Christmas is upon us, and it seems that every family has a wine expert among them for whom they have to buy a gift. He’s also usually the Family Jerk. In my family, that’s me. So every Christmas I come up with a list of wine gifts that I would actually like to receive instead of the usual corkscrews, T-Shirts (“I have 100 points in my pants” or “Temecula Wines—We’ll Show Those Swiss!”) and copies of Food and Wine Magazine’s Guide to Wine (“…the guide for people for whom mediocrity might just be too high a bar to get over,” says the Wall Street Journal, and they should know.). So for those of you who must also buy for one wine jerk or another, here is The HoseMaster’s 2010 Christmas Gift List for Wine Lovers.
BIODYNAMICS: THE HOME GAME
Parker Brothers (that’s Robert and his brother Fudge Parker) has just released a new game that is not only fun to play, but teaches you and your family the fundamentals of BioDynamics for use in your own home. BioDynamics is one of the most controversial subjects in the wine world, right up there with screwcaps, terroir and blind tasting wine critics (who taste lousy, blind or otherwise—except for Lettie Teague, who reminds me of an Alsatian cheese), and, like all of those, is also vastly misunderstood. BioDynamics: The Home Game enlightens as it entertains. Among the most interesting aspects of its play is how it adapts the tenets of BioDynamic agriculture to home use. For example, instead of burying cow horns filled with silica in the ground, players are directed to fill empty toilet paper rolls with popcorn kernels, hide them in the fireplace, wait six months, and then watch a Werner Herzog movie and eat what’s left of the popcorn. This, the game instructs, will bring balance to your colon and create a home for beneficial insects. In another part of the game, players are asked to discuss their personal lives as they relate to the phases of the moon, and are shown how important it is to never use Cialis on a fruit day. By the time you’re through playing BioDynamics: The Home Game you’ll have a firm grasp on the world of BioDynamics, a world that makes The Sims seem downright imaginary!
RIEDEL DECANTERS: THE CELEBRITY SERIES
Riedel has made a fortune on decanters and wine glasses, having convinced wine experts and other jerks that the wine glass you use needs to be the right shape or you have robbed the wine of all meaning. Clearly, this is brilliant marketing. It preys upon the ubiquitous insecurity of wine lovers in the most innovative way since the 100 point scale. Your own meager and uneducated senses fall far short of being capable of enjoying a fine wine, the message is clear, unless you enhance them with numbers and expensive glassware. Only then will you be able to appreciate wine the way true connoisseurs do. By acting like an asshole.
Of course, now that I have dozens of sets of Riedel stemware, glasses for wines from Amarone to Xarello, as well as stemless glasses (for compliance with Handicap Accessible laws), I need the appropriate decanters as well. And just in time for the holidays, Riedel has released its new line of Celebrity Decanters. These are wonderful, innovative and fun for every wine lover on your Christmas list. There are five new Celebrity Decanters for 2011. I want one of each!
The Gary Vaynerchuk Decanter: Garish and loud with a stupefyingly big mouth, this decanter is perfect for wines purchased from a huckster.
The Alice Feiring Decanter: Oh so delicate and refined, handmade in the most natural way possible, the design of this lovely and curvaceous decanter goes on and on and never ever comes to a point. Just big enough for a single glass of wine.
The James Suckling Decanter: Polished to make you able to see your own glorious reflection, so much more important than the wine itself. Just fill it with Italian wine and watch it vanish!
The Michel Rolland Decanter: Who better to introduce oxygen to your wine than the king of micro-oxygenation? This beautiful decanter will make all of your highest scoring wines taste exactly the same!
The Jay McInerny Decanter: Even when it’s obviously completely empty, it’s always full of itself! Put any wine into this elegant decanter and chances are, just like its WSJ namesake, you won’t have a clue that it tastes any different than any other wine.
BEST NEW WINE BOOKS OF 2010
Actual Secrets of the Sommeliers
Rajat Parr (I was a big fan of his great-uncle Jack who replaced Steve Allen as host of “The Tonight Show”) and Jordan Mackay (named for a Sonoma County wine of appropriate dullness) return with a sequel that, unlike their first book, actually does talk about the secrets of those remarkable men and women who toil tirelessly in restaurant wine cellars all across the world. Ever wonder how to earn a Wine Spectator Grand Award without a single recognizable or affordable wine on your list? Turns out it’s easy! Make names up!
“Il Lollapalloozaia 1997 Vinnie Dimontalcino $350”
Don’t worry, Wine Spectator goes over the entries with a fine tooth rake. Among other secrets discussed--tastevins are really just cheap ashtrays, matching wine with food by price, and the secret to selling syrah (list it as “Exotic Meritage”) The book also has a section on how to talk like a sommelier which dispels the notion that sommeliers are snobs. They are not. They’re boors. Ever sat in a roomful of sommeliers? I sat in a toilet with the seat up once—it’s a lot like that.
Leaking Between the Vines
Every so often a book comes out that speaks to wine lovers in clear and beautiful language about the miracle of wine and how best to appreciate it. Be nice if this were one of them.
The thirteenth in a series that began with the classic “76,” author Frank Lee Poyntless takes on the sensual yet irrelevant wine score 88 in this fascinating study of what it means for a wine to score 88 points. He points out that 88 is a wine that everybody likes but nobody is excited by, so it’s like the fattest bridesmaid. Poyntless goes on to interview famous wine critics and ask them how they reach the score of 88 points in their blind tastings. Said critic James Laube, “It’s cabernet, it’s from Sonoma, it’s 88. It’s chardonnay, it’s from Carneros, it’s 88. It’s pinot gris, it’s tap water, it’s 88. 88 is a no-brainer. Trust me, I would know.” Robert Parker’s take on 88? “Easy. 88 is the new 84.” Charlie Olken on 88, “How many times do I have to tell you, the numbers don’t matter! The descriptions matter. Numbers without descriptions are like pies without crusts, and I’m nothing if not a crusty Marie Callendar.” You might think that a biography of a wine score would make for dull reading, but in yet another of his seminal studies of wine scores, Poyntless makes it a page-turner. The wine world is breathless with anticipation of Poyntless’ next book, the kiss of death “89.” But that’s for next year’s list.