Wine Descriptions

“Age appears to be best in four things; old wood best to burn, old wine to drink, old friends to trust, and old authors to read.” ……………………….. Francis Bacon

Not long ago, and in a land not far away, I had the pleasure of getting together with another aficionado of the fermented grape.  He generously opened a nice Pinot Noir and out came the description of “cherry.” I chuckled and, when asked why, said that sometimes I thought we sound as if we could just be reading from a play book.  But of course, that really wasn’t fair.  It’s true; varietal wines give off what have become expected aromas and tastes.  A good wine, one that leaves a lasting impression, is one that gives these aromas and tastes in harmony – layers them, and provides a finish that is long and offers another element of taste. When that happens, the wine is called “complex”.

In searching for language to helpfully describe these characteristics, wine critics start out using terms like “Nutty,” “Vegetative,” “Spicy,” “Floral,” “Earthy” and other words. From there we try to hone it finer, so “floral” may develop into “violet” or other words.  “Earthy” may become “mushroom”. “Fruity” may be further described as “raisin” or “strawberry”.  We talked about this and my friend brought up other terms: “barnyard,” “saddle” and “cat pee.”  I’m familiar with these terms, but seldom use them. “Saddle” is O.K. for leather, like “jammy” is for “strawberry” and “cassis” is for “black currant,”   But I think we sometimes fall victim to reaching for the complex when a more simple description will do.  So I prefer to use words like “strawberry” instead of “jammy” because everyone knows what “strawberry” is and not everyone knows what type of jam a critic may be referring to when that description is used. The same goes for “cassis” vs. “black current.”  Go to the grocery store and look for “cassis.”

Note that I keep using the word “critic.” There’s a reason for that.  I’m not a Master of Wine. (There are only about 20 of them in the U.S.).  Nor am I a 10th degree black-belt sommelier. I’m just a guy that enjoys wine, has tasted more than his rightful share, has been fortunate enough to travel, stay in vineyards, watch wine being made, and make notes along the way.  In the course of that journey, I have watched California develop into a powerhouse and New York (unfortunately) recede its marketing footprint. I have observed old world style wine become more new world, and I regret that because there is room for both.  I drank wines that cost phenomenal sums today that didn’t use to when I drank them.  Best of all, I have seen wine making develop to its best point in history. More countries than ever make better wine than ever and many wines are made well and are available inexpensively. These are the wines we focus on in this blog. These are the wines for the 99%.

O.K, back to “barnyard” and “cat pee.”  When I was younger, I had a house cat. And when I was younger still, we kept some chickens in the back. I have some experience with aromas from both the litter box and the chickens. Neither is good. Surprisingly, both these terms are used to describe – in a positive way – a wine’s aromatics. Not surprisingly, those descriptives are not used here. If you’re not so sophisticated that you are O.K. with that, then you have found the wine blog for you.  Let’s enjoy the senses sensibly together.

……………………….. Jim      

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