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Finding Humor in Wine: Wine Cartoons

Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from author John Hailman’s book ‘The Search for Good Wine’ which will be available for purchase October 2014 from the University of Mississippi Press. This particular chapter was written on March 23, 1988.
Wine is a healthy, cheerful subject, but can get pretty fancy sometimes. Puncturing wine pretensions should be a goal of any worthy wine column. My problem is that editors often remove my attempts at humor in the interest of saving inches. One way to combat this trend is to devote an entire column to wine humor.
cartoon1The most famous wine cartoon of all time was by James Thurber in The New Yorker way back in 1937. It showed an urbane-looking host rising to describe what was in his glass as “a naive domestic burgundy,” hoping his guests would be “amused by its pretension.” Ever since, New Yorker cartoonists have lampooned wine snobbery and ignorance. A recent favorite of mine was of a fat Roman host, lounging on his sofa, watching his guests rollicking wildly as he said “you may serve the jug wine now.”
Another early favorite was the little buck-toothed Indian chief in Tumbleweeds standing in front of his tepee offering a visitor from the cavalry a “domestic bubbly” call Mogun Geronimo. It was reminiscent of the Fred Sanford show where Freed offered Grady his preferred meal: cream of leftover meatloaf with “muscatipple,” muscatel mixed with Ripple. Hagar the Horrible always tries to take his mind off food – by drinking more wine. His wife Helga once said Hagar’s idea of a wine tasting was inviting people over to watch him taste wine.
Perhaps my favorite New Yorker wine cartoon of all was not overtly about wine at all. Tow squirrels are sitting on a branch, each tasting an acorn. One, in classic winespeak, remarks: “Nutty, yet with a hint of oak.” A classic New Yorker yuppie once offered to “introduce you guys to a really gifted young zinfandel.”
The classic wine cartoons recently have been in Shoe, which features “wining with the professor,” an owlish character who writes a wine column. He delivers himself of insights like “the key to all great wine commentary is lots of wine.” When he goes to his favorite bar in the woods, he often says: “Unscrew us a jug of your finest.” The bartender tells him they don’t have a “house” wine, but do have “Mobile Home Red.” In one restaurant, he worries because the wine steward has pliers instead of a corkscrew.
Once, when the professor waxed too long on the complexities of a wine he was asked if he liked, the waiter said: “It wasn’t an essay question.” A typical Shoe wine review commended a chablis for its “swaggering tempo, refreshingly weaselish heft, right-handed nose, and gravely throated finish.” A wine he didn’t like was described as “a swarthy-bodied red, but its runny nose and the stubble on its legs surprised me.”
cartoon2Winemakers themselves get as sick of winespeak as anyone. Prime example is Randall Grahm, owner of Bonny Doon vineyards of California’s Santa Cruz Mountains. A philosophy majorly addcited to puns, Grahm gave one of his newsletters the Kantian title: “A Critique of Pure Riesling.” It was allegedly Grahm who founded the “Rhone Rangers,” the California winemakers who successfully use grapes from France’s Rhone Valley rather than the usual Bordeaux and Burgundy. He later claimed it was Rhonely at the top and wrote a column titled Miss Rhonely Hearts. If you can get him (or his staff) to send you his monthly newsletter, it is well worth it just for the wine puns. It reminds me of none of my favorite Napa Valley restaurants, Mustards Girll, where the parking place by the front door is reserved for the person who made the best wine pun of the month.
But i was his labels that drew most attention to Grahm. Punning on the French words grand cru or great growth, he photographed his staff dressed up as pirates on a raft, put it on a label, and called the wine “Grahm Crew.” Since the French call flying saucers “flying cigars”, and the town of Chateaueuf once passed a laughable law forbidding them from landing in its vineyards, Grahm calls his Chateauneuf-like blend Cigare Volant (flying). Another, heftier red modled on the Rhone’s famed Vieux Telegraphe is called Old Telegram. Its lave, naturally, is an old telegram. His young Cigare wine he threatens to name Tiperillo, noting one year’s wine was “so ephemeral we haven’t produced it yet.”
cartoon3John HailmanJohn Hailman of Oxford is a regular contributor to HottyToddy.com on two subjects: Law and Wine. Now retired from both his “day job” as a federal prosecutor in Oxford after 33 years and his “night job” of 25 years as a nationally syndicated daily columnist in more than 100 daily papers on wine, food and travel for Gannett News Service and the Washington Post, Hailman will cover both topics under the titles of The Legal Eagle and Wine Tips of the Week. HottyToddy.com will also run periodic excerpts from Hailman’s upcoming book of humorous legal stories, From Midnight to Guntown: True Crime Stories From A Federal Prosecutor in Mississippi. Hailman now teaches Federal Trial Practice and Law and Literature at the University of Mississippi.

'The Search for Good Wine' by John Hailman will be available October 2014 /Copyright 2014, University of Mississippi Press
‘The Search for Good Wine’ by John Hailman will be available October 2014 /Copyright 2014, University of Mississippi Press

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