Monday, August 31, 2015

The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Spitbucket--Part One

Oliver Sacks died over the weekend, and I suddenly remembered that a few years ago I wrote a parody of his fascinating works describing the remarkable landscapes of the human brain. I've read nearly all of Sacks' books, and they are travel books of the most human kind, travels through our strange minds. I felt a pang of great sadness upon reading of his death. And when I reread this piece, originally published in April 2012, I found that I actually liked it. Which shows you how perverse and unpredictable human consciousness can be. So, from 2012, my insignificant tribute to Dr. Sacks, "The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Spitbucket."

The brain of a wine connoisseur is not particularly complicated. It works the same as any other person’s brain only much slower. What is seen as contemplation, the thoughtful gaze of a wine expert as he sniffs, the eyes gazing into an unknowable distance as he tastes, the slow, measured writing of his tasting notes, is actually a sign that his brain is working more slowly than most. We are on DSL, the wine connoisseur is on Dial-Up. Neuroscience is only now beginning to understand why.

In the Fall of 2009, I received a letter from a renowned wine critic. It was almost unreadable, in the manner of wine blogs.[i] That is, it was dull and plodding, and overflowed with vestigial adjectives that made little sense in the context. For example, what did “hedonistic” have to do with “Merlot?” Or “unctuous” with “Jancis’ piehole?” It was apparent that the author of the letter, I’ll call him “Tim Foyer,”[ii] was desperately in need of help. I agreed to meet with him.

Tim had the haggard and world-weary look I associate with wine experts. Liver disease had given him a lovely yellow glow that kept away moths. When he smiled, his teeth were stained like he’d grown up chewing betel nuts[iii] and just this morning he had decided, like James Brown, that “Papua Got a Brand New Bag” of them. He was distracted, and I alertly noticed that, instead of pulling out his chair when we sat down, he pulled out his penis, twirling it around like a lasso, and then fell squarely on his buttocks. I was to learn later that this was a greeting favored at meetings of Master Sommeliers, though Tim wasn’t an M.S. and it was strictly a symptom of his illness.

I was to continue to meet with Tim to try and diagnose his condition over the next few months. During that time, I learned how his condition had slowly developed over the years; so slowly, in fact, that he didn’t really notice any changes in his behavior himself until the fateful day he mistook his wife for a spit bucket. It was that episode that finally sent him searching for help.

Tim had started his career as a sports writer, but drifted into wine.[iv] Through hard work and passion, he was soon one of wine’s most influential critics. A great review from Foyer was certain to sell hundreds of cases of wine. Wineries both courted him and feared him, but he had the sort of disposition that could handle the notoriety.[v] Yet he was starting to change, he told me, change he only now sees in hindsight.

It began with numbers. Tim often tasted a hundred or more wines in a day. He had trained his palate to work with his brain in an efficient manner, and he could quickly write descriptive, if unnecessarily florid, paragraphs about every wine he tasted. And then one day he couldn’t.

One day he put a particularly expensive bottle of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon in his mouth and a number appeared, “96.” He couldn’t taste anything. Not cassis, not olive, not black cherry, not plum… His brain insisted on a number. Tim tried another Napa Cabernet, from a less prestigious winery. Slowly, remember he is a wine connoisseur, the number “93” was the result. He had no idea what the wine tasted like, it could have been Italian wine, or, God Forbid, Lake County wine, for all he knew. All that registered from the interaction of the wine on his tongue was “93.” He wrote it down. He would manufacture a description later.[vi]

For many decades now, wine publications have used numbers to convey the quality of wine. Could this be masking some kind of brain parasite spread at industry events? Perhaps as part of its reproductive cycle, the parasite alters the brain chemistry of the critic, rendering him unable to experience wine as normal people experience it, that is, with pleasure and without passing numerical judgment. Were all wine critics brain injured? Many wine lovers would say yes, and most winemakers as well.[vii]

I decided to first investigate whether Tim “tasted” numbers on other occasions. I asked him to lunch. I had him order a bottle of wine, which took him a very long time considering the fact that we were in a Vietnamese restaurant where the wine list was 90% Gruner Veltliner, which left only 10% wines made from actual wine grapes. When the wine arrived, I had Tim taste it. I asked him to describe the wine to me, its smell, its flavor, its texture. All he could say was, “88.” So the jerk ordered an 88 point wine that set me back $75. At that point I was sure his condition required Electro-shock Therapy, applied to his favorite lasso.

When our food arrived, I asked Tim to describe the flavors. He was quite articulate, describing his Clay Pot Catfish as tasting of “lemon grass, Thai chili, and a fellow bottom feeder.” He could describe the flavors of each dish, and he also commented on how my cologne smelled like “RuPaul’s gaff.” Yet the wine was a simple “88.”

It was obvious that something was going wrong in Tim’s brain. And that he didn’t know that much about wine. 88?


[i] I wrote about wine bloggers previously in “The People Who Mistake Typing with Writing—Brain Damage or Cry for Help?”
[ii] Wordplay is an important tell when diagnosing raving idiots. What’s a synonym for “foyer?”  Yes, you’re on the right track, but the critic is not Jim Vestibule.
[iii] Not to be confused with Yoko Ono, who grew up chewing, well, you get the idea…
[iv] There are many drifters in the wine business. Most reputable wine writers acknowledge this and often put the wines they review in brown paper bags, the drifter’s trademark.
[v] Like many actors, sports figures and elected officials, other occupations loaded with people on Dial-Up.
[vi] It turns out to be common practice among wine critics to simply make a list of numbers for wines and then write some kind of imaginary description later. No one reads the descriptions anyway, sort of like footnotes, so this isn’t seen as disingenuous.
[vii] Though winemakers themselves often suffer from a different kind of parasite, which the French call “sommeliers.”

Thursday, August 27, 2015

EPHEMERA: Let Your Gizmos Go!

One of the questions I’m asked frequently is, “Do aerators work?” The answer is no, they’re a fraud, a simple trick, but, like placebos, if you believe they work, they work. But that’s not what’s on my mind, really.

Why do so many people who love wine feel the need to try and improve the wines they’ve purchased? Where’s the joy in that? Where’s the sense? You have to serve it in the proper stem or you’re missing something. You need to aerate it using Bernouli’s principle to release all that the wine has to offer. Bernouli’s principle, really?—don’t you know a con when you hear one? Maybe use magnets to change the tannins. Hell, my refrigerator is already covered in magnets—no wonder my white wines aren’t tannic! Or stick a weird piece of metal in the wine, stir it around, rub your neighbor’s nuts, pet your cat against its fur to put a static charge in your fingers, and then your Pet Nat will taste less funky. Or pump the air out of what’s left in the bottle so that it’s fresher the next day, and makes that satisfying queef when you open it. Or spray argon in it—it’s your baby, it needs a blanket overnight.

When did wine become so fragile, so needy? It’s part of the culture of worshiping wine, which wine in no way deserves, to see it as something almost ethereal, an entity always near death, the Blanche DuBois of alcoholic beverages. In the summer months, customers would often bring wines back into the wine shop that had leaked a bit from being left in their cars. They’d want me to replace those bottles. “So,” I’d say, “let me guess. You bought the wine first, then went to the grocery store to buy dinner, and you left the wine in your car when it’s 97 degrees outside. For an hour. And that’s my fault? If you did that to your kid, would you ask the hospital for a refund?” Besides, I’d go on to say, the wine will be fine. It’s not that fragile. It leaked because it’s mostly water, and water, we all remember from junior high school science class, expands as it heats. Take it home, cool it off in the fridge, then drink it with dinner as you’d planned to. It will be fine. And it always is.

There’s something sad about all of this that I can’t put my finger on. I’m a failure because I didn’t drink my Eyrie Vineyards Pinot Noir from a Riedel Oregon Pinot Noir glass. It would be better for the wine if I could—it’s tasting delicious, but how much better could it be if I only had the right glass? Or I forgot, and I didn’t decant it early enough, but at least I have a Vinturi to make it all better. All of these gadgets, all of them useless from a scientific point of view, but all of them aimed at making us feel more sensitive than the next guy, with a more evolved sense of smell, a better palate, a better and more savvy kind of wine connoisseur. But all of these gizmos simply prey upon our insecurities, our fear that we just don’t really “get” wine. We want so badly to be thought of as a wine expert by our friends, we pursue equally intellectually dishonest initials after our names—WSET, CSW, HMW (which one is fictional—kinda hard to tell, right?). We “educate” our less knowledgeable friends when they come to dinner with our glassware and our aerators and our vacuum seals. Yeah, there’s a lot sad there.

Wine, like all of the best things in life, is a simple pleasure. And you do it honor by treating it simply. Open it, enjoy it, share it, listen to everything it has to say. You don’t need to fuck with it. Humans are not really that good at smell and taste, those are our worst senses, except for common. Accept that with the appropriate humility, and move on. Stop pretending you can tell the difference after a wine is aerated, after it’s had a magnet stuck in it. Even if you can tell the difference, it doesn’t matter (and whatever difference you can sense is trivial, though more likely imaginary). Wine will change constantly whether you screw with it or not. Give it the room to go where it wants to go without you diddling it. Start drinking your wines humbly and joyfully. Let go of your neediness. You don’t need the expensive glasses. Any nice glass will do. Find a favorite one and drink all of your wines from it. Throw away your aerator, stop sticking it on the top of your beautiful wine so your bottle looks like a refugee from the Folies Bergere. Opening and drinking a bottle of wine isn’t major surgery. All those tools are getting in the way of your enjoyment, not enhancing it. Plus, you look like a jackass fussing over a bottle of wine like that.

I’ve come to a place where I use one glass all the time for every wine I drink—red, white, sparkling, rosé. My wife loves a stemless glass. We open a bottle of wine, we talk about it, we often disagree as to its quality, but we enjoy its company. If we don’t finish it, we put the cork in it and stash it somewhere until the next evening. Expensive or not, pedigreed or not, Grand Cru or plonk, each bottle gets the same treatment. It’s dinner company. We welcome it, we listen to it, we don’t screw with it. Simple.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Blind Book Review: Karen MacNeil's "The Wine Bible 2nd Edition"

The only bibles I’ve ever read were television bibles, which are the keys to the characters and plotlines, written by the series’ creators, of individual television series. Television bibles teach us to worship Mammon, and Norman Lear. Mammon has more hit shows. As well as the leading Republican candidate for President. The Bible, capitalized, and usually qualified by the word “Holy,” as in “cow” and “shit,” is a book that, ashamedly, I’ve never read. The publisher refused to send me a review copy. Coincidentally, I haven’t received a review copy of Karen MacNeil’s soon to be released The Wine Bible 2nd Edition either. Which means that I am able to evaluate and criticize it completely objectively, much as wine critics claim to evaluate wine. They’re mostly lying. But they are on the right track. Actually reviewing wines blind is honorable work, though far too humbling to pursue for a living. The many folks who will ultimately review MacNeil’s newer version of The Wine Bible will also claim to have read it. They’re mostly lying, too. This is the beauty of the wine business. We like drinking and lying. Not necessarily in that order.

In her press and on her blog, MacNeil says she “is the only person in the United States to have WON EVERY MAJOR WINE AWARD (her capitalization, which is a lovely measure of journalism in itself) in the English language.” So, fuck you Roederer International Wine Writing Awards! MacNeil hasn’t won a Roederer Award, therefore they are not MAJOR WINE AWARDS by definition. Pretty sure she hasn’t won a Wine Blog Award either, but there’s that damned “MAJOR” in there, so I guess she’s off that particular hook. Not to mention “the English language,” to which most wine blogs have only a vague resemblance. I’ve won three Wine Blog Awards, and they’re to wine writing what lethal injections are to the death penalty. This from a guy who has WON EVERY MAJOR WINE BLOG AWARD in the English language. If there were any.

Wine has more guides than Everest has Sherpas. The Oxford Companion, World Atlas of Wine, A Connoisseurs’ Guide, Essential Guide, a Dummies Guide, an Idiot’s Guide, a Jerk’s Guide, an Asshole’s Guide, Riedel’s Guide (which is a compilation of the previous three)… And all the guides will tell you that buying their guide will help you understand wine. Maybe. But what they really help you understand is that wine is hard to understand, even in alphabetical order. That wine writing is couched in mystical and incomprehensible language, impenetrable metaphors and dumbfounding similes. Which is why wine guides are exactly like The Holy Bible—books that are filled with mythical stories and bizarre language with the intent of making you believe in your own insignificance in the scheme of things. Only MacNeil is the one who figured that out first and grabbed the catchy title, and is now releasing The Wine Bible 2nd Edition. I’m just surprised she didn’t call it The Wine New Testament.

The wine world is expanding faster than Subway’s Jared at the Kid’s Choice Awards. And MacNeil has expanded her guide to cover wines from regions that are new to most wine lovers. There’s a section on Mexican wines, wines derided by Donald Trump as “smuggled into the US by Mexico’s countless grapists.” MacNeil defends Mexican wines, and, in her inimitable voice, calls them, “Up and coming, like your taco truck lunch.” There’s an incisive entry about the wines of China. “Better than you think. Wines to make you smile. The Mao, the merrier.” She even visits the obscure country of Brangelina to taste their wines. “Lovely, pink and effervescent,” she writes, “like Elton John in a hot tub.”

The Wine Bible 2nd Edition is not just for the beginning wine lover, it’s also for experienced wine lovers looking to spend that annoying $25 Amazon gift card just to get rid of it. It’s fun and lively in a way best summed up by the word, “comprehensive.” It’s more than 1000 pages, each numbered! It’s a wine book heaped with praise.

“It’s the greatest wine book I’ve ever seen. Makes me wish I could read.”—Danny Meyer

“A guide that has all the answers—like your annoying 16-year-old.”—Bobby Flay

“You don’t have to be an Idiot or a Dummy to buy this wine guide—but it sure helps!”—Hugh Johnson

Fortunately, I’ve never read the first edition of The Wine Bible. It might have thrown me off. I hear it’s about wine. Endlessly about wine. And I would guess, since I haven’t read it, and thoroughly enjoyed not reading it, that The Wine Bible 2nd Edition even has Ten Commandments.

Thou shalt have no other guides before me.

Thou shalt not make unto thee any trademarked images.

Thou shalt not take the score of the guide, thy God, in vain.

Thou shalt not commit adultery, thou shalt only unscrew.

Thou shalt not stink of ambergris at a wine tasting—perfume is just whale Preparation H.

Thou shalt not steel, especially when making Chardonnay.

Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s DRC.

Honor thy mother and thy father and thy sommelier.

Thou shalt not kill, except for 100 point wines.

Thou shalt not forget to wipe.

I’m not sure about the last one, but it’s damned fine advice.

Monday, August 17, 2015

A Child's Guide to Wine 2

Have you ever noticed how every bottle of wine Mommy brings home from the store is different? Except for the one with that kangaroo on it that she hides and drinks when Daddy’s not around. You know, the one that smells like somebody farted in the kangaroo’s pouch. That’s called Yellow Tail, and you should never put it in your mouth. Also, it means two different things when Mommy says, “I need some Yellow Tail,” and when Daddy says, “I need some Yellow Tail.” This is important to remember so that Daddy doesn’t get in trouble.

There are so many different kinds of wine because there are many different grapes made into wine in many different places in the world. It’s very confusing. Many people spend their lives trying to understand all the gazillion wines there are in the world. These people are called “connoisseurs.” Connoisseur is a French word that means “limpdicked.” One day you’ll understand what that means, and you’ll agree. For now, just think about the kid in your school who eats his own boogers. He’s a connoisseur. Wine has those, too. The really good ones are called “sommeliers.” They know what wine tastes good with nose produce.

Can you guess how many different kinds of grapes there are that make wine? There are more than 6000! Do you know how many 6000 is? Imagine 6000 days. The boy at your older sister’s high school who brought the automatic weapon and shot up the library only barely lived 6000 days. That’s a lot!

Even though there are 6000 grapes, only about six really matter. If you learn about them, you can really impress Mommy and Daddy when they’re drinking their wine. Here are some things you can say about the different wines that matter that will make Mommy and Daddy think you’re a limpdicked connoisseur!

Chardonnay is the white wine Mommy drinks when her girlfriends come over to the house. They drink a lot, and then they get really loud. Mommy tells the same story over and over again and doesn’t even remember that she told it before. When your Grandfather does that, they call him senile and take away his car keys. Don’t worry, Mommy’s not senile. She’s drunk. But still take away her car keys.

Here’s what you say when you see Mommy drinking Chardonnay. “Mommy, you’re drinking Cougar Juice! Are you a Cougar?” Her girlfriends will laugh. Make Mommy explain what a Cougar is. Hint: No matter what she says, it’s not a giant pussy. Or is it?

Sauvignon Blanc also makes white wine, but is different than Chardonnay. How can that be? Well, the truth is, it isn’t really very different. But grownups like to pretend it’s a lot different. Most white wine tastes exactly the same—like that water in your can of tuna. So when you hear your Mommy’s friend say when the Yellow Tail arrives, “I don’t like Chardonnay, I only drink Sauvignon Blanc,” you say, “Mommy, your friend is a wine racist!” And then tell her you’re going to burn an ah-so in her lawn. If she asks you what an ah-so is, you say, “Someone who only drinks Sauvignon Blanc.”

This will be fun.

Merlot is a red wine that used to be popular, like Justin Bieber. Most of the time it’s light and dull and doesn’t really do much. Same with Merlot. When you see that the bottle of wine Mommy and Daddy are drinking says Merlot on the label, say, “Are we poor? Are we going to have to move to the slums? You’re drinking Merlot!” Then cry like that kid at school who just found out who his real Daddy is.

Cabernet is a really popular kind of red wine. A lot of the time, there’s a little bit of Merlot in your Daddy’s Cabernet. So what? Really, if it wasn’t there, no one would even notice. Like when the ugly guy left One Direction. They still sucked. Some of your Mommy and Daddy’s Cabernets might cost a lot of money. Even more than all the twenties you’ve taken from your Mommy’s purse when she’s downstairs drinking Cougar Juice.

When you see a bottle of Cabernet on the dinner table, say, “Am I going to be able to go to college with you drinking that overpriced Napa crap?” Napa is a place in California that is famous for making Cabernet. Rich men move there to make wine and build shrines to themselves like the ancient Egyptian pharaohs. Rich men like fake Tuts.

I hope your Mommy and Daddy don’t drink White Zinfandel. If they do, you’re probably related to hillbillies. White Zinfandel isn’t a grape. Zinfandel is a grape. White Zinfandel is stupid. It’s like a White Kanye West. You know it’s just going to be pathetic.

White Zinfandel is bright pink. Remember, kids, never put anything that’s bright pink in your mouth. This is just a rule that adults need to know, too. Remind your parents of this if they’re drinking White Zinfandel. “Put it down,” you should scream, “it’s PINK! Don’t put it in your mouth! Are we hillbillies?”

When Daddy opens a bottle of wine and you hear a POP, he’s opening Champagne. Champagne isn’t a grape. (Isn’t wine confusing? Just wait till you hit puberty!) Champagne is a place in France where the wine they make is called Champagne. I know, this sounds stupid. Hey, they’re French, no one understands. You don’t call where you make poop, “Poop.” You’d think the French would call it “Champagnehole.” But they don’t. But you can.

Champagne is fizzy. This is done on purpose. Again, I know, this sounds stupid. Just about everything about Champagne is stupid. Mommy and Daddy drink it out of little thin glasses and watch the bubbles. How stupid is that? Very. And if you leave the Champagne alone for a while, it goes flat, just like when you trap the cat under the washing machine. But Mommy and Daddy open Champagne when they want to celebrate something special. So when they open a bottle, and you hear the POP, say, “What are you celebrating? Did the vasectomy work?”

More about that another day.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Tools Actually Do Go Out of Fashion

Photo by Louis Villard--My Hero!

When I was 13, my friend and I wrote and illustrated an “underground” newspaper called “The Squealer.” It was filled with incredibly juvenile humor. So pretty much exactly like what I do now. Only I was a juvenile then, and it seemed OK. John and I would write it over the weekend, I’d type it up, hunting and pecking, John would illustrate it, and my mother would take it to her school (she taught high school English) and mimeograph about 25 copies, which we would pass out at school on Tuesdays. It became popular, I think primarily because the mimeographed pages smelled so good. The jokes smelled pretty bad.

After a few issues had been passed around, I was called into the principal’s office. I’d never been in a principal’s office, not once. I was pretty nervous. The principal told me in no uncertain terms that John and I were to stop writing “The Squealer” and passing it out to the other kids. I thought I was going to get sent home, or expelled, but, fortunately, that was it. I rather mildly surrendered.

That night I told my mother what had happened in the principal’s office. I was visibly upset, near tears. I could see she was beginning a slow burn. She made me slow down and carefully repeat what the principal had told me. I thought she was mad at me.

My mother called in sick to her school the next day. I had no idea. I walked to school every day (it was only three blocks). My mother called the principal, showed up at his office, stormed in, and proceeded to educate him on the Constitution, the rules of the school district, the right to free speech, and, undoubtedly threatened to feed him his dog’s testicles for lunch (which, coincidentally, was the cafeteria food that day). I wasn’t there. I’d have died of embarrassment.

That night, she told me what she’d done. And then she told me that John and I had better write “The Squealer” that weekend, so she could mimeograph it on Monday, and we would pass it around on Tuesday. And if we didn’t, I was personally going to suffer.

“Your principal bullied you, Ron,” she said. “He was wrong, and he knew he was wrong. He used his power on someone far weaker, someone he knew he could intimidate. You’re too young to have fought back. You did the right thing. But when you see that happening to someone else, when you see someone being bullied, you have to say something, you have to do something. It’s important. It’s about your character, and who you are. Don’t fear bullies. Ask for help, but don’t be fearful. Good people will help you. But you have to be one of them, one of the good people.”

The past few days, I’ve thought about that moment a lot.

Tim Atkin is brave enough to publish a piece I write on the first Monday of every month. I’m a busy guy, I have a life. Writing is a small part of it. That first Sunday of August, I still hadn’t written a piece for Tim. Someone sent me a link to the New Yorker piece on the younger Riedel, and that set my satiric mind to work. I hastily wrote “Riedel Me This” (a stupid title) and sent it to Tim. I didn’t like the piece at all, and I still don’t. It’s not my best work, and that’s a low bar to get over. But there’s lots of truth in it. The piece speaks to truths that are widely recognized by people in the wine business in a satiric fashion, that fashion being exaggeration, mockery and relentlessness. It's what I do, and, frankly, there aren't enough wine writers doing it.

When the letter came from the Riedel attorney, I was surprised. I knew I was within my rights to publish it in the good ol’ USA. There are fools and hypocrites who say people like me hide behind libel laws. The truth is that without those laws, that First Amendment these idiots refer to as "libel laws," it's the rich and powerful who would hide behind their money and lawyers. Any writer worth a dime knows that my protection, as someone who "claims to be a satirist" (gee, didn't know you could get a Master Satirist credential) is also their protection. I hate what I write, friends, but I'll defend to the death my right to say it so poorly. The Riedel lawyers knew they had no case against me, they simply chose intimidation as a first response to my lampooning. I'm sure in hindsight they wish they hadn't.

The response to my publishing the letter was, well, incredible. Thanks to all of you Good People. I intentionally stepped away during the past week's firestorm. A satirist needs some distance, and, also, I was overwhelmed with emails and comments and Twitter reports and FaceBook hits, and, I confess, in shock. Never in my life was I so happy not to be on FaceBook. I have some insight into the power of social media now. Even on this small scale, the power of your words, the power of your voices, the anger and fearlessness you all showed in the face of the bully were inspiring. My piece did nothing to scare Riedel. They wanted me to back down. Not publish. Don’t pass it around to the other kids. They expected me to timidly acquiesce. Your actions, your defense of this cut-rate satirist, your indignation at someone trying to stifle free speech, to try to silence satire, were what mattered. "Wow," was all I could say. To everyone I wrote to and spoke to. "Wow" was the best I could do. I’m rarely tongue-tied, but the tsunami of support was breathtaking. I’m certain I’ll never be part of something so beautiful and powerful and human again.

God, I hope not.

Many people who supported me were influential people I had previously lampooned, insulted, spoofed and tormented. But they’re Good People, and they jumped into the fray to defend my right to be an asshole. I’m a satirist. My intent is to have fun at the expense of the powerful, or the stupid, or the arrogant. I also take aim at the talented and famous. Many of them I admire, but as the HoseMaster, admiration is not in my wheelhouse. I’m not nearly the person many of them turned out to be.

But most who supported me were strangers. Just wine lovers who don’t pretend power or omniscience. Folks who like to laugh, folks who follow me for reasons I don’t understand. They jumped in without fear, cared enough to speak up in a very noisy world, refused to sit idly by and watch, knew instinctively to intervene. You’re the best people. I am in your debt.

The best among us recognized that we are all in this wine world together. Many bloggers, wine writers, and readers recognized that if Riedel silences me, and Tim, that the wine world loses. I might be the first to sink, but we’re all in the same boat. I might be the biggest jerk on the deck, but if saving me means saving the ship, you win, too. Thank you for that. It was certainly a tempest in a teapot, but, believe me, being the teapot is no fun. But you very well could be next, and karma is a dangerous enemy to ignore. I truly believe that what helped me was my mother’s strength and karma. I know, I’m such a momma's boy.

I’m not any kind of hero, if anyone is tempted to see me as one. I was a conduit. An unwilling one, but a conduit nonetheless. Tim Atkin MW had all the courage. He’s the guy who looked the bully in the eye and said, “Go ahead, hit me. See what happens.” I was hiding behind him. I don’t deserve your admiration, if, in some alternate universe, you have admiration for the HoseMaster. Save your admiration for Tim. I admire him for his rare appreciation for the place of satire in a business that takes itself far too seriously. He walks that walk. Few others will.

I think it’s interesting who didn’t chime in, who didn’t fight for the right of free expression and satire, who watched the bullying and decided silence was the best choice. Many are folks in the wine biz who take advertising money from Riedel. I didn’t see any of them here. Perhaps they’ll claim they didn’t see the brouhaha, or read about it. Do you believe that? People who are in the wine business? Who keep up with wine social media? And then ask yourself, if they were silent because they were afraid to offend an advertiser like Riedel, and many of them must have been in that boat, are they the same with other advertisers? Though maybe the truth is I'm nobody, so what does it matter? There's always that.

Above all, I know that this entire incident was not for a moment about me. It’s why I stepped aside, didn’t comment, refrained from posting. I’m insignificant. Maybe we all are individually. But when I was threatened, my community, the community of folks who love wine, folks who love satire, folks who love freedom of speech, stepped up—in a hurry, and in force. Wow. I do not think for a minute you stood up for me personally. You didn’t. You graced me with your kindness and sense of what is right. But you stood up for yourselves, for what you believe is right. You stood up to the bully. You didn’t have to. Thank you.

I’ve found that a life is a series of labels. I’ve been The Guy Who Won a Lot of Money on Game Shows. I was The Guy Whose Fiancée Died. I became the Guy Who Married a Much Younger Woman. I’ve been The Guy Who’s the HoseMaster for quite a while. Now, until the next label, I’m the Guy Who Was Threatened by Riedel. I’m none of those Guys. And all of them.

If you take away anything from all this, aside from my profound gratitude, for the support, for the money (I’ll probably need it again one day, and what I didn't spend I’m saving for that next rainy day), take away these words:

Don’t be afraid of bullies. Ask for help. Good people will help you.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Riedel Threatens the HoseMaster of Wine™--Hand Blow Me

It’s about time…

Someone has finally threatened the HoseMaster of Wine™. For this post on Tim Atkin's award-winning site. Me, a lowly, bottom-feeding satirist, threatened by a billionaire glass blower. It’s the stuff of comedy, ladies and gentlemen.

And yet it’s not. The world’s most important Austrian since a guy named Adolf is upset because I wrote a satirical piece about his company. Hey, Georg, it’s what I do! It’s what I’ve been doing here for the past six years. I’ve insulted better people than you. Next time you tour around this great country of ours peddling your glassware to the intellectually challenged, ask a few folks about that damned First Amendment. It’s pretty funny in its own right.

So here’s the letter I received:

When you purchase Riedel or Spiegelau stems for your restaurant, winery or use at home, please bear in mind whom you’re supporting. A bully. A humorless, unpleasant bully. There are perfectly brilliant alternatives. Consider them. Buy them. Your Riedels will be broken soon, aren’t they always?, replace them with another brand.

I’ve been accused, now and then, of being a bully. I’m not. I write satire. Bullies try to intimidate folks they view as beneath them, people they see as weaklings. I’ve spent most of my time here satirizing those who believe they are better than the rest of us. The best people have laughed along with me. And then there is Mr. Riedel. Mr. Riedel apparently believes that my couple of thousand page views will be damaging to his company. He flatters me. I won’t return the compliment.

And I’ve set up a HoseMaster of Wine™ Defense Fund. Yes! You can donate to support the HoseMaster. Hell, if Randall Grahm can do it, why can’t I? I’m every bit as nuts. And all of you can strike a small blow for freedom of expression, for satire, for this guy who’s made you laugh every week for six years. Consider donating.

HoseMaster of Wine™ Defense Fund

Thank you. I appreciate any kind of support you can give me.

Also, if you are able, please post this piece on as many social media sites as you can. I think folks should be able to witness the tactics of Riedel, judge for themselves the sort of people who are profiting from those $100 glasses from which you’re drinking your cult wines. Plaster it all over FaceBook, make it trend on Twitter. Have fun with it.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Riedel Me This

“Riedel me this,”  Georg said. “What’s the difference between drinking from my specially-designed Sangiovese glass, and drinking your Chianti Classico from an ordinary wine glass?”


“When you drink from my Sangiovese glass, your lipstick leaves a mark—on my ass!”

Inspired by an insipid piece on The New Yorker's website, you'll have to jump over to Tim Atkin's website to read the rest of the inspiring story of Georg Riedel, the guy who put the "ass" in wine glass. Oh, I'm going to catch a lot of crap about this one...