in a manner that even a (animal) would be able to 

understand. He/she’s a (title) of wine, and there are only (number) 

of those in the world. It would be wise of you to (verb) him/her, and 

the (beast of burden) he/she rode in on.

In this (adjective) book, one that I wish that I’d (verb—past tense)

you’ll find the answers to many questions you may have about wine 

and (noun). What is the proper way to (verb) wine? (Author’s 

name) does a (adjective) job of explaining why putting wine in your 

(orifice) is just the beginning, remembering that your (orifice) is 

more than likely quite different than his/her (orifice). Vive le 

(French word)! This is just one of the many (plural noun) that 

(author’s name) provides in this (adjective) book.

My favorite wines have always been from (obscure French 

appellation). I want to savor a glass on my death (furniture). And 

when I do, you can be sure that this will be the book folded calmly 

across my (body part)

Monday, November 18, 2013

Blind Book Review--Adventures on the Wine Route

I didn’t read Kermit Lynch’s excellent book Adventures on the Wine Route when it was first published, and, now, remarkably, twenty-five years later, I have the opportunity to not read it again! A great book, like fine wine, improves over the years--but not if you open it. Once you open it, the exposure will slowly destroy it. They haven’t yet invented a Coravin for books, perhaps we need a Coralibre®, which is my favorite cocktail. Lynch’s book gets better and better, and, while I envy those of you who have read it over the years, I’m going to age my copy for another ten or fifteen years until it has reached its peak. Then I might read it.

It has fallen to me, the pioneering HoseMaster of Wine™, to review wine books the way they should be reviewed. Blind, without the influence of actually knowing anything about them, save the variety. This is the way real wine professionals judge things. Dear readers, I’d be skeptical of those who review books based on actually having read them. This can only skew their perspective. They may claim objectivity, but most are human, and they bring preconceived notions of Kermit Lynch to their reading, and that colors their reviews. I also review the books in a room with perfect lighting and white walls, though I am allowed fifteen minutes outside twice a day while they hose down the room.

Adventures on the Wine Route is all about Kermit Lynch’s experiences importing some of the great wines of France into the United States in an era where Imported Wines on a restaurant wine list meant Blue Nun, B & G Beaujolais, and Mouton Cadet. Just like your Uncle Bob, Kermit upped the Auntie. And this book is all about how he did it.

Kermit is a natural storyteller. For example, he tells a wonderful story of sitting in a barber shop in Tain l’Hermitage and, just by accident, meeting one of the region’s greatest winemakers. Before he leaves, he’s struck a deal to import his wines. It’s a wonderful chapter entitled, “Chave and a Haircut.”

Lynch also spends a chapter talking about Charles Joguet and his great estate in the Loire Valley. Lynch has always pursued winemakers who work with the land and their wines as naturally as possible. He speaks about Joguet’s dedication to authenticity, his belief in the old ways of farming, paying attention to things like the lunar calendar. It’s a beautiful chapter entitled “Chinon, Chinon, Harvest Moon.” The book is filled with stories like this. Children may have Mother Goose, but wine lovers have Kermit Lynch as Father Foie Gras. When he dies, his enormous liver will be worth a fortune!

No one can match Kermit Lynch’s ability to write about wine in an interesting, and illuminating fashion. His common sense approach to wine is refreshing and all too rare. Here are a few of his meatiest quotes:

“Wine is, first and foremost, about pleasure, and I’m the guy who decides what’s pleasurable.”

“Loving Banyuls is like sleeping with a farm animal—embarrassing to admit, but you’ll be surprised to see how many others there are just like you.”

“When you taste wine you’re not just ingesting alcohol. You’re tasting culture, the history of man’s folly, our incessant yearning to alter our consciousness, and your own personal bitterness and failure. It’s why you can’t get enough.”

“I was the first person to bring European wines to the United States in refrigerated containers. I brought the winemakers here the same way. Muted the smell.”

Kermit Lynch set the new standard for importers. There was one thing you always knew you’d get when you picked up a bottle of wine with his name on it—overcharged. Kermit went in search of wines that had been overlooked by American consumers, combed the countryside of France looking for wines with personality and history and he almost singlehandedly made the reputation of appellations like Bandol, Gigondas, and Côte-Rôtie. “When I first tried to sell Côte-Rôtie in the U.S.," Lynch writes, "no one had heard of it. Now at least people know they don’t buy it because it’s Syrah.”

No American has done more for France than Kermit Lynch. OK, maybe General Eisenhower and Jerry Lewis. And you could make a case for Lance Armstrong, but, like taking testosterone illegally, that would take some balls. Yet it was Kermit Lynch who opened Americans’ eyes to the artisan wine producers of France. “I cherry-picked,” he writes, “ and left all the lesser estates to those who followed. Now all the stuff I turned down has someone else’s import label on it. Drinking those wines is like being a woman’s second husband.” See, he does have a way with words.

It’s nice that the publishers have seen fit to reissue this classic of wine literature. As an added bonus, the 25th Anniversary Edition includes a list of Lynch’s 25 most memorable wines. Surprisingly, four of them are futures, which you can order for a limited time at 15% off.

Adventures on the Wine Route has been widely praised by nearly every important wine critic for the past twenty-five years, and Jay McInerney liked it too. It belongs on every wine lover’s bookshelf alongside the other classics of wine importing, Kacher in the Wry and Weygandt We All Just Get Along?.

I can hardly wait to read it.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Cautionary Tale of Hairy Vaynerchimp

Hairy Vaynerchimp
He was the most powerful wine critic in the world for a time. The numbers he assigned made winery reputations that exist to this day. His lousy scores destroyed wineries, drove winemakers to despair, nearly obliterated entire wine regions. Everyone hated him, though most had never met him. But even with all of his undisputed clout, he never changed. His tasting regimen when he began was the same as his tasting regimen when his world came crashing down around him. He never tasted blind (he didn’t have to), he never wore pants, and he never spit into a bucket, preferring to spit at his handlers instead. He was the epitome of a professional wine critic. So why would he change his routine? And how could he change his routine? He was a chimpanzee.

I hope you will read this as a cautionary tale, though apes have only vestigial tales. The wine business is fickle. One day you rule the wine world, and the next day you’re a laughing stock. You’re courted by the wealthiest and most talented people in the business, then they won’t return your hurled excrement. It’s a story as old as human civilization. But it holds a lesson rarely learned. This is the story of one wine critic, an unusual wine critic, I concede, but it echoes across the careers of every wine critic working, and should serve as fair warning to those who aspire to the position. Enjoy your influence while it lasts. But don’t expect it to last very long. It’s only a matter of time before you suffer the same fate as Hairy Vaynerchimp—masturbating in front of kids at your local zoo.

It all began as a joke, but, really, isn’t that how all wine reviewers start? Publishing hopelessly amateurish reviews of wines while sporting imaginatively embellished credentials? There are hundreds of these naked apes in the world, most of them talentless and hopelessly self-delusional. But all that ultimately matters is that consumers begin to believe you, have faith in your integrity and the indefatigability of your palate. Then marketing departments catch wind of you, shower you with free wine, ask you to travel on junkets with other wine writers to far away wine regions in exchange for your glowing recommendations, lavish money on you for speaking engagements—shit that any self-respecting chimpanzee would have nothing to do with. But wine writers and wine bloggers don’t have the integrity of chimpanzees. Many don’t have the grooming habits either. Hairy Vaynerchimp walked, with unopposable thumbs, into a large wine reviewing void. And became legend.

It took some time. Hairy’s is anything but an overnight success story. I raised Hairy from a tender age, shared great wine after great wine with the great ape. He was only a pet, at first. Then I realized he had a remarkable palate, better than most of the “experts” I’d judged with at prestigious wine competitions. Hairy had a more sensitive nose. Once I trained him to ignore wines that smelled like female chimp genitalia—mostly orange wines, and the occasional Vignoles—his judgments were flawless. Chimps aren’t capable of speech, though they can do wonderful impressions of Congressional filibusters, but I had trained Hairy to communicate using a Ouija Board. Over and over he’d point at the letters and spell words familiar to all wine reviewers, words he didn’t understand any more than those fools did when they used them—“minerality,” “terroir,” “authentic,” and “complex.” It wasn’t much of a jump to get a large board with the numbers 80 to 100 painted on it, and teach Hairy Vaynerchimp to point. To my surprise, it didn’t take the chimp long to point between two numbers. Hairy wanted me to record a score of 89+! (Interestingly, Hairy showed no interest in the 20-Point Davis scale—just like everyone else.) So I began to write down Hairy’s reviews. And one day, I started to publish them on a blog.

Hairy was tireless and incorruptible. He could taste and rate 300 wines in just a few hours—he was a hirsute Alder Yarrow! As fast as I could open bottles, Hairy could review them. I rigged an iPad so he could log his descriptions and numbers into the iPad’s memory. I quickly learned to glance at his new reviews before I published them after an embarrassing incident where Hairy described a bottle of 2009 Chateau Margaux as “Tickle me, tickle me.” Though he did give it 100 points, and Paul Pontallier sent him a lovely engraved vibrator (though, mysteriously, it was engraved, “You know where to put this, Molesworth.”). Hairy Vaynerchimp, unexpectedly and quickly, became the wine critic’s wine critic. He smelled bad, he was given to horrible temper tantrums, he would scratch his butt and sniff his finger, he had abominable table manners—he was born to the job.

Soon Hairy Vaynerchimp and I traveled the world tasting wines and publishing reviews. Regional wine associations set up tastings for Hairy. I would walk him into a room full of the best Burgundies, perhaps two hundred wines, and he would be done in an hour and a half. No need for the wines to be served blind. He couldn’t read. Most wine critics can’t write, but Hairy couldn’t read. This was his distinct advantage over them. Hairy Vaynerchimp could not be swayed by a label. I could take him to any winery, taste with the most famous winemakers, and he was absolutely objective. (Though he did once have a man crush on Angelo Gaja, and may have overrated his wines.) Hairy was never tired, never wavered, never became intoxicated. And he could spit into a bucket twenty feet away with an accuracy that would make Monica Lewinsky proud. His scores, his expertise, his objectivity were unassailable. He ruled the wine world, and he couldn’t be bribed--he worked for peanuts. The initials “HV” after a wine review might move several thousand cases. He was Top Banana.

And then it started. How we like to see the mighty fall. Jealous competitors began to chisel away at his reputation. Wine Spectator put Hairy on the cover (many subscribers mistakenly thought it was Marvin Shanken, a stupid mistake seeing as it’s easy to tell them apart—Hairy didn’t like cigars), and published a scandalous and misleading story entitled, “World’s Most Powerful Critic—Does He Pass the Sniff Test?” The British press relentlessly excoriated Hairy, even linking him romantically with J.K. Rowling. Several Burgundy producers filed a lawsuit against Hairy, claiming he’d defamed them when he wrote that he believed several had given him misleading samples—the famous Barrel Samples of Monkey Scandal. Everyone was out to get him. But it didn’t bother Hairy. He was oblivious. He was a chimp.

As quickly as he rose to fame and power, Hairy Vaynerchimp disappeared. He may have been our finest wine critic, combining the work ethic of Robert Parker and the mane of James Suckling. But, as will happen to every wine critic, eventually people tired of him. When he was tasting, everyone said nice things about him, carried him around as he clung to their necks, gave him small treats--in other words, treated him exactly like Steve Heimoff. But when he left the room, people began to badmouth him, impugn his skills, make fun of his porkpie hat, exactly like they did with…you get the picture.

Where is Hairy Vaynerchimp now? I’m happy to say, he’s better off than he’s ever been. He works a lot less, and lives very comfortably. Yes, he’s no longer the most powerful wine critic in the world, but I think he’s OK with that. It all sort of worked out.

I sold him to a bunch of Singapore investors.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Dr. Conti Pleads Insanity

Dr. Conti enjoys Le Montrachizzle
Hello, Rudy. May I call you Rudy?

Call me Ishmael. I’m hunting the Great White Whale. Anybody seen Shanken around here? My first week in this hellhole, I can tell you, there was some serious Shanken going on. Thar she blows!!!

Rudy, I’m Dr. Bernkasteler. I’m a psychiatrist assigned by the court to help determine if you’re mentally competent to stand trial.

You’re a doctor?! Wow, what a coincidence. I’m a doctor, too. My friends called me Dr. Conti. Wanna know why? Because Dr. Romanée-Conti sounded too much like a gynecologist for gypsies.

I see. Well, Dr. Conti, are you aware of the charges against you?

Yes. They think I bilked a bunch of people out of money by selling fake bottles of very rare wines. It was fun. I’d open a bogus bottle of ’47 Cheval Blanc, pour it for these wealthy bozos, and then watch them ooh and ahh over it. So, here’s the cool part, when I get caught, rather than admit that they don’t know shit about wine, they all start to praise me for what a great palate I must have had to have been able to blend such convincing fakes! Yeah, that’s it. I’m a genius, you’re not a sucker. It’s like if you caught someone screwing your wife and instead of killing the guy, you ask him how he gets his tongue to do that.

Did you feel any guilt about selling fraudulent wines to people?

It depends, Dr., on how you define “fraud.” These days all wine people do is talk about Authentic Wine. Whole books are written on the subject by Authentic Dissemblers. According to the proponents of Authentic Wine, apparently very little Authentic Wine exists. Which means that all the rest of the wine sold, billions of cases, is Fraudulent Wine. Stuff is either authentic or fake, right? So why single me out? Why not go after Trader Joe’s, or Fred Franzia, or the really slow kid working at the 7-11? It’s just an economy of scale. I sold a few hundred cases of fraudulent wine for profit—they’re selling hundreds of thousands. The result is the same.

But didn’t you have any sort of remorse knowing that the wines you were consigning to auctions were complete fakes? That people, collectors and restaurants, were paying obscene amounts of money for what amounted to vintage wine tofurkey?

What sort of remorse does one have for an action that doesn’t hurt anyone involved? I made money, the auction houses made money… And the status twerkers who bought the wines? Hell, most of them still don’t know that their aged Burgundies are essentially microwaved Meridian Pinot Noir with some RC Cola added to give it some actual flavor. And they won’t know when they drink it one day either. No, their friends will mouth platitudes about what an honor it is to drink a wine made before they were born, which is every minute, by the way, the host will somehow mention, at the risk of sounding pretentious, that what he paid for the bottle would easily put his trophy bride through the finest private high school, and everyone will proclaim at the end what a mystical experience the whole evening has been. Everyone wins.

Not everyone. What about the wineries whose wines you faked?

You’re kidding, right? It’s simple. When auction prices for a winery’s product rise, the value of the winery rises, too, right? And maybe people will even pay more than usual for their wines when they know the wines came directly from their own cellars. No, really, it’s just like quality fake tits—there are no losers! Though I recommend you don’t do them on the installment plan. Both at once is the way to go. Really. I mean, look at Jay Miller.

Did you know you were breaking the law?

I used to have really expensive lunches with auction house “experts.” We’d talk about old wines, and, inevitably, the subject of fraudulent wines would come up. I’d ask a couple of questions, and these “experts” would spend the rest of the meal telling me, in minute detail, how they could always spot fake wines, tell me all the mistakes they looked for. I took notes. I asked more questions. Did they think I was writing an article for World of Fine Wine? They, basically, taught me Wine Forgery 101. “Hey, officer, so what is the gate code for Fort Knox? Just wanted to see if you knew it.” And, then, mind you, I’d call them up a couple of months later with another six Jeroboams of Domaine Ponsot for them to sell. I didn’t think I was breaking the law, I thought they were recruiting me.

Did you honestly think you’d never get caught?

I’m a wine geek, Dr. Bernkasteler. Deep down, we all think that one day we’re going to get caught.

I have to say, Dr. Conti, you don’t seem the least bit crazy to me.

Oh, I’m fucking nuts, alright. Spending long hours printing up fake labels, figuring out how to make the capsules look right, scrounging valuable empty bottles from sommeliers, mixing up formulas for wines to taste like old Burgundies or old Bordeaux, and for what? I can’t tell you how many times I went to a restaurant, my rich friends ordered an old white Burgundy, a ’64 Le Montrachet or something, and I knew it was one of my bottles. Kinda funny, but a lot like being adrift for eight weeks in the middle of the ocean and being forced to drink your own urine. Which it was. But at least I didn’t pay $1000 for it and drink it with a smile on my face…

“Wow,” they’d always say, “great minerality.”

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Hot New Winery Death

I always get a kick out of feature articles in wine publications that herald “Six Hot New (Cabernet/Pinot Noir/Zinfandel) Producers to Watch!” Inevitably, it’s six new producers doing the same damn thing everyone else is doing. It’s exactly like when the major networks premiere their new Fall television lineups. Robin Williams returns to television! Fire up the laugh tracks, Ma, Grandpa’s riffin’ again. Better yet, another Michael J. Fox sitcom. It’s just a damned shame he has Parkinson’s, because Tourette’s would be so much funnier! In wine, hey, it’s another $150 Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley! Amazing! David Abreu returns to environmental degradation! Andy Erickson phones it in! And the label and packaging, well, it’s downright decadent, and, guaranteed to burn 50% more fossil fuels in the shipping! And here’s another “Can’t Miss” Pinot Noir producer with a stunning lineup of wines from, well, all the usual sources—Gap’s Crown, Pisoni, Sangiacomo, Hirsch, Keefer… This is wine’s version of “From the producers of ‘The Big Bang Theory’ and ‘Two and a Half Men.’” What it guarantees is that it’s the same old formula but in a brand new package. You’ll be dazzled by the single-vineyard Pinot Noirs from Terroir and a Half Men.

Those wine articles primarily serve to glorify the magazine’s power, not to serve its readers. Parker was famous for proclaiming that a winery or winemaker was a Producer to Watch, and then, an issue or two later, rating all their wines in the upper 90’s, guaranteeing it was now a winery to watch. It’s a little bit like rigging a horse race. You already know the outcome when you place the bet. But you still feel smug doing it.

I always wonder where those wineries are ten years later, when they’re no longer a Producer to Watch. Where once they were the Academy Award Winner for Best Actor, now they’re part of the Death Montage. So, at last, we arrive at the premise…


Deep Punt’s first few vintages of Pritchard Hill Cabernet Sauvignon scored more than 98 points, and the winery had a waiting list longer than a David Schildknecht wine description, and far more interesting to read. Collectors loved the wine, and loved the stylized and heavy bottles with punts deep enough to have their own microclimates. The vineyard was the first vineyard in Napa Valley to be planted underground and utilize solar panels to power the grow lights, guaranteeing a perfect vintage every year. The vines are six feet under and planted upside-down in order to give the vines better access to the unique soils of Pritchard Hill, and to make them really easy to pick. “Cabernet Sauvignon thrives underground,” proclaims Deep Punt’s consulting winemaker Phillipe Melka, “and we never have to worry about frost, wild boar or erosion. But it does rain fucking gophers in here all the time.” Once a Winery to Watch, Deep Punt has fallen on hard times, as indicated by a review on NothingsBiggerThanMyHead. “Yeah, we’re sending samples to bloggers now,” says Deep Punt’s owner Ray Guy, “I guess I’ve just thrown in the towel.”

Recent vintages of Deep Punt’s Cabernet have scored in the low 90’s, the death knell for cult wines. Mailing list members, once allocated three bottles, can now buy as many as they want, as long as they pretend they got the rest from the winery Wish List, and buy a truss for their UPS driver. Deep Punt’s innovative underground vineyard is reportedly for sale, ironically, at a rock bottom price.


Larry Standards and Alison Lowe met in college. Larry majored in Plant Massage, while Alison was earning her degree in Underage Drinking. “I was rubbing my pistil one day,” Larry recalls, “and Alison fell head first into the room. An hour later we were lovers, and two hours later she emerged from her coma.” Larry and Alison decided to pursue their dream of making great Pinot Noir, so they moved to Sonoma County. Alison worked two harvests at Williams Sonoma before she realized she wasn’t at Williams Selyem. “But I did learn a valuable lesson there,” she reminisces, “how to overcharge.” Soon, Lowe Standards Wines became a reality. Larry used his extensive knowledge of plant fondling to impress local vineyard owners, who love having their eco’s massaged, and soon he and Alison were buying Pinot Noir from several dozen notable vineyards. “The truth is,” Alison says, “every vineyard has unique terroir. Duh. How could it not? That’s the fucking definition of terroir. So we vineyard designate every one of our Pinot Noirs. When it comes right down to it, there’s a really good reason for this--we can charge more. Plus, blending vineyards into an appellation-designated wine cuts into my valuable drinking time.”

Once one of 2002’s New Pinot Noir Producers to Watch, Lowe Standards Wines is no longer the darling of Pinot Noir cult wine buyers. Perhaps it was the 45 different Pinot Noirs in their portfolio that soured the wine geeks. Or maybe it was that the Lowe Standards style went out of fashion. Their Pinot Noirs had more added enzymes than a Bill Clinton intern interview. Or was it because ordinary folks get weary of yet another, and another, single-vineyard Pinot Noir that tastes eerily like all the other single-vineyard Pinot Noirs? No, most likely it was that Lowe and Standards sold their label to Diageo. “Lowe Standards?” said Larry. “It just seemed a perfect fit.”

Monday, November 4, 2013

The Official 2013 Bordeaux Vintage Report

California wineries may be as good at making wine as their French counterparts, but they lag far behind when it comes to the more important part of the wine business--the selling of wine. The French are the Masters of Whinge, but when their marketing departments get busy, they can turn a poor vintage into a desirable vintage in just a few paragraphs. Today's piece is, as always this first Monday of a new month, across the Atlantic at Tim Atkin's blog. Tim Atkin's blog was recently named the International Wine Website for 2013 by the Louis Roederer Awards, no small achievement considering he publishes the HoseMaster. It's like winning a Best Picture Oscar for a movie with Chevy Chase.

Take a look at The Official 2013 Bordeaux Vintage Report at the Award-Winning Tim, and please feel free to comment there. Or, if you prefer, you may leave your comments here. Don't forget to save the ticket stub so you can reclaim them later, and leave a small gratuity.