PDA

View Full Version : Good Wine Tasting Article



Dan McFeeley
06-17-2008, 12:13 PM
http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/chi-oped0617steinjun17,0,1892816.story


chicagotribune.com

Sip it, sure, then zip it
Wine fans have too much on palates

By Joel Stein

June 17, 2008

When wine drinkers tell me they taste notes of cherries, tobacco and rose petals, usually all I can detect is a whole lot of jackass. The language of sommeliers, winemakers, sellers and writers has devolved into nothing besides a long list of obscure smells that tells me nothing. I get a lot of cherry and cassis from Manischewitz too, but it would help a lot more if you told me it was cough-syrup-goopy sugar-water.

I miss the days when we made fun of wine snobs for saying that a wine was "ingratiating without being obsequious." Now wine snobs are too boring to make fun of. Ever since professor Ann Noble of the University of California at Davis created the Wine Aroma Wheel more than 20 years ago, people have become obsessed with seeing how many memories they can inhale out of a glass.

In 1988, "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" author Roald Dahl, who apparently drank exactly as much as you would have guessed the creator of Willie Wonka would drink, wrote a letter to Decanter magazine in which he said that wine "tastes primarily of wine—grape juice, tannin and so on. If I am wrong about this, and the great wine-writers are right, then there is only one conclusion. The chateaux in Bordeaux have begun to lace their grape-juice with all manner of other exotic fruit juices, as well as slinging in a bale or two of straw and a few packets of ginger biscuits for extra flavouring."

Admittedly, part of my problem is that I have a weak sense of smell. But it's also that something I enjoy has been reduced to a game of faux scientific analysis. Gary Vaynerchuk, my favorite wine reviewer and the author of "101 Wines Guaranteed to Inspire, Delight, and Bring Thunder to Your World," includes tasting notes—he ate his own sweaty sock on "Late Night With Conan O'Brien" to train his palate—but mostly he discusses wine more holistically. "I speak about wines like they're people," he says. "How heavy is it and is it bitter and does it have a personality? Does this wine have chaos? I referred to wine as the movie 'Platoon': awesome beginning; terrible finish. I think it embarks different senses than if I said it was leather with a little bit of cranberry."

Personally, I want to know if a wine is rough, balanced, acidic, sweet, simple, tannic, soft, hot with alcohol, minerally, watery or has a long finish. I want to know that a Zinfandel, our greatest native grape, tastes like America: big, bold, unsubtle and ready to fight.

Vaynerchuk referred to one big American Pinot Noir as a "Roger Clemens" because it's overly pumped up. My wife's brother, Ian Barry, a winemaker in upstate New York, similarly once described a California Sea Smoke as a "female bodybuilder—something that's supposed to be delicate and elegant, but has been enhanced in ways that aren't really attractive to most of us. When I drink wines like that, I picture guys in gold jewelry and slicked-back hair bragging about how expensive it is." I e-mailed him back that I knew exactly what that wine was like thanks to him—and carefully avoided any mention of the fact that I'm on Sea Smoke Cellars' allocation list or that, as a teenager, I occasionally watched female bodybuilders on ESPN2.

"The reason there's a problem is that there's a lot of people who suck at communicating," Vaynerchuk says. "And it's lack of self-esteem and pretension. Nobody has guts. Jancis Robinson and Wine Spectator and Robert Parker write that way, so everyone else does. It's classic sheep mentality."

And it's not just wine—or chocolate, tea, coffee and olive oil—where the language is exactly the same. Movie critics, book reviewers and television writers have all become 6-year-olds telling me everything that happened on an episode of "SpongeBob"—wasting paragraph after paragraph impersonally recounting plot, as if my sole goal as a reader is to glean just enough to get into arguments at wine-tasting parties.

So from now on, wine drinkers, you get to mention three things you smell in a wine, max. Then you have to tell me something more interesting. If that seems too hard, I suggest drinking more wine until it isn't.

Los Angeles Times

wayneb
06-17-2008, 12:56 PM
Now THAT was a damned good read! ;D I wonder how many Americans even know what cassis (from black currants) smells like? ;)

Medsen Fey
06-17-2008, 01:01 PM
That's very interesting Dan!

A lot of folks just love to complain, and it looks like Mr. Stein is one of them. Oh, I like to poke fun at wine snobbery as much as the next guy, but the truth is, some folks do have more sensitive and better trained sense of taste and smell than others. My wife has a much sharper sense of smell than I do - she can pick up sulfur smells coming from a batch long before I can, and I'm glad she can tell me when a batch needs more nutrients earlier. My daughters are much better at identifying aromas than I am. As a meadmaker, I wish had the acuteness of their senses.

I think the modern trend to describe specific aromas and flavors in wines is a big step forward in trying to communicate the character of wines, and it may assist in providing measurables to help improve the products. The fact is, if people can sit with a glass of wine/beer/spirits and dissect the different aroma components and flavor elements and can do it better than I can, it looks like sour grapes (pun intended) for me to criticize them for using their ability, especially when it's no skin off my nose (pun intended).

Although I like the suggestion to drink more wine, I find Mr. Stein's piece to be mildly amusing, but trite, lacking in body, with a bitter undertone, and a weak finish. :laughing7:

wayneb
06-17-2008, 01:24 PM
I must respectfully disagree, Medsen. While the "wine wheel" and other sensory descriptive tools were developed specifically to add a measure of analytical clarity and to reduce the ambiguity inherent in describing fine wines, which was a common problem in the 1950's and 60's, they seem to have spawned an entirely new "snob-speak," where these descriptive terms are gathered in ever more skewed and increasingly arcane combinations within reviews for particular vintages, to the point where they convey little to no information of value to the potential consumer of the wine. They merely advertise to the world that the critic believes himself to be an "expert," because he can sling the lingo.

Now that is my generalization of a perceived trend - not meant by me to imply an absolute. It is true that many respected wine critics and professional tasters have their descriptions right on the money when they employ these terms to discuss particular vintages. But, as with any other aspect of language, the potential for corruption exists.

I'm old enough to remember that at the first wine appreciation class I took, the whole purpose behind the exercise was to blast through the "high sounding" obtuse language employed by the wine snobs of the day, to really get at describing what one actually smelled and tasted in the wine. It appears to me, from my perspective of some years, that those very descriptors so successfully employed to describe wines analytically back then, have now been co-opted by the snobs.

I think that Mr. Stein's article, while clearly tongue in cheek, is a useful "re-calibration" aid in that it perhaps suggests that another evolution in terminology is in order.

Pewter_of_Deodar
06-17-2008, 01:55 PM
Oh, I like to poke fun at wine snobbery as much as the next guy, but the truth is, some folks do have more sensitive and better trained sense of taste and smell than others. My wife has a much sharper sense of smell than I do - she can pick up sulfur smells coming from a batch long before I can, and I'm glad she can tell me when a batch needs more nutrients earlier. My daughters are much better at identifying aromas than I am. As a meadmaker, I wish had the acuteness of their senses.


I often think that I lack the taste and smell abilities to develop beyond a certain point and I agree totally that it is nice to have non-hostile experts that can help me out with that area of weakness. I agree with part of the article. "Ingratiating without being obsequious" tells me NOTHING. At least "notes of cherries, tobacco and rose petals" does communicate something to me.

Maybe the problem is that these people are targetting other wine "elites" that actually know what cassis is? When they talk to me, they need to dumb it down a bit. Using COMMON things for comparison will enhance communication. One of the yeasts in the cider test smelled and tasted like dirty gym socks and so I used that term. You have no idea how sweet or acidic or whatever that cider was and so maybe my description is lacking in details, but do you really want to drink something that tastes like dirty gym socks? Maybe because it was 18% ABV? ::) ::) ::) Trust me... it was awful... :icon_puke_l:

I really like this comment from the article...

"Personally, I want to know if a wine is rough, balanced, acidic, sweet, simple, tannic, soft, hot with alcohol, minerally, watery or has a long finish. "

... because after someone has spent a year or two sampling various wines and meads, they will have tasted and discussed something from each of these categories. And while these terms are more general than specific, they point me in the right direction.

One of my new favorite wines is Moscato. The few reviews I have read by those I consider to be wine saavy totally blow off something that sweet. Is it me or do the wine elites tend to migrate toward full-bodied red wines? So their reviews do nothing for me since I am migrating towards smooth, sweet whites and meads, except for the Sloppy Seconds, which is a bone dry but very low acid red. I wonder what the wine elites would say about it...

There are probably those here that have the training and background to make sense out of the terms. But I would guess there are a lot of us out here for whom many of these terms are (and will remain) as obscure to us for quite some time as cassis is right now. So until we reach that plateau where we understand the ""high sounding" obtuse language employed by the wine snobs of the day" the use of "smells like.." or "tastes like..." may be the best way to communicate with us...

darkhorse
06-17-2008, 03:13 PM
1st-That article made me laugh-those are descriptions I can understand (and unfortunately visualize)
2nd-I've often wondered if wine descriptions are really a language only the advanced "wine snobs" understand. Perhaps their descriptions invoke a taste in their readers minds but I'm having an aweful hard time with whether these guys are for real. Maybe someone with a highly refined pallet can set this to rest in my mind cause-
3rd-I once gave a bottle of mulberry mead-where the mulberries were added in the secondary along with vanilla beans-to the most advanced wine taster I knew. He described it ellequently, including my short comings on it, but could not identify mulberries, vanilla, or even honey (didn't tell him it was mead). I wasn't sure what to think.

Summersolstice
06-17-2008, 05:04 PM
There are a few aromas commonly associated with wines that people use to describe certain characteristics. The reason these terms are used is to share impressions using a common frame of reference. Do some people get carried away with eloquency? Absolutely, but when one uses the word "chemical" to describe a "petroleum" flavor and then further breaks it down to "kerosene", most people know exactly what aromas are being described. I know that many times when I taste a wine or a mead there are aromas and flavors I know in my mind but I can't describe until I look at the aroma wheel http://www.americanwinesociety.com/web/downloads/Wine%20Evaluation%20Chart.pdf. This is really a great tool for learning the language of wine and mead judges.

skunkboy
06-17-2008, 06:26 PM
Funny article!

Those of us who have trouble finding the time, and beer/wine/mead to calibrate our palates, have trouble with this kind of
descriptive insanity... ;-) Or might also have problems with comparing non-taster palates to supertaster palates.

Oskaar
06-17-2008, 09:39 PM
I went ahead and stickied some of my posts in the Patrons Sections that has my compiled common tasting terms and what they mean, along with other information that has a bearing on tasting, and understanding aromas, flavors, terms etc. Seems like this has some renewed interest.

See link below:

http://www.gotmead.com/smf/index.php?topic=6074.0

Cheers,

Oskaar

Arjan
06-18-2008, 07:08 AM
Now THAT was a damned good read! ;D I wonder how many Americans even know what cassis (from black currants) smells like? ;)


try to explain an european the taste and smell of rootbeer ... cassis is for us like rootbeer to you :)

Steve Works
03-11-2016, 10:11 AM
Good comparison. I have no idea what rootbeer is.
But go to Germany or Belgium. I bet you'll find an equivalent.
__________________________________________________ ___
Marius
champagne tour Canard Duchene (http://www.canard-duchene.fr/en/visiting-ludes)

Clwurster
03-11-2016, 06:11 PM
This is an interesting thread to me by how the date of post relates to today's terminology used for beer/wine/mead. There is now what seems to be a glorious utter lack of sophistication in descriptions & names of beverages. Take for instance Zombie Dust beer. B-52 red wine. I've been to Italy & France & in the old areas they would stone you with those names. But for us here-I think its cool. Heck my Cabernet pyment I've nameed Catch me a cab-Honey. & my pear/Apple is named the Apple/Pear Affair. Have some fun- I try-& the best names usually pop up with a couple glasses of mead already down the hatch