Monday, June 27, 2016

The MS and the HMW--The Hair and The Hair Not Apparent

Creating and writing HoseMaster of Wine™ has been a remarkable experience for me. I’ve said this repeatedly—I’m amazed anyone reads this crap. And, truthfully, not that many people do. Not compared to, say, Wine Spectator, or The Wine Advocate, or any other throwaways. But in the tiny pond that is wine satire, I’m not so much the big fish as I am the pond scum. I look interesting, but once I get on you, it’s pretty disgusting. You feel like you need a shower.

Wine has been my career. I take it seriously. But taking wine too seriously is, to the HoseMaster, profoundly silly. Writing is also a lifelong passion of mine. I take writing seriously, too. I’m not sure what bothers me more about wine writing on the Intergnats—the emptiness of the subject matter, or the amazing dearth of writing talent. You have only to glance through the winners of the recent Wine Blog Awards—for the love of God, don’t waste any time on them—to understand my disdain.

Satire matters. I inadvertently created a small niche for myself in the wine writing business by satirizing all things wine. I will not claim to be a great satirist. Relentless, maybe, but far from great. I do try to be equally unfair to everyone. I don’t have an agenda. I’m an Equal Opportunity Offender. A lot of wine bloggers hate me, a lot of wine writers hate me (no, bloggers are not by definition writers—typing is not writing, no matter what marketing folks say), and a lot of sommeliers hate me. It’s the gig. You want to be loved by the wine biz, write praise, propaganda and pap. It’s everywhere. Take a whack at it. I prefer to be slightly feared, mildly admired, and generally disliked. And left alone.

A couple of weeks ago, Geoff Kruth MS, sent me an email asking me if I would engage in an email conversation with him about sommeliers, a conversation that would be published on the Guild of Sommeliers (Guildsomm) site. I confess to being surprised. I've not been kind to Master Sommeliers, sommeliers, or to Mr. Kruth. But that's not what I do here, is it? Geoff offered to pay me for my time. I assented to the conversation, but donated my time. His monetary offer was generous, but I felt that donating my meager talents to the Guild of Sommeliers was a small act of kindness to a group of folks who have provided me with astonishing amounts of comic material. Seemed like good karma.

Anyhow, the conversation was published last week on their site, and since I was too busy to crank out my usual crap this week, I am linking to it as my Monday post. It's like having a week off! If you’re interested in the conversation between Geoff Kruth, Master of All Sommeliers, and the HoseMaster of Wine™, by all means, check it out. If you’re not interested, go on over to Wine Folly and see what mindless crap she’s up to.

Here is the link:


Monday, June 20, 2016

Donald Trump, the Emperor of Wine, Announces Trump International Tasting Sweepstakes!

You know what, there’s too many wine competitions. Too many, folks. And you know who’s running a lot of them? Newspapers! What the hell are newspapers doing running wine competitions? They don’t even have wine writers anymore. Really. There are no wine writers working at newspapers, not the real newspapers. There’s some at other papers, but they’re not real writers. Let’s face it, Lettie Teague is no Bill O’Reilly. By the way, Bill’s got a new book coming out about me. It’s called, “Killing the Republicans.” Gonna be YUGE!  And not only do the newspapers have wine competitions, they have wine clubs! Unbelievable. The New York Times has a wine club! I guess the motto is, “All the juice that’s fit to spit.” Yeah, that’s good. Though “Juice” kinda sounds like “Jews”, which is probably right.

Listen, if I told you how those wine competitions work, it would make you sick. They’re all fake, ladies and gentlemen. 100% bogus. Believe me, Donald Trump, your Emperor of Wine, knows fake. Those gold medals and platinum medals and Zirconium medals, they don’t mean anything! Or double gold medals. Can someone explain to me what a double gold medal is? They don’t have double gold medals at the Olympics, do they? What is that? You win the 100 meter dash, and get Zika virus? You know, speaking of the Olympics, I asked Melania to get a Brazilian, and now our maid speaks Portuguese. She’ll be a great First Lady. She'll be better than Dolly Madison, and with better donut holes. But I’m telling you, there’s no such thing as a double gold. Unless you’re talkin’ about my nuts.

So today, I, Donald Trump, your Emperor of Wine, am announcing the launch of my latest wine empire—the Trump International Tasting Sweepstakes. Believe me when I tell you this is going to be big. Really big. T.I.T.S. is going to be YUGE. We’re going to make wine competitions great again. This country needs one great wine competition, and I’m the guy who can make that happen. I’m going to beat all those other wine competitions like a rap star’s wife.

First of all, I’m going to have great judges. The greatest judges in the world. Those other wine competitions, they have terrible judges. Really. Most of them aren’t even very qualified. Or they’re really prejudiced, like that Mexican judge who hates me and thinks Trump University is a fraud. Listen, if I want to see a Mexican on the bench, I can go to my local park, there’s a hundred of ‘em, I don’t need to go to court. Anyway, all you have to do is look at the list of wine judges for any major wine competition and you’ll see what I mean. Who are these people? I don’t know a single one of them. Why do I care what they think about wine? They’re losers. Every one of them. And it’s the same losers at every competition! Some of these so-called judges judge at twenty or thirty competitions! That’s crazy. That’s not the America we want to live in. You don’t get to vote in thirty elections; you get one vote, if you’re lucky. It’s un-American the way wine competitions are run. Except they also don’t let anyone vote that’s poor and black. I get that. I get that.

TITS is going to have the greatest judges in the world. Big names. Names you recognize. Howard Stern. Yes. Howard Stern is going to be one of the wine judges. Charlie Sheen. I know, I know, Charlie Sheen! Big star. And knows about drinking, actually knows something about wine. Barbara Walters! Who can you trust more than Barbara Walters? No, she’s not dead. I know, I thought she was, too. See, these are the kind of people I’ll have judging TITS—Howard Stern and Charlie Sheen. And I’m pretty sure I’m gonna get Cosby, too. Man, don’t leave the room when you’re judging with the Cos, you never know what’s going to be in your wine when you get back. You wake up stuck with the Bill.

We don’t need any other wine competitions, we only need TITS. Once I get this thing going, I’m going to ban all the other wine competitions. They don’t belong in this country. We’ve put up with their tactics long enough. You walk into a store to buy a bottle of wine, and every bottle, every bottle, has a gold medal from somebody. It’s crazy. It’s insane. It’s like giving everyone in this country who works hard, the ones who weren’t even born here, citizenship. We don’t do that. If you’re not born here, you’re not American. Like Ted Cruz, and Obama, and Céline Dion—they’re not Americans, folks. They’re all Canadians, all born in Canadia. Though I love Céline Dion, especially with the Belmonts. And most of those wines at the store, the ones with gold medals? They’re not gold medal wines, folks. We give gold medals to every wine, we might as well allow Muslims to be citizens. And then what? You wake up one day and every city has a Ramadan Inn. Not on my watch.

Every wine that gets a gold medal from TITS is going to be fantastic. Fantastic. You can go to any store in the country, buy a wine that has a TITS gold medal, and it will be fantastic. In fact, I’m not going to call them “gold medals.” They’re going to be “Donalds.” Mark my words, by next year, every winery in the world is going to be bragging that their wine got a Donald. There aren’t going to be any silvers or bronzes. Who the hell cares about a silver medal? If you’re a winery, why are you bragging that you got a silver medal? That’s like bragging that you’re a woman. Yeah, it’s fine, it’s slightly better than nothing, but it’s not a Donald! It’s second best at best. Never brag about a silver medal. You’re just not good enough. You’re a loser. Your wine is like Ben Carson. Why is it even here?

The Trump International Tasting Sweepstakes is going to have more entries than any other wine competition. By a lot. I’m thinking 25,000 entries. That’s every wine on the planet that we’re going to judge. Every wine. And that’s just for starters. And only the greatest wines in the world are going to be given a Donald. Nothing pink. I promise you, nothing pink is going to get a Donald. Wine is red or white, not pink. And not orange. Nothing good is orange. Except my hair. It’s wine writers who gave us so much pink wine and orange wine, and there won’t be any wine writers judging TITS, though most stare at them like they’re aliens. Orange wine! What is that? Yeah, they screwed up red wine by making it pink, so now they have to screw up white wine by making it orange. No Donalds. I promise you.

While I'm Emperor of Wine there won’t be any more wine competitions. Those no-name wine judges will all be homeless. Well, that’s no big deal, most of them are now. But you’ll be able to go to the store, find a wine that won a Donald, and know that it will be the most fantastic wine you ever tasted. And everyone will know what a great American you are, that you support Trump, that you’re the kind of American who put Donald in his mouth, and swallowed.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Dr. Conti's Letter from Prison

Prison isn’t as bad as I thought it would be. It’s actually sort of peaceful and lovely out here in Taft. I’m getting along great with my cellmate, Franz, a neo-Nazi studying for his M.S. I think he’s got a great career ahead of him as a sommelier. Well, except he only likes whites. Reds give him headaches, he says. This from a guy with a tattoo on his shaved head of Alice Feiring. At least I think it’s Alice Feiring—it could be Carrot Top, it’s hard to tell. And now that I’ve started a wine tasting group on my cellblock, I actually look forward to #WineWednesday. No, we’re not allowed real wine in glass bottles, we’re in prison! But I have some pretty convincing fakes I’ve carved from soap. Filled with water and poured into cups, all soapy and bubbly, it’s surprisingly close to drinking Veuve Clicquot!

I miss my friends though. No one ever visits. No BurgHound, no Wasserman. I used to have so many friends when I was opening rare and expensive wines, or reasonable facsimiles, every night. All the wine glitterati in L.A. knew me. I guess they don’t come to visit because they’re mad that I made them look stupid. But I didn’t mean to. I just wanted them to like me. Offering to open up old vintages of D.R.C. from your cellar is how you get to be somebody in the L.A. wine scene. I really didn’t think it mattered that I had refilled the bottles with a mix of Beaujolais Nouveau, Dr. Pepper, and Miracle Gro®. It tasted like Domaine Ponsot to them. They’d all say it tasted just like they remembered it, and I’d just smile to myself. I was making them happy. I thought that was the point of wine. Drink great labels and be happy. Thinking that the wine inside is more important than the label is like thinking it’s more important for your trophy wife to be smart than gorgeous. That won’t get you anywhere. My fake wines were a lot like fake tits. Mostly, rich guys don’t care if they’re fake.

But when they found out that I had been serving them fake wines, they all claimed I had a sophisticated palate. I guess it’s like how after there’s a mass murder, all the neighbors say the killer seemed like such a nice guy, that setting fire to cats was just a hobby and there were too many strays anyway. And, well, in Franz’s case, it’s true. We don’t want people to think we’re stupid, we want them to think we were fooled by some sort of diabolical genius. I know about as much about old Burgundy as I know about shuttlecock (Franz’s little nickname for it), but those wine “experts” knew right away I was the real thing, a Burgundy savant. It’s just so easy to fool people when it comes to wine. I figured out quickly that when wine people say, “Everyone has their own palate,” what they mean is, “Mine is really great, and yours isn’t worth a shit, and I’m really insecure.”

Prison has also given me a lot of time to think about what I did. I still don’t think the punishment fit the crime. You know, I wasn’t the only one fleecing rich fucks out of money. The auction houses did most of it. They pretty much told me how to make fake labels that wouldn’t be detected. All I had to do was buy their fraud “expert” lunch, and ask! And then they played dumb when I kept supplying them with more and more wine from my magical wine cellar that they’d sell to the fools who play the wine auction market. Why weren’t they prosecuted? So let’s say I drive my unmarked, windowless van to a Home Depot and ask the guy working there how to make a bomb from fertilizer. Just curious. And then after he tells me, I have him load up the van with several hundred pounds of fertilizer and several sacks of beebees. How many vans do I have to blow up outside Federal buildings before it’s also the fault of the guys at Home Depot, too? How come when the fake wine scandal blew up, I’m the only one who got shit on him? There wasn’t enough for Acker Merrall, too? Maybe shit don’t show on what’s already shit.

But I’m not bitter. Franz says deep down I wanted to get caught. Fucking Franz—not even an MS yet and he knows everything. Though it’s cool how he has just a little patch of hair growing on his head that makes Alice look all natural. Or Carrot Top. How do you tell the difference? And he might be right. I was doing so great until I pulled that bonehead move of putting a vintage on the Domaine Ponsot bottle that was before they even made that Burgundy. In hindsight, maybe that was my cry for help. That’s what Franz says, and, believe me, he’s heard my cry for help a lot.

The FBI made a big show of destroying all the evidence in my case, all those cool bottles I made at home. And I guess that made people think that means all the rest of the wines up for auction now are legit. Auctions seem to be doing better than ever. It just shows you how stupid people are. There were fake wines in the market long before Dr. Conti became the Wolfgang Beltracchi of wine. Collectors have purchased hundreds and hundreds of fraudulent wines for generations now, put them in their wine cellars, died, and then the fake wines are auctioned off again to another rich collector who dies and his family auctions off his wines to yet another dumbshit wine collector. And why worry? The auction house guarantees the provenance and the genuineness of all the wine it sells. Yeah, like when they came to inspect my house in San Marino. I didn’t know they were coming, and all my labeling and corking equipment was everywhere. I told them I was making meth on the side. They were fine with that. But maybe I shouldn’t have those empty Screaming Eagle bottles so close to the cold medicines.

These rich men with huge wine cellars filled with trophy wine, they don’t really care if the wines are genuine. Everything valuable and collectible that’s sold to wealthy people is going to be counterfeited by somebody. Art, handbags, wine. But it’s hard to sell fake Burgundy on a street corner in New York. You need an accomplice. Somebody stupid, or somebody willing to ignore the obvious. An auction house. Dress it up, put it in a pretty catalog, put your reputation behind it, and market it to your well-to-do clientele. The auction houses are like escort services for wine. Buy something rare and pretty that you’d never be able to get otherwise, take it home, and, bang, you’re quietly fucked. Best for everyone if we just keep quiet about it. No sense making us rich folks look degenerate or stupid. Whores and wine auctions never go out of business.

It’s kind of nice to get all this off my chest. Franz says I have a lot of anger issues. And I do. I love wine. I love the people who love wine. Such a kind and generous bunch. I wanted to do something nice for them. Make their dreams come true. So I opened countless bottles of old and rare wines for them. They’re still bragging to their friends that they tasted ’47 Cheval Blanc and ’59 Margaux, every vintage of Screaming Eagle, Burgundies from the 1920’s. So ask yourself this, was it the wines that were fake, or the wine experts drinking them?

Thursday, June 9, 2016

EPHEMERA: Muhammad Ali and Occupational Hazards

You can’t be in the wine business and not know an astonishing amount of people with drinking problems. And yet I cannot remember ever reading about that particular subject anywhere. Occupational hazard? Just part of the job? Is that why we don’t talk about it?

I’ve never been a boxing fan. My ignorance on the subject is boundless. And yet I admired Muhammad Ali. I can’t say that about any other boxer that ever lived. Remembering him this past week made me realize the impact he had on the world, and on me. He was not just The Greatest, he was The Greatest Show on Earth. The only thing faster than his hands was his wit. He was the most famous and admired black man on Earth in his time, which made him, also, the most reviled by the racists among us. When he was on television or in the boxing ring, you could not take your eyes off him. Maybe the most beautiful man of the 20th Century. I’ve been fortunate enough in life to have met many people I admire, many famous people from all aspects of life. Truly, I wish I could say that I had had the honor of meeting Ali. If there was ever a man who embodied dignity, it was Ali. I would have liked to have seen that twinkle in his charismatic eyes in person.

It was the occupational hazard of boxing, the relentless blows to the head from unthinkably powerful men, that ultimately killed him. That was the thought that crossed my mind, and led to thinking about the occupational hazard of the wine business. Alcoholism. If not alcoholism, intoxication. We all know a lot of people in the business who are alcoholics, or who regularly overindulge. We never seem to talk about them.

Growing up, I was very close to my grandmother, who lived with us. She had been widowed in the midst of the Depression, a mother of two and pregnant with a third. She was the only grandparent I ever knew—the other three were dead long before I was born. It wasn’t until long after my Grandmother died that I learned that she had briefly remarried. My mother told me about it one day, almost casually. In an effort to survive in that era with three children, Grandma had married a man who would support her and her children. She couldn’t have had much choice. My mother claimed not to remember his name. An alcoholic, it turned out, who was violent. She left him rather quickly, my mother told me, and moved to a suburb of Chicago. My mother would have been about ten years old at the time, maybe a bit older, but the way she talked about those days, the way she was palpably frightened at the memories and kept a calculated distance from them, made me realize it was a terrible time for everyone involved.

I’ll, also, never forget a conversation I had with my mother when I became a sommelier. I’d had a passion for wine for many years before I landed the job I was to work for nineteen years. She knew I loved wine. Hell, it was all I talked about. But one day, not long after I had begun work as a sommelier, I was having a conversation with my mom, I have no idea what we were talking about, and she changed the subject rather abruptly.

“Are you an alcoholic?” she asked me.

I’m sure I replied with a tiresome quip. I always do. Her silence after that let me know she was serious. After divorcing my father, who I never saw take a drink of anything alcoholic even once (I never saw my mom drunk either, that I recall), my mom had dated a couple of drunks. I’d had to throw a couple of them out of our house when I was a young boy--the joy of being a teenage bouncer. One classy guy, in a fit of jealousy, had let the air out of all four of the tires on my mom’s car one night, given her a "full set of pancakes" in my Boston friend's vernacular, and I had to get up very early in the morning, drive the car slowly on all four flats to our neighbor’s Chevron station and re-inflate them so she could drive to work. She was re-enacting her mother’s choices, of course. My hunch is that when she was confronting me about my drinking, she was worried as much about the women I was dating as she was worried about me.

I think we can all agree that alcoholism is a disease. I don’t intend this to be a conversation about how we define someone with a drinking problem. I have my share of diseases, but alcoholism is not one of them. I assured my mom that I wasn’t an alcoholic. Which is what an alcoholic would say. I’m grateful that I’m not an alcoholic, as I’m grateful I don’t have any other crippling, life-changing diseases. Yet.

I look back at my career in wine, my long life of going to wine tastings, judging in wine competitions, tasting a ridiculous amount of wine, and realize it’s a wonder I’m still alive. How many times have I gotten behind the wheel of a car and risked my life, the lives of my friends, and the lives of strangers? Too many. Most of you reading this are probably nodding your heads realizing you’ve done the same. Occupational hazard, right?

My late fiancée drank herself to death. Intentionally. When she was 36. And without me knowing about it. When she was lying in a coma, her soul having fled, a few days before her body quit, a doctor asked me, “Does Josie drink a lot?” No, I told her. I had put a lock on the wine closet so she couldn’t get to the wine when I wasn’t home, which was often given I was working two jobs. She was suffering from terrible agoraphobia so she would not leave the apartment to go and buy alcohol. And there was nothing in the apartment to indicate she was drinking. So, no, I told the doctor, she only drank wine now and then with me, a glass with a meal, maybe. This very kind and compassionate doctor looked me straight in the eye and quietly told me, “She does drink a lot. It’s why she went into full arrest. When you go home, search your apartment carefully. Look behind the water heater. Look in every place you never look. You’ll find empty bottles.” She was right, of course. There were empty vodka bottles right where she said they would be. Before my eyes, Josie had killed herself with drink. Medicated herself out of existence with booze. Ethanol. What I was selling for a living. I wonder that I survived that very thought. If I even I deserved to.

Whether we admit it or not, the wine we all love is more about the alcohol in it than anything else. Babble about terroir all you want, assign meaningless numbers to every bottle you taste, write poetic descriptions of how it smells and tastes, dream of tasting rare and remarkable wines, but without alcohol none of that exists. There is no wine business. There are no sommeliers or wine writers. Who would give a crap about a Grand Cru Vineyard? We have big debates about how much alcohol should be in a balanced wine, but rarely address how much the alcohol means to us, how much we crave its effects. Somehow, it doesn’t come up in marketing materials.

We’re told endlessly to “Drink Responsibly.” We tell our friends as they leave the party, “Drive carefully.” We pour one more taste for people we know have had too much because it’s easier than cutting them off and facing their indignation. They can slur their words like Muhammad Ali before Larry Holmes almost killed him in the ring, and we give them one more taste. Occupational hazard. They knew it when they became a sommelier, when they decided to sell wine, or make wine, or write about wine, or open a wine bar. They’ll wise up before it’s too late, before that last punch that sends them into an entirely different life. And they’re adults, they get to make their own choices. Just don't worry about it.

I don’t want to be a scold. I’m not a scold. I’m a satirist, and a recovering sommelier. I love drinking wine more than anyone I know. And I’m not about to stop, not for 100 days, not for one. Not until I have to. And when that day comes, I’ll be fine. I’ll have hundreds of memories of all the great wines I’ve drunk, and all the great people I’ve met because of wine. I won’t miss drinking wine in the least. I know that about myself. And, amazingly, I will have survived our occupational hazard. I hope.

I don’t think for a minute Muhammad Ali had a death wish that kept him boxing long after he should have walked away. No one believes that. How many blows to the head would have been OK? Was there a right hand that Joe Frazier landed that was one too many, that guaranteed the Parkinson’s disease that consumed the rest of his life, stole his lightning fast hands and mind? Had he known it was coming, would he have retired? God, I hope so. How much better would the world have been if Muhammad Ali were capable of speaking to the world on behalf of justice and his race and his faith for the last thirty years?

I was recently at the wheel of a car when I shouldn’t have been. A smart and funny fool laughing at that right hand of Joe Frazier. Idiot. It could very easily have been the one too many, the final blow that changed my life forever. Or the life of someone else. It doesn’t matter how great you are, it doesn’t matter how special you are, when that punch lands, you’ll never see it coming, and there’s no going back. An occupational hazard killed The Greatest. What chance do you have?

Monday, June 6, 2016

Announcing Masters of Wine Lite©

The Institute of Masters of Wine is pleased to announce its new program, Masters of Wine Lite©. Tired of being the only person in your wine tasting group without initials after your name? That business card of yours looking a bit like you’re about as qualified for a wine job as a Komodo dragon, but with worse breath? Want to have members of the opposite sex swooning over you? Oh, just kidding, MWs don’t really have an opposite sex. But if you’ve always wanted a prestigious wine degree without all the needless study, the expense of presitigious wines, and cumbersome trivial knowledge, then Masters of Wine Lite© is for you!

There's a major competition going on for your wine education dollars, and now the Institute of Masters of Wine is getting serious. Look out WSET and CSW, the EmDubs are coming for you! Read all about how easy it is to get your Master of Wine Lite© over at Master of Wine Heavyweight Tim Atkin's site. Hey, blockheads, new letters to put after your names!