Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Confessions of a Sommelier Serial Killer

So it was the first guy I killed that gave me the taste for it. You know how you were a young wannabe somm once, and you’d tell your wine-ignorant friends that you hated Chardonnay, but then your mentor tasted you on a Raveneau Premier Cru Chablis and from then on you couldn’t ever get enough Chablis? My first taste of blood was like that. I mean, back then I was kinda squeamish. My palate was pretty primitive. Now, well, now I can blind taste and tell the difference between type O and type AB. O has more garrigue in the mid-palate. AB smells like Côte-Rôtie. Oh, man, I love a good saignée.

I don’t remember that first guy’s name, but I remember why I killed him.

Goddamit, I’m a Master Sommelier, one of the few women who’s achieved that goal. You’d think I’d get some respect. You’d think that pin on my lapel would convey the same authority for me as it does for a guy. If a guy has one, he wears it around on his suit and people think it’s the fucking Congressional Medal of Honor. That’s pathetic. Knowing a lot about wine isn’t particularly admirable. The people who make the wines don’t wear any pins. Wearing a Master Sommelier pin is like declaring yourself a Nobel Laureate because you know the words to every Bob Dylan song. Who the fuck cares? But I wear my pin and people think I got it on my prom date. They think I found it in a Thrift Store and thought it was cute. Have you seen the MS lapel pin? It’s ugly! It looks like Michael Jackson going to a toga party, fer Christ’s sake. I deserve the same respect as a dude who’s a Master Sommelier, don’t I? Maybe more. None of those dudes had to put up with being hit on by their mentors.

So I’m working the floor one night and this guy wants to speak to the sommelier. I go over to his table, he’s there with a bunch of other guys, and he looks at me and says, “Is the head sommelier here?” Well, to be more accurate, he looks at my tits and says, “Is the head sommelier here?” I tell him I am the head sommelier. “Oh, good”, he says, “I could use some head.” Then he runs his eyes over me like he’s judging for the 4H club and says, “I’m looking for something to go with my meat.” His buddies start to chuckle. “Looking at you,” I tell him, “I’m guessing it’s not the bone-in cut. Must the the old hanger steak.” He just smiles and orders the Silver Oak. Death was too good for him. I mean, Silver Oak? Really? Why don’t you just wear a hat that says, “When Only Mediocre Will Do.”

I made sure to get him nice and drunk. I bought him several glasses of Port as an apology. Then I ambushed him in the parking lot and cut his throat with a box cutter. Wow, I remember thinking, Raveneau Chablis all over again! I need some in my cellar. So that’s where I put him.

You always remember your first. How many since that asshat? I don’t really know. It’s like when you’re a sommelier, people always ask you how many bottles you have in your cellar. You’re never sure. A lot. That’s all you know. You can’t remember the names of all of them, but you know there are a lot. But you do have your favorites.

I love the guys who slip me their phone number when their wife goes to the bathroom. Like I’m supposed to be flattered. You want me to be flattered? Leave me a tip as big as you leave the guy somms, jackass. It does make it easy though. I call them up, arrange to meet them somewhere dark and intimate, and then I kill them. For laughs, I make them share a bottle of orange wine with me before I poison them. I find I like poison more and more. And the orange wine makes the poison undetectable. They’re virtually indistinguishable when you drink them. Hell, some of them don’t even need the poison to paralyze you from the neck down. But, in fact, a bit of anti-freeze nicely fills out the middle of a skin contact Pinot Gris. I’m told, anyway. Adds a tiny bit of stone fruit to the finish. Prestone fruit.

The misogyny in the wine business is terrible, and it’s everywhere, and no one seems to care. Yeah, I know, there’s misogyny in every damn business. But wine claims to be so civilized, so emblematic of sophistication and learning. And then, like our President, it grabs your pussy and shouts, “It’s gonna be YUGE!” And nobody says anything about it. I guess I just decided to make being a pig a little bit more dangerous. Maybe you’ll remember me the next time you meet a woman in the wine business, maybe you’ll think twice about harassing her. You’d better.

I really thought I’d quit after a couple. But I’m an overachiever. Duh. I’m a Master Sommelier. Come on. Being a woman AND a Master Sommelier? That’s the equivalent of being Jewish AND a Breitbart contributor. Killing, it turns out, comes easily to me. Though, really, I don’t have the time to kill all of the idiots I meet. There are so many! It’s like being a Peregrine falcon in New York City. Jesus, how many stinking pigeons are there in the world? Same in the wine business. Only in the wine business, nobody notices how they’re crapping on everybody.

If I somehow managed to kill every guy in the wine business who mistreats, belittles, infantilizes, insults, gropes, condescends to, mocks, patronizes, overlooks, propositions, embarrasses or underpays women, there’d be more empty suits than an executive meeting at Treasury Wine Estates. So I’ve got my work cut out for me. In more ways than one.

I don’t mean to say that killing misogynists is right. No. It’s not right. It’s fun! I’m sure I’ll get caught eventually. Just hope it’s not in the middle of my shift. Fuck, the chef I work for is a real stickler for being arrested on the floor. “Do it on your day off,” that’s what he’d say. I’d have killed him by now, but, well, he was on “Top Chef.” I love that show.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Scork Dork: Another Wine-Fueled Adventure Among the Pestilential Wine Critics, Score Whores, and Fake Scientists Who Taught Me to Live for Crappy Wine

The first thing that happens when you’re thirty years old, you write a landmark book about wine that lands on “The New York Times” bestseller list just below Bill O’Reilly (and what’s creepier than being thirty, gorgeous and trapped under Bill O’Reilly?), and you tell people you’re going to walk away from your book tour and the unprecedented adulation, the near universal praise for your precocious genius, to become a professional wine critic is that your phone begins to ring.

Phones don’t really ring now, do they? Not like they did in our parents’ homes. Let’s say a person, or a machine, (I met many who review wines who are both, but I’ll get to that) dials your smartphone. Whereas once all telephones sounded virtually identical, now each person has a ring tone that, in some personal way, speaks to the smartphone owner’s view of herself. Recent studies done at places of higher learning have shown that you can discern a great deal about a person’s self-image by the ring tone of their phone. I’m pretty sure you didn’t know that. It’s the kind of insight you’re going to have to expect as I tell you about how I became an important wine critic. Have I mentioned yet that I’m a journalist? And a fine one, at that. I worked for the “Huffington Post,” which is to “The New York Times” what roadkill is to the Westminster National Dog Show. Barely recognizable as the same thing.

My phone never stopped playing, “Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better.” I’m not sure what that says about me. Except I should stop giving out my phone number. The people telling me I was nuts to want to be a wine critic were the same ones who told me I was crazy to try to become a sommelier. Idiots. I had to become a sommelier. I had a book proposal, and the blurbs for the book had already been written. I had to write the book to go with them.

Now that I was a recognized wine expert after twelve months of study, the equivalent, I was told, of learning fluent Klingon in two weeks, only less useful, I had noticed when I was shopping at my favorite local wine merchant that many wines had been assigned numbers by men and women known as wine critics. I became fascinated by them. I wanted to become a wine critic for a prestigious wine publication, though I couldn’t think of any. I knew that wine critics didn’t have any prestige. Sommeliers have prestige; wine critics have gum disease. It’s their own specific type of gum disease—gingivitis vinifera.

I carpet-bombed all the wine critics I could find with emails, much like one does when your house is infested with fleas and ticks. The sommeliers I’d met, and easily surpassed, had often referred to wine critics as a form of pest, most closely related to leeches. “You don’t really think,” one told me, “that the name ‘Suckling’ is coincidental, do you?” Pests or not, wineries had to cater to the most powerful wine critics, and I liked the idea of that. I gave myself a month to become a regular wine critic for a national publication. I didn’t need to be the critic for Bordeaux, or Brunello di Montalcino, or Champagne, I was willing to settle for being the lead critic for a far lesser region, maybe Australia. You always get Australia when you’re a new wine critic, I discovered, the best critics avoid it and leave it to the newcomers. It’s essentially hazing. I was willing to endure Australian wines for a while, then I’d walk away from the job (it’s what journalists do—did I mention I’m a journalist by trade?) with a witty, “You’re not the Barossa me.”

Almost every important wine critic (an oxymoron, according to Tim Hanni MW, who calls me way too often) ignored my letters. While I waited for a break, I studied wine criticism. I knew how to write wine descriptions, I’m a journalist after all. (I’ve been published in the online “New Yorker.” Which is just like the print “New Yorker,” only desperate for content.) I felt pretty comfortable using the 100 Point Scale. It’s not that hard to assign numbers to wine. And it turns out that humans are not the only animals who assign numbers. Scientists in Italy (I didn’t know Italy had any scientists, that surprised me) demonstrated in a series of carefully designed experiments that dogs assign numbers to trees. Usually number one, and occasionally number two. So, apparently, assigning numbers is a part of natural brain function. I might write a chapter about that. I want to get my brain scanned again. I think I might need a bigger head. If that were possible.

One evening my husband and I were practicing with my 100 Point Scale flash cards (I have a mental block on 89) when I heard “Anything You Can Do” coming from the bedroom. A voice on the other end said, “Hello, Bianca? This is Tim Fish with ‘Wine Spectator.’ I got your email. I’d be happy to show you what it’s like to be a wine critic.”

I hung up. I’d attended Princeton. I’d studied journalism. I had standards. Fish just didn’t measure up. I threw him back.

I had set my sights pretty high. I wanted to learn to be a wine critic from Robert Parker, the man who had imposed the 100 Point Scale on wine. With that master stroke, Parker had done for wine what Garanimals had done for fashion—made it accessible for the clueless. “You don’t need to know shit about wine to use the 100 Point Scale,” Jay McInerney had told me while staring at my cleavage, “you just put a stupid tag on it and people buy it.” Sort of like one of his novels at the remainder table at Barnes and Noble.

Robert Parker never responded to any of my emails. This made no sense to me. He employs a lot of amateurs as critics, and I was willing to do it for free. I was on the verge of giving up when I heard a fateful version of “Anything You Can Do.” I answered the phone and a rather sultry, smoky voice said, “Hello, Bianca? This is Jancis Robinson. I think you and I should chat.”

A month later, I was reviewing wines for her site. She’ll hire anybody!

Cover Blurbs for Scork Dork:

“I loved this book. It’s the last one I’ll ever read.”—David Foster Wallace

“The Cat in the Hat of wine.”—Madeline Puckette

“Written in English, and plenty of it.”—Walter Isaacson

“The best book about wine since Cork Dork, Scork Dork is Bosker’s Bright Lights, Big City but without the drugs and rave reviews. Bosker is the voice of her generation, so sort of high and squeaky.”—Jay McInerney

For my serious review of Cork Dork, go HERE

Friday, April 7, 2017

EPHEMERA: My Wine Enthusiast Piece

There’s something interesting about writing satire. It’s a way to express a part of yourself that much of the time you suppress—the part that is cynical, that despises the human tendency to prevaricate, our tendency to give in to pride and self-righteousness. I try to make fun of anyone and everyone, and make people laugh along the way. When I’m successful, I am, curiously, both widely admired, and widely despised. I guess it’s in my nature to like that.

In February of 2016, I attended the Napa Valley Wine Writers’ Symposium. For the farewell dinner, which has much in common with the last meal given to death row inmates, I was seated between Virginie Boone and Lana Bortolot. I’d never met either woman. Virginie is, of course, one of the lead reviewers for Wine Enthusiast. She’s a very self-possessed and fascinating woman, with a very difficult job. Assigning numbers to wines. You not only have to know wines, you have to know numbers! So, there you go. I adored Virginie.

Lana Bortolot was attending the Symposium as a freelance writer. I fell in love with her that night. We went from nervous tablemates to sharing a lot of personal stories in about twenty minutes. I may have proposed to her. Several months later, she informed me that she had taken a job as Senior Editor for Wine Enthusiast. Lana is, in a word, brilliant. Wine Enthusiast is lucky to have her onboard. She will make everyone at the magazine better.

In August I won a Louis Roederer International Wine Writers’ Award for my column on Tim Atkin’s amazing wine site. If you’ve never heard of the Roederer Awards, they’re the wine equivalent of the MacArthur Genius Grants, if you ignore all three of those words. (Lana cut that joke from my Wine Enthusiast piece, for which I might have divorced her if I didn’t love her so much.)

Lana proposed to Wine Enthusiast that it would be interesting to hear from me about what it’s like for a guy who spends his life insulting everyone in the wine biz to win an award from those folks. Originally, Lana told me, she was going to have Virginie interview me. But then Virginie would get paid for the piece, not the HoseMaster. Thoughtfully, Lana commissioned me to write a brief piece for the back of the magazine. I noted in a previous post that I’d been published in the March 2017 issue of Wine Enthusiast, but they have only now published the piece online.

For those of you who didn’t read the piece in the magazine, here’s the link:


Frankly, everyone talks about how the wine business needs more satire, but no one publishes any. The only one writing comedy is Matt Kramer, he just doesn’t know it yet. Tim Atkin MW has published my crap for more than four years now, without ever changing a raucous, tasteless, profane word. That has taken courage. I owe him an enormous debt. Obviously, I can’t be that outrageous or tasteless in Wine Enthusiast. But it’s important to be acknowledged. I don’t care about the fame or the money (there isn’t much), but I care about the often under-appreciated art of satire. Being granted space in a mainstream and important wine publication matters to me.

Thank you, Lana. I love you. Thank you Wine Enthusiast for the exposure. And thank you to everyone who reads HoseMaster of Wine™. I don’t do this for you, I do it for my personal demons, but I very much appreciate that you support me.