The vocabulary of wine has long been a source of amusement, starting perhaps decades ago with the first wine writer who described a red or white as “unpretentious.”
By Allen Clark
The vocabulary of wine has long been a source of amusement, starting perhaps decades ago with the first wine writer who described a red or white as “unpretentious.” While serious business for the serious wine collector or beverage columnist for big-city newspapers and food and wine magazines, the average Joe found describing a sip of wine a bit challenging. I’ve been collecting wine adjectives for several decades. Many college reunions ago, I came up with the idea of branding our class as the “Grand Cru Classe” of “Chateau XYZ College.” Each reunion, I looked for new ways to describe us, ranging from “elegant,” “finessed,” “lush,” and “should improve with age” to “complicated,” “full-bodied,” “unbalanced,” and “bottle-aged.” My best source turned out to be wine columns. With growing audiences, each columnist needed to find one or two hot-button words that would catch the reader’s eye. Adjective, and sometimes noun, escalation followed. It seemed they were playing a sort of wine “Can You Top This.”
Recently, there’s been a spate of wine clubs and direct-response wine sites online. The challenge to outshine others in experiential verbiage has never been higher. But there’s one outfit that clearly deserves 100 points. Wine Access (www.wineaccess.com) takes the gold medal. Because I’ve been caught in their web (pun intended), and have placed a couple of orders (satisfying and at good prices), I seem to get new offerings with increasing frequency. Better than the wines or the deals, though, is the joy of text (sorry). Let me share a few.
Talking about the offered “powerhouse” selection, the site gushes, “Dark, brooding aromas of cassis, licorice, dark chocolate, and graphite.” (I often wonder how much lead I want in my wine.)
They continue, “Plush yet finely delineated, packed with sweet black-fruit preserves, dense and quite weighty, finishing with almost sneaky, supple tannins.” (Look out! Here come those sneaky tannins!) For an earlier selection they offered this assessment, “Rich, weighty, and MASSIVELY concentrated on the attack, yet still marvelously delicate.” If only some people we know could balance their personalities that nicely. And this. “Rich, dense, chewy, and almost briery in texture, the attack features a plush blend of blackberry and black raspberry preserves, all the fabulous 2007 opulence buttressed by refined, dusty-tannin backbone.” Whew!
If you want an even more concentrated wine-reading experience, there’s The Wine Advocate. Its description of the 2009 Screaming Eagle Cabernet (96 points): “Slightly peppery nose” and “ratchets up the level of concentration with pure black currant and black cherry fruit, as well as licorice and lead pencil shavings…” (There’s that lead again. I wonder if it’s a No. 2 or 3?) Phrases like “lead pencil shavings” certainly make one stop for a moment. Especially at a reported $2,200 a bottle.
Before I cork this particular article, let me leave you with a few other examples of the cultivated wine checklist. “Utterly brilliant … magnificent, viscerally thrilling.” “Powerful, plush and palate-staining on the attack.” (A little alliteration helps.) “Exotically voluptuous and velour-like in texture.” “High-toned and juicy.” “Aromas of crushed black fruits, sweet herbs, tar and tobacco.” (It’s hard to know which holds more appeal, “lead pencil shavings” or “tar and tobacco.” Of course, there also is “barnyard” and “redolent of loamy earth.”)
Inevitably, Wine Access ends with advice to lay down the featured wine for a decade or so. You, on the other hand, after a surfeit of enthusiastic wine words, may just want to lie down for an hour or two or at least until dinnertime and then decide on which wine to serve. That “unpretentious” pinot noir? Or the “incredibly dense and virtually impenetrable” cab?