May 08, 2006

Why I Will Never Be a Wine Connoisseur

I'm the first to admit that wine terminology is beyond my ken. But I like to think I'm an open-minded person, so I'm quite willing to drink a wine that's described as (for instance) having `superb nose with lifted aroma of confectionary, liquorice, spice and violets', with `blackpepper nuances' that `explode on the back palate supported by fine grained tannins and long plum and spice aftertaste', even though I have not personally tasted any of those things in any wine that has crossed my palate. But the other day I read a wine description that seemed to go too far.

This wine, a 1999 Cabernet from Stags' Leap Faye Vineyard, was listed on the restaurant menu for $150, and the pitch went like this: `Graceful style with complex earthy currant, sage, tobacco and pencil lead flavors, which focus and gain intensity on the finish'. Now, I have nothing against earthiness, currants, or even sage in my wine, especially since I can't taste them anyway, but I'm not sure even a dedicated smoker would want to drink tobacco (I could be wrong here, of course), and who on earth would want to taste pencil lead in a glass of wine? I thought it must be a joke, but the server assured me that it wasn't. So I copied down the text and came home and googled "pencil lead flavors", and got 182 hits! Only 24 were actually listed as `most relevant' (least repetitious); several of these were clearly to this same wine, but others were to other wines, and one was to a cigar. So now I know: apparently wine connoisseurs do want their wine to taste of pencil lead. I don't. Since I can't taste all those other things, probably I also wouldn't taste the pencil lead, but I didn't buy the bottle to find out.

I do wonder what kind of training people undergo to learn to write descriptions of wines. I am having trouble envisioning a process that involves tasting a wine, discovering (by whatever occult means) that it has pencil lead and tobacco flavors, and then admitting that right out loud in the official description, in the belief that those flavors will attract buyers. Presumably buyers of expensive wines also have to be educated so that they can avoid being disgusted by such a description. How does all this happen?

[Some other LL posts on winetalk:

Just a trace of the obligatory rubber (4/9/2004)
Ritual verbal enthusiasm for food (5/11/2004)
More winetalk imports into coffee lingo
Apologia pro risu suo (6/2/2004)
Grand Cru smackdown (6/2/2004)
More on winetalk culture (6/2/2004)
What do winetasting notes communicate? (6/5/2004)


Posted by Sally Thomason at May 8, 2006 12:29 PM