Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Karen MacNeil Speaks to the Wine Bloggers' Conference

The featured speaker for the 2015 Wine Bloggers’ Conference is Karen MacNeil, author of The Wine Bible. Many of us believe that The Wine Bible is the literal truth, and not just crazy superstitious stuff most people believe it to be. Especially the Book of Tchelistcheff wherein God reveals Himself to a winemaker as a burning bushy eyebrow. I, for one, truly believe that Parker created the wine world in six days, blind when possible, and on the seventh day He rated.

It should be interesting to hear MacNeil preach the Word to America’s wine bloggers, most of whom still await their blogs being translated into English. Luckily, I was provided with a transcript of Ms. MacNeil’s speech. I swear on a stack of Wine Bibles this will be her actual presentation. (Q: What do you call a stack of The Wine Bible? A: The remainder table.)

Good Evening, Fellow Wine Writers. Yeah, I do love to start a speech with a joke.

We’re here in the Finger Lakes, home of our best domestic Rieslings. Even the Germans are jealous of the Rieslings produced in this region. In the United States, you can use the Finger Lakes to pick your Riesling. In Germany, you use the Finger Lakes to pick your Nahes. Just don’t eat it.

But enough levity. I’m here to speak to you wine bloggers about the noble craft of wine writing, and why you’re ruining it. My latest book, The New Wine Bible, is about to be published, and it’s safe to say that there really isn’t much left for you to write about. I’ve covered just about everything, and in my own irrepressible and captivating style. And I wrote it by myself, not like Jancis Robinson and her stable of writers for The Oxford Companion to Wine. I’m my own team of experts. Jancis is just a franchise, the Brookstone of wine writers, each book filled with useless crap invented by loners and crackpots that you buy and then leave on your shelf forever wondering what the hell you were thinking. The New Wine Bible, or as I like to call it, “It’s Me, God Again,” makes all future wine writing unnecessary, like your tonsils, or Mutineer Magazine, which is to writing what explosive diarrhea is to art.

I know, you didn’t come to the Finger Lakes to hear me say wine writing as a profession is dead. You came here to pretend your voices matter. And they do. Just not to anyone else. Ask yourself, who would miss your little wine blog if you decided to quit tomorrow? You don’t even have as many unique hits as an NFL lineman’s wife. I’m not saying that you should quit writing. You can’t quit something you’re not actually doing. I’m saying you should quit typing.

You all look a bit thunderstruck. But, truly, I am doing you a favor. No one makes any money as a wine writer. You know what kind of advance I got for The New Wine Bible? The publisher put his hand down my pants, that’s what my advance was. Speaking of Finger Lakes. It’s not glamorous being a wine writer; it’s relentlessly dull. It’s the Prosecco of occupations, cheap and full of fake effervescence. You never get to tell the truth. Not if you want to be successful, not if you want to be welcome in the world’s great wine regions, not if you want to keep on getting free samples to sell to the neighborhood kids. You dispense romance, the very mother’s milk of the wine business. You’re just an engorged pair of tits leaking winery stories. Is that what you want to be? You want Marvin Shanken to be your breast pump? When his cup size is larger?

Even if it is what you want to be, I’ve read most of the nominated and award-winning wine blogs, and you don’t have the chops to make it as a wine writer. Your prose is like box wine—a collapsing plastic sack of crap. Reading your wine descriptions is like trimming your nostrils with needlenose pliers—excruciatingly stupid, and a waste of perfectly good tools. I usually wonder if you even tasted the wine, or if you just reworded the back label. I have news for you, back labels are NOT Cliff Notes for wine bloggers. That got you through the JC, but it won’t work as a wine writer. By the way, there are no Cliff Notes for The Wine Bible. You cannot summarize genius.

Wine bloggers have made a mockery of wine writing. Fools say we should treat you as peers. That’s stupid. Just because you have .docx doesn’t mean you’re peers. I’ve won every major wine writing award in English. Can Robert Parker say that? Can Eric Asimov say that? Can Terry Theise say that—well, OK, he doesn’t write in English, but you get my point. You’re all competing for a Wine Blog Award. Ooh, isn’t that special? They give that to a “Citizen Blogger.” What the hell is a “Citizen Blogger?” A rejected Orson Welles movie? A Wine Blog Award isn’t a major wine writing award. It’s a front for a travel company. You just got your ass time-shared—which, come to think of it, might qualify you to write for Wine Spectator. A Wine Blog Award…There is no such thing. You think I’m kidding? Show me one! They’re like natural wines, imaginary things you think will change your life only to find out the only ones making money are the people who made them up. And, hey, if it were a major wine writing award, Karen MacNeil would have several. Did you see my clever videos where I was dressed as a nun? I put the superior in Mother Superior. I looked hot. Elvis hot.

Wine writing in the age of the Internet has become self-parody. It’s a lot like wine itself. In one camp is the overblown and preposterous, think Napa Valley Cabernet and any issue of World of Fine Wine. Both slick and stylish but ultimately just a lot of posturing with very little of interest. Every issue, of both the wines and the magazine, is the damned near the same. And in the other camp, there’s underdevelopment and fake humility. Think low alcohol, self-proclaimed natural wines and the columnists for Wine Spectator. Both feature an awful lot of chit-chat, a parade of puffery, but deliver virtually nothing. We talk about energy in wine, but where is the energy in wine writing? You know it when you taste it, but when’s the last time you tasted it? Not in the pages of a wine magazine, and not on a wine blog. Wine writing is running out of energy. So I guess it’s resorted to fracking, and you, my friends, are the originals, the mother frackers.

Good Night.

I don’t know about you, but this seems a little harsh…

Thursday, May 21, 2015

EPHEMERA: Abolish Sommelier (A Bait-and-Switch Blog Title)

I was just thinking the other day about how much different it would be to be a working sommelier now. I haven’t walked a restaurant floor as a sommelier in almost nine years. A lot has changed. Just as a lot changed from the generation before I started as a sommelier. Well, in the United States, there just weren’t many sommeliers in the generation before me, and what few sommeliers were employed were more often called wine stewards. I still hate the word “sommelier.” It’s difficult for people to pronounce—like “nuclear,” it’s just a word that ordinary folk mangle on a regular basis. This is not a problem carpenters have (one had anorexia, but that’s a different story). And because it’s French, and hard to pronounce, it intimidates people. A restaurant patron once said to me, when I offered him my wine list, “Oh, you must be the Semillon!” I rather prefer that. In a strange way, I think that if we rid the English-speaking world of the word “sommelier” a lot of the pretentiousness and pettiness would simply evaporate from the wine business. There wouldn’t be any Master Sommeliers, for example. They’d be Master Wine Stewards. Who gives a crap about that? That asinine movie about wine geeks would have been called “STEW,” which is far more appropriate. After all, wine geeks are slowly cooked in a liquid, and what is that but a stew? A sommelier is a glorified wine waiter, nothing more, the pastry chef of the restaurant floor. I’d rid the world of the “sommelier.” In my day, I usually insisted patrons call me the Wine Guy, or, well, Ron. And my business card said Wine Steward. But that, as I mentioned, was a different time.

If I were a wine steward now, my wine list would be far different than the one I cobbled together in my day. It would have to be. This is a different world. This is not Harry Waugh’s world, when a fine wine list was dominated by Bordeaux and Burgundy and Port. And it’s not my world, when a fine wine list was dominated by Bordeaux and Burgundy and California Cabernet and Chardonny and Oregon Pinot Noir and maybe an Italian appellation or two (Chianti and Barolo, maybe). I think those wines are now seen as the wines old fucks drink. And there’s some truth in that. If you just look at the stalwarts of wine lists from my era (I’m thinking of the late ’80’s, when I started, through the mid-’90’s), it’s hard to imagine anyone wanting them on their wine lists now.  Why in the world would you have Veuve Clicquot on your wine list now if you were a sommelier? That crap won’t fly any more. Now you have hundreds of Grower Champagnes, far superior wines, and at the same relative price point. Or you’d have something sparkling and hip and Italian. Who carries First Growth Bordeaux on their wine lists now? I had all five on mine, but now they’re stupidly expensive. Stupidly. Plus, they’re from Bordeaux! Is there a less hip appellation in the world than Bordeaux? Bordeaux is about as hip as VCR’s.

It can be frustrating to go to a restaurant and read through a wine list that seems to absolutely require the presence of the sommelier. I’ve been to several where I recognize maybe 80% of the wines on the list, and I know a lot about wine. What about people who just want to quietly order a nice bottle of wine and don’t want to play, “Oh, this is really interesting wine from an underrated appellation” with the wine steward? They wouldn’t know even two of the wines on those lists. Now they have to talk with the wine steward. It’s worse than needing advice in the sex boutique—“I need something big and black, and under $25.” Maybe sommeliers these days are lonely and insecure and covet the undivided attention of total strangers who will admire their vast knowledge of wine. Sure seems like it.

Yet I get it. It is a different wine world now, and I’m an old fuck. Were I starting out now, I would be deeply immersed in Grower Champagne (which, by the way, feels really good on your testicles). I’d be proselytizing for Mencia. I’d be pushing people to South African wines—oh, man, South African Syrahs are breathtaking. Why wouldn’t I list three or four Godellos? And there wouldn’t be a Rombauer, a Jordan, a Silver Oak, a Lafite, a Duckhorn or a damned Veuve Clicquot to be found. Or a Grüner Veltliner (which is German for “Green Trash Can Liner”).

And in twenty years, wine stewards (there won’t be any goddam sommeliers) will have a different set of wines to taste and buy, and it will again be a different world. Climate change is certainly going to change the face of wine, and the next generations of stews (did I say I hate the word “somm?”) will be dealing with wines that Harry Waugh wouldn’t even recognize as wine. And so it will go. Yet the complaints aimed at wine stewards will remain just about the same, and old fucks will criticize them, and everyone, as always, will remain convinced that they know what belongs on wine lists, on what will sell, and on what the next hot new region will be.

A great bottle of wine evolves slowly, over decades. The wine business is slower. Old fucks hate that it changes, that we are constantly falling behind. There was a time I tasted thousands of wines a year. Now it’s a few hundred. I certainly know good wine when I put it in my mouth. I understand wine on a level that only, and I mean only, long experience can provide. But I cannot any longer rattle off the trendy producers, or speak knowledgeably about the latest vintage in the most talked about new wine regions. I’m a has-been. Though not a never-was.

Enjoy it while it lasts, my fellow sommeliers. You are but a few years away from being old fucks, has-beens, and yesterday’s gatekeepers. A word of advice—don’t start a blog.

Monday, May 18, 2015

What We Lie About When We Lie About Wine

The HoseMaster of Wine™ is proud to announce the publication of his first book, “What We Lie About When We Lie About Wine.” If the HoseMaster is famous, he’s famous for lying about. In his first book, the HoseMaster explores the various ways wine experts, winemakers, wine marketers, wine writers and other prevaricators lie about wine. White lies, red lies, orange lies, even rosé lies—it’s dishonesty that drives the wine business. Finally, here’s a refreshingly dishonest look at “What We Lie About When We Lie About Wine.”

In advance of the book’s publication (it’s already reached #1 on the New York Tines Bestseller List—no, that’s not a typo, go fork yourself), here are a few excerpts from the book, as well as some of the rave reviews from many of the lying bastards featured in it.


"One of the easiest ways to spot folks who are lying about wine is the use of wine qualifiers; that is, an adjective that precedes the word “wine.” There are many examples. Natural wine, cult wine, balanced wine, 100-point wine, Gold Medal wine… Remember that it’s unnecessary, and always manipulative and misleading, to qualify what is simply fermented grape juice. Be wary. When you hear “natural wine,” react the same way you react to the phrase “honest politician.” “Politician” is information enough. You can be the judge if that politician is honest, though if that politician has been elected to office, chances are nil. “Natural” wine advocates are like “honest” politicians—they’re always going to tell you the other people are the ones who are lying. I find it best to assume everyone who claims their wine is superior to other people’s wine is being intellectually dishonest. And an asshole."


"Ever since its inception, the 100 Point Scale has been controversial. Robert Parker, the critic responsible for introducing the 100 Point Scale, has recently been quoted to the effect that when he retastes wines that he awarded 100 points, he finds that he agrees with his own points about 50% of the time. Not something wine critics tell you before you buy the wines they awarded high scores. It’s a lot like a brain surgeon saying, “Don’t worry, the operation is completely safe and without complications. For the 50% of people who survive it.” It’s best to remember to buy two bottles of a wine rated 100 points just to be sure that one of them is a 100 Point wine.

Lying about wine with points is one of our favorite ways to lie about wine. We tell ourselves that it makes perfect sense to attach a definitively objective number to a supremely subjective experience because it’s useful, and, moreover, the people love it. The same could be said for public executions and multi-car accidents. However, one does have to be qualified to lie about wines this way. Nothing is more irritating than a liar who simply isn’t qualified to lie about the subject. We expect only our most trusted experts to make shit up."


"The public’s, and the press’, current obsession with alcohol levels is another way we lie about wine. A wine with lower alcohol is praised as having better balance, as being more reflective of its terroir, as being more natural. Of course, to begin with, all of this is based on the information listed on the wine’s label, information that is incorrect the vast majority of the time. Alcohol levels listed on wine labels are about as reliable as the weights listed on people’s dating profiles on match.com. With wine and your next date, just assume it’s going to be a lot heavier. But, hey, it might be hotter, too!

And, really, we lie to ourselves about the alcohol in wine because we want to believe that we drink wine for its complex aromas and layered fruit flavors, for wine’s tradition and sophistication, rather than for the alcohol. There is no truth in this. We drink wine first and foremost for the way it makes us feel, for its ability to convince us we’re charming and witty when we’re actually sloppy and drunk. If there were no alcohol in wine, there would be no wine business. Wine without alcohol is like tires without air—flat and useless."


"Our sense of smell is tied closely to memory, but is only a passing acquaintance with language. Describing a wine is much like spending time with a police sketch artist—we try to illuminate a wine by picking it apart and describing the pieces, trying to capture the whole under the illusion we can see all the parts correctly. It’s a kind of verbal autopsy. It might be accurate, but you can be sure the wine is far beyond dead when you’re done. Then we use those autopsy results as an affirmation of the stupid number we came up with to rank the wine, as though those poor results validate the other random ones. And suddenly those once very alive wines are butterflies named and mounted in a frame—really pretty but indisputably empty of life." 

“What We Lie About When We Lie About Wine” is an appropriately dishonest look at the way almost everything we know about wine is based on lies. Here’s what a few influential wine people have to say about the HoseMaster of Wine™’s first book:

“I thought I was the master of wine fraud until I read the HoseMaster’s book.”—Rudy Kurniawan

‘What We Lie About When We Lie About Wine’ might be the stupidest book I’ve read all year, and I read ‘Natural Wine.’”—Kermit Lynch

“To paraphrase Twain, there are lies, damned lies, and marketing. The HoseMaster needs more of all three.”—Jay McInerney

“I’d wait for the audio book, except it would be like a John Cage composition—lots of noise that has little meaning.”—Eric Asimov