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"Winespeak" and Other Obscenities

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Getting in touch with my inner snark (see my previous post http://www.huffingtonpost.com/marlene-rossman/notes-from-a-sommeliere_b_117338.html) felt so good, that here's some more.

When you were a little kid, did anyone have to teach you to taste your milk? Did you have someone read you glowing reviews of the chocolate milk in your sippy cup? OK, if you're my age you didn't have a sippy cup, but you get the point -- if something tastes good, you know it. And when you smell or taste something stinky, do you know it's stinky or does someone have to tell you it's stinky?

So, why do we need experts (and I am one of those) to teach, tell and advise us on what wine tastes like? So we won't dribble it down our lips and bibs and never have a clue as to what we are tasting?

Speaking of bibs and sippy cups, until recently, when the French government banned it, kids took took watered down wine to school in their lunchboxes. How cool was that? Not!

You don't have to be a wine expert to enjoy wine; you just have to be a wine lover.
When some self- appointed wine guru tastes a wine, they may say, "This wine is blended from nine different grapes from 12 sub-appellations within the American viticultural area which I visited and I now want to describe to you in excruciating detail." If you sample the same wine and say, "I taste cherries, plums and spice," you're way ahead.

Think I'm kidding?
Consider this from the August 31, 2005, Wine Spectator, a popular "lifestyle" wine mag. Reviewing the Henri Bonneau Châteauneuf-du-Pape Réserve des Célestins, Rhone France, 1998, 98 points, $270: "Bonneau's Réserve des Célestins is a ridiculously late-released and expensive rarity that rabid collectors will grab all of before most consumers ever see it offered. The '98 Célestins is monstrous, overflowing with roasted chestnut, beef bouillon, bittersweet cocoa, prune, brick dust, espresso bean and hoisin sauce flavors. This broad shouldered and immensely concentrated throwback offers accessibility now--if you like young Port--as well as a 30-year window of rarified drinking experience. Drink now - 2035."

Where do wine writers get this stuff?
Brick dust? Hoisin sauce? Broad-shouldered? Are we building a house, stir-frying a duck, playing football or tasting wine? But, if it was described as a delicious Rhone blend (boring!) would anyone take notice? Would it still deserve 98 points? And, more importantly, would the reviewer keep his job?

But wait, there's more:
In an update from the Wine Expectorator, on September 20, 2007: "Still a monster of a wine, with beefy-textured chestnut, roasted fig, bittersweet cocoa, incense and blood sausage flavors that run through the massive finish, which is racy yet densely structured and lets notes of hoisin sauce and charcoal linger. This could stay just like this for quite some time. Drink now through 2032." Incense? Did the duck go to church since the last review? Well, he must have done something, since the wine is now up to $500 a bottle.

To be perfectly honest with you, I can taste and smell quite a few of those descriptors. But I have been tasting wine professionally for quite a few years. And you certainly don't have to taste all of those flavors to know if the wine tastes good to you or not.


So why do we need all this information?

Instead of hoisin sauce, brick dust and blood sausage, wouldn't you rather know that the wine that is being bloviated about is probably a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre? (Since this is a French wine, you won't find any of that info on the label.) Better yet, wouldn't you also want to know that it's a red wine that would go well with a grilled steak or pork chop. And if there need be descriptors, can't they be something you would recognize in a wine, like cherries or plums? Of course, if the reviewer wrote like that, he wouldn't earn the big bucks. After all, we can't have people thinking that just anyone can taste wine and know if it's sweet or stinky.


Or course, if you are French, you may like stinky!

One of the prized aromas in red Burgundy (that's Pinot Noir, sports fans) is called "barnyard." "Barnyard" is a polite way of saying "poop." How 'bout a nice glass of barnyardy wine to go with your stinky cheese? Or maybe some delicious cat pee (what the French call "pipi du chat) in your Sauvignon Blanc?

Similarly, if you are German, you probably like a nice dollop of "petrol" in your Riesling. Petrol, better known as gasoline, is a prized aroma in German Rieslings. Smell a little iodine in your Italian Montepulciano or graphite in that Bordeaux from Paulliac, maybe?

What tastes good to people in other countries, may not taste good to Americans...and vice versa.
Americans for the most part, having been weaned on sickeningly sweet soda pop, really don't go for stinky. Give us cherries, berries, vanilla or butterscotch in our wine and most of us are happy campers. So when I try to sneak a nice, funky, premier cru Burgundy (that would be French Pinot Noir) into my husband's glass, he starts whining that if he wanted to smell that, he would take the dogs out for a walk.

Lately, even it seems like everyone wants to show off their tasting erudition. Here's a tasting note from a label for a 2001 Special Reserve which reads, "Complex floral and cocoa aromas. Vibrant acidity mingles with lavender and spice flavors, finishing on a note of currant and blackberry." This one may not sound too over the top until you find out that the "Special Reserve" is not a Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah or Merlot. The quote is from an ad for Starbucks Special Reserve coffee!

But, let's face it, if we all thought we knew about wine, what would I and the other critics do for a living?