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Top Five Reasons the White House is No Longer Disclosing Wine Lists

March 14th, 2012 by Tom Johnson

The White House recently announced it will not release wine lists for state dinners. Here are the Top 5 reasons why the White House wine list is now a state secret:

  1. President’s bias toward Illinois wine threatens electoral prospects in neighboring Indiana.
  2. Plot to distract Republican base from forged birth certificate
  3. Fred Franzia was a huge campaign contributor, would be pissed to know White House opted for Black Box
  4. Doesn’t want to cause a run on Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve Chardonnay before they get the cellar re-filled
  5. Sprinkler system went off in the White House cellar, all the labels soaked off and it’s pretty much pot luck on the wine

Posted in Funny | Comments (5)


I Took French in High School, and Dammit I’m Going to Use It

March 1st, 2012 by Tom Johnson

A Canadian study indicates that people pay more for wine with difficult-to-pronounce names. As reported in the New York Post:

Three groups of between 41 to 48 participants were asked to rate the same Niagara Chardonnay. The first group was told the wine came from a fictional winery called Titakis; the second group was told it came from an even more disfluently named winery named Tselepou, and the third served as a control group which was given no name.

The most highly valued wine turned out to be the hardest-to-pronounce, as Tselepou was valued at $16 a bottle in the blind tastings.

According to my estimates, “Tselepou” is pronounced “to sell a poo,” which I would not buy at any price.

The average increase in value of a difficult-to-pronounce wine is $2. Difficult-to-pronounce cheese also seemed to be valued more highly.

I suspect this is why my blog is unsuccessful. “Tom Johnson” is too easy to pronounce. Yeah, that’s it.

 

Posted in Data | Comments (3)


Picklepuss Wines for Valentine’s Day Cynics

February 13th, 2012 by Tom Johnson

Last year, a poll by Glamour magazine showed that 65% of Glamour readers hate Valentine’s Day. Stop by any V-Day-themed comment thread and you are likely to read a lot of this:

Valentine’s Day is like herpes: just when you think its gone for good, it rears its ugly head once more.

Every other day of the year, the romantically unattached flaunt their free-agent status. On Valentine’s Day, the boringly monogamous strike back, putting on their fancy eatin’ duds and going out on the town for dinner, drinks, and maybe a foxtrot before heading back home by ten o’clock. You’d think swingin’ singles would be sporting about this, but they’re not. Instead, they bitch and piss and moan about the Hallmark/Godiva Chocolates conspiracy to make them feel bad.

Let me be clear about this: If there were such a conspiracy, I would wholeheartedly support it if for no other reason than single people putting pictures like this where I can find them.

Alas, there is no conspiracy to make single people feel bad — even though they should, every day. The conspiracy is to get everyone to buy stuff they don’t need, like $50-an-ounce chocolates or stones engraved with terms of endearment.

The wineblogosphere is complicit in this, plotting with wine publicists to load uncountable WordPress pages with sweet combinations of wine and chocolate that no V-Day enthusiasts will bother to track down. For example:

Dark Chocolate and Masi Costasera Classico Amarone, Italy.

My question is: who’s looking out for the aesthetic interests of the 65% who hate Valentine’s Day, who are lonely and embittered because, this day, their favorite pick-up spot is filled with grown-ups reliving the days when they could tear off a quickie behind a pinball machine without having to call their chiropractor? What of those people who spend Valentine’s Day writing Internet screeds about how unfair it is that one day a year is set aside for people who aren’t in a 24-hour-a-day hunt for something or someone they’re going to regret the next morning?

Who’s writing advice for this guy?

Don’t care much for Valentine’s Day. It’s just another method for retail businesses to hit men with a guilt trip. It’s sexist, too. Seriously, have you ever seen an advertisement where a woman buys a gift for her man for Valentine’s Day?

I understand this guy’s bitterness, which is larger than any single holiday. I’ll write for him even if no one else will. I’ll find the perfect wine to match his pathos. I’ll consider the way he combines cheapness and gender resentment in a way that screams, “I’m 35 years old and live in my parents’ basement,” and my wineblogging advice to him will be to spend two hours pay from his job at the gun store on a bottle of Little Black Dress Chardonnay. It is, like Valentine’s Day resentment, cheap and common. It’ll remind him that there’s a world out there that likes women and wants to please them, and that he’s not part of that world, which means he’s going to keep attending Ron Paul rallies and Star Trek conventions alone for the rest of his life.

Here’s a tweet that slinked by this afternoon, hands shoved deeply in its pockets, grumbling sourly at no one in particular:

Roses are shut up, violets are shut up. Sugar is shut up and SHUT UP. #ValentinesDay

I’m not sure what type of wine to recommend to this guy. It would have to be dark, dense, unpleasant, prone to violence. I don’t drink wine like that, so I’ll defer to the experts at BumWine.com, who recommend Night Train Express, which delivers “a NyQuil-like drowsiness” that deadens the soul and shut up.

As for women being the romantic gender, well:

Keep the roses, the balloons (both of which I’ll have to throw out later when they die), the chocolate and the poofy card. What do women really want? For someone to do the dishes. Do the dishes without complaint or grousing or being told to. Just do them.

While he’s doing the dishes — and maybe texting about his sexless-buzzkill-of-a-wife with the MILF in accounting who’s been hinting around about a nooner — this sweetheart can toast her world-weary strong-womanhood with a couple of juice jars of Andre Cold Duck. At three bucks a bottle, it’s a blend of bulk “champagne” and some kind of red wine that was too horrible to make the Franzia cut. It’s named for the medieval tradition of mixing party aftermath into a single drink for consumption the morning after, when vomiting would be an improvement.

The irony of Valentine’s Day is that there are so many lonely people. You’d think they’d just get together or something, but no. Instead, they wallow in their scorn:

 Even in years past when I had a boyfriend on Valentine’s Day, I thought it was overrated and far over-hyped.

Yeah, surrrrre. I’d bet the contents of my secret box under the basement stairs — the one full of wine I haven’t told my wife about because she would rather have had a new car — against a Big Mac that you were one of those sappy girls who started to refer to you and your boyfriend as “we” halfway through the first date. He started backing off as V-Day approached because you kept dropping hints about a ring, and when the holiday passed with nothing but your valentine to him returned stamped “moved, no forwarding address,” your self-protective cynicism kicked in. That’s your pose now — Valentine’s Day is overrated — but we all know you’ve got a romantic bottle of something pink in the fridge, just in case you can find the backup batteries for the current Mr. Right, who has no choice but to wait in your nightstand for the horrors to come.

Finally, there’s this guy:

Normally, I don’t encourage people to burn down flower shops (make sure your firebombs are wrapped in pink packaging), hunt down and eviscerate candy-company executives (despite their hard exterior they’re gooey on the inside), or use VD cards to give Hallmark employees a million little papercuts (bind them with caramel so they can’t move), but because Feb. 14th is apparently so different (it’s the day you actually love loved ones!!!!!11!1), I’m going to make an exception.

There’s only one wine for this guy, a wine that is both cockeyed and repulsive, that makes no sense on any level but still has its advocates: retsina. A throwback to the day when wine containers were sealed with pine tar, retsina brings the joy of turpentine to drinking — a perfect analog to those people who bring the joy of resentment to a day set aside to commemorate love.

Drink up, suckers.

Posted in Mr. Grumpy | Comments (0)


We Expect Him to Emerge with Muted Fruit, Tobacco and Licorice Notes, and Soft Tannins

February 13th, 2012 by Tom Johnson

Warehouse worker Mark Anderson, convicted of torching 4.5 million bottles of wine stored in Vallejo, California, has been sentenced to 27 years in prison.

The judge also sentenced Mr. Anderson to pay restitution of $70.3 million to the owners of the wine and the warehouse. Under California law, up to 50% of wages earned in prison may be withheld for restitution. At the standard prisoner pay rate of $0.95 an hour, and assuming a 40-hour work week and a 0% interest rate, it will take just over 27,000 years to retire the debt.

Posted in News | Comments (0)


Winemaking Without Glamour

February 13th, 2012 by Tom Johnson


Every now and then, supersophisticated, rich-people-paradise Napa Valley shows its farm-country roots. Last week, in finest county fair tradition, the 11th Annual Napa County Pruning Contest brought 80 vineyard hands out on a gray Winter day to demonstrate their arcane skill. Pruning the vines is a critical aspect of making wine, and most self-described wine experts don’t bother to understand it, since doing so involves walking in mud and skipping free wine tastings.

In this video, manic pruners compete on speed and quality of work.

I love to watch people who are good at their job; there’s beauty and intensity in work well done. And, to be honest, something really relaxing about watching other people work.

A few years ago I went with a bunch of wine writers out into a vineyard for a lesson in pruning vines. We worked until we grew so weary we could no longer go without water and a catered lunch — about fifteen minutes. I’ve always wondered if the vineyard kept data on production from the two rows of vines we slaughtered. I’m guessing it was down, and it wouldn’t surprise me all that much if we had somehow trimmed the vines into producing soybeans instead of grapes.

The winner of the contest was Jose Juan Tellez of Gallegos Vineyards in St. Helena. He will next go on to the world tournament to be held in Bordeaux in March, where cheering crowds will salute his craftsmanship.

Just kidding. He’ll go back to the vineyard where he will continue to be among the best in the world at his backbreaking and nearly invisible job. Not once will anyone tasting the excellent wine helps produce stop to say, “Man, those guys pruning the vines really know their stuff.”

I’ve looked, by the way, and there is no similar competition for mohelim. Though if you take a minute to imagine what that particular contest might look like, it will change your life forever.

 

Posted in Good Stuff | Comments (3)


The Taste Descriptors From Outer Space

February 1st, 2012 by Tom Johnson

If there were a Wine Writer Olympics, the second most competitive event (after the contest to see who can get the most free wine) would be the Taste Descriptor Biathalon. In this event, wine writers compete to describe wines with words that are both highly original and utterly fatuous. Ordinal scores are based on off-handedness of execution and degree of absurdity.

My personal favorite is “forest floor,” a description of earthy wines that is the double toe-loop of wine writing — once a bring-them-to-their-feet crowd pleaser, now so commonplace the only people who bother with it are 50-year old has-beens cutting it up on the Mall of America ice rink.

Though I accept as a matter of philosophy that wine writers need to write something to justify their daily UPS shipments of free wine, I’ve always thought taste descriptors say more about the person doing the describing than the wine being described. Wine writers who use “forest floor,” for example, assume that people know what forest floor tastes like. That assumption is based on the fact that most wine writers were nerdy children set upon by bullies, who pushed the future wine writers down and rubbed dirt into their faces before taking their lunch money.  By assuming everyone has had similar experiences, wine writers can delude themselves that they’re not nerdy, but in fact just like everyone else.

To stay competitive, wine writers have to invent increasingly difficult and impressive taste descriptors. I overheard one critic recently describe a wine as tasting of “sunbaked sandstone,” an impressive feat that will no doubt be commonplace a decade from now. (There are rumors that China has begun selecting promising three year olds, removing them from their families to isolated wine-writing training facilities where they’re fed a special diet and train 14 hours a day.)

Given the increasing cultural, economic, and even geopolitical importance of wine writing, it’s not surprising that a few unscrupulous marketers are attempting to corrupt the system to their own advantage. (“Money is the root of all marketing plans,” wrote marketer Michael Brenner.) This is not the familiar corruption of wineries giving special treatment to writers who don’t write for print publications, but a new form of corruption in which wines are manufactured with world-class taste descriptors built right in — as if someone had brewed a Cabernet with actual pieces of forest floor in the bottle in order to prompt wine writers to promote the wine.

The breakthrough product on this front is Meteorito wine (obvious advertising tag line: “It’s out of this world!”) which is made by Ian Hutcheon’s Tremonte Vineyard in Chile’s Cachapoal Valley. Meteorito’s secret ingredient is a three-inch meteorite that steeps in the wine as it ages.

“When you drink this wine, you are drinking elements from the birth of the solar system,” (Hutcheon) added. “The idea behind submerging it in wine was to give everybody the opportunity to touch something from space; the very history of the solar system, and feel it via a grand wine.”

Leaving aside, for the moment, that molecular migration means you ingest with every breath elements from the birth of the solar system, Hutcheon insists the presence of microscopic quantities of meteorite give the wine a “livelier” taste.

Like Dick Fosbury, who forever changed high jumping by going over the bar backwards, Hutcheon has set in motion events that will inevitably — pardon the mixture of metaphors — raise the bar on wine writing in the future. From this moment forward, in their repertoire of wine descriptors, wine writers who aspire to Olympian greatness will have to include vocabulary familiar to viewers of The Jetsons. Wine that has, in the past, been sufficiently described using terrestrial terms (you don’t get more terrestrial than “forest floor”) will have to be described as intergalactic, planetary, even asteroidal. And as more and more cosmological terminology is assimilated into wine writing, those who read wine reviews will have to make sense out of something like this:

In the glass, a pleasing range of the electromagnetic spectrum with hints of dark matter in the nose and redshift on the mid-palate. Plasma mouthfeel, and a 47-dimensional finish with good supersymmetry.

I, personally, am already nostalgic for forest floor.

Posted in Oddities, Wine Writing | Comments (2)


The Baby Boomers, Explained

January 23rd, 2012 by Tom Johnson

If I were a different kind of wine blogger, I would ask for the perfect food/wine pairing for this meal.

But since I’m not a different kind of wine blogger, I will simply note that a whole generation grew up on crap like this and they’re the same population cohort that makes up the spine of the Tea Party.

My theory: the bilious anger caused by being served a dinner of Spam and lima beans on a Formica tabletop by parents who smoked at the dinner table has never quite dissipated, and they’re going to make damned sure you don’t enjoy your arugula.

Source: Mitch O’Connell.

Posted in And Food | Comments (4)


In Which Professional Wine Writing Turns Into the Jerry Lewis Telethon

January 19th, 2012 by Tom Johnson

The defining characteristics of the waning years of the Jerry Lewis Telethon were outpourings of maudlin emotion and humble self-congratulation by old people belaboring the obvious. In the telethon’s case, it was a bunch of currently-headlining-at-the-Debbie-Reynolds-Theater-in-Branson-Missouri schtickmeisters returning to their Vegas-lounge glory days to remind us all that kids shouldn’t suffer unless it’s on camera to raise money.

In wine writing, the topic of crusade is the 100-point scoring system, sure to get a rise out of…well, people like me. If you search “100-point wine scoring,” Google returns more than 85-million references. Narrow the search to blogs-only and you’ll still get 4.3-million postings, each of them no doubt a cri de coeur in which people serious about wine lament the benighted masses who drink without the benefit of neurosis and access to free portfolio tastings.

Who doesn’t get tired of endlessly debating the value of 100-point scoring systems? Well, for one, David Duman of  The Huffington Post — which sounds a lot like it might be the newspaper Mr. Wilson read in the old Dennis the Menace cartoon strip, which is just another detail reinforcing the old-fartiness of the whole discussion. So by all means, Mr. Duman, we need another 500 words on the subject. And it would be particularly helpful if you used your latest Huffington posting to remind us all that you were on the record against 100-point scales from Day One. Through the breach, as it were, with bayonet fixed to slash away on behalf of conventional wisdom.

Well and good, Mr. Duman, but not in itself a telethon-class achievement. That’s going to require a dead-before-the-needle-left-the-arm overdose of deeply felt overstatement about the fundamental goodness of those with whom one is disagreeing — in this case, the wine intelligentsia’s equivalent of Mel Torme, Steve Heimoff.

So, this (emphasis added):

In the ensuing months, my opinion hasn’t changed but I thought the debate was worth another look…

Let me just break in here to remind you that wine bloggers have decided this debate was “worth another look” 4.3 million times.

In the ensuing months, my opinion hasn’t changed but I thought the debate was worth another look because of a couple of somewhat recent high profile defenses of the system from writers whose work I otherwise admire, including San Francisco Chronicle wine editor Jon Bonné and freelance writer and Wine Enthusiast west coast editor Steve Heimoff. Both of these men I consider among the most thoughtful and cosmopolitan journalists writing about wine today, so it was discouraging to see their defenses of the system utilizing those same tired arguments used by lesser critics.

Leaving John Bonné out of this, consider Steve Heimoff as “thoughtful and cosmopolitan” while viewing this video, in which a refrigerated and totally professional Heimoff discusses the endlessly-fascinating topic of rating wine.  This is a video I’ve kept secret for years because, like Jerry Lewis Himself, it’s so awesomely bad that it qualifies as a national treasure. I was afraid if I mentioned it out loud Heimoff might come to his senses and get it the hell off the Internet.

Hat tip on this to the Wine Curmudgeon, who retains his respectable position in society in part by convincing me to write about stuff like this so he doesn’t have to.

UPDATE: After watching the video for about the thousandth time, I note that there are roughly a half-dozen jump-cuts, implying that there were parts of the “show” that were edited out because, presumably, they were less interesting than what was left in. My question is: How is that possible?

Posted in Wine Writing | Comments (7)


Innovation or Personal Challenge?

January 10th, 2012 by Tom Johnson

Designer Christopher Yamane has created what he calls an “unspillable” wine glass which, while clever, is “unspillable” only in the sense that a gentle tap will cause it to roll only 45 degrees before it is caught by its protective glass ring.

For those of us who spill wine rather more grandly than that — while gesticulating wildly at the dinner table, for example, and splatting wine over a roughly six-foot-by-six-foot  area — the glass seems like it would be ineffective.

Still, you can buy four of them here for $150.

Posted in Hardware, Uncategorized | Comments (4)


The Situation In New Jersey

January 10th, 2012 by Tom Johnson

New Jersey’s legislature passed a direct shipping law yesterday that gets the state out of dutch with the Supreme Court. To which I say: thank goodness. I was worried Scalia was going to have to go up there and bust some kneecaps.

The direct shipping reform was just one part of a busy day for the legislature, which apparently frittered away most of its term taking under-the-table campaign contributions and practicing writing “Mrs. Chris Christie” on pending legislation while staring dreamily out the window. On the last day of the session, more than 150 bills needed to be considered.

To simplify the process, the legislature decided to just give up and turn the state into a basic cable reality show.

“For years we argued that Jersey Shore was not what the state was all about,” said made-up state representative Steven “Guido” Singletary. “After a while, we just decided WTF.”

On the same day the legislature passed direct wine shipping, it also created a pilot program to allow parimutuel betting in bars, exempted beach bars from noise restrictions, and dropped the previously required three-day waiting period to get married.

“Whoo-hoo!” shouted fictional state Senator Angela “Guido” Brancusi, pictured above on the floor of the legislature. “I’m gonna get creepyyyyyyy!”

 

Posted in Regulation | Comments (2)