By The Glass
Wine writing doesn’t always flow smoothly
Do you ever laugh at wine descriptions? I do. Of course, I have to write them, but sometimes they get quite boring, especially if they are just a couple of lines. I often ask myself how I am going to distill a wonderful (or not-so-wonderful) wine into 20 words. And sometimes, what I come up with is off the deep end.
Let's start with the basics -- fruit aromas and flavors. Easy enough to understand, right? But how many cherries can you come up with? Black cherry, bing cherry, morello cherry, maraschino, etc. I think you get my drift.
Citrus fruits are my favorites to knock on, because almost every white wine has them! Lemon, lime, grapefruit, etc., their essence is found in wines from Airen to Zibibbo and practically everything in between. I mean, aren't all merlots supposed to have something in common? Aren't all sauvignon blancs supposed to have some zip?
Then there is the oak character in so many wines, from smoke to vanilla, coconut to dill. Some writers get really fancy and use terms like bacon, or wood chips, or even toast. It is oak we're talking about, isn't it?
But I really get thrown when writers start comparing wines to things that only they and a few other people know about. When someone starts talking about musical artists, or pieces of art, or even literature, I often wonder, are they trying to make me feel dumb, or somehow lacking in culture? Sure I'm not studied in Mondrian's squares or Tchaikovsky's overtures. Just tell me how the wine tastes without making me feel like a first-grader.
Comparing wine to people, often women, is another easy one for writers. Sometimes I have to Google a person to find out what they look like. Then I have to wonder at what point in that person's life the writer is referring to. And what if the person is making a funny face or a mean face or is just plain grumpy? Are we meant to imagine them when they just woke up or after having a few drinks? What are we to assume then about the wine?
And let's NOT forget about earthiness in wines. There are characters of slate, limestone, gravel, granite, sand, etc. I laugh to think about grapes grown in Waimanalo dirt, or Mililani red dirt, on the slopes of the volcanoes. Or what if the wine was aged in a brand new cellar made of cement? You guessed it; "a tinge of cement on the finish" would probably appear.
And last, the hyperbole. Angels singing, the sea parting, falling to one's knees -- all from one sip of wine. There are mind-bending, soul-searching, ineffable wines that somehow end up on paper. And sometimes I'm afraid to taste wines that might shatter the Earth, pulverize my palate or knock my head off my neck. Do I really want that?
I know it. I'm guilty of using such phrases, too. Please forgive me. I'll try to make it more fun and painless -- as long as you know how the wine tastes. To be able to communicate what one tastes is truly a gift.
2005 Stag's Leap Wine Cellars Merlot
($42): Yummy, smooth, rich and satisfying. Kind of like a merlot milk shake.
2006 Luna Vineyards Pinot Grigio ($18): Built like a log cabin (plenty of good wood and lots of character). This is for California chardonnay drinkers who are making a transition to pinot grigio.
Roberto Viernes is a master sommelier and wine educator with Southern Wine & Spirits. This column is a weekly lesson in wine pairing written by a rotating panel of wine professionals. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org