Thursday, June 17, 2021

By the Bottle: Ron Washam

Wine lovers on wine and the vinous life.

Ron Washam is an acquired taste, like a fried brain sandwich, or Rigatoni con la pajata, made with the intestines of an unweaned calf, only fed on its mother's milk. A long-time sommelier in southern California, Ron is now superannuated in Sonoma County where he lives undisturbed with his wife, who is the love of his life. She has taken the vows, for better or for worse, to be a solemn oath. As they say in Venice, "Love is blind."


What wines do you have standing up right now?

Well, I’m not standing up right now, I’m sitting here filling out this stupid questionnaire which I intend to use to demonstrate my superior knowledge of wine because that’s what this kind of thing is about. The truth is, we all drink lots of wines we’re somewhat ashamed to admit we drank. Like wines we got on sale at Safeway, or were recommended by some beauty blogger on Instagram. That said, I couldn’t quite finish the bottle of ’85 Chave Hermitage I opened last night to go with my fish sticks, so that’s standing up right now looking really embarrassed.


What’s the last great wine you drank?

Is there an adjective more abused in the wine business than “great?” Maybe “natural” or “yummy,” which are polar opposites. Greatness is hard to measure, like your own inseam. Also, whatever it was, I hope it wasn’t the last great wine I drink. I’d like to have more great wines. Mainly, yours. I did recently drink a 2010 Dom Perignon that would make a blind monk see. I suppose the Champagne could have been better, now that I think about it. It could have been Dom and Dommer.


Are there any classic wines that you only recently had for the first time?

“Classic?” I guess I know what that means. First Growth Bordeaux, Guigal La-La’s, Grange, Sassicaia, and what’s that one that’s a partnership of the bad Swedish rock band and that guy from the “Searching for Italy” show? Oh, Abbatucci! No, I can’t think of a classic wine that I’ve had for the first time lately. Though I can remember the first time I tasted most of what we think of as classic wines. My first taste of Rayas not only changed my life, but my underpants.


Describe your ideal drinking experience (when, where, what, how).

The great Champagne I’m drinking after I’ve won the Nobel Prize in Offensive.


What’s your favorite wine no one else has heard of?

No one else is a stretch. Someone had to make the fucking wine, and they have parents and friends. You know, honestly, for such an important survey, you’d think you’d be more careful with words. This is what’s wrong with wine writing today. Language abuse. It might not rank up there with misogyny, sexual harassment and racism, but it’s a close fiftieth. But my favorite wine no one has heard of is Spottswoode. I’m guessing you’ve heard of it.  Happy now?


What wine should everybody drink before the age of 21?

The oldest one in their parent’s wine cellar. Duh.


What wine should nobody drink until the age of 40?

OK, here we go again. Do you mean the age of the wine is 40, in which case my answer is Barolo, or do you mean the age of the drinker is 40, in which case my answer is Barolo? And who are you calling a nobody? Oh, there are endless nobodies in the wine business, but name-calling shouldn’t be the point now that I’m retired from wine writing. Any decent editor would tell you to say, “What wine should no one drink until the age of 40?” And the answer is any wine in a box.


Who in wine — winemakers, winery owners, writers, retailers, collectors — active today do you admire most?

Well, I don’t really know what they’re actively doing today. I’m too busy answering this goddam questionnaire. OK, I try desperately not to admire winemakers, chefs or game show hosts—they’re essentially the same job. Winery owners? Yeah, they’re humanitarians. Wine writers I admire is a short list—Gerald Asher, Hugh Johnson, Karen MacNeil, Tim Atkin, Terry Theise, Kelli White, and myself. Retailers? Again, what? The only collector I admire is a Roomba.


Do you count any wine as guilty pleasures?

I love drinking stupid wine. I enjoy a faulty, weird, peculiar, indescribable wine far more than I enjoy a clean wine with no soul, like anything with the word Trump on it. It’s a wonderful intellectual exercise to try and figure out what the hell the winemaker (game show host) did to make a wine smell that way. That I find pleasure in that is the same guilty pleasure we all feel rubbernecking at train wrecks, car accidents and SOMM movies, all of which are manmade disasters.


Has a wine ever brought you closer to another person, or come between you?

Every wine eventually brings me closer to the person pouring it. Though I suppose that isn’t what you meant. Do you mean like the way wine brought so many victims closer to Master Sommeliers? That’s pretty disgusting. Be specific, dammit. There’s something creepy about this question.


What’s the most interesting thing you learned from a wine recently?

Open container laws are real.


What moves you most in a wine?

The way great wine makes me want to take my pants off and sing the theme song from “Cheers.”


Which styles do you especially enjoy drinking?

As a recovering sommelier, I enjoy whatever style suits the food I’m splitting between my mouth and my shirt. Maybe the real lesson I learned from being a sommelier, aside from the first thing they teach you which is being insufferable, was to appreciate every style of wine. Which led me to have an eclectic taste for wine and an appreciation for even the wines lowest on the wine totem pole, like anything from Lodi or the Wall Street Journal Wine Club. I enjoy drinking. Styles are for snobs.


How do you organize your wines?

By price. At least that’s how they’re organized in my head. In my cellar, they’re organized by variety just to confuse people. But, really, we all know what counts when we go to choose a bottle is price and who you’re drinking it with. Anyone who says otherwise is a liar and shouldn’t be allowed to take this poorly worded questionnaire. Damn, I should have said otherwise.


What wine might people be surprised to find in your racks?

I have a large collection of fake wines I bought from an auction. So do you.


What’s the best wine you’ve ever received as a gift?

I have one of the original bottles served at the Last Supper, where I was sommelier. It was given to me by one of the Apostles, I believe it was Paul but it could have been Ringo, who didn’t want the wine at dinner and so I made him a strawberry daiquiri.


How have your drinking tastes changed over time?

Wine is such an enormous category that inevitably we bounce from one newly discovered variety or appellation or category to another. I’ve lost my taste for most Cabernet Sauvignon, but never lost the taste for Zinfandel. I’ve been on a lifelong quest to genuinely love Riesling, but loving Riesling is an acquired taste I cannot seem to acquire, like a taste for Ellen DeGeneres, Tender Vittles or wine podcasts hosted by the witless, which is all of them. Sauvignon Blanc is really beginning to bore me. I’m drawn more and more to grapes like MourvĂ©dre, Carignane, and Vermentino. In fact, I wore Vermentino the last time I walked the Red Carpet. If Pinot Grigio were an actual wine grape, I’d still hate it. It’s as empty the promises of the Court of Master Sommeliers.


You’re organizing a dinner party. Which three people from the wine world, dead or alive, do you invite?

Writing my stupid, that is, award-winning blog HoseMasterof Wine™ allowed me to meet nearly everyone in wine I always wanted to meet, even the dead ones! Amazing. For a dinner party I think I’d invite three of the people in the wine world who really hated the satire I wrote. Wouldn’t that be fun?! The hard part would be narrowing it down to only three. Alice Feiring would just have to be there. Georg Riedel could bring the glassware. And then I’d hold a lottery for the third chair so that everyone who hates me would have the chance to be there! Of course, I myself wouldn’t attend.


What wines are you embarrassed not to have drunk yet?

Every Best of Show wine in every wine competition I ever judged. Believe me, wine judges never drink those wines. Just like beauty pageant judges never date the contestants. What are we, Master Sommeliers?


What do you plan to drink next?

Who plans what to drink next? It’s like you saved the dumbest question for last, though dumbest is totally up for grabs in this list of questions. Truly, who decides in the morning what wine they’re going to drink at night? I don’t want to know that person. I’m only planning to drink. That’s my plan. When the time comes, I walk into my cellar, think about what will taste good with my dinner, and then one of the wines volunteers.

OK, ’90 Rayas. Unless Riedel shows up and then it’s some crappy Austrian plonk.

wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W
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