Once, when I was an intrepid young man, I went to a wine bar. I’m not really sure why I went to this wine bar other than someone I was hanging out with suggested it and I, ever eager to consolidate my friendships and stave off the crushing loneliness endemic to the North American twenty-something, said, “Oh, yes let’s do! Best friends forever, right???” I had no idea that some wine bars can actually live up to their caricatures as pretentious watering holes for people with too much money to spend on a Malbec created by an attentive family of Nazi-descended vintners in Argentina, and was therefore caught off guard when the wine bar bartender asked me in a well-manicured voice what sort of wine I liked. “Uh, red,” I answered with what I hoped was a self-deprecating smile. That’s when I learned my first lesson about adult wine-drinking — smiling is not allowed and nothing is ever funny, except when someone, clearly not having seen Sideways, orders Merlot.
My adventures in wine-drinking came to an abrupt and discouraged end after that visit to the wine bar, but it turns out I’m not alone in my complete unease in the adjective-saturated world of fine wine. A new survey of 1,000 wine drinkers conducted by an online wine retailer called Laithwaite’s Wine has discovered that most people find the adjectives used by wine producers, retailers, and critics to describe wine are at best “pompous” and at worst flaccidly useless. More than half the wine drinkers surveyed (55 percent in all) said they found that wine descriptions failed to give them any sort of inkling about how a particular vintage would assault their palate.
Survey participants identified the following as the the least evocative of wine descriptions: “firm skeleton" (designated least useful by 37 per cent), "old bones" (35 per cent), "nervy" (31 per cent) "wet stone" (27 per cent), "tongue spanking" (21 per cent) "haunting" (21 per cent), "spring hedgerows" (19 per cent) and "brooding" (18 per cent). Other words like “vegetal” (which I’ve only ever heard used in Wallace & Gromit in the Curse of the Were-Rabbit) and “chunky” were pretty high on the list of words that confused would-be wine enthusiasts. Words like “fresh,” “zesty,” and “peachy” were generally considered helpful.
Taste is a tricky sense to qualify, if only because we’re all discrete creatures who have come to rely almost exclusively on an often insufficient series of word symbols and signifiers to communicate abstract things like thought and subjective things like feeling. Maybe your palate is sophisticated enough to detect that one particular wine tastes like the pulverized oyster shells sprinkled in the soil where the grape vine grew, but your drinking partner might just taste red, with some overtones of red, and some undertones of a dry tongue.
Entire industries have sprung up to direct taste, to channel our judgments into trigger words that we can all rally around. Good books are “page-turners,” good movies keep you “on the edge of your seat,” and good wine...doesn’t make you want to drink four gallons of water after each sip. “Haunting” is probably a bad way to describe a wine unless it’s guaranteed to give you a terrible hangover, but describing the way something is supposed to taste or what it’s supposed to make people feel is an endeavor fraught with uncertainty, and that uncertainty usually settles on a string of words that sound pretentious enough to sell wine at a high retail markup to people trying really hard to transition into adulthood by becoming wine people.
Baffled by wine buffs? You're not alone [Telegraph]
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