Tuesday 20 October 2015

The Hosemaster of Wine – misfiring muckspreader or lord of misrule?

They used to say of Evelyn Waugh that he wrote like an angel but had a foul personality, and of his son Auberon, that his pen was scurrilous but he was an awfully nice man. It makes me think of Ron Washam. I’ve met him a couple of times and he seems a thoroughly decent chap – and about as aggressive as a basket of sleeping kittens.

Ron Washam
Vituperative? Ron Washam, aka the Hosemaster of Wine
Not so his alter ego, the Hosemaster of Wine (an inspired moniker), who sprays all and sundry with his vituperative wit. No one is exempt. He’s laid into Jancis Robinson more than once. Her Wine Grapes magnum opus was subject to one of his notorious “blind reviews” (he was piqued, he said, that his review copy went astray). A sample sentence (difficult to choose just one) – “the book is massive. It’s seven pounds. Seven pounds of DNA. Sounds like a party at Silvio Berlusconi’s house” – encapsulates the Hosemaster’s ribald tone.

His cheery insolence teeters nerve-wrackingly on the edge of malevolent spleen – and you have to have a robust sense of humour to withstand the barbs when they come at you. Jancis seems to have one (she’s written about him), but I don’t know about Georg Riedel, who caused Tim Atkin, who hosts the HM on his site, to issue the following apology:  “On my website, I failed to explain clearly enough that the article was a piece of satirical writing and, as a result, I caused offence to Georg Riedel” and so on and so forth. Atkin would be well advised to post trigger warnings in future.

The Riedel satire is a magnificent piece of sustained mockery, in which an imaginary Georg ponders the infinite gullibity of the wine drinking public and how much he can make out of it. “It’s a comic effect, really,” Ron has him say. “How far can we take this mania for worrying about which glass to drink our wine from? Like a great comedian, I understood that there was no limit. I simply had to deliver them with a straight face.” You have to know the Riedel family to really appreciate the delicious comedy of imagining a top-hatted Georg on stage pulling goldfish out of some kid’s ear.

Robinson and Riedel are big fish (not to mix metaphors), and are quite able to look after themselves. But some of Ron’s targets are pretty soft. His latest diatribe against wine junkets fails on the simple level that it’s not particularly sharp. Mocking wine hacks on freebies makes taking pot shots at barn doors look challenging. Of course, I work for Wine Searcher (which gets a drubbing) but that’s not the point.

Frank muck-spreading on the farm.
Not all of it splattering the right people...
The Hosemaster might occasionally resemble a misfiring muckspreader – a great wave of slurry and not all of it splattering the right people - but that’s neither here nor there. As Oscar Wilde said, the only relevant criterion for a novel is whether it is well or badly written – morality doesn’t come into it. Satire is no different – it should both shock and amuse, and if it doesn’t do these things, then it’s redundant.

I never read the HM nowadays because he's just too rich a mixture. I find one column so concentrated that it takes me weeks to digest, so a trawl through the archives has been a treat. Here he is on wine accessories, “And why isn’t there a colonoscope you can attach to a helmet, like a miner, that helps you read a new Matt Kramer book?”. And on wine clichés: “Now, in every stunningly stupid profile of a sommelier I read, which is every profile of a sommelier I read, they are said to “curate” a wine list.”

Now isn’t that just right? I used to write sommelier profiles, and believe me, they are difficult to make interesting. Great satire should shock and amuse, but it must also contain the tiniest grain of truth. The wine world would be a poorer place without the Hosemaster and his ribaldry. We need  people to throw snowballs at the toffs in top hats.

Read the Hosemaster's column on timatkin.com

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