Blabby wine writers

Just the other day a client came into the wine cellar and read a small description of a bottle of wine sitting in a large wooden box on the floor. He stood there and read the description and said "What a bunch of crap! These wine writers have too much time on their hands.

Who makes up this stuff, anyway?" (I actually knew a wine writer by the name of "Fred Anyway" but I decided not to drop that little bomb at the time.) Well, this guy really took wine writer apart and after he left I decided to do a little recon on wine descriptors used by the great and small wine writer as well as some of the commercial wine judges I have had the pleasure (mostly) of judging with. Let me give you some examples of wine descripting I deal with on a daily basis. OK, here we go:

Chardonnay- Chardonnay has been written about or talked about for well over one hundred years. Here are some of the fun descriptors we read or are described to me in judgings; Stony, redolent of dry peach, hints of vanilla with peach stone under flavors, apple nose, apple flavors, steely, acidic and fresh. Softer tones are buttery, creamy, round, fleshy, soft, silk tones and velvety. We also get on the stinky side; horse hair, dog hair, sulphur bath, poopy, sweaty sock and dirty.

If the wine has excessive use of oak we hear or see written, oaky, woody, wood driven, barrel laced, and planky.

Cabernet Sauvignon- Everyone likes to pick on the little Cabernet Sauvignon grape. For some reason Cabernet gets right into the cross hairs of the wine judges and writers. If the wine is good we see and hear wonderful superlatives, if the wine is bad, the adjectives can get harsh, quickly. Here we go; Redolent of cassis, blueberry, dark broodingly ripe fruits, plum, black cherry with hint of toast, palate grip, velvetine, silk bomb. We read silk bomb, expressed palate, nose of ripe fig and crushed blackberry, rye toast, mint, mocha, green olive, grassy, all spice, earthy, fungal, barnyard, balsamic tones, shaved wood, hamburger meat, linen, coffee filter. OK had enough? I hear this stuff all the time from wine professionals when they are trying to sell me wine.

One of the toughest things to describe to someone else, especially something as difficult as flavor sensations, is the perception that a flavor carries the like attributes of another unrelated source or other unrelated sources. An example would be Chardonnay grapes and apples.

Many times we get "apple" flavors in the nose and palate from Chardonnay. Grapes and apples are vastly different but also share some of the same acid groups. It is also true that where an apple will grow, so will Chardonnay grow well (for the most part.) We now understand that grapes are "flavor complex" which means that grapes, vinifera, are shape shifters and can take on flavors of other fruits and berries as well as herbs and veggies and soil components from around the world.

Grapes "fingerprint" themselves with like shared flavors (French Cabernet versus California Cabernet) as well as pick up flavors we associate from other organics. This is very trippy stuff and makes us understand that "complexity" and "absorption" are the lifestyle of the wine making grape. This is why, for the most part, we see so many adjectives piled on in wine writing and in wine discussion. Not only is the "complexity and "absorption" variable so present in the wine phenomena, wine changes from vintage to vintage as well as from viticultural area to viticultural area, not to mention the complexity changes as the wines ages in the cellar and within glass while we are together at the dinner table. This is the stuff that drives the industry on every level from grower, winery, retailer and consumer and will continue to do so for ever.

See you next week.

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