Château de prétense

I take some risks in raising today’s topic.

First, I fear I may offend readers who take their wine language seriously. Second, I may reveal too much about how little I really know about it.

I enjoy wine. I have a fairly sharp palate that can distinguish among varietals and detect flavors to a reasonable degree. I know what I like and what I don’t and, generally, which wines go well with what foods.

This said, I tread lightly into the language of wine. This might be because I have not been exposed to the business of wine.

I’ve never set foot in a vineyard, never taken a winery tour. I went to a tasting once. In 1982.

Restaurant tasting menus are a rare indulgence, as much for the dining as for the descriptions of the wine pairings. I trust a sommelier and find the pairings are always suitable. The real entertainment, though, comes in his or her descriptions of the wine. Keeping a straight face during the performance is always a challenge. I almost had to excuse myself at Babbo in New York when the sommelier assured us that the wine wouldn’t bully our mushrooms.

Once I was having dinner with a friend at Zaytinya, which had just opened in Washington, D.C. The server had recommended a wine to go with our meal. She said, “I think you’ll find it approachable.” I had to turn my head so that I could roll my eyes.

We ordered this approachable wine and, when the server began to open it, the cork broke off in the bottle. My friend said, “I guess it’s not so approachable.” Our server was not amused.

Call me a bumpkin or call me a cynic, but call me up to here with ridiculous wine descriptions.

One of my favorite pokes at pretension comes from the movie Sideways. On a trip to Napa Valley with a friend, wine aficionado Miles, played by Paul Giamatti, sips, closes his eyes, plugs one ear and observes, “There’s the faintest soupçon of asparagus and just a flutter of Edam cheese.” (Impressive. I’d need at least 20 minutes to detect asparagus in my wine.)

Coco Krumme wrote a piece for Slate this week, separating expensive wines from inexpensive ones based on the language used to describe them. This sent me on an oenophilic cyber-journey, where I tried—honestly I did—to gain an understanding and appreciation of wine language.

But I stumbled upon a host of nouns and adjectives that I found a little hard to swallow.

I understand tannins. I understand finish. I’m willing to accept personality. But, while asparagus and Edam cheese, I hope, are satirical, any food stuffs beyond fruit or maybe chocolate are just silly. Tones of underbrush, animal or briar? Not particularly approachable.

Then, there are the adjectives. In an effort to be an earnest student, I consulted E. Robert Parker’s wine glossary.

Angular?  A wine that lacks roundness. Duuuuh.

Chewy, brawny and spiny? I think not.

Care to decant your favorite bogus wine descriptions?


Filed under All Things Wordish, Family and Friends, Food, Movies, Television and Radio, Rants and Raves

15 responses to “Château de prétense

  1. Emily

    We once had a cheese course with a cheese described as, “ridiculously approachable” it became a catch phrase for all of us for months. That was over 10 years ago and we still bring it up from time to time. The cheese itself looked like something I find in the cheese drawer after I have been traveling for three months, the type of thing that makes me consider moving so I can have a new refrigerator. I’m sure that helped to cement it in our minds. Thanks Monica!

  2. Great post. I admire your expertise. You would fit right into my extended family who become “snoots” regarding the wine at the table. I’m not much for it myself and always call my son, the chef, tell him what I am serving and he tells me which wine to serve. Seems it’s often Pinot grig. Whatever, I drink grape juice with the kids.

    • Thanks! I’m drinking a lot of white grape juice these days, as I’ve largely had to give up wine for health reasons. Put it in a wine glass and it’s great. Maybe we could come up with a whole new vernacular for grape juice.

  3. Gayle O

    While I am not a wine drinker, I will tell you about an experience I had over the weekend. I was at Clyde’s for a friend’s 50th birthday party. The waiter was describing the “specials” for the evening. The one that interested me was the “Cowboy Steak”. The waiter said it was a “well marbled” steak. Well, his idea of well-marbled and mine are obviously quite different, as the steak I was served was just fatty.

  4. anonnickus

    Here is an old saying on wine that I read in a book years ago. “Wine is to drink”. Why talk about wine when you can’t taste words? If you are an exception and you can taste words I hope for your sake that you can’t taste them all. Cheers!

  5. What a great post to stumble across this morning… I appreciate the chuckle (especially the note about the non-approachable restaurant wine)!

    I LOVE wine, almost everything about it. The history of it, the politics of it, the making of it – and of course the experience of it. I completely agree with you on how snobby the verbiage of wine is.

  6. theveryhungrybookworm

    Sooooo I was lucky enough to go to a wine tasting hosted by my graduate college, the sommelier being the dean of our college. At one point, he referred to a wine as “resembling the scent of the human body.” I have to say that it tasted like…wine. Perhaps my tastebuds are not as sharp!

  7. Polly

    With a name like yours, I expected you would know your way around a grape ; )

  8. Hi there! Great post, and great blog in general :). I found your blog from searching quotes from Sideways and pretentious wine descriptions for my own post Anyway I’m not here to self promote but I think you might find the post interesting after reading your own similar post.

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