Wine Language

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Wine Language

It’s a funny old thing critiquing wines, the physical action of swirling, sniffing and slurping and the wine language we take for granted. Although I gain immeasurable pleasure from tasting wine, selling wine and talking about wine many of my friends dismiss the pastime as a load of old cobblers. “People drink wine to get hammered”, “Yes, I will tell you what it smells of, it smells of wine” its amazing how defensive people get about the idea of critiquing wine.

Last night I went over to a friends house who happens to be a lecturer at one of the Universities here in London whose “chosen subject for 20” is communication and language. Quite by accident we got into a tasting and discussion about the language of wine and the difficulties and challenges that face people new to the wine world. You can’t tell me a wine smells like a banana had you never tried one. It’s hard to pick out the nuances of a wines aroma past that “wine” smell without the confidence to express yourself. There are so many factors in play for those new to wine that it was interesting to remember what it was like when wine was for me too, what posh people banged on about.

Even more interesting is the fact that my friend, although not using the language I’ve picked up through being involved in wine, Wset and the biz, managed to accurately describe what was going on with the two very different wines we tasted. It’s quite rare to find such a fresh test subject, my friend is in her early 40s but has terrible reactions to wine so simply doesn’t drink it. She had no idea about varietals, regions, vinification techniques yet, what she managed to describe about the wine, after the initial “performance anxiety” would have been enough for us wine nuts to have a good stab at which wine she was drinking, right down to appellation and grape.

There is a movement at the moment, us bloggers being a part of that, to try to demystify wine and sand down the edges of this reputation of being a recreation of the rich. I know many people who read this blog may not know all that much about wine but everyone still has a palate (baring birth defects and terrible accidents) and I encourage everyone to make tasting notes about their wines. After all, you paid good money for your wine experience whether that was down at Tesco or a specialized wine store. It amazes me that people will continue to buy the same old wines and not experiment with anything new. We don’t do it with food, I think we all like a variance in our diets and enjoy trying new cuisine. We trust that we do like a McDonalds Quarterpounder but not the Filet-o-fish and no one will sass you for expressing that opinion.

So for a change, here is the “tasting note” my friend made. None the less valid, and she knows, that if she ever gets over her negative physical reaction to wine, or has to buy wine for a friend, she’ll opt for the Californian Syrah over the Gamay Morgon Beaujolais.

Domaine Maurice Gaget Morgon Cote de PyPASS – €14
Well, its red but my bulbs have a red-ish tint, the lights in here are not really good for this kind of thing. Ok, ok, dark red. Hmmm, smells like a swimming pool, chlorine, it smells cold and alcoholic, I’m not really getting any smells of grapes or any fruits really. Its really quite thin isn’t it, and really acidic and sour. I didn’t really get any of those tannins things you were talking about on this one or a finish. I don’t like it

From this description, no tannins, acidic but red, “cold” you’d be guessing at a colder climate, thin graped wine. The being “dark” might throw you, but we can take this as just an indication of youth.

Bonny Doon Syrah Le PousseurBUY – €14
This is a darker red, looks much thicker. Smells richer than the other wine, I’m still not sure of much on the smell. Its far more tannic though, the wine is heavier and dries my mouth out more, much more depth and I can taste Blackberries, lingers longer once you’ve finished the wine. I do like it

And we’d be making a guess at a thicker skinned grape and warmer climate.

Whats the point in this Newton?! The point is, even if you know nothing about wine, you know what you like and what you don’t and that is good enough. You don’t have to publish tasting notes but keeping a record is a great way to stop you buying the same bottle of tosh a month later. You will begin to understand what regions/grapes you DO like and hence, waste less money on bad wine purchases. People buy which magazine because informed purchases are important, you don’t repeatedly buy fruits and veg you don’t care for; your palate is your own. Keep tasting notes, not only does it make financial sense it will open up a whole new world of pleasure and education.

Leave a Comment
Do you experience reverse wine snobbery? Or are you intimidated by wine and it’s language. If you frequently publish notes, share your first ones they are often highly entertaining. C’mon embarrass yourself! :p

5 Comments Add yours

  1. K Ng says:

    All the time. This is the typical reaction of my friends too. I hope your friend wasn’t violently sick

  2. Moonkin says:

    Keep pressing ahead Sarah. My TNs were terrible years ago thankfully I did not have them committed to the Internet.

  3. Andrew says:

    Interesting post and food for thought – at least your friend made a decent stab at the descriptors; most people are too intimidated.

  4. Greg Baker says:

    Great post, I found myself nodding away while reading this.My TNs have improved markedly since I first started, but I know I still have a way to go…having said that, my notes are usually just for me to remind myself what I like and don’t like, so it does often depend on the audience one is writing for.G

  5. Winebird says:

    I like this posting – translation is the key! I'm trying to do the same with my friends, but via visual analogies but will also show them yours.

    Here's mine if you're interested


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