Wine Tasting is Bullshit: An Excerpt

We are extremely delighted to have our longstanding guest author and contributor Joshua Lorenzo Newett give us a sneak peak to his forthcoming novel Wine Tasting is Bullshit.

Wine Tasting is Bullshit is a novel about our obsession with celebrity and media and how it's warping our sense of reality and blurring the lines between fantasy and fiction. It's a commentary on how many of our lives have taken on a comic flavor as we try to be the stars in our own "show".

Wine Tasting is Bullshit is currently on submission with The Philip Spitzer Literary Agency.

Enjoy this excerpt from his forthcoming book:

Wine Tasting Is Bullshit: An Excerpt

Janice had known for some time but refused to fully admit it. An article by Robert T. Gonzalez pushed her over the edge and forced her to confront what had been banging around in her subconscious for years: wine tasting was bullshit, a complete and utter sham. She read it again just to make sure and it almost physically knocked the wind out of her.

She had one of the biggest tastings of her life coming up, the tasting she’d dreamt about since becoming a professional taster, but it no longer mattered. How could it have all changed in a day, in an hour, in a minute? Why can’t I just re-cross that line and go back to the way things were before? Everything I aspire to, everything I am, is built upon a great lie and the sickest part is I think I knew it all along. I think I just pushed it to the back of my mind or even took some perverted pleasure knowing I was pulling the wool over people’s eyes. Maybe the whole thing is a joke that I’m just now being let in on. Maybe the top tasters, collectors, and connoisseurs are all in on it, a grand lark spanning hundreds of years. Maybe they’re all flashing each other knowing glances or sideways secret winks and laughing at the rest of us down in the pits of their black hearts.

She retrieved one of her most coveted bottles from the cellar in an attempt to quell her fears, a 1998 Petrus Pomerol, but it lacked the desired effect. Instead of bolstering her confidences and renewing her faith in the wine world, it deepened her doubt and greatly amplified the semi-depression she had been experiencing since breaking up with her boyfriend. Ben was a smooth jazz alto saxophonist who was considered by many in the smooth jazz world to be second only to Kenny G. He gained notoriety in the early eighties when he toured with Billy Joel. He played his cards wisely and used the tour to springboard his career into the stratosphere of the smooth jazz world where he struck up a close friendship with Kenny G. They appeared together on the cover of Smooth Jazz Watch September 1983 but the friendship was to be short lived. In 1984 Ben released his debut album, Smooth B, to critical acclaim. Later that year Kenny G released G Force which quickly overshadowed Smooth B and led the two to become bitter rivals. It was the beginning of the long decline in Ben’s career, the low point of which came in 2007 when The Weather Channel released the compilation album The Weather Channel Presents: The Best of Smooth Jazz featuring two of his songs. To his horror, his music would forevermore be associated with high pressure systems and storm fronts.

Janice had been introduced into the wine world in university by her math tutor and not-so-secret admirer Nester Welch, a physics major and up-and-coming chess player who carried a FIDE rating of 2425. He was a member of the Cambridge University Wine Society and occasionally attended meetings, which he didn’t particularly enjoy but saw as a necessity to combat a persistent and deep desire to become a shut-in and live between the pages of particle physics books and the spaces of a chess board. It was a battle he eventually lost.

Janice was no stranger to wealth or high society. Her family operated in the elite socialite and politic circles of Boston, having gained great wealth running liquor during prohibition which her grandfather then parlayed into a career in politics, cementing the family’s place within the political elite of Boston. She was an instant success at the Wine Society. A beautiful, seemingly cultured Yankee, she became the flavor of the season, a novelty that everyone who was anyone wanted to get to know. The first time she came to a meeting without Nester clamped to her side, she was quickly whisked into the circle within the circle led by Nicholas Mowers Phillip Hillcroft, Lord Howard of Effingham, heir apparent to the Earldom of Effingham.

Janice was mesmerized by her new semi-celebrity and enthralled by this strange new world she had accidentally become a part of. It was as if everyone in the small circle was in on some secret that made everything they did far superior to others, as if they existed on another plane. She wanted nothing more than to share in their secret, to be a part of their group, to figure out what made them so superior and elegant. What made them float across rooms instead of walk. Her crush on the group turned to an obsession when she went to Cambridge Arts Picture House one rainy Thursday afternoon to see Out of Africa. She was mesmerized from the very first lines of the movie. “I had a farm in Africa at the foot of the Ngong hills.” She saw the movie five more times in the next three weeks and would replay her favorite lines in her head when nodding off to sleep at night. For some inexplicable reason she couldn’t get the scene between the future Baroness von Blixen and Baron von Blixen’s brother out of her head.

“It’s too cold for champagne.”

“It’s too cold for anything but!”

She knew then she had to become part of that world at any cost and ended up marrying Lord Howard after a brief courtship. She was brought into the elite circles of both the United Kingdom and Europe. She rubbed elbows with dukes, earls, lords, ladies, movie stars, chateau owners, and heads of state. She knew the novelty of her beauty and her Yankee accent would soon fade so carved out a new niche for her celebrity in wine. Over the five years she was married to Lord Howard of Effingham she became an expert in all things wine.

After the bottle of ‘98 Petrus Pomerol failed miserably to restore her faith, she flopped down on the couch and called out to her entertainment system.

“Play file Out of Africa.”

She chewed on her fingernails until her favorite scene came on.

“It's too cold for champagne.”

“It's too cold for anything but.”

“You said you'd be at Klampenborg.”

“I thought I'd come, but then I didn't.”

She yelled out to her entertainment system again. “Pause.”

That’s it! Champagne! I can’t even count how many times this movie has pulled me through. Should I really do it? It’s priceless… but then again, is it really or is it all part of this grand charade?

The smell of musty mortar usually excited her as she descended the damp stone staircase that led to the catacombs under her château. This time it scared her to death. Her hands trembled and shook almost violently as she reached out for the bottle of 1907 Hiedsieck. In 1998, the Hiedsieck cuvée called Diamant bleu vintage 1907 was found in the shipwreck of the Swedish freighter Jönköping in the Gulf of Finland.  The ship was torpedoed in 1916 by a German submarine during World War I and a majority of the bottles survived in the frigid waters. She had been told some bottles had been sold for as much as $250,000. Hers was a gift from Henri, the Grand Duke of Luxembourg, one of the few members of European nobility that hadn’t blacklisted her after the release of her So You Want to Taste Vino!?: Wine School for All VHS which was later reshot as a DVD series in the early 2000s and retitled Wine School. Commercially it was a blockbuster success, but to her detractors, who thought she had no business comporting herself in THEIR circles, it was the ammunition they’d been waiting for. It confirmed what they already believed: she was nothing more than a crass American from the merchant class. Her family gained their wealth and notoriety through bootlegging, nothing more than glorified villains who had yet to wash the stink of the street off of themselves.

Initially she was too engrossed and distracted with her success to pay it much mind. She wrote a companion book to the VHS tape and went on a whirlwind world tour spreading the knowledge of ‘the taste.’ When the dust settled from her success, she became deeply concerned and depressed with her pariah status. She had all the money she could every want, a beautiful chateau in the French countryside, and looks that hadn’t yet faded with age, but none of it was enough. She would never be allowed back into their inner circles . She grew nervous and depressed the more she realized she was on the outside looking in, that even though she had become a big name in the wine world, oenophiles were still outsiders in the only groups that mattered. As smug and contented as they were with themselves, they weren’t in on the REAL secret. A seed was planted that took root rapidly: she was on the receiving end of some great ruse, a ruse she used to be in on. Now she was one of the commoners being silently mocked and laughed at.

Her knees felt wobbly as she ascended the damp staircase, the bottle of shipwrecked 1907 Hiedsieck weighing too heavy in her hands. Her heart raced as she deliberated popping the bottle. She gingerly set it down on the kitchen counter. Her mind raced. If I pop the cork, that’s it. There is no turning back; either my hope is forever extinguished or my faith is restored. If it goes the wrong way, can I deal with that kind of finality? Can I deal with the fact that I’ve been deluding myself for most of my adult life? That I’m on the wrong side of this sick joke?

She wanted nothing more than for what she heard about the wine to be true. A duchess had told her the wine had intense aromas of gun powder mixed with a briny note similar to roasted claims. After that there were supposedly notes of salt crackers, burnt lemon oil, and flamed oranges. She dashed into the living room in a panic to retrieve her laptop. She clicked on the first review she saw. The most incredible experience ever! Massive flavors of caramelized bananas, burnt citrus, and kerosene provided an extremely long, salty finish. Maybe it was the power of suggestion, but I could taste the sea, the explosion, and the Champagne all at once—it was absolutely mind-blowing, with just a touch of bubbles remaining, so you knew it was Champagne

She dropped the laptop on the cold tile of the kitchen floor, paying no mind as the screen cracked down the middle, and dashed to the bottle of champagne. She uncorked it and brought the bottle to her lips in desperation. She needed her reality to stop unraveling. She took a deep draught and swallowed as the world shattered into tiny fragments around her. It was just champagne like all the rest, two hundred and fifty thousand dollar champagne that was indistinguishable from a bottle of one hundred dollar champagne. She hurled the bottle at the wall and collapsed to the floor. 

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