"Wine speak"

Recently I have been tasting/drinking wine with more guided commentary than is usual for me. I also have been reading TNs more frequently on this forum and elsewhere. I admit the need to update my vocabulary of “wine speak” and I understand that having a common language can simplify and maybe even clarify communication. However, I sense that in some circles (somms and tasting guides/”ambassadors” most noticeably) some of the terminology seems to be abstruse obfuscation. Describing a wine as “linear” with developing “tertiary notes” can be communicative but it can also be completely obscure. It can create a bit of a barrier between those presenting themselves as “in the know” and some of the rest of us. Describing a wine this way also seems to me to remove the “poetry” out of the wine-tasting experience. And wine without poetry would not be the same, at least not for me. . .

I’m all for poetry in describing wine. Sometimes that’s the best way to convey the experience.

But there’s a place for more clinical descriptions, too, if they’re done properly. The problem is that a high proportion of those, by both amateurs and professional wine writers, are utter BS. I started a long-running thread to highlight the baloney that critics dish out.

The problem today is that everyone is a critic, but many people have never learned to taste from others, like those in the trade, so they’ve never learned to use terms in a way that correlates with other people. They’ve read tasting notes but they haven’t tasted side by side with people who use wine vocabulary consistently. (Of course, there’s an irreducibly subject element here because people’s taste buds vary significantly and we each have different associations with aromas and flavors that affect how we describe them.) “Minerality” is a great (or terrible) example of a term that has been reduced to meaninglessness. People like the sound of the word and apply to any wine they like, so it conveys nothing.

In the cases you cite, I actually think I know what they mean. “Linearity” seems to be used for wines that have a good dose of acid and aren’t terribly ripe. You might describe a Sancerre or an Anderson Valley pinot noir that way, but not your typical Aussie shiraz. The term is in vogue these days, but it’s not necessarily BS.

Likewise, “tertiary” has a very distinct and well-established meaning. It refers to the aromas and flavors that develop with bottle age, which are different from the flavors you get on a young wine (more fruity, perhaps more overtly oak). That word isn’t faddish and shouldn’t be obfuscatory; it’s just a slightly technical term for something that should be familiar to anyone who has had good older wines.

Well, Jim…I still think DollyParton Viognier is a perfectly good descriptor!! [snort.gif]

Someone in a group of mine in SF once commented on a big chardonnay, “That’s a real Lana Turner of a wine. But I guess I’m dating myself.”

Tom, je ne comprend ni l’un ni l’autre -Jim [drinkers.gif]

I’ve been guilty of associating certain wines with certain actresses … Deneuve comes to mind.

But I wonder why it’s always actresses not actors.

I don’t recall too many notes about a wine being a real Belmondo or Brando.

I’m not far off from this take, but just don’t agree with all of it. I think poetry in describing a wine suggests a desire to describe the experience of the imbibing more than the wine itself. That can be nice for getting an impression of enjoyment, but I find that poetic notes often leave me wondering about the meat and potatoes of the wine. References to various types of women do nothing for me.

The stuff that bothers me are notes that lack any meaningful descriptive notes. I used to see this from Galloni and still see it from Wine Spectator notes on occasion. They will say something like, this is a very expressive cabernet that highlights the quality of the vintage with hi-toned aromatics and a long finish…That drives me insane. But what did it taste like? What notes did it express? What are the indicators of this vintage? In what style was the wine made? I see those as utter throwaways that are a disservice to consumers.

Likewise, I hate seeing things like “the wine is round.” I get the dislike of “linear.” We kind of know what “round” means…no hard edges, “soft”. Round tannins or a round chardonnay. Give me a break. How about well-integrated, soft tannins (even soft is iffy). Full malo results in a creamy texture with moderate to low acidity and a ripe baked apple and tropical fruit profile. It’s the cop-out notes that make me roll my eyes.

Development of tertiary flavors is not one of those cop-outs to me. If you’ve had old bordeaux or burgundy, there is a period at which the fruit profile fades in sweetness and the wine begins to exude forest floor, dried pipe tobacco, dead leaf pile, dried mushrooms, etc. Those are the tertiary notes that tend only to come with considerable age. It’s perhaps not the most specific term, but it has a very distinct meaning.

As John notes, if someone has that in a note on a 7 year old cab, they’re full of shit.

To the OP, understand that John is just 100% incorrect about pencil lead and mineral. champagne.gif

I believe Broadbent once described '45 Mouton as a ‘Winston Churchill of a wine.’

Because most wine writers are straight men.

I would love to drive the mystique/pomposity out of winespeak, that can be so intimidating to newcomers.

Good writers are clear, whether they are waxing lyrical or writing in a more functional manner. If using something out of the ordinary, then ensure the context around it makes it clearer e.g. “Linear progression as the initial fruits fade to the finish” tells me more than simply “linear”. Likewise “an elegant balance of herb-accented fruit with supportive acidity” vs. “Elegant”, telling me that there is a herbal element but it isn’t overpowering and neither is the acidity.

It’s scary starting to write tasting notes, and it can feel like this is a secret ‘insiders’ language. Good books on the subject help, and I always thought the TORB multi-choice tasting sheet was a lovely starters tool, that could take you from simply circling what you felt fittted, to doing that but then forming a tasting note from it. In effect that’s what I do as big walk-round tastings, writing a few key words, small phrases, but then working that into a coherent TN back at home a day or two later. I’d recommend those who are intimidated by this, but want to pursure it, to just start making basic notes for themselves, even if it starts as simple as “rich and smooth” or “Sharp, but drank better with food”… and don’t listen to us wine-wankers if we criticise!

Ian, That was useful and to the point. Bloody brilliant! -Jim

Like others have said (and I think you too, Jim!), having a sort of defined vocabulary can be very good for getting the point across to someone else (like WSET or Guildsomm tasting grid descriptors, etc), HOWEVER, I’m a big fan of using whatever non-standard flavor or aroma descriptor really jumps out at me at the time. Stuff like “white gummy bear” or “whiskey cherry” or “soap gum” or “goose poop on a dock” really take me there when a friend blurts them out.

Describing a wine as “linear” with developing “tertiary notes” can be communicative but it can also be completely obscure

That’s because those are two different things. “Linear” is pretty much meaningless - it’s poetry. “Tertiary notes” describes what wine people have come to agree are aromas and flavors that come only from the wine once it’s made and that aren’t necessarily available in the fruit as it’s picked from the vine. They occur because of chemical reactions during fermentation and aging, so can’t exist before those processes take place.

For me it’s kind of clear when someone says that a wine has tertiary notes, but it’s not clear what they mean when they assign personalities and emotions.

As far as poetry, I drink wine because I like it. Most people writing TNs are most assuredly NOT poets of any type. Some are barely literate, some are quite literate, and some write interestingly about wine. And sometimes there’s an overlap regarding the latter two. Less frequently with the first two but when it happens, it can be memorable.

Interesting. I have no idea what people mean when they use “linear” (though I’m guilty of having used it on occasion). If I use it, I’m trying to say that a wine is straightforward, i.e., not a lot of twists and turns, layers, etc. One reason why I try not to use the term.

Everybody knows that goose poop is better on the beach than on the dock.

Ian Sutton’s comment was excellent.

I sell wine for a living rather than writing about it. For that reason, I try to make my descriptions as literal as possible. I certainly don’t always get it right. I may not often get it right. My dislike of certain foods that others love can be a drawback. I have no gripe with writers who wax poetic, but eventually find that I gravitate towards those who are more specific in their notes.

Howell Mountain Cabernet would be Belmondo or Brando wine (at least when Brando was young).

‘Voluptuous’ could stand in for Dolly Parton or Lana Turner, but I have no problem understanding a descriptor that mentions either of those women.

Dan Kravitz

Jonathan s comment reminds me of a friend who was assigned to drive Robert Balzer around San Francisco…a long time ago.
When they drove by the bay bridge Balzer said he had a boyfriend who was hung like the lower deck of the bay bridge. My innocent friend nearly drove off the road.

After 30+ years of wine passion I think I´m quite experienced in wine descriptions, however English is not my mother tongue, so the problem might be to find the right terms in this language …
But what often puzzles me is the frequent use of abbrevations. After several years on this forum I´m better familiar with some, but now and then an abbrevation comes by I´ve never seen before …
It would really be good to write a term out the 1st time in a post, only afterwards use the abbrevation … that would be a great help …

I will take a stab at defending linear as I use it quite a bit. A wine is linear when it shows a persistent focus throughout the experience. This is not to indicate a lack of complexity but to suggest all the elements working together from beginning to end.

Good points all around. . .
[soap.gif] newhere
Yes, specificity and accuracy in describing a wine is important. Yes, “a Dolly Parton wine” is a pretty good metaphor. Yes, short hand terminology for more comprehensive commentary is economical and worthwhile if everyone is on board. Dan’s TN posts on this forum often are good examples of what I mean by “poetry” and they typically go beyond his being a “winemonger”. His notes usually reflect careful thought and accuracy, focus, and specificity in the expression of that thought (sometimes a little too accurate with respect to scoring [wow.gif]). This is all part of poetry, but it is the words Dan uses to express his thoughts that ultimately make Dan’s notes poetic, comprehensive, AND enjoyable to read.
e.g. https://www.wineberserkers.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=154238&p=2575629#p2575629

I’d like to see more people posting their impressions of wines, not fewer. Criticizing how they express themselves seems counterproductive.