Monday, January 19, 2015

Scoreaholics Anonymous

Hello, my name is Bill, and I’m a Scoreaholic.

Hello, Bill!

This is my first meeting, and I’m really nervous. It’s not you people. No. Not at all. Everyone’s been so supportive. It’s just that, well, I don’t know, I guess I didn’t know how hard it would be to give up scores. It’s really hard. I tried to do it cold turkey, but I couldn’t. There’s too much temptation! I know it’s ruining my life. My wife left me. I lost my job. I’m still not on the Sine Qua Non mailing list. I’m a failure. I know it’s the scores, I know it is, but I can’t stop. I need help. I mean, right now, right this second, I’d kill to see what Tim Fish gave all the new Turley Zinfandels. Yeah, I know! Tim Fish! I’ve hit bottom. It could only be worse if I were Jewish—bottom Fish isn’t kosher.

I wish I’d never started on scores. I knew better. I was happy then. I’d buy a bottle of wine for any old reason. Maybe I just liked the label. Who says you can’t judge a wine by its label? I think you can. There are just a few rules to follow. If there’s anything furry on the label, skip it. So, no Marilyn Merlot. Don’t buy a label with an insulting name, like Bitch or Fat Bastard or Malbec. Ignore a label with orange—the word or the color. These are foolproof rules. Maybe I’d buy a bottle because I’d never heard of the variety and wanted to try something new. It didn’t matter. I almost always enjoyed those wines. But that wasn’t enough for me, I guess. I had to look for more gratification. I discovered scores. It ruined my life. I’ve hit Fish bottom. That’s why I’m here.

I remember the first time I used. I was at Costco and I wanted to buy some wine. I didn’t know then that Costco is one of the biggest pushers. They don’t sell wine, they sell scores. I was browsing their available wines, and I just didn’t know what to buy. Costco has the dullest selection of wines on Earth. They’re the Smooth Jazz of wine merchants. Then I noticed every wine in the place had a score, and a pretty bland one at that, just like Kenny G or Dave Koz. So I just picked the wine with the highest score. 96. And it felt good to buy a 96. Like I was somebody; like I was a guy who knew a lot about buying wine. Yeah, I know, that should have set off all my alarms. But it didn’t. I wasn’t buying wine, I was buying numbers. Costco is running a numbers racket. I bought in that first time, and, you know what, the wine was pretty good. But I knew as I was drinking it, I liked it as much for the 96 as I did for the aroma and texture. If a 96 is this good, what would a 97 taste like? Or a 98? I had to know.

It’s been ten years, and I still don’t know. I’ve tasted a lot of wines that had 98 points, but I still don’t know what 98 tastes like. Except it’s not enough. Is 99 better? It is to Parker, or Laube, or Suckling, but I think they’re just like me. They don’t know either. How could they? Maybe they did once, when they first started. But you give enough 96’s and it’s like repeating a word out loud over and over and over—suddenly you can’t remember what the goddam word means. “96, 96, 96, 96, 96, 96, 96, 96, 96 … what the hell is 96 again?” Like that. Yet even though I know that those guys don’t have a clue what 96 means, I still want a 96! I can’t even drink a 90 anymore. I hate wines with 90 points. Those are wines that are just barely good enough, wines whose heads just made it to the bottom of the roller coaster height requirement, pathetic little wines. Who drinks a 90? I’ll tell you who drinks a 90. Losers, and people who like Viognier, if there’s a difference. I don’t go below 96. I just won’t. It’s degrading. Below 96 it’s not really wine. It’s just filler.

Oh. I’m sorry. I’m sick. I don’t mean any of that. That’s the way Scoreaholics think. And I’m a raging Scoreaholic. I even started giving scores myself. I’m sorry, give me a minute. This is hard…

I hate myself for it, but I started a blog. Yes, I know. I should be ashamed, and I am. I started a blog and I started giving scores! As if I knew about wine, as if my scores had meaning. I’d go to a big tasting and I’d give hundreds of wine scores! Asshole. I was the same as the very wine writers who had destroyed my own passion for wine, walking around a tasting with an iPad mumbling, “8.5 to 9.0, 8.5 to 9.0, 8.5 to 9.0, 8.5 to 9.0…” until it sounded like something out of Lewis Carroll. Fucking gibberish. I thought I was doing it to help people who knew less about wine than I do, but I see now that wasn’t why I was doing it. The truth is, I hated other people, people who ignored scores, people who didn’t know about wine. I hated them! I wanted them to use my scores. I wanted them to suffer my fate, my miserable wine drinking fate, the fate that makes you judge a wine based on a number rather than just not judging it at all. Loving scores is the very death of wine enjoyment, and I wanted everyone who read my blog to lose their love of wine and embrace scores. Like every other addict—I was seeking the company of other addicts. Might as well have joined Wineberserkers—wine’s Skid Row. Most of them will die Scoreaholics.

My wife left me. I spent all our money on mailing lists. I wanted 96, 97, 98, not 38, 24, 36. I got fired right after that. Most of my friends won’t talk to me. Not that I blame them. I’m a jerk, I’m a loser, I’m a Scoreaholic. Help me.

I want to find my way back to wine. But it’s not that easy. Look who I’m telling. You all know. The people who give the scores, and the people who use the scores to sell wine, they’re evil. Sure, they tell you that 92 is a perfectly fine wine, but they know it isn’t! It used to be, back before scores. But not now. Now it’s just a stinking 92. You can’t even say it without a sneer on your face. And 89? Jesus. How much of a failure do you have to be to smell, taste and drink another person’s failure? They may tell you that 92 is fine, but they’re just testing you. The fact that they have to even say it means it isn’t true. It’s like they teach you that the ball going through the hoop is what counts, but then tell you that it’s just fine when the ball hits the front of the rim. And you believe that? You don’t know about scoring.

I don’t know if it’s possible, but I want to go back to drinking wine for pleasure. But how do I avoid scores? I know I have to, I’m a pathetic Scoreaholic. But scores are everywhere. Where there’s wine, there are scores! If I want wine, I have to see scores—in wine shops, online, on wine lists, in advertisements, on stickers on the bottles themselves… I’m a pyromaniac in a fireworks factory. I’ll just want to light one… And then it’s all over.

I know I have a problem. I’m glad I’m here. I want to quit. I will quit. But there are so many others like me out there, people in denial about being Scoreaholics. They’re a sad lot. They really believe scores haven’t ruined the wine business despite all the evidence to the contrary. They don’t believe scores demolish dreams and ruin lives. They live by the score, as I always have. Sadly, they’ll die by the score.

My name is Bill, and I’m a Scoreaholic.

At the very end of January, ZAP (Zinfandel Advocates and Producers) is having its annual Grand Tasting in San Francisco. “ZAP” is a brilliant acronym—I wonder who thought of it. Especially considering the definition of “zap” is to obliterate. In the past, there were a lot of ZAP attendees who were completely obliterated by the end of the tasting. ZAP was a notorious drunkfest, and those of us in the trade would get in early and leave as soon as the unwashed public was admitted a couple of hours later. In the early years of ZAP, there were a lot of wineries pouring Zinfandel, two or three hundred. But many of them became discouraged by the ugliness of the crowd, I think, and eventually fewer and fewer wineries attended. To their credit, the organizers set out to completely change ZAP, make it more about Zinfandel and less about stupidity. Too many in the crowd were putting the DUI into Dusi. And, judging by last year’s event, they’ve done a remarkable job. While the event had a lot of glitches, it got a lot right, and I think this year’s event will be even better.

It is a great opportunity to taste wines with the legends of Zinfandel—Paul Draper, Joel Peterson, Kent Rosenblum—alongside the younger geniuses of the grape—Mike Officer, Morgan Peterson, Tegan Passalacqua, Jake and Scott Bilbro. I’ve spoken to each of them at a ZAP tasting. It’s a tribute to ZAP that, unlike many tastings devoted to a single variety, the best, most sought-after, the hardest-to-get examples are all available to taste. You can go to all kinds of Pinot Noir events, and there are half a dozen these days, but you’ll never encounter Marcassin or Dehlinger or DuMol or Rhys. At ZAP, you can taste Ridge, Ravenswood, Biale, Limerick Lane, Turley, Bedrock, Carlisle… Holy crap, that’s pretty amazing. That’s the kind of killer lineup you see at a Manson wedding. If you attended a few years ago and were turned off by the crowds and the insobriety, it’s not that way any longer. In the words of legendary Zin fanatic John Lennon, All that I’m saying, is give ZAP a chance. Really, you should go. Tell ‘em the HoseMaster sent you—and look for me at the event. I’ll be the one winemakers are throwing things at.

Monday, January 12, 2015

The Year in the Wine Family 2014--Goodbye to All That

New Year's Greetings to All of Our Wine Family Friends!

Oh, friends, the years march on, and the older you get, the faster they pass—as if years were Mexican food. And there we were at the end of last year’s big enchilada wishing we hadn’t eaten it so quickly. My cheeks are squeezed tighter than Nat MacLean’s smile trying not to let too much news slip out. So much has happened to our wine family in 2014.  I’ll try to be brief.

Most of you will have heard that Uncle Antonio got so drunk one night that he bought Cousin Steve Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar. Oh, we’ve all been there. The story goes that Uncle Antonio was up really late drinking and watching reruns of Gary Vaynerchuk on Wine Library TV. He gets nostalgic when he drinks, and it was by watching the original episodes that Uncle Antonio taught himself to speak English, so he was brushing up on his hyperbole and shitty grammar. Plus, who doesn’t love to watch a talking chimp? Well, between episodes, Uncle Antonio fell prey to those late night infomercials and bought a Flowbee, a Jancis Robinson Chia Pet© (simply add water and it sprouts a lifelike moustache!), and Cousin Steve’s wine magazine. Cousin Steve had been wanting to sell IWC for a while, even tried to get Acker Merrall to auction it, but they couldn’t be certain it was fake, so they passed. Now Uncle Antonio owns it. Cousin Steve was so happy with the deal he threw in Josh Raynolds for nothing! Uncle Antonio just had to pay Shipping and Handling. The whole family is excited for Uncle Antonio. He really needed that Flowbee.

It’s kind of a family secret, but Uncle Antonio wants to replace Uncle Bob as Emperor. He thinks reaching Cousin Steve’s audience will help him achieve that ambitious goal, which is like believing buying a ton of roofies will make you Bill Cosby. Though it’s hard to say which is more effective at putting women to sleep—roofies or Cousin Steve’s magazine. Anyhow, Uncle Bob’s life hasn’t been without its usual controversies either. Uncle Bob has a new magazine, too, called “100 Points.” I think it’s about Wilt Chamberlain, but I’m not sure, I don’t know anyone who’s actually read it.  But that’s what happens. It’s no different than when he reviews wines—people only read the number and nothing else. So sort of stupid to name the magazine that. Uncle Bob is still reviewing wines, though everyone is expecting him to retire soon. All the pundits say that Uncle Bob has lost most of his influence, which is what they say about climate change. Keep saying it and eventually it will be the truth.

The wine family has noticed, however, that Uncle Bob, as he gets a little older, is starting to give away his stuff for no reason. In the old days, he would almost never give away his perfect scores. He really hoarded them, kept them locked in a closet, right next to his Wine Spectator voodoo doll (oh, yes, that Wine Spectator is full of pricks). Now, suddenly, in the past few years, Uncle Bob has started handing out his perfect scores willy-nilly. Sure, they’re his, and he can give them to whomever he pleases, but the wine family is worried he’ll give them all away before they get some. And a lot of people think the old guy has lost his marbles, that he’s in the first stages of Score Dementia. But I can tell you, we had him checked. Doctors gave him a thorough brain scan. Nothing there.

On a sad note, Score Dementia has been ravaging our wine family, especially the older generation. The causes are unknown, though most believe it has to do with retail, and we’re told there is no cure. Score Dementia shows itself differently in every person. Uncle Suckling rants and hurls big scores around in a comic nonsensical way, often mistaking luggage for a wine bottle, or confusing fame with influence. Morose Uncle Laube doesn’t even recognize 89 points any more—and it was once his favorite. Now 89 walks in and he screams, “93!” It’s sad for 89. In the wine family, it’s like nothing under 90 even exists. 89 often talks of suicide. Uncle Fish has Score Dementia and is often seen floating near the top of his bowl, bloated with big scores. It’s just a shame when you overfeed them. Uncle Neal Martin would seem to be too young for Score Dementia, but this ravaging mental illness knows no boundaries. Uncle Neal is too often spotted cavorting amid brand new barrels of Bordeaux mimicking Uncle Bob in an endless loop of echolalia. It’s an insidious form of Score Dementia to parrot, “100 Points, 100 Points, 100 Points.” Psychologists think it’s a form of One-Aught-Aughtism. In this blessed New Year, we’d ask that you say a small prayer for our elders suffering from Score Dementia. And, remember, don’t be angry with them, the scores are simply their illness speaking.

And while you’re at it, try to say a little prayer for our California family members currently suffering through an historic drought. Many didn’t have enough water to add to their Cabernet Sauvignon ferment this year. Zinfandel producers were forced to pick grapes and not their usual raisins. Remember them in your prayers. They are among the more unfortunate among our wine family, and may be forced to raise prices. And yet, God Bless Them, they are the most supportive of our family to those suffering from Score Dementia. What would we do without family?

Oh, there’s lots of other news from 2014. Cousin Eric Asimov started a wine class in his little newspaper. It’s so cute. Sort of a “Goodbye Mr. Oak Chips.” Cousin Eric schools his readers and encourages them to develop his taste in wine. It’s the same technique ISIS uses to recruit suicide bombers, only slightly less subtle. Check it out! You might find yourself actually learning something about wine instead of reading this drivel.

Last year, all the gadget talk was about the Coravin. Piercing is so 2014. This year, it’s about the Durand. The Durand is a corkscrew designed to efficiently remove corks from very old bottles of wine, a hybrid that crosses the traditional sommelier’s wine key with an ah-so. Just what the world needs. Another ah-so sommelier.

From our wine family to yours, a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

HoseMaster of Wine


The murders of the cartoonists and editors of Charlie Hebdo have been weighing on my mind the past few days. It was a shocking story, and tragic. Shocking because satirists tend to kill themselves. I don’t have much to contribute to what has already been written about the murders. It was heartening to see the outpouring of affection and support for men who spent their lives fearlessly and shamelessly insulting everyone and everything they could think of, even if they crossed every imaginable boundary—society does need satirists, more than most people ever acknowledge. No one much likes to be lampooned and insulted, yet we never think of the toll that lampooning takes on the lampooners. It’s not easy work, and it takes enormous amounts of self-loathing and insecurity, qualities not easy or fun to live with. It’s stressful, and for all the laughter you might generate you also generate great amounts of hatred and anger. It can be as thankless a task as being Charlie Manson’s wedding planner.

Yet I feel like I owe an apology. I don’t know to whom, but an apology nevertheless. I’ve written previously about producing HoseMaster of Wine™, about my perceived role as a satirist--to speak truth to power. Which makes the job seem heroic somehow. I see now that’s stupid. The murders forced me to acknowledge that. Yes, I do my best to speak the satiric truth about the charlatans, liars, fools, pretenders and prevaricators that work in the wine business. But to represent them as “powerful” is simply hubris. I don’t have to fear that Robert Parker will break into my house and shoot me. Alice Feiring won’t ride her bike to my door and then kill me with an Authentic Walther PPK. Tim Fish won’t try to hang me from his car’s rearview mirror. The men and women killed and injured at Charlie Hebdo by two of the stupidest men to walk the Earth spoke their satiric truth to something truly evil, the scourge of this, and every, millennium—religious zealotry in all its forms. You might argue it was stupid of them, and you might find their publication egregiously offensive, but they were murdered serving for the good of their society. Our society. We owe them tribute, whether we agree with their satire or not.  But I am most certainly not Charlie Hebdo.

In what has become a new tradition, several folks who judge at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, held every January in Cloverdale, California, get together and blind taste a particular variety. Last year it was Cabernet Sauvignon, but this year we landed on Riesling. We tasted 21 Rieslings--three each from California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Michigan, New York’s Finger Lakes, and the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia. Wonderful and interesting tasting, but when the tasting was through, I opened an old magnum of Riesling I had in my cellar for us to taste. It was the 1985 Von Hövel Oberemmeler Hütte Spätlese. Oberemmeler Hütte is a monopole of the estate, certainly their signature vineyard. And out of a magnum, well, this was simply splendid. Everyone was amazed at its freshness and energy. We had spent a lot of time during the blind tasting talking about the alcohol levels of the various wines we tasted—balance is so precarious in Riesling. So I quizzed my compatriots, talented wine tasters all, on the alcohol level of the ’85 von Hövel. Most guessed on or around 10% ABV. It was actually 7.1% ABV. While many wine regions are staking their reputations partially, or wholly, on Riesling, where else but Germany can a Riesling be 7.1% ABV, carry all that residual sugar, but have the backbone of acidity to keep for 30 years? Amazing wine, one I will long remember. 

Thursday, January 8, 2015

The First and Best 2014 Bordeaux Ratings! The Inaugural Guest Post on HoseMaster

A few weeks ago the wine writer Stephen Brook, who inexplicably reads HoseMaster of Wine™, wrote to me asking if I'd be interested in publishing a guest post. Finally! Someone else wants to write this crap. Stephen's conceit was to seriously rate the 2014 Bordeaux using his encyclopedic (or is it now Wikipedic?) knowledge of Bordeaux and of Bordeaux prognosticators. For those of you who invest in these wines, who try to purchase the highest rated wines of a given vintage, in other words, you numbskulls, this is an invaluable service. I suspect Stephen's numbers are going to prove uncannily accurate. Well, let's put it this way, his numbers will be uncannily numerical, and of equal value to Suckling's or Molesworth's or Parker's. I love the idea of comparing Stephen's imaginary scores to theirs. If you don't know Stephen Brook's wine books, I recommend you add them to your wine library. Thanks, Stephen, for giving me the day off!  And congratulations, you're the first Guest Writer on HoseMaster of Wine™! Who's next?

Visiting Bordeaux in December 2014, I enjoyed the aromas of the still fermenting wines, and the glug-glugs emanating through the bung-holes of barrels in which the malolactic was staggering towards its end. All the winemakers assured me 2014 would be a very good vintage, so I thought: why wait to taste the wines? It's hard to taste young Bordeaux: all those tannins, all that press wine, all that undigested new oak, all those adjusted samples. An old hand like me just knows how well each chateau will do, so get ahead of the crowd and draw up your wish list now.

How good are the 2014s? Pretty good, is the consensus, though not stellar. Should you buy them? Everybody asks me that question but it really isn't my problem.

Here are my ratings of the 2014 wines, uncontaminated by any unpleasant tasting experiences.

Lafite Rothschild            94-96
Latour                    95-97
Mouton Rothschild            94-96
Pichon-Longueville            91-93
Pichon-Lalande            90-92
Duhart-Milon                89-91
Pontet Canet                93-95
Batailley                86-88
Grand-Puy-Lacoste            90-92
Grand-Puy-Ducasse            85-87
Lynch-Bages                91-93
Lynch-Moussas            85-87
D'Armailhac                89-91
Haut-Bages-Libéral            89-91
Pédesclaux                86-88
Clerc-Milon                90-92
Croizet-Bages                85-87

Cos d'Estournel            93-95
Montrose                93-95   
Calon Ségur                91-93
Cos Labory                84-86

Léoville-Las-Cases            93-95
Léoville-Poyferré            91-93
Léoville-Barton            89-91
Gruaud-Larose            90-92
Ducru-Beaucaillou            92-94
Langoa-Barton            88-90
Lagrange                87-89
St Pierre                87-89
Talbot                    85-87
Branaire-Ducru            88-90
Beychevelle                87-89

Margaux                94-96
Rauzan-Ségla                90-92
Rauzan-Gassies            85-87
Durfort-Vivens            85-87
Lascombes                89-91
Brane-Cantenac            89-91
Kirwan                90-92
D'Issan                88-90
Giscours                88-90
Malescot-St-Exupéry            91-93
Boyd-Cantenac            86-88
Cantenac-Brown            87-89
Palmer                    92-94
Desmirail                85-87
Ferriere                88-90
Marquis d'Alesme            87-89
Prieuré-Lichine            88-90
Marquis de Terme            87-89
Dauzac                84-86
Du Tertre                86-88

Haut Brion                94-96
La Mission Haut-Brion        92-94   
Pape-Clément                92-94
Dom de Chevalier            89-91
Haut Bailly                90-92
Smith Haut Lafitte            91-93

Haut-Brion                95-97
La Mission Haut-Brion        93-95
Pape-Clément                91-93
Dom de Chevalier            90-92
Malartic-Lagravière            90-92
Smith Haut Lafitte            91-93

Petrus                    96-98
Le Pin                    94-96
Vieux Ch Certan            93-95
Lafleur                    95-97
Trotanoy                93-95
Certan de May            89-91
Clinet                    91-93
La Conseillante            91-93
L'Eglise Clinet            93-95
L'Evangile                90-92
Fleur-Petrus                92-94
Le Gay                91-93

Ausone                96-98
Cheval Blanc                95-97
Angélus                93-95
Pavie                    95-97
Clos Fourtet                92-94
Canon                    90-92
Figeac                    90-92
Beausejour-Bécot            91-93
Bel-Air-Monange            90-92
Pavie-Macquin            92-94
Troplong-Mondot            92-94
La Mondotte                94-96
Valandraud                93-95
Le Dome                92-94
La Gaffelière                89-91
Canon La Gaffelière            90-92
Trottevieille                88-90


No one buys Sauternes, sadly, so there's no point in scoring the wines.

As a public service, the Hosemaster will in due course compare my scores with those from critics who tramped all the way to Bordeaux to taste them in April.

Stephen Brook

I wonder if anyone would pay to read HoseMaster of Wine™. And if they would, why, when I give it
away for free? Would it be like leaving a gratuity for a Friend with Benefits? When I was a teenager, there were no Friends with Benefits to leave a gratuity—though one girl told me I could just put the tip in, which confused me. I have more than 1800 email subscribers. If they all sent me five bucks, I’d have nine thousand dollars! I could buy that fake bottle of DRC I’ve always wanted. This doesn’t seem like a lot to ask, really. Most of you waste five bucks every day at Starbucks, and then tip the barista. Skip a day and then send me the money. By the way, I hate the word “barista.” Who’s proud of being a fucking “barista?” You’re just a glorified McDonald’s employee. Who don’t call themselves “drive-thruistas,” by the way. But five bucks a reader? I should get a PO Box.

Right around Thanksgiving of last year, HoseMaster of Wine™ broke the 1,000,000 page view barrier, according to the Google stats at the backend of Blogger. I have no idea what this measures. I was going to write a self-congratulatory post, but suddenly realized that the page view numbers are essentially as meaningless as 89 points. Plus, it took me four years or so to accumulate that imaginary number, so that’s not really very impressive. Though 1,000,000 page views makes me feel a bit like Scrooge McDuck using a bulldozer to move my gold coins around. Bloggers, and I’m no exception, check their stats compulsively, like flashers who just have to put on a trench coat twice a day to wag their weenies at teenage girls. We think our junk is fascinating. Mostly, it’s pathetic and laughable.