Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Wine talk - why words are important

Wine writers need a common understanding of the words used in description of wine. Without it, everyone is free to interpret terms as they wish, causing nothing but confusion and misguidance amongst consumers. Using wine-speak gives an illusion of expertise for some of these hacks - without a solid understanding of what these terms mean, wine writing is useless.

I'm referring to descriptors such as elegance, finesse, balance, austerity, and the grand-daddy of them all, terroir. Every wine writer interprets these terms differently - what one (American) writer describes as complex, I would call as nothing more than a hot mess of overripe fruit. So there has to be a common understanding of the terms we use in description of wine. For example, austerity describes a wine with a stiff structural backbone which needs a certain period of aging to be more approachable. There are those who believe this to apply strictly to tannic red wines - this is not true. High acid, minerally white Burgundy can certainly be austere in their youth. Likewise for a term like finesse. Where some people believe in finesse to only refer to a silky, round texture, this descriptor goes into much more depth. Finesse in wine is not only textural - it's a focus in the flavours and aromas in wine, as well as a very fine balance in the various opposing energies of the fruit, acid, and tannins.

Unless there's a true understanding of the terms writers use to describe wine, consumers will always be in the dark. Writers are using these terms as a crutch, to somehow further this idea that by confusing readers, it gives them credibility (I know and you don't). Not to say that we should dumb it down and anti-intellectualize everything...not at all. On the contrary, writers should understand the terms used to describe wine, so that when a wine is described as having finesse, it will be a term grounded in an objective palate perception. Readers should be able to fully understand the expression of the writer's taste - finesse should not be taken as a purely subjective opinion, but an attribute in the wine that is clearly discernible.

That is what wine writing should strive for. That'll be an achievement, when readers no longer value score, and tasting notes actually mean something without devolving into infantilized and dimwitted commentary à la Gary Vaynerchuk (Let's take a sniffy-sniff) (!) and the like.

And please, please, please...never use the word yummy. Unless you want people to think you have the capacity for taste of an 8 year old.


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