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Sour grapes

By Ed Schwartz

This is an actual paragraph from an important wine critic:

“…is a real treat as this cuvée flirts with perfection. Already revealing some pink and amber at the edge, the color is surprisingly evolved for a wine from this vintage. However, that’s deceptive as the aromatics offer incredible aromas of dried flowers, beef blood, spice, figs, sweet black currants and kirsch, smoked game, lavender, and sweaty but attractive saddle leather-like notes. Full-bodied and massively endowed, with abundant silky tannins, it possesses the balance to age for 30+ years.”

If you recoiled in horror at the flowery, bizarrely erotic language used to describe a perfectly fine cabernet sauvignon, you’re not alone. (The offending reviewer shall remain nameless. OK, fine. It’s the inimitable Robert Parker.) After approximately two years spent locked in a room debating the merits of beef blood as a label for Beaujolais and cat piss for a sauvignon blanc, an important federal agency, the Bureau of Annoying Wine Clichés (BAWC), has banned many outrageous wine clichés and impenetrable adjectives that have been abused by wineries, wine writers and wine geeks for far too many years.

T. Farnsworth Upshot, chairman of the watchdog group, admits the 250-page report was long overdue. “The first to go are pencil lead shavings, old saddle leather, wet dog, cat piss, forest floor, wild nettles and tobacco,” Farnsworth tells me. “No one on our committee had ever tasted actual pencil lead, aka graphite, and, frankly, no one wanted to. The same can be said for cat piss, only more so.”

If you want to impress your friends and frenemies, use the chemical term for the latter: p-mentha-8-thiol-3-one. I did wonder whether there was any difference in taste between No.1 pencil lead and No.2. As for beef blood, I’ll take a pass.

Other clichés left on the cutting room floor are phrases that make no sense. No sense at all. One culprit, “This wine is powerful but with a great deal of finesse,” seems an oxymoron, and the longer I look at it, the more baffling it becomes. “Weightless finesse” is another offender. Frankly, I’d like my wine to weigh something, considering the big bucks I had to pay for it.

The agency dedicated a full 25 pages to terroir, that insufferable French term signifying the geographical conditions where a vineyard grows. In the United States, winemakers fearful of wine lovers mutilating the pronunciation of terroir note that wine has a “sense of place.” I don’t get it. By the absurd reasoning of terroir snobs, a wine that was flat-out delicious and crafted with a cabernet sauvignon from Napa and a dollop of merlot from Sonoma, therefore without a sense of place, could be somehow inferior when it is actually superior. All because it did not come from a single plot of land. As the French say, “What happens in Burgundy stays in Burgundy.” Leave terroir to them.

Five pages of the report were given over to the complete elimination of the phrase “Great wines start in the vineyards.” In 2015, at least 345 wineries in California adopted this lazy marketing catchphrase, making it the biggest wine cliché ever recorded. I suggest an alternative: “Great wines end in the winery.”

The second overused phrase is “Pinot noir is the Holy Grail of winemaking.” Please, God, let’s have separation of church and winery.

The committee failed to address my personal gripe: the use of the words bubbly, champers and fizzies in place of champagne. This is the noblest wine of all, thankyouverymuch.

In addition, I’m highly annoyed by “We make our wine with passion.” I don’t know about you, but I’d much prefer wine made by a brilliant winemaker who really knows his or her stuff over wine from a passionate vintner without a lot of knowledge or experience.

Call me a curmudgeon. In my book, talent trumps passion.

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