The Wine Whisperer: Wine writers' descriptions too far out

I've had a few remarks lately by clients and students that indicate they do not know what is going on with wine verbiage in the press. One wine writer seems to be going crazier than the next and the words to describe wine have gone seemingly orbital in usage.

Here are just a couple of examples: "This red wine presumes to be much more than it is. The work involved stems from oak which not only brings the infancy of the wine but brings, as well, many of the infantile flavors to the front palate and makes one scream with disgust." Really?

Or, "Let's not pretend that this wine, redolent of oak, steaming with tropical fruit, wrapped in mango and precious fruits, gives anything but faint hope of its future greatness. One can see through its pretentiousness and willingness to please but we know better. Do we not?"

Okay, I know this is slaying you. One more: "Give me the real Merlot, I say the REAL Merlot, Merlot with teeth, not this simpering, quivering red juice tasting only like a shadow of what Merlot should, could and might be, what did this cretin (I'm guessing the winemaker) have in mind, hmmm? Not for me, no way!"

Alright, let's look at a few wacky new wine terms then I'll leave you alone:

  • Gunpowder — Seriously! I have been somewhat dismayed by this term as it suggests not only a way-too-active imagination but probably watching far too much violent television. Now, I have to ask the question: Is it gunpowder before explosion, after explosion or wet gunpowder, which will not detonate but still smells? There is even the "hint of gunpowder" in print I read somewhere, which is still pretty darned dangerous. I feel like writing the wine writer and begging him to have the winemaker put a "Caution: do not smoke or place this wine within 100 yards of open flame or cigarettes." I mean, gunpowder? Cripes.
  • Wet pebbles — Well, I can't remember when I stuck a handful of wet pebbles in my mouth. What exactly does that taste like? Again, I want to write the guy and ask when exactly did he taste "wet pebbles" and what the devil does it have to do with wine?
  • Hot asphalt — Okay. I've walked by recently laid asphalt but I've never (thankfully) tasted or smelled it in wine. I can't figure that one out at all.
  • Cooked leather — So, we sniff a baseball glove or a saddle or an old jacket but how exactly do we "cook" them. I suppose a microwave or big pot or something might work, but how does this smell or taste exactly get into a glass of wine?
  • Peach pit — What? "Peach" I get, but where does the "pit" come in to play? Have any of you actually eaten a peach pit? Great on the teeth if not the tummy. Strange.
  • Linen in the sun — This is a new one on me. I just cant wrap my head around what a clothesline has to do with wine. Maybe this guy was talking about some sort of freshness or something, but why didn't he just print the word "fresh?" I'm guessing he was using some sort of metaphor to illuminate white sheets in the sun for some cleanliness issue with wine. How about the word "clean?"
  • Brown paper bag — It just so happened that this wine writer got himself in big trouble with me when he used the "brown paper" thing because I just had the same wine he was critiquing on the counter of the Wine Cellar when I read his review. So, naturally, I tasted the wine then sniffed a brown bag I pulled out from under the counter and, amazingly, he was full of crappies. The wine tasted like grape juice and the bag smelled like, well, brown paper bag. Wonders of wonders. Now, I suppose if I had filtered the wine through the brown paper bag we might of been in agreement of sorts.
  • Wet, turbid, jungle — Hmmm. Probably what he meant was "vegetal" or "green olive" or "mowed lawn" but "wet, turbid, jungle?" This is stretching it a bit and I don't know how many of us have actually tasted or smelled real, live, "wet, turbid, jungle." I wrote him and told him I thought the wine smelled like "wet ditch moss from southern Mendocino County" but he never wrote me back.

Ah, wine writers.

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