Monday, January 9, 2017

Wine Critics in Hell Act 6


If this were an actual natural wine bar in Lodi, it wouldn’t be this crowded. So it must be Hell. It certainly is for the wine critics involuntarily drinking orange wine, Lodi Zin, or Prosecco, which is what they serve by-the-glass in Hell. It is possible to get Meiomi Pinot Noir by the bottle, unless you’re Laube, because he rated it 92 points. Which is but one reason he’s condemned to eternal wine critic damnation. Alice Feiring seems to be enjoying the orange wine, though she has lost several teeth to it, and it’s apparently turned her hair the same orange shade. Suckling is convinced that this isn’t Hell generally, it’s Parker’s Hell specifically. But if that were true, where’s Jancis? Matt Kramer feels pretty comfortable in Hell, having made life a living one for so many before he died. Laube seems pretty drunk. He’s begun talking to himself, declaring that he’s a “Denizen of Hell to Watch in 2017.” Galloni is pretty sure this whole play is all about him, though, much like when he was a living wine critic, there is no evidence to back this up. The Stranger, who seems to be enjoying all the nastiness and drama of the wine critics in Hell, seems the most energized of the group, while the Bartender just keeps refilling everyone’s wine glass, and listening.

Parker: (walking over to the Stranger’s table and staring down at the Ouija board) You know, Stranger, I’ve been thinking. How do we know we’re actually dead? I don’t remember dying. (he turns to the bar) Does anyone here remember dying? And all of us at once? What is this, some kind of 100 Point Rapture? A wine blogger wet dream? Death of the Scalesmen? And when it comes down to it, how do I know that I can’t just walk out of this dump? What happens if I try?

(Parker has everyone’s attention. The Stranger is just staring down at his Ouija board, smiling to himself a bit, and shaking his head in exasperation.) 

Stranger: (calmly) Oh, Bob, I expect you to try. I expect all of you to try. There’s just one problem. You can never escape a Hell of your own making. Walk out that door, and it won’t be any different. Out that door is this same room. Filled with these same losers. Even the same bartender. Thinking you can escape is just part of the fun of being in Hell. Even when you leave, Bob, there’s no way out. You’re all here for the same reason. It’s not that you’re dead. No one cares if you’re dead! It’s that you’re dead to the wine business. You’re dinosaurs, lady and gents. You’ve turned into noxious fossil fools.

Suckling: Wait. So I’m not dead, but I’m in Hell? Jeez, I feel like a vegan.

Stranger: I didn’t say you weren’t dead, Suckling. I didn’t say you were, either.

Galloni: (angrily) This is stupid. I don’t like anybody here, no matter how much you all admire me. I’m leaving.

(Galloni exits the door stage right, and, but a moment later, enters the door stage left.)

Parker: Just like when he’s reviewing. Never knocks.

Galloni: What the hell? That’s not possible. What is this place? (to the Stranger) Listen, whoever you are, I need to get out of here. I have hundreds of wine reviews to write. My subscribers are waiting. I can’t waste time here with this bunch of…of…has-beens. I have wines to score, and maps to make. I’m not like these clowns, I’m a full service critic! I don’t just recommend the party wine, I’m also the Mercatorer.

Laube: (loudly, but to himself) I think I’m gonna like it here. Yes. It’s nice. You know, when you said you were going to put me in assisted living, I was afraid I was going to be lonely. But look at all the new friends you’ve made here, Jimmy! And I think the redhead has a thing for me. Yes, she does. I think so, too. The Italian guy is kinda creepy. His head is too big. He looks like he’s a bobblehead doll. Fuck, I need another drink… (his voice trails off)

(The wine critics look nervous. Galloni’s failed escape has flummoxed them. Only Laube is content, off in his own little world. Alice comes over to sit near Laube in an attempt to stop him from talking to himself. She offers him a taste of her orange wine. He looks at it with the cocked head and confused look of a terrier listening to a squeaky toy.) 

Feiring: It’s OK, Jimmy. Try it. It’s really good. I can’t believe they have my favorite wine here in Hell.

(Laube takes a sip of the orange wine, and quickly spits it all over the bartender. The bartender never flinches.)

Laube: What is that shit? Christ, it tastes like Kramer writes. A little flowery, but there’s that really bitter edge. Where’s the fucking Meiomi? Papa needs some sweets…

Kramer: Oh, just shut the hell up, Laube. You’ve done the same goddam thing for 30 years. And you know what? You’ve got nothing to show for it. You’ve written thousands of wine descriptions and given out thousands of numbers. And what did it all mean? Not shit. 30 years of “wine writing” and you’ve used twenty different numbers and twenty-eight different words. You’re the Magic 8-Ball of wine writing. You can divine about 16 different things, and you’re full of some really creepy fluids.

Suckling: (eyeing Kramer) Listen, everybody, Bob might be on to something. I don’t remember dying either. And what about this? (He loudly breaks his Riedel glass on the bar) If we’re dead, then if I stab Kramer with this broken wine glass, it won’t hurt, right? (waving the broken glass around and approaching Kramer) Or it won’t kill him, anyway. And I won’t go to Hell because I’m already there. I’ve always wanted to stab Kramer with a broken Riedel. (He feints at Kramer, who doesn’t blink.)

Parker: Put it down, Suckling. It’s the wrong goddam glass. You have to use the right glass. You need the wine glass the hip sommeliers are using if you’re going to commit a Zalto and battery.

(Suckling continues to menace Kramer with the wine glass. Making quick jabs at his neck, he’s creeping closer and closer. Everyone else seems frozen in place, captivated by the threat of violence.) 

Kramer: (in a low tone of voice) Go ahead, Suckling. I don’t care anymore. Kill me first. Then finish off the rest of these washed-up wine critics. You’d be doing us a favor.

(Suckling draws his arm back, looking determined to gash Kramer’s throat. Before he can drive the broken Riedel home, the bartender draws a gun, aims, there is a very loud “BANG.” Everyone gasps. From the gun comes a white flag that reads “BANG!” Suckling grabs his own shoulder in pain. The bartender fires again. BANG! Another white flag emerges from the gun that reads, “I’m a 100 on that!” Suckling falls to the floor and is motionless.) 

(Everyone is silent. Then Alice screams loudly.)

Parker: Well, there you go. A whole lot of Miss Feiring in Hell…

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Notes on the 2017 Vintage--Worst Year Ever?

I traveled and tasted widely for this review of the wines of 2017. I think, in general, the vintage can be summed up as miserable. The wise consumer should give ’17 a Pass—“Donner” seems appropriate. This is not unexpected, of course. Most of us began dreading 2017 toward the end of 2016. It turns out with good reason. My tastings, which cover every significant wine region on this doomed planet, show that, with few exceptions, 2017 was the worst year ever recorded since wine reviewing began. Which means, on a bright note, that Pinot Gris quality remains steady.

You'll want to read my insightful views on the dreadful 2017 vintage--the first reviews published anywhere of what is certain to be a miserable year. It's a global catastrophe! Make sure and believe all of the worst scenarios for 2017 you read. I promise you, it will actually be worse than you think. To read about the 2017 wines from around the globe, you'll have to jump over to Tim Atkin's wonderful site. Please leave your brilliant remarks on his site, or, if you must, begin the New Year as a beloved Common Tater here. 


Thursday, December 29, 2016

2016: Based On a True Story

I must be out of my mind to still be writing HoseMaster of Wine™. Another year has passed, and I still spend my drive time to work kicking around ideas for my next post. A White Supremacist Sommelier? Really? Who thinks about shit like that? Wine Critics in Hell? Well, yeah, we all think about that, but I’m the idiot who makes it a play. I thought it was faux Eugene O’Neill. Turns out it was more Shaquille. Alice in Naturaland? Just nuts, really. In the words of the great Elwood P. Dowd, “Well, I've wrestled with reality for 35 years, Doctor, and I'm happy to state I finally won out over it.”

This is the final post for 2016, and I often use the last post of a vintage as an opportunity to reflect on the past year. Not all of you will want to wade through this sentimental garbage. I don’t blame you. You’re excused. No offense taken. If you want self-indulgence you can read any blog on Wine Spectator’s site, you don’t need me. The Wine Spectator columnists are like the CIA in Afghanistan—they drone endlessly until death actually seems like a relief. My turn.

I’ve had one of the strangest years, not just in my wine writing career, but of my life. I spoke at a wine writers’ symposium, I was asked to write for Wine Advocate and Wine Enthusiast, I met Hugh Johnson, I became friends with Lisa Perrotti-Brown MW, as well as Lana Bortolot, and, most astonishing of all, I won a Louis Roederer International Wine Writer Award. I also lost an old friend in the wine business, one of the nicest men any of us will ever meet, Ben Pearson. I pissed off folks at the Court of Master Sommeliers enough that one of them tried to influence my employer to fire me. In other words, I had a blast in 2016.

When I was young, in my 20’s, I was that lonely guy who sits alone in his room all day writing jokes. Somehow, I became a sommelier, so in my 40’s I was that guy who knows a lot about wine. Here I am in my 60’s and, well, once again I’m that lonely guy sitting alone in his room writing jokes. Where does the time go? The internet changed my life, though I’m not sure how it happened or if that’s a good thing. More and more I think maybe the internet is puberty. You’re glad it’s here, but it scares you, you haven't the slightest idea how it's affecting you, and everyone thinks you have a weird voice.

Among my first few posts of 2016 were both my first “Trump, Your New Emperor of Wine” piece and my parody of “Wine Folly.” At the time, I failed to see how they were linked. When I spoke at the Napa Valley Wine Writers’ Symposium in February, a lot of other writers thanked me for calling out Ms. Puckette and her brand of internet wine post-truth. Now she’s one of the writers featured at the 2017 Symposium. Simply put, that's depressing. The Trump pieces were wildly successful, and a hoot to write. Now his brand of internet truth, that is to say, lack of, has put him in the White House. We don’t seem to care about honesty and facts any more. In fact, they tend to hamper success (though Hillary is hardly an exemplar of honesty and facts, she is, at least, not a bald-faced, orange-haired liar). The internet, like puberty, has confused us. We have all these powerful new urges. We’re finding weird hair where it never was before. We’ll let any old fraud screw us. Oh, but one day we’ll look back and laugh!

The truth is we are all frauds. Only some of us know it and admit it. The internet is this imaginary place where we create new personalities, exaggerate our own worth, and hope like hell we don’t get caught. We have FaceBook profiles that read like the back labels of corporate wines—slick, but virtually devoid of truth. We pretend we have thousands of Friends when, in truth, we have but a few—you know, the ones who don’t ever read your feed on FaceBook because they actually love you. We flame people anonymously, bully them, and feel great pride in doing so, especially without revealing who we are, which would take courage. Frauds almost never have courage. We have our real life identities, our weaknesses and our flaws, and then we have our selves as portrayed on the internet. We are all a Hollywood biopic now. Who we are on the internet is simply “Based on a True Story.”

So many nice things happened to me as HoseMaster, my fictional persona, in 2016 that I was made to feel like a fraud constantly. Who am I to harangue Master Sommeliers, imagine a bar full of dead wine critics, satirize every wine writer who inadvertently stumbles across my crosshairs? And then win a bigshot award for it? In a weird way, I understood how Bob Dylan acted when he won the Nobel Prize. I also didn’t have the nerve to show up at the Roederer Awards ceremony. I knew I didn’t deserve it, and so I was sure it was a setup. Yes, here’s your award, Ron, now stand right there for a minute while we…drop buckets of pig blood over you! In my dreams, come January, I hope a little bit gets splashed on the robe of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Though when it comes to pig blood, 45 is more a universal donor.

I’ve never had more fun in the wine business than I’m having now. The internet allowed me to be reborn as the obnoxious and unrepentant HoseMaster of Wine™. Thanks to him, I’ve become a household name in the wine business, both adored and loathed. I receive far too much praise, and equal amounts of scorn. What’s weird is how I’m more comfortable with the scorn. The praise makes me feel like the fraud that I am. At industry events I am often recognized, though just as often the mention of HoseMaster is met with a blank stare that would do Rick Perry proud. Which is humbling, and much appreciated. It’s the same stare of non-recognition I see every morning in the bathroom mirror. So, it says, who the hell are you?

I’m going to miss 2016. It was a very rewarding year for the HoseMaster, and gratifying as well. I keep writing because I am forever curious about where my mind will take me once a week. I feel like 1WineDoody, or Jamie Goode, always on a junket to somewhere weird, and then making shit up about it. My agenda has always been to try not to be dull. To make it about the writing, to try to find some value in writing about wine, not write about wine in order to get things that are valuable for me. I almost never live up to my own expectations. I think that I either have a really great idea which I then completely ruin, or I have a stupid idea and run with it anyway. I keep hoping I’ll get it right one of these tries.

I’m very curious about what 2017 will bring for the world. Satirists are, contrary to what you may think, optimists by nature. We point out human foibles and follies, insult liars and fools, lampoon the powerful, because we think that will change them, or change peoples reactions to them. Pretty stupid and hopeless when you think about it. So, yeah, that’s optimism right there. The internet, like TV and advertising before it, is about selling you death, fear and sex. And the pills that will help you with them. I spend very little time here compared to most people. I’m not fearful of Trump, or of Brexit, or of ISIS. I’m more fearful that I won’t live long enough to have the last laugh.

So long, 2016. Like my old friend Ben Pearson, I suspect your like will never come around again.