Monday, March 27, 2017

Newer, Better Wine Critics You Should Be Reading


It’s entirely possible to pursue your wine education reading the same old critics over and over again, but that’s the equivalent of only drinking Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Sauvignon Blanc while ignoring the other eight thousand varieties. For the most part, let’s face it, you read the critics who reinforce your own opinions and tastes. It’s what humans do. Yes, it’s obvious the folks who support Trump are assholes for believing everything he says and not seeing through the constant lies, but there’s absolutely no reason to doubt that what Alice Feiring says about natural wines is true because it just feels right. This is how we think. Keeping an open mind is for other people, mine’s only open every other Tuesday. Don’t tell me Zinfandel can make great wine, I just told you I don’t like it. I am completely open to your opinion, except when you’re wrong, which is always when you disagree with me. Zinfandel is too jammy, like that smegma between my toes. But have you tried this Trousseau? It’s natural wine, only lightly fined with placenta extracted from a sheep. I watched it happen on Ewe Tube.

Maybe you only read Robert Parker because you like the reassurance that your cellar full of very expensive and highly rated Cabernets from Napa Valley is well-chosen, the envy of wine lovers everywhere. Well, you’re a different form of idiot—ask anyone with a little lapel pin that subtly notifies you that they are foolproof when it comes to wine knowledge. The only Master Sommeliers who confess to loving Napa Valley Cabernets are the ones employed at wineries there, or who lie on behalf of Constellation or Jackson Family Wines for a living. Which turns out to be most of them. They’re the laughing stocks of MS’s. It’s like being a wine writer and your main credit is “PUNCH.” Which is to wine writing what Apothic is to wine—it bears only a vague resemblance.

Reading every issue of “Wine Spectator” is the wine lover’s equivalent of the movie, “Groundhog’s Day.” It’s the same issue every fucking time you pick one up. The editorial content is more tightly pinched than Sean Hannity’s sphincter. And why is the magazine itself so goddam large? “Wine Spectator” is like wine’s answer to IMAX films. Its only reason to exist is that it’s ridiculously big. The content is utterly unimportant. The only thing glossier than an issue of “Wine Spectator” is my eyes when I’m reading the magazine’s columnists. Who the hell reads Matt Kramer? Eye charts make more sense, and are far more irreverent.

It’s time that you begin to read other wine critics. Get out of your comfort zone. Broaden your wine horizons. Wine lovers who only drink wines under 13% ABV, or only drink 100 point wines, or refuse any wine that isn’t a natural wine, I hold in equal contempt. “Natural wines are the only ones that taste good to me.” “What score did it get?” “I don’t like Napa Valley Cabernet.” Hard to decide which sentence is the most ignorant. Is there a 100 point scale for ignorance? Those are all 95+. The “+” because I may have underrated the ignorance. And the same is true for wine writers. Try someone new! Parker is Parker, Galloni is baloney, Puckette is Breitbart News (if you ignore that first syllable), strictly truth-adjacent. Find a new wine writer to follow, someone with a new axe to grind, wearing a different set of Virtual Reality goggles than Asimov, Feiring, Laube, or Jefford. I have a few suggestions…

TouchMyJunket—Talking about integrity and standards in wine journalism is a lot like the debate surrounding the use of condoms in the porn industry. It might be the right thing to do, but nobody in the industry wants them. It just doesn’t feel right for those participating. We’re consenting adults fucking each other. It feels best this way. Mind your own business and watch. Which is why I value the opinions of Frank Payola on his blog TouchMyJunket.com. Frank goes on more wine junkets each year than Jamie Goode, Elaine Brown and Joe Roberts combined! It’s his tireless pursuit of wine knowledge on our behalf that inspires me. And, like all the wine journalists I can think of, he’s never been to a wine region he doesn’t love. And, honestly, on top of that, when it comes to wine reviews, objectivity is highly overrated, though happily extinct. Everybody’s so damned critical, so opinionated about wine. Not Frank Payola! Free trip to Uruguay? Why Frank can write a thousand words about the glories of Uruguayan wine that more than offsets the cost of his hotel mini-fridge bills. See his piece, “I’m Devoted to Tannatural Wines.” Oh, it’s the kind of pay-for-play journalism that makes America Great Again. You should make a habit of reading TouchMyJunket. It’s refreshing to see that wine journalists are not nearly as expensive to buy as the wines they travel to write about.

Ted Frasker—Syndicated in several hundred newspapers around the country, Ted writes about all the industrial plonk you can’t afford to miss in the sort of language normally generated by random word programs. The good thing about Ted? He really believes there are great wines under $20! So sweet. Like those people who believe building a wall will make their life better. Because that always works. Ask any Berliner. Now, we all know there are no great wines under $20. None. Zero. Only an idiot thinks there are great wines under $20. But it’s so frustrating that major wine critics don’t rate the hundreds of wine labels of manufactured grape juice available—unless, of course, the corporation that makes them pays for advertising. Hell, we’ll take an 86 as long as the label photo we paid for isn’t blurry. Ted, though, he only tastes those corporate wines. “Sure, they all taste about the same. I have standards, though,” Ted told me. “I only review wines made with indigenous chemicals.”

Isabel Sans Clapper MW—“I don’t think making Natural Wines is enough,” Clapper proclaims. “We need to focus on wines of a higher consciousness. I won’t recommend any wine that hasn’t been Certified Enlightened™.” Unenlightened wines are a product of modern technology, or a poor upbringing. They not only ruin the Earth, they can harm your aura. Clapper has begun a movement, one that’s catching on among all the young sommeliers (or “somms,” because knowing how to speak French is giving in to the Man), that supports only wines that have been Certified Enlightened™. “A Certified Enlightened™ wine,” Clapper tells me, “is a wine that lives in the moment. Some call that a short finish, I call it awareness.” Clapper’s followers assure me that Certified Enlightened™ wines will not give you a hangover because they listen to you, they hear you, and then they talk you out of a second glass. “There’s something deeply spiritual about Certified Enlightened™ wines,” she insists, “so you can’t trust objective realities like smell and taste. What kind of a monster are you? Certified Wines™ don’t just reflect terroir, they reflect all sorts of other imaginary concepts. Those who drink anything less are not only harming Mother Earth, they’re killin’ my vibe.”

Thursday, March 23, 2017

EPHEMERA: 1969 Chappellet Cabernet Sauvignon--"ITS ALIVE!!"


You never know when the next great wine will appear in your life. “Great” is one of those words that gets bandied about endlessly when it comes to wine, and has become nearly meaningless. I’ve been fortunate enough to have tasted more than my share of what I consider great wines. I’ve never counted how many. That’s a bit like guys who keep a list of women they’ve slept with. I remember them all, but I don’t lump them together as trophies. Not all three women! Great wines, to me, are wines that simply knock you off your feet, leave you virtually speechless, fill you with gratitude that you’ve lived long enough and well enough to put them in your mouth. They are only rarely encountered, and they are never forgotten. They’re true loves, not one-night stands. I recently met one.

I was invited to Chappellet’s 50th Anniversary tasting in February. I haven’t the vaguest idea why. Most of the other attendees were far more illustrious than I. Among the attendees were Esther Mobley, the supremely talented wine writer for the "San Francisco Chronicle," Karen MacNeil, Kevin Zraly, the last name in wine writing, Kelli White (speaking of supremely talented), Laurie Daniel, Elaine Chukan Brown, and me. I felt like John Waters at the Director’s Guild Awards. I don’t belong here, I tell people to eat shit. However, I’m a longtime fan of Chappellet, and always bought their wines, especially their late-lamented Old Vines Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon, for my wine list, so I was excited to be there. Yet I had no idea I was going to meet a true love.

There’s something magic about an old wine that is still vibrantly alive. Very few are. Most begin to show their faults as they get older, many just get weird, an awful lot are dead but don't seem to know it. We have families like that. And then there are the blessed, the ones who age obscenely gracefully, a Molly Chappellet (the loveliest matriarch of Napa Valley, especially since the recent passing of Mary Novak of Spottswoode), and the 1969 Chappellet Cabernet Sauvignon. The Chappellets were kind enough to offer us the ’69 at their 50th anniversary tasting, and when a wine can dazzle even the jaded palates of countless wine “experts,” and the ’69 was the talk of the room, it has to be extraordinary.

What’s magic about an older wine is that it takes us on a journey through our memories, through our lives. Nothing else we consume does that. OK, maybe mushrooms. I was a junior in high school in 1969 when Donn Chappellet and Philip Togni were harvesting this wine, and it must have been bottled when I was a freshman at Occidental College—the same year my wife Kathleen was born, 1971. Imagine that. I had no idea in 1969 I would end up a sommelier married to a woman who wasn't yet born. I’d never tasted a single wine when this wine was bottled. Not one. Nor had I met anyone not yet born. And if I had tasted this wine when it was released (I would have been underage, but, more importantly, under-qualified), I would no doubt have hated it. We both needed to evolve.

I won’t bother to attempt to describe it. Esther Mobley did that beautifully in her SF Chronicle column about loving older wines (she said it was maybe the best wine she’d ever tasted). My tasting notes begin, “IT’S ALIVE!!!” I was channeling Dr. Frankenstein at that moment, amazed at the electricity in the wine, and falling in love with it at the same time. Wines like that are ineffable. Like being asked what I love about my wife. It’s both impossible to express in a meaningful way, and too personal. I was an unhappy kid in 1969—lonely and confused, angry and reclusive. And yet somehow I managed to live a wonderful life filled with amazing loves, and end up in 2017 happy to be alive. The ’69 Chappellet was like a message in a bottle from that miserable kid living in that miserable time. A message of hope. A kind of congratulatory experience, a reassurance that sometimes, and maybe more often than we think, if we just hang around long enough, things can work out. Drinking it felt like, despite all odds, I’d had a great life, and, as a reward, ended up drinking that great old Cabernet among my peers. It was humbling. Great wine always humbles anyone with a heart.

The other nine Cabernet Sauvignons Chappellet served us were interesting and variable. Many were top-notch. I’ve never been to a vertical tasting where that wasn’t the case. How did the ’69 turn out so miraculously, so much more compelling than the rest? No one seemed to know. Everyone was guessing, everyone had a theory, but no one actually knew. A bunch of decisions were made, most of them irrevocable, many of them guesswork; the wine was paid attention to, nurtured, but could easily have been undone by any one of those decisions. We’ll never really know how it made it to 2017 so alive and remarkable. And the same could be said for all of us in that room that day, not just the ’69 Chappellet.

The truth is, we don’t have to know how it was made. No wine, no one’s life, can be replicated anyway. Some, inexplicably, just turn out to be miracles.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Wine's Deep State is Wiretapping My House


The first thing they did was they wiretapped my house. You’re going to hear a lot about this in the next few weeks, believe me. I only caught on when I was talking to my wife in the kitchen and the microwave suddenly said, “Excuse me?” It wasn’t long after that I realized they were watching me through my electric shaver. I was trimming my eyebrows when I heard a guy sneeze, and I felt something wet on my forehead. My dryer has been going through my pants’ pockets looking for evidence. Every last Kleenex was sampled for DNA, and I’ll never get another use out of the condoms. Oh, they’re thorough alright. Even the lint screen is squeaky clean when they’re done. I know what they want, but I’m on to them. They’re trying to silence me.

Most of you wine writers don’t have to worry about them. You write pablum. You write empty paragraphs that conform to what they want. You write the worst sort of self-serving shit, absorbed in your own imaginary importance in the wine world, convinced we care about your opinions on the latest set of designer wines sent to you by the czars at Constellation. You toe the wine line. You never write anything that isn’t regurgitated marketing lies. You feign wine knowledge, and feel every invite to every tasting and every junket validates your importance when, in fact, you’re just a pawn, and an untalented pawn at that. They don’t need to wiretap your house. They don’t need to have drones following your every move like they follow mine. You’re no threat to them. What you write is just the same old tired wine business bullshit. They love you.

Right now there’s someone watching me through my computer’s camera. I know who it is. I just gave her the finger. I don’t care if they watch me have Skype sex with a Master Sommelier. It’s why we do it blind. He told me it’s part of the Service Exam. If they want to spy on what goes on in my work room, I just don’t care. At first, I put duct tape over the camera. But you can see through duct tape. I bet you didn’t know that. You can see through duct tape. Put some over your eyes and try it. Well, maybe you can’t see through it, sorry about your eyebrows, but they can.

I know you’re wondering who “they” are. God, you’re stupid. It’s wine’s Deep State. The Deep State is conspiring against me. They’re afraid of me. They’re afraid of the changes I’m bringing to wine writing, and the wine world. The Deep State is worried because I won a Roederer Award. They’re really scared because the Deep State usually controls who wins a Roederer Award, and last year one of those awards went to me. It wasn’t supposed to. They fixed that this year though. They made Guy Woodward a judge. Yeah, I know. That’s like a Labradoodle judging the Westminster Dog Show. The Deep State wants wine writing to stay the same. You know, “Wine Spectator” same. Trade one old white guy critic for a middle-aged white guy critic. Pull off the Jesus trick: turn oafs into Tim Fish. The Deep State of wine controls everything about wine. Everything.

Think those natural wine people are rocking the boat? Oh, please. Like Alice Feiring and Eric Asimov aren’t embedded agents of the Deep State. The Establishment of wine has infiltrated wine writing up to its highest levels. Who do you think are the Elders of Deep State? Yes. Say the names. Jancis, Robert, Hugh, Marvin. They make all the decisions about wine. They decide what you drink, what you write, what you don’t write. Oz, Antonio, Jamie, everybody with letters after their name. All of them. Can’t you see it for yourself? They’re all the Deep State. And unless we take wine back from them, and it won’t be easy, folks, wine will be the same corrupt and dishonest business it’s always been.

Just remember, when people criticize me, that’s just the Deep State trying to destroy my career. I don’t need their help destroying my career. I’m perfectly capable. The Deep State tries to make me look like a liar. I tell you they’ve wiretapped my house and you ask for proof? Proof? I just said it, didn’t I, what further proof do you need? The Deep State doesn’t like me because I tell you the truth. I’ve been saying for years how specific wine glasses for specific wines is a scam. It’s Deep State propaganda. You really think you need an Oregon Pinot Noir glass? That your Syrah doesn’t taste as good in a Zinfandel glass? You’re a sucker. You’re a chump. You probably think aerators work, too. What’s wrong with you? These are all lies. Deep State lies. You can’t even tell it’s a Syrah in the first damn place. What difference does the glass make? It’s like thinking you smell better because you’re wearing the right sweater. You don’t! You smell like goddam mothballs, and I’m not talking about naphthalene, I’m talking about actual hairy moth testicles. God, you’re an idiot. A Deep State sycophant.

Ah, but we won one over the Deep State. Asimov conceded that the idea that different sorts of wines require distinct glasses is “nonsense.” This in the Newspaper of Record! It’s like FOX News admitting Sean Hannity is an inflatable sex toy. I mean, look at his mouth! And the hair. Asimov’s admission is amazing. Maybe it’s the Deep State just throwing us a bone. The Elders got together and threw Georg under the bus. No one really knows. Maybe the truth is making them nervous. But what next? Alice Feiring concedes biodynamics is mystical Hoo-Hah? The "Dianetics" of wine? Parker concedes that the 100 point scale is stupid? People like it, sure, it’s simple and easy to understand, but so is “Wine Folly,” and we know how worthless that is. Nah, the Deep State will never surrender the 100 point scale. That would be like Tiny Tim throwing aside his crutches.

My phone just rang and there was no one there. Deep State. Just keep saying it whenever you read a column in the “Wine Spectator,” whenever you read about the latest wine junket taken by Jamie Goode, whenever you buy a wine book by Jancis Robinson. Deep State. A “New York Times” opinion piece about wine. Deep State. The lastest vintage report from Bordeaux in “Decanter.” Deep State. Wine competition results. Deep State. What are Master Sommeliers drinking? articles. Deep State. Yet another piece about the superiority of natural wines. Deep State. Every press release from every marketing company and every winery. Deep State.

Resist.